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The Webcomic Overlook #18: Savage Chickens

As it was once said on the late, great Mystery Science Theater: “Chickens are a cruel people.”

Well, I wouldn’t know, since I don’t really hang around chickens all that much. I will say, though, that my fiancee is terrified of them. Just last weekend, we pulled into a parking lot, and a couple of fat chickens were wandering around nearby. My fiancee froze and got all SWAT Team with a ticking time bomb in a building.

As in, “We’ve get out of here … NOW!”

She also claimed to have a sense of where the chickens were near. Now, that sounds like the worst superhero power ever. However, I’m not going to be too hard on her alektrophobia. She’s the one that grew up on the farm, after all, and she’s the one that has been on the receiving end of those vicious, pointy beaks.

Which means that there’s a good chance that today’s webcomic would send her into catatonic fits… hopefully, though, in the midst of laughter. Today’s Webcomic Overlook will review Savage Chickens. It’s so named not because they terrorize young women with their wanton pecking, but because it’s named after its creator, Doug Savage.

Spiders!

Savage Chickens has gotten a fair amount of recognition. The site was nomiated as “Best Comic Strip” for the 2006 Weblog Awards and “Outstanding Single Panel Comic” for the 2006 Web Cartoonists’ Choice Awards.

The first thing you’d notice about this webcomic is its unique medium: post-it notes. On his site, Mr. Savage says that the cartoon came about while he was working in an office. I imagine that Doug was, for the most part, inspired by boredom. He began drawing his chickens on whiteboards, notebooks, and on that noble square sticky pad from 3M. Frankly, I think that anyone who’s worked at an office can relate. Who among us hasn’t doodled elaborate frescoes in their notebooks during a particularly dry meeting?

While he may have found the world of gainfully employment to be both emotionally and spiritually crushing, he managed to keep his spirits high with his doodles. The early strips are crudely drawn ballpoint-pen-on-post-it creations, yet they retain a sometimes goofy, sometimes sarcastic sense of humor.

Savage covers a wide range of topics, from movies to music to poetry to psychology. He seems to have an obsession with pirates… but then again, who doesn’t? Heck, most of the time, the wecomic seems to be whatever fool idea popped into Doug Savage’s mind that day. That’s the magic of the post-it note format: it looks immediate, it feels immediate, and it probably is immediate.

And then there are thepuns. Oh, yes, he sure loves his puns. However, while pun humor usually wants me to claw the walls with unbearable anguish, I don’t mind then when they’re in Savage Chickens. It has to be the endearing, simplistic art. Puns may be a particularly groanworthy form of humor, but it’s hard not to laugh when it’s acted out by spaced-out chickens.

Chicken Run

Many of these comic panels are pure silliness. Some of the strips though, reflect a streak of bitterness. These are often about one of two subjects: the soulessness of the corporate world and the futility of life. The first theme is familiar to us cubicle dwellers who have Dilbert cartoons decorating our walls. Instead of a pointy-haired boss, though, Savage Chickens presents a much more accurate representation of managerial incompetence: a robot wielding a board with a nail. However, the workers are hardly model employees themselves. More than once, Savage takes shots at the marketing department, which leads me to believe that he works as an engineer.

(Sorry, marketing guys, but … we are your natural enemies.)

Worse than work, though, is something closely related: the every day drudgery of life. Here, Doug Savage can get pretty dark. He laments how the empty existence at work has encompassed most of our precious, yet brief, lives. Another resonant theme is how everyone has completely and utterly failed at individuality. There seems to be a general weariness of people who arrogantly think themselves to be above their peers. And then there’s an indictment of humanity in general.

Life.

However, the sarcasm rings true, and … spaced-out chickens. How can you go wrong with those guys? Heck, you could probably have them do a straight adaptation of Dancer in the Dark, and I guarantee you, it would make me crack a smile.

The post-it note format also provides a new venue for jokes: the post-it note itself. It’s cut up into puzzle pieces in one strip and turned into an origami crane in another. It’s like adding a third dimension to the comic! Ah, post-its: is there anything you can’t do?

In my opinion, Savage Chickens also come closer to being the heir to Gary Larson’s Far Side than all the Far Side imitators in the funny pages of the local paper. It also channels the early Dilbert. Before it became the darling disaffected office workers, Dilbert had oddball humor mixed in with its cubicle-friendly snark. (Read early stuff like Shave the Whales sometime, and some readers may be surprised that it’s filled with the antics of a dinosaur family that lives with with the famous four-eyed guy with no mouth.)

So, overall, this is a very humorous comic that thrives on its aura of spontenaiety. Savage Chickens get my five-star seal of approval. It’s just one of those webcomics where I’m a bit put off that “Pluggers” inhabits a space in the daily newspapers, and yet the wittier “Savage Chickens” is languishing in relative obscurity on the web. Do Doug a favor: print out a webcomic and stick it in your cubicle! It looks at home with other sticky notes, it’ll makes your co-workers laugh, and frankly, it’s a splash of yellow nice break from the sea of Dilbert strips.

Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)