The Webcomic Overlook #49: The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo
The comic named The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo, by Thomas Boatwright and Dwight Macpherson, has been bookmarked on my “To Read” list for a long, long time. I had every intention to read it. I’ve never heard anything but good things about this webcomic, supported very recently by its 2008 nominations for the Harvey and Eagle Awards (both of which are leagues more impressive than the garden-variety WCCA).
Yet, I didn’t bother reading the comic for over a year. You can guess why. It’s the name. That goddamn name. When someone mentions the title, it’s usually followed by the phrase “a good comic with a terrible name” or a variant thereof. And why not? No one should utter the words “Edgar Allan Poo” in polite conversation. Imagine this hypothetical scenario playing out at your typical high-brow comic book shop.
Comic shop owner: “If you ask me, Ross Campbell’s Water Baby starts off strong, yet its road trip denouement lacks that je ne sais quois. But enough about me. Pray tell, what comics have you perused lately?”
Me: “Well, I’ve been reading a lot of online stuff. FreakAngels, Octopus Pie, and … er … Edgar Allan Poo.”
Comic shop owner: “I … see. I had no idea! You might find this interesting then. I was just surfing online, and I ran across this delightful video entitled ‘Two girls, one…'”
Comic shop owner: “But….”
Me: “Just STOP.”
Do any of us really want to run the risk that some sweaty comic shop proprietor will be showing us lewd South American videos? I think not. I mean, on the embarrassment scale, it ranks right up there with the time I had to ask if the All Star Batman and Robin: Boy Wonder TPB came in anything but hardcover.
Edgar Allan Poo, is of course, a reference to acclaimed poet Edgar Allan Poe. Poe is that rare poet that gets significant crossover appeal between academics and the general public. Part of the appeal is his rather cartoonish appearance. On The Venture Bros., Brock Samson mentions that he’s always wanted to get Poe in a headlock because his head is shaped like a pumpkin. Poe’s real upside, though, is his highly accessible oeuvre. Works like The Telltale Heart resonate with readers because they’re the starting point for modern horror stories, which the general public laps up to this very day. Thus, in the public eye, Poe is still cool. Why else would Baltimore-area fans of American football — who, I assume, are not all poetry aficionados or mopey goths — vote that their team be named after Poe’s infamous poem, The Raven? I’d like to see Robert Frost score that sort of bourgeois notoriety!
“Such a pedigree!” you may be saying. “Well, then, I suppose the whole ‘Edgar Allan Poo’ monniker is simply a cutesy and unfortunate turn of phrase. I feel much, much better that there is nothing scatological about this comic at all!” Um, no. You see, the main character, named Master Poo, is created from Edgar Allan Poe’s poop. Literally. And he’s flushed into the city sewer system … even though the drawings clearly show that Edgar Allan Poe took a number two in the outhouse. (This is the sort of hardcore analysis the Webcomic Overlook offers that other review sites don’t, my friend.)
However, this isn’t some sort of Trey Stone & Matt Parker gag where a tiny sentient Poo goes on adventures. Mssrs. Boatwright and Macpherson pull a stunt that’s nothing short of magical, something that you would figure impossible when the star of the story is a turd. Master Poo is a physical manifestation of Edgar Allan Poe’s dreams and imaginations. After the death of his wife Virginia, Poe suffers horrific nightmares. He prays that he never dream again. His prayers are answered. A childlike version of him — which retains his trademark receding hairline and moustache, ‘cuz he friggin’ Edgar Allan Poe — falls into a fairytale world, not unlike Alice and her journey down the rabbit hole.
Now is a good time as any to gush about the art. Boatwright renders everything primarily in black and white. They’re beautifully detailed illustrations and resemble woodcuts that you’d find in only children’s books like Alice In Wonderland and Treasure Island … only more whimsical and fluid. Classic storybook style meets modern comics. Boatwright also adds a splash of color here and there, which does a great job making the details pop. A splash of yellow here and there show how small lanterns illuminate a hazy woodland scene. At the same time, the muted, sepia tones recall old yellow parchment paper, giving Edgar Allan Poo a timeless quality.
