The Webcomic Overlook #50: Acid Keg

I encountered the subject of today’s Webcomic Overlook after The Floating Lightbulb did an interview with its creator, Steve Hogan. Immediately, I fell in love with the art. It was so 60’s. You know contemporary retro artists like Darwyn Cooke and Mike Allred? Pretenders to the throne! They mar their art with personal touches that kill the perfectionist look. On the other hand, Hogan’s art is appropriately squeaky clean. They recall the Jet Age’s unmistakable pop art, where line art was backed by offset blobs of solid color and everything looked better with a crisp six-pointed sparkle.

The interview, by the way, is excellent. I suspect that I’m going to be referring to it several times before this review is finished. However, The Floating Lightbulb didn’t ask the one question that’s on everyone’s minds: is Steve Hogan high when he writes the comic? Perhaps that sounds crass and untoward. However, he did name his comic Acid Keg. Its logo is a beer keg spewing some psychedelic liquid. I’m assuming it’s not 10W40. ‘Cuz if it was, that’s just messed up.

I should note, by the way, that the Webcomic Overlook does not endorse drug use. I dispute the notion that it’s some sort of wonder elixir that leads to ground-breaking works like, say, Sgt. Petter Lonely Hearts Club Band. Hogwash, I say! That album owes itself mainly to the fact that the Beatles were excellent musicians, with or without weed. How about all those unknown weed-smoking bands that are utter failures? If anything, weed impairs judgment to the point that the most mundane idea becomes a work of heart-breaking genius. With respect to humor, the phrase “This would be funnier if I was baked” can be loosely translated to “This isn’t funny … AT ALL.”

Acid Keg stars two groovy characters: Helen, a gorgeous blonde airhead, and Clive, a grungy little fellow who dresses like John Lennon. They’re part of a band named Modern Situation. They’ve recorded two albums, and they’re ready to record the third. It’s a long time coming, though. In a plot development fairly reminscent of Spinal Tap, the two decide that they need a drummer. (Did one of the previous drummers spontaneously combust or something?) At a bar, Helen finds Lionel, a handsome morsel of a man who looks something like Lenny Kravitz. He’s also a secret agent, and he’s joining the band because it’s the perfect cover.

Now, a wacky storyline alone doesn’t necessarily signal that a comic is drug-fueled. Heck, that’s been a staple of comics since the beginning of time. The initial story arc of Acid Keg wouldn’t look out of place in the nutty world of Scary Go Round, one of Mssr. Hogan’s favorite comics. The band arrives on a tropical island, pretending that they have a gig. In reality, Lionel is tracking Viper, an John Saxon-ish evil mastermind and self-help guru, has established his base inside a hollowed-out volcano. Clive hooks up with a sexy spy from a rival organization. Helen plays around with some sort of magic geegaw, which I’m guessing is a reference to that Brady Bunch Hawaii episode. Lionel, on the other hand, works over the evil henchmen, but is ultimately felled by that greatest weapon of all: a plain Jane henchwoman in a terrible disguise.

There are two things, though, that severely hamper the comic. First of all, the characters are one-dimensional. Helen and Clive have such similar personalities that, when they talk with each other, they might as well be talking to themselves. (I dare you to compare the speech patterns for both characters.) This gets somewhat creepy when Hogan introduces a romantic link between the two. It’s like … well, it’s like watching twins make out.

Of course, this could just be because everyone in Acid Keg launches into a mix of outdated colloquialisms and huge stream of consciousness speeches for friggin’ everything. OK, so I get this is all like 1960’s counterculture, back when beat poetry was cool and Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were teaching America discover how life really is instead of the … wait. I have no idea where I’m going with this. I’m sure I was going to launch into some tangent about observing the beauty of a floating plastic bag, but that’s going overboard. Acid Keg, for all it’s tongue-twisting dialogue, never really comes off as pretentious.

And what of the other characters? Oddly enough, the strip feels like it takes place in a vacuum of multi-colored space inhabited solely by Helen and Clive. The side characters’ roles are infinitesimal. They might as well not exist. Even the secret agent/drummer turns out to be so inconsequential that, when he doesn’t return after the first arc, he’s hardly missed. Viper and his henchmen disappear, which is fine. They seemed like they stepped out of a failed Saturday Night Live skit.

