Saturday, May 17, 2008

New in the Produce Section

Top: Chloroville  © Victor Wong
Bottom: Ripeville © Joe Klopfer
Click to enlarge.

A charming strip about fruits and vegetables popped up on the internet last January, written and drawn by a Hong Kong immigrant who claims shaky English skills. An editor helps him with that, but editors don't think up the gags, or draw them, and Victor Wong makes that part look easy.

In Chloroville, (presumably from chlorophyll) the jokes get funnier as the characters develop, and it's still early in the strip. I have to acknowledge that some are a bit flat, but I sense potential, and I love the cute art. I've always savored those cornucopias of vegetables you see painted on the sides of produce trucks. The ones around here would be envious of Wong's renderings. Beanie Babies don't thrill me, Kitten Wars make my eyes glaze, but these guys are so adorable you want to lose control and wear them on boxer shorts or something. You know, 'cause chicks dig that kind of stuff. It's not just me...

Magic Ketchup, Victor's design studio, is attached to the comic site and supports my contention that he has a future in art. Look especially at the sophisticated 3D work on "Feng Shui of Object Placement." I just hope a talented young guy with a blossoming career will be able to maintain the time and heart required by web comics.

By chance I found Joe Kloepfer's Ripeville, another fruit and vegetable strip, only hours later. Since I'm old enough that my idea of gaming is chess, the gaming references threaten to push me out of the demographic. Samsom the Apple, Kiki the Grape, Stoner the Orange and friends are, for me, at their best when an off-beat story line is unfolding and the Mafia has to help overcome a flooded bathtub.

Like Wong, Kloepfer makes cute fruit, and the art never disappoints the story. Ripeville's writing, though,  moves in and out of territory that is not to my taste, though many others will not care. I don't go for wisecracks and put-downs as punch lines, gaming as thematic material, or really obscure puns, or battle-hardened war-between-the-sexes attitudes.  I dislike over-exposed pop culture references like Michael Jackson and Harry Potter. I like wit, quirkiness, plot twists, and consistency -- like sticking to a no-humans world. I don't want a fruit character sliced into snacks for the same reason characters don't discuss pork in my animal comic.

Ripeville feels to me like a comic that is exploring what it wants to be, and I don't regard that as a bad thing if the artist is consciously thinking and trying out ideas, and learning. A lot of times I can tell whether this is happening by the links supplied for other comics, because if they show diversity and sophistication in taste, it bodes well for the comic's development. Ripeville offers some "cute" titles -- and stuff like Overcompensating and Gunnerkrigg Court. That's the kind of balanced diet you want. 

One thing Ripeville does offer is a strip by strip archive, each with its own title. Readers of Perry Bible Fellowship will find it familiar, but don't mistake this for a comic that can be read in random order. There is plotting and character development. Start from the beginning. 

For me, this is a strip that would benefit from stronger, less topical punch lines and banishment of humans. Yet it must be acknowledged that pop culture gags have captured sizable audiences for other strips. My bias is toward the values of art and literature, though without the stuffiness. That isn't always what the majority of readers want.

I wonder whether Wong and Kloepfer are aware of each other, or will meet here. I think these guys will feel mutual respect and recognize an opportunity to hone their skills by playing with each other's techniques. Wong uses Simpsons eyes and Kloepfer's eyes are black. This leaves eye shape and borders as the main expressive techniques, and we lose the retina. I've been unwilling to give the center eye up in my own art, but it is fascinating to see two strips that have red fruit (an apple, a bell pepper) as lead characters make use of the differentiating styles they have chosen. I would love to see them become familiar with each other's work and attempt a team-up episode. (I'll print it here!)

Thank you Victor Wong and Joe Kloepfer for fun in the less traveled world of anthropomorphic produce.