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Reckless Youth by Claude TC, reviewed by RJ Astruc

The British have a different sense of humor. There’s no easy way to explain its subtleties, but it’s the reason shows like Red Dwarf and Coupling failed miserably when "translated" for an American audience. Perhaps it’s the almost-casual mixture of normality and weirdness, or the quirkily irreverent characters, or the knowing self-parodies – or maybe just the Brits’ readiness to lampoon anything, including taboo subjects like religion, in such a way that it comes across as cutely inoffensive.

Whatever it is, it works for Claude TC’s Reckless Youth.

Part of Comic Genesis, formerly known as Keenspace, Reckless Youth updates twice a week, sometimes in black-and-white, more recently in color, with an archive of close to a hundred and fifty pages. The webcomic deals a mixed hand of straight gags, situational jokes and character-based humor – most of which are side-splittingly funny. TC finds comedy in everything from trashy cartoon pop culture to the indomitable Mr T, and the biggest belly-laughs come from those that rely on a uniquely British sense of timing and structure and a kind of Monty Python-esque absurdity. Its fantastical elements, and wry sense of humor, are reminiscent of the novels of Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett.

The story of Reckless Youth kicks off with the materialization of a bearded, chibi-version of Claude TC, who’s come to inform his regular-sized archetype that he’s destined for great things. Namely, Claude has been selected by the Lord to become the Next Messiah, and it’s high time he got himself ‘enlightened.' So, in short order, the epic spiritual journey of Claude begins… and the first stop is the local pub. (Where else?)

Although the comic stars the artist and a bunch of his "reckless" real-life mates, the characters are (hopefully?) very loose approximations of their real-life selves. We’re soon introduced to Claude’s co-stars – mad-scientist Joey, his brother Matt, the occasionally super-powered Homer, and Morgan the mercenary, amongst others. Soon this bunch of reckless youths are raising havoc: getting into legal strife with an unusually hirsute multi-millionaire, chewing the fat with the devil (and god), and letting loose an army – well, a bit of an army – of undead.

Unfortunately it takes a while for some stories to get going, and the older chapters in particular suffer from overly slow beginnings. The opening of "The Long Dark Party of the Soul" is a good example of this – three pages dealing with virtually the same (fairly unfunny) joke are three pages too many. It’s evident that TC’s writing is best when it involves the supernatural and weird – when it comes to more everyday events (going to a pub, going to a party) the jokes are strained. Happily, in the latest chapters the plot has veered away from "normal life" events and into the arcane and fantastical.

The storylines, diverse as they are, do seem unrelated at times (the Morgan-centric story, "Things Get Ugly," seems more of a spin-off than part of the main drama) but there are enough weird connections going on to tie things together, or at least hint at a larger picture. Of course, according to chibi-Claude, these adventures can all be seen as part of Claude’s pre-Messiah rites-of-passage… but there’s also something definitely sinister going on with the weird demon-like being, lil’ Jim, that lives on Matt’s shoulder…

But it’s the art, not the story, that really puts Reckless Youth ahead of the rest. TC has developed a unique artistic style that brings the comic a kind of modern, urbane ‘street-art’ feel; some of the scenes and character designs would look completely at home on the front of hip t-shirts or on the bottom of skateboards. His art is best realised in cel-shaded full-color – the lack of line-depth in some of the black and white versions leaves the characters looking somewhat hollow. On the other hand, his storyline cover-pages (brightly-colored line-art on a black background) are striking.

TC isn’t afraid to take risks or make fun of other comic art styles – with novel, if not always successful results. The beginning of "Things Get Ugly" pokes fun at the serious narratives and shadowy silhouettes endemic in noir comics. One character, Pom, is drawn in a completely different style from the rest of the characters, for no apparent reason. Other samples of TC’s art are available in the ‘Extras’ section of the website – his "Faces of Terror" sequence is definitely worth a look.

Not all of the comic is drawn by TC. The majority of one short storyline, "I Can’t Stand The Rain" is done by guest-artists, as are pages and panels of other stories. (Some are actually drawn by the real-life versions of the Reckless Youth crew). Surprisingly, the extremely varied styles usually work quite well together, and at times are used to ‘explain’ parts of the story: for example, one sketchy guest-art sequence is used to illustrate a character’s drunken and mildly psychotic train of thoughts. In another instance, three separate styles – guest art, a quick sketch, and a fully colored and shaded panel – are incorporated in a balanced layout design. However, some guest-art can be difficult to read, and detracts from the honed style of the other strips.

Reckless Youth is an ambitious comic, and one of the few that manages to get the mix of action and comedy right… most of the time. TC’s original art is practically flawless and the website is easy to navigate. Now that the plot is coming together, Reckless Youth is shaping up to be a webcomic must-read – and it’s a wise idea to start your reading now, while the archive is still small enough to get through in a day.