Master Poo finds himself in a mystical land known as Terra Somnium, a world where real world logic doesn’t apply. He immediately encounters a dapper rat named Irving, who leads him away from the malevolent Incubi and whisks him away to a brightly colored city named Spindle Towne. Irving also knows that Master Poo is more important that he knows, a sort of Chosen One, if you will, and he must take the young Poe doppleganger to the Temple of Maghi. Master Poo takes a visit to the weapons shop and arms himself to the gills like some sort of Level 13 paladin from Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. After meeting a shadowy boatman named Titus, the journey begins.
Master Poo encounters all sorts of fantastic creatures, proving his bravery and his loyalty to his friends. He comes face to face with monsters of the deep. He meets ancient greek gods and sea valkyries. He encounters Nevermore, King of the Ravens, in a world that he and his alter-ego would find familiar. And he encounters the dark servants of the Nightmare King, who, for some reason, wants to kill him. But, you know, when you take your fashion cues from Sauron, you have no choice but to be the bad guy, you know?
Each page is absolutely packed with story. I was surprised that the gang of adventurers were fighting sea monsters by page 12. Now THAT’S economic storytelling! Even better, this isn’t accomplished by packing the pages with boxes of text. Macpherson and Boatwright know how to let the art and dialogue naturally tell the story.
Meanwhile, Edgar Allan Poe (the non-fecal one) is having troubles of his own. As fantastic as Master Poo’s adventures are, Edgar’s tribulations are no less intriguing. His wife, Virginia, still visits him as a ghost. Furthermore, she is not the only supernatural being taking an interest in him. But who to trust? Even his friends are suspect. Poe only wants his peace of mind … his sanity … returned. But is that possible when he’s exiled all imagination from his body? He may get his answer when reality and fantasy collide.
The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo looks like it’s a parable for the creative process. or, more precisely, a metaphor for how an artist such as Poe would overcome the grief over his wife’s death and tapping that newfound energy to create his most beloved works. A telling meeting between the Nightmare King and Edgar Allan Poe reveals that the poet has done something to diminish the King’s impact on our world. The entire story, it seems, is supposed to have a poetic double meaning. Yet Edgar Allan Poo can also be read as a fairy tale adventure, the sort of story you read to your little girl at night. (Poop included. Hey, if Scholastic Books can turn the Captain Underpants series into a best seller, then why not?)
Heck, don’t the best fairy tales provide two meanings: the superficial story of magic and wonder and the deeper meaning meant for the grown-ups? Pinnochio is a story about responsibility. Alice in Wonderland had all those crazy logical puzzles that mathematician Lewis Carroll liked to play with. And The Wizard of Oz was about the encroachment of industry on an agrarian culture … I think.
Edgar Allan Poo makes a fine contemporary fairy tale … so long as you get past the title, that is. But is the title really that bad? I’ve wracked my brain trying to come up with a better title, but I haven’t succeeded. “Tiny Edgar Allan Poe and his Fantabulous Journeys”? To twee. “Ravenquest”? Too undescriptive. And, um, stupid.
The first half, “The Surreal Adventures,” is incredibly accurate. Meeting the Archangel Gabriel one moment and crawling into a lavishly decorated knapsack the next is pretty much the definition of surreal. And the last half, the one that ends in “Poo,” keeps the comic from sounding too pretentious. It’s the sort of word that sounds juvenile and profane the first time you hear it, yet sounds rather natural once you’ve heard a fashionably dressed rat say it several times. Roald Dahl got away with worse.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Posted on July 22, 2008, in 5 Stars, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, fantasy webcomic, gothic, The Webcomic Overlook, Uncategorized, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Edgar Allan Poe, Poe, The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo. Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.