Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques, reviewed by Wednesday White
Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques is a stylish, indie-rock sitcom. Marten, a young, navel-gazy music nerd, finds himself with a dilemma: a hot, sassy woman with subcultural clue has moved into his apartment. And she's not interested.
Coffee, relationships, banter, youth. You know the drill. It's a good drill, with sharp bits, tight t-shirts, and occasional references to bands you know absolutely nothing about.
QC's pretty low-key, as sitcoms go. Instead of beating zany improbabilities into unbelievable smithereens at every turn, most of the humour comes from banter over manic lunacy. Events -- with only the occasional heavy showstopper -- speak for themselves, then are cleverly talked over. Faye (the housemate) and Marten have an easy, warm friendship; when they find themselves in unlikely pickles, there's no need for senseless exaggeration and embellishment. Dora (the boss) adds some irreverent tension on occasion, but everyone's still friends. Dramatic hooks (by and large) aren't the device to suck you in here; stories unfold, but it's what people say to one another as events happen which keep you coming back.
Nor is breadth of setting the draw here. Unless the plot calls for something extra-special, most strips take place either in the apartment Marten and Faye share or at Dora's coffeeshop, where Faye works. This allows for extensive recycling of backgrounds; Jeph Jacques tends to allow his scenes to take place not only in the same rooms, but in the same parts of rooms, from the same angle. It fits the sitcom model -- you only ever see those nifty living rooms from the perspective of that one wall -- but it'd be nice to see the ubiquitous couch from the back, say. Or gigs. Or used CD shops. Strips in the coffee shop have a touch more variety, especially recently. (Silly items on the menu chalkboard are a detail worth watching for, though they can be easy to miss.)
Not surprisingly, QC began rapid evolution shortly after Jacques left his job and began full-time work on the comic. The natural evolutions of style and technique had already been going along at a fair clip, but nothing like this. Consistently holding to a strip each weekday has considerably sharpened Jacques's work all around in the space of four short months; some of this may be due to the enthusiasm of his new commitment, but his accelerated (and accelerating) progress is stunning. He's very good now; in a year, at this rate, his work should be outstanding.
New characters establish themselves rapidly. Older ones grow smoother banter, shed their awkward verbal quirks, and converse more than they stage gags. (Female characters still have somewhat interchangeable voices at the moment, but this should sort itself out soon enough.) The differences aren't merely tangible, but downright palpable.
Just as the cast move from being ciphers to becoming characters, so do they shift from rough cartoonishness to a clean and simple grace. (Jacques seems most comfortable with that kind of simplicity, if his spare, strikingly usable site's design is any indication.) Eyes make a stunning transition, by way of example: flat, Powerpuff-Girly wedges, having spent some time as functional almonds, become rounded and gently expressive.
The only one to really suffer from evolution is Pintsize, Marten's AnthroPC (imagine a cross between Haro from Gundam and an iMac DV). He's obviously not real-world, like the rest of the comic could easily be. Pintsize doesn't jar -- he's not remarkably unusual or extra-special, just individualistic -- but he sometimes gives the impression of having stepped in from the comic next door. For the most part, however, he meshes admirably with the others. Sometimes he even wins the punchline.
QC is a pleasantly understated rising star. The meager plot contributes little detriment; things just happen here, matter-of-factly, with little fuss. No one cries for attention; no one is a drama queen, just confused and doing as well as possible under the circumstances. Hysterical paroxysms are rare, but the focused, occasionally obscure jokes add up rapidly. At first glance, QC might not grab you by the neck and demand attention, but a breeze through the well-kept, still-manageable archives can be addictive.