The Webcomic Overlook #210: Nerf This
It’s sometimes hard to comprehend in this increasingly global world we live in, but humor is very much tied to where you grew up. I think I mentioned it before, but whenever my wife tells me that she discovered a hilarious video that a friend of hers sent via Facebook, I cringe. I cringe a lot. That’s because she grew up in the Philippines, and a lot of the comedy seems to be rooted in terrible mangling of the English language… despite the fact that, from my ears, the accent is only slightly more atrocious that her own. And even if that were the case, why would I even find it hilarious in the first place?
There also seems to be a bit of a cultural disconnect with British humor. There seems, for example, to be a lot of comedy to be mined regarding mustaches. At least, that’s what I glean from Scott Ferguson’s Nerf This. Here, mustaches are featured prominently and often. Sometimes they just show up, and that’s apparently the punchline. Ah, to have been born on the British Isles. Perhaps I would’ve appreciated some of that fine honed humor rather than, say, watching a Filipina starlet humiliate herself on YouTube while mangling the lyrics of Air Supply’s “Can’t Live (If Living Is Without You).”
The Webcomic Overlook has previously reviewed Mr. Ferguson’s two other projects: Motokool and Scout Crossing. I will start this review on a positive note: Mr. Ferguson’s artwork has improved by a lot. I criticized the artwork for being flat and disjointed and for lacking any flow. I was reminded quite often of these very same issues when reading Nerf This. However, around 2011, Mr. Ferguson’s continually shifting art style suddenly gets much easier on the eyes. The characters are more rounded. Hair, which used to look like overly shellacked wigs, now draped down more naturally. Action scenes are still a little choppy, but they’re a little more dynamic, no more resembling bored fighters in poses more suitable for Hopi cave paintings.
It’s to Mr. Ferguson’s credit that he was willing to change styles on the fly. There are many creators who draw webcomics similar to Nerf This that stick with the style that it started out with. Perhaps it’s due to a sense of consistency. But in a fairly short time, Scott Ferguson managed to not only show huge improvements, but was willing to experiment several times until sticking to a style that worked. Seriously, the guy could probably draw some killer romance comics.
In fact, the reason I wanted to revisited the third of Mr. Ferguson’s works was because the art was so eye-catching. I was hard on his other two comics, and a good bulk of my criticisms were art-based. Perhaps, with a new style and a different premise, one of his webcomics would finally capture my heart like a giggly teenager on Spring Break.
Nerf This is the story of a manchild named Chase. This is good, because there are not enough manchildren in webcomics. This means, that, from time to time, Chase will blurt out something along the lines of, “I’ll have you know, when I play Ninja Turtles, I’m always Raphael, and he’s ‘cool, but rude.'” Oh, Chase! You’re so wacky!
Naturally, Chase’s antics tend to grate on people. This is especially true of adults, who have this crazy preconceived notion that people older than 18 have to have semi-functioning brains. Now, I’ve worked with some autistic children in the past, and it occurs to me that many of the manchildren in webcomics exhibit the same tendencies. They babble the same nonsense ideas that characters in the strip find charming but others, including the reader, find off-putting. In fact, those nearest to the character are loyal to fault and very understanding. Is it because they understand that the character is suffering an affliction that makes them awkward in social circles? There may be more to this theory than meets they eye, since flashbacks to Chases’ childhood shows that he’s a chronic pantswetter.
Chase, in fact, bears many similarities to previous Webcomic Overlook bogeymen: LICD‘s Rayne Summers and CAD‘s Ethan McManus. Here’s a fun activity! Tear out a piece of loose-leaf paper. Fold the paper in three, with the long edge on top. Have you done it? Good! Now, using a pencil or a crayon or a marker, write “Chase” at the top of the first column, “Ethan” at the top of the second, and “Rayne” at the top of the third.
Now, I have mixed up quotes from each of the three comics. When you hear the quote, mark an “X” in the column of who you think said it. Are you ready? Here we go!
- “But only on the condition that we have ‘Dapper’ sex instead of regular sex”
- “And that’s why a condom would break if your penis was made out of M-80s!”
- “I have a doctorates in ‘snugglometry’ dammit! And the cardigan made that happen, alright?!”
- “The colony of flies nesting near my genitals probably agree with you.”
The one thing keeping Chase from descending to the same depths as our previous two characters is that he’s actually less of a character. He starts off as a goofball who fends off … sigh … animal assassins. Mainly koalas. But then we’re told that he’s a weakling who generally can’t fight off his girlfriend’s dad. And then he’s a badass again fighting evil shadow magicians. There is nothing in the story to suggest character arc or growth. He just changes to suit whatever “random” paths the story decides to take.
Chase has a pet monster by the name of Monty. Usually, I find the inclusion of a wacky animal sidekick to be somewhat odious. Here, though, Monty is a welcome presence, mostly because side adventures not involving Chase. Monty typically interacts with a variety of woodland animals talking in charming old English. It’s actually pretty amusing, and the characters prove to be better developed than the main cast. One tangent involve a mongoose and a snake who are a scatterbrained romantic pair that must reenact murderous killing for show. They also adopt Monty. The absurdity of coupling high-brow speaking animals with an unintelligible monster works well here, with the snake taking his fatherly duties a bit too seriously and the mongoose swanning about as if she were Zelda Fitzgerald. It works a whole lot better than, say, Chase donning a novelty mustache and monocle. That’s Master of Disguise levels of humor.
