'Skadi': barbarians at the table

Last year pretty good year for Katie Rice, who won Penny Arcade's Strip Search reality show competition. Her all-ages webcomic Camp Weedonwantcha, which follows a bunch of big-headed scamps as they try to survive the perils of camp living, appears in a prominent location on the Penny Arcade website, next to the highly trafficked main comics. Rice was one of the most experienced members in the contestant pool, having worked in animation doing design and storyboards, and her well-honed artistic skills definitely show.

In addition, she already had some experience in creating a webcomic. I first came across Skadi many years back. Developed with the aid of fellow artist Luke Cormican, it was (and still is) hosted at webcomic collective site Dumm Comics. Along with 1930 Nightmare Theatre and Big Pants Mouse, Skadi had given the site a strong old-school stylistic presence ... namely through John Kricfalusi-style visual cues.

No surprise there, as Spümcø was one of Rice's employers. As a result, the title character looks and moves like she's made out of Silly Putty. When she gets punched, it's like seeing someone's fist disappear in a ball of kneaded dough. When Skadi gets bitten, part of her disappears in a big cartoony bite mark. It's the back-to-basics school of cartooning: Exaggerated expressions are encouraged, and the often-rigid styles of anime and DreamWorks movies are verboten. The language of cartoons is the visual medium, and to restrict yourself to the limitations of form is to handicap your vocabulary. Cartoons are supposed to be slightly discomforting, and in that discomfort is comedy born.

Skadi is a barbarian comedy, a tiny subgenre that has surprisingly garnered a disproportionate amount of critical acclaim. Think about it: It includes the likes of Sergio Aragones' Groo the Wanderer,  David Sims' Cerebus, and fellow webcomics American Barbarian and Battlepug. It's like there's some residual Robert Howard magic rubbing off on everyone. Not to mention that humorless tales of sweaty, monosyllabic, shirtless warriors isn't already one step away from full-blown comedy.

Skadi is a flighty 19-year-old girl who's on a religious quest to eat every kind of meat before she dies. Not quite "To crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentation of their women," but no less noble. Like most barbarian heroes, Skadi is dressed in the bare minimum of clothing; it's quite revealing, but Rice continually points out that, in Skadi's world, she's not considered to be very sexy. A recurring joke is that Skadi has no boobs and possesses a smelly derriere. She's aided on her journey by Diseasoid, a furry little creatures who's both cute and disgusting and who often has horrible things happen to him.

Although she's no beauty, Skadi is built for one thing: bloody mayhem. There's probably a plot in there somewhere. Skadi makes friends and enemies --- actually, just enemies --- and she journeys the land and butchers both man and beasts with a maniacal glee. But in the end, those don't matter. What matters is seeing Skadi do what she does best, and what she does is ... pretty funny when rendered in a crazy cartoon style.

Besides, Skadi includes a couple of parodies guaranteed to transport you back into your own barbarian past, i.e. childhood. The first is a Choose Your Own Adventure homage, where readers voted on what would happen to our rugged barbarian heroine. The second is a parody of dentist-office staple Highlights magazine, which squeezes in everything from a "Goofus and Gallant" lookalikes to a rebus story with Skadi and Diseasoid's heads rendered as word symbols.

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