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The Webcomic Overlook #152: ReMIND


Most of us remember Shel Silverstein as the author and the illustrator of The Giving Tree. It’s the book that convinced millions of children that the boy was a jerk for using up the whole tree without giving anything in return, only to realize that, when they got older, they were in fact the little boy and the tree represented their parents. His simple little tale was simultaneously rewarding and traumatic, and likely launched more than one graduate level humanities theses.

However, most people don’t remember Shel Silverstein as also being a songwriter. I know it totally blew my mind when I found out that Johnny Cash’s hit song, “A Boy Named Sue,” was written by none other than Shel Silverstein. I mean, seriously, THE Shel Silverstein? Aw, hell naw! But it’s true: ol’ Shel wrote the whimsical lyrics to the song that made the denizens of Folsom Prison squeal in delight.

While we sometimes think that songwriting and the illustrated arts are two different creatures, there is an anthropological link. They are, after all, based on two of the most ancient artistic traditions. Hell, cavemen probably embellished their wall-drawn adventures with some bomb-ass tribal chants. So, when the Let’s Be Friends Again guys say that they’re forming an alliance with nerd rapper Adam War Rock, it sorta makes sense once you overcome the initial skepticism.

In his FAQ, Jason Brubaker mentions that his webcom- … I’m sorry, online graphic novel reMIND started as funny song. It would be interesting to hear that song, especially since it probably had something to do with steampunk inventions, anthropomorphic cats, and a secret race of lizard people. Not something Johnny Cash would sing to win over hardened criminals, but fun nonetheless.

So what is reMIND about? Well, dear reader, everything you need to know iss right there in the title. The first has to do with memory and remembering. However, notice that the “MIND” portion of the title is in all caps. That’s because reMIND is also about mad science … the kind where you take someone’s brain and put it into a big robot, a Frankenstein’s monster, or, in this case, a mangy cat.

Sonja, our heroine, is reminiscent of Brandy Carter from Liberty Meadows. She’s young, she’s attractive, and she hangs around some really goofy-looking animals. She’s the keeper of a very steampunk-y lighthouse, which seems to generate wattage through a built-in wind power generator. Using a lighthouse as a setting gives Brubaker a nice enough excuse to illustrate spreads of the lush, picturesque scenery, where a lonely pocket of civilization meets the harsh beauty or nature. Mr. Brubaker adeptly illustrates both feminine and natural beauty in delicate lines and washed out watercolors, which does a good job in capturing your attention during the rather slow, exposition-filled opening.

The lighthouse overlooks the nearby town of Cripple Peaks, whose local economy is heavily Lizard Man-based. The Lizard Man is something like The Loch Ness Monster or Champ of Lake Champlain or Big Blue from the “Quagmire” episode of X-Files: a creature whose very legend bring in some tourism money. Sonja is pretty skeptical of The Lizard Man’s existence, but she’s a little conflicted since the man who started the legend was her own dearly departed dad.

One day, her cat, Victuals, disappears. She gave him up for dead, until one day she drags his barely alive body out of the water. It doesn’t take long for Sonja to discover that there’s something … different about her cat. I mean, he’s drawn cartoonier than everyone else in the comic, but that was true even before he supposedly drowned. But there are other differences. Victuals can now walk on two feet, speak English, and has an unquenchable craving for lasagna. (OK, that last part doesn’t happen.)

Victuals tells Sonja that he’s not really her cat. Rather, he’s a Lizard Man … not THE Lizard Man, as Sonja was lead to believe, but one of a race of lizard people who aren’t so make-believe after all. In fact, he used to be an disturbingly buff lizard man who was once betrothed to the princess of the lizards, except that a vengeful god named Nahusthan (also known as The Invisible) had cast his soul into the body of a lesser creature. Namely, Sonja’s cat.

Huh.

Despite the story sounding somewhat embellished (“Really! I was once a super-muscular prince-to-be from a race of mythical creatures!”), Sonja takes his story at face value. Why would a talking cat lie to her?

So Victuals hangs around, moping and cursing his fate, until one day he catches a picture of Sonja’s dad. He then dismisses his entire belief system in the span of one page.

Wha—?

Now, I understand the whole “with evidence, reason defeats blind superstition” thing. Only… a picture of Sonja’s father standing next to a carving that was placed atop his gravestone? THAT’S the proof Victuals needs to realize his whole belief system is a lie? I mean, I can come up with literally a hundred different reasons how Victuals can reconcile his doctrine with the evidence in front of him.

For example: how does he know what Nahusthan looks like in the first place? Was it because there are graven images made of Nahusthan? If so, isn’t it possible that Sonja’s dad somehow caught a glimpse of one of those graven images and made a replica? I mean, it’s not like the picture depicts her dad with a flesh-a-blood Nahusthan… just a statue. And how does Victuals know that Sonja’s on the level, anyway? She’s from a completely different culture and race. I mean her own people think that lizard-folk are some sort of myth! So couldn’t that mean that other myths inherent to the lizard-belief system be real? I just find it implausible that Victuals would be so quick to dismiss the possibility that Nahusthan is, in fact, some sort of diety.

