What Did I Learn?
This week’s comic under review is the very appropriately named Urban Jungle by David Willborn. It is a gag comic which mostly covers cubicle humor but also has geek humor, tech humor, animal humor, pokes fun at comics and talks about issues and culture without being preachy. In many ways, the cast is a little overwhelmed by the world and is getting along as best they can.
The main character is a guy named Zach who does software development for a drug company. Zach is usually (but not always) the straight guy to everyone else’s extremes. Of course, everyone else is an animal. He’s got a pet dog who also doubles as a slacker roommate, a self centered duck friend, a snake for a supervisor and more.
All the characters have stereotypical elements which are balanced by their individual natures and their animal qualities. Everyone likes (and expects) talking animals in comics but it’s more than that in Urban Jungle. No character flaw or quality felt like an add-on or out of place as you read the comic. I keep wanting to assign that to the pleasant fact that you never know what facet of a given character (job, role or species) the punchline will come from.
That helps me enjoy it; but that’s not it. I didn’t have the urge to reading the next comic and try to predict the angle of the next joke. Urban Jungle works more from the humor of everyday life with the focus of ‘here’s my day and how I got through it’ but that’s not the sum of the story either. In the end, I have to conclude that every character is likable and they have depth.
Sure, some are by design annoying or selfish but they aren’t villains, either. Other characters are more relatable up front but they have their faults, too. Think about successful characters from your other favorite comics… You can relate to some part of them but other times you feel superior or inferior to them, too. They are comfortable but not without surprises.
I have to remind myself that not every character is meant to shine in the spotlight and not every character will resonate with every reader. But. It makes me wonder if less successful comic characters have an established and unchanging role with respect to the audience. Think of a comic that you don’t like and imagine your relation to that comic’s characters. Isn’t it that they are always the same but it’s not the character consistency that’s the problem? I recall writer interviews who said they wanted a Superman who wasn’t such a goody-goody and unending complaints about uninteresting characters in newspaper comics.
Perhaps some large percentage of readers in the population take comfort in that sameness of Garfield, Hagar and Dagwood, for instance. They enjoy that relationship. It also explains why they get so up in arms when a paper cancels what others find to be a dead-man-walking comic since that is a personal attachment that is being severed. This concept probably needs a bit more refinement but it speaks to how powerful comics can be for people. And their potential.
But we get off the topic at hand- namely Urban Jungle. Can we talk about the art? Specifically, let’s talk about the progression of the art.
It starts out with black and white line, which was used for the leading sample image. Letr comics add grey fades then color fades. Around this comic, we see a switch to a subtle fade and some blocky shadows. Later yet, the backgrounds gain more detail while and more general color is added, plus it becomes brighter overall.
Personally, I happen to prefer a hue contrasting color scheme as opposed to a more analagous one. I looked at them in grey tones in order to check my impression but the contrast was present so that wasn’t it. Perhaps it was the high contrast between fore and background that I like better. Other comics have a bright blue couch that clashes a bit for me – but I am probably over thinking it. If you are a fan of the comic already, you likely aren’t worried about it.
The latest comics also have slightly more developed contour lines with subtler colors, shadows and background details. I like the direction of the progression. The important thing is that Mr. Wilborn is obviously trying to improve.
Other details I liked included the drop shadow on the comic and title bar plus the minimal interface. My reading preferences are not necessarily what the ‘average’ reader wants but I think simple and direct works far better than anything else. And some things that happen in Urban Jungle are just fun.
What Did I Learn?
Thinking back on successful comics, I find that their characters were simple in most ways but had real depth in others. And they didn’t always have their depth on display. Plus, it’s nice to see gradual and tested progression in the visuals. As I read the archive of Urban Jungle, I could see how adding an element like shadows changed the feel of the comic and how that was tweaked over time and what affect it had on my impressions.