Hogan also seems to struggle with how to end his stories. This is most apparent during the second arc. The band has recruited a new drummer, a fez-wearing nutball named Professor Hoodoo. He seems to have become a series regular, by the way, and that’s fine with me. He has a nice look. Anyway, the ghost of Ben Franklin is summoned from an ancient glass harmonica (the original harmonica being a glass tube and not that plastic toy some parents hand out at Halloween). Meanwhile, giant kaiju emerge from the sea and start terrorizing America. They’re all part of some metaphor how America has defied the founding fathers and the spirit of progressivism by caving in to imperialism and religious zealotry. Ooh, topical! (Which, frankly, I don’t totally agree with since the founding fathers were flexing their imperialist muscles early with the Louisiana Purchase, the Monroe Doctrine, and Manifest Destiny. America was always about playing with the big boys.)

That’s a lot of stuff to cover, don’tcha think? Especially when you throw in a hapless music reporter and those two Mothra pixies into the mix. How could anyone possibly come to a satisfying conclusion with all these dangling plot threads in one place? The answer: you can’t. Or, more precisely, you can, but you probably don’t have the attention span to see the entire thing through. This arc finishes Evangelion-style in two pages of stick figures. Along with the crude drawings comes and equally crude resolution: a series of absurd events that had very little to do with any of the previous narrative. It feels like Hogan got tired with how monkey cheese everything had gotten, and he was itching to end the storyline and start on something new. I guess I can’t blame him: the story wasn’t all that compelling to begin with. Still, ending things with stick figures and calling it good is sloppy. I hated it when Evangelion did the same thing with still photographs, and I’m hatin’ it now.

On the plus side, though, there’s the fantastic art. I’ve already covered how the illustrations capture the 1960’s better than similar attempts by more mainstream artists. Hogan does a great job with color. The backgrounds, for example, are gleefully psychedelic. Sometimes, Acid Keg‘s color pallets make me wonder if I ain’t just straight-out tripping. Another thing I like about the art is its resemblance to lesser-known Hanna Barbera productions, like Wacky Races or the one with the stuttering shark. It’s not just the character designs. From time to time, the characters move in wild, exaggerated poses, like they were running through one of those endless hallways in Scooby-Doo.

In the end, I found most of Acid Keg‘s narrative elements to be incohesive and somewhat unfulfilling. It’s like reading a poor man’s Scary Go Round. Yet it’s worth flipping through the comic for the art alone. The latest strip is some random non-sequitur adventure featuring some critter dressed up like Hunter S. Thompson re-enacting a Loony Tune. Skip those. Flip back a few strips where the humans are and bask in the strip’s mod glory.

I do have to thank Mssr. Hogan for one strip especially, though. You see, I’ve been on a major Herb Alpert & The Tijuana Brass kick lately. However, I neglected to download their most essential album. (I know, right?) That changed when Acid Keg featured a familiar rendition of a lady in a tasty bikini. At that moment, I slapped my forehead and said, “‘Whipped Cream & Other Delights’! Hot damn! How did I forget that?” It’s not like Clive’s snarky assessment is too far off either: it sorta IS funny cartoon music. Except, paradoxically, it also lets you imagine you’re a swingin’ cat like Frank Sinatra. Since then, I’ve been grooving to the stylings of the Tijuana Brass, sometimes while wearing a sweet black fedora.

So bless you, Acid Keg. Bless your rainbow colored innards.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

EDIT: By the way, as of Tuesday morning I just got around to editing this thing. I learned my lesson: reviewing webcomics and Monday Night Raw just don’t mix. Usually I could tear my eyes away, but the speculation over the new General Manager (as well as the tag match involving Michael Cole, of all people) was just awesome drama.


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on July 29, 2008, in 3 Stars, adventure webcomic, alternative webcomic, comedy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hard to imagine a more thorough and insightful review. I’m glad to know someone else who is as captivated by Steve Hogan’s art as I am.

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