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The Webcomic Overlook #87: Loyalty & Liberty

WCO-big-review

Tell me if you’ve ever found yourself in this situation. You’re at home from school and cracking open your history assignment. Tonight, you have to read Chapter 32 (pages 534-610) on the American Revolutionary War. Midway through reading about the Battle of Bunker Hill, you throw your hands up in the air.

“I can’t read this anymore!” you say. “It’s so borrrrring! There’s got to be a better way to bring the American Revolutionary War to life! Preferably with furries!”

Let me tell you friends: now there’s a way! That’s why, this Fourth of July, The Webcomic Overlook unfurls the Stars and Stripes, fires up “American the Beautiful” (Ray Charles version), and takes you to a world where Redcoats and Minutemen shed blood to determine the fate of the nation. Just in time for both the nation’s birthday and — weirdly enough — AnthroCon, it’s the Revolutionary War … with cats! That’s right, the Webcomic Overlook turns its patriotic eye to Loyalty & Liberty, a webcomic by Tamara “Meezer” Clarke (with editors Shane Clarke and Dave Ireland).

2008-12-18-Issue-01-Page-27

The Loyalty & Liberty site posts an admirably noble mission statement:
“It’s [sic] first goal is to educate ages 13 and up about 18th century life, conflicts before, with in [sic] and the aftermath of the American War of Independence.” I sympathize. The Revolutionary War is one that few people really don’t give two figs about. The men dress up like metros, what with their spiffy uniforms and their powdered wigs. The ladies look like they should be churning butter all day. There’s no sense of epic sacrifice like the Civil War or cool military tech like in World War II or national ennui like the Vietnam War.

The comic revolves around tensions between Loyalists and Revolutionaries in the years before the Revolutionary War. Ms. Clarke doesn’t seem to take sides. There are nice guys and huge insufferable jerks on the British side, and there are nice guys and huge insufferable jerks on the American side.

But let’s get to the most unavoidable feature of Loyalty & Liberty: everyone’s a cat. Now, there’s nothing wrong with re-enacting history with felines. Lackadaisy did it, and I gave that comic 5 starstwice! Replacing humans with cats does have the potential to make the story more visually appealing. You can be temporarily amused during the slower scenes, because … hey, kitties carrying guns? That’s ADORABLE!

Unfortunately, Loyalty & Liberty makes a crucial misstep.

Its cats are terrifying.

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These aren’t the good kind of cat people, the one one where the girls have pointy ears and tiny incisors and an attitude to match. I think it’s safe to say that the cats of Loyalty & Liberty reside in some sort of Cat Uncanny Valley. If Garfield lies on one end of the spectrum and Lackadaisy lies on the other end of the spectrum, then Loyalty & Liberty lies directly in the nadir. I have no way to verify my hunch, but I think Ms. Clarke arrived at the character designs for her cats by dressing them up in Revolutionary War regalia (and, in some cases, stuffing them in dresses), taking hundreds of pictures (as cat owners are wont to do), and capturing the results on paper.

How else to explain how very creepy and unnatural all these cats look? They stare out at the reader with their beady eyes, no doubt with malice in their hearts. It doesn’t matter what these characters are saying or doing. The emotionless cat faces dominate the entire webcomic. It doesn’t matter if these characters are engaging in a debate about illegal search and seizure or asking for someone’s hand in marriage. The cat faces dominate all.

And it’s not just the faces. Ms. Clarke decided it was a good idea to portray accurate feline anatomy as well. I admire the devotion to realism. However, in real life, cats also don’t walk around on two legs. If they did, it would look bizarre as hell, just like it does here. They also don’t have opposable thumbs. So why be a stickler with the anatomy? As it is, all the characters seem to be terribly disjointed. Their faces don’t match the bodies, which look stiff as corpses anyway.

