The Webcomic Overlook #26: No Pink Ponies
NOTE: This will be the last Webcomic Overlook post that will also include a linking post from my parent blog, Rooktopia. For the next month or so, I plan on doing a lot of updates to the Webcomic Overlook. I’ve got a few reviews in the pipeline I want to finish, plus a new feature I hope to launch. Consequentially, there will be fewer updates to Rooktopia. Thus, if I were to update Rooktopia every time I did a new review, the self-proclaimed “Total Dork Wasteland” would, unfortunately, turn into a blog with a ridiculous amount of links to this site. Frankly, no one wants that. So if you primarily reach The Webcomic Overlook from Rooktopia, please bookmark this blog or add me to your WordPress Blog Surfer. As for Rooktopia, I could get around to updating the site around February or so. A hearty thanks to all the readers of both blogs!
While I wasn’t much a fan of Bobby Crosby’s webcomic, Marry Me (reviewed here), I did like the artwork provided by Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar. Usually, I’m not too thrilled when a webcomic artist imitates the Japanese manga style. However, I do like Mokhtar’s work. He has very distinct and expressive character designs. He goes beyond being a cookie-cutter manga imitation. His style part bishonen and part Peter Chung, but ultimately it’s a personalized style that is uniquely Eisu’s.
When I found out that Mokhtar had his own series, I was curious to see how he would pull it off. Needless to say, I had no reservations about that art. But could Eisu handle the rest? Could he overcome the narrative shortfalls evident in Marry Me? Could he prove to be a better writer than Bobby Crosby?
So, right off a weekend marathon viewing of the excellent Justice League Unlimited cartoon, The Webcomic Overlook delves back into the nerdy world of superheroes and the comic book store experience. Today, I will look at Eisu Mokhtar’s No Pink Ponies.
True to the title, the comic does not, in fact, have anything to do with pink ponies. (I’m actually curious as to how Mokhtar came up with the title.) The webcomic is about Jess, a super cute gal who happens to love comics. (Heh! Only in comics.) One day, while she’s out shopping, she sets her eyes on a cashier who can best be described as a tasty morsel of a man. His name is … well, I actually don’t think he was given a name. He’s called Cute Comic Guy in the character list, so I guess he’s never given an official name. Needless to say, it’s love at first sight.
Our lovestruck gal wants to get closer to Senor Sex Appeal, so what does she do? Why, what any woman with her hormones in overdrive would do! She buys her own piece of commercial space and turns it into a comic book store called Chix Comix.
If you haven’t picked up on it yet, No Pink Ponies is one of those zany, madcap romantic comedies that you’ll often find in Japanese anime. Only instead of a shy dork with nosebleed problems, we get a moderately hot chick who faints a lot. All the typical anime standards are there. You have a competent business woman who turns into a drooling schoolgirl when a hot guy’s around. You’ve got your jokes about bad cooking, gals with extreme streaks of bad luck, and creepy near-incestual affection from little sister figures.
And, when in doubt, throw in a lesbian subplot.
Now, I have several issues with shoehorning anime cliches in a setting where the characters aren’t schoolkids and the setting isn’t Japan. For example, do adults in America ever use the phrase “confessed and become an item” in conversations about relationships? That’s not the biggest problem, though. The issue is that no amount of window dressing can hide how one-dimensional all the characters are. Most can are defined by only one trait — shy and obsessive, nerdy, cool, nerdy, handsome, nerdy, nerdy — and even then it’s not consistent with the characterizations.
Geek culture, which this webcomic supposedly revolves around, is awkwardly handled in No Pink Ponies. The comic book nerds look and act like no one you would see in real life. The nerd chorus tells us non-stop about how they love comics, but exhibit few strong traits of their obsessive behavior. True, there’s a few lame comedy fistfights over the sissy “Who’s stronger? Superhero X or Superhero Y?” debates. But do we get any examples that mirrors the true spirit of rabid geek fandom? In the last two years, comic book nerds have been ranting and raving over the most mundane aspects of 52, Civil War, and the Ultimates. Recently, nerd rage has been directed at the Spider-Man story “Brand New Day.” There’s a reason why Ookla the Mok wrote a song called “Stop Talking about Comic Books or I’ll Kill You.”
Yet none of that crazy fervor shows up in No Pink Ponies. The characters act like they were created by someone who has no idea how an actual comic book geek acts. Here’s some sample dialogue:
“The Infinitely Crisis Crossover, that’s what!! I mean, Holy Schwamola! This comic event is awesome! Look at what happened to Getham City! And Flying Mouse Man is going —“
Groaning yet? That line was supposed to be an example of dialogue so geeky that is scares of a couple of cool guys. I’m sorry, but if a gal started ranting like that, my first thought would be: “She’s never read a comic before, huh. Oh, and I’d hit that.” It’s almost as if the characters were created for a network sitcom about geeks, and the writers and the producers are totally oblivious about geek culture.
