The Webcomic Overlook #77: Surfboards and Rayguns
I don’t know about you guys, but over here in the usually cloudy confines of Seattle, we’re in full summertime mode. OK, so technically summer doesn’t start until the solstice happens on June 21… but that’s scientist talk. When was the last time we gave those poindexters any sort of validation, anyway? I personally won’t start listening to ’em until they start delivering on flying cars and vacations to Mars. Until then, summer starts when we dust off the Weber grill and start cooking mass quantities of pork, beef, and sea creatures.
Summer’s all about fun times. Cranking on the Beach Boys while driving down the Pacific Coast with the moonroof down. Turning off the TV and cooling down in the movie theater to watch dinosaurs chase Will Ferrell around.
And probably not reading the webcomics. Seriously, there’s usually a huge dip in readership around this time. You webcomic creators might as well pack up and head to the beach, perhaps outsourcing your strip to India in the meantime.
Still, if you’ve got a lazy afternoon to spare, you could do with some light reading. Enter Bradley Overall’s Surfboards and Rayguns. Like many things in life, I discovered this when Mr. Overall put up an enticing banner ad of a red-headed gal in a form-fitting spacesuit.
Now, this should be a no-brainer. Hot girls + space aliens = instant winner. That formula is, like, a geek magnet. A well-known one, too. Why do you think J. J. Abrams seemed to exclusively show footage of a stripping Lt. Uhura in the Star Trek commercials? Unfortunately, Brad screws up this time-tested and unassailable equation by adding a third factor that contains a negative multiplicative property: dumb surfer guys.
I mean, when have surfer guys ever been appealing protagonists in any medium? The only one I can think of is Michelangelo from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but he was easily balanced out by his far more competent brothers. Also, he was living in a New York sewer, not lounging around on a beach in Hawaii. Surfer dudes get all the girls, run around without their shirts on, spend their life not doing a lick of work, and use baby terms like “brah” all the time. They’re the opposite of superheroes, who are at least uncomfortable dorks in their secret identities.
So imagine my disdain when it turns out that the male lead is a half-naked surfer dude named Wizer (seriously!) And imagine my increasing level of discomfort when the comic opens with his inner monologue. It’s particularly hammy … or Spammy, to pay tribute to the comic’s Hawaiian setting. Here’s a transcript from a scene where Wizer eloquently contemplates fate, romance, and babes:
Her name’s Kora, I give her free surfing lessons.
But in reality it’s just her dragging me around to a bunch of places I’d rather not go.
I’ve never been very lucky in love!
But I could really love Kora!
In fact I’m certain a part of me already does!
Dickens, it’s not. Shatner, maybe.
Wizer’s love is meant to be unrequited, though. A six-pack, a righteous goatee, and a totally bitchin’ surfboard cannot, like, conquer the rigidity of modern day class structures. Our lady love, Kora, is studying to be a lawyer. This means she has standards, so summer flings with pretty boys are out of the question. Bogus!
Kora: I mean, I love hanging out with you and getting free surfing lessons. I guess I’m looking for someone with a future, ya’ know? Not just a…
Wizer: A beach bum?
Kora: Yes that’s right. Look I’m sorry I got your hopes up but we can still have these surf lessons.
The worst part is that the dialogue is so awkward it manages to distract me from where our minds are meant to focus: Kora, straddling a surfboard, and looking absolutely fetching in a two piece bikini.
Not that I have anything against cheesecake. I am, in fact, a huge fan of cheesecake. Appreciation of the female form is celebrated in all manifestations of the visual arts. Hell, Titian*, who gets you mad props with art professors and curators, was probably just painting naked ladies for horny old geezers.
In the comic world, superheroines are almost always drawn in lascivious poses that will get you in trouble with your Mom/your girlfriend/your wife/Heidi MacDonald. Two eras, specifically, come to mind: the Good Girl era from the 1940’s and the Bad Girl era from the 1990’s (helmed mainly by the fantastic artists at Top Cow). Both eras expose the weakness of making biological features the prime selling point of a comic. No one remembers where Phantom Lady got her Phantom Light or what the names of all the Danger Girls were**. We remember, instead, that they all had big bazooms.
Bradley Overall knows the basic fundamentals of cheesecake delivery. Does the story need a squidlike alien threat? Why not kick it up a notch and make it a sexy alien threat? Perhaps the story needs a lady scientist? More like hottie lady scientist. They’re there, along with star alien hero, Den-Arria, to provide eye-candy for the reader. Which is fine, except that’s ALL THEY DO.
In this fairly short story, it seems like every third page is either a cover or a pinup, mainly of Den-Arria posing. And overall does a fantastic job of drawing alluring women. Of this I give Mr. Overall a hearty high five. So why not put together a pin-up gallery instead?
To be fair, Den-Arria does spend a majority of the 36 pages in a state of unconsciousness. And that’s far too long not to see her in various skimpy outfits, amirite guys? However, once she wakes up, she’s not very interesting at all. She’s very much in the mold of generic tough soldier chick that’s been around since Ripley.
Then again, none of the characters, male or female, really rate high on the charisma scale. Even the villains seem utterly cookie-cutter, with one guy looking something like one of those countless Cable-knockoffs that dominated Image Comics back in the 90’s.
Worse yet, the more Overall delves into his characters’ psyches, the more laughable they become. The worst offender is Wizer, what his all his belabored talk about fate and destiny. Um, okay. It comes off as a bad attempt at giving a cheesecake comic some gravitas and/or character development, as if to legitimize drawing gals with ample bosoms and fabulous asses. The only thing that would bog this down further is if Mr. Overall starts saddling our hero with daddy issues … wait, there’s that, too.
I have a feeling that Surfboards and Rayguns was supposed to be fun, goofy romp. You know, like one of my favorite Cartoon Network shows, Megas XLR, which also featured two meatheads and a smart alien red-head. I am a fan of fun, so I’m in total agreement with the sentiment. Yet the negatives — the lack of any interesting characters, the inscrutability of the plot, the terrible dialogue — outweigh the positives this time.
I really want to root for Mr. Overall, by the way. Fun hero adventures are hard to come by in webcomics. I think that Surfboards and Rayguns has potential for improvement. However, the comic has been running since November 2007, and only 36 pages have been created thus far. The last new page was created last March. So to put that in real-time terms: it took more than a year for poster girl, Den-Arria, to fully wake up from her coma. I understand this is a labor of love, yet I don’t know if, at the current pace, there’s any time for the comic to get better.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
* – Pronounced TEE-shun, as I learned the hard way in high school.
** – I actually remember enjoying Danger Girl beyond the cheesecake, yet for the life of me, I can’t remember a single element of the plot itself.