One benefit that webcomics have over prose fiction lies with the sheer scope of emotion that a talented artist can convey with but a few strokes of a pen (or a tablet stylus). Writers can convey a lot with the written word but there is the definite risk of overdoing it (and what’s considered “overdone” varies from reader to reader). With art (and webcomics), a cartoonist has an easier time conveying those emotions. Several recent updates over at Megatokyo showcases this ability to reveal a wide range of emotions with one’s art; while cartoonist Fred Gallagher would be the first to claim he doesn’t have talent, he’s managed to convey more in each panel showcasing body language and facial expressions than could be effectively told in half a page of text.
Over the past year Gallagher’s been struggling to maintain a decent update schedule while running a business (based on the webcomic and on merchandise related to it); as such, he’s gotten into the bad habit of posting raw line-art (with little to no hatching) so that his readers can have an update at a reasonable time. (As a brief aside, these raw-art updates are often enjoyed by fan-colorists who’ve claimed their own section of the Megatokyo forums to color strips (among other activities); while the artists can often work around Gallagher’s hatching, often their coloring attempts work better with unhatched line art.) The final product with shading and hatching is often superior to the line-art, but in a recent update this unadorned line-art reveals much that could be hidden by overzealous hatching and shading. Facial expressions, eyes, eyebrows, even the minimal cast of Tohya’s mouth in panels 3 and 6 reveal sheer raw emotion and feeling between her and Piro, feelings that after many chapters is finally being exposed.
More interesting than facial expressions is Gallagher’s use of posture and positioning in this update. Neither Piro nor Tohya can face each other. Piro’s hands are in his pockets, his arms close, his posture defensive. Tohya is hunched down on herself, her arms also drawn in (except for when she reached out and hit Piro, pushing him away when he got too close physically). They refuse to look at the other, except through brief glances when the other is looking away. It’s a masterful dance of nonverbal language, and it’s most difficult for an artist to pull off.
Their refusal to look each other in the eye (after the initial argument) makes sense. I suspect both realize that if they were staring at each other, they’d see far more than what the words are saying, and neither is prepared for this vulnerability. There’s also an honesty here that has often been lacking in previous dialogues between Piro and Tohya; their masks are discarded, and their defenses are down. Whether it’s exhaustion from the events of the previous night (with Piro not having slept at all and Tohya having walked quite a ways from her home to Piro’s apartment, even if she caught a little sleep) or the fact that for the first time in quite some time they are truly alone together without interruptions threatening or girlfriends in the other room. This gives them the chance to remove their masks and to be genuine to one another. It’s long overdue for these two.
It would be easy to look at the last couple of chapters and think that Megatokyo had become Tohya’s story. And she has come a long way from some girl with ribbons in her hair who showed up as a sketch above one of Gallagher’s early rants, and later as an antagonist for Largo played more for giggles than any real plot reasons. But Tohya has long polarized fans, partly due to Largo’s irrational claims that she was “3v1l” and events in what become the Endgames mini-story, with Tohya having hacked the server to take control of other people’s characters. Her manipulations and mind-games in the comic have infuriated some, amused others, and slowly worked to alienate her from Piro. Surprisingly, it’s Piro’s attitude and behavior toward Tohya that has the greatest effect on her; while she’s played a number of mind games on Piro, he’s been able to get under her skin with his reactions like few other characters in the comic.
When looking at Megatokyo’s larger picture, it becomes more clear that while Tohya has long been a background player in the comic, this current storyline is just one of several character-centric plots (with Nanasawa Kimiko being the previous heroine to hold the comic’s torch, along with magical girl Sonoda Yuki). Tohya’s presence in the chapter “overlo4d”, while fairly important, was more as a catalyst to bring about the culmination of Nanasawa’s storyline; the chapter “A.F.K.” (while obstentiously about Tohya) was only tangentially about Tohya and was more about Sonoda Yuki while setting up this final story arc. And in many ways, even as this last story arc is Tohya’s story… so too has this been Piro’s story; readers are finally getting a glimpse into the man who has been the catalyst for so many of Tohya’s actions, and in doing so learning about what made Piro into the hesitant protagonist who’s been at the heart of Megatokyo all along.
Ultimately, Megatokyo is Largo and Piro’s story. While we have learned much about the young women who’ve become central to their lives, during this process we’ve also learned much about these two young men. We’ve watched Largo evolve from a Don Quixote into someone who, while still willing to tilt at windmills, is able to think of others before himself and who respects boundaries when he recognizes them. (That doesn’t mean he’s not an idiot half the time, but he’s started to realize when someone’s smacking him with a clue-bat these days.) As for Piro… we’ve seen his tendency toward being a “white knight” to Nanasawa and to Tohya in the past. But with “A.F.K.” and with this latest chapter, “Remanence,” we’re starting to learn what drives Piro… and why.