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The Webcomic Overlook #76: Glam

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Way back when the Fellowship of the Ring movie was coming out (and boy does that seem like a long time ago), Peter Jackson was all the rage. Unashamed fanboys and fangirls of the hobbit-y looking director began singing his praises all over internet message boards. Films that no one but the most obsessive horror movie buffs knew about began crawling out of the cracks. The most recommended movie? You guessed it: Meet the Feebles.

I was intrigued by the premise. It was a dark, grim version of the Muppet Show. I enjoy parodies on Jim Henson’s creations, being perhaps one of the few people in the world who enjoyed Greg the Bunny. So I went down to the local video store and rented out a copy on tape.

I hated every single minute of it. For me, Meet the Feebles crossed the line from a dark yet whimsical parody — like, say, American McGee’s Alice — to mean-spirited splatter porn. I don’t mean that Peter Jackson is himself a joyless curmudgeon; all accounts are that he’s a friendly fellow to be around. It’s just that for this particular movie he seems to be actively despising the characters and, unforgivably, Jim Henson’s original premise.

I was reminded of Meet the Feebles when I decided to check out the subject of today’s review. It’s a black-and-white webcomic called Glam, written by Pedro Camargo and hosted on the Act-I-Vate website. To sum it up, it’s Care Bears meets Fall-Out and all the shenanigans that implies.

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According to his bio, creator Pedro Camargo is a native of Brazil who studied at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The man is also a high school art teacher. Glam is one of two comics he has hosted on the Act-I-Vate site, purveyor of original indie-style comic series. (His other comic is Space Sucks.) His style is gritty and unpolished. It’s a cross between Don Simpson (Megaton Man) and the ball-point pen sketches that you might find in a bored high-schooler’s notebook. On one hand, I admire that a hand-drawn style can worm its way into the antiseptic world of webcomics. On the other hand … it does tend to look sloppy at times.

The world of Glam revolves around a group of characters from the town with the subtle name of Happy Fun Place Land. The citizens resemble like either some sort of 80’s Nelvana cartoon or a stuffed animal (or both). If you suspect that their insides are made of fiber fill, later pages will prove you wrong. The town is a world of sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows and everything that’s wonderful. The sociopolitical world seems to revolve around the ethics as established by a benevolent deity who may or may not be Strawberry Shortcake. The residents of Super Fun Happy Town act like everyone’s high … on life! While the comic is in black and white, you can imagine that local folk are all rendered in baby-calming pastels.

Of course, you always have to be wary about this kind of set-up. The only people nowadays who portray anything this innocent are the ones who are trying to set you up for unrelenting grimness. See: Wonder Showzen!, the Christmas Critters from South Park, the Veggie Tale analogues on Drawn Together.

One of them, a lucky bee named Jacob, is traveling along some road probably named Camaraderie Boulevard. He’s so lucky because today’s his birthday! On the way, he encounters two sketchy-looking ninjas. This worries Jacob, because 1) they’re not on the invitee list, and 2) they’re kidnapping one of his friends. But they do have a present for our little pal: a syringe full of plague virus.

Our hero, a fellow named Whyte Rabbit, is at Jacob’s home, preparing the decorations. (Ooh, a reference to the character in Alice in Wonderland. Only, like, the 400th time it’s ever been done.) And who happens to be coming to the door but jacob, the busy bee, now bristling with sores. Oh, Jacob, it’s bad luck to be the first person at your own birthday party! A short time later, he sees a side of Jacob he’s never seen before: his insides. Whyte is on hand while Jacob explodes into a million tiny pieces. Covered in the viscera, blood, and guts of his friend, Whyte’s eyes widen to the size of saucers… which either signifies his lost innocence or that a little bit of Jacob is floating around in his cornea.

Happy birthday, Jacob!

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Whyte then finds out that Jacob witnessed the kidnapping of Polyphemus, a one-eyed turtle and a dear, dear friend. This news sets him over the edge. Armed with nothing but the empty syringe that killed his friend, Whyte sets off from Happy Fun Place Land. Indeed, if Glam teaches us anything, the bonds of friendship are strong.

