The Webcomic Overlook #22: Thinkin’ Lincoln
I’m not sure how many international readers set eyes on The Webcomic Overlook. With the internet, you never know. I feel I need to spend some time explaining a certain American President named Abraham Lincoln. Unless you are from the United States, you may be puzzled as to why the man is considered by many to be the greatest president of the United States. Why does he appear on so much of our currency? Why is the Lincoln Memorial treated like a sacred shrine? I imagine the bafflement mirrors my own confusion of the Chinese devotion to Mao Tse Tung or the Filipino deification of Jose Rizal.
So if I could be serious for a moment….
We now live in an era where every Presidential candidate seems to be born with a spoon in their mouth. So it seems rather shocking that Lincoln was a man born of poverty, starting from zero and clawing his way to the top through sheer perseverance. Unlike you or I, Lincoln received no formal education. No problem; he taught himself by reading Shakespeare and the Bible. As President, he penned two of the most moving speeches in American history: the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural Address.
Lincoln was chronically depressed, mocked for his unconventional appearance, despised by more than half the country, and denounced by factions in his own party. Yet he united a divided country and set the referendum on an issue that had poisoned the United States since its founding: slavery. Oh, historians will tell you that there was the matter of state’s rights, but slavery, and its expansion into the new territories, was the only issue anyone was interested in. This adds to entire mystique of the Lincoln Presidency: he entire term is defined by a war about an idea — human rights — and whether or not that idea was worth dying for.
Thus, Abraham Lincoln seems larger than life, legendary. He seemed to exist solely to serve as President of the United States in it’s darkest years. And when that task was over, he was gone. Lincoln died for his beliefs, assassinated at Ford’s Theater. After the deed, the assassin, the actor John Wilkes Booth, uttered the phrase, “Sic Semper Tyrannis.” This only expands Lincoln’s legacy by contrasting his mercy (which was noted by Confederate General Robert E. Lee: “I surrendered as much to Lincoln’s goodness as I did to Grant’s armies”) against blinding, senseless hatred. By the time Lincoln was buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery, he was the American Messiah.
And, because he’s seen as such a stately individual, Abraham Lincoln is ripe for lampooning. A teenage Abe was one of the main characters in MTV’s “Clone High,” the ghost of Lincoln helped the Venture Brothers, he once told us to “be excellent to each other” in Bill & Ted, and once ran amok as “Evli Lincoln” on Futurama.
This trend continues in webcomics. Jesus Christ may be the most frequent target for webcomic creators, but Honest Abe gets some props, too … like the subject of today’s Webcomic Overlook, Thinkin’ Lincoln.
“Thinkin’ Lincoln” is a webcomic created by Miles Grover. According to the profile on his site, Mr. Grover hails from my neck of the woods (Seattle, WA), so there’s a fairly good chance I’ve cussed him out in traffic. Crap, there’s even a chance he lives in my condo complex. If that’s the case, then…
Hey, Miles. I’m definitely not the guy with the Super Cute Hello Kitty hanging on my rear view mirror. Nope. Definitely not.
Grover’s webcomic is one degree separated from the clip art webcomic subgenre, which is dominated by the likes of Soxaholix and Ryan North’s Dinosaur Comics. Thinkin’ Lincoln is a little different. Characters are in the same pose, but their faces are manipulated to portray shock, disgust, malaise … whatever needs to be done for comedic effect. It’s more of a “cut-and-paste” strip than a “clip art” strip. Fans of lush illustrations may be turned off by what can be perceived as artistic laziness. However, Charles Schulz revolutionized the comic strip field by simplifying drawings, and South Park turned a mighty profit. It can be argued that writing will trump art any given day. Faster to make, too.
(Are South Park, the recent wave of crude Flash animation, and the general culture of instant gratification responsible for the rise of webcomics that look like stick figures? Discuss!)
The three main characters in “Thinkin’ Lincoln” are Abe Lincoln, who tends to ramble about topics important to 20-somethings and seems to have the ADD; George Washington, who generally acts like a jerk, but a smooth jerk; and Queen Elizabeth II, who is pretty much the straight character and is somehow hanging out with a bunch of dead guys even though she’s still alive. I suppose the original crew were “political leaders who show up a lot on currency.”
Eventually, other characters not based on currency drop by to flesh out the cast. The Original Three are joined by politicians, scientists, and writers. For some reason, all the writers are undead … except for Edgar Allan Poe, and that guy was pretty darn creepy just by being himself.
All of these delightful characters are represented by heads floating against a paper white background. Maybe it’s something we’re not supposed to notice. Maybe it’s a literal interpretation of the phrase “talking heads.” Maybe Grover is inviting us into a world where body language, for all its revealing truths, is banished and we must divine human emotion through the subtler crescendos and staccato ticks in our facial expressions. Grover actually addresses the “bodiless” issue quite often, such as this one where Abe Lincoln dances a happy jig.
Reading the blog that accompanies the strip, I can conclude that Miles Grover has some rather nerdy tastes. He’s a huge fan of They Might Be Giants, and he enjoys odd websites like one that follows the evolution of the Batman logo. The webcomic follows the same spirit of absurdity. Let’s stick a beard on a crocodile! And make him speak jive! Random! Yet, like the president-obsessed TMBG, Grover slips in various snippets of educational trivia like the “Did you know?” section in your newspaper funny pages. I enjoyed several of these. One that I highly appreciate involves Emperor Norton, a crazy homeless man in San Francisco who declared himself emperor during the Lincoln administration. The Emperor goes on to be a semi-regular character in “Thinkin’ Lincoln.”
