I’m hesitant to call Harkovast a “Furry” comic. The characters are all anthropomorphized animals, so I guess that qualifies it to some degree. There’s just something about the way that it’s drawn: it doesn’t quite have the same feel. The art, especially the coloring, reminds me of the illustrations in a (violent) story book, where anthropomorphized animals abound as well without generally being labeled as “furry”. Ultimately whether or not you consider it a Furry comic doesn’t make much of a difference when it’s the actual quality of the series that matters.
I was asked to review this comic by its creator, Daniel Stribley, after he read some of my other reviews. Seriously, I go out of my way to be humorously cruel to the comics I review: why do people keep wanting me to review their comics? I would say that it’s some kind of masochism, but I think that shows a bit too much confidence in my ability to annoy people. Still, at least these comics tend to have smaller archives, so I can get through a review faster. Well, I might as well get to the actual review, otherwise this will end up being more of my musings on writing the review than the review itself. So: Harkovast! Things get off to a shakey start with a combination of bad anatomy and a boring wall of text. That guy with the Cricket bats strapped to his back, surprisingly, isn’t the main character. In fact, he’s got a pretty passive role in the whole series thus far, and I barely remember him. This is one of those stories that doesn’t really have a “main character”, so much as a main cast, and even then it takes a surprisingly long time for them all to meet up.
Anyway, back to the story. The world’s at war with “The Nameless”, which is basically a group of undead rat… Viking… things. They’re not very fleshed out: they seem to exist just to be something that the other characters can kill on a regular basis without the reader having to deal with any of the moral dilemmas normally associated with war. They’re such over the top “bad guys” that it’s actually kind of funny. The simplicity of the whole thing would probably be a bit easier to take if they didn’t seem so organized. Like, if it was just a mindless zombie horde that marches across the land, then fine, whatever. But it’s a whole army that seems be organized entirely around wandering the countryside being tremendous dicks to everyone else on the planet. What’s their motivation to do any of this? Are they stealing the land from the people they murder? Do the people they capture and torture have anything they want, or do they just like doing it? All we know is that there’s a lot of them, they’re jerks, and some guy called the Heretic is probably their leader. Not to say that we need to know all the ins and outs of their armies, politics, etc. But as they are now they’re just kinda generic and boring.
Like a lot of furry (or whatever) style comics, species’ are essentially treated as different ethnic groups in the world of Harkovast. The sort of British white people are Cats, Native Americans are Foxes, Asians are Lizards, etc. There’s a whole bizarre sequence where Daniel explains how cross-breeding works in a world where lizards can hook up with birds, but I honestly couldn’t care less. I’m already suspending my disbelief just to accept this talking animal fantasy world: I don’t need to see the whole comic come to screeching halt for one page so I can know what happens when a wolf boinks a fox. In general the comic has a tendency to just drop everything so Daniel can have either the narrator or one of the characters rant barely coherently and pretentiously. Frankly, it’s a chore whenever one of those pages comes up. I can’t even think of something funny to say about them. They’re long, they’re boring, and I don’t like them.
Well, I might as well talk about the characters, which I always seem to do in these reviews. The first recurring character we meet is that mysterious guy with the cricket bats I mentioned earlier, and he hasn’t really done anything besides ramble to no one in particular about the state of the world he’s in. After him we meet Shogun, who I took to calling “Japanophile”, because he just came off as the kind of character that would be made up by someone who’s way too into anime and automatically thinks that something is better if its carrying a katana. I actually wasn’t too far off: apparently Shogun is supposed to be an arrogant prick who thinks he’s worlds better than all the white peo—cats because he acts like he’s Japane—a lizard. It’s kind of relieving, in a way, to know my suspicions weren’t just snarky paranoia. We don’t really know anything about Shogun apart from the fact that he’s a cat, he was raised as a lizard, is pretty good at being a lizard, and doesn’t like cats. He really doesn’t have much of a personality to speak of, which is true of basically everyone in the comic. They all have traits and mannerisms, but the whole thing feels oddly like a textbook. You get all the facts of the events that happen in the series, but no reason to give it any emotional investment.
Next up we have BIIIIIIIIIIIIIRRRRRD MAAAAAAN! Actually, he kind of looks like the Dread Pirate Roberts mixed with the Vlasic Pickle stork. I’ve just looked it up, and the Vlasic stork is named Jovny, which is what I’ll be calling this character because I can’t remember his name without looking it up (even though I made the minimal amount of effort to look up the Vlasic Pickle Stork’s name) and thinking of him talking like Jovny just makes me smile. Does this mean the birds are supposed to be Jewish? Whatever: Jovny’s the closest to having a personality. I think this is just because he’s the only guy who isn’t either deadly serious at all times or just plain retarded (more on that later). Anyway, Jovny is a professional assassin, and he died earlier, but he’s okay now. Insert your own “mostly dead” joke wherever you think it would be funniest.
After that we have Sir Muir, who’s that retarded guy I mentioned earlier. I’m not quite sure what to make of him. He’s pointlessly wacky, which is a trait that tends to really gets on my nerves, but he manages to spread it out enough that it’s never really an annoyance. I think it might be because his inane ramblings get on Japanophile’s nerves, and since I just plain don’t like Japanophile I’m totally okay with that. I think another part of it is that he’s a good fighter without him being so good that it’s ridiculous. Either way, he’s still kind of annoying in his own tard-cat sort of way, but he manages to be goofy at times without clashing painfully with the extremely serious world he inhabits.
