The Webcomic Overlook #128: 1977
Nostalgia. It’s a terrible thing. It makes you feel old, and creates the illusion that everyone’s missing out by not growing up the same.
Nothing gets your nostalgia running quite like music from yesteryore. This is why the Sirius XM Corporation manages to suck money out of my wallet every month. Everyone’s got their own era, but my formative years are hard coded in the “90’s on 9” station. Oh, sure, the format’s awful. The range is too wide: it goes from Salt N’ Pepa “Let’s Talk About Sex” to Christina Aguilera’s “Genie in a Bottle,” which were before and after my time. The music selection’s not ideal, either. Let’s just say that the audiences for alternative and hip hop and Celine Dion never really crossed paths. But when it gets it right, it gets it right. The moment Red Hot Chili Peppers or Collective Soul or, heck, Marcy Playground hits, I’m immediately transported to a world when MTV videos were poetry, flannels were a fashion statement, and personal hygiene was optional.
I know what you’re thinking. “Go to bed, OLD MAN!” That’s the risk of waxing nostalgic: unless your audience is nearly the same age as you, you inevitably sound like Grandpa Simpson, rambling on and on about absolutely inconsequential items that no one wants to listen to. Ramble on too much, and people get tired with the implied arrogance on elevating one’s memories of yesteryear over those of others. This is why there’s a bit of a backlash against Baby Boomers these days: we are pretty damn tired with your incessant Beatles deification and your Woodstock worship and your general cultural hegemony.
But in the end, we indulge in reminders of our past because, in a way, they’re a nice reminder of the days when everything was possible and there was no limit to the future.
With Byron Wilkins, his personal nostalgia trip is located somewhere in between. I’ll give you three guesses which era he’s going to flashback to in his webcomic, entitled 1977.
1977 is partially autobiographical. Byron Wilkins did, in fact, spend his formative years in the 1970’s, which he proudly calls an era of “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll.” He grew up in the same town the story is set (Lombard, Illinois). He was was a huge fan of rock and even got a few friends together to form a rock band. For him, the “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” credo wasn’t theoretical … he lived it.
The star of 1977 is a long-haired stoner named Bud. As the story begins, he’s kicked out of the house for being an aimless slacker. He has just but one dream: to go west and become a professional musician. Also, he does a lot of weed. He reminds me a lot of Ethan from Ctrl+Alt+Del if you replace video games with throwaway references to multimedia and collectibles in the 1970’s.
While at a laundromat, he meets a fellow stoner named Jeff. He also has long hair which covers up his eyes. He has no problem taking Bud on as a roommate. He also keeps pets in his basement and comes from a family with a ton of money, which usually makes him the lynch pin for all the waaaaaaccccccckkkkkkyyyyyy adventures. Personalitywise, Bud and Jeff are pretty much the same person. They’re totally mellow guys, i.e. free spirits, i.e. kinda insufferable little snots.
The cast is rounded out — in more ways than one — by two women whose names escape me. But they pretty much spend the entire comic standing around looking smug. Both their personalities can be summed as crazy feminists, in that they fly into a range with little provocation. That is, when they’re not running from horny guys ‘cuz they don’t wear bras (giving Mr. Wilkins the easy excuse to draw them in permanent nipple-poke mode) or are otherwise in various states of undress (links NSFW). To be fair, there’s a little attempt to also provide beefcake, but, let’s be honest here, fellas, that’s typically played for laughs. We know what the main attraction is. And, of course, we need women in the band so they can be the butt of jokes-that-have-not-at-all-been-beaten-to-death-by-third-rate-comedians about vibrators and PMS.
See the kind of trouble you get into when you do drugs, ladies? It’s all fun and games until you let two losers move in with you because one of them can score weed. They’re certainly not hanging around these guys for their sparkling personalities.
By there way, there’s no chemistry between any of these characters. There’s no realistic reason why the band even exists beyond the most contrived reasons. One one hand, Bud, Jeff, and the two girls are all the same character… yet, at the same time, they all feel like they’re totally wrong for each other. (There’s no romantic interaction between any of the leads, by the way … which is fairly refreshing for a webcomic.)
