- GUTTERFAGS -
Quarterly reviews of sequential art about
dude-on-dude lust and love
reviewed by Daniel Milco for Gutterfags
“This is not really for me but it must be for someone else. 2 Stars.” – Unidentified reviewer.
No reviewer should use the words “not really for me.” That statement in itself immediately announces to all and sundry that you were never the right person to review whatever it was. I say this because in this review, I am looking at the first three issues of Webz magazine by KaputOtter, something that would not be my normal choice of reading matter. That is not to say that I automatically shouldn’t be reviewing Webz – the role of a decent reviewer is to give a fair and systematic critique of whatever they are looking at. The key selling-point of Webz, apart from the sex-positive graphic element, is that it is aimed towards the furry fandom. For the uninitiated, this means that the protagonists are anthropomorphic animal characters, combining both human and animal aspects in their appearance and behaviour; and that their targeted reader would most likely identify as a member of the furry fandom. This is a subculture that emerged in the 1980s in which people typically identify with fictionalised versions of animal-human hybrids.
As a non-furry reader, I found the Webz series rewarding to read. They tell human stories with non-human characters. This anthropomorphic tradition goes back to Ancient Greece with Aesop’s Fables, and further beyond to the animal-headed sex-and-violence-heavy soap opera of the gods of Ancient Egypt, recently retold in graphic novel format by Hamish Steele in Pantheon. Anthropomorphism is even more firmly established in the tradition of visual storytelling, as we see in the work of all the main animation studios, and through famous graphic novels such as the cat-and-mouse cast of Maus by Art Spiegelman, and Howard Hardiman’s canine tale of gay prostitution, The Lengths.
Webz has no pretensions to be great literature, but it is fine, solid erotica with a cast of characters who are given the agency to consent and take control over their own decisions. KaputOtter clearly has a better grasp of anatomy than a number of artists who only draw humans, so the fact that they do not look like human beings was mostly a non-issue for me.
Issue 1 of Webz starts out with “Les Bonnes Vacances”, a story about an apparently older bear who runs a ski chalet, and his two youthful employees, a dog and a snow leopard who are in a relationship. After the guests have all gone home, the staff go to hang out in the hot tub, and one thing leads on to another. The escalation of the situation is well-presented, showing that all three protagonists are happy with how things are going. The artwork is good, rendered in different shades of medium to light greyscale, which does work well in presenting the sense of a snow-bound scenario. The washed-out artwork is perhaps less successful for the second story, “Suddenly, Otters!”, which tells the story of an otter couple who decide to explore rimming in the changing-room showers. Mere moments later, in the best tradition of cheesy porn plotting, a whole bunch of horny gay otters pop up soon afterwards for a gang-bang. Writing wise, this is a sharp change in tone from the more introspective “Les Bonnes Vacances”, and more of a sex-for-sex’s sake story.
As KaputOtter goes on to explain in his introduction to Issue 2 of Webz, he feels he is good at characterisation, but not so great at telling a good story. After reading the first issue, I had to agree, and was quite relieved to learn that the stories of Issue 2 had been written by others. And what an improvement it is. In “Columbian Extraction”, written by Demonvaska (Vaska), not only is the storyline much stronger, but the artist has discovered darker tones of grey and even black. Both artwork and narrative are vastly improved as a result. Gus, the lead character, is a muscular sea-otter who windsurfs his way to unpaid-for luxury ocean liners which he then infiltrates and repossesses. This does not go down well with their “owners,” and, after a while, Gus meets Mak, a musk-ox bounty-hunter given the role of hunting him down by a disgruntled client whose boat was taken away. Gus and Mak are old friends who instead reconnect through pages of very effectively-drawn heaving passion. The second story of Issue 2, “Extra Training”, is a much slighter tale in which a cheetah gymnast and his instructor have torrid sex in the changing room after a successful work-out. While Hirobo’s writing is well structured and the artwork is excellent, I was left feeling a little dissatisfied. However, I asked myself, “Would you have felt this way had the characters been drawn as human?” and had to admit that I would probably have enjoyed it very much indeed. So there is no problem with the narrative, or the artwork, but my own personal preferences meant that I did not really make a connection with this particular story. This is no reflection on the quality or standard of the art and storytelling.
Gus returns in Issue 3 in “India Extraction”, a full-length story written by Vaska. As the artist notes in his foreword, this is a first for him, as his previous stories were typically 16 pages long. It is a pleasure to meet Gus again, and his and the Indian mongoose Rasul’s story is fascinating. Whilst furry fandom can be seen as race-neutral, Rasul’s nationality is integral to the story with a nicely-handled touch of social commentary noting how gay people are perceived in India. While the storytelling and art are excellent again, I am forced to note that the lettering and speech-bubbling in “India Extraction” strongly detracts. As a very minor webcomic creator back in the early 2000s, I remember one of my then idols, John Allison (Bobbins, Scary-Go-Round, etc.) saying that hand-lettering was normally the best option for hand-drawn comics, and vice versa. It is unclear how this relates to art drawn on a digital tablet, which seems to be KaputOtter’s approach, but I glanced back at “Columbian Extraction” and realised how excellent the choice of a slightly wobbly, uneven font there is. It was so in-tune with the artwork that I did not even notice it as I read it – unlike the stark characterless font in “India Extraction” which rattles around the too-big speech bubbles and makes all the dialogue read as flat and monotonous. At least it wasn’t Comic Sans. Unfortunately, the artwork and writing do not deserve this, making “India Extraction” a case study in how bad lettering can detract from an otherwise good comic.
KaputOtter has produced two further issues of Webz to date. It’s worth noting that the two stories in Webz 4 are male/female and lesbian, which shows the artist is willing to work outside the box, but do fall beyond the scope of this particular review’s focus on man-on-man erotica. Gus returns in Webz 5, the first of a three-part story written by KaputOtter, albeit with assistance from Vaska and others. A quick look at this looks promising, not least because the good font is back. The fascinating thing about the series for me is being able to chart the evolution of KaputOtter’s work as comic creator.
One important note: if you, like me, want to check out the artists’s pages via the links given in the earlier issues’ forewords, be careful. I went to check out DemonVaska’s profile, and found that furaffinity.com had been hijacked. After a glance at all the definitely non-furry young ladies showing their boobies, and having run a virus scan on my PC, I’m going to break my rule and say the website was not really for me, but it must be for someone else.
- About the reviewer -
Daniel Milco lives and works in London. Under his full name Daniel Milford-Cottam, he studied English Literature and History of Art at BA level from Reading University, and holds a Master’s in Dress and Textile History from The University of Southampton. He has worked for 9.5 years (and counting) in a national museum, both as an assistant curator of fashion, and then as a cataloguer of immense numbers of prints, drawings and paintings, including historically non-publicized collections of erotica. He authored the book Edwardian Fashion (Shire Publications) and has contributed significantly to a number of publications on the history of fashion.