The Webcomic Overlook #112: Natalie Dee
An excerpt from THE WEBCOMIC ARMAGEDDON, A FANFICTION:
El Santo finds himself all alone in a dark alley. The flashfight had been brief and tense. He had barely escaped with his life. Finding temporary solitude, he adjusted his mask and lit a cigarette.
All of the sudden, lightning flashed across the skies. El Santo found himself face-to-face with webcomic uber-villain and intercontinental bon vivant known as the Fiendish Dr. R. He was elevated above the ground, propelled upward by the Smug Sense of Self Satisfaction. A flapping cape was draped over his arm, which he ominously lifted over his face.
“At last we meet, you infernal luchador,” he bellowed. Lightning flashed again, and for a short moment El Santo could make the outline of his big elephant ears and his potato-shaped nose. “Webcomics are but the domain of foolish dreamers who are destroying the industry! You will be but the lastest sacrifice in our rise to glory. The Media Syndicate shall rise again!” He laughed maniacally, an ungodly yet melodious cacaphony that was a mix of Dr. Doom, Raul Julia’s M. Bison, and Simon Cowell.
Attempting to make a comeback, El Santo whipped out a smartphone and pulled up the first webcomic bookmark he could find. The Fiendish Dr. R. sneers. “You pitiful imbecile. You have only proven to me that which I have warned you before: webcomic creators are nothing more than t-shirt salesmen.”
El Santo looked at his screen and he noticed that he’d brought up Natalie Dee, created by Natalie Dee. But… is it a webcomic? It looks like … well, frankly, it looks like a cheap-o t-shirt design. Could it be that the Fiendish Dr. R. … is right?
Alright that novelty intro didn’t work as well as I hoped. I think it’s best for all of us if we just put everything behind us and forget that it every happened. So, Natalie Dee. May I make a startling confession to Natalie Dee fans reading this? (And I know y’all are out there. Someone recommended that I review this comic.) I wasn’t originally going to give this a good review. When I first set eyes on Natalie Dee, I didn’t like it. Not at all.
With regards to the overall artistic style, I didn’t find much in Natalie Die that was unique. I mean, stick people? Again? And there about the most generic-looking stick people you’ll find anywhere. Here is an excerpt from my original draft: “there are probably eight or nine other webcomics you could name where the cartoon characters have beady eyes and big, flapping maws.”
The gags, while intermittently amusing, never really stood out. But it’s not like I’d be rushing to post any on a message board or anything. Natalie Dee struck me as a webcomic that practiced from the “OMG I AM SO RANDOM” school of humor, a brand which I find more tiresome with each passing day.
Most importantly, Natalie Dee felt less like a webcomic and more like a portfolio of hipster tee concepts. Intentionally or not, every panel of Natalie Dee looks like its natural canvas is made of 100% cotton fabric, and its natural art gallery is back wall of the Urban Outfitters. Ms. Dee and Kawaii Not‘s Meghan Murphy seem to be locked in a perpetual death-spiral to put faces on every inanimate object known to man. Incidentally, when they finish anthropomorphizing everything by, say, 2012, I imagine a giant cupcake with an adorable face will open one of its six cute little mouths and sing the song that will end the Earth.
While my opinions have changed somewhat since my first impression, I should note that none of the above criticisms are necessarily invalid. I still feel that way sometimes when I pull up a Natalie Dee strip.
But the more you send time in the world of Natalie Dee, the more you get won over by its sheer, goofy enthusiasm. I mean, you’re scrolling down a month’s archives worth of strips when — BAM! — cat ass. It caught you off guard. Individually, it’s stupid and funny only to kids under the age of 8. But after a long string of nonsequiturs where Ms. Dee keeps ramping up the silliness? You can’t help it.
And before you know it, Natalie Dee’s Natalie Dee has you in its thrall.
Scott McCloud once invalidated single-panel comics like Family Circus from the definition of comics since, technically, it’s not sequential art. It’s a single panel of art. Natalie Dee, though, is an argument towards the opposite. Sure, it can be taken a single panel at a time, but it’s a far weaker strip than when it’s consumed in mass quantities. The full effect of the webcomic can be felt when several absurd images accumulate and bounce around in your cerebrum at the same time.
The comic’s humor is delightfully and unapologetically nonsensical. Natalie Dee is sometimes vulgar, often crass, and sometimes corny, yet always nonsensical. I believe Gen-Y’ers could call this sort of thing “random.” Now, us humorless types might snipe back and forth about what “random” means, but here’s the important thing: Ms. Dee knows what it means, and she knows that “monkeycheese” is no laughing matter.
Another thing in Natalie Dee‘s favor: the simple stick art makes everyone looks so gosh-darned happy. Yeah, yeah, I know I said it looked kinda generic. But when you get right down to it, cute faces on eggs, peanuts, ice cream cones, and underwear never gets old. Natalie Dee rises to the minimum cuteness level required for me to crack a smile.
So what if sticking faces on ramen noodles is about the cheapest form of humor around. It works! Plus, Dee herself is in on the joke. She’s clever enough to know how ridiculous all this anthropomorphization can get. And she acknowledges the lameness of art that’s only meant to sell t-shirts. She gets it, and she subverts it. I’d be tempted to say that Natalie Dee is a meta-meta-meta commmentary on the kinds of things that the Fiendish Dr. R.’s fears … except that the webcomic isn’t concerned with making any statement other than it’s creator is a delightful basketcase.
The comic is primarily an autobiographical one. This is strongly evident in the first stripsof Natalie Dee‘s seven-year run. These less polished strips are more consistent, wordier, and less “random.” And, if you want to get cynical, less marketable. They’re not as breezy as later strips. They do, however, exude a stronger personal touch. Amidst the silliness, Ms. Dee does strips about her changing musical tastes and her struggles to quit smoking.
While personal anecdotes take a backseat to the talking veggies and free association in the later strips, you still get an interesting glimpse of Ms. Dee’s later life. Gone, mostly, are the college-dorm style of self examination. Instead, Ms. Dee reflects on the silliness on life. Getting older means new experiences and new anecdotes. It’s all about the challenge of picking up new responsibilities while retaining your odd personality. The reflection on everyday absurdities is similar to Dave Barry’s take on life — a burrito of frustration, bewilderment, and appreciation wrapped up in a tortilla shell representing a wry sense of humor.
In the end, The Fiendish Dr. R. was wrong. Natalie Dee turned out to be better than a mere storefront for fashion. It’s a decent webcomic, after all. By the way, Natalie Dee‘s shirts? It turns out that they’re pretty righteous. Wear them and you’ll be queen of the hipster ball!
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Posted on March 11, 2010, in 4 Stars, comedy webcomic, journal webcomic, stick figure webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Natalie Dee. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.