What Did I Learn?

precocious-colorPrecocious is a comic by Christopher Paulsen which features anthropomorphic characters. This can be problematic for some readers. It doesn’t usually bother me although I can understand how humanized animals might fight against that suspension of disbelief thing we do with stories. Anthropomorphic characters really do need to be handled deftly whether it is talking animals or animated toasters.

Precocious is self described as a comic strip revolving around four children who might just be a tad too smart for their own good. When I read that, I was not sure what story potential would show itself. It was easy to imagine a comic about attitude laden kids and complex story machinations that serve to push the artist’s opinions on readers.

The children go to an elite school and live in elite neighborhoods that surround Lake Sapphire and really only hang out with the other elite kids. They are quite accomplished with some fairly refined skills yet they are still kids. When you’re of adult age (or supposed to be) it can be very easy to make child characters act like little adults. These kids have better vocabulary and more complicated motives than what is typical but they are clearly kids. They are very competitive and a bit on the elite side but you find yourself siding with them anyway. They are indeed Precocious.

The storylines center on the kids amusingly trying to one-up each other with a little undercurrent of class struggle and other intellectual concepts that get snuck in from time to time. These are other things that need to be handled skillfully unless you’re trying to stir up debate and polarize people. The things mentioned were done so believably and casually – I have no idea how many of them I missed before I caught on about two thirds of the way through the archive.

When you read a comic’s entire archive in a short span, you can appreciate the little adjustments the artist makes as the comic matures. The initial lines were less confident and more haphazard but the style has progressed nicely without losing the spontaneous line. And about here we start to see a little color added in, which helped me keep the characters separate in my head much easier.

The blue backgrounds are a little saturated and come off a little strong compared to the foreground but the rest are just fine. I wondered why the blue struck me that way and not the other colors but I suppose the blues are simply brighter – the others come across as more subdued and more fitting for the comic’s subtle side. Here is a lineup where you can see that most of the colors are unsaturated hues and none of them detract from the scene. And here is another comic that has softer hues. Sometimes I can be a little nitpick crazy about little things like that but the artist made the adjustment for himself so maybe I wasn’t as delusional as I suspect.

That last Precocious comic was a Sunday style comic which allows for a bit more buildup than the regular four panel strips. I like that change of pace. Notably, the regular updates had shifted back to black and white in the beginning of 2009. I happen to prefer the color versions but there are usually good reasons for changes like that.

Other things to note…I liked the song ‘covers’ – they were well done and pulled some of that good juxtapose humor out of both the situation and song lyrics. Also, if you mouse over each comic, a little tooltip appears with some comment on the strip’s events or a message from the artist. I can sense the smirk on the artist’s face on the very first one, can’t you? I also like how the archives are split into the Precocious Pilot Episode, an Introduction and the official start. That’s much more entertaining than seeing a long list of 271 titles broken up into months.

I was just reading some comic creation tips (from another site that I’ll point you all to sometime soon) where they suggested that you should probably avoid having more than five characters in a comic cast. You’ll never get to show them all and get any interesting depth out of them but Paulsen managed to show the interactions of eight parents plus four kids in that Introduction storyline. They all had clear character, dialog and unique looks while still obviously being couples and the logical parents of each child. Oh and it was entertaining too. Had I not just been told that this was a practical impossibility, I might have simply accepted it as a fun party storyline. Now I have to end this review with something like a whispered ‘Flawless Victory‘ or a Shatneresque “Veni Vedi Vici” in order to show how impressive I find it.

What Did I Learn?

I’ve been considering the use of spot colors and I like how Precocious is done with this technique. This also gave me a chance to consider how much anthro elements I think should be allowed to influence a comic – which is a function of the desired themes, tone and humor. Sometimes it will work all out, other times it needs to be limited and in others it should not be there at all, in my opinion. Happily, Precocious had no troubles with this at all and you should probably go read it for yourself.



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