Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Zebra Girl

Well, since I generally like to let webcomic archives build up a while in between visits, it's been several years since I've revisited Zebra Girl. I must say I'm impressed with its progress. There are... several new pages.
No, really, by webcomic standards? At least it's not completely dead.

Zebra Girl's another interesting relic of a bygone age (fifteen years ago) when bandwidth was low and so were image quality standards and webcartooning at its best was still a half-assed endeavor by recently art-schooled (or not) computer-savvy young creators who couldn't quite believe they were getting away with this whole thing! The fourth wall was a frequent sacrifice to self-indulgence. Color was rare, but that's alright. Webcomics were after all still a counterculture feature and the counterculture was (to its credit, by my estimation) still dominated by the whole "goth" craze. Goths dream in black and white. Mostly black. Even though most good creators had little interest in writing yet another Crow rip-off, self-hatred, demonic forces underlying our world and a general sense of nihilism were the name of the game.

Enter Zebra Girl. It's like Kafka with stripes. One morning, after getting a magic book slammed shut in her face, Sandra Eastlake found herself in her living room transformed into a horrible vermin. Or demon. Whatever. I suppose if you're going to do a black and white comic, it pays to bank on black and white patterns, and Zandra's character design is admittedly one of the more inspired I've seen. It's rare you see a comic-book demon that's neither a red-skinned incredible hulk with horns nor a dominatrix. From the start, despite the clutter of ridiculous random gimmicks throughout the first chapters (flipping a panel upside down, the author drawing himself into the comic, etc.) Zebra Girl also displayed an obvious healthy reservoir of true creativity and depth.

Unfortunately, creativity's slippery. Let's keep in mind that nobody really likes to copy Kafka. It doesn't sell. "Kafkaesque" equals depressing - beautifully so, in the case of Sandra's growing unity with her verminous nature and its effect on those around her. Staying the course, allowing her to fall, would have set her story uniquely against the gaggle of cheaply redeemable antiheroes littering webcomics. Shunting her through the "world as myth" to meet storybook figures served little or no purpose. A rightful admiration for white rabbits notwithstanding, dreamscapes have been done to death and Sandra's journey of self-discovery has been looping back in much too familiar a cycle.

Still, if the overall character development seems to be shying away from what could have been much more powerful endings, the changing details and imagery of Zandra's newfound life remain consistently captivating. The prop that's a person, the stock characters who've had enough and are now transcending even the reversal of their original motifs, it's all adding up to something I at least have not seen before. Maybe it won't carry such a delightful gut-punch as its gothic middle portion would have suggested, but by the time Zebra Girl's ending comes about, it will likely still take a demonic enough shape not to disappoint.

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