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As a result, Loyalty & Liberty reaches the surreal levels of a Heironymus Bosch painting. Imagine, if you will, cats in Redcoat uniforms, standing in single file, with their damning eyes staring out at you. It’s exactly as unsettling as it sounds. I think I may have whimpered a little. Ms. Clarke also mentions that the battle scenes won’t be shy about the violence. I imagine that these will be the most disturbing images of all, liable to drive the unguarded mind into the depths of insanity.

Yet, I’m grateful for these precious little monstrosities, because without them there would be nothing about Loyalty & Liberty to remark on. No one ever really does anything. There’s a lot of soapboxing going on and threats that people might be called to action, but nothing ever comes of it. Loyalty & Liberty pulls of the neat trick of actually being less engaging than a textbook about the Revolutionary War. There really is no plot to speak of, just a string of character moments seemingly written for the cosplayers — excuse me, “living historians” — who get paid to freak you out at Colonial Williamsburg.

If you manage to wrench your eyes away from the ungodly faces to the speech balloons, you’re greeting by discussions that go something like this:

“Only you, Edward Marble, would describe a laugh like that as enthusiastic! She cleared a room at the last ball we attended in Charleston with a giggling fit. I could not handle that sound in my quarters. Then again, I’ve only spent a total of a month with my wife, including the time of first meeting her!”

That’s right, no matter who’s talking, everyone launches into their life story. Now, realistic eighteenth-century dialogue is hard to comprehend. There were no recording devices back in the day other than ink and a hollow feather. All we have to go on, really, are letters and journals and, perhaps, Charles Dickens. (And that guy was getting paid by the word, mind you.) Yet, I imagine that, due to the fact there was only one speaker, these were more wordy and descriptive than everyday banter. Even if it does turn out folks were incurably chatty, it still comes off idiosyncratic to modern ears.

ll2

Here’s another line of dialogue from a distraught lover that in no way sounds like it was translated from a bad Spanish soap opera:

“STOP IT! Stop saying this! You won’t even give Edward a chance! You’d rather have me unhappy for the rest of my life with that miserable doctor’s son, who is the most boring man I have ever met! I have to be unhappy so may family can be content!”

The best part of this scene by the way? The unintentionally hilarious payoff of seeing a cat cry.

Here’s the big question, though: will these stories get 13-year-olds to learn about American history? Is it enough to wrench them away from their Nintendo Wiis, their Twittering, and their Facebooks? Very unlikely. Liberty & Loyalty is too weird and too confusing for anyone to follow.

A better way to do the American Revolution? Make it all manga. Think about it! A brooding hero in “Swamp Fox” Francis Marion, a hyperactive trigger-happy demolition expert in Molly Pitcher, Betsy Ross as that shy brunette who likes to sew, and a whole host of bishie statemen at the First Continental Congress. 1776: tailor-made for manga! Kids love it. Hipsters will appreciate the irony. It’s a win win!

Rating: 1 star (out of 5)

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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 2, 2009, in 1 Star, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, furry webcomic, historical webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.

  1. The link called “unsettling as it sounds” is a 404.

  2. When the Rite of Spring (the compositional ancestor to stuff like the Jaws theme) premiered, the audience broke down into rioting in something like 12 minutes. People cleared their evening to enjoy a symphony, and instead they started throwing chairs. 30 years later, the composition was used as the soundtrack to one of the Fantasia acts.

    I hadn’t heard of this comic before your review, but your distressed reaction to something that to me looks a lot of LOLcats-photoshopping makes me wonder if it hasn’t tapped into something worth some creator somewhere exploring further. We like the LOLcats photos I think because attributing human speech to cat-agendas highlights the vanity underscoring our own existence. I don’t see how this effect wouldn’t be multiplied in the case of attributing to cats the agendas surrounding the revolution establishing a cornerstone to democracy as we know it today.

    • I think you got a point there Mike. While I’m sure the uneasiness was unintentional (given the content) I’m certain that the style can be implemented for other purposes. A lot of people find the illustrations in “Alice in Wonderland” creepy, but it does serve to highlight the surreal nature of the book.

