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Stickler and Hat-Trick review Jason Thompson's The Stiff

Stickler and Hat-trick, in association with the Comixpedia present…

Stickler and Hat-trick at the Keyboard

This week, they review Jason thomson's THE STIFF

(Tonight's show is sponsored by Great Googly Moogly contact lenses. You WILL see better. Now available in cat eyes!)

STICKER: Welcome to "Stickler and Hat-Trick At the Keyboard!"
HAT-TRICK: I know you all have been dying for another review from us.
S: Why do you say that?
HT: I see the "most read article" link. I know we are not as popular as we should be.
S: Getting any kind of recognition takes time. Provided we put out quality product every month and-
HT: SHOW US THE LOVE!
EDITOR-IN-CHIEF: *slithering out from underneath the couch* SHOW US THE REVIEW FIRST.
HT: Eep!
S: Okay…
HT: *sigh* I'm so tired.

S: Sorry to hear that. You want to begin?
HT: It's just, I've been sick and I've been having these dreams like, I'm fighting all these Zombie creatures, and my friends are dead…
S: Uh-huh.
HT: And I saw my dead parents and the only people that are still alive are-
S: You and your cute girlfriend.
HT: Yeah.
S: Of course, we're talking about The Stiff, by Jason Thompson. This strip is a mix of manga visual style, relationship themes, commentary on hierarchy in adolescence, a constant undertone of horror, and ancient Tibetan Sutras.
E-I-C: DON'T FORGET TO MENTION THAT IT'S HOSTED ON GIRLAMATIC.COM, AND IT APPEARS THREE TIMES A WEEK, ON MONDAYS, WEDNESDAYS, AND FRIDAYS.
S: You just did it for us.
HT: Yeah.
E-I-C: OH. UMM... CARRY ON, THEN.

HT: It can get pretty creepy sometimes...
S: But the gore is tastefully done, and while it's displayed on Girlamatic.com, both genders should enjoy this familiar romp through high school themes, with its many, many complex layers.
HT: I have to confess; it was a bit much for me. I mean there is a lot of stuff going on in the story timeline, starting in senior year, then jumping to sophomore year through the eyes of another character. And the story starts out as this horror comic. Alistair's Grandfather dies, he has a daydream about fighting zombies, he starts to get sick, and becomes almost delusional in his illness. Then it just stops and becomes this romance chronicle of who dated who and when everyone met and so forth. It threw me off.
E-I-C: WHAT. THAT WASN'T EXACTLY LIKE YOUR OWN HIGH SCHOOL EXPERIENCE? I THOUGHT IT ALL RANG TRUE. WELL, EXCEPT MAYBE THE DATING PART.
S: I have to disagree, HT. I think the pacing is well thought out, mostly because it's a translation of a Manga of the same story, that in turn was a translation of Buddhist religious texts, or sutras. According to Thompson (in his Making of The Stiff notes page) he contacted Masakazu Umezu to create the shônen manga of the hidden sutras. Updating it for modern times and adding some violence, it became Shitai ("Corpse"), and was published in Shonen Sunday Afternoon Jump.

HT: Okay, that also kinda bugs me. This is a great comic, but it's basically a recreation of another comic, right? That's like if I wanted to recreate the entire Manga of Akira, but change the names of the characters, and the story, and throw in a little of my life, but still credit Katsuhiro Otomo for the original.
S: But there is a difference. Thompson wanted to remake the story, but also make it his own. In creating The Stiff, he makes it more friendly for an English audience.
HT: Then why didn't they just translate the text and keep the original art? They do that for plenty of other Manga.
S: Why do you think they remake all these movies in Hollywood that were made decades ago? Creators want to put an original modern spin on a classic tale. How many different version of Romeo and Juliet are there? It's a classic story at its core.
E-I-C: OR PORKY'S.
S: They never remade that one, boss.
E-I-C: WELL, THEY SHOULD. CLASSIC STUFF.
S: Ummm... yeeaaaah.
HT: I don't know if I'd call the story in The Stiff a classic one.
S: Well, that's left for the reader to decide.
HT: I guess.
E-I-C: YOU KNOW, THESE TWO HAVE LOTS IN COMMON.
HT: I'm afraid to ask.
S: I think you just did.
E-I-C:WELL, THEY BOTH HAVE TEENS IN THEM, AND WHILE ONE IS *CALLED* THE STIFF, THE OTHER GIVES YO—
S: Whoa, whoa, whoa – let's break things down a bit. We're getting way off topic. Characters?
HT: *snicker* You start.

S: The main character focus is Alistair Toth. He's an obsessed horror fan, to the point where he will fantasize about himself in situations of death. When asked about his stance on abortion by a classmate, Alistair calls himself "pro death". (Ch 2, pg 42). Despite this morbid fascination, Alistair is a very shy and solitary character. He never touches booze or drugs, and is still a virgin.
HT: Complex main characters are always fun. I feel sorry for them one minute, and I the next minute I wanna smack them in the ear. Alistair was one of those guys I don't really relate to, but towards the end of Chapter One, I understand where he's coming from. By the current pages in Chapter Two, I'm beginning to feel sorry for him, and I start to doubt if he will actually be able to pull through in getting with the girl of his dreams.
S: Which brings us to Alice Hoffman, the girl that Alistair is falling hard for. He claims to never have been interested in girls until he sees Alice, which proves for a nice catalyst to get things going. Alistair is comfortable in his protective shell that he's created for himself, until he meets an unlikely girl that he's going ga-ga for. This is the girl that, as his friend Jamie says, cracks his shell.
HT: And she's a transfer student, which always means trouble.
E-I-C: AH, THOSE TRANSFER STUDENTS... THEY ALWAYS SEEM TO BE THE ONES BREAKING YOUNG BOYS' HEARTS. TO THE POINT OF STEREOTYPE.
S: Alice remains pretty much in the role of "the girl Alistair likes." I got a sense that there is a lot more to her, but that chapter has yet to be told.

