Wednesday, January 16, 2008

WWWednesday: Alpha Monkey

WWWednesday: Alpha Monkey
by Howard Shum, Barry Presh, Matteo Scalera, Oscar Celestini

Every Wednesday, A Comic A Day boldly diverts from the printed page to read and review a different webcomic, examining at least its first, previous, and current installments. If you have a webcomic you'd like A Comic A Day to review, please e-mail me with a link to and a synopsis of your work. Put "Review my webcomic!" in the subject line so I don't mistake your request for spam . . . unless your comic is really called "A Gift from the Prince of Nigeria," in which case, tell me more!

Sometimes I'll look up a writer or an artist after I've reviewed their comic book to see if I'd be interested in their other works. When I did so for Howard Shum, writer/inker of Fat Boy and Harvey #1, which I reviewed a few days ago, I discovered that the sketches on the back cover of that very issue, featuring a character design for Alpha Monkey that I liked but wrote off as space filler, have evolved into a web-based comic strip. The concept for Shum's strip isn't hard to derive from those few, simple sketches, depicting a boy flying in a makeshift superhero suit, then wearing a monkey mask in plainclothes; obviously, this kid lives among monkeys that mistake his humanity for super powers, right?

Close. "Hitch" is an egotistical elementary school student stranded in Ookopolis that has acquired special powers by eating local bananas, an amusing twist on the whole Superman/yellow sun shtick. In this introductory, eight page strip, Hitch is picked on Peter Parker style until the Alpha Monkey alert flare summons him to fight an interdimensional cheese monster, despite General Grawl's protests. Yet, apparently, if Hitch continues to protect the city against these occasional oversized threats, scientists will help him get home . . . which makes one wonder how the scientists know the threats would be over in the first place. "You did it, Alpha Monkey! Good-bye! Oh, crap, is that a giant ear wax monster? Get Alpha Monkey back here . . ."

Unfortunately, as an inaugural effort, Alpha Monkey doesn't actually battle the cheese monster yet, and the reader is left with a gooey cliffhanger. I've briefly surfed the Zuda Comics website to learn that its contributors are in competition, presumably to win a chance to continue their strip. I could be wrong, but I find myself disappointed at the fleeting thought that Zuda's parent company DC Comics would've actually offered a no-strings opportunity to post original artwork. No, I'm not embittered by the industry's ever-narrowing submissions process in the face of news-making authors and celebrities often, yet vaguely contributing to the medium. I'm just wondering why the portal isn't wide open. DC could still winnow the amateurish strips out, leaving developing artists to their respective blogs until their reach full potential, but the competitive angle cheapens "the comic strip" as "viable art," in my opinion.

Perhaps I'm misinterpreting their intentions. Perhaps their using the word competition as an all-encompassing term to summarize an artist's attempt to connect with their audience. Obviously, every artist cannot connection with everyone. In that sense, all art is a competitive pursuit of self-expression for social acceptance. Still, I'm pretty sure it's just a feeble attempt to keep their hit counter flipping.

Alpha Monkey is an asset to Zuda either way. Its crisp, colorful art is like a still life cartoon, with plenty of moments of visual humor and childish grossness to appeal to a younger audience, yet still retaining the fantastic formulaic nature of comics to keep the older audience interested. This first strip's plot isn't particularly original, as I referenced both classic Superman and Spider-man paradigms to help you understand it, but it has the unsurpassed "monkey factor" which is a surefire attention-grabber by contemporary pop culture's standards, and it boasts snappy dialogue and rapid pacing. Shum mentioned in a supplemental comment that Alpha Monkey's future lies in animation; if that doesn't work, I think weekly syndication in a newspaper's comics section would add a fresh, youthful angle to the dusty old halls of Doonesbury and Ziggy.

Aw, geez. Don't get me wrong; I like Doonesbury, Ziggy, and mostly any ongoing Sunday funnies series, but you cannot deny the tenacity of those old standards. Most of those strips aren't for kids anymore, anyway. Dilbert and Foxtrot's biting sarcasm flies over many kids' heads, but the likes of Alpha Monkey fighting a booger monster? Cutting edge for the eight-year-old set.

Yes, I know I'm terribly behind the times with this on-line comics thing. Fortunately, thanks to Shum, and Von Allan last week, my attempt to review a webcomic once a week has unlocked a few key websites in times of such cyber-need. (Wait until you see what else a confessed geek like me hasn't read!) Man, just look at GirlAMatic, Zuda Comics, the growing maw that is ComicSpace . . . and for every proverbial back issue bin like these, hundreds of fledgling artists are posting directly to their own site, hoping to bring in Zuda's numbers, I'm sure. A competition? Yes, I guess it is. Who will be the alpha monkey?

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