Are furries people with a harmless yet weird hobby or an abomination to all humanity? What are we to think of people who suit up in custom made animal costumes and draw lurid anthropomorphic artwork? Most public perception has been negative. A furry gets killed on CSI, and we laugh. A furry gets virtually killed in SomethingAwful.com’s Second Life Safari, and we laugh harder.
A lot of today’s furry fandom is influenced by comic-style illustrations. Most of the time, these involve sticking an animal’s head onto a sexy male or female human body. I’m sure there’s a BS theory floating around among furrydom that their behavior is a natural outcropping of anthropomorphic traditions in Egyptian or Celtic mythology. More likely, though, the modern furry is influenced by comic books and cartoons. The latest wave seem to take their inspiration from Sonic the Hedgehog cartoons. Even before that, though, there was a huge wave of furry comic books in the late 80’s/early 90’s. Martin Wagner’s Hepcats was a highly acclaimed comic book that had animal-headed characters in mature situations. Reed Waller and Kate Worley’s Omaha the Cat Dancer was a reasonably acclaimed comic book that had cat-headed characters in erotic situations. And… well, there’s a whole slew of furry comic books with porntastic themes. Are furries really surprised why they’re held in such low esteem?
Thus, with so many things going against furries, the readers of “The Webcomic Overlook” — upon viewing the illustrations of today’s featured webcomic — may be struck with the sudden urge to hastily click onto the “Back” or “Home” button, fleeing in fear while nervously mumbling, “That El Santo. He has become one of them.” I have one word for you: DON’T. Because, like certain transforming robots, there’s more to this webcomic than meets the eye.
Today, The Webcomic Overlook reviews Tracy J. Butler’s Lackadaisy.
Lackadaisy is a webcomic about attractive cats that walk around on two legs. They wear nice clothes, flirt, and do nasty things to each other. Despite small moments of humor, Lackadaisy is all about drama.
A dramatic furry webcomic. “El Santo,” you may be saying at this moment, “are you frikkin’ serious?”
This review may be biased because Ms. Butler is the sort of artist that I root for almost unconditionally — the self-taught artist. On her FAQ, she mentions: “I didn’t go to art school. I did carry a sketchbook wherever I went all through childhood, though. I still do, in fact. It’s sort of like a security blanket…that I draw on.” She sticks to pencil and paper, the most basic of the traditional mediums.
And she is good. Ms. Butler draws with a keen attention to detail. Most people, for example, would draw some curtains and figure that was enough. Not our Tracy. She pencils in an attractive pattern. The characters themselves get a similar treatment, as Ms. Butler seems to love drawing them with a wide range of emotions: confusion, happiness, exasperation, psychotic joy, and shock — some times all on the same page.
Although all of the character are cats, Ms. Butler manages to give each an incredibly distinctive shape and design. Some have squat faces with arched eyebrows to make them look more mischevious. Other have rounder, fuller faces to indicate age or sophistication. The one that I like the best, though, is the design for Aunt Nina, a large-ish lady who looks both like an elderly church lady and someone you do not want to mess with.
The character, though, that benefits most from Ms. Butler’s artistic style is the one character that isn’t a feline: the city of St. Louis. (Oooh! Super-pretentious statement! 100 points for Gryffindor!) And this isn’t the St. Louis of the big white Archway and the Rams football team. This is the St. Louis of the 1920’s Prohibition. (Ms. Butler says that she selected the city because enough stories have already taken place in Chicago and New York … and, incidentally, it’s also where she lives.) Lackadaisy taps into the Roaring ’20 through illustrations depicting the architecture, the clothes, and the vehicles of the day. The depiction of St. Louis isn’t limited to the brick-and-mortar downtown area, either. We are also treated to the city’s residential neighborhoods and the nearby Missouri backwater.
My favorite setting is the cavernous Lackadaisy Speakeasy. At the risk of sounding even more pretentious, the illustrations are so good that you can almost smell the mustiness and the cigarette smoke.
The protagonist of Lackadaisy is …. Hmmmm. At this point, I’d venture to say that it isn’t apparent who the protagonist is. Based on sheer number of appearances, I’d be tempted to say that it’s the young and easily excitable Rocky Rockaby. He has two jobs: he’s a violin player in the Lackadaisy jazz band, and he runs booze for Mitzi May, the flapper who owns the Lackadaisy. (For you kids out there, a “flapper” is a lady in the 1920’s who dressed like the Urban Outfitter fashions from last summer.) When we first meet him, Rocky barely escapes the red-hot wrath of hilbilly justice. However, it’s not apparent that we’re supposed to be actually rooting for Rocky. He’s directly responsible for pulling a naive young relative into his web of crime, and is indirectly responsible in the shooting of a highly sympathetic character.
And to top it off, Rocky is just obnoxious … and he has the freakiest smile this side of Jim Carrey.
The real protagonist may be Freckle. When we’re introduced to him, we find that he’s recently lost his chance to join the police force. We can conclude, then, that Freckle at least has some sort of moral justice … unlike cousin Rocky, who is driven primarily by vengeance and recklessness. It also seems that Freckle is being set up with a young love interest, a “must have” for every potential comic hero. And really … who could resist a guy with the most adorably wide eyes in Prohibition-era St. Louis?
The story feels like a crime drama that combines The Untouchables with The Road to Perdition. The employees of the Lackadaisy — which include Rocky, Mitzi May, the tough bartender Viktor, the cutie Ivy, and the bandleader Zib — have their proverbial backs against the walls. Business is bad. To supplement the income, the Lackadaisy has to open a cafe that serves sandwiches to old ladies. Mitzi May is suspected of murdering her husband. And, to top it off, the crew is being threatened by the Marigold gang, who seem to be a far more competent and murderous crime syndicate.
Will the Lackadaisy survive in the brutal cat-eat-cat world of the Eighteenth Amendment?
The series does have its flaws. There are times when the word balloons are oddly arranged, and I suspect it was done so as not to obscure the artwork. It’s not a big problem, I suppose, but it does make the story to follow at times. The biggest problem, though, is that the series is coming out at an incredibly slow place. It’s been nearly two years since the webcomic started, and only 43 pages have been made. It’s enough to make me worry that this might be one of those series that ends up slipping to “permanent hiatus.”
However, these are extremely minor nitpicks for an excellent webcomic. Ms. Butler obviously has a passion for the history and styles of the era. The webcomic is a product of superb craftsmanship: from the lush artwork to the dialogue to the research to the interplay between the vast ensemble of characters. Everything works so well together that you may forget for a moment that all the characters are cats.
Heck, it probably works because the characters are cats. I doubt I’d enjoy the webcomic as much of the characters were all boring ol’ humans. As much as I’m disturbed by Rocky’s smile, it looks ten times better on a cat than on an actual dude.
It seems that Tracy Butler’s peers agree. At the 2007 Web Cartoonist’s Choice Awards, Lackadaisy won every award it was nominated for: Outstanding Newcomer, Outstanding Artist, Outstanding Character Rendering, and Outstanding Anthropomorphic Comic. If she ever has the time, I suggest that Ms. Butler should think about becoming a full time comic book artist. She has the sort of talent that publishers like Image and Fantagraphics are always on the lookout for.
And hey, if it makes you feel better… it’s not a furry webcomic.
It’s a funny animal webcomic.
Hey, nobody got raked over the coals for liking The Life And Times Of Scrooge McDuck, right?
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)