The Webcomic Overlook #66: Femmegasm
When you assemble a list of the worst names for musical artists, names like Bubba Sparxxx and the Goo Goo Dolls rise to the forefront. Bad names, both, but I think I’ve got one better. It’s hard to have a worst name than the hip-hop group that goes by the rather colorful name of Cunninlynguists.
That noise you hear is you letting out a disgruntled groan.
Nathan Rabin’s review at AV Club praises the Cunninlynguists: they have “a moody sound that puts a dark, Southern-gothic twist on the soul-sample-based hyper-soul of Just Blaze and Kanye West, while the group’s lyrics explore sensuality, spirituality, and politics with smarts and conviction.” I downloaded two of their songs, “Lynguistics” and “Love Ain’t,” and I admit that they’re quite good. Still, do you want to be the guy that has a band named “Cunninlynguists” on their iPod? Do you ever want to tell anyone you’re a fan of Cunninlynguists?
Why do I bring up Cunninlyguists in this review? Maybe today is Kentucky Hip-Hop Appreciation Day at The Webcomic Overlook. Or maybe because today I’m reviewing a comic by Pembroke W. Korgi (real name, Robbie Allen) named Femmegasm.
Trust me. This comic … it’s not what you’re thinking about.
Like the aforementioned Cunninlynguists — who, I am to understand, have “stunning English” — the comic may turn out to be pretty good. Hell, if The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo (reviewed here) taught me anything, you can’t judge a book — or webcomic — by its title.
Er… ignore that sample panel. Femmegasm still isn’t what you’re thinking about.
So, if the comic doesn’t deal with … that thing … what can we expect from a comic named Femmegasm? When Xaviar Xerexes at ComixTalk asked Pembroke W. Korgi, he replies, “Femmegasm is a gumball machine of random pop culture insanity!” This is note exactly true. It’s not exactly random, for one. I’ll explain this in detail later. Second, it’s not really about pop culture. For a lot of people, that term will bring to mind a lot of things: VH1, Miley Cyrus, The Rolling Stones, The Sopranos — all of which do not make an appearance here. To be more accurate, the phrase should rewritten to read “pop culture that the Comic Book Guy would be in to.” Finally, there were no gumball machines … though I’ll let that slide, since I suspect that’s some sort of saucy colloquialism.
Femmegasm stars Shelly and June. One is an axolotl, the other a tamarin. I know what you’re thinking. They’re space aliens, right? Like Starfire from the Teen Titans? Nope. One of the few fairly clever strips explains that they’re species of salamander and monkey, respectively. Shelly is the bubbly, goofy one. June is likewise bubbly and goofy, but is also frequently drunk and oversexed, making her the Rue MaClanahan to Shelly’s Betty White.
So I pull up the very first strip and I’m greeted with … a Jem joke. Oh… wow. That kind of joke has been old since…. Wait. Let me correct that. Jem jokes have never been in. Do you know why? Because the only thing anyone ever remembers about Jem is her cheesy (though ultimately catchy) theme song. Here’s how the bit goes in Femmegasm:
June: “Wow! I’ve always wanted to go to a Jem concert!”
Shelly: “Me too! Jem is truly outrageous! Truly, truly, truly outrageous!”
June: “Yes. And her music is contagious!”
Shelly: “Contagious? What do you mean by that?”
June: “Isn’t it obvious? It means… Cough! Hack! Hack! Gasp!”
Shelly: “Oh… I see…”
A ha ha ha ha ha! Cue the pre-recorded studio laughtrack.
Fortunately, most of the jokes aren’t always this obvious. However, neither do they get any less clunky. If you ever wondered whether there was any humor over how the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have no pupils in their eyes, believe me, there isn’t. (Also, it’s inaccurate. Mssr. Korgi conveniently leaves out the late ’80’s Saturday morning cartoon version and the movie version.*) When a political shouting match ends with a familiar Dinobot popping out with “Me Grimlock!,” it’s certainly a head scratcher. Funny? Not really.
These jokes resemble the types you share with your friends, where you bounce silly ideas based on your shared interests and your pals giggle along and inevitable say, “You know, you should be doing stand-up.” But you shouldn’t … because outside the communal bubble of your close friends, the jokes just aren’t that funny. Like this one gag where Popeye hates pirates. (Shelly’s punchline: “Man, Popeye is hardcore.” Cue trumpet “wah-wah” sound.) Maybe this joke surfaced from a marathon viewing of old Popeye episodes. Maybe Pembroke turned to your friend and commented on Popeye busting mp3 pirates, and maybe they laughed, because, as a one-time quip between pals, it really was funny. Maybe it should have stayed there.
