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Eric: State of the Web(cartoonist): Aeire

Pnp20080130B

From Punch an' Pie.

The Webcartoonist: Aeire

Current Webcomics: Punch an' Pie

You May Remember Her From Such Webcomics As: Queen of Wands

Enthusiasm: Happily Reading

How Frequently Read: Regularly Checked

So. Last October Aerie launched Punch an' Pie, a sequel webcomic to her popular Queen of Wands webcomic, featuring art (and no doubt storywork -- I don't mean to minimize) by the talented Chris Daly of Striptease. It starred Angela, a supporting character from Queen of Wands, who finds herself being forced by time, circumstance and inevitability to start the long road to growing up.

So, we wait a long moment for it....

Right. For a lot of you, that paragraph seems odd. After all, Punch An' Pie didn't start in November of 2007, It started in February, almost a full year ago. There were dozens of comics predating the October 19 strip I linked to before -- one of the very few comics in full color in this particular webcomic.

Yeah, those don't count. But I'm reminded of a literature course I once took from my father.

My father, for those who came in late, is a (now retired) professor of English, and I've taken several courses from him over the years. He's a remarkable teacher, dressed up in his professorial sweater (for Dad, it was always a sweater -- I'm not sure why, but to this day when he happens to wear a sweater I have an urge to take notes and pretend to be listening to what he says) and sipping tea in the front of the class. He guides discussion deftly, leads commentary adroitly, and has a remarkable facility to remember what others have written about a book essentially verbatim. And when you think you have him cornered and you're closing in for the kill -- rhetorically speaking -- he has this annoying habit of smiling, looking a bit proud, and saying "you know, there's probably a paper in that." And then you have to write it.

One of the courses I took from the Good Doctor was the English Novel, and I believe that was when he told me a rule of thumb I've held close ever since (though it may have been English Comp or any number of other courses): a novel typically opens by establishing the norm. "This is what life is like." But it begins by breaking the norm. Something new happens. Someone comes to town. Someone gets fired. Birds start killing people for no reason. A letter shows up for Harry. Something scares all the buffalo so the army is called in. What have you.

Well, Aerie writes in the novel form, and from February through September, she very carefully established the norm. Angela, from Queen of Wands, has a very settled life. She works at a toy store under the direction of Dawna, the cool manager we remember from that opus. She works alongside some rather odd folks. She has a live-in girlfriend who really loves her and a warped sense of the world.

And, if this were a gag-a-day comic, that would be sufficient. She would have a relationship, a workplace, hobbies, and plenty of room for hijinks to ensue.

But this isn't gag-a-day. It's a novel, and everything Changed for Angela.

First, her toy store was closed by corporate, forcing Angela to step out into the real world. She had a chance to go along with Dawna and join her new staff, but Heather (the live-in girlfriend) put her foot down, forcing Angela to go out and get a real job, working for someone she doesn't like. (Heather also was pushed into a new job by Angela, it is worth noting.) And then, tired of Angela's possessiveness and insecurity (hallmarks of Angela's Queen of Wands era experiences with Brad, Seamus and yes, indeed, Kestrel), Heather put it on the line: she didn't think they should still see each other.

It was a relatively standard, if passive-aggressive, move on Heather's part. Make an ultimatum phrased as a regret, to inspire a heartfelt conversation that might crack through Angela's Issues and get them to a better space. Instead, Angela said 'whatever,' grabbed a few things, and left to sleep at Dawna's for a while, and we had ourselves a webcomic. Because nothing says comedy gold like two people feeling miserable and cut off.

On the first of February, Angela moved into her new apartment, as Dawna -- her last real connection to her old life (and Queen of Wands) moved away, and the real story began. I find it interesting, however, that the next series of strips touched on Heather -- showing that she's having hijinks of her own, and that she's nowhere near over the blond chick who's in the masthead. Heather has her own supporting cast and her own path to walk.

Which brings us back to Aeire.

Aerie's real strength is writing about character evolution. Queen of Wands was a coming of age story starring Kestrel, who had some good times and some crappy times but as the people around her changed, Kestrel discovered she had to change with them. This is why Queen of Wands had to end with Kestrel in a moving van heading East to a new life -- she was, in effect, leaving the nest. (Didn't notice the bird thing before now, did you? Clever, that Aeire.

