Friday, June 15, 2012

Retrospective: Road Waffles

Writing this is going to be a rough go for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I don't trust that in 2 years, Eight won't start updating it again.  Calling this the "end of Road Waffles" is like saying "the end is nigh."  It might be true, but it might not be.  Another reason is that, because of the four year gap in the comic's updates, I don't remember a lot of it (and have been rereading it for this post).  The final reason is that, well, Road Waffles is not one comic, it's more like four of them.

That said, the themes of the comic are pretty consistent, as is the art, so I can talk about all four at once when it comes to those.  As to the specific stories of each comic, well, that's another story, so to speak.  We'll get to that.

Artwise, the comic has, for the most part, been a black and white shaded strips.  All the characters are distinct, which is good since there are a lot of them and they come in and out of the strip fast and furious, but they all follow a simple model:  Thin, big headed, and kind of crazy.  There's a sketchy feel to the entire strip, yet it's all very deliberate, even the earliest strips have this feeling, when the comic is more cartoony.  I really like the art, and find it fits the spastic nature of the comic better than could generally be hoped for.

The major theme of the comic is travel, typically through the desert regions of the American southwest.  Mostly it seems around Reno and Las Vegas, which means the deserts of Nevada.  This makes the landscapes quite empty and stark.  And usually involve cars of some sort.  They serve the story well, creating a sense of isolation through the strip as there are rarely many people around, and when they are, they usually end up dead.

That is the biggest theme throughout the comic, death, pointless, senseless death.  The very name of the comic, Road Waffles, refers to the pattern tires make on road kill.  One of the early jokes of the comic was that the main characters were "unkillable."  This ended up not being true (for the most part) and killing characters, new, old, whatever, became common place.  Typically through getting shot in some odd way.  Or being time traveled to death.  Or being randomly hit by a car.  Or decapitated by a knife wielding lunatic that likes to eat freshly killed pigs.  Or simply drowning.

Which is to say, it's random as hell.  Saying there is an "overall plot," even divided up into the four books, as it were, is stretching a a series of thin premises a bit too far.  The first book is very much this, bouncing from one oddball encounter to another.  First it starts with a hold up of a convenience store (another common theme, convenience stores), then goes into a bit with zombies, random killings, battling zombie hoards, time travel, randomly kidnapping Green Day members, more zombies, and then a multi-universe war, which ends about as fast as it began.  And that's not even counting the chipmunk encounters that are sprinkled along the way.  It's a random, chaotic mess, but a fun ride as a whole.  If the first book was all there was of Road Waffles, it would certainly be memorable, but not necessarily great.

Then the second book starts with a homage to Hunter S. Thompson.  It then gets very philosophical, but it's not anything really all that advanced, not that I've ever taken more than a rudimentary philosophy course.  The entire cast is replaced for the bulk of the story, and versions of the book one characters appear late in the story.  It even comes back to cover the events of the great multi-universe war, which is a solid connecting piece between the two, and I think a bridge throughout the entire series.  The art drastically improves, but the story telling itself remains kind of random.  Some plot lines are started, then stopped, then get going again in time for this section to end.  Seemingly minor characters suddenly become important, then focused, then the entire cast is dumped in favor of the book one ones, and then back again for the finale.

The third book is the most different of all, probably has the least amount of violence, and perhaps had the strongest initial direction.  It still hits on the theme of travel, but skips the desert and car for trains and wings.  I find the third book, up until a certain point, to be the best of the four, and the one I enjoyed most.  Which is why I'm kind of annoyed that, unlike the first two, there was no proper resolution.  There was a lot going for it, and I think it could have supported a proper ending.  Honestly, I forgot the comic continued for some time after the main characters of the book are removed, as that, despite being depressing, felt at least like an ending.  Sadly, at least 3 separate plot threads are started at this point, and never even saw a proper conclusion.  Most potential, but never finished.

The last book is similar to the first, with a lot of the real strangeness squeezed down and condensed, making a much more followable story.  It's still random, it's in a desert, it starts with a hold up of a convenience store, and follows people in cars until something happens with the multi-verse.  It does feel like an abbreviated version of the first book, in some ways, but in others it stands alone.  It is, however really good, less random than the early stuff, and with a stronger direction than even the third book.  I like the third one better, but only because of the characters and how it can stand on it's own more.  Book four needs the rest of the comic to make sense, and in a way, it wraps up the entire comic rather nicely.

I think the real problem with this comic is that, well, Eight always had an idea for a comic, and hints of a story, but never a serious script.  He WANTS to tell a story, that might or might not be important to him, but he can't get it out there.  That's not a bad thing, after all, since the bulk of the comic is built on these half thought out ideas and I enjoy them immensely.  The problem comes when it is time for him to tell a story, at which point, the comic falls completely apart.  At the very end, he sets up an interesting tale about how a musician lost two of her fingers, and the comic looks set to tell this tale, and then, one strip into this story, the comic is ended.  Why?  I think he didn't feel he could do it justice.

And yet, and YET, he did manage a story.  A confused tale, sure, with bumps and curves that, somehow, manages to still link together.  I wouldn't call it well thought out, not in the least, but it all does seem to come together in the "end" of the comic.  Even book three, the most independent of the four, has connections to the others.

This is why I'm not so sure it's over for good.  The randomness, the sudden return of book four, the wild ride, it can't really be over this time, can it?  Maybe it is, and if so, I hope Eight is proud of what he's done, because I do love this comic.  There are comics with better, more coherent stories, with better art, funnier jokes, and all that, but it has a charm that I can't shake.  Road Waffles, whatever the future may hold, whether it be a return someday or never again, is and will remain one of my all time favorites.

Next week looks to be pretty packed for me, so I'll try to get something up, something shorter than this.  Until then kiddies.

1 comment:

  1. Road Waffles, good lord. If he had kept it up, it could have been one of the greats. It will always have a special place in my heart though.