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Sweet'n Light ('n Panda)

PX!, the Eisner nominated comic by Manny Trembley and Eric A. Anderson, is about as satisfying as the cotton candy the very pink website resembles. It looks great but can squish down into a tiny sugary wad pretty easily.

The story involves Dahlia, a little girl whose father has disappeared so she hops on the back of her panda to find him. Then there is the Double Aught Seven Agent Weatherby, a British spy who is bound up in rules of etiquette and grammar who is trying to find the girl and her panda for the Queen. Opposite them is Wikkity Jones, the American rollerskating ninja-fighter, who speaks in catch-phrases from songs and movies. And then there's Pollo the Goat, the main villain of the piece (who's kidnapped Dahlia's father).

Through the first chapter (which is all introduction to the characters) it's unclear exactly who the bad guys are. They all seem interesting, sort of silly maybe, but there could be something intriguing going on. As the story moves forward though, the intrigue never deepens. It's a shallow collection of things that look cool, and lines the writer seems to think sound cool.

First the writing. This is a slow paced comic. There are about 30 pages per chapter of the story and these chapters are not shaking worlds with the events within. With four main characters the story bounces between them, but by the time I was done each character chunk I was wondering when things were going to move on. It's a twice weekly strip for the most part but I read it all in one big chunk, and I'm glad. Waiting three days for two lines of dialogue or a screen full of blather about grammar would frustrate me to no end. Although to be fair, something does happen in each installment. The characters are never exactly where they started off, so that's a good thing.

The dialogue. I expect this is where people would love or hate this comic. Each character has a distinct voice. You can look at an unlabelled script and know exactly who's talking. The problem is how forced it sounds. Weatherby goes on at length about polite proper things. The goat cannot say "get," "go," or "got" without replacing them with the word goat. It seems like the kind of joke that's good for a bit but then gets very old very fast. Wikkity Jones hates ninjas and talks like he's in an early 90s hip hop video. They're trying to be funny, but most of the jokes are very single-note. The receptionist who freaks out when the panda destroys a pile of security robots and freaks out again every time anyone asks her about it. (That whole attack scene made little sense apart from the fact that they wanted to show off how the panda can fight and how Dahlia is oblivious. And it went on seemingly forever.)

The art is very good. It's supposed to be anime influenced, at least according to the intermittent interludes by the creators, and yes it's very clean and shiny. In the earliest instalments there's a bit of overuse of gleaming brightness, but that gets toned down after a while. The action frames are great, Trembley (I think he's the artist) doesn't let everything mishmash together. Clear separation, you can always tell what's going on even when there are a pile of ninja bodies flying around from being mauled by a panda. Probably my favorite part of Book One is a flashback sequence by Wikkity Jones, who as I said normally speaks in this pastiche of one liners from action movies and not really current pop music (the "Momma said knock you out!" when he knocks out a bunch of ninjas kind of deal). The flashback is done in a traditional samurai style, almost woodcut-esque thing instead of the pinks and blues that normally dominate the palette, and the dialogue within is done in a sort of historical epic style that fits it perfectly. The best part is seeing Jones' memory of panels we've seen before, in this style with the different style dialogue. Man, that flashback was great.

The comic continues in Book Two, which is just starting the third chapter as I write this. Book Two seems to be trying to get into a more complex plot, which is commendable, but it also doesn't have the same silly zip as the first book. It's like the creators want it to be taken more seriously, but so far it's been a pile of exposition that hasn't been very funny. I guess this is why the first book was all flash and no meat; they have problems getting information across interestingly.

Reading experience-wise, there are some annoyances to a person coming in to read the whole thing in one shot, like I did. The basic webcomic presentation is all there and easy to follow, but there are often fake advertisements in the place of pages. Or Xmas comics about Pirates and Santa Claus, or Zombies, or Making of ... comics. I would have preferred a way to just read the story, or maybe to have those diversions stuck between chapters. Also, strangely, there's no mention of their names anywhere on their site; the creators are referred to as Grammar Cowboy and Art Monkey. I had to look at the Eisner nomination page to find out who made this thing.

All in all, PX! is the kind of comic driven by the art. It seems like they came up with a bunch of fun ideas to draw and then worked out a story to sort of hold it together. There's a reason it was nominated for two Eisner awards, Best Digital Comic and Best Comic for Young People. For a kid to whom all the cliches are newish, who can get lost in how awesome it would be to have a panda beat the stuffing out of some robots for you without getting annoyed that it has nothing to say really, then it's great. For people who want something with a little depth, I'd look elsewhere.