Pokey the Penguin by Steve Havelka, reviewed by Justin
I AM POKEY. Three words, typed completely in caps, are recognized in the webcomics community as the catchphrase of one of its longest-running cult heroes. It is possibly both the best and worst webcomic to squat on the Web.
Confused? You haven't seen anything yet.
Pokey the Penguin's an institution in some ways. You may gag at the art and puzzle at the gags the first time you see it, yet the comic sits atop the links page of many popular webcomics. What is its secret? In short, who is Pokey?
Well, the title notes him as a penguin, though he bears an uncanny resemblance to McDonald's Grimace with a beak. Pokey loiters across the Antarctic landscape (usually represented by one or two black lines on a white background), yelling commands and antagonizing the other denizens, like some penguin-who-would-be-king. His main sidekick/victim is Little Girl, who looks exactly like Pokey, only half his size and wearing a bow. Other main characters are Headcheese the hippo and Mr. Nutty, a snowman with some sort of hat who speaks some sort of upper-class British (read: he says "Old Bean" constantly). There are additional sidebar characters, but they're usually either copies of Pokey (literally), or just some scribbling with the Paintbrush tool.
Pokey's one of those webcomics that really only exist because of the Internet – it would be hard to see something like this in any other medium. It doesn't use McCloudian interactive panels or animation, but there's just something about Pokey the Penguin that fits online. There's no real rhyme or reason to Pokey's adventures or even the structure of the comic, and that's its charm. Not content being merely looking bad, Pokey the Penguin runs the gamut to look horrendous: the author will cross out unwanted text, leave pasted characters floating in the air, or scribble out characters who are no longer important. It's difficult to tell whether Pokey was made in MS Paint or whether it's just an accurate depiction, but it becomes apparent after reading a couple comics that the author intends the comic to be hilariously bad to watch.
Speaking of the author, Havelka doesn't make it well known that he's the one responsible, simply crediting the copyright to "The Authors". In fact, the page never listed any author for the first year it ran. In the grand scheme of things it's fun to see Pokey take center stage rather than the author, and for some reason, it fits Pokey's motif for readers to think it just sort of creates itself.
Actually, when you think of it, this is where Pokey is ultimately so clever – it's self-aware without ever breaking the fourth wall. Whether it means to or not, Pokey the Penguin pokes fun at computers, the Internet, other clumsy, amateurish webcomic startups, an ultimately itself. There's no foul language or adult situations, yet it's one of the better satires found on the Web.
Pokey's fame has inspired fan sites, bootleg merchandise, and the most flattering of all, vandalism. It's so unassuming, so humble, that you can't help but love the poorly-aliased little butterball for simply sticking it out, with the same sideways pose and steely glare through every panel. Pokey is more than a Penguin – he's the little voice in all of us that says "Buck up! When the world seems to fall apart and the lake in the background has suddenly disappeared, just keep your chin up and look forward to tomorrow."
Yes, it's true. I AM POKEY, too. How 'bout you?
Justin is a staff contributor for Comixpedia. More Details.