Wednesday, November 17, 2004

19th Leg: Cat and Girl

Yes yes. It's been a long time. I'm not going to apologise for having a life and obligations. Some things are just more important.

In the news, Eric Burns dropped General Protection Fault from his list of reads recently.

Now some of you will be wondering why the hell anyone would care why some guy with a blog stopped reading one of the longest running Keenspot comics. The answer is because the blog in question is WebSnark. And unfortunately, Eric's snarks have a domino effect.

I've been a longtime reader of GPF. The very first webcomic I ever read was PvP. I then progressed to Sluggy Freelance and next.. GPF. So it's probably the third webcomic I discovered. That's even before I discovered one of the comics that prompted me to seriously start webcomicking, The Wandering Ones. So that was probably around 2000.

I remember GPF throughout my years in high school. I identified with Ki when I was the only girl in Computer Science class and the guys were taking bets on how long it would take me to drop the subject. In fact, thinking back, I can remember which storylines related to which part of my life.

However, Eric's snark got me thinking. Most importantly, it got me reevaluating the strip I'd been reading for the past 4... (or was that 5?) years. If I had stumbled across GPF now through Webcomic Finds, instead of all those years ago, would I have rated it the same way I did back then? Most of all, has reading GPF become something I do out of habit?

I suspect that the answer may be closer to the former than the latter.

In retrospect I think that the reasons we read the comics we read because they're the only ones we know of. And they are on hand and familiar.

And because we don't know that others exist.

When we go to webcomic directories like Onlinecomics or Buzzcomix we're faced with such a daunting list of choices that we never know what to pick. So we rarely pick any of them.

And thus we stick to the same group of comics and rarely explore anything else. Like I once told someone else, insular little groups.

The question is, how can we change this?

Comic: Cat and Girl
By: Dorothy Gambrell

Genre and Setting: Surreal, Modern Life, Social Commentary

Art Style: Simplistic Cartoony, Inked, Black-and-White

Is About: Cat, a giant humanoid cat and Girl... a girl. Basically they ramble, comment and try to make sense of the world.

Frequency: Mainly Wednesdays, according to The Webcomic List
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:

The website design is plain, simple and functional, although having the navigation bunched up at the top caused me to miss the whole thing when I was looking for the author's name.

I'll be honest and admit the art didn't impress me straight away. I know it's unfair because I've been on a straight run of comics with fantastic art... Cat and Girl's minimalistic art style shows up badly in contrast, but I'm being honest.

However, on reading the comic on the index page:

Ping: Ho-kay. This heavy stuff...

I can tell already this will be no ordinary webcomic.

The Concept:
Well, you have a kid and the imaginary(?) animal companion. Even the character poke fun at this themselves. Some people might say that the derivation is a bad thing, but personally, I don't find a problem with it. Cat seems more human than animorphic to me.

The Art:
Not exactly the comic's best selling point. The art style is simplistic and minimal.

However, I feel obliged to point out that this minimalism actually serves a purpose, as the characters of Cat and Girl are highly symbolic. Their very names reflect this. As Scott McCloud explained in Understanding Comics, for symbolic characters, the lack of detailed features help the reader project their perceptions onto, and thus, identify with the character.

Dorothy tends to use a LOT of cut and paste though. Most of the time it works, especially when the strip utilises repetition to get a point across. But at other times... she's sneaky!

And at other times, she's damn cool!

One thing I'm surprised to note is that for a comic that started five years ago, the art style has remained consistent. Most comics tend to show variations is style over time. Some to a starling degree. But except for some tightening of lines, the art of Cat and Girl looks pretty much unchanged from day one.

This is actually a good thing. As much as I love webcomics, sometimes the rapid change of styles annoy me, especially if the comic in question is a story comic, and Character A ends up looking totally different by the end of the storyline.

I have this problem myself, but let's not go into that. ;)

The Writing:

Thought-Provoking, but in a passive way.

In general I greatly dislike politically themed comics. But that's becasue in general they tend to shove their opinions bluntly down your throat and expect me to swallow them.

For this reason Cat and Girl ought to be modelled as "How to do a political comic". Instead of the in-your-face approach, Cat take a more back-seat approach: In fact they have their own formula. But it works most of the time. I'm compelled to think about the issue at hand instead of feeling like I'm the victim of a brainwashing-attempt.

One thing I should also mention. The relationships between the characters, while not the central part of the strip are compelling. Boy has a crush on Girl, but is never able to express it other than later when the opportunity has passed and he's alone in his room. I'm not sure what the relationship between Cat and Girl are... Cat seems to be some sort of Guardian, but still is dependent on Girl. Girl appears to be the child, yet is an adult and breadwinner at the same time.

In the end I tie all this down to symbolism. Cat and Girl are whatever we perceive them as, and what we can relate to them as.

Well, as someone else already said, it's sometimes a bit preachy.

I'll also be honest and admit a lot of the strips I don't 'get'. but I think that might be due to my ignorance of the issues over the atlantic more than anything else.

The plain art won't serve to pull readers in, but recommendations the writing will get will.

Comics like Cat and Girl are all too rare on the internet. It's distinctive in it's own right, and has a niche that it has created for itself.

And it makes you think without you getting annoyed that it makes you think.

It's not a comic I can fall madly in love with, but I'll come back to it every now and then when my mental state gets stagnant and needs some stimulating.

The Next Leg:

Hmm, I've never heard of Buttercup Festival before...

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