Friday, April 24, 2015

Not-So-Wild Review: Wapsi Square

I think I might dedicate this year to Retrospectives and Not-So-Wild Reviews.  So with that in mind, let's look at a comic that's been on my list for a while but I rarely talk about it:

Wapsi Square

I have quite a bit to say about this comic.  Not much of it is going to be positive, but keep in mind it is on my read list, so don't get up in arms yet.


As part of writing long reviews like this I go to about and cast pages, to refresh my memory, and when there's a comic as long lived as Wapsi Square (started in 2001) that's a lot of stuff to remember.  So I click the link and am given THIS.  I know older comics like this have big casts, but usually they try to make cast lists, summary pages and the like accessible, but this, this is going to require a whole article to dissect what's wrong.  So let me get beyond that for a bit.  Despite having such a massive cast, most of the characters are fairly well defined.  They have their own foibles, traits and such, and for the most part are easily distinguished from each other.

There are still issues, of course.  While each character has their own arc and personality, the side characters often don't get enough time to develop.  Those that do get very strange developments.  Shelly, for example, starts as just another girl, though she enjoys working in her dad's auto shop and is "freakishly strong."  That's fine for a friend character, then she turns out to be part sphinx because. . . I have no idea.  It spoiled her as a character, and in fact EVERY character seems to have to have some kind of paranormal connection.  It was fine when it was Monica (original main character) who had this weird touch, but when everyone is doing it, it doesn't feel special or interesting any more.  This is even more true with the "New Wapsi Square" cast who are all basically monsters.  Atsali is half incubus, half siren, her adopted sister is a living collection of plants, her friends are werebears, etc etc.  It just lacks a solid anchor in the "real" to make all this fantastic stuff stand out.  It's kind of a shame.  Oh, and there is one other thing. . .


The art isn't bad, really.  Simple in many ways, but not bad.  Characters all have distinct looks and can generally be identified against each other.  There is a tendency to have very large mouths vs heads, but that doesn't break the comic.  That said, it seems Paul Taylor is kind of limited to drawing, well, women.  The majority of the cast is female, often more than well endowed and always projected as being better looking than the comic can really give them.  It really runs the line that the comic is about fanservice more than story, character or art, which may or may not be an issue for many.  The larger images of the last half of the comic's life make this even more prominent as the backgrounds often take a backseat to the characters, who are huge vs the size of the panels.  I don't feel ashamed to read the comic as it is, the characters aren't pushed too far into the fanservice side of the spectrum to cause a distraction, but it's clear that's the general intent.  I have seen much better art, but I have also seen much, much worse, which makes it just kind of average in the long run.


Wapsi Square has a problem when it comes to story.  I've talked about it before, even if it has been a while.  The problem is show vs tell, and tell wins in most cases with Wapsi Square.  This isn't a new development either, it's prevalent from the beginning.  The characters love to talk to each other, and the action is very limited so it almost appears to be a just talking heads the entire time.  Sometimes it is necessary, but other times it hurts the overall story.

A good example is actually one of the recent storylines where Atsali went to talk to other members of the cast about an incident at the pool where the conservatively dressed Atsali was accused of dressing too sexy.  Of course she's a half-siren with boobs the size of basketballs, so that fits, but it is part of Atsali's overall body image problems and young age, and as a plot point, it's actually quite interesting.  Except that we, as the readers, NEVER SAW THE INCIDENT!  We are only told about it during the discussion.  On top of that, the most recent events included Atsali barely surviving the detonation of an anti-matter bomb, and finding one of the other cast members had committed suicide.  Either of those two events could have triggered a similar discussion, but instead the comic focuses on one that happened off panel.

This is only the most recent issue with the way the story is told, but not the story as a whole.  Some of the plots, including the first half dominating "Calender Machine" plot are quite interesting, and even witnessing Atsali adjust to her new body and how others relate to her is intriguing on a personal development level, but often we're forced to hear the characters tell each other what happened rather than watch it happen, which would be far more effective.  I have seen commentary that the fact that Paul sticks with 3 panel strips as being the root of the problem, and I disagree as it can be done effectively, I've seen it in Wapsi Square itself no less.  But the increased size of the panels, while it makes the art bigger and feel like they have more room, also leaves more room for dialog, exasperating the already existing problem of the characters talking too much.  With so much dialog it's easy to get lost in the events, to the point that I have been more than lost in a few occasions.

Finally there is a large number of smaller stories always going on.  That giant cast page I linked near the top isn't just about the cast, only 10 pages or so are, but almost 60 pages are dedicated to charting out the hundreds of minor plotlines and stories.  Even the recent stories seem to bounce back and forth between events, adding to the confusion on what's going on.  This lack of focus is just another element of the myriad of problems with the comic.


So it pretty much looks like I spent the bulk of this review saying how bad a comic Wapsi Square is, but the thing is, I still read it.  Every comic on my read list I recommend on some level or another, and Wapsi is no exception.  Why?  Well, when it does get things right, I'm very satisfied.  The recent suicide event I mentioned lasted maybe 5 strips, if that, and was exactly what "show" means.  The characters, despite their massive numbers, at least have different personalities, and often act in accordance to them.  The art, while not stellar, at least conveys the emotions necessary for each character to carry, and when it must relate action or show the story, it can and does.  The comic's many failures are often offset by successes, and as a whole I come away still enjoying the comic.  It's not great but it's not really awful.  I would say it's okay in general.  Perhaps if I was closer to my 100 read strip limit, Wapsi would be near the line to be cut, but there are enough comics that are even closer that it won't go anywhere any time soon.  So yes, read Wapsi and if you can get past it's issues, you might find a decent comic to had to your own list.

Next week, I'm going to talk about that damn cast page.  Oh god, will I talk about that cast page.  Until next time kiddies.

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