Given the hard work that goes into webcomics, I often feel bad when I end up pointing out the flaws of a comic. While I try to provide constructive criticism in these instances, I’ve often found the Emperor doesn’t want to know he’s wearing no clothes; seeing that authors and artists are often their own worse critics, the last thing they think they need is for someone else to point out the flaws in their works (especially as the tendency lies in ignoring the constructive element of the criticism and just take to heart the criticism aspect). Thus I must admit I’ve been dragging my feet in reviewing the anthropomorphic childhood comic Precocious, by Christopher J. Paulsen.
The start of Precocious lived up to its title: a group of children getting into mischief over various silly things. Eventually, once the hazy days of summer fell behind them we learned that these kids were in fact geniuses and in a school for gifted youngsters. We also learn that these children are spawn of the Devil. Okay, all children are evil. Even the nicest child is secretly an evil imp just waiting for the right moment to come out and play. But in the first storyline, Autumn and Bud get into a water-balloon war over who would make the better supervillain. It only gets nuttier from there.
At first, this works. The first few stories are absolutely fantastic. They are a breath of fresh air that will have you laughing and needing to take a break in order to catch your breath. And while the parents get their day in the sun from time to time, Precocious is primarily about the children… and the antics they get up to both in class and outside. Unfortunately… after the first year the comic starts to evolve in a fashion that left me laughing less and less often. That’s not to say the comic was becoming serious or anything… but rather that the humor was falling flat for me.
Perhaps part of the problem lies with the fact that Paulsen has locked the kids in the same age and year in a perpetual Groundhog’s Day cycle. Oh, I can understand the reasoning behind this: who wants to see their characters grow up? Except it seems more that these children are kept at this age not to retain that sense of childlike wonder and mystery that children often seem to have prior to high school (though trust me, elementary school is no bed of roses and those “young dears” can be far more horrific than teenagers in their abuse of others) and instead provides them with an excuse for nonstop criminal behavior.
And no, I’m not exaggerating this. These kids have lit the lake on fire. Their parents have specific rules including “no dynamite” and “no dying.” The youngest girl has an irrational need to steal her parents’ car (or any other automobile she can find keys for) and go for a joyride that inevitably results in the destruction of the car – to the point that I honestly can’t see why the police haven’t called in the Department of Child Services to remove her from her parents’ home. Or for that matter Bud, whose parents are often not home leaving him to live on his own.
These elements are played for laughs. I’m not laughing. Perhaps it’s my history as a substitute teacher and having studied to become an elementary school teacher getting in the way of my enjoying this… but once the “silly childhood games” aspect was abandoned in lieu of “let’s cause as much destruction as possible and get away with it because we’re kids” came into the fore, the comic lost its charm. Neither are the parents (or teachers and school administration) any better. They deserve one another… and my one regret is that the secondary cast goes on ignored when they could very well be the means of restoring balance to the comic by returning it to the roots of what made it so enjoyable initially: children being children and having fun, be it learning, or just at play.
In short, the comic is stuck in a loop. The stories seem to be repeating themselves in tone: malicious mischief and wanton destruction. What’s worse, they’re not even repeating when the comic was fun and enjoyable but instead the more recent strips. And while the art is good, it hasn’t changed or improved much in the last year. At some point, it just stopped being fun for me. This isn’t to say that you will feel the same; the comic has a strong and vibrant (and protective) fanbase, so many readers seem to be fine with the path the comic has taken. So my final verdict is: read. The first couple of years are quite enjoyable, and you may be fine with its current evolution. As for myself, I just hope that the comic can recapture the feel of those early strips… or at the very least move on from where it has been mired.