Portrait of the Artist as a Shadowy Octopus Man

Lies and Peace. As mentioned last week, I’ve been meaning to do a heavy review of My Nemesis.

First, though, I think I’ll read back through the archives to really get myself back up to speed.

…alrighty, all set. It’s a quick read – the full archives only take around 20 minutes. Being less then a year old, and with fast moving comics, makes it a surprisingly smooth read.

So. My first introduction to the comic was through a scathing review that loosely detailed how every aspect of the comic was a failure.

Given that, it might be surprising I decided I liked the comic so much.

Well then. Let’s take a look at the reasons why. It’s hardly a perfect comic, but there most assuredly are a lot of aspects that really work well.

In my humble opinion, at least.

ART:

Ok, I like the art. I really dig the art. Even from the start, when the strip was just a strict four panel formula, I liked the look of the characters. I liked how well the artist conveyed emotions despite exceedingly simple facial designs. And I liked that even early on, he made good use of color, even if it didn’t always seem to fit the scene’s mood.

More recently, the art has grown. There is a good reason for the change, and I’ll get into that later – but I don’t think there is any denying that right now, there is a helluva lot of visual elegance in his strip. The art is powerful and dynamic, and the artist seems inclined to keep pushing exactly how much he can accomplish with it.
Kal's Shadow.
DESIGN:

There is, in many ways, a sense of the surreal abounding in the strip.

Kal himself, the main character, is first presented as… a strange shadowy figure. Clad in a massive cloak of shadows, his appendages invisible save for his gloves, with not the slightest explanation – or even recognition – of his appearance.

So yeah, kinda weird.

The strip continues with that sort of thing. There are peculiarities to the world that are taken as granted. Sure, Kal’s a creepy shadow-man. Sure, he’s a genius and built his own city – and hey! No worries, his roommate tossed together a teleportation unit.

The same element of the surreal and the exaggerated continues throughout the strip – and, for me at least, it is a nice touch. I like the sense of fancy, and I like the way it shows up without any expectation of acknowledgement.

CHARACTERS:

One of the critiques I’ve seen is that the characters in My Nemesis are two dimensional and unrealistic.

To some extent, that is true, at least for the majority of the story. Kal is dark, Rob is dorky, Gabe plays video games and Truman smokes weed. Etc.

That said – they work well together. They have plenty of scenes that do, in fact, remind me of real people. They have the same casual banter that I see with my friends, and for all the differences despite that, it resonates.

I don’t expect every character to walk into the picture with a complicated backstory. Depth of substance does not define realism.

There is… change, as the stories go on. We see glimpses of character here and there – and, due to the speed of the story, it almost seems forced, over the top. I mean, we’ve never seen the characters do anything other than bitch at each other, why would they start showing emotion now?

But I like it. Most of the time friends hang out, they show their joking sides and not much more. That doesn’t mean more character isn’t there – one of the very points at hand is that the comic, up to that point, almost willfully ignored the depth of its characters.

The speed at which it did a turn around may have been a bit fast – but given the pacing, the story and character growth holds up surprisingly well.

And taken by themselves, those screenshots of Gabe and Truman showing emotion are pretty powerful little pieces.

Still, let’s put them aside. They are secondary characters – what about the main focus of the strip?

Kal himself… is a different story. His deliverance also seems too forceful, too cliche – and after it is done, it remains hard to get a grasp on him. He seems to almost be trying too hard to show how he has changed.

Kal started out as an asshole from the start. He bitched at his girlfriend, his friends. He was arrogant. He expected the world to hand itself over to him.

It is hard to accept a sudden character shift into a giving, generous human being.

But I don’t think that is what happened.

See, I know a lot of folks who sometimes are assholes. Interesting people often are.

I don’t think Kal has magically transformed into someone who will shower hope and joy over the world. I suspect he still has plenty of arrogance, and plenty of willingness to screw with his enemies – or even folks he merely has contempt for.

I think he is trying to show that he can look out for other people, but I suspect, at heart, that will by and large just extend to his friends. That the asshole within is still there – but tempered by a bit more understanding of relationships.

We’ll see. But I don’t think his own development has been as one-sided or cliche as it truly appears.

And of course, the final character of the hour – Rob.

Poor Rob.

I can sympathize with the guy. He’s the nice one, the responsible one. He’s the one who looks out for his friends, and the ones who gets the most shit from them.

And his best friend, Kal, goes off and vanishes. His other friends don’t seem to especially care about him, even when he’s confronted by heavy moral dilemmas.

Poor Rob.I really was wondering how Rob would turn out, after being made beautiful by Hollywood.

I almost was expecting him to actually come out… bolstered.

As someone who could stand on his own, whether he ended up siding with the ‘evil’ of hollywood, or his old friends.

But no.

As ever, Rob is the victim, and things turned out about as badly as could be.

But for all that Hollywood seems to have twisted and corrupted him here, there is the feeling of truth in some of the words he says.

Sounds like character to me.

The story is called My Nemesis. It never really provides exactly who that nemesis is. Is it the readership that demands satisfaction? Is it Kal himself, his own worst enemy? Is it Rob, now Kal’s worst enemy?

Or has it been that Kal, the hero, has been Rob’s worst enemy all along?

I don’t think the question has been fully answered, yet. And it might be that any number of possibilities could all be true.

But pondering the question gets me thinking, and that is a good thing from any comic.

BACKGROUND:

A lot of the strip is based on the author. Ken Krekeler has said himself he set out with the intent to create a fast and easy strip to make buckets of money.

It didn’t work out so well.

He might have been able to do it, if he didn’t have such immediate expectations. He had the formula down pretty well – a bunch of witty characters, who sat around gaming, doing crazy hijinks, with various superhero jokes and humorous anachronisms.

And the jokes are good. Not every one is a grand slam, but he hits a punchline well, and writes the sort of dialogue that makes the reader consistently chuckle.

But, as mentioned… he thought the fame and fortune would come in instantly. And when it didn’t, he got tired of pandering to the perceived audience, and instead decided to do the comic for himself.

Guess what? I think it is a better comic by far. You can see it in the art – he let himself indulge his inspiration. You can see it in the story – for all of its cliches, it was still compelling. And it practically invited the cliches, and indulged in them – much as the art itself and setting were exaggerated and symbolic, so were the characters, so was the plot. Sure, webcomics aren’t necessarily meant to be taken this seriously – but in the world of the story, they are. And that’s ok.

I like a lot of the little touches in the comic. I like Kalbot’s attitude. I like that the Wiseman accepts Kal’s offering of art.

I like the almost unrecognized appearance of Marla.

It isn’t a perfect comic. More of the development could have been drawn out. Some of the behavior is too forceful. Some of the philosophy is overdone.

But it’s a fun read. It has a lot of potential. It has developed into a good story, and it is hard to say how far it will go from here – I know the author has an ending planned, but I don’t know when or where.

So it may not be perfect, but I like it. And as always – I like to focus on the good, rather than the bad.

Ken Krekeler may not have attained instant fame and fortune through his comic.

But he draws cartoons that make people laugh and make people think.

That’s a good thing. That’s worth being proud of.

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