Octopus Pie, reviewed by Larry "El Santo" Cruz
Ever get frustrated with the breakneck pace of the modern life? Ever wish you were one of those carefree hippie spirits, your dreams undulled and your eyes permanently lit with sparkles? Chillax, broseph, because today, I'm going to dig in to Octopus Pie. Octopus Pie is a fanciful take on a modern Odd Couple as they try to survive life's perils in New York City. The comedy series is written and drawn by Meredith Gran (Not Gonna Take It, Skirting Danger). The comic is very new --- barely a year old in fact --- yet it's already received a WCCA: the 2008 award for Outstanding Newcomer. (Octopus Pie was also nominated for 2008's Outstanding Black & White Art and Website Design awards.)
Eve Ning's life is one hassle after another. She has to deal with cranky customers at the organic grocery. Her boss is a manipulative jerk. Her boyfriend broke up with her by cellphone. And her mom is meddling far too deeply into her life. After she learns that Eve now has a free room, Mrs. Ning goes on Craigslist and leases a room out to Hanna Thompson, a girl Eve knew in pre-K and whose picture, for some reason, Mrs. Ning keeps around in her purse.
Hanna is the Yang to Eve's Ying. Eve is entrenched in the mundane aspects of corporate America. She's obsessed with things like career advancement and home security (that square!), the epitome of all things career girl. Hanna, on the other hand, prefers not to take life quite so seriously. She doesn't think twice about sticking bottle caps in her eyes or lounging around Central Park in the buff (link might be NSFW, though at a glance it's rather easy to miss and hardly titillating). You put these two girls together, and you're on a collision course with wacky!
Octopus Pie is grounded in reality, yet borders on the fanciful. After Eve's bike gets stolen, she puts together her own heavy bicycle with an electrified security system. Kinda nutty? Sure! But I once knew a guy who built his own party boat in college, so it's not outside the realm of possibility, really. Even when Octopus Pie takes on serious subjects, the comic, overall, retains a vibrant current through its simple art style and exaggerated sequences. The gags are pretty fresh and surprising, too, as they headed in directions I didn't expect.
A major recurring theme, by the way, is that Hanna is a pot user. It's the basis of her online business, Bake N' Bake (where pastries are created while baked). We meet Hanna's stoner friends and dealers. This is quite disarming at first, since the characters look like they were designed to be extras on the Powerpuff Girls. Yet smoking marijuana is portrayed to be as normal as any other hobby. (A laser tag tournament between Stoners and Nerds makes smoking weed equivalent to blogging about Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) While Eve is not alright with this --- and she shoos away Hanna's dealers at one point --- she begrudgingly tolerates it.
Hanna is always portrayed as being happier overall, what with her successful business, her affectionate boyfriend, and her sunny outlook on life. Yet, the reader isn't necessarily asked to subscribe to her world views. After all, she's not the one we sympathize with. On her FAQ, Ms. Gran says, after a bit of twisting, "yes Eve is me." Partly true. I think Eve is all of us. We may not all work at an organic grocery or cycle to work, yet we can sympathize with her down-on-her-luck character. Like how Eve holds on to her beliefs even if it means having to abandon her only shot at happiness. Or the urge to become a megalomaniac when everything finally goes our way. Or the feeling of shame and humiliation when you see a former significant other in public with someone else. Or the massive inferiority complex that we'll never be number one, ever.
Hanna is, more or less, a one-dimensional comedy character, and Eve is well-rounded, multi-faceted, and for real. Thus, we aren't totally surprised --- and, actually, quite elated --- when Eve unconsciously busts out a hidden talent. The skating chapter is my favorite in Octopus Pie. Eve unwillingly attracts a rival by the colorful name of America Jones, a girl who has been in a constant game of oneupsmanship with Eve since they day they were in Pre-K. She can't stand that Eve might be a better skater than her, and she's determined to prove it. This story takes on the tone of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim series, where everyday trivialities are blown up into challenges of epic proportions.
Recently, Ms. Gran switched up the art style. The clean, tablet-aided style has given way to traditional ink illustrations. It's a little jarring, since I was a bit of a fan of the original style. The inked style feels grungier, more emotional, and far closer to what you envision when you hear the words "indie comic," as opposed to the the earlier polish and whimsy. Yet, Octopus Pie's strength has been the writing, and the new story arc --- with Hanna playing strong arm tactics on Eve's boss to get her a day off --- shows no sign of staleness.
This may be simply something to get used to. A similar style changed happened in John Allison's Scary Go Round. I liked the old Illlustrator look, yet, as I get used to the pen-and-ink look, I had to admit that the new style was far stronger than the old one. Will Octopus Pie follow the same path? Time will tell, but things are looking good so far.