Which is why, in another sense, Punch An' Pie didn't really start until we actually had Angela moving into a place, and starting a new life of her own. Because Angela's story isn't Kestrel's. Kestrel had the comfort of a supportive environment that would wait for her to -- oh Christ, I can't believe I'm about to type these words -- spread her wings. Angela's been pushed out of the nest and the nest has been blown up with C4. She's on her own.

And in her own way, so's Heather.

So. Let's get on to the nitty and the gritty. (Gritty extra.)

Strengths

Aeire writes pathos well, without having it fall into needless angst. Her sense of tone and character has always been strong, and it's clear she knows where she's going. Chris Daly's impact on her writing has been only to the good -- Punch An' Pie is a tighter, more mature strip than Queen of Wands was at this point in its history.

And let us not forget Chris Daly's art. While this is a "state of" Aeire, Daly is a huge part of the new strip, and it shows. The characters in Punch An' Pie are more cartoony than in Striptease (which, believe it or not, is a compliment), and he is very good at distinguishing between characters in both body and face. And while Aeire was a solid cartoonist in her own right, Daly has a better handle on visual language -- his characters are more expressive and fluid with their bodies, reinforcing the words with actions. Aeire could do that, but a lot of her strips ended up being talking heads (and word balloons in between them).

Also, I have a soft spot for black and white line art, and they use it well.

The strip's pacing is good, and its emotional impacts, when the bombs are dropped, are effective. And the strip's update schedule has been rock steady.

Weaknesses

It's a little bit hard to like these people.

Oh, Heather seems legitimately nice and sweet, and Dawna was nice and sweet, but when you're telling a story of a person growing up, it's hard not to make that person into a brat. Angela is heaps of fun when she's 'on,' but when she's not, or in an uncomfortable situation, she can be a real snot. That's not a bad thing, but we have some trouble building a sympathetic vibe to her which we're going to need if this things' going to work. And the zoo folks and bookstore folks all tend towards the negative, at least for the moment, which means that most of the characters we run into in the course of the strip are, well, on the cynical side at best.

We also have had some evidence of the extended pastward look, as embodied by the "life flashing before her eyes" Angela went through when Heather dropped the bomb on her. While it made dramatic sense, it could probably have been done better in half the strips even if the strips were thereby twice as long.

I mentioned my enjoyment of the art, and that's true. However, when they do heavy greyscaling or halftoning, it ends up being way too muddled for my tastes. I don't usually critique art, but it's worth the note.

Possibly the biggest weakness, however, is in depth of backstory. If someone's read all of Queen of Wands and all of Punch An' Pie, it's easy as... er... cake to jump in and get involved. But most people haven't read the many years of webcomics the above entails. Some user guides might help out a lot, for new readers. (Assuming they want new readers, which isn't a given.)

There is a cast list, but it's already out of date. (Dawna and Justin, while still in the comic, are likely to become bit players instead of regular cast members -- assuming Aeire doesn't pull a surprise and do a Something Positivesque shift between casts to keep us appraised of what's going on with the two, in effect giving us four leads.) Having a scorecard for the zoo and the bookstore would be helpful.

On the Whole

If I seem like I'm belaboring the 'Punch an' Pie just started' thing? It's because I really wasn't all that into Punch An' Pie before the shit started going down. Once fires start being set and people run to keep from being burnt, things get really interesting. Before that, it was very 'establish establish establish,' and sometimes it felt like it didn't have much point. So, when Point slapped us in the face, it was very effective.

I'm liking Punch An' Pie, and I'm looking forward to where it goes next. Even if we are, indeed, going to miss the old ways.

It's a good beginning. Here's to the journey.

EDIT: Chris Daily. I swear, I checked that like twice and I still got it wrong. Sure, Aeire I manage to keep straight, but not Daily. Yeesh, Burns.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 18, 2008 3:18 PM

Comments

Comment from: Scott [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 18, 2008 6:06 PM

Welcome back. I'll be looking forward to more updates like this (and hoping that just maybe, you'll do some more John Stark)

Comment from: Mazlynn [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 18, 2008 6:07 PM

Good to see you back again. I'm looking forward to discovering the rest of your list!