    • The Rite of Spring is a ballet, not a symphony. In fact, the dancers managed to dance through the entire thing despite the riot. It’s an interesting story, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how it connects to your point. Would you mind elaborating?

      • I took it to mean that just because an art form isn’t instantly creepy doesn’t mean that it isn’t legitimate.

        That said, music really is in a different classification. For some reason, I think it’s the only sense you can’t totally block out. This is why tortured prisoners don’t get exposed to, say a Salvador Dali painting… but they are driven to madness by music that’s unfamiliar to them.

      • John,

        1. Call the Rite of Spring whatever you want. Fantasia didn’t adapt the ballet, and they still felt free to refer to its act as “Rite of Spring” and credit the composer.

        2. “[The riot inspired by the Rite of Spring is] an interesting story, but unfortunately I can’t figure out how it connects to your point. Would you mind elaborating?”

        What do you think my point is, that you require an elaboration of it to associate ES’s reaction to L&L with the riot the Rite of Spring inspired? I don’t know how I’m supposed to accommodate you in good faith without you providing your account of what you’re witnessing.

      • Oh, okay. I see what you meant now. Originally I didn’t draw the connection between your first and second paragraphs.

        Sorry if I came across as a little rude. I just thought it was worth pointing out that the original riot was in reaction to the piece as a ballet, since the content of the ballet (pagan sacrifice) was probably a factor in inciting the riot.

      • El Santo gave a comic that looks a lot like “dogs playing poker” one star, not because it was kitschy, but because he found it frightening.

        By attributing human behavior to animals we are acquainted with from domestication, both “dogs playing poker” and L&L brings into question: are we entitled to the privileges of civilization because our domination of our environment is inherently virtuous, or because of the degree to which our behavior reconciles with itself, that it serves as a stable foundation for progress? Ms Clarke has enough faith in the latter that she felt free to dramatize our highest ideals unfold as history in L&L with cats. She’s showing us how fragile our world is, so when ES says he finds that frightening, (and he’s perfectly entitled to his account of his own experiences, but) why should that be completely incompatible with an excellent comic presentation?

  3. Ah, yes this comic. *shudders* The artwork is pretty neat. The style, not so much. Making the characters cats doesn’t really add anything. It’s not like Maus where making the characters animals actually adds something or stylized enough like Lackadaisy to make it interesting. (Tracy J. Butler has done a couple of pieces depicting her characters as humans and, really, she’s a great artist, but it’s just not the same. That’s more than I can say for a lot of similar comics.) I’m reminded of William Wegmen for some reason, but that’s dog heads on human bodies and the cats’ bodies are also part of the problem. I’m not sure I’d rank it quite as low as you did, but then again, I’m more inclined to give it a nonsensical rating like your Clambake Confidential series. Maybe a lolcat saying “WHY???”

  4. “I think it’s safe to say that the cats of Loyalty & Liberty reside in some sort of Cat Uncanny Valley.”

    I believe this place is commonly referred to as the Uncatty Valley.

    • Oh, snap… you went there!

    • “I think it’s safe to say that the cats of Loyalty & Liberty reside in some sort of Cat Uncanny Valley. If Garfield lies on one end of the spectrum and Lackadaisy lies on the other end of the spectrum, then Loyalty & Liberty lies directly in the nadir.”

      That’s not how the Uncanny Valley works. Garfield and Lackadaisy aren’t opposite ends of the spectrum, they’re points along the continuum of realism. Like this:

      Garfield (Cartoony)—>Lackadaisy (A bit more realistic)
      —>Dreamworks’ Puss in Boots (Edge of the valley)—>L&L (Depths of the valley!)—>Real Cat (Awwwww!)

      Here’s a good one for human characters: http://www.toplessrobot.com/uncanny_graph_blog.jpg

  5. Hey just to let you know, you’ve got typos in the second to last paragraph and the one where you quote the webcomic’s… perpetrator about her mission statement.

    I really enjoyed this review, be even meaner (cattier?) with the next one! We need more 1-star reviews!

