Saturday, 17 March 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: My Cardboard Life vs. Wondermark

In this week’s Two To Review, I’ll be comparing webcomics with a common design style: the use of collage to create something better than the sum of its parts.

Wondermark is a Gag-A-Day webcomic with occasional longer storylines created by David Malki. But the way he creates such strips is highly unusual, and a main draw to the site: Malki hunts down (or more commonly now is sent) old books with classy Victorian or Edwardian illustrations inside, which he then proceeds to scan into his computer, separates the drawings into the component parts, i.e. funny looking heads, bodies and clothing, backgrounds and textures, objects etc, and then rearranges and digitally glues these parts together to create his comics!

This digital collage art style let’s Malki’s work instantly stand out from the crowd with very little need for drawing, plus it’s hilarious seeing Victorian era gentlemen talking about 21st century things as if they were disobedient teenagers or men with a mid-life crisis! Plus I love how Malki can take old pictures of plumbing parts and trumpets and put them together to create steam punk robots and improbable gyrocopters. The writing is often hysterical, ranging widely from making up new types of religious stances and vehemently defending them, to a 40 foot tall Abraham Lincoln destroying a city.

One thing I would mention as a negative, however, is that sometimes the art style can work against it. If a heavily detailed background is used alongside similarly styled figures and objects, the action can get lost somewhere when the line-work and crosshatching start melding into one another. The panels of the strip are all usually formatted to the same size, but it can sometimes feel like this size is slightly too small, leaving you to squint at the details. Malki sometimes provides a larger alternative view to some strips, often to showcase the level of detail in a complicated contraption, but I feel the strip could benefit from a permanently larger panel size. And along with all Gag-A-Days that have updated for a considerable amount of time, it inevitably has jokes that aren’t as good on some days than others.

My Cardboard Life is a Gag A Day webcomic peppered with long running jokes and themes, and a recently started longer ongoing storyline, created by Philippa Rice. The strip stands out from the crowd by being completely made up of actual collages of paper and cardboard, utilising Philippa’s impressive paper craft skills! The strip’s main characters are the unlikely duo of Cardboard Colin, a friendly, innocent and sometimes naïve boy made of squares of cardboard, and Paper Pauline, the kind of friend who’s selfish and always picks on Colin thoughtlessly, but deep down knows that he’s the only one she’s got!

It’s a great, gentle-humour filled story of friendship and silly situations, and is definitely the cutest webcomic I read! The diverse range of materials are well used, with the fact that characters are made of paper (and all sorts of other small household items) often leading the jokes. Dr Bandaid is a personal favourite recurring character, for example! But the main highlight of this strip is the very real relationship between Colin and Pauline, often tumultuous but ultimately reminiscent of the turbulent friendship between a brother and sister.

Of course, this sort of gentle-humour-driven strip isn’t for everyone, certainly those who crave a deep drama or a more exciting adventure. And unfortunately the stationary-based gags sometimes tend to drift into “bad Christmas cracker” territory at times. More’s the pity, I can’t for the life of me bring myself to like the Polar Bear character, who just acts as a bad running joke (however, the other one-dimensional running joke character of the plastic teaspoon is just absurdly abstract enough to keep me smiling).

So now to decision time. My Cardboard Life has its flaws and can be a bit thin, but I like to think of it as a cute palette cleanser between more meatier webcomic courses, and holds a place in my heart because of this. And Wondermark is an excellent concept with some true laugh out loud moments, but not entirely perfect. In my mind, this has been the closest Two To Reviews since I started these articles, but after much deliberation Wondermark edges it for sheer laughter quota, and the fact that it appeals to the steampunk/Victoriana centres of my brain!

Todd Marsh welcomes the Runaways back to Marvel Comics with open arms.

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