What Did I Learn?
Today’s comic under review is Frank & Steinway by Wil Panganiban. The first comic, for you purists who want to read it from start to present, can start here on GoComics. This comic does have vampires and such who were fired from their typical jobs of terror. Now they must find their way in the world which does not need their old skills.
While I typically don’t enjoy or review horror comics, I wanted to see if a gag treatment of the genre would read differently than the more dramatic forms. What would be done with the horror elements? Would this be more of a displaced worker comic with a Halloween twist or something else entirely? And as I read the comic, I also began to wonder what direction and assistance that GoComics may have provided along the way.
Since there is no dedicated About-This-Comic link* on the GoComics page, I miss-guessed at the names of the lead characters and was corrected here. The Frankenstein-esque character is Steinway, though in a twist, he seems the more intelligent of the two and works in a coffee shop. The high collared vampire is Frank whose stage name has been revoked and is more often seen eating cereal and lounging than anything else. I did like the Peanuts riff on Frank’s shirt – that was a nice touch.
Frank & Steinway have their trials and tribulations with being out of work and there are a few horror type gags like Steinway getting some beach time and a severe burn as a result. There are also other jokes like roommate gags and old workers gags, so nicely this is not a one trick comic. Frank moves in with Steinway and a short time later, we are introduced to their female neighbor Tamira. It does get a teensy bit racy but always maintains its family friendly rating. Other monsters and neighbors join them from time to time, each with their own problems and personalities. One of their fiercest antagonists they have is a seven year old girl scout, believe it or not.
Early on, the comics are 4 panel newspaper, black and white strips with Sunday style color strips and later all the comics are in color. I happened to like the strip better colored. Typically, the comic runs along with story arcs so there is something for those that prefer some continuity.
There are some rare and clever fourth wall breaks – maybe once every nine months or so. (I use the term fourth wall whenever the characters break story; whether they speak directly to the reader, refer to the fact that they are in a comic or do some visual gag involving the panel border lines.) Fourth wall breaks, as a rule, should be done sparingly and this comic does them right. (Sigh – as I typed that, it occurred to me that there are some kinds of comics that rule doesn’t apply to. There are no hard and fast rules to making good comics.)
There is also a pleasing variety of camera angles but they aren’t overdone or overused. As a matter of fact, it’s pretty interesting to see how Panganiban makes some things work in such a limited space – like this montage.
Just a word or two about the GoComics page layout… there is no dedicated section for information on this comic. What there is to be seen is a small sized version of the day’s comic, ads, a comment space and GoComics navigation. It’s interesting that the website has NO INFORMATION about any of their comics… with 58 million monthly page views and 2 million unique monthly visitors (in the UClick newtwork as claimed here,) I daresay that the most likely place for anyone to find and read ANY of GoComic’s comics is not in the newspaper – it’s on their website. Take into account that the bulk of those numbers come from Garfield, Doonesbury or Dear Abby’s section of the network… either the comics exist online to promote GoComics website by exploiting fans OR GoComics isn’t smart enough to include some infotaining text about EACH of their comics to help convince the casual reader to read further. There also doesn’t seem to be any easy way to get Frank & Steinway merchandise or collections. On the other hand, there is an about page for (http://www.garfield.com/about.html) plenty of information for Garfield, which is one of the last comics on Earth to actually NEED any introduction. (Mind you, the About-The-Comic part is ‘coming soon.’) My major issue with the lack of comic information is that the more varied the hooks there are to get readers, the more readers you will have over time even if the immediate impact is small. You can decide for yourself if the GoComics website has been any help to Frank and Steinway.
Perhaps GoComics doesn’t realize that readers do want to read new comics as well as older ones. Perhaps the Comics Sherpa section of GoComics could have a bit more work done to it and help both creators and GoComics to thrive. Just sayin’.
What Did I Learn?
These days, it’s rare for me to find a newspaper comic that I can enjoy. But there are a number of things I liked about Frank and Steinway. It’s a gag strip but it has story threads which serve as a loose springboard – they’re just strong enough to hold onto without railroading the comic. The comic also has a number of creative touches that one doesn’t always find in a newspaper style strip. This gives me some heart that it is possible to exceed expectations within traditional creative limitations.
* Some About information (and a video!) can be found on the comic’s Kickstarter page. At the bottom, the artist reveals the origin of the character’s names, should you be interested. There is also a link to an actual about page.