Stymied by Peter Conrad, reviewed by Damonk
Question: what do you get when you cross Piraro and Larson roots with the stumpiness of Mr. Men, the Aragones organic stretchiness (and deceptive art adeptness!), the work humour topics of Adams, Kolchalka's naked brain exhibitionistic streak, and an ability to still sing out complete originality despite all this influence?
Stymied yet? Well, so is Peter Conrad.
Rather, Peter Conrad is the creator of Stymied!, a weekly (and most recently twice-weekly) webcomic that is currently the headliner at Peterconrad.com. This particular comic venture has grown from what appears to have launched three years ago (if one is to judge solely by the online archives) as a Larson/Piraro-clone, a one-panel 'toon that would usually focus on workplace humor, current events, and general parody-steeped social commentary. The humor then was surprisingly fresh, with almost every installment eliciting at least a smile, and sometimes as much as a solid chuckle. The art was definitely more Piraro-influenced (as opposed to Larson, say), with decent inking work and a tendency to imitate a newsprint fourtone color scheme (a nice "classic" touch).
Since its heavily-influenced beginnings, Conrad's weekly comic has evolved into Stymied!, a 3-panel B/W strip that focuses mostly on what can only be the creator's life. However, while revolving around the artist, the strip jumps all over theme-wise and content-wise, from straight journal comic-style "today's experience" mode, to absurdist fantasy moments, to personal philosophy and musings as spoken through the avatar or other actors on the paneled stage.
The art style has switched completely from its Piraro beginnings, with the new style offering us a host of lumpy Mr.Potato-esque bodies (like a horse pill with skinny rubber arms and legs) that sport very nicely-rendered stylized faces (shades of a Dave Berg facial influence here?). The linework is kept simple, but the artist knows how to ink and lay out his panels to offer the most detail with fewest strokes – solid stuff that conveys everything clearly and efficiently. This is no rookie penmonkey.
But is it still funny?
The multi-panel approach works really well for Conrad. Mixing in his old penchant for workplace and social humor with some Kochalka-esque self-exploration, the result is a hybrid of sorts – half journal-comic, half gag comic. While he doesn’t seem to be as concerned with making sure each strip is worth a laugh (as compared to his earlier one-panel cartoons), he manages to maintain a healthy and consistent dose of humor, drawing from both the fantastical and his life.
If you're looking for variety, know that the site does not focus solely on the Stymied series. Also included is a small selection of other stand-alone comics and short limited series endeavors, some funnier ("Oh, That Dead Guy") or more interesting ("Oh, The Joys") than others ("J.Bean"). The site navigation is fairly simple and straightforward, with one notable drawback – you can't search through the archives to find where you last left off – all you have to play with are the 'next' and 'previous' buttons. Moreover, there is no master archive list or calendar, and each comic loads from a cgi bin, meaning no change in the URL, and thus, no way to bookmark or hyperlink, either.
Conrad could also probably draw in more readers if he included more of his non-Stymied work on the site. Judging from his recent feature work on ModernTales Longplay, he probably has a lot more comic product to showcase.
Stymied, however, is strong enough to stand on its own rubbery feet, and keep you coming back each week to see what new flights of spud-headed fancy have taken the creator. True, those looking only for a gag comic may be a tad disappointed when a journal-comic-style observational moment pops up. However, even those strips usually get you smiling; the ease of identification with the character/creator (and there is NO doubt that the pony-tailed, goateed potatohead is the creator – he screams avatar) and his "real" moments tend to overcome any lack of a one-two, ha-ha punch.
Confident or confounded, one thing is certain: whether you're a fan of gag comics or journal comics, you might discover that being Stymied isn't such a bad state of mind... or state of webcomic entertainment.