The Webcomic Overlook #46: Sequential Art

Catgirls: hot or not?

Most anthropomorphic creations look too inhuman to be sexy. I suppose I have a certain amount of … well, respect isn’t the right word. Astonishment? Disbelief? … for afficianados who can look at a curious amalgamation of female body parts and snouts, jowls, or beaks and find it attractive. Yet, I’ll make an exception to catgirls. Not all catgirls, mind. Generally, the fewer overt feline cues, the better. Anything with whiskers is a tota turn-off, and if the catgirl starts lapping a bowl of milk or playing with a ball of yarn, then I’m calling the cab and going home. Most renditions, though, barely look like cats at all. Rather, they look like humans with round faces, pointy ears, and button noses, and you can totally ignore that last one if you imagine that it’s actually a stylized rendition of a human nose.

The Japanese obsession with catgirls is well-documented. It’s like you can’t watch an anime series without at least one character showing up with a mournful “Nyoron~!” (For the advanced course, Theoretics of Catgirls II (CAT201), we will be studying whether or not Japan’s low percentage of cat ownership suppresses deep-seated affection that translates into a nationwide obsession with catgirls.) While you may be tempted to poke an laugh at Japan and snobbishly claim moral superiority, I should point out that we in the West are not above expressing cat love. Batman’s ladyfriend is the most famous example. Rival Marvel sports several from Black Cat to Tigra, but X-Men magna cum laude Chris Claremont came closest to developing the anthropomorphic furry ideal with Hepzibah of the Starjammers*. Cleo from Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, Jenny from Bucky O’Hare, Felicia from Darkstalkers … they’re all pretty cool. If you wanted to take your obsession to unspeakable depths, there’s Omaha the Cat Dancer. A certain saucy minx has also captured the imaginations of the typically snippy Comics Curmudgeon readers even inspiring more than a few to wear a fairly questionable shirt that portrays Cassandra Cat in a bikini. (Not that I’m one to talk: behold my own Cass-inspired YouTube video scored to Steve Ibsen’s “Kitty Cat Dance.”)

So why does the central relationship between the human Art and the catgirl Kat Vance feel so very, very wrong? That’s just one of many questions I tackle in today’s review of Phillip M. Jackson’s webcomic, Sequential Art.

It may be because Art, the main character, is obviously a self-insert of the author. This is an opinion, not a definitive statement, by the way, and it may turn out to be baseless. After all, Sequential Art does include a character by the name of “Phillip H. Jackson.” Sequential Phil, however, is a tiny hamster who rides around in a woman’s bosom. (How does this work out, anyway, when every other species is depicted to be human size?) Art, on the other hand, is a harried graphics designer who crashes on the couch and plays video games at home. I suspect Real World Phil might have more experience with the latter … though more power to him if he turns out to be the former.

At the beginning, Art shares a house with two roommates: Pip, a pervy penguin (really, is there any other kind) with an MMORPG obsession, and Kat Vance, a cheery cat with a drinking problem who also likes to play console games. As strange as it may seem, initially I assumed that these characters only existed in Art’s mind. Perhaps he did own a cat and a penguin, and he projected his personality and emotional needs onto his pets. How else to explain how his animal roommates all have the same core obsessions, crashing on the the couch and wasting their days away playing video games? It would be something akin to Garfield, if only Jon imagined his cat to have a body that would look cute in a swimsuit instead of an obese, lasagna-eating slob. Unless you subsribe to the theory that Garfield‘s played straight and Jon and Garfield communicate telepathically … which is just plain ridiculous.

Alas, I was wrong: Sequential Art takes place in a world where anthropomorphic types walk among humans like any other race. We don’t see many of them beyond Pip and Kat — the Sequential-verse being predominantly homo sapien — but they are there. They go to high school re-unions and hold down jobs, just like humans. Which actually puzzles me why the police don’t believe Art when he reports that a naked squirrel girl, a vagrant named Scarlet, has broken into his house through the attic. Wouldn’t that be the equivalent of a dangerous, drug-crazed lunatic who’s getting high on something other than life?

Disturbingly, not only do animals live among the humans, they’re also the height of sex appeal. Nothing brings the boys to the yard like a hair-pulling catfight between a cat-faced lady and a bunny-faced lady. Adding to the head-scratching factor: we see many moments where human guys are drooling over animal types, yet very few instances when the opposite is true — despite the fact that Jackson draws an attractive human female. The only one going ga-ga over the human girls is, unsurprisingly, the penguin. Is there some sort of “forbidden fruit” aspect to inter-species ogling?

