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The Webcomic Overlook #75: Evil Diva

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Cripes, when did March become Girl Power Month at the Webcomic Overlook? First I reviewed Sister Claire, a gothic story about a young nun. Then I took a look at The Princess Planet, which was all about a treasure-hunting teen. And, last week, I posted my thoughts on Dawn of Time, starring a curious young girl who lives in the prehistoric world. And I started off the month interviewing T. Campbell, who is not a teen girl, but is best known for a comic about teen girls.

And yet, it’s not an unwelcome phenomenon in comicdom. Old school followers of print comic books know that you will hardly find a comic on the shelves starring a female protagonist. And those that do make it there are shamelessly cheesecake (or “good girl art,” if we go by the 50’s vernacular). Note to Marvel and DC: stuffing Sue Richards in a bikini with the number 4 cut out in the center to expose her cleavage is not the way to attract a female audience.

Fortunately, manga came along with its strong female stars. Young women were finally cracking open pamphlets and relating to the characters. The downside? Every girl portrayed in those books looked like jailbait. If you’ve got one of those books on you, you run the risk of being called out as a perv … like, ahem, my younger cousin did when she spotted the Love Hina collection on my bookshelves.

So thank you, webcomic creators, for being able to put together comics with female characters that don’t make me feel like a lonely Japanese businessman. There are several other great comics with female stars in addition to the ones I listed above: Gunnerkrigg Court (reviewed here) and Roza (reviewed here), to name a couple more. Give yourselves a hand for expanding the scope on the depth and variety of comics. It gives hope that, unlike the print counterparts, webcomics will be for both the girls and the boys.

So, appropriately, I will close out the month with yet another comic starring a teenage girl: Evil Diva, created by Pete Menotti, illustrated and written by Brinson Thieme, and inked by Honoel A. Ibardolaza. I’ll be referring to these three collectively as Team Diva, as Menotti/Thieme/Ibardolaza is ridiculously clunky to write repeatedly. Their webcomic is tale about a teenage girl who can be … a real hellion. (A ha ha… Tales from the Crypt writers, eat your hearts out!)

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The three members of Team Diva have a collective pedigree that few webcomic creators have. Mr. Menotti is a former Creative Director of Virgin Interactive. Ms. Thieme has a Masters in Sequential Art (which I didn’t know you could actually get). Mr. Ibardolaza is a freelance children’s writer and illustrator. In the FAQ, Mr. Menotti calls Evil Diva a “labor of love,” conceived from a name that his daughter made up.

Our title character is Diva, who is a devil, though not in the gargoylish Gustave Doré sense. She looks like a typical junior high girl… I mean, a typical girl that dresses up like Vicki from Small Wonder. The only way you’d be able to tell that she’s a devil are the two tiny horns that sprout from the top of her head.

Team Diva writes Diva as a bit of an ingenue. Rather than feel sympathy when one of the characters calls her an “idiot child,” you sorta feel that she had it coming. But perhaps that’s because she doesn’t feel entirely comfortable with being the spiritual personification of evil. As a result, she’s somewhat rebellious. She’s prone to doing good deeds and embracing cute things, much to the chagrin of her parents. (Incidentally, if you’re going to name your daughter “Diva,” aren’t you sorta asking for trouble?)

I should note, however, that “being” evil in the world of Evil Diva doesn’t mean the same thing in our world. When I think evil family, I think a collecting of nutcases like the Manson Family. Not so with Diva’s folks. They’re the family next door, only with horns. Team Diva shows them as the bastion of domesticity: there’s a mom, a dad, a big sister, and a pet dog. It’s very much the Eisenhower Era ideal of a nuclear family. Oh, sure, they’re also into signing up souls for the afterlife, but all that hellfire and brimstone is just bad propaganda spread by one Dante Alighieri.

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I know, I know… we’ve seen this set-up several times before. We sorta saw it in the Adam Sandler movie Little Nicky, where our title devil feels compelled to do good deeds. Or on the Adult Swim show Lucy, Daughter of the Devil, where Lucy dates a fellow named DJ Jesus (pronounced “Hay-soos”). Or quite possibly the webcomic Sinfest. The idea of Hell being less foreign than we suspected or devils feeling a moral quandary seems to inspire a lot of writers. To give Team Diva credit, however, this is the first time I’ve seen these themes tackled in such a kid-friendly manner.

It seems, too, that rather than dividing the world between the Christian themes of Good and Evil, Team Diva splits it along the Zoroastrian duality between Order and Chaos. Just like “Evil” isn’t that evil, “Good” isn’t that good, either. In Diva’s school, the devils seem to be mainly concerned with being bullies and pranksters, yet never carrying their activities to the point of anything illegal. (I imagine if one of the Devils ended up shanking someone in school, they’d be sent to the Afterlife version of Juvie.) Angels, on the other hand, are the preppies and the cliques. They’re the good-looking ones, though a bit condescending and stuck-up at times. I suppose there’s something rather profound about how the series shows that there’s not much difference between good and evil, though I admit I haven’t thought much about it.

