It’s another webcomic, handily collected in a fancy printed volume!
While I was at the Seattle con (and this is the final book I have to review from it, only two months late!), I stopped to speak to Sal Abbinanti, artist and creator of Atomika. While I was talking to him, Mario González stopped by to talk to Abbinanti, and he invited me to check out his booth, where he was selling copies of his trades collecting his webcomic, Wyliman. You can read it at the link there, but I refuse to bow down to the tyranny of the digital age! You can purchase this volume at the web site, where it will cost you a mere $13.99.
González decided to do a webcomic about a superhero … who has no superpowers. In the first strip, he introduces us to Wyliman (no one actually calls him by name throughout this volume, interestingly enough), who dresses in a silly costume but just lives his life. Why does he dress like a superhero? No man can say! He just does his thing, hanging out with his friend and roommate, Mackenn, having various misadventures that resemble a normal life … except, as the web site promises, it’s funny. But is it????
Well, yes, it is. For the most part. González keeps it relatively simple: Wyliman and Mackenn (who’s an anthropomorphic fox) hang out a lot, and somehow Wyliman gets a girlfriend, Natalia, who’s way out of his league, and the strip focuses on the three of them. Wyliman is often unemployed, and when he does get a job at “Buckstars,” he’s such a jerk that management loves him and promotes him after he’s ditched work for weeks at a time (this echoes a joke in one of the most underrated comedy classics of our generation, Eurotrip, but I’m going to assume González hasn’t seen that and that he came up with the joke on his own, and really, I just mentioned it in order to get a reference to Eurotrip into this post). Mackenn is the responsible one of the duo, and a lot of the humor comes from the fact that Wyliman just doesn’t care to better himself, which drives Mackenn crazy. A lot of humor also comes from the fact that Wyliman often acts like an idiot, which gets him in trouble with Natalia. The trouble is never too deep, but it’s enough to make things humorous. As hapless as Wyliman is, he’s a nice guy (if a bit flighty), so he never hurts Natalia emotionally – he gets in trouble more because he forgets to pick her up at the airport, for instance. González is never cruel-hearted in looking for a laugh.
The best strips in the book are when González goes “off-book,” so to speak – Wyliman and Mackenn occasionally break the fourth wall, and González himself appears in the book, usually as a punchline. In a nice little sequence, Wyliman gets sick of living inside of little boxes and he steps out onto González’s drawing table (although he and Mackenn can’t see that) and they discuss this existential crisis they’ve stumbled into. Obviously, breaking the fourth wall isn’t that original, but it’s usually interesting to see what the writer does with it, and González allows his characters to grow a bit during this experience. González also homages a lot of different cartoonists (always crediting them), which makes the strip a bizarre, twisted version of the comics pages themselves. It’s clever and different, and helps keep the strip fresh.
Only at the end do we get actual stories that continue for several pages (the strip always has subplots and occasionally we’ll get two or three strips devoted to a single plot point), and the strip feels a bit different for it. I’m of two minds about the longer stories. On the one hand, coming up with a single humorous idea for every strip has to be difficult, and even when he’s doing single strips, González often eschews a joke for some other point he wants to make, so doing the strips like a traditional newspaper strip is tough. On the other hand, the stories aren’t extremely compelling. The first is when the characters step outside the strip, which is a nice one. The second one is about the Day of the Dead, and it’s more informational than entertaining. The final one is about Mackenn chasing Wyliman across the town because he thinks his friend is in trouble, but there’s a twist at the end. It would work, actually, much better as a strip or two, because the pay-off isn’t worth the anticipation (which is probably the point). González does a nice job experimenting with the format – he doesn’t use borders on the pages, he uses a lot of intricate double-page spreads, and he tries some different things with his artwork – so I can’t complain too much about the stories, but I wish they were more interesting.
González’s artwork, however, is wonderful. Wyliman, as you can see, has just a circular head with no features other than giant eyes, a wide mouth, and eyebrows. González makes him wonderfully expressive, however, and reaction shots drive the book. Wyliman, Mackenn, and Natalia all have interesting appearances, and González does wonders with their body language. Several strips are wordless, which the occasional punctuation mark thrown in, yet González’s storytelling skills are so strong that we don’t need words. Wyliman has an active imagination, so González shifts easily from his world to the world of his imagination, illustrating his thoughts beautifully. As the strip moves along, he starts using a thicker line, which makes the flights of fancy more stirring and allows contrasts a lot more easily – he can use thin lines for effect, and he does so quite often. His cartoony style makes the characters much looser and dynamic, which is nice because they’re in motion so much (even Wyliman, who sits on the couch and watches TV too much, doesn’t sit still when he’s watching, because he’s too agitated). It’s a very nice style, and it fits the tone of the strip perfectly.
The only real problem I have with Wyliman is that González often feels too earnest. That’s just my cold, black heart talking, I know, but occasionally he forgoes a joke in order to teach a life lesson, and while I don’t have a huge problem with that, it makes some individual strips a bit more bland and more like an After School Special. González does want his characters to grow and learn, and that’s fine, but I do wish the lessons wouldn’t be so obvious that much. Wyliman and Natalia’s relationship is very nice because it feels like Wyliman is learning how to be a better guy through the romance, but it’s not too obvious. The Day of the Dead story, in fact, is weak partly because González introduces what feels like an artificial problem in the relationship just so they can talk about it. I get that Mackenn wants Wyliman to grow up, but the strips that address this blatantly are the weakest in the book. González is a fairly funny creator – he could figure out a way to have Wyliman (and even Mackenn) change while still making things humorous.
Obviously, you can read Wyliman for free at the web site, but if you want to kick González some money, go order a trade or two. Wyliman is a charming strip that relies on goofiness rather than cruelty for its humor, and it’s fun to read. Plus, it’s always nice to see a good romance in comics, and Wyliman and Natalia make a nice (if odd) couple. Naturally, as it’s free, I’d Recommend it, but even if it weren’t, I still would. It’s a nifty comic.
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