The Webcomic Overlook #72: Sister Claire
Submitted by El Santo on March 4, 2009 - 23:00
Scott Kurtz recounted an unforgettable anecdote on one of Halfpixel’s Webcomic Weekly podcasts. I’m not sure which one, and I’m not going to waste my time trying to dig it up just to post a link here (says the guy who’s been updating Comixpedia like a dog on crack the last couple of days). A webcomic creator solicited Scott’s advice. She gave a barebones explanation of her concept: it was to be a story about a pregnant nun. Mssr. Kurtz thought it was a cool idea at first, and he had a few suggestions lined up about how to run with the story. The creator, though, elaborated that the nun would give birth to a robot which the nun would then ride. At that point, Kurtz, exasperated, admitted that he was at a loss as to what to suggest.
I, on the other hand, had a different reaction. It sounded more like: “Hell with you, Kurtz! That sounds like an awesome story!” Incidentally, I’m also the guy who used to own a nifty PVC of the title character in American McGee’s Alice.
OK, so the premise sounds a bit tacky, and I can think of at least 70 different ways where such a story could go off the rails… and, frankly, I was betting on it. However, the concept is, at the very least, intriguing. I vowed that if I ever found that comic, it would be treated to a full-length review here at the hallowed halls of The Webcomic Overlook.
Well, there are rumors on the net that comic in question is none other than Sister Claire, whose tagline is “Pregnant Nun? Holy crap!” It’s written and illustrated by a creator who goes by “Yamino.” While I found no evidence of the mecha-baby, I admit that the comic is still quite new. Perhaps Yamino hadn’t gotten around to it yet … or perhaps she’d decided to go in a different direction.
Anyway, cyber-tot or not, I gotta say there’s plenty of other weirdness to be found in these pages. The question, of course, is whether or not it’s going to be worth your while. Will you, dear reader, see a pregnant nun and cuss like a sailor like that tagline suggests?
According to her online bio, Yamino was “born in Rome, Italy, but has also lived in California, Austria and Belgium.” As a result, she’s somewhat multilingual, and it shows in her site. Sister Claire is one of the few webcomics that are available in French and Spanish translations.
The comic stars Sister Claire, a chippy young postulant who’s ridiculously happy, collects cute tchotchkes, and accident prone. So, basically, the spitting image we all have of young nuns ever since Rodgers and Hammerstein made us believe in Maria von Trapp. She also looks eerily like Kim Possible in a nun’s wimple, which is almost certainly someone’s secret fantasy.
Now, before we go on, I’d like go on a bit of a tangent and quote something said by Roger Ebert when he was reviewing the movie Doubt:
In my eight years of Catholic school, not a one of the Dominican nuns was anything but kind and dedicated, and I was never touched, except by Sister Ambrosetta’s thunking forefinger to the skull in first grade. But I clearly remember being frightened by Sister Gilberta, the principal; being sent to her office in second or third grade could loosen your bowels. She never did anything mean. She just seemed to be able to.
I attended Catholic school from kindergarten to my senior year of high school, and I sympathize with Roger’s lament. The Sisters — and former Sisters — were the paragons of kindness and patience. I was more wary of the lay teachers, who sometimes seemed exasperated over working so hard for so little money at a Catholic school. I suppose taking that vow of poverty lets you eliminate at least one worry in life.
I mention this because no nun in Sister Claire is based on any nun I’ve encountered in real life. The webcomic is filled to the brim with the stereotypes of strict harridans that you see in TV and movies. They are the kind whose face is always contorted in a sneer. As you might expect, Sister Claire’s nuns seem to take a sadistic joy in beating kids with a ruler under the guise of discipline. You’d think that the kids’ parents would sue the hell out of the school, but I suppose Catholics are naturally masochists.
The most cruel is the villainous, hare-lipped Sister Marguerite. Her hatred towards the title character is so overblown that she might as well have a curly moustache and a top hat, sneering, “Curses! Foiled again!” whenever Sister Claire escapes her punishment. For Pete’s sake, she stabs Claire with a syringe at some point. Methinks she didn’t do it to immunize her from the smallpox virus.
Of course, we’re introduced to one friendly nun: Sister Catherine. “See, Captain Nihilist,” you say, “there’s at least one character who plays against the type!” Shyeah, right. The “one friendly nun” is itself a stereotype in Abbey-centric fiction. Without ever reading Sister Claire, you can bet that our “one friendly nun” is almost always the mother figure to the hero or heroine. And if she raises Claire like she were her own child? That’s, like, bonus points!
There’s also a huge downside to being the “one friendly nun”: Sister Catherine is likely going to be our future tragic victim when ominous forces start to plague the abbey. Sorry Sister Catherine… that’s how the cookie crumbles for holy mentors since that Exorcist movie. Then again, how bad can things be when the creature standing in for the devil is played by an anime cat? I mentioned in my Alpha Shade review that I don’t find housecats to be terror-inducing as some webcomic writers make them out to be, and Sister Claire doesn’t change my opinion one whit. Especially not when the cat looks like it was designed by Sanrio.
We inevitably get to the Messianic portion of the story. Claire gets a visit from a blue-skinned angel named Gabrielle. (Get it? Huh? Huh?) Yamino seems to be going with a literal form of potty humor here: Gabrielle meets Claire after she emerges from the toilet. By the way, for an angel who dresses up in a smart, modern business suit, she seems to have trouble grasping certain elements of modern life… such as what toilet paper is for. Anyway, Gabrielle tells Claire that she’s chosen to … wait for it … give birth to a Savior.
Later, Claire takes a pregnancy test, which turns up Messiah Positive. At the same time, she also unwittingly summons a legion of allegedly adorable Bubble Babies. Then we’re treated to several panels where the comic squishes them. These fragile proto-angels squish into a mess of goo and eyes when you press on them too hard, yet can be regenerated infinitely when Gabrielle is in the mood to form a babby.
All this reminds me of a couple of allegedly edgy cartoons from both the past and present: The Brothers Grunt, which no one remembers but which aired on MTV after Beavis & Butthead and starred a veiny family of mute, constipated toilet dwellers; and The Oblongs, which airs on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and which allegedly is a satire of suburban life starring a family of amputees. Both shows tried to milk humor out of grossness. And man, I hated both those stupid cartoons.
But you know what? I don’t hate Sister Claire. Yeah, it’s filled with tired stereotypes, the main character is moé to the point of being irritating, and the story thus far has been predictable as hell. Yamino, though, seems to be perfectly aware of her comic’s short-comings and decided to do the best with what she has. She’s done a good job capturing the claustrophobic Gothic moodiness of the abbey. And while her cutesy, Cartoon Network style isn’t for everyone, I thing she’s come up with some fairly eye-catching character designs.
Perhaps I’m most impressed that Sister Claire hasn’t gone off the rails like I expected. Plenty of cartoonists who try to do satirical religious humor go too far to the point where everything — like, say, a Kung-Fu Jesus — feels forced, as if the writer was pandering to the easy-to-amuse Bill Maher crowd. Sister Claire, on the other hand, feels like it could stand on its own with the narrative alone, and the gags don’t need to be any more cutting that squishable bubble cherubs.
So am I saying that this webcomic is an admirably restrained story about a pregnant nun? Not really (though, to be fair, not once did I say, “Holy crap!”) However, I do think Sister Claire could benefit from more bizarreness. If Yamino had somehow sought advice from me rather than Scott Kurtz, I’d have this to say: “Keep it real. Go ahead and put a robot in that mofo. And throw in a Kung-Fu Pope, too. One that’s made of the Anti-Life Equation. Eh? EH?”
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)