But nope, instead it’s straight to “Well, looks like God is a lie. Where’s that robot suit?” The entire sequence just seemed unrealistic and far too convenient, which is a problem because, according to the “About” page, this is “a mystical, sci-fi about faith, love and brain transplantation.” The “love” and “brain transplantation,” I get. It’s just I find the “faith” part of the equation to be muddled and unconvincing.

Anyway, before you can say “Sufferin’ succotash!” Victuals (he sticks to referring to himself by Sonja’s cat’s name, by the way) returns to the land of lizards by way of a modified suit that Sonja’s dad had built to peek into the hidden lives of the lizard people. The rest of the comic is about Victuals totally owning the lizards with the power of his nifty Iron Man power armor analogue. He discovers that experiments have been going on with brains being transplanted into new bodies. Some are now in the bodies of dogs, bunnies, and other little critters. Victuals discovers that his original body is in cold storage somewhere.

reMIND is worth checking out for the illustrations alone. The adventures in the lizard world gives Mr. Brubaker to switch up his style a little. Comfortable outdoors scenes from earlier pages make way for pipe-lined metallic corridors and vast underwater seascapes that will likely give you agoraphobia. The colors shift, too, going from a the warm and pleasant yellow-and-light-green palette to harsher reds, purples, and blues.

Which is kind of a shame that I thought the plot and the characterization to be a little thin. I found it very hard to be sympathetic toward Victuals. We learn very little about him, other than he used to be a lizard with muscles upon muscles. His quest — while being of the standard “long lost hero returns to his homeland” variety — doesn’t strike me as being very urgent or emotional. Bottom line: I just don’t care about Victuals. I don’t care if he returns to his body. I don’t care if he ever gets back with his lady love. I don’t care if he upends society by exposing how they’re run by a false god. Victuals is just so … uninteresting.

It may have been a misstep to spend so much time early in the comic with Sonja. Her background, is also somewhat undercooked. However, and perhaps this is my human bias talking, I found her easier to relate to than the cat with the lizard brain. Like that Red Letter Media guy with the mumbly voice once said in his review of The Phantom Menace, “Post on my webzone and I’ll send you a pizza roll.” But also something about having a naive character who needs to have the weirdness of the world explained to him really works well in the sci-fi, fantasy, and action genres. This character is a stand-in for the reader, and when the world is explained to him, it’s also explained to us.

It was working in the first chapter. However, by the time Chapter 3 rolls around, she more or less disappears from the narrative. I have a feeling this graphic novel would have been more compelling if she’d accompanied Victuals down to the lizard kingdom, and we saw their world, once regarded as a myth, unfold through her eyes. Alas, she does not, and the adventures in lizard land are stripped of potential awe. Quelle dommage.

Rating: 3 stars (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 February 10, 2011, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, fantasy webcomic, funny animal webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.

  1. “It’s the book that convinced millions of children that the boy was a jerk for using up the whole tree without giving anything in return, only to realize that, when they got older, they were in fact the little boy and the tree represented their parents.”

    I…I never realized…. asd;kfjasdf BAWWWWWWWWWW D8

  2. I actually just read this, because I wanted to read it before commenting.

    It’s tough, because I like the visuals a lot, but the story seems to cram a lot of made up mythology into the relatively short archive so far. Some parts were kind of like when the architect was explaining “The Matrix” to Neo. I was just like, um… okay… sure, if you say so.

    I’m not gonna be too hard on him though, because I never like to judge a graphic novel webcomic until I see the complete endgame.

    But, I will say that the main character just seems out of place. His character design just doesn’t seem to fit within the rest of the world to me.

    • If there were more ‘character’ to go along with the ‘design’ then I think I’d be fine with his out of place look. It gives a better feel for someone that is out of place with rest of the environment given his situation. I don’t know.
      I was disappointed because I like the look and feel of the comic but the story suffers. Too many artists need to realize that they’re not as good with writing stories as they are with the actual visuals and need to learn to work with an actual writer or something. Come on artists, at least write it all out and get someone to look it over before you start drawing.

      • I’m with you, Grey; there are way too many artists who write their own webcomics and don’t have others edit it. You can see this in the dearth of advice along the lines of ‘get someone to look it over’ in the various webcomic FAQs/tutorials available online (off the top of my head, there’s the ‘making graphic novels’ sections of ReMIND and The Last of the Polar Bears).

        The crux of my hypothesis for this phenomena: visual artists can get away with being self-taught. Writers typically can’t. Many visual artists don’t get this and assume they can keep up their modus operandi for their attempts at writing.

