If a comic is flat-out bad… well, that’s a different story. There are a lot of webcomics out there that are trash, sure – and usually it’s because the creator is new at this, still learning how to draw, how to tell a story, how to make a joke. Ok, no problem – I’m not going to criticize them for still being in the middle of learning the process. Especially not when given how many strips started out weak but developed into something fantastic over time.
But on the other hand, when a strip has it, and is doing great, and then goes downhill… man, that sucks.
And it sadly looks like Abstract Gender is falling into that category.
It would be easy to blame the new artist. Switching artists is always a tricky business, and while in some cases it works out brilliantly, all too often it is a sign of the comic’s imminent demise. I had high hopes in this case – Abstract Gender had switched artists before. Several times early on, in fact – but the third artist, Kiey, held the title for most of the strip’s run. Replacing someone seven strips in is tricky, but not world-ending. Replacing the artist that help define the strip? That’s a different game altogether.
But it isn’t just that change alone. It’s part of it, sure – the new artist, Asuka, started off with a rocky run and a slowdown in updates, and even now still hasn’t quite clicked for me. Backgrounds are often ignored, resulting in characters that seem to perpetually float through space. The characters are well designed and expressive, but also sometimes overdone. The art isn’t bad – it’s actually quite nice – but I still haven’t gotten used to it after six months of work, and that doesn’t bode well.
But it has been the story and the writing that has been causing vast amounts of frustration.
Our latest storyline involves our main character, Rachel, unwillingly getting naked for a massage she doesn’t want, while on a ‘relaxing’ outing she didn’t want to go on, taken there by friends she doesn’t want, from a team she didn’t really want to join.
Now, to be fair – the theme of not being in control is the central theme of the strip. Rachel Hawke was previously Ryan Hawke, and the core of the strip involves him and his best friend Brian investigating a haunted mansion – and finding themselves mysteriously turned into girls.
Of course, his friend Brian seems to also have the ability to change back. Rachel does not, and is far from happy with the situation, but competely unable to do anything about it. Done right, that is a great premise for a series, and seeing Rachel’s helplessness and frustration – and how she acts because of it – has been key to driving the story along.
In that core premise – being turned into a girl – she doesn’t have control. Her frustration over it works. In all those other situations since, however, it just doesn’t make sense. She is in a situation she actively doesn’t want to have happen, and yet she goes along with it. I can buy her friends bullying her into joining them on a trip – sure, okay, that’s what friends do. Letting them persuade her into have a strange man disrobe her? When she is already very uncomfortable with her form, being it isn’t technically her own?
I don’t buy it. It is being played for laughs and for fanservice. It is letting the strip slide into sitcom silliness – look, this character has managed to get into a stupid and embarrassing situation they don’t want to be! Hah!
That’s my issue with where this strip has gone. I hate seeing that sort of mindlessness here, because Abstract Gender has a lot of promise. Dealing with the mystery as to how it all actually occured, dealing with the different characters react to their new situation, seeing the friendships broken over it – that is genuinely interesting stuff, with a bit of mystery and school drama and personal reflection combined.
We’ve even had a lot of that good stuff recently, with Rachel actively investigating who is behind her transformation. That is the sort of behavior that fits, having her pushing the action forward as she tries to control at least one aspect of her life. But the constant lapses into passive obedience – usually to bring about some silly situation for us to laugh at – just don’t work.
I’m not saying the comic can’t be funny – it has been a humor strip from the beginning. But it was also a strip that seemed to have a story to tell, and early on, had no problem balancing the jokes with the plot. And it has kept the plot moving, I’ll give it that – but it also seems willing to toss it aside for the sake of a few cheap laughs. To sacrifice characterization for crass comedy.
If it works… well, more power to ’em. There have been quite a few successes out there – in all forms of media – built off of nothing more than fanservice.
It’s just a shame to see it from a comic that had the potential to be a whole lot more.