Blank Label Comics Appreciation Week: Ugly Hill

It is to my profound disappointment that I rarely find the opportunity to quote the linguistic stylings of Hastings Kilgore.

The latest storyline in Ugly Hill has served as evidence of how well-executed the comic really is – as demonstrated by the fact that it is one of the few comics I can read through a series of strips time and time again, and still find them funny on each go around.

Snug narrowly avoiding a grimly demise? Hot pink promotional tabs of ecstasy? Seeing Hastings out to fulfill his citizen’s arrest quota? These things will never not be funny, as horrible as they are.

Ugly Hill is one of those strips that has few to zero redeemable characters. The two main characters, the brothers Kilgore, are shallow and petty beings. Eli is selfish and unmotivated to do anything in life other than mooch off his family. Hastings is a workaholic filled with disdain and wrath for all other life. Their parents are ten times worse.

And yet, they make for entertaining and exciting protagonists. The readers are invested enough in them to follow the strip, but able to have enough distance to laugh at the horrible, horrible things that they are subjected to, usually through their own doing, as well as celebrate when things manage to actually work out in the end.

Ironically enough, despite the fact that misery and mayhem is Ugly Hill’s stock-in-trade, it always has an upbeat, cheerful atmosphere. The bright colors and cartoony figures are certainly part of it – and despite all the troubles, the characters always seem to bounce back from their failings.

I’ve been rambling a bit here on the nature of the strip, in part because I find it hard to pin down a single element that makes Ugly Hill great – it is the composite of all the things it does well that really make it stand out. It is true that I have been enjoying some of the more quotable lines, of late – Hastings especially has been in rare form, but all the characters have had dialogue that resonates. (And I don’t mean in the emotional sense, but rather in that the lines work their way into my mind and sit there, echoing back and forth, all day long.)

I don’t think I’ll ever sit down with friends and engage in an Ugly Hill quote-fest, as has been the case with Penny Arcade – but it certainly comes the closest of any other comic out there, especially for one that actually follows a narrative.

So maybe that is the great success of the strip – hitting those moments of zanity and hilarity while still being constrained by an overarching story. And doing so, all the while, with a grand sense of style.

Paul Southworth is a gifted cartoonist, no doubt about it. Also, it looks like he’ll be a father in the next few days – so why not head over to his site to give him some congrats and best wishes, and lets hope the joy of caring for a child only further enhances his ability to inflict hilarious cruelty upon his beloved characters.

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