The Webcomic Overlook #87: Loyalty & Liberty
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).
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 stars … twice! 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.
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.
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.
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)
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 Fourth of July, Furries, Loyalty and Liberty. Bookmark the permalink. 42 Comments.