There are times when a single, foolish act can forever taint a celebrity’s credibility. Just ask comedian Michael Richards or Pacman Jones, whose single Las Vegas fistfight turned him for a star cornerback into a TNA wrestler who has an NFL injunction preventing him from actually wrestling.
In comics, the most notorious example is Dave Sim, the creator of Cerebus the Aardvark. He was originally heralded as a hero of the independent comic scene and a poster boy for creator’s rights. He had an ambitious and much heralded goal set near the beginning of his run to finish the comic at 300 issues, a Herculean feat for an independent artist and writer. However, things fell apart near the end. Starting with issue #265, Sim began filling up the last pages of his issues with misogynistic essays called Tangents.
And so it was with me and Brooke McEldowney, the creator of today’s webcomic. While I was pretty ambivalent toward his print strip, 9 Chickweed Lane, I at least admired the man for his bold artistry and his chutzpah for including characters which are still highly unconventional for a comic strip — such as a lapsed preacher and a gay dancer. That was before what I call the “Unicorn Saga,” where, in some of the most smug prose committed to the funny pages, Mr. McEldowney reveals his total, utter contempt for normal, everyday people who are too uncultured to see that ballerinas can be making a lot of money. Before, you could forgive a character like Edda for being a self-centered ass because it’s good characterization. But when she becomes your mouthpiece for how annoyed you are that people won’t take you seriously, then it taints everything you’ve written — before and after.
This is why it’s difficult to approach today’s webcomic without factoring the preconceived notions I already have for Mr. McEldowney.
Today’s comic is Pibgorn, which, in a way, is a spin-off of 9 Chickweed Lane. And that “Pib-Gorn,” which is some sort of Welsh musical instrumennt, not “Pig-Born,” which means being born from a pig.
According to his Wikipedia entry, Brooke McEldowney — who I should clarify, is a dude — is a classically trained musician. He has both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in music from the famous Juilliard School in New York, and he also studied at the Mozarteum in Austria. So this guy is no upper-class poseur: any reference to the fine arts, and arrogance toward such pursuits, comes directly from experience.
Typically in these reviews, I like to include several links to demonstrate a point I’m making about the webcomic. However, Pibgorn is on gocomics.com, which primarily hosts syndicated print comics like B.C. and Doonesbury. The comics posted there typically have a limited shelf-life. Thus, in two months, the links will probably be no longer available.
This gets particularly infuriating for new readers. Pibgorn is an episodic tale broken into months-long story arcs, and understanding the backstory seems essential to fully enjoying this comic. And there’s really no reason he should even have the strip on a time-lapsed schedule: as far as I know, Pibgorn isn’t published in any newspaper. The entire line-up of Pibgorn could have been available on a self-hosted site, like hundreds of webcomic artists without ties to the big comic syndicates are already doing. Fortunately, thanks to who are no doubt some of the most obsessive fans on the planet, Pibgorn has one of the most detailed entries ever in Wikipedia.
Unfortunately, even with Wikipedia, Pibgorn doesn’t make a lot of sense.
It did help me understand who the characters were. Pibgorn, the redhead title character, is a fairy who’s not satisfied with a life of flitting around and instead loves to get in trouble. She seems to have some sort of friendship/rivalry with the raven-haired Drusilla, a manipulative succubus. Caught in the middle is Geoff, a geeky human who is initially the subject of affection for Pib and Dru. And thus, Pibgorn follows McEldowney’s favorite archetypes: head-strong, powerful women and physically weak, intellectual men (unless that man is beefy Thorax, who appears in both this series and 9 Chickweed Lane).
In other words: the world and situations are straight out of Neil Gaiman, but the characters are pure Chris Claremont. (Wow, that’s the second comic book reference. I really nead to cut down.)
I’ve tried to follow Pibgorn since its gocomic.com relaunch. The story arc, which was presented from the beginning so as to supposedly limit confusion among new readers, began with Pibgorn and a naked guy (who I assume is Geoff) tumbling out of the sky. The story did not get any less confusing, with Pibgorn fighting some sort of samurai lady, Drusilla toying with a professor who looks like Mark Twain, and two nerdy siblings being positively awful toward each other.
For the most part, McEldowney is very sparse with the dialogue, so it’s of no help in trying to interpret whatever the hell is going on. And when McEldowney does decide to be prosaic, he crams so much text on the page that it’s obvious he’s intentionally trying to make the strip even more confusing.
But despite all that, in a way I do enjoy and appreciate the indirect way the story is unfolding. It tends to make the Pibgorn universe seem a lot larger than it really is. Events come and go barely perceived as if the reader were dreaming. This is highly fitting since the characters are born of myths and fairy tales.
McEldowney has another thing going for him: he’s an excellent artist. Look at the pictures posted in this review, and it’s obvious that he’s illustrated some of the best drawn comic strips, let alone webcomics. Sure, the faces can look a bit off from time to time. But he draws his characters are dynamic camera angles. He also draws like this for 9 Chickweed Lane, but the style seems more fitting within Pibgorn‘s action-oriented setting.
McEldowney is also the master of character design. He’s not afraid to draw characters with odd body shapes. Larger characters feel rounded and massive. They reside in the same universe with athletic and attractive characters. In most comic strips, Pib and Dru, who are both portrayed as curvaceous women, would look like the same person but with different hairstyles. Not in Pibgorn. Pib seems to have a slighter form and seems to always stand on her toes, as if she were always about to propel herself into flight. Dru, on the other hand, is drawn more severe and vertical, and when she’s flying, her stright body seems to emphasize speed. There is real care devoted to these drawings, and it shows.
So overall, I’m going to put aside my anger at McEldowney and give Pibgorn a high rating. I won’t give this webcomic a perfect score, since it’s a tad too esoteric for its own good. However, I appreciate the artistry and the mood of the webcomic which stands heads and shoulders above amateurish webcomic equivalents like Dominic Deegan and Sluggy Freelance.
You win this time, McEldowney.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)