Finally, after all this we have lizard girl. She probably has a name too, but whatever. She’s on a quest to find Japanophile, because she needs his help to kill the Heretic. Sir Muir ends up joining her because he’s that odd combination of chivalrous and retarded that allows him to drop whatever he’s doing at any given time to chauffeur a woman around. Jovny finds himself traveling with them because he’s on his way to kill the same guy, and figures it’d be easier if he had three people helping him. Lizard girl has this sort of boring, generic polite personality. She doesn’t have any kind of opinion about anything apart from “evil is bad” and “people are interesting”. Still, as a delicate woman she’s lucky to have all these strong men to protect her and—wait, what the hell?
Did you see that shit? She just punched that dude’s goddamn eye out! Holy shit, what does she even need Shogun for? Seriously, dude gets his shit ruined just a few pages later and Lizard Girl… I mean Chen-Chen (I think she’s earned the right to be referred to be her actual name, right?) has to bail his ass out right after that. Yes, that attack that took down the fully armored and armed Japanophile in ONE HIT doesn’t even faze her. She just blocks that shit with her bare hands. Bitch doesn’t even carry a weapon or shield or anything and she blocks it three goddamn times. I don’t even think it was giving her any trouble. We’ll never really know because Sir Tard-cat decides to get in the way of her going all balls out on that dude and kicking him so hard his testicles fly out his butthole (which is one of the more literal ways one can go “balls out”). So… what does she need Shogun for again? Oh yeah, to show up at the last moment after everyone else has already beaten the guy to a bloody pulp and act like he didn’t get taken down in the first round like a punk bitch. What a douche.
I’ve got mixed feelings about the art. It’s very simple, for the most part, and attempts to do more complex art just look awkward and forced. It’s clear that Stribley is familiar with perspective, but doesn’t quite understand it. The best part of the comic is easily the coloring, where Stribley really redeems himself. The linework has a middle-school quality to the art, but the coloring is—oh-wait-he-doesn’t-color-it-his-wife-does! Man, I wonder what it would look like if she drew the rest of it? So… even though the woman is clearly the more adept at this sort of thing, there’s a man that takes charge and gets most of the credit? It’s Chen-Chen all over again! That aside, I think it might be the fact that his wife does such a great job coloring his backgrounds and such that resulted in Dan never using word balloons. Normally this is something that I just hate, but somehow it works in this comic. I think it’s because it really does feel like more of a storybook than a comic, and the lack of recognizable word balloons, coupled with non-comic fonts, helps to enhance that. It also helps that the text layout is never confusing, so at the least you can always tell who’s talking at any given moment. Still, he feels the need to code some people’s text with different fonts for no readily apparent reason, which has always irked me.
Still, I want to remind you that, even if the coloring makes the art sort of quirky and interesting, it’s still pretty bad a lot of the times. Like this page, where Shogun uses his Evil Dead-style robot hand to shatter a sword. Wait… shatter? What, is it made of glass? Also, it seems to shatter entirely in the 2-D plane, which hopefully makes it easier to clean up. Or you have another page where the extreme perspective isn’t entirely clear so it looks like a giant bird foot is about to crush that church. It doesn’t help that essentially the exact same thing happens again just a few pages later. This one’s more on the coloring, since the grass doesn’t appear to be in as much of a closeup as it should be for that perspective to make any kind of sense. Either way, the steps of these creatures are really stiff and unnatural: apparently they walk by slamming their feet down at perfect 90 degree angles. The action scenes improve over time, but always retain this awkward stiffness that enhances the feeling that things are more diagrams of events than actual occurrences to be interested in. When Dan does push himself to do more interesting angles, the results are equal parts confusing and hilarious. If that comic wasn’t titled “kick” I’d have no idea what was supposed to be happening in that last panel. You also get to see one of the problems with the coloring: when there’s a solid background in the colors, the Stribley’s save some time by just filling it in on the computer. I don’t really blame them, but it makes things look really awkward, since the color is so clean and crisp there but more textured everywhere else. It’s kind of forgivable most of the time, but if they try to do a motion blur at the same time things get weird. Since the colored part is just sort of pasted over a blank background the slow fade to white ends up just being chopped at the tip. Since it doesn’t fade correctly into the background it ends up looking an awful lot like just solid chunks that randomly grow off the characters.
At the end of the day, here’s my real test of quality for a webcomic: after reviewing it, do I still read it? No. I can see there being an appeal for this kind of comic, but I’m not its target demographic. I don’t like boring, “evil for evil’s sake” enemies, I don’t like blank, uninteresting characters, and I don’t like stiff art. It’s definitely great to see someone produce something unique with the coloring and all, but it’s not enough to keep me coming back. I dunno… give it a look. I’d be hard-pressed to say it’s an out and out bad comic, but it’s certainly not for everyone, and especially not for me.
Man, after all this reviewing, I sure could use a drink… but I’m all out of Kool-aid! Wait, what’s that I hear?