At the same time, Glam also teaches us that the bonds of friendship are also terribly inconvenient. Four others, for whatever reason, won’t let the rabbit go out on his own. The decide to accompany him down the dark path to the far-off city of Mordor… er, The City. (I’m not sure that’s its official name, by the way. I skimmed through the comic and didn’t find a direct reference. it could be Oz, for all I know.) Their designs, by the way, are supposedly adorable… but I think Mssr. Camargo also intended them to be a little off-putting as well. When I first saw Bruno, I pegged him as a cross between the Muppet Fozzy and the Grateful Dead bear. Sally, the potential love interest, hardly looks cute, despite the girly accouterments. With her long limbs and bug-eyed face, she looks something like a spider/bulldog hybrid. Finally, the twin blobs, Tat and Tot, are cute enough, but given what happens to one of them in the first chapter it’s best not to get attached to them.

As Whyte comes closer to The City, he descends further and further into despair. Early in their travels, the group is assaulted by Roaches, hostile creatures that live on the outskirts. Needless to say, things do not go well. Whyte is driven to madness as he must contemplate a mercy killing for one of his friends. As he becomes more desperate, Whyte contemplates sticking the plague syringeinto the incredibly annoying Bruno.

But why did someone kidnap Polyphemus in the first place? There have been no answers yet. However, it seems that these simple country animals possess more powerful than they initially appear. And it’s possibly psychic.

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The City itself is an unholy dystopian fusion of the worst neighborhoods in Detroit and Transnistria. Bar brawls seem to be the national sport. Sanctioned bouts are staged in a Thunderdome-like setting. Its citizens, who dress like extras from Final Fantasy: Advent Children, need little excuse to start stabbing each other in the back. The Dickensian skyline is dominated by factory smokestacks — a horrible pollutant, to be sure, but an adequate background for those prone to monologuing. Every street seems to be a dark alleyway. People are packed like sardines. Curiously, few seem to be women.

I suppose we can make some sort of real world analogy. It’s like how industrialized cities become amoral wastelands while people in rural areas live simpler lives and are united by community. That might be giving Mr. Carmago too much credit, though, who’s probably in it to draw fluffy animals in various states of mutilation. Also, I can’t really fit roaches into my pat, grad school level theory. Disenfranchised union workers, maybe?

The City presents a new set of friends and enemies. The most prominent thus far is a heavily scarred ranger with a skull mask. He had been following Whyte and company and narrating their adventures in the form of a children’s storybook until the bug-eyed bunny called out. The group also encountered a creature who may or may not be a Guyver suit. He’s likely an ally… but with Glam, you never know.

In my opinion, the most distasteful thing about Meet the Feebles was how the movie attempted to get as dark and raunchy as possible to get laughs that never came. Peter Jackson assaulted the viewer with mass murder, rape, S&M, and, most infamously, sodomy. It almost seems like a losing proposition. If I like it, then obviously I’m an avant-garde who appreciates its edginess. If I hate it, then I’m some sort of humorless square. Of course, there’s the third option: we’ve seen all these jokes before, and smearing everything in feces doesn’t make it any more edgier or funnier.

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That sums up some of my feelings about Glam. Stuffed animal creatures that bleed and have mental breakdowns? Seen it. To be fair, there is no scene where Sally is raped and murdered… but the way Glam is going, I’m not tossing it outside the realm of possibilities. I mean, when Camargo devotes a page to a loving depiction of self-mutilation, you have to gird yourself against depravity yet to come. Angst is ratcheted to critical levels. After something bad happens, there’s pages and pages of hand-wringing, finger-pointing, and arguing. It’s like reading someone’s emo LiveJournal.

Glam’s not all bad, though. If you’re a fan of gore, or if you’re a fan of stuffing a Ziploc bag with hamburger and stomping on it (which is what most of the frags look like), Glam might be right up your alley. In addition, Camargo does craft an interesting world to explore. I want to learn more about how a society fragmented to the point where everyone’s a hitman. I want to see why the world evolved to the point where all evil was contained in one city. The world of Glam is like the Metalocalypse world, where everything is an over-the-top parody of the album cover definition of grim-and-gritty.

However, here’s where we come to the comics’ biggest downside. Metalocalypse, at least, has five lovable doofuses anchoring the series. The problem with Glam is that there are no characters to root for. While it’s easy to sympathize with the mission, it’s hard to root for Whyte, who’s become a dangerous and insufferable bastard. His friends have few redeeming values and do grate on the nerves something fierce with their constant whining. If said it before: characters are important to retaining readers for a continuing series. And right now, I’m not too keen on following up on the further adventures.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

Posted in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, funny animal webcomic, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics Tagged: Act-I-Vate, Glam