Stickler and Hat-trick, in association with Comixpedia present…
Stickler and Hat-trick at the Keyboard
This week, they review: THE BIZARRE LIFE OF CHARLIE RED EYE
Created by Matthew William Boyd Langfield, Esq. and Edward J. Grug III
(Tonight’s show is sponsored by Breakaway Costumes! Guaranteed not to malfunction when it matters the most.)
Hat-Trick: Welcome to At the Keyboard! I am known in these parts as Arababa. In the Northlands, I am called Dukakah. To the furries, I am called Chupakabrah. And there are some who call me… Tim?
Stickler: Are you done?
HT: uh, yeah.
Editor-in-Chief: *plopping down from the ceiling air-duct* Psst… I thought *I* was supposed to be the odd one here?
S: Don’t worry, chief – nothing we could do could dethrone you from your lofty throne of natural weirdness.
EiC: Okay. It’s just that I have a reputation to keep an eye on, you see?
HT: Don’t worry, boss. In terms of bizarreness, you’re definitely an eyeful.
S: *sighs* I suppose that was supposed to be our intro link to today’s review assignment?
EiC: *whispering* Shhh! Don’t ruin the link magic for our readers!!
S: Fine… This week we shift our focus to The Bizarre Life of Charlie Red Eye, by Matthew William Boyd Langfield, Esq. and Edward J. Grug III. It’s hosted on Modern Tales, which means the first one’s free kids, but then you gotta pay.
HT: That’s how they snag ya!
S: So if you want to see the sample links, you’ll need a Modern Tales subscription.
EiC: Hey, did you hear something?
EiC: Huh. Weird.
S: Anyhow, in terms of story, Charlie Red Eye has thematic elements ranging from B-movie sci-fi horror, to the death of the earth spirits, all presented in a playful indie comix style. The strip focuses on Charlie and his father, who moved from San Francisco to Australia. Charlie, who was born two hours before the earth "died", has a demon- possessed red left eye that seems to cause (and attract) some strange occurrences. The strips are sometimes stand alone gags, or very straight forward storylines. Charlie likes a girl. Charlie gets in a fight. Charlie at show and tell. Nothing especially groundbreaking, but yet, it’s different than what we’ve seen before.
HT: Charlie’s one of those kids who just doesn’t really know any better. He’s got this demon living inside of him, and he’s kind of oblivious to it. In some ways, that’s a really universal thing. Everybody’s got this terrible demon inside them, but most people never see it.
S: Yes, but, I think that this comic isn’t really trying to make that statement. The jokes and story start off fairly simply, or just plain randomly. There are several jokes about how "weird" the eye is and what funny demonic things it can do, such as making pimples pop on a bully’s forehead. Another classmate, Eustace, vomits every time at the sight of Charlie. The problem is, these jokes get boring quickly, but luckily the creators veer away from the gags and instead they focus on other weird occurrences around Charlie and his friends.
HT: Which I think are really funny. It’s a darker humor for sure, but it’s amusing. Charlie’s dog Prosatanus seems to not only be possessed by the devil, but for several strips, he’s constantly biting his ass. And umm… errr… umm, boss? Why are you looking down your pants?
EiC: I’m checking to see if I have a demon inside me.
HT: I don’t think that’s how it works, boss.
EiC: Oh, and *you* know, do you? Who’s the EiC here, me or you? Don’t make me bite your ass…
S: Well, this would certainly explain a few things…
S: Anyhow, other stories find Charlie and some friends run into a Thunder Giant, strange freak children who live in the country ride a special bus to school, earth guardians that resemble stickmen help out Charlie in times of need, and so on.
HT: So there is no shortage of strange happenings when Charlie is around.
S: Which makes me wonder, is he the cause of these things, or does he have some kind of destiny to fix the Earth? It’s hinted at, but never really addressed. It’s hard to get a sense of if we as readers should take things with greater meaning, or just go with the flow. After being examined by medical doctors, as well as being read spiritually by Echo’s mum, signs point to a more universal purpose for Charlie.
EiC: If by universal purpose, you mean a "Greater Destiny" kind of thing, I agree. The story is definitely setting Charlie to be more than just a boy with a cool physical quirk.
S: Exactly. The strip starts to shift back and forth from shallow kid jokes, to deeper and darker plotlines. Charlie’s dad being tortured for being the "father of the beast" by an evil "witch hunter" is especially jarring. A few strips later, Charlie himself gets clubbed in the head. That’s like, child abuse!
HT: But that’s where the science fiction comes in. We know that Charlie is much more than a normal child. When he gets knocked out, we expect there to be some major repercussions. In a Hulk-like transformation, Charlie, obviously having more power than he knows about, becomes this mutated demon creature. I think it gives the reader just enough information to think that maybe this demon power that Charlie possesses might be controllable.
