Many years ago, when I was a young lad in Detroit with the funny pages spread out before me from the city’s two major newspapers, I tried to tackle the ulitmate challenge: to read the soap opera strips. Every other strip was breezy and readable. But, ah, those soap opera strips: they were impenetrable. Rex Morgan, Gil Thorp, and the crown jewel of them all, Mary Worth. Before the days of the internet, it was impossible to follow thier storylines unless you subscribed to every damn newspaper throughout the week. Read them Sunday to Sunday, and it made absolutely no sense. So why would I even bother undertaking such a challenge? Because I wanted to understand why in the world these strips even existed. I mean, they were in the papers… someone was reading them, right?
It wasn’t until recently, when I came across The Comic Curmudgeon, that I managed to follow entire storylines. And I still have no ideas why they exist. They storylines are ludicrous, and the writers seem to have no idea what the modern world is like. Most of the current crop are hold-overs from earlier eras when the comic pages were read by a more diverse audience.
With the exception of For Better or Worse and Funky Winkerbean, there haven’t been any new soap opera strips in the American funny pages for a while. Japan’s another story, and soap opera comics exist in manga form. I can’t think of any recent examples, but Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku and Kimagure Orange Road are often held up as shining examples. They combine humor, sweetness, and the common theme of unrequited love.
Are these any soap opera comic strips in the webcomic world? This brings us to today’s subject: Marry Me, an online graphic novel written by Bobby Crosby and illustrated by Remy Mokhtar.
Bobby Crosby is the writer of Pupkin, which achieved the unenviable distinction of being a SomethingAwful.com Awful Link of the Day. To be fair to Crosby, he mentioned that he hated the strip and would have ended it sooner if not for the fan support. Remy, whose full name is Saiful Remy Mokhtar but perfers to be known as “Eisu”, is a comic artist who lives in Malaysia. Fair or not, this country of origin validates the manga-style artwork that dominates this strip, as I’m originally from that part of the world and I know that manga is the style of choice in South East Asia.
The ambition behind the strip is given away in the domain name: marrymemovie.com. Notice it is not called marrymecomic.com. The wikipedia entry claims that the creators are playing with the possibility of adapting the story into a movie.
The strip itself is about two people entwined by fate. Stasia (which is short for Anastasia, of course) is an impulsive 24-year-old pop star who’s coming off a string of failed relationships. Her character is obviously influenced by the likes of ditzy Hollywood blondes, like Paris Hilton and Jessica Simpson. Guy Cooper is a hunky high school guidance counselor with a permanent five-o’clock shadow. His look is obviously influenced by stubbly-faced Hollywood guys like Matthew McConaughey and Clive Owen.
One night, as part of her show, Stasia spots Guy holding a “Marry Me” sign and gets a priest to join them in holy matrimony before an entire audience. Unfortunately, Guy was only holding the sign for his friend while she left to pee in the bushes. Naturally, hi-jinks ensue. To prove to the world that for once she was entirely serious, Stasia promises that she will be married to Guy forever.
So the good part: I have to say that Remy’s art is quite attractive. His characters are all excellently designed: each distinct and oftentimes adorable. He plays around with several camera angles, and all look natural. This stuff would feel right at home among the myriad shelves of manga collections that are taking up three walls at my local Borders. And the man loves his cheesecake. Seriously. So no complaints about the art.
However, the story is totally, utterly ludicrious and on the verge of being painful. At no point is the story even remotely believable. Now, you may say that this is the standard set-up in popular manga comics and anime. Ranma 1/2, for example, features a bickering couple that are bound together due to an arranged marriage. The main couple in Onegai Teacher! are brought together in holy matrimony to avoid a scandal. However, manga/anime is more believable than Marry Me for the following reasons:
- Crippling modesty is a highly Asian trait. Stasia and Guy are both Americans.
- Most of the time, manga protagonists are teenagers, so they’re totally naive about how to approach things in the real world. Stasia and Guy are both adults who are at least in their mid-twenties.
The portrayal of Stasia is wildly incosistent, and there’s nothing in the comic that makes her likable at all. She’s supposed to be out of control, yet we’re supposed to believe she’s heartbroken that everyone thinks the marriage was a big publicity stunt. And then the writer reveals that Stasia donates 97% of her profits to charity. I suspect he’s trying too hard to make us love her; instead, I just shake my head and wonder how that 3% manages to cover the cost of the entire tour, including the roadies and the bodyguards. And then there’s all that singing. That terrible singing… which looks totally ludicrous when not accompanied by music. And it’s a huge informed attribute: we only know that Stasia’s a great singer because other character praise her utter brilliance. Reading the lyrics, though, lead me to believe otherwise.
I’d also complain that the writer is also trying too hard to make us love Guy by making him a high school guidance counselor. He’s such an utter bore, though, that it’s almost not worth mentioning. Seriously, you get to this page and you begin to wonder whether Bobby Crosby has ever had a conversation with an actual woman before. That page also gives me the odd feeling that neither Stasia nor Guy are actual characters. Rather, Guy is a total Mary Sue: a comic book nerd and guidance counselor who is heartbreakingly sexy and managed to get in bed with a hot chick without having to so much a lift a finger. (And of course, there’s no sex involved since having a hot girl by your side is a much more appealing prospect than some activity that might lead to embarrasing disappointment.)
And speaking of sex, there’s a weird dichotomy about it here. Despite being legally married, both Stasia and Guy — both in their twenties, remember — are rather nervous about it and skirt the subject like red-faced virgin teenagers. (And Stasia is a super popular pop star, remember, and you’d think she’d have been mature enough at this point.) I know it’s a staple for the main couple in manga to engage in verbal foreplay for the entire duration of the run, but this is a bit of stretch. Especially when the best friend of Guy Cooper is a lesbian who gets off on wearing Stasia’s pants and is actively propsitioning a threesome. Look, Bobby, you cannot haved it both ways.
And then there’s the awful dialogue. I already covered the stilted courtship, but that’s not where it ends. Look at this yokel blurt “Stasia went Koo-koo!” or this black bodyguard bellowing “Y’all best back up!” and try not to barf.
I admit that I might not be the primary audience for this comic, but I do love my soap opera strips, and I do not love Marry Me. Look, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying a Gil Thorp storyline where Gil trains a one-legged boxer, so I’m no stranger to odd plot developments in a soap opera strip. But the characters have to be both consistent and interesting, and this strip has none of that. In fact, the only interesting character is probably Parker Webber, Guy’s lesbian friend, and only because she’s realistically over the top. (As if that sentence makes any sense.)
I’ll give Marry Me one point for the art and one point for Ms. Webber, but beyond those two, there’s not much to recommend.
Rating: 2 stars (out of a possible 5)