Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
Mash-ups are pretty easy to come by in the Internet Age. Flash as a Ingmar Bergman movie? Of course that exists. Hello Kitty as Darth Vader? Hello, new cosplay idea. Optimus Prime as a My Little Pony? I’m … I’m pretty sure that’s an official IDW thing. Everything’s a mash-up these days. In fact, you might be a bit sick of it. If I mention, for example, the phrase “Charlie Brown in a post-apocalyptic future,” you cannot be blamed for rolling your eyes so hard that your pupils disappear into your hear, resembling the blank ovals of Li’l Orphan Annie.
But what if I were to tell you it was also rather good? Jason Yungbluth’s Weapon Brown was something of a hit among the snarkier fans of comics strips, i.e. those of the Comics Curmudgeon variety. You know, the kind who enjoy taking a bite out of obsolete zombie comics that populate the funny pages, but deep down have a strong affection for them and an appreciation for the hard-working creators who made them. The comic was originally serialized at whatisdeepfried.com. After “one of the most successful comic book Kickstarter campaigns of 2013,” Weapon Brown was collected into paperback and hardcover earlier this year. On Aug. 13, Yungbluth will be on hand at Forbidden Planet in New York City to sign copies of his book.
A huge part of Weapon Brown‘s appeal is the design of the main character: Brown is a big, bald, lantern-jawed fellow with a curly wisp of hair and a familiar yellow shirt with a single jagged stripe. He also has a robotic arm. He acts and behaves more like a character from Sin City than the eternal pessimist who gets the football pulled out from under him. (Several scenes, in fact, hark back to the heavy inks and dark shadows of a Frank Miller noir comic.) There are just enough touches, though, to make him completely recognizable as the ol’ blockhead. He travels with a dog named Snoop, and he wages war against the diabolical Van Pelt. The familiar elements of the Peanuts gallery, which have wormed into our collective memories whether we know it or not, are all given adult, horror-show twists.
That trend continues with “Blockhead’s War,” which expanded the scope of Weapon Brown beyond the Charles Schulz trappings. From the beginning, the story teased a clash of the two titans of comic strips: Weapon Brown versus CAL, a grown man in a red-and-black striped shirt with a toy tiger. (Three guesses who this is supposed to be.) Through its cornucopia of comic-strip parodies, the storyline is both an action-packed tale of survival and a celebration of the history of the funny pages.
Brown finds allies among a certain spinach-guzzling sailor man and a grown-up version of the kid on Boondocks to wage war against The Syndicate … whose boss, shall we say, is incredibly pointy-haired. It’s a tour-de-force of parodies, with Yungbluth going all the way back to The Yellow Kid. He also includes relatively modern strips such as Oh, Brother! (which, sadly, only lasted a year). “Where’s Garfield?” I remember anticipating when the strip was originally online. Well, I won’t spoil it, but the post-apocalyptic version of Garfield does not disappoint.
Then there’s art. There’s enough there to remind you of the silliness. Yungbluth is a contributor to MAD, and Weapon Brown does feel like something you’d find in it. The bug-eyed, cartoony reaction shots keep the comic from getting too dour. However, he does a great job illustrating the action scenes as well. This may be all a big gag, but the haymakers and uppercuts are played with utmost seriousness. When the battle erupts, Yungbluth pulls no punches.
Which, when I think of it, is part of the gag. A smirking, mohawked warrior dressed like Calvin in a thrilling action sequence against a beefy cyborg dressed like Charlie Brown? That is somehow ridiculous, completely awesome, action-packed, and a loving tribute to comic strip cartoonists and their fans, all at the same time.