Wide World of WebComics™ with Ