The Webcomic Overlook #15: Cheshire Crossing

I’m going to be out of town for two days, so I figured that today would be a good time as any to do a new review on the Webcomic Overlook. I had originally planned on reviewing another webcomic, and with luck that review will show up on this blog come Friday. Until then, though, this current review was spurred into action due to another review currently featured on a site whose sole mission statement is to make fun of bad webcomics.

The astute readers of The Webcomic Overlook may notice that none of the webcomics reviewed have yet received a rating below two. There are two main reasons why this is so:

  1. I actually have run across webcomics that have incredibly painful writing and art and deserve nothing more than a big fat zero. However, most of the time, I wonder if the webcomic artists have even reached the ninth grade yet. Ripping on someone who may or may not have seen fifteen candles on their birthday cake yet? That’s bush league, man.
  2. Most of the webcomics that really deserved a bad rating were already torn a new one on John Solomon’s Your Webcomic Is Bad and You Should Feel Bad site. I’ve tried to make sure since the inception of this feature to avoid reviews that Solomon and crew have already done. (The latest post, though, suggests that YWiB may be on permanent hiatus. I just might have to pick up the slack.)

I will, however, tackle the same webcomic if I thought the YWiB reviewers might have missed something. I did it before with my review of “Lowroad,” where I felt that Carlos G. had squandered a promising webcomic with excess fan service.

I’m reviewing today’s webcomic with a different purpose in mind. YWiB have actually been influential enough to cause a few of the creators to completely give up. Despite the fact that I agree wholeheartedly with Ted David’s review, I actually want today’s webcomic to succeed for some ungodly reason.

Today’s webcomic is Andy Weir’s Cheshire Crossing.

As YWiB pointed out, Andy Weir has no illusions about his artistic ability. Under a feature called “The Making Of…“, Andy admits that he’s The World’s Laziest Cartoonist. It’s a fascinating feature, mainly because it makes working in Adobe Illustrator look both more laborious and less fun than the tried and true pencil-and-ink method.

The story is about three familiar girls: Alice, Wendy, and Dorothy. If those names ring a bell, then they’re exactly who you think they are. The three meet when they’re sent to a Harry Potteresque school where they can hone their superpowers. Yes, superpowers. Dorothy can click her heels to teleport to different worlds (or at least Oz), Alice has some handy Alice potions in her Alice-utility-apron that she swiped from Wonderland, and Wendy can fly.

But, you astute comic readers may be asking, isn’t Cheshire Crossing basically just a rip-off of Alan Moore’s Lost Girls? Weir addresses this in his forum: “I was about halfway through making issue 1 of Cheshire Crossing when I first heard about Lost Girls. I almost cancelled Cheshire Crossing when I heard about it, but decided against it. Firstly, because I had put so much work into it already, and secondly because the stories and styles are so completely different, I wasn’t worried about overlap. Lost Girls is porn. Cheshire Crossing is adventure.”

You know what? I’m OK with that. I once had an idea for a story about a wizard’s school long before Harry Potter burst on the scene. Besides … Alan Moore is overrated. (I’ve read some excerpts from Lost Girls, so I feel rather justified in that statement. Hate me if you must.)

The rest of the Cheshire Crossing cast are also familiar characters. The Greatest Nanny in the World, Mary Poppins, serves as their teacher/nanny/guardian/sensei. They do battle with the Wicked Witch and Captain Hook, who spend much of their time flirting with each other. And the Cheshire Cat, the character who lends his name to the series title, generally acts like a smug jerk.

Andy has decided to make Wendy into a tomboy, Alice into a goth, and Dorothy … well, Dorothy’s pretty much the same. The Wendy thing was a little surprising, since in most J.M. Barrie adaptations, it’s Tinkerbell who’s the tomboy. The Alice thing … not surprising. It seems like every version of Alice nowadays bases her off of American McGee’s Alice. I liked the game (heck, I used to have a bloody Alice action figure with a skeletal Cheshire Cat that I sold on eBay last year). She should, however, not be the gold standard for Alices everywhere. Alice of the storybooks was a silly little goose who naively and gleefully ate and drank things that messed with her size. She was most definitely not a mental patient. And, despite the threat of constant beheadings (which author Lewis Carroll pointed out had never happened), the world of Wonderland was never darker than the companion fantasy worlds of Oz and Neverland. It’s not the world that Cheshire Crossing Alice claims is all too real because “it’s too terrible not to be.”

But I can see what Andy’s trying to do here. All three characters can’t be precocious girls with a strong sense of curiosity, right? (Frankly, I think there is a way to do the webcomic with the original personality of the the three principle characters intact, but this is Andy’s comic, not mine.)

So let’s get the 500-lb gorilla out of the way first: the art in this webcomic is atrocious. Ugly. Terrible. It’s so terrible that the story actually suffers for it. I’d go on and on about it, but the YWiB review was all about how the art ruined pretty much any moment that had to do with action, emotion, and … well, the whole webcomic. To rehash these points would be repetitive. Besides, I’ve included enough pictures here of the actual webcomic to allow you to make your own judgment.

Also, the story, while readable, is never more than mediocre. In Issue 1, Alice steals Dorothy’s shoes, and she and Wendy are whisked away to Oz. In Issue 2, Dorothy and Mary Poppins go to Oz to find the missing girls, and Poppins finds out that the world of Oz is subject to weird rules for magic users. And in Issue 3, the girls are summoned by a freaky-looking Tinkerbell to save Peter Pan. It’s elementary stuff, and honestly it’s not boring, but neither are the stories that my 2-year-old goddaughter tells about her imaginary friend, Hannah Montana. (Really.)

So why in the world do I unironically want this webcomic to succeed?

Because Andy Weir has somehow managed to stumble on a genuinely excellent webcomic concept: the heroines of Wizard of Oz, Alice in Wonderland, and Peter Pan joining forces to battle famous storybook villains, that’s why!

This following statement may just get my webcomic reviewer license revoked (as if that crack against Alan Moore hadn’t done so already), but I really enjoyed the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and The Brothers Grimm movies. Heck, I once thought that Foywonder’s humorous suggestion for an LXG sequel — where a government liaison named N****r Jim (played by Sam Jackson) asks agent Tom Sawyer to track down rogue agent Huck Finn — would be pure cinema gold! So yes, I’m a sucker for fractured fairy tales.

In fact, the only reason the writing seems terrible is because it’s paired with terrible art. Take this following scene, for instance. The dialogue isn’t great, but it’s rather typical for a webcomic. Now imagine this same scene, but with better art. Perhaps the art is manga influenced, like Eisu Mokhtar‘s. Or perhaps the art is a clean, cartoonish fantasy style, like Matt Rhodes’. Suddenly, we overlook how pedestrian the dialogue is, and the art becomes our primary language. The webcomic itself becomes a thousand times better.

And if your story visits the worlds of Oz, dark Wonderland, and Neverland … doesn’t it deserve good art? Those are scenarios that scream for lush panoramas and twisted, nightmarish landscapes. It’s not the kind of story that calls for parabolas that vaguely look like mountains or a bunch of repeating patterns that look nothing like a field of poppies. These somehow lack the grandeur that the story needs.

And it’s not like there’s a shortage of artists to recruit from DeviantArt. I’ll bet that there are literally thousands of artists chomping at the bit to illustrate their version of Goth Alice. And, Andy, if you’re reading this and you’re worried about the sudden change of style, then don’t fret. Better webcomics like Scary Go Round have gone from one style to another with no problems at all.

Of course, I suspect that Andy’s only doing this comic for fun. Maybe he doesn’t want to outsource the art because he enjoys doing it himself. That’s fine, too. But there’s so much potential in the Cheshire Crossing concept, and it kills me to see that the poor art is the most obvious thing that’s holding it back.

Rating: 2 stars (out of 5)


12 thoughts on “The Webcomic Overlook #15: Cheshire Crossing

  1. Hold on, how is stealing and drinking potions that someone else created a “superpower” that you can “hone” at a “magic school”? When she runs out of potions, Alice is going to be “power”less, and anyone else could take them away from her at any time and use it.

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