Which brings me to why I find the whole Art-Kat relationship to be a little bizarre. They’re on a fairly slow, innocuous trajectory: a naughty fantasy here, a highly appreciated glomp there, sprinkled with some compromising positions, stolen glances, and grateful kisses. It’s like sexual tension, only without much sex and definitely zero tension. But then I imagine where Jackson’s going to take this, what he’s going to do to take the relationship further … creepy. Relationships where everyone’s an anthropomorphic character, I can handle. But a relationship between a cat and human who happens to represent the author? The mind boggles. It doesn’t derail Sequential Art, even if I couldn’t fully shake the feeling that I was reading a comic that was basically an all too revealing peek into the author’s fantasy life.

Jackson seems to be inspired by Frank Cho. In fact, the man himself makes an appearance in simian form as “Funk Cho,” an afro’ed cartoonist who Art idolizes. Cho, by the way, is aware of Sequential Art‘s existence. When you think about it, Sequential Art takes many of its stylistic cues Cho’s Liberty Meadows. Meadows features a human veterinarian and psychologist venturing into the rustic world of animals; Sequential sees its animal characters immersed in urban lifestyle and geek culture. Cho references comic book cohabitants from Calvin & Hobbes to Cathy; Jackson does the same, and throws in some webcomic legends for good measure. In Cho’s strip, the main object of va-va-voom is the buxom, realistically proportioned lass named Brandy; Jackson also loves the female form and endows his ladies, no matter what the species, with lovely lady lumps.

The jokes are very hit or miss, with a strong percentage landing on the latter side. Art is a videogame player and an unrepentant geek, taking a trip down to a comic book convention in one story arc. While I’m thankful he doesn’t dwell on tired video references like every other webcomic out there, what he’s left with are the scrubbed clean, ultra-generic gags that populate the last few pages of the “Arts & Life” section in your local newspaper. A good majority of them are about how pervy all the guys are. Art is washing himself with a platypus! Hilarious! It’s funny because he thought it was soap. There’s also a good amount of juvenile jokes that boil down to, “Men… bless their pervy little hearts,” which lead me to believe that Jackson’s been watching a little too much anime.

And then there are the puns. Good Lord, the puns. This site subscribes to the belief that puns are indeed the lowest form of humor. (With “Yo Momma” jokes being the highest form, naturally.) I can never understand why a mainstream comic like Foxtrot could get away with using the real names, and everyone else had to dance around like some sort of copyright ruling would bite them in the butt at any second. Far Trek? LorCraft!?! Sean Connolly?!?!?! Just USE THE REAL NAME, ALREADY!

But you know, sometimes Jackson gets it right. Scarlet, who is hands down the most irritating character in the entire comic, did shine for one brief moment in a simple, understated strip. And yet, this couldn’t have been possible if Jackson hadn’t done a good job in developing his characters. The only one I felt was underdeveloped was, oddly enough, Kat Vance, who falls into the bland, overused, and ill-defined “drunk party girl with a heart of gold” stereotype. Scarlet is a stereotype, too: the hyperactive idiot savant. Jackson knows this character inside out, though, and in turn he effectively communicates her personality to the reader. Thus, we know, even if we’re given no clues other than the manic glint in her eyes, that something’s up.

Additionally, I have great admiration for Jackson’s character designs. Hilary, Kat’s venomous rival, balances a fine artistic line. Defined by an elongated nose, she manages to look both like a rabbit and a stuck-up yet physically exquisite high-society girl. The simpler Jackson draws, the more distinct his character look. Pip is such a simple design — a tube with glasses and a single strand of feather — yet he sports a unique look and feels very squat and solid.

My favorite character design is one that may or may not have been created from a doodle. Jack, the series’ main villain, is barely more than a stick figure … or less, if you consider that he rarely is depicted with arms or legs. Okay, so he looks like he came straight of out Invader Zim; I say he more than holds his own as Sequential Art‘s website avatar. Most of the time, he cackles and wields weapons of mass destruction, yet the design itself is very versatile. When he shows up, you know it’s good times.

Jack is also the central character for most of Sequential Art‘s mythology stories, long stretches where the webcomic attempts to be more than a mere roommate comic and tries for something that’s both epic and light-hearted. In last year’s senses-shattering installment, Jack steals a working ray guy and causes untold mayhem and property damage. I’m usually wary of these sort of dramatic story developments. They tend to derail a series, and the results are less appealing or endearing than when the comic was just throwing around gags (e.g., Jeff Smith’s Bone, Dave Willis’ Shortpacked!, and, to a smaller extent, Adult Swim’s The Venture Brothers). However, I have to say that Jackson seems more comfortable when he’s following a long narrative than when he’s trying to spin one-off jokes. Besides, the latest story birthed some of my favorite visuals: an army of mindless Jack clones, single-minded in their obsession to help people. See what I mean by a versatile design?