S: For me, it sets up this expectation that there will be some payoff as to why Charlie is what he is. Why is he able to morph into this blobby demon thing? But the payoff never comes.
HT: Well, they don’t want to give away too much.
EiC: True, but at the same time, you can’t string on people indefinitely with the same "mystery elements". Eventually, the reader will get bored with waiting, and move on. In the case of Charlie Red Eye, a comic that’s been going on for more than a year, that line can get a little thin at times. Fortunately, there are other interesting characters (such as Echo and Echo’s mum) as well as interesting events in addition to the whole demon/destiny mystery.
S: Right, and so we also get a lot of Saturday morning cartoon jokes. Some of the storylines are predictable (which the creators admit to in the strip title "Who didn’t see this coming?"). There is one very seriously-toned exception, which is a rant by one Echo, one of Charlie’s native friends.
EiC: Ooh – tell the readers more about him. I like him a lot so far.
S: Echo’s in danger of failing school, and when confronted by his teacher about his grades, Echo says he knows more than she could ever teach him. He launches into a historical and sociopolitical attack of how the White settlers took over their land, forced his people to adopt to their culture, and are underappreciated by the current culture.
EiC: Yeah, that was certainly a huge shift in the story, and an unexpected twist, too. At first, you think only the mum is mysterious, but when Echo shows signs of Power, well, it’s a greatly interesting surprise.
S: Meanwhile, Charlie has become a radioactively mutated monster who likes crushing things. Quite different.
HT: Yeah, but I think that’s what makes it work. It’s serious for some people, but offers fun, random, offbeat humor for other people. Besides the environmental and social tangents, it sticks to the science fiction element of Charlie’s weirdness. One of the storylines I really liked is when Charlie develops a crush on one of the freak girls, Mirabelle, who does nothing but loathe him back. This sets up a nice equal antagonist for Charlie, whose conflicts up to that point had been himself, and his dog. The love/hate thing Charlie and Mirabelle is a welcome element to the story.
S: But even that never really goes anywhere. It’s fine on a surface level. He likes her, she hates him. Taunts result in apathetic humor. We’ve seen these devices used before. Charlie’s crush drives him to Mirabelle’s house, which causes him to get radioactively mutated when he destroys her freakish experiments by accident.
EiC: Exactly, it’s also another one of those predictable turns, bordering on the tired and cliché. If I had to give a nickel to everyone for each time I developed a crush on someone and was somehow inadvertently turned into freakish mutated beast…
S: And that look is different from your current form… how?
HT: There’s a certain fluff to the whole thing that makes it likeable, though. You’ve also got Charlie’s best friend, who I think is called Poots (he calls her that once). She is constantly by Charlie’s side, and is one of the only kids to really latch on to how cool Charlie’s uniqueness truly is.
S: She’s great early on. I like how she only wants to touch Charlie’s eye. But in later strips she has been pushed back to a supporting character without much purpose.
EiC: But that’s kinda the (stereo)typical role she’s been cast in – the ‘girl next door’ who’s tomboyish and a good friend and stuff but who won’t be the one Charlie gets a crush on first…
HT: The creators of Charlie Red Eye also like to have fun with the strip. One short story involves Charlie having an old rivalry with a Leprechaun. Another storyline, which seems to be a little more personal, has two new characters that are trying to cash in on their self-published comic book.
S: I like how they sell it to the class tough guy, Murray. All he wants to do is read the book but he keeps getting distracted.
HT: Langfield and Grug also have strips that are pay a sort of muted tribute to Peanuts, while another strip, although hard to read, is a clear homage to Krazy Kat.
S: That one was great, using Krazy Kat backgrounds and everything.
EiC: I totally agree. Very nice homage, that one.
EiC: You guys have been harping on the story long enough, though. Say something about the art!
S: Fair enough. Wanna start it out, HT?
HT: Well, the artwork of Charlie Red Eye nests very comfortably on Modern Tales. It fits in nicely with the Kochalka school of thought, so to speak. The art has been fairly consistent during its run, despite some changes in line weight. Smooth lines and lots of round shapes dominate the artwork. The backgrounds are occasionally nicely detailed to illustrate each new place that Charlie is in. The characters are also diverse in their design.
S: I’m definitely happy that this is not another talking head webcomic. There is effort on the artist’s part to ensure that the characters are actually doing different things in each panel.
EiC: Amen to that. Of course, strips that only rely on the words to deliver the humor can get away with talking head style. A story like this, however, needs the kinetic and layout details that the creators thankfully supply.