I've really been enjoying P&P, but I have to agree that part of the reason I'm not more enthusiastic about it is because the characters are a bit hard to actually *like* at times. Aeire's weaving a good story with this one, and the art is fun, so I'm definitely enjoying the ride. But I don't have as much invested in where the characters are going on this one. That may be partly because this feels like it could be the standard romantic trope of "two characters split up and realize they're really perfect for each other", and I don't think that's really where I'd like to see these characters go. I'm not rooting for the "happily ever after get back together again" ending here, and I couldn't tell you exactly why that is. I have faith that this is probably heading someplace much more interesting, or that even if it does go that direction it will be an interesting ride, but it does leave me with a bit of a sense of "oh, this story again."

'Twill be interesting to see where it goes, for sure.

Comment from: Darth Paradox [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 18, 2008 7:01 PM

There's something weird about the next post - I can read it from the link above, but not on the main page, and I can't comment to it...

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 18, 2008 7:22 PM

Darth -- if you refresh the page (or clear your cache), you'll also see the link above disappear. The next post is a scheduled post for tomorrow morning, not a published post.

So, sit on your comment until eight tomorrow morning and all should be well. :)

Comment from: madbaker [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 18, 2008 7:54 PM

Nice Ed Wood reference!

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 18, 2008 7:57 PM

And, of course, an aeire/eyrie is a sort of very high nest to be pushed out of....

Comment from: Lady Luna [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 19, 2008 3:03 AM

Nice to see you back and blogging about Webcomics, Mr. Burns.

I gotta agree about the likability thing. I don't deeply care for any of the characters right now. I don't hate them, Aeire has the writing chops to have prevented that, but there will need to be some serious Growing Up for me to become attached to Angela... or even Heather.

One thing that's interesting is the story is still keeping up with Heather. Even though she is, for now, out of Angela's life we're still getting to keep track of her.

One thing that's interesting about the art is how much more childlike Angela looks in Daly's art style than she looked in Aeire's. In QoW Angela looked much more like a tiny woman than like a 12 year old. I think that this underscores a good point -- now that we're really getting a good look at Angela's life we can see exactly how little she's grown up, and that's reflected in the art style.

Comment from: Andrew [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 19, 2008 2:02 PM

The bit about the bat-story that has made Darrin a boat of money and no life is hilarious. I think some of the new characters, like Heather's hair-mate and Angela's boss seems very cardboardish.

But I do love the storylines thus far, and I hope that we get some mild twists and turns as we go about.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 19, 2008 2:50 PM

"t's because I really wasn't all that into Punch An' Pie before the shit started going down."

That's interesting, because the "I think we should stop seeing each other" strip was the exact moment I stopped reading. I knew where this was going, and it just didn't seem fun.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 19, 2008 2:59 PM

That's interesting, because the "I think we should stop seeing each other" strip was the exact moment I stopped reading. I knew where this was going, and it just didn't seem fun.

Interesting. I can totally understand that, but I'd suggest giving it a month or two and then going back and reading. One of the least intuitive truisms of fiction is "conflict is a good thing." Having the pair break up and move into uncomfortable situations leads to tremendous comedic and narrative potential. Bringing the Funny and Bringing the Story, to pull out the dusty old lexicon. To me, it's the difference between good old fashioned buzzsaw and axe fights and rocking on the porch offering each other lemonade. The former's violent and nasty, but way more interesting and fun.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 1:42 AM

Oh, I definitely know what you mean, and I've been thinking about doing so. But, well, you sort of hit on it in your article. The old "X rejects Y for Y's own good" plot can be really annoying, and I just don't feel the characters are appealing enough to me to make it enjoyable.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 1:43 AM

By the way, I also wanted to say I really liked Daly's art in this. It's interesting, I enjoy it way more than over in Striptease itself.

Comment from: Jennifer the Chaos Queen [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at February 20, 2008 4:18 PM

Well, this got me reading PnP again, and I had drifted off, thinking, "Yeah...I dunno...there's no plot compelling me to come return here..."

Thanks for the writeup to get me looking again, Eric.

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