As long as Jackson doesn’t delve too deeply into his Sequential Art mythology, I think he’ll do just fine. Despite my whiny complaints, I happen to think Sequential Art is a very breezy read. It’s over 400 strips long, yet it goes down easily. And who knows? Maybe Art will overcome his cat fetish and go after Kat’s lovely boss. One can only hope, my friends… one can only hope.

Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)

* Through extensive, Wikipedia-powered research, The Webcomic Overlook has discovered that Hepzibah is actually part cat, part skunk … though that last portion has been de-emphasized in recent years. The Webcomic Overlook was also surprised to learn that the Chris Claremont-created Hepzibah was also a tribute to a skunk femme fatale from Walt Kelley’s Pogo. Such an honorable pedigree for so minor a character!

About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on June 23, 2008, in 3 Stars, comedy webcomic, furry webcomic, Furry Week, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 26 Comments.

  1. Wow! Was that ever a bad review. Reads like a desperate attempt to find something wrong with the comic. Lots of concern about the possibility of human-anthro misbehaviour (which isn’t really a concern of this rather sweet comic), complaints that the humour is weak (when the comic actually is a very feel-good one, with a lot of character-based humour).

    Sequential Art is a complex carbohydrate – you read it, you digest it in your own time, and you feel better for it. I get the impression this reviewer wants an instant sugar-high. Sequential Art is a great little comic, followed by many who love its characters.

    And it’s damn funny, too.

  2. Thanks for the input, Penny! I’ll keep that in mind when I write my next review. It won’t be worth it to say so, but I wasn’t reaching to find reasons to bad-mouth the comic. I call them as I saw them. I get kinda long-winded, though, because I try to leave enough lee-way for readers to this review to make a decision for themselves if they’re right or not.

    Anyway, I’m genuinely appreciative for comments like yours. I never claim that my reviews are ever right on the money. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Jack (or Shadow Jack as I call him) is also a personification of the artist’s dark side. I think it’s a pretty good review. I’m compairing it to Spooney’s rants so I’m not being very harsh. A lot of the strip’s regular readers are like me, sick of reality. Furry’s are pretty emblematic of fantasy. In a recent strip Scarlet excaped from an incinerator by activating the emergency venting protocall. Fire was all around her but never touced her. I would be interested to know how many strips you have given 4 or 5 stars. Probably not many.
    In summation, any attention is good, and your review is well written.
    Could you write a review of Fuzzy Knights?

  4. I can vouch for El Santo’s “call them as I see them” attitude, as I have read his reviews and enjoyed them on “Comic Fencing” as well, before he went on a sabbatical of sorts.

    That’s the nice thing about opinions – we all have them and they are allowed to differ. At least he took the attitude of allowing people to make up their own minds instead of the “And if you disagree with me you OBVIOUSLY are stupid” viewpoint so many people do.

    Never read the comic, personally, but you tweaked my interest, El Santo.

  5. Well, GG, my 4 & 5 star reviews are below (and check out the archive sometime):

    4 star reviews

    5 star reviews

    There are actually a lot of them. 4 and 5 star comics are 52% of my reviews. Not that I consider a comic with a 3 star review to be bad, mind you. I define those kinds of comics as okay, but I usually don’t go out of my way to reading them again.

    Also, I’d normally love to check out new comics, but I’m sorta gearing down from blogging for personal reasons (hectic RL and all that).

  6. Well, thank you, the Doctor!

    *cocks fingers like guns and points at The Doctor all cool like*

  7. Please, please – call me Doctor ๐Ÿ˜‰

  8. about the humour…this is british after all…and everyone knows british humour is an acuired taste

  9. The artwork in Sequintial Art is so much better than most comics that any shortcomings in story can easily be overlooked; though I personally see none
    of what you decribe in your review at all. It is a great web comic, superply drawn with entertaining stories that can take you away from the real world for a momnet each day.

  10. I don’t know, Petrino. The humor never struck me as particularly British. At least, while I was reading it, I understood the characters to have an American accent. (As opposed to when I read Gunnerkrigg Court or Scary Go Round, where the cadence, pacing, and humor is distinctly British.) Of course, given that Americans are typically more Puritan than our cousins across the pond, maybe you do have a point when it comes to some of the flirtier jokes.

    l4m3r: I agree with you about the artwork. It’s very easy on the eyes.

  11. Jackson dose do good art, but he’s not a good artist. He’s caused a lot of drama in the furry fandom. Though he’s caused a lot less than Naylor.

    • Very true. I love the linework and the overall cartoon style but the guy knows very little on actual human anatomy and it shows, he’d have a hard time doing anything but his cartoony style.

