Friday, September 17, 2010

It's Not Walky!

Even those closest to me may not know this, but every day I check the daily comics. No, I'm not talking about the ones in the newspaper; There hasn't been a funny comic to be found in the national press since the 80's. That's not the medium to which I'm referring. In fact, the medium I mean rarely if ever gets printed ON paper, unless it's popular enough to get collected. I'm speaking of webcomics, and if you don't read them you may not know what you're missing.

There have been webcomics since at least the 1980's, when they were introduced by Internet providers such as CompuServe as content for subscribers, but the era of the webcomic hit it's true stride in the mid to late 1990's. At that time, many comics that still run regularly today began their epic runs, such as Scott Kurtz's PVP and Jerry Holkins's and Mike Krahulik's Penny Arcade, the latter of which gets two million pageviews DAILY. These are just two of the hundreds to webcomics out there right now, and because they're online, they're not subject to the content regulations that are regularly put upon print comics by newspaper and book publishers, ensuring as independent a setup as the creators wish for their projects. Granted, the quality of some of these comics wouldn't fit in with your daily strips, and the topics of some would be considered controversial in and of themselves, but all these years later webcomics have come into their own, being recognized for the prestigious Harvey and Eisner Awards, which once upon a time didn't recognize them as a true comic format. With the slow decline of newspapers in society and many people already getting their news from the web, it's only natural that the comic strip would follow suit.

The cartoonist, David Willis
But I'm not here to talk about all webcomics. I'm here to mention my all-time favorite, one I discovered recently, and only after the comic had technically come to an end years prior. It's Walky was a webcomic that ran from December 1999 to October 2004 and was the creation of the very busy webcartoonist David Willis. Willis, considered one of the pioneers of the webcomic era, began creating comics as a child, using his friends as his subjects. He continued doing so when he launched Roomies! back in 1997, in the Indiana Daily Student, the school newspaper for Indiana University. Roomies! followed college roommates Danny and Joe as they get ready for the rest of their lives while meeting new friends including Danny-crazy Joyce, nerdy Howard and Howard's older, wise sister Ruth. The comic was a mix of daily humor and some continuity, drifting towards more serious topics as the comic progressed, including alcoholism, death, and sex. It became a webcomic in 1999, debuting on Keenspot with it's entire archive not long before the series itself ended. The comic also briefly introduced the readers to little purple aliens that abducted some of the characters briefly but did not at the time seem very dangerous.

Darker themes abound in It's Walky!
When Roomies! ended, Willis took up his magnum opus, It's Walky! Existing in the same universe as his previous work, Willis included several characters from Roomies! in this new title, with Joyce, Joe and Danny's high-school girlfriend Sal (who was introduced in Roomies!) as major characters, and by the end included all the original comic's characters in some capacity. The story focused on a super-secret paramilitary group called SEMME who's job was to combat the evil forces of the aliens, who are much more dangerous than they had been portrayed in the previous comic. The comic also introduced a new character, David "Walky" Walkerton, a young SEMME lab assistant who turns out to be vital to the fight against the aliens. Walky (who is the personification of the comic's creator) seems somewhat dim when we're first introduced to him, but over the course of the series his true power emerges and he's a character we really learn to love.

It's difficult to place a specific genre on It's Walky. While part of the main story did focus on imminent alien abductions, plots and invasions, the real meat of the storylines is the character driven drama, most notably the love story between Walky and Joyce, both of whom go through several character growth spurts over the course of the series. The best part is the relationship between them feels real, based on true emotions and sometimes surprisingly moving prose:

It's the rain.
It's the storm we all have to endure.
We hate it, but it's every drop that
runs down your face that traces
out who you are. Your shape.
The storm shows me so much.
I accept all I see.

We are beautiful.

When Willis would break out something like that, I'm not afraid to admit that I've shed many a tear over the pure emotion that sometimes runs through the story. That isn't to say that Willis's trademark humor doesn't make an appearance. In fact, the comic would sometimes vacillate between toilet humor and theology in a very short period of time. The best moments were when the comic was at it's most emotionally-charged, though, and the comic had many tragic characters that helped it get to that point, characters such as good-guy Anthony McHale Jr. and Walky's one-time girlfriend Dina Sarazu. (Spoiler: Dina's final living words, "I'm sorry, this was the best I could do" still haunt me) Without giving away too much, It's Walky was a sweet, fun, exciting and funny emotional ride, and I would recommend it to any who wanted to partake in it. But that's not the end of what's been called the Walkyverse.

After It's Walky! ended, Willis changed gears, focusing on a humor-first comic that takes place in a toy store. Shortpacked!, which still runs today, takes place in the same world of It's Walky! but has only faint connections to it's predecessor, mainly in the characters of Robin DeSanto, Mike Warner and Ultracar, who were major players in Walky who decide to work at this toy store after the previous comic's excitement. Besides creating insane scenarios and characters that work well together, Willis also uses this new comic with many a one-shot about his love for Transformers, Batman, and other toys or the movies based upon them. Though it sometimes takes on serious topics such as infidelity and addiction, the comic comes nowhere close in seriousness to it's previous incarnations.

Willis proposed to his future wife on Shortpacked!
But that's not all Willis has been up to. He's one of the founders of Blank Label Comics, which was created by several creators leaving Keenspot. He also hosted a series called Joyce and Walky!, which acted as both an epilogue and sequel to It's Walky! and was different from Willis's other creations in that it was the only title you had to pay to read most of the content (Roomies!, It's Walky! and Shortpacked! are all free to read) which included paid-for content being available on Tuesdays and Thursdays, with a free comic coming out every Saturday.

So why am I telling you all this? Why is a geek who usually reviews using one of his three posts this week to tell you about a webcomic that he loves if it's already ended? Well, Willis just wrapped up the Joyce and Walky comic and has just debuted his brand new comic Dumbing of Age which is a complete reboot of the Walky universe in which there are no aliens, no superpowers. Instead it's a re-imagining of the Joyce/Walky relationship and whether they would still be soul mates if they met under different circumstances, like at college. So far, many Walkyverse characters have already been introduced either directly or in the background, and what parts they'll play has yet to be seen. I'm letting you know that I will be partaking in this new title with eyes open and mouth in a perpetual grin. It's Walky! was a shock I never saw coming, and I'm pretty much committed to whatever Willis puts out now and in the future, until decides to hang up the job for good.

The resemblance is uncanny
Walky, I salute you.

1 comment:

Opinioness of the World said...

Wow, I'm impressed by the "moving prose" portion you quote...simply stunning, evocative of bittersweet emotions.