“Superheroes are gold! GOLD!” a producer would say. “Let’s do a series about their fans. Except … what do nerds look like?”
“I don’t know,” says one of the writers, “ugly, smelly, bucktoothed slobs who don’t know how to act around women?”
“That’s no good,” says the producer, sternly shaking his head. “No one would tell them apart. That’s just bad marketing. Let’s spin this roulette to see what character we can make up …. Boffo! Let’s make one of them a big musclebound lug!”
“Um, I haven’t been to one, but I don’t think those kinds of guys hang around comic shops.”
“It doesn’t matter! The nerds’ll find it hilarious! Imagine, a dumb jock hanging around obsessive little dorks. That’s the random, free-thinking comic atmosphere our readers expect, people! Now what do nerds like to talk about?”
“Comic books, I guess. But if we want them to seem really geeky, we’d have to actually read some comic books, and frankly you guys aren’t paying us enough to do that.”
“Eh, just throw in some superficial reference to Spider-Man or Batman. Or just have them say something like they really, really, really love comic books. Or that they’re socially awkward. That should be enough to keep those nerds happy.”
What really bugs me here is that everything seems to suggest that Eisu Mokhtar himself is a geek. Don’t be afraid to illustrate your own experiences with internet flame wars or with know-it-all comic store owners, bro! Chances are that most of your audience is a Hot Pocket fueled comic book collector with at least three boxes of polybagged back issues. Go ahead and pull off a Kingdom Come reference! I’ll get the joke, I promise!
No Pink Ponies also contains a rather bizarre series of strips that fills the reader in on the comic books that people read in the Pony-verse. The first of these are adventures of Tigerine, a transparent parody of Marvel Comics’ Wolverine. Or … at least I think it’s a parody. Mokhtar plays the character so close to the source that it might as well be Wolverine fan fiction. There are no gags … no obvious ones, anyway. Are we supposed to laugh because Mokhtar gives the characters silly names?
“How about this, guys,” says the head writer, “the character looks like Spider-Man, except we’ll make him yellow! And we’ll call him ‘Spider-Bee‘!”
“Boffo!” says the producer. “Comedy gold!”
Later, Mokhtar seems to have figured that he needed to be funny, and he tries to slip in a bit of humor. Witness the laugh riot that is a yaoi Batman-Superman slashfic! It’s a noble effort, but it ranks somewhere below Shortpacked!‘s “I’m Batman, and I can breathe in space” gag. And even that is a pale second to Justice League Unlimited’s singing Batman routine. Mokhtar tries a bit too hard to be funny. But still, nice try.
Now, despite all this snarking, there are some parts of No Pink Ponies that I liked. Eisu’s artwork I’ve already mentioned. He has a good feel for facial expressions and body language, and it suits the material well. I especially love how he draws the ladies, big mouths and all.
And Eisu does seem to get a better feel for his characters in his second year (2007). Oh, I wasn’t much a fan of how he wrapped things up, with one of the side characters proposing to another side character. It was built up to be a big thing. However, as I mentioned before, the characters are one dimensional, and it was tough to must any emotion. Neither character has been in the strip much, and one was created as a sort of a joke by being Jess’ cool Black brother. (Ha, ha! Get it? Because Jess is uncool and white … or Asian, maybe.)
But No Pink Ponies does feature a few moments that just felt right. Two of them were revelations about the nerdy patrons. The beefy nerd turns out to also be a huge sports fanatic, to the consternation of his outcast pals. In another twist, another nerd turns out to be a married man, much to the surprise to everyone else in the cast. It rang true: you could know some acquaintances for a long time and realize that you don’t know anything about the at all. Mokhtar started the series by pegging each character with a specific stereotype. These character vignettes are a great way to give them a little bit more depth while maintaining the spirit of giddy silliness that No Pink Ponies strives for.
No Pink Ponies was trying way too hard to be funny. I felt a lot of its jokes made me groan more than chuckle. The characters are underdeveloped, and the bubblegum plotlines seem out of place when the main character is clearly an adult woman. Yet, I do feel that the webcomic is somewhat on the right track, and I do have high hopes that it will improve in the future.
Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)
Posted on January 15, 2008, in 2 Stars, comedy webcomic, manga style webcomic, pop culture caricatures, romance webcomic, superheroes, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged No Pink Ponies. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.