Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
There’s been some criticism that the Eisner Award for Digital Comics tends to favor established creators from the print industry over those who made their names online. Or, in the case of Sugarshock … c’mon. Did you really think Joss Whedon wasn’t winning an award? You’d probably be struck down by lightning or something. (Incidentally, I tried to see whehter that comic was still online. I’d forgotten that it was on MySpace. Oh, man … the nostalgia.)
However, I think that, by and large, the winners have all been very good.
Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher was one of the webcomics that made a splash among readers before it attracted award attention (a Joe Shuster Award in 2010, an Eisner Award nomination in 2010, and a very deserved Eisner win in 2011). What made The Abominable Charles Christopher stand out from the pack?
For starters, it has a very appealing title character. Charles Christopher is a Sasquatch with bug eyes, a bushy mustache and a tubby belly. He looks like a big ape with a haystack for a head. He also has the personality of a little child, and can often be seen sucking on a pacifier like a baby. He doesn’t talk, which makes him a bit of an enigma to both man and beasts. (“He’s an idiot,” observes one particularly surly owl.)
The big guy is committed to protecting small, helpless creatures. The death of any animal affects Charles severely, driving him to tears. Like a certain big green superhero, sometimes he protects other animals through smashing, which makes him seem like a monster to those who don’t understand.
Also appealing about The Abominable Charles Christopher is Kerschl’s great illustrations of animals. Birds, rabbits, lions and bears are all rendered in loving detail. They’re all faithful to how they actually look, as if they were the kind of drawings you’d find in old encyclopedias. But they’re also quite expressive and animated, full of subtle touches to body language that bring them to life.
The Abominable Charles Christopher can be read as a short-form comic, with plenty of gags about animals that act like they’re just folks in modern society — checking to see if their armpits smell or acting in a theatrical production (in a reference to Rene Engström’s webcomic Anders Loves Maria, of all things). There is an overall narrative to the story, however. It’s a fairly sobering and slightly fatalistic adventure about the encroachment of civilization and the unavoidable subjugation of the animal kingdom (which is driven home in the humorless Vivol & Moon Bear segments).
Time is inexact in The Abominable Charles Christopher. Early in the comic, the big guy encounters modern-looking bear traps and hunting rifles. The Vivol & Moon Bear segments also seem to take place in a circus that must have existed at some point in the last century. There must’ve been some time travel involved, though, because eventually we discover that a supernatural entity has commanded him to seek out the king in a nearby city.
Big spoilers ahead for those who haven’t read it yet, so turn back if you don’t want the surprise to be ruined.
So, who’s the king? As it turns out, it’s Gilgamesh. That’s right, Charles Christopher is likely Enkidu, Gilgamesh’s monster companion. This permanently masked Gilgamesh is less the mighty warrior of legend and more a kid playing dress-up.
Charles knows what will happen to the animal world once humans grow beyond their boundaries. He barely lifts a finger to save Gilgamesh when he’s in trouble, and he willingly leads him to his doom on the command of a ghost lion. To the animals, Gilgamesh is Hitler, and Charles has likely gone back in time to kill him. Charles, though, may be doing a bad thing, because the ghost lion has goals that go beyond what his simple mind can comprehend.
Overall, The Abominable Charles Christopher is probably my favorite webcomic to ever win the Eisner. It’s Bambi, Dumbo and Princess Mononoke rolled together with a goofy-looking lead who looks like he was born to be a plushie.