  12. Nick: If that’s true, that’s kinda strange, I think. Most of “Sequential Art” is pretty inoffensive, isn’t it? I could rattle off ten or twenty furry comics that would be more worthy of drama.

  13. I recently read S.A. and thought it was okay. Nothing special, but ok. The one beef I have with this review is the whole “Just USE THE REAL NAME, ALREADY!” bit.

    I’m pretty sure they’re called spoofs.

    • You’re probably right. I guess I’m a little too comfortable with how webcomics these days are not very shy about using actual copyrighted names. The puns, to me, seemed needlessly cutesy.

  14. You know, you bring up some good points, such as Kat seeming undeveloped. But the overall theme of the comic seems intent to provide a break from daily life; just a thing to relax. But it’s a well written review, even If I disagreed with a lot of it.

  15. I’m biased toward this comic because of how Jackson’s distinct style stands out to me. I’m not a big fan of his more “pin-up” related work, but just about everything else makes the artist in me giddy and hungry for more. It’s not the best or most detailed work, I couldn’t begin to point out flaws that my obsessive mind could find when put to the task, but it’s more the originality of the style itself. I should also mention that it is obviously meant to be more “cartoony” than realistic.

    I do credit you for this review and won’t let my own bias look to find faults in your methods. I do think you went a little too far into the idea of “furry” relationships than was necessary, the anthropomorphic aspect seemed more due to his style than anything else. The whole cast could have been human and it would not have been all that different, but his style of drawing anthropomorphic characters seemed almost a necessity to the comic, as was mentioned before, making it obviously unrealistic.

  16. I think you read waaaaay too much into what is a comic strip of gentle humour and laid back characters.
    Who cares if Kat is a cat, or just a girl who has all the feline grace and characteristics of one?
    Similarly Scarlet, is she anthropomorphised squirrel cute and ditzy yet smart enough to defeat any attempt to prevent raiding bird feeders ?( a British phenomenon maybe, we design obstacle courses for them) or just a cute curvy ditzy female ?
    Kat’s great enemy is obviously a bleached blonde, silicone enhanced, front door key playboy mansion, bitch, *Playboy Bunny * ๐Ÿ™„
    Pip though ?…….well you’re on your own with him ๐Ÿ˜‰

    On the whole I reckon the cast behave like a flat load of laid back twenty somethings. Mayhem, magic and mischief, chillin’ out on the sofa with a carryout, pizza, and the games consuls. The artwork flows, the storyline meanders along, it keeps folk looking. It’s a cartoon strip and it works ๐Ÿ™‚

    p.s. found your review while surfing looking for more of PMJ’s work.

  17. I really don’t have much to say seeing as how the others already said what needed to said (redundant), and you’ve proabibly improved since then, except that the whole weird thing about human males going for anthro females and the whole Kat & Art thing:

    Well…this is by a guy who also does pin-up drawings of anthros. HOWEVER, at least he also draws BOTH anthro and human; you’ll never find any other anthro artist doing that or else they’ll “BAAAWWWW” about it.

    Anyways, I’ve read some bit of the comic around 2008. So for curiosities sake, I plan on continuing reading this series.

  18. You know, I read this review a few weeks ago, and I still can’t get the word “Nyoron” out of my head. Thanks a lot, I guess.

    “It would be something akin to Garfield, if only Jon imagined his cat to have a body that would look cute in a swimsuit instead of an obese, lasagna-eating slob.”

    This reminds me. A while ago, on a website that shall remain… anonymous, I saw a piece of art which featured Kat and Garfield *ahem* ‘interacting’. Make of that what you will.

    • DO … NOT … WANT!

      • Are you absolutely positive you don’t need it for further research into the catgirl phenomenon? Just think of the scientific merit you could garner. They’ll give you medals, parades in your honor. Schools will be named after you.

        • I think, thanks to our little discussion, “sequential art kat vance nude” has now appeared as one of the search terms leading people to this site. Hmmm….

  19. Chris Claremont is a Very Good Writer; but i suspect that at least some of Hepzibah’s appeal is the art – can’t recall, was it Byrne?

    A touch of further info on the Pogo character – Miss Ma’mselle Hepzibah was, indeed a skunk – the love interest of several of the strip’s male characters, (Considering that the available alternatives were Miz Beaver and Miss Sis Boombah, not surprising.) She was “French”, her white chest fur drawn to resemble a ruffly, lacy jabot.

    There was a memorable sequence in which Howland Owl and Churchy LaFemme (the turtle) made themselves obnoxious and Houn’ Dog called them a cad and a boor; the final strip of the arc had Owl saying “That is one cad and one boor and they is two of us. Which is the cad and which is the boor?”

    Houn’ Dog turns to go, muttering “Divide it up amongst yourselves…”

  20. I was able to fknd good information from yohr blog posts.

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