Now, I’m not a big fan of the whole “it’s funnier when you’re on weed” explanation. That, to me, means that something is so unfunny that you have to pander to a form of humor even lower than than lowest common denominator, e.g. stoners who will laugh at just about anything.. But, Good Lord, some of the jokes in 1977 are so lame that the reader would be best served with some sort of stimulant.
This site does not endorse drug use, so instead I propose that to get the full effect of the jokes you augment your experience with an auditory experience. No, not digital drugs, which are fake. I strongly urge you to open this link, and then press the button every time we get to the awful punchline.
As you can see, with the right sound effect button your experience upgrades from “painfully unfunny” to “almost barely tolerable.” We are talking about a comic aimed at adults (or teens, at least) that features multiple fart jokes, so you gotta hoard all the elephant-grade humor stimulants you can get your hands on.
Visually, the artwork over the first year is pretty rough, bearing all the symptoms of someone trying his hand at cartooning for the first time. Now, Wilkins’ technique does improve over time. His recent promo images show, at least, an eye-catching turn toward something that resembles the Disney princess house style. Despite the improvement, Wilkins’ style is still not problem free. First of all, Wilkins continues to struggle with proportion. In one strip where a character reaches out to the viewer, his hand ends up looking all wonky.
Secondly, every woman looks the same. To elaborate, they all have the same face but with different hairstyles. And sometimes they even have the same hairstyle. I mean, there really isn’t much separating Bud’s sister, Bud’s future wife Lily, Bud’s ex-girlfriend, and the other featuring female Bud.
Yes, I did say female Bud. There’s apparently a storyline where Bud licks a frog, and somehow it turns him temporarily into a woman. So basically Ranma… if Ranma was lame. At first I thought this might be a parody of transgender comics, but I seriously, seriously doubt that 1977 is that clever. To be fair, even Wilkins seems to have gotten pretty damn tired of it, as he writes it out of his webcomic with a deux ex machina where the curse is removed and no one, except Bud, will even remember that he even had the ability to turn into a woman.
The comic is, in fact, full of absurd monkeyshines like a lizard that breathes fire and a record executive who turns into the devil. Plus there’s a gratuitous reference to a more modern day internet meme. It’s not really “sex, drugs, and rock n’ roll” per se, but who cares! The rule of 1977 is that there are no rules! Anything that pops into Wilkins’ mind is fair game. Unfortunately, they never seem like natural progressions of the comic, and they come off as forced attempts at being silly. I’m not totally comfortable bringing Wilkins’ age into this, but it does come off as someone’s dad trying too hard to sound cool in front of the teenagers.
Sadly, 1977 doesn’t compare favorably among webcomics starring struggling rock bands that I’m familiar with. It’s got a long way to go before matching the winning ambiance and chemistry of Kris Straub’s F Chords (reviewed here), which is for my money (or internet advertising revenue) the best music-related webcomic out there. It’s not even the best webcomic about stoner musicians. Acid Keg (reviewed here), for all its faults, actually manages to craft some pretty trippy and original pshychadelic sequences. Unfortunately, it seems like 1977 is going to be the last rock band comic standing. Out of the three, 1977 is the only one still updating.
However, while I’ve been pretty hard on Byron Wilkins, I do have to give him credit for having an open mind. He admits to his limitations in one recent blog post:
I’m getting the new comics done on schedule and already have four in the buffer for August 2nd. It’s getting closer and to me I can see a clear difference in the story telling and the way I’m doing the comic now. Nothing’s changed, just I have a clear path and it’s making it easier to do. Been a hectic time these past two months or so since I put the comic on hiatus, something not easy for me to do. But, I’ve grown quite a bit in this short time period and that’s good for us all. I’m enjoying creating the comic again and it was not fun there for a while, and my first rule is if you’re not having fun, then why are you doing it? The fun is back and I hope you enjoy the results.
So good for you, Byron Wilkins! Maybe an old dog can learn new tricks. (Oops! There’s me with the age thing again.)
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)