  6. …Because all furry comic artists – according to you, anyway – are expected to produce work that is Shakepere-quality, amirite? O.o

    • Don’t know where you would get that notion, but are you implying there’s Shakespeare quality furry work out there? Innnnntresting.

    • I believe Sequential Art got a 3 and Lackadaisy, a 5. Or is it only a Furry if no one likes it?

      • I also gave Purgatory Tower a 5, but I guess that one’s debatable on being a furry comic (what with the characters looking like humans with slight animal modifications).

        edit: a slightly more accurate assessment would be that I hate comics about the Revolutionary War. Counting last year’s negative review of The Dreamer, I’m batting around 1.000 here.

      • Lackadaisy’s author isn’t a furry. People ask her, she responds that she’s got no clue what that means. She probably understands the term by now, but she’s definitely not a part of that community.

        (And re: the review, I have to point out that Dickens’s work can’t tell you anything about 18th century English, as it was written in the 19th century.)

        • I remember she did art for the site of a furry convention years ago, so if she says she doesn’t know what it means, she’s lying.

          I used to have a problem with the in-your-face “fursecution” furries. But I haven’t seen one in literally years. What I have seen a lot of, is people who fall over each other to condemn something as furry, or who MUST point out that something they like ISN’T furry. Honestly, what’s the difference? Would Lackadaisy suddenly become a different comic if Tracy Butler did fall into the wide range that constitutes a “furry”? No, it wouldn’t. So why does it matter?

          • Well, her FAQ refers to 2009 as the future, so it could very well have been truthful at the time and she since was commissioned to do art for the convention. Like I said, “she probably understands the term by now”.

            I was just pointing out that not using the term “furry” to describe her webcomic isn’t necessarily a statement on its quality, or a fan’s attempt to distance himself from the term. She doesn’t consider herself a furry, she is not part of the community, the art isn’t even in line with most furry/anthro art, ergo it shouldn’t be called a furry comic.

  7. SO ENTIRELY CREEPY. The problem with having realistic cat faces is that cats don’t…they’re not very…they don’t have a wide range of expressions.

    I mean…

    penetrating stare, hissing face (which can alternately be ‘laughing face’), surprised hissing face, and ears back face.

    I think the link with the crying cat perplexed me the most– the proportions were odd (which threw me off like you said it would), AND I originally thought the cat on the bottom right panel was laughing.

  8. Hmm, their website seems to be down; all I’m getting is a blank page. Pity, I really would like to look at it, because the artwork looks very polished (despite your criticism).

    • The site is back on. Actually, the graphical presentation is very neat, and the cats don’t bother me so much. What seems to be lacking, however, is an impulse to be economical, both in terms of dialogue and storytelling.

      I like the quaint speech, but I’m not sure it can be harnessed properly in a webcomic format. And it’s one of those webcomics where you can see that the creator has put a lot of time and effort into it, so in a case like this it’s almost sad to see that this comic is apparently getting very little traction.

      • I’m actually pretty forgiving about the art if the story can make up for it. It doesn’t; the characters are hard to keep track of, and the dilemmas presented — like the “doomed romance” section — I didn’t care much for. (Like I said, it felt like crib-notes for an educational tour of historical sites. Unfortunately, that didn’t come across in the review since I harped so much on the weirdness of the cat faces … which, as detailed as they are — and obviously the product of a lot of hard work — still look unnatural to me).

        I agree with you, though, Meeker does have a particularly strong concept: the Revolutionary War as seen from the side of Loyalists. In America, we’re only given lip service as to what the Loyalists were going through during the war. It was a whole 1/3 of the country that sided with England, after all. Surely, life wasn’t easy with all these treasonous rebels running around.

  9. I actually know her and hope she won’t take the review too hard as I like the comic and don’t really follow the furry scene.

    Have friends in it and I just go… oh ok.

    I’m afraid to be judgmental, afraid not to be. So I stick in the middle ground and sliiiide away from anything that would damn me. One way or another.

