The Webcomic Overlook #165: L.A.W.L.S.
Have you and your friends ever tried to do round-robin storytelling? You gather around in a circle … or, if your friends are online, a message board maybe. Someone starts off things by tossing out the first sentence.
You start the ball rolling. Once upon a time, a woman got stranded on a desert island.
And then it’s the next person’s turn, who adds: On that island was a hat.
The next storyteller is a bit saucy and chimes in. And the hat is alive and he bleeds rainbows.
It’s a silly story. You all have a good time, especially when the story gets really out of hand. The webcomic called L.A.W.L.S. seems to practice the same storytelling ethic. It’s written by by Denis Caron (a.k.a. Joenis Norac). The acronym, incidentally, stands for “Large Air Whales Like Silence.”*
Ecoutez bien! For I shall try to recount to you the introductory plotline of L.A.W.L.S. You might want to have a bottle of aspirin on hand. (Pro-tip: you should have some sort of pain medication on hand when reading The Webcomic Overlook, anyway.)
Our hero’s name is Joseph, and he’s a scenester in a post-apocalyptic landscape. He hunts air whales. Why, you ask? Vengeance over them destroying his house, primarily, but mainly because whales are assholes. We know this because this phrase is repeated so numerously you start to wonder if it was going to be printed out on a bulk T-shirt order or something. (Credit to Mr. Caron. That hasn’t happened … yet.)
Joseph gets attacked by that rabbit from Sluggy Freelance on page one. There’s a tangent about a blue peanut-shaped creature that Joseph steps on which will be appearing in this comic in great frequency later. Joseph kills the rabbit and has a conversation with a foul-mouthed talking crow who wears a hat. The crow taunts Joseph and riles up some long buried memories about pogs, which causes Joseph to flip out, beat up the crow with a pipe, steal his hat, and do a dance.
This doesn’t sit well with Cadence, a punk rock girl who for some reason has the hots for Joseph despite that fact that he as no redeeming qualities whatsoever. (That’s not an editorial. Joseph’s uselessness is explicitly mentioned several times in the comic.) Cadence has this thing for animals, so she’s a little upset over Joseph beating up the bird. She’s accompanied by a mangy, crooked-toothed creature named Rudy, who’s sort of an ugly rabbit thing that talks like a Monty Python character. Rudy, despite having one of the most cloying lines in webcomics, will prove to be a more appealing character than our hero. Anyway, the hat plops onto the head of the rabbit (the one who died earlier, not the ugly one) and makes it do a dance.
Cadence, meanwhile, encounters two goldfish bowls placed on pedestals. In the middle of a post-apocalyptic wasteland. OK. Ingmar Bergman this is not. The fish in the bowls are always arguing and trying to kill each other. It also turns out they are gay. And it is God himself keeping them apart.
I know what you’re saying. “But El Santo!” you cry. “What about the hat? I need closure on that anecdote!” Well, it turns out that the hat is alive and he bleeds rainbows and can pull things out of Hammerspace. On a completely unrelately note, I cannot believe “hammerspace” is still being used as a punchline in 2010.
L.A.W.L.S. relies heavily on previously released material, something you and I like to call Scott Pilgrim. Heck, in a bizarre webcomic cross promotion, Joseph even wears a T-shirt bearing the wordmark of fellow Scott Pilgrim “homage,” Scout Crossing (which I reviewed here). You’ve got egregious video game references, anime chi-fueled fight sequences, and characters being members of a band (because, you know, while the first two are nerdy, the last one, on paper at least, makes the characters cool again). Man, Bryan Lee O’Malley is probably rolling in his gr- … bed right about now.
The other, less obvious comparison (and this might be a stretch … don’t hold me to it because I’ll deny it damn you!) is Perfect Hair Forever. For those of you who weren’t around for the mid-2000’s Adult Swim line-up, PHF was a non-sensical anime parody done by the same guys who did Aqua Teen Hunger Force and 12. oz Mouse. PHF featured similar random humor, like a singing hot dog (“Do the la la la la la la la!”) and a blatantly fanservice character named Brenda who walked around in a thong and a really, really short skirt.
In my opinion, PHF was only intermittently funny. However, that’s more than I can say for this webcomic. When your comic is called L.A.W.L.S., you are entering into a social contract with your reader… one that promises laughter. Not just any kind of laughter, mind you. LAUGH OUT LOUD laughter. Perhaps even going so far as to make you roll on the floor or making your ass fall off. Sadly, I must report that not only did I not laugh, I actually tried to claw my own eyes off at some point.
There are several things that sink this comic, turning it from a silly, joyful romp into absurdity into a dreadful mélange of tedium. First of all, there are the artistic limitations. It doesn’t take you long to notice that most of the characters are typically drawn in either a side or frontal profile. This is fine if your comic is coming from a purely “this is so bad it’s funny” standpoint. The drawback, though, is that Mr. Caron attempts to also do action sequences, which tend to look horrendously awkward and unnaturally stiff.
The artistic limitations also extend to the facial expressions, which hardly very depite moments of (supposedly) tense emotion. There’s one expression that irritates me especially. it’ when the mouth is drawn elongatedly at the edges. I’m sure it’s supposed to signify either smugness or exasperation, but most of the time I can’t help but think that the characters look a little like frogs. Curiously, the whales are more expressive… though maybe this just means that Caron is more adept at drawing mouths of the gaping variety.
Then there are the “witty” one-liners, which try way too hard to be cute. Maybe I’m being a little severe? I’ll let you decide. Here’s a choice sampling of the wordplay:
You know, sometimes I wonder if this comic was written intentionally bad like Powerup Comics, and I’m being trolled hard.
Finally, the humor strikes me as being really out of date. It goes beyond just the pog references … which you really shouldn’t attempt to do unless you’re also The Simpsons and you’re making an even more out-of-date reference with ALF. I mean how most of these “random” gags seem like something we’ve seen multiple times before … and done better.
Take for instance, the random appearances of Hitler as a punchline. We live in a world where Hipster Hitler exists, and that comic is something of a commentary about using Hitler as a gag in the first place. There’s also a gag introduced this year about furry vampires, and how, if you’re bitten by a furry, you become one. Hilarious! By the way, Pride & Prejudice & Zombies was released in April 2009.
While I’m not the biggest fan of “random” humor, I think this sort of storytelling might actually work. I mean, I really liked Ramon Perez’s Kukuburi, which is set in a world where literally anything can happen. L.A.W.L.S. even has Mr. Perez beat in the cute punk girl department, providing the reader with, not one, but two punk girls for your viewing pleasure!
I can respect the fact that L.A.W.L.S. seems committed to providing a comic that is actually random, rather than the standard “monkey cheese” random. But, as Ctrl+Alt+Del‘s Chef Brian proves, being random is not necessarily very funny. While there may be large air whales in L.A.W.L.S., there aren’t many LOLs.
Oh come ON! How else was I gonna end this review?
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
P.S. Incidentally, reading the comic gets really annoying for reasons that I don’t think can’t be directly blamed on the comic itself. The banner ad at the top sometimes displays a vertical ad despite having real estate zoned for a horizontal ad. So, from time to time, there will be a long ad suggesting that a “Booty Quest” awaits your future.
* – Apparently not “science,” which I contend would have been a cooler title.