Popcorn Picnic is the latest production of Chris Shadoian, who has earned his comics credentials working in book design for the dear, departed Kitchen Sink Press and later created Streets of Northampton, the bulk of which remains on the Modern Tales site.
In PP, Shadoian gleefully takes on the task of reviewing recent films through the voices of his central characters Danny, Jonesy and Maura, with occasional appearances by Marlon Brando, Roger Johannson (the actor who played ET, transformed into the character), and sometimes Nigel, who is "not your average garden gnome".
As the strip progresses, it is apparent the main cast isn't just doing a Roget Ebert impression, but that they discuss the films they're watching in much the same way any other self-respecting film geek would, in between hanging out, playing video games or at the bar. Often, they wistfully observe that the films, scenes and characters that impacted them the most often have the least bearing on their "real" lives — Chasing Amy indeed! As an examination of pop culture as, well, Culture, PP does not go over-the-top in a Joe Likes Crappy Movies way, but employs similar themes of providing insight on the relationship between the medium and its viewers.
In a typical strip, Danny and Jonesy, in attempting to establish their top (or bottom) ten films of the year, get into a duel of film titles and comebacks that reaches somewhat into Star Trek Darmok territory. It is presented as a definitive meta-discussion of points of common reference between peers. In most aspects, it achieves this objective.
In the realm of broader humour, as someone who had to live through the E.T. hysteria as a young adult, I couldn't help but snicker at the Brando/Johannson segments with Johannson as E.T. going through one toupee after another while bitterly (and drunkenly) scheming his way back into the limelight. I cannot help but wonder, however, about how a reader might perceive this who is too young to remember the first E.T. craze . There is a certain element of risk in this approach, in concentrating on "what's hot" in the moment. Some decades down the line, when this generation looks back on itself, what will be "the moments?"
Shadoian does take the chance of examining this proposition in a much more sober way with PP's review of United 93, appearing as himself to explain the deep conflict between appreciating the quality of a film and viewing its impact on his own political convictions, which, from what I have read, generally run in opposition to the Bush admistration. I haven't seen that film myself, but reliable viewer reports say that it avoids partisanship and plays it as close as possible to what actually happened on 9/11. Given the seriousness of the subject, I can understand Shadoian's motives for dropping his character-masks to take this on personally, though I'm sure we would not see eye-to-eye on every point.
Shadoian's style employs clean but lively lines and flat colours, yet it avoids the super-slick repetitiveness of what I call “Imitation Penny Arcade Disease". Overall, PP is easy on the eyes for extended browsing.
The site itself is straightforward, but stylish with subtle background colors that do not distract from the strip. There is perhaps a yearÃ's worth of strips on site, but more than enough to establish the feel of a consistent, careful and professional creator.
If you're looking for over-the-top, this may not be the place. If you seek a second opinion before you kiss ten dollars goodbye on a film, Rotten Tomatoes is still the king in my opinion. But if you want a witty and sometimes wistful conversation about current film and pop culture references and our relationship with the film medium, Popcorn Picnic is definitely worth an hour or two.