        Writing is such an indirect and abstract form of communication that it requires a lot of feedback to realize what/how you can improve. Even though many visual artists thrive on feedback, flaws in an image are so much more readily apparent (at least to adults with good eyesight) that many can work exclusively using self-criticism. The issue is certainly more complicated than this, but I’ll spare you the essay.

        • I want the essay. Where do I go?

          • Oh gosh, I haven’t written it yet!
            If I were to, I would expand on the differences of the mediums and a general misperception on the kind of writing that goes into comics. I think you can probably come up with details to those points, but I’ll probably write about it in detail when I get round to putting up a comic blog.

          • Yes yes, I think a comic is less like a painting after all and more like book. Although I find that I need feedback in order to improve even with visual arts because it can be so easy for beginners to form their own biases!

            I hope you get around to putting up that blog soon 🙂

        • I know that at least the artists who are not self-taught are trained in just about every art class to both give and receive critiques for their and others’ art. I think even the self-taught artists are often their own worst critics when it comes to drawing, or else they might not be as good as they are, so you’d assume they wouldn’t like their own writing either.

          • You’d think so, wouldn’t you? But from my experience with artists (and as an amateur artist myself), even when they are great at taking critiques they often don’t seek them to the extent that writers do. Groups to critique visual artwork are not as common as writer’s circles. Writing classes spend a lot more time on critiques than art classes. (Which is appropriate, given that most of one’s opinion on a piece of visual art is formed within the first second of viewing it.)
            Also, artists that went to art school or somesuch are usually only trained in art, so they are often not ready to give and receive critiques for writing. I can think of at least a few webcomics posted by art students/graduates that are clearly devoid of a writing editor, even though they are trained to take critiques on their art.

          • I agree with you on a lot of points, but I think there’s a reason for less editing in graphic novels written by artists other than them just being artists.

            For one, I am minoring in creative writing while majoring in animation so I’ve taken a lot of art and writing classes. From that standpoint I can say that there is just as much critique in art as there is in writing. I mean, the critiques can be equally as long. It really depends on the teach.

            More importantly, though- many artists don’t write or script out their story as a word document before they start thumb-nailing or drawing. It’s far, far easier to edit a manuscript than a drawn comic page or even thumbnails.

            I started writing out my scripts ahead of time for this very reason- it was just too difficult and too painful to act on critiques when the art is already accomplished. And of course it is possible to do the same kind of editing with thumbnails. I guess the problem there is finding someone who is capable of reading your thumbnails, ha ha ha/

  3. I figured I’d chime in and say thanks for the ridiculously long review of my book. I only wish I could have impressed everyone here a bit more with my storytelling abilities. I gotta admit though, hearing this kind of stuff really makes me want to try harder on my next book. Hopefully as the story progresses I can win some of your interest back. See you around the internets!

    • I hope so, the setting, style, and overall feel of the comic are very amazing and original as far as webcomics go. My own small attempts at comic making have shown me just how difficult the pacing of a story can be to pull off. I’ll look forward to our later work.

  4. Yennoe, I stopped reading reMIND, and thought it was just because I have a short attention span….or that the ideas went over my poor puny brained head…but you’re probably right, its because I got bored of Victuals and was honestly very confused about Victual’s story. The lizard people kingdom seemed to contrast too much with the down to earth watered down (and beautiful) art work for me. I thought the story would be about Sonja realizing her fathers dream.

    I was REALLY compelled though by the ‘boring’ set up (it wasn’t boring to me!) the Graphic Novel was so much fun when we still didn’t know who Victuals was and he was trying to learn more about Sonja’s world (which I think is very nicely detailed). I thought Victuals really was still cat-Victuals…just with a kind of mind enhancement or something…so probably thats why the Lizard Kingdom explanation was a bit of a let down.

  5. Wow, holy hell, I was just thinking of sending you an e-mail requesting you to review this comic. I found it just a week ago and read it all in one sitting and I think it’s amazing.
    However, the whole thing with loosing his faith, while a little more rushed than I had expected is actually a little longer and complex than what you give it credit for.

    • I agree, it wasn’t all that sudden. The only pacing problem I have is that the whole thing moves rather fast. While this is fine for slow updating webcomics if it really is meant to be a book then it could stand to slow down a bit.

  6. I agree that the story is kind of a letdown, specially when considering the amazing visuals. Still, Jason is a really smart and talented artist, so I’m pretty sure the plot would get better as it moves forward. The biggest flaw of reMIND is that it takes too much time (an entire volume) in exposing the setting. At this point there’s not a clear hint of where the story is going, but the potential is there. Also, Jason mentioned that the finished product is going to be around 300 pages, so there’s still a long road ahead for improvement. And kudos for some excellent constructuve criticism, El Santo!

  7. Music teacher training is all literate.

  1. Pingback: Circuit Reader 3: reMIND « The Blog at Airborne Cactus

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