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Commander Kitty by Scotty Arsenault, reviewed by Matt Trepal

To explore strange new worlds. To seek out new life, and new civilizations. To boldly go where no one has gone before. This is emphatically not the continuing mission of the starship Number Six, whose captain, the eponymous Commander Kitty, is in it wholly for himself. If his crew can get a little that’s okay, too, but woe unto anyone else who tries to get in his way.

Scotty Arsenault’s Commander Kitty is the story of the Commander and his attempt to make a name for himself as a scourge of the spaceways, a pirate king among the planets. He plays the part well, as the strip opens with him acting the tyrant in a Caine Mutiny moment complete with missing strawberries. His crew, though -- the flighty First Officer Fluffy, the hapless Lieutenant Mittens, the unintelligible Mr. Socks, and the resigned ship’s computer Mouse -- aren’t nearly clever enough for mutiny, nor ambitious enough for piracy.

The story begins straightforwardly enough, with CK dictating the ship’s log to Mouse, but from there it quickly careens off into a tale of advertising, the use of ancient Galactic judges as telemarketers, and trouble on the mall planet Pangolin. The crew has voyaged to Pangolin to stock up on supplies, but they wind up getting involved with a secret agent who proves to be more than a match for the blustery Commander.

The full-color art in Commander Kitty is crisp and clean, with obvious influences from recent animated series such as Samurai Jack and The Powerpuff Girls. It also uses the heavy outline technique that is gaining popularity among webcomics artists. Arsenault also takes advantage of available technology, as showcased through the use of many different digital effects that would be impossible in a pen-and-ink drawing. Since he draws anthropomorphic animals in a cartoony style, Arsenault has less need to be precise in his anatomy than other webtoonists who might draw in a more realistic style, but his characters never appear to move unnaturally. His characters’ faces are wonderfully expressive.

As with his art, Arsenault’s writing is likewise crisp and clean. His characters are exactly what they appear to be, with little hidden beneath the surface. However, they are not stereotypes; they just are what they are (as described above), and this leads to many of the crazy situations that the crew find themselves in. The humor in Commander Kitty is sharp and consistent, whether it comes in the form of one-liners, visual gags, or situation-comedy. Moreover, the breakneck pace of the story ensures that there’s little pause to bore a reader. Parody is common throughout the strip but is used as a supplement to, not a substitute for, original plot ideas.

One narrative choice that I will take issue with is that the first nine months of the story are taken up by an unnecessary flashback. One of the first lessons taught in any fiction writing class (or one that should be taught) is "show, don’t tell." In other words, an author should strive to demonstrate the action in a narrative, rather than describe it. In this way, the action becomes more immediate to the reader. In a comic this becomes less obvious, as everything is shown, but the point remains. The flashback, which runs from April 28 to December 23, 2002 should have been eliminated, and the story should have begun at the missing strawberry yogurt, prior to the trip to Pangolin, rather than after the away team returns. In effect, the story begins in the middle and recounts what happened before the first strip. This is clumsy, and should have been reworked.

Aside from this one technical kludge, which may only be the residue of Arsenault not realizing how long the flashback was going to take, nor how to get out of it once those first strips had been posted, Arsenault has produced a tightly-spun comedy-SF strip. Strong art, strong writing, and an original premise make Commander Kitty well worth a reader’s exploration.

Matt Trepal is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.