The strip follows a rather similar formula to Adult Swim staples Family Guy and Robot Chicken. The difference: those shows are actually great comedy. Shocking, huh? OK, so those shows aren’t exactly George Bernard Shaw, yet I don’t agree with detractors who think viewers only find the shows funny simply because they exploit 80’s nostalgia. (Not that they’re anything wrong with that. Impersonations are a time-honored, fundamental aspect of comedy.) No, the shows are funny because the jokes — or “manatee jokes” if we go by the South Park vernacular — are short, snappy, and original.
In Femmegasm, the gags drag long after the freshness date. Take, for instance, a strip about those GI Joe PSAs. Duke pops into the window. Shelly freaks out and scratches his face. Duke cries and stammers, “B-But… I a real American Hero! *sob*” Yes, we get it. A GI Joe is peeking in the window. He’s a creepy stalker. You could’ve ended this at panel two. Worse, the joke has already been done several times by others, and done better — most notably by Fenslerfilms, where gags that introduced us to body massages and sacked asses were novel and fresh.
By the way, being a sort of aficionado for pop culture detritus, I’m ashamed to admit that I got the 90% of the references. So I can’t say, as some of you no doubt suspect, that I just didn’t get the jokes. But perhaps I’m not the target audience. Take this strip where the punchline is ALF. (Seriously.) At the bottom, Mssr. Korgi posts this helpful piece of text:
For those too young to know (which would mean you’re what… 10), ALF was from a TV show of the same name.
Um, really? The same webcomic doing a joke about Season 3 of Transformers needs to explain ALF to 10 year olds?
Then, all of the sudden, a frightening notion hit me. My generation (Generation X, for those keeping count) embraced the 50-60’s like Godzilla, flying saucer movies, and kung-fu flicks. I don’t think it was nostalgia, since we didn’t necessarily live through it. I think we liked ’em because they were cheesy. Could this current generation similarly be attracted to the tawdriness of 80’s television programs for the same reason? Is Femmegasm‘s main audience 20 years my junior, who will be entertained by a furry puppet with an elephant snout for the simple fact that he’s a goofy artifact from a bygone era?
Shelly and June anchor the strip, reacting nonchalantly by having pop culture things happen to them. It’s not unlike how VG Cats (reviewed here) is anchored by a duo of cats. Unlike Leo and Aeris, our Femmegasm duo generally don’t engage in gross-out humor (though, admittedly, that has been picking up lately). Their relationship is based more around verbal banter. Unfortunately, that means we get lines like “What in the name of blog?!?!” and “Oh my blog!” Gah! It’s enough to make me want to send nasty letters to Ellen Page, and then, later, sneak into Diablo Cody house to put the head of her prized racehorse in her bed. Substituting “Blog” for “God” is right up there with “Sweet Zombie Jesus” and “Jebus” on my list of Overused and Annoying Pseudo-Blasphemy.
I will, though, point out at least one strip that worked out pretty well. Shelly and June are eating at a fancy restaurant with a “Bizarre Foods” menu gone wrong. Their first course, for example, is human heart. June berates Shelly for not having an open mind. We’re shown, however, that the very next course contains gourmet versions of themselves. Now, to me, it’s still not that funny. Yet this strip contains the one element that Mssr. Korgi fails to deliver in a whole series of pop culture strips: the unexpected.
While I won’t lie and say that I like Femmegasm, I do think that the strip has potential. First, I do like the art. Shelly and June are simple, eye-catching designs — partly reminiscent of children’s anime, partly harkening to the stick-and-ball designs from the early days of animation. They look appropriately loopy … maybe even more loopy than their chatty characters deserve, since the girls and their rubber frames are built for physical slapstick.
Second, Mssr. Korgi seems to be heading the strip off in a new direction. Several of the newest strips have Shelly and June responding to reader mail. It allows Pembroke to develop character who, up until this point, weren’t even one dimensional. The strips also instills a needed sense of normalcy. When everything is a zany cacophony of pop culture references, the zany becomes normal, the surprises disappear … and, along with that, so does a lot of the humor.
In summary, Femmegasm is a video game webcomic where video games have been mostly replaced by pop culture that the Comic Book Guy would be in to. If any of the above examples made you smile, good for you! Shelly and June will welcome you and your collection of Transformers Animated action figures with open arms. As for me, I can’t recommend it. As much as it pains me to say, Femmegasm might’ve actually been better off if, honest to blog, it really was about female orgasms.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
* – Whatever, nerd!**
** – Wait, who said that?
Posted on January 22, 2009, in 2 Stars, anime, comedy webcomic, funny animal webcomic, manga style webcomic, pop culture caricatures, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged femmegasm. Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.