I’m David: ‘Johnny Wander’ Is Charming & Who Should Own The Rights To Superman?
Like most of you, I’ve got a to-read stack that kills me every time I look at it. Friends laugh at it, small children cry at it, and the police keep giving me the stink eye. I’ve also got a to-read list for those things that I want to read in digital form, but haven’t yet. There’s a lot of webcomics in there (Chris Onstad returned to Achewood last year, you say?) and I’ve been remarkably lax about getting caught up because I’ve got a never-ending reservoir of excuses when it comes to not doing things. But I found myself with three volumes of the webcomic Johnny Wander, an inexplicably long commute to work, and a (very rare) lack of excuses. So I read it. And I loved it.
I’m David, and I want to talk to you about Johnny Wander, a comic drawn by Yuko Ota and written by Ananth Panagariya, about Yukond Ananth. It’s autobio, it’s funny, and it’s great.
The word for it is “charming.” That’s as good a starting point as any. Let’s look at the first strip, just so you can see what we’re working with. Personally, I’m already in my comfort zone. We’re starting with an art style that’s enjoyably cartoony and very emotionally expressive. Ota’s mouths and body language are particularly good, and the difference between panels one and five is proof positive. I love Yuko’s nervous fingers, Ananth’s disaffected cool posture, and especially that wobbly word balloon Yuko has — this is good stuff, right? You’re seeing what I’m seeing here.
The character cards remind me of video games and trading cards, and they work as a great shortcut to get you introduced to these characters (people!) without burying you in exposition. They’re fast, they’re cute, and they work well. They also serve as great shorthand. I’ve read Johnny Wander front to back at this point, and Yuko’s nervous sweat and Ananth’s even gaze certainly seem pretty accurate.
Ota’s cartooning stands out, obviously, but the writing is equally as good. Johnny Wander is a collaboration, and Ota and Panagariya both have input on the words and pictures that make up the comic. It can be hard to tell which jokes are Panagariya’s and which are Ota’s, but here’s the thing: it doesn’t matter. They work so well together that Johnny Wander feels like the product of one mind. The writing and art are never at odds, and instead mesh very well.
For me, that’s one of the best things about comics. It’s easy to find comics that feature words that say one thing and the art another, or (even worse) words that explain what’s going on with the art. Panagariya knows how to get out of Ota’s way when he needs to, leaving her to come up with killer visual punchlines. Panagariya’s no slouch, either, and his dry sense of humor is right up my alley. The two of them together work extremely well. I can’t find the seams in their work, and that’s lovely. It makes me appreciate the comic on a craft level, as well as a basic “did this tickle my funny bone?” level.
The strip is about Panagariya and Ota’s life post-college. Instead of being a drag, or about how hard life is, it’s more like Seinfeld. Where Seinfeld is funny because every single member of the cast is the worst person ever in different ways, Johnny Wander is funny because everyone in the cast is normal, but funny. No one’s a comedian, or anything, but Ota and Panagariya’s strips are often just about them finding the funny side of life, or pointing out something funny that happened. A cat scratching something isn’t necessarily funny in and of itself, but pointing out that cat’s behavior when it gets caught is genuinely funny. Where Seinfeld was about nothing, but secretly about the lives of four incredibly selfish people, Johnny Wander is about nothing, but secretly about the lives of four pretty cool people.
“This is our life. Watch us live it. Laugh with us.”
We all know pretty cool people, and I can’t think of a single strip that isn’t grounded in real life. Speaking as a dude who recently bought a couple bookcases for the first time, I can totally relate to the strip about buying a coffee table and being really excited about it.
That grounding works, because then you buy into the rest of the comic. You believe in the world that you’re reading. You laugh at the zooLOLOLogy jokes because you get that they’re funny because they’re goofy. The grounding invites you to let your walls come down and invite the cast in, and you enjoy the strip all the more because of it.
Johnny Wander is charming. That’s the one word I keep coming back to when trying to figure out how to tell you how much I like this series. I tore through three volumes in two sittings, and I’d be hard pressed to name a better comic to read outside on a sunny day. It feels warm, the jokes never try too hard, and by the end of it, you’ll wish your life was just a little bit more like their lives.
stavner from tumblr asked: What would happen if the Siegel estate got 100 percent of the rights to Superman?
To paraphrase a wise man, if all the coke and crack in the nation is collected in a top hat and force fed to the children of every CIA agent, and dust heads get an angel and an acre’s worth of rainbow, and the projects turn to clouds and the stupid aren’t so proud, that is still the least likely thing that will ever happen… ever.
If you have a question, let me know by leaving a comment or hitting me on Twitter @hermanos. Let’s talk comics, movies, music, video games… anything goes.