HT: Color is definitely a big part of the strip. All of Charlie’s word bubbles are outlined in red. Charlie’s red eye is a glaring centerpiece of the strips. The style of coloring somewhat resembles flash animation, containing flat fills and simple gradients. Sometimes the color gets washed out. Other times it’s left out in some places; one strip uses the white to identify a nurse, another strip has the backgrounds in color, but not the characters. And then occasionally, there’s no color at all..
HT: Without much explanation, some strips extremely are shifted to one color, and one strip is in negative.
S: The choice to use partial color confused me, to be honest.
EiC: Maybe he’s just into experimentation?
S: I just assumed it was an indie comics thing.
HT: But aren’t all webcomics "indie" though?
S: That’s something for John Barber or Iain Hamp to discuss, maybe.
HT: The format of the art in the comic is very flexible, and moderately experimental, too. There are one-panel pages, multi-panel installments, some that scroll down while others scroll sideways, etc.
HT: And while there is the occasional narrative gap in between panels, the flow of the story is straightforward, and fun to read.
EiC: Really? I found that some parts are just WAY too jumpy. While I am a big fan of having multiple concurrent story threads going, to offer variety to a reader, jumping back and forth from one update to the next can make for a tiresome game of tennis ball watching – you strain your neck and your brain looking up and down the plot court nonstop…
S: I agree. And there are also strips that aren’t finished, and are just thumbnails of what we can assume (or at least hope?) might be finished later.
HT: The latest strip, a continuous panel-at-a-time narrative, was created as a 2003 Halloween comic, but has been expanded to just keep on going. This isn’t just because it’s fun to read sideways, but because Edward Grug is doing the strip by himself right now. Matt Langfield was in an auto accident in October 2003, and he’s fine, thankfully… but that accounts for things slowing down the last few months.
S: So for now, new readers and fans of the strip have the randomly updated main strip (which is just building on that Halloween strip), but they have other options as well…
"MORE THAN JUST A STRIP"
EiC: Whoa. Who said that just now?
HT: I heard nothing.
S: Maybe it was your inner demon?
EiC: But the voice didn’t come from my pants!
S: Boss, not everything has to come from your pants.
HT: *Ahem.* Charlie Red Eye has branched out since its launch on Modern Tales. It already has a spinoff comic, Charlie Red Eye Sunday Specials, which features artwork and stories from other creators, but using the Bizarre Life of Charlie Red Eye characters.
S: If you peruse the Charlie Red Eye message boards you’ll find one thread where Grug has posted several journal comics. In another thread, Grug has started a comics jam, where different collaborators continue a story based on the previous panel, all centering on Charlie Red Eye characters.
HT: The main comic also takes a break towards the middle of the run to post a totally unrelated thirty-eight page mini-comic called "A Little Whimsy". Everything was posted, from the back cover, to the creator credits page. By itself, it’s a charming panel progression of fancy dreaming, following a crow who has the life of a businessman. During his workday, he sees another bird and longs to escape everyday life and fly. All this… with no dialogue.
S: Without taking away from Charlie Red Eye, I think it’s some of the creators’ more interesting work. It’s a simple humble piece about wanting freedom, but being forced into routine.
EiC: There it is again!
HT: Should we be calling an exorcist?
S: Or a psychiatrist?
EiC: Do either of them do Pants Calls?
S: If you like your webcomics to have simple surface humor with some randomness mixed in and not a lot of payoff, then maybe The Bizarre Life of Charlie Red Eye is for you. There is a lot of potential to examine these characters, and some good storyline seeds have been planted, but the strip hasn’t yet delivered a substantial payoff.
EiC: Right. The strip serves more as a variety show for the creators to showcase their jokes and spur of the moment ideas, as well as some experimentation as to what might work best for the comic.
HT: I think this strip shines because it’s different. Not only does it capture some of the childlike humor we love from yesteryear comics like Little Nemo in Slumberland and Peanuts, but there are some elements of indie comics that will appeal to nontraditional webcomic readers. It has a lighthearted art style that counters its occasional dark and science fiction plotlines. There are also some strong messages about the environment as well. Its somewhat lack of structure might be the way that Charlie Red Eye stays able to be as flexible as it has been. When you don’t have any rules, you can break a few.
S: that’s all for now.
HT: Until next time, folks!
EiC: So are you guys going to help me find my inner demon, or what?
S: Boss, we are NOT going near your pants.
EiC: But it’s in the contract!
HT: Back! Back to your lair under couch, foul beast! Editor, I abjure thee!
Stickler and Hat-Trick are staff reviewers for the Comixpedia. They feel that the Editor-in-Chief has become lazy and doesn’t get enough exorcism.