Usually, this mix of harmless absurdity and odd world history is my cup of tea. It saddens me to report that this is quite possibly one of the most frustrating webcomics I have ever read. Now, I’ll admit that I’m partially to blame. First of all, I’m probably not the target audience. TMBG, for example, is best appreciated by college students. I haven’t stepped in a college classroom since, oh, June of this year — but that was grad school, a different environment altogether.
Second, when reviewing a webcomic, I usually read from beginning to end, skipping no strips or else miss something stellar. Sometimes, I read a hundred strips in one sitting. Thinkin’ Lincoln is meant to be a gag-a-day comic. If I’d read each a day at a time as God intended, the spontaneity may have caught me off guard and I might’ve laughed more often.
Instead, I struggled through this comic like an ox in a lake full of mashed potatoes. “Thinkin’ Lincoln” is not the longest-running webcomic I’ve reviewed, but it certainly felt like it. It took me nearly four months to get through it, mainly I just did not have the willpower to keep going. The jokes were repetitive. The intentionally out-of-date street lingo for 12-year-olds gets grating after a while. There were a lot of wacky, nonsensical situations and discussions, but more often then not they made me roll my eyes rather than laugh. This should not be happening when your webcomic stars Abraham Tubbaluv Lincoln!
And frankly, there was just too much navel gazing. Now, lazy writers often attribute the fine art of navel gazing to stoners. Lies! That’s propaganda perpetuated by the pro-weed lobbyists. Truthfully, anyone can do it. All you have to take is a commonly accepted fact or maxim (such as, “I have a great idea to get things done”) and follow it to some ridiculous conclusion (“Follow it up by saying, ‘MY WORD IS LAW'”) And now you’re navel gazing! Or, more precisely, you have the an installment of “Thinkin’ Lincoln“. Now, in small doses, such flights of fancy are fine. “Thinkin’ Lincoln,” though, does it Monday through Friday, like it’s the corporate mission statement. What makes it worse is when the characters are embroiled in these mind-blowing discussions. Abe becomes the main voice, while the other characters only exist to say, “That’s silly” or “But what about…?” And, in a way, Abe’s voice disappears and gives way to one of a bemused college kid, munching on Cool Ranch Doritos — which I can only assume is Miles Grover. At this point, the strip becomes an illustrated blog, where Abe Lincoln is Miles’ avatar.
But now I’m going to cut Miles a bit of slack. I was prepared to give “Thinkin’ Lincoln” The Webcomic Overlook’s first 1-star rating purely on the fact that the strip could not keep my attention. But then, something magical happened. Around the 400th strip (posted March of this year), I started to laugh. Heartily. And out loud. Now I know what Stockholm Syndrome feels like. I think, too, that Thinkin’ Lincoln had experienced a narrative shift of sorts. The strips were relying less on the “Navel Gazin’ Lincoln” strips and were telling light-hearted storylines. The Unstoppable Enrnest Shackleton and the subplot where Lincoln pursues Young Martha Washington, for example, elicited four mighty guffaws, at the least. The weird sight gags, too, started to grow on me as well. For example, an early strip that turned Punxatawney Pete into Abe Lincoln’s child did nothing for me. But Abe Lincoln shooting rainbows out of his eyes? Darwin shooting a missile out of his mouth? Tesla turning into a being of pure energy? Hilarity!
There’s no explaining why we laugh, I guess.
Also, and I hate to say this — especially when talking about a gag strip — I admire how Grover handled the characters. Most of the time, you can cover up the faces and make a pretty good guess which character was talking. Around the 400th strip, “Thinkin’ Lincoln” had assembled a fairly large and interesting cast, which made the transition from blog-like monologues to a plot-based strip possible. By the way, I’m saying that the strip should become a drama. I just think that the visual gags work better when stretched over several strips.
In the end, while the strip still induces pangs of lethargy from time to time, I have to say that the times it’s made me laugh out loud more than makes up for it. Ha! Enjoy the virtual anonymity of a 3-star rating, “Thinkin’ Lincoln”!
Although the strip is flawed, I’m surprised that the comic doesn’t have a stronger following. According to Comixtalk, the current popular webcomics are xkcd and Cyanide and Happiness, which made a big splash when they dethroned the previous champeen, Penny Arcade. I’m not a huge fan of either comic, which reduces artistic endevours to stick figures … but people seem to love ’em, so there you go. The first specializes in totally nerdy, engineering-based humor that tends to zoom over my head sometimes. The second revels in stupid sight gags. “Thinkin’ Lincoln” seems to inhabit the vague area in between, peppering random absurdity with historical trivia.
Is it because there’s no significant overlap between those who enjoy calculus-based humor and historical chicanery?
Or maybe Mr. Grover needs to represent Honest Abe as a circle with dots for eyes?
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on December 7, 2007, in 3 Stars, clip art webcomic, comedy webcomic, pop culture caricatures, spoof, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Abraham Lincoln, Thinkin' Lincoln. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.