HT: Chapter Two focuses on Jaime Etchison, the gal pal of Alistair. She's more quirky, which makes her chapter fun to read…
E-I-C: AH, THOSE QUIRKY GIRLS... THEY ALWAYS SEEM TO BE THE ONES BREAKING YOUNG BOY READERS' HEARTS...
HT: You feeling a little lonely, there, boss?
S: *sigh* Anyway, Jamie is also someone we learn about in stages. She starts out as Alistair's confidant. Someone who can tell he likes this girl without him saying it. She can read him. In Chapter Two, we learn how they meet at a writing camp. Jamie becomes the focus of this chapter and we learn that she's done a lot of growing and developing to get to where she is today. That like Alistair, she's coming to grips with what kind of relationships she is going to have.
HT: She's a good foil to Alistair. Where Jamie is going to parties, drinking, taking purity tests, and hooking up (Ch. 2, pg 55), Alistair watches his collection of horror movies, is working on a novel, and tries to hypnotize himself to remain pure and unchanged. (Ch 1, pg 24)
S: Which remains to be seen if he will remain like that. The temptation is clearly there.
HT: Yeah. Chapter One ends with a cliffhanger. The part that I thought was left unfinished. There wasn't ever a sense of closure for the end of the chapter. It just ends with "would you like to go outside?" (Ch. 1. pg 32) Now, a bunch of things could or couldn't happen outside, but without going into flights of fancy and what if scenarios, is that really enough for readers to catch their breath, while they wait through an entire second chapter to find out what happens? I get the idea that this will be revisited eventually in the plot, but it just doesn't seem like it's really a really gripping moment to come back to. It's like, "And now we come back to where we left off, and they're still talking."
S: You don't know, they could be dead.
HT: Now, THAT would be something.

S: Well let's not jump to conclusions. It's clear that The Stiff has a lot of exploring to do with its plotlines. I think Chapter Two mostly serves as a chance to get to know our characters a little more, while chapter one was more of a setup, putting all the pieces in place. We know Alistair likes Alice. They bump into each other and find out they have a mutual friend. Alistair starts to have constant daydreams about impressing or rescuing Alice. We learn about Alistair's chaste lifestyle and that he's easily hypnotized.
HT: We learn that being sick is no fun, until the girl you like calls and snaps you out of it.
S: The few pages dealing with Alistair falling deeper into sickness were especially great. Thompson gives us amazing gruesome detail. It reminded me of Renton in Trainspotting when he's locked in his room overcoming his heroin addiction. (Ch. 1, pg 27)

HT: I gotta say, while I was a little thrown by the jumping back and forth of the storyline, the artwork is top notch. The manga style is there, you can see it in the character design, the page format, but there is also some Seventies Underground comics creeping in there. Lots of shading, hatching, close-ups on body parts outside and inside the body. It's Thompson's way of letting everyone know what his characters are going through. Not only do we see the sound effects that indicate heart beating, there's a panel where we see it beating.
E-I-C: VERY COOL VISUAL EFFECT, THAT.
S: The artwork is very well done, yes. I could always tell who everyone was, make out what was going on, and the artwork almost always lent itself strongly to the theme of the dialogue going on.
HT: Or, provided a nice contrast to it.
S: Sure. Nothing like talking about the girl you like with frog intestines being displayed. (Ch.2 pg. 59)
HT: The one thing about the art that kinda irked me is the eyes. Thompson draws these cat pupils. I know that might be a style thing. But it's just… distracting. Occasionally he'll use a more traditional Anime roundness which looks fine, then go back to the narrow pupils. Other than that, the characters are well thought out, like the changes in Alistair and Jamie's appearance from Sophomore to Senior year.
E-I-C: MAYBE THEY'RE ALL CAT PEOPLE? OR THOMPSON HAS A SECRET THING FOR FURRIES?
S: I know what you mean about the eye thing. It didn't bother me as much because of the amount of detail in every page, though. The fact that this comic updates three days a week is wildly impressive for a full black and white comic page with lots of detail to textures and depth.
HT: Impressive, yes. But it would be more impressive if it wasn't a pseudo translation of a comic that already exists…
S: It's still a good comic.
E-I-C: YEAH. REGARDLESS OF THE REMAKE THING, IT STILL SHINES PRETTY SOLID SO FAR. HECK, THE RING WAS A REMAKE OF A POPULAR JAPANESE HORROR FLICK, AND NORTH AMERICANS LOVED IT, EVEN IF IT WASN'T JUST A DUBBED VERSION OF THE ORIGINAL. SOMETIMES REMAKES ARE AS GOOD OR BETTER THAN ORIGINAL DUBS, AND I THINK THAT THIS COMIC MAKES A GOOD CASE FOR REMAKES.
HT: Honestly, I kinda hope there is some kind of Zombie action in the end of The Stiff, because Alistair would finally have a chance to turn to his inner Bruce Campbell and kick some ass, get the girl, and maybe get some cool scars to boot.
S: You really don't get out much do you?
HT: At least I have friends that I've met in person and not through avatars.
S: Until next time...
HT: Read this article many times…
S: Or, go rent a good horror movie.
E-I-C: LIKE THE RING. OR PORKY'S.
HT: Porky's isn't a horror movie.
E-I-C: BUT IT'S ALSO ABOUT THE STIFFS.
HT: ...
HT: Why do we let you sleep under our couch again?
S: Because he's our boss.
S: And he pays us rent.
HT: Oh, yeah.

Stickler and Hat-Trick are staff contributors for the Comixpedia. The Editor-In-Chief seems to be their sole tenant under the couch.