Oh yeah, they also have names appropriated form mainly Biblical references. Angels have names like Gabriel (he who announced the pregnancy of Mary) and Michelle (from Michael the Archangel). Demons have names like Tiamat (the Babylonian embodiment of chaos) and Lucy (from Lucifer). I’m not sure if these characters are simply carrying on the names of the progenitors or if they’re the actual Biblical/mythical counterparts. I think it’s the latter, but there’s some evidence toward the former… Lucy looks like a punk rocker, a parallel to the Fallen Angel and former Choir Leader of the Heavenly Hosts.

While the two sides have their own independent schools of thought, they don’t let their philosophies get between them from the standpoint of interpersonal relationships. Evil Diva depicts several scenes where we see angels and demons in both the student body and the faculty intermingling with each other. The school, in fact, evaluates students based on whether they are being a good as they can be or as evil as they can be. Perhaps this is analogous to the modern school system, where, in Evil Diva’s world, good and evil are seen as career paths rather than moral choices.

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The problem with declawing the definition of “Evil” is that some of the plotlines don’t make sense. The webcomic begins with Diva throwing a tantrum because she doesn’t want to go to school. Her mom comes upstairs to scold her. But given that devils are the rebels and brats of Evil Diva’s world, shouldn’t she be commended? Diva gets notes when the faculty spots her practicing acts of kindness. Meanwhile, her rival, Angela, acts like the Queen of Witches (to put it in a kid-friendly way), and no one calls her on it.

Be that as it may, Diva’s identity crisis comes to the attention of the school’s headmaster, Mr. Virgil. Yes, that Virgil. Here, he functions as the Dumbledore of the series. He also has neither halo nor horns, thus represents a sort of middle ground. (Dante’s Inferno and Paradisio are both represented strongly in Evil Diva; I’m guessing Virgil is our sole representative of Purgatorio.)

Mr. Virgil shows Diva The True Relic of Myrddin Wyllt. Wikipedia tells me that Myrddin Wyllt was a 6th Century Welsh mad prophet who lives on as the inspiration for Merlin. What this little piece of trivia has to do with anything other than being a legit historical reference, I have no idea. What is important is that Virgil passes the relic onto Diva, declaring her the new caretaker. The snake staff (which is transmogrified to something a bit cuter) gives Diva the power to to disguise herself, a fairly useful trick for someone who’s not totally comfortable with what people expect from her.

I realize that by tracking all the religious references to Evil Diva, I make the webcomic sound rather heavy-handed. I assure you, though, that Evil Diva is just a light-hearted parable about a girl who’s growing up. Part of the fun, though, is that if you choose, there’s a lot of material for the crazy fact-searchers trying to find meanings behind everything. Chalk it up to the Lost fan in me.

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Despite my earlier qualms about the moralistic muddiness of Evil Diva, I quite like this comic. I recommend it to kids and adults alike. First, Ms. Thieme’s art is very eyecatching. It resembles something you’d find in classic Disney animation. She does a great job depicting emotions by capturing facial expressions and body movements. Even without the dialogue, we can see Diva’s bristling innocence, Angela’s half-buried haughtiness, and the severe yet concerned grimace of Diva’s mom. Ms. Thieme displays great control over her art that allows Team Diva to move the plot forward with a minimum of exposition. Even the mythology feels more Southern Baptist than European Roman Catholic. (I had to make the distinction at the end there. For you European readers out there: there’s a bit of difference between North Americans and Europeans with how laypersons practice Catholicism.)

Secondly, I do like the characters. Diva straddles the line between being endearing and annoying, but she usually is in the former camp. I also find the rest of the cast, by and large, to be enjoyable. I want to see more of Diva’s goofy dad (who practices a cupcake-based sort of evil), her confused best friend, her supportive big sister, and her enemies. I want to know how their backgrounds drive their actions in a world where Good and Evil are fostered and accepted.

Finally, I am intrigued by Team Diva’s world building. I like to see Evil Diva as the Harry Potter series, but seen from the standpoint of people in North America. We may not be able to relate to moody and remote boarding schools like those Brits do, but we Americans and Canadians can all relate to the lockers and cafeterias of suburbian junior high. I do like the idea that demons aren’t as bad as we think they are, and I’d love to see Team Diva expand on the concept. It’s seems like they’re decent folk. So how do they feel when serial killers and pickpockets end up signing their souls for their side? Is it something that’s always been expected of them, or are they thoroughly repelled by the notion of these guys making it into their neighborhood?

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Posted in 4 Stars, adventure webcomic, all ages webcomic, fantasy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics Tagged: Evil Diva