No Pink Ponies

Filed in Webcomic review

(From No Pink Ponies. Click on image to see it full-sized.

When I started writing Tangents, I was ill-prepared for the review scene. I was reading maybe thirty or so webcomics at the time, and ended up scrambling to find new comics to read. In that, the Keenspot Newsbox was an excellent source for new reading material (and indeed, for a while it seemed the majority of the comics I reviewed were Keenspot titles; indeed, of the titles I read at Blank Label, all were titles I’d previously read at Keenspot). I’ve since gone on to using banner ads and suggestions from fans to spark added reading material, but every so often I still find a Keenspot Newsbox tempting me with a new comic.

Thus when I came across a quaint little picture of two people giving each other gifts with the title “Happy Anniversary” on it, I had to click on the box. No Pink Ponies was an amusing little comic that immediately reminded me of another comic, The Lounge, also with a female protagonist running a comic book store name Chix Comics. But where The Lounge was this high-scale store with a coffee shop and arcade and a storyline that descended into cheesecake and sexual innuendos mixed with occasional story, No Pink Ponies remained (in the storyline at least) a quaint little story about a girl who had such a crush on a guy who worked in a comic book store that she opened up her own shop and hired him.

There’s more to it than just that, of course. First, Jessica (our heroine) actually has a love of comics that more than justifies her opening a store of her own. And while we don’t have any specifics on what Jess did before hand or where she got the funding to just open up her own store, those are inconsequential to the plot as a whole: to have Jess and our unnamed object of affection (I want to call him “Tyler” for some reason, but the closest we’ve come to a name is when Maureen started calling out his name only to be muzzled by Jess) together, with her lusting after him and him seemingly oblivious to her interests.

(The lack of names for many of the regulars is just part of an ongoing series of gags for the comic. Jess’s four geeky friends and regulars have never been named. Jess’s friend Lyla likewise doesn’t know their names. In some ways, it reminds me of our unnamed hero from Anywhere But Here, except that in this case the comic focuses more on the girl than the dude.)

Amusingly, Jess is also a klutz. It’s gotten to be a running gag for Jess to fall out of panel and have her hand and arm extended up, thumb raised high in an “I’m alright” gesture. Indeed, I could easily hear people declaring her a Mary-Sue character, though considering how broad the term “Mary-Sue” has come to be that’s not difficult (I know of real-life people who qualify as Mary-Sues, even though they don’t do try for that distinction).

Personally, I don’t see her as a Mary-Sue. Instead, Jess is the main character of a romantic comedy, and having her crush being oblivious as to how she feels about him is an important part of the story. (For that matter, unless Remy “Eisu” Mokhtar is careful with his plotting, getting her and the guy together very well could destroy the tensions in the comic, which is why I doubt they’ll get together anytime soon.) Jess herself is oblivious to the attraction another character has; Maureen.

Maureen actually first appeared pretending to be Jennifer Love Hewitt (whom she resembles, apparently) hoping to get into the store. Initially we just knew she had a crush on a regular. It wasn’t until a road-trip months later that we had our first real clue that she wasn’t crushing on the guy Jess likes… but Jess herself. Later on it was confirmed, though Jess still is as oblivious about Maureen as Jess’s crush is about Jess.

Yes, get your insulin shots ready, folks. NPP gets sappy at times.

Our named cast seems to slowly be growing. Part of this is perhaps to introduce more story elements. It is difficult telling a story with only two or three main characters. With the introduction of Maureen, we had an initial rival for Jess’s affections for T. Maureen’s own complete ignorance when it comes to comics is a nice touch of realism; not everyone knows (or cares) about comics, and I could easily see a new worker rearranging comics to make them look more artistic rather than sorted by number.

Perhaps Maureen’s orientation (which has me thinking again of The Lounge, what with the rampant lesbianism happening in that comic) is part of the reason why Melissa was introduced. Melissa is the younger sister of T’s former girlfriend, whom he to take care of. While T seems to think of Melissa as a sister, Melissa might think otherwise. Naturally enough, Melissa has moved to the area and T asked Jess to take Melissa in as her roommate.

Fortunately, there’s more to NPP than just our little love-quadrangle. Mokhtar uses the comic to poke fun at the industry itself. While the companies might be renamed Margle and DIC, and characters renamed Spider-Bee and Flying Mouse Man, it should be fairly obvious when reading the strip itself what these characters counterparts are. And while it’s a tad sad that webcomic artists find it necessary to alter the names and companies of favorite characters to include them in their comics (with T Campbell’s Fans being notorious for this), these small alterations allow Mokhtar to have increased freedom in his strip. The Marvel Civil War need not ever happen. Sergeant States doesn’t have to become a criminal for standing up to the civil rights of vigilantes, and Spider-Bee doesn’t need to reveal who he is to the world and risk his family’s life from numerous hateful antagonists.

(For that matter, we also have a bit of homage to Fans and to T Campbell. Our mysterious comic book boy-toy is currently known as T… and similar to the Fans world, this one has oddly-named characters and companies as a close approximation to real-world counterparts. I might be seeing something that isn’t there… but being a fan of T Campbell I like to think that other people might pay little homages to him from time to time.)

Fandom itself is a part of this. The four geeky friends of Jess could be considered “types” with the tall skinny geek, the short overweight geek with big teeth, and so forth. Jess’s friend Lyla is part of the “norms” category (not being interested in comics or the like, being amused by how passionate fanboys get over their comics, and so forth), and plays the part of straight woman to Jess’s own oddities.

We even had a well-plotted out Halloween party, with what started out as a side-story about one of the comic book characters (Tigrine) being revealed as a party with the four nerds and Jess LARPing out the parts of their characters. I’m not sure what I found to be more amusing though, the fact that one of the male geeks dressed up as a female character, or that Jess herself dressed up as Spider-Bee (a male character). It was quite the twist within a twist.

In the year NPP has run, Jess has been fleshed out tremendously. We’ve learned
that she gained her love of comics from her big brother, that her dad is white and her mom is black, that she tends to stumble when surprised, and that she’s surprisingly shy why it comes to personal issues… but compensates for that when talking about something she has a passion for (such as comics). Heck, she has been going to ComicCons for years now. She might be a bit of an “idealized” girl for nerds, but considering the main theme of the comic, that can be forgiven.

Likewise, we’ve learned a lot about the mysterious T. He used to be a big of a jerk, but really loved his girlfriend (who unfortunately died in a car accident that was obviously caused by speeding). He takes his promise to care for Melissa seriously. He’s protective of women. And we know he has some feelings for Jess, though how deep those feelings go we’re not entirely sure.

Even Maureen has been fleshed out a bit, with her dad being a pro-wrestler who taught his daughter to basically push away guys from an early age and a tendency to act without thinking, but not in a selfish way. Her recent appearance in another comic book store filling out a job application form does suggest that Maureen may be moving on, perhaps because she realizes she’s not going to win Jess’s affections, but undoubtedly she’ll remain a regular in the cast, if not a part of Chix Comics.

The funny thing is that when I look back, I realized the comic itself has only run for a year. Perhaps I’ve gotten into too many weekly comics with archives that are maybe thirty or forty updates long, but when I look at the sheer number of updates for NPP compared to other comics I’ve considered tangenting, I was surprised. NPP feels like it has been running longer. But a year isn’t that long, when it comes to comics… and what we have here could very well be the foundation for a rich and varied comic.

Robert A. Howard

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