    In any case, I personally like the story and don’t find the cats terrifying. It actually is kind of like a cattish soap opera though and as a girl I naturally don’t find the dialogue bad and the art so detailed that I wish I had that kind of patience.

    But the one thing I have to say is that I feel terrible for laughing at what you wrote when you were commenting about their eyes. It doesn’t have anything to do with the art but just your take on it.

    With this said if I ever get a one star review for my comic everyone has the right to laugh at anything the reviewer wrote and I forbid any of my friends to feel sorry for me.

    I deserve it. 😛

    And meeze if you read this don’t worry. El’s just a hater 😉 lol.

    All in good humor
    ~W

    • Wow the formatting on that was terrible. But hopefully even in spite of the horrendous grammatical issues people still understand what I was trying to say.

      • It looks fine!

        Also, I fully support your assessment that I’m a “hater” … though it’s not as cool as the time some guy called me “Captain Nihilist” (a title which I love so very much).

  10. Oh ouch…considering I’ve advertized on this comic’s website SEVERAL times because of its similar content I’m amazed at the score. You’re review… unfortunately, is spot on in many cases but I would also call it a matter of preference. You dont like Revolutionary war comics. Fair. The designs leave a bit to be desired… very true. But She is trying, the backgrounds and detail she puts into this comic is effort that in web comics is rarely seen. Your review however makes me beg this of you, if you ever feel the itch to review my comic, Devia, please wait. In its current state it isn’t much to look at and I would shudder to get so harsh a critique as you’ve given L&L so soon out of its gate. The only reason I say such is because mine is on a similar vein as L&L (albiet Hyper-history with other elements that have yet to be seen) I probably wasn’t even on your agenda and now I’ve gone and handed myself a hangman’s noose, haven’t I? Devia hasn’t reached past its prolouge, I welcome review and critique once it has had more time to develop.

    • To be honest, I don’t usually go after brand-spankin’ new comics. I thought it was OK to do Loyalty & Liberty because, despite the meager content, it had been out for two years and was already into its second issue. (Sort of how comic review sites do reviews based on solicits of issue #1’s in a series).

      Also, it was around the 4th of July, and I was trying to review some American history themed webcomics that time of year … of which there are not that many.

      If I do get around to checking out your comic, I’ll be sure to read it after your first story arc concludes. Promise.

      Also, and apologies if it sounds harsh, but I don’t go easy for trying. Mainly because I’m almost certain all the 1-star webcomics I’ve reviewed weren’t for lack of trying. If it’s any consolation, I do highly respect and applaud all webcomic creators for their hard efforts.

      • That is refereshing to know, the reason I immediately freaked is because, by pure co-incidence, my comic and L&L launched rougly on the same day. “oh crap im next on the chopping block” Here’s an easy note. The prolouge (which is almost done) is all in black and white, the first official arc is in colour, and it should be apparent when its over. I hate that I can only upload once a week, I’d do more if I could. You seem like an AWESOME person and despite your reviews, good and bad, you’re someone I can really respect for your honesty. If you’re ever free to chat, you can find my contact info fairly easily tough my comic website: http://deviacomic.com < im fairly good about critique and review (even though i haven't been reviewed OR interviewed yet, but im new and my Genre isn't exactly as orthodox as most, and no i don't attempt to curb peoples opinions and/or views about me and my comic either. I just like to chat with readers of many comics like you.)

  11. So, it’s basically Lackadaisy, if Lackadaisy was set during the Revolutionary War and was a massive fail

  12. How is everyone so eloquent, it’s like they’re in a stage play? Are these the same people whose local pastimes are burning boats in the town square and covering people in tar and feathers?

    This may be just my opinion, but the coloring looks really ugly to me. The lines are all gummy-looking, and the brighter colors (reds) are jarringly satuated. It’s a shame because I looked at the artist’s gallery before and her work is lovely. It just doesn’t translate well into her comics.

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