Chase also has a girlfriend named
Lilah Taryn. She hooks up with Chase due to mutual creepy animal ownership. She also finds Chase bafflingly attractive, likely turned on by his fights with animal assassins. You’d imagine that Taryn would probably be as eccentric as our main man, but she turns out to be disappointingly normal. She’s the sort of girl that, at any point, you’d expect to sigh, roll her eyes, and go, “Oh, Ethan.” Like Chase, though, she transforms to the whims of the plot, going from “slightly bemused girlfriend” to a “warrior princess.”
Taryn also has to continually justify why she’s attracted to Chase. Seriously, she does this a lot. I started to think this was a gag of some sort … but, man, is it ever detrimental to make jokes about how your characters have no chemistry whatsoever. A more likely scenario: the writer himself was trying way too hard to make Chase and Taryn a couple. It’s like a Stephen Seagal movie, where all the bad guys are talking about how dangerous Seagal is to try to drum up his badassitude, and yet the viewer knows just by watching that Seagal is really just a doughy middle-aged guy with a greasy ponytail. Taryn’s justification typically boils down to: “Chase has always been creative, unique and sincere. That’s why I like him.” Which is pretty much the stock response as to why any one would ever want to hang around any of webcomicdoms’ many, many manchildren. It turns out that that’s all the excuse you need to paper over the fact that Chase has no personality, is always offputting, and is a selfish jackass.
Besides, you’d think that Chase being a secret badass who kills animals would’ve been enough for Taryn, especially since her dad, Mr. Mills — who is, incidentally, bar none the best character in the comic — is an adventurer for hire who kills bears with his bare hands and has a moustache that sometimes sparkles. It never comes up, which may be a point in Taryn’s favor. However, hen you’re trying to justify your love for your boyfriend, “He’s a secret badass” is probably a very strong point in your favor.
There’s also Zooey, another girl. She has a little bit more personality than Taryn. She’s kinda shy, and she has weird hobbies … like her obsession with vibrators. She also harbors an intense crush on our hero,
Mary Sue Chase. She more or less strikes out with every other man (mainly because every other man in Nerf This is portrayed to be a pervert), but Chase just gets her motor running. In other words, she’s pretty much nerd bait. Incidentally, as much as I hate this particular rule, the comic more or less fails the Beschdel test, since most of the time when Taryn and Zooey are in the same room, they’re always talking about Chase.
And… there’s also some other character who appear early on in the comic but don’t turn out to be much important. Ummm… one of them wears a hat? Moving on.
Nerf This is a comic about issues. Important issues such as rape. Sex toys. Pornography. And pedophilia. Which it tries to pass off as jokes just by mentioning them. To be fair though, while Ferguson is a little hit or miss, he does turn out some pretty decent gags. During one fight scene, Taryn comments on how another character has basically been useless. He responds with a pretty awesome line: “Hey Tutz! Read the shirt.”
Ferguson, in fact, improves his humor average when he stops focusing on the core characters and just straight up experiments. I’ve mentioned Monty and his animal friends, perhaps the funniest and most charming comics in Nerf This. There are also the avatars residing in Chase’s brain. They work on a concept similar to Herman’s Head, where each crudely drawn character represents different aspects of his personality, such as emotion and rage. They can make you laugh just by being cute. Ferguson also got some laughs out of me with the silly stories of Victorian gentlemen rendered in clip art. For some reason, the same monkey-cheese absurdity that I hate in Chase is perfectly acceptible when the guys saying it are dapper English fellows. Even the comics where Ferguson stars as himself are fairly amusing.
Which is why I would never accuse Nerf This of never being funny. It is periodically funny. There’s something about working these “filler” strips that unshackled Ferguson’s id… and magic happened. It is especially funny when Ferguson isn’t shackled to his characters, who are by and large uninteresting and compelling. The Chase/Taryn romance is just a total drag, even more so since apparently the two characters are now engaged. Again, no chemistry. So why should I care?
If Nerf This were to ever undergo a major reboot, I’d propose ditching everyone except for Mr. Mills. And, uh, Zooey. Hey, she’s nerd bait … but it totally worked. Anyway, they should probably go on adventures talking to prim and proper woodland animals and Victorian clip art. Sure, it’s kinda random… but that’s the sort of lunacy the comic was supposed to channel in the first place, right?
I’ll close this out by saying that Nerf This executes one of the most genuinely shocking twists in webcomics. I won’t link it here, since this twist is pretty much the best thing about the comic. (Those who have read Nerf This, by the way, will know exactly which twist I’m talking about.) I didn’t see it coming, but Ferguson does a great job setting it up and recontextualizing many of the previous strips. For that, I applaud Scott Ferguson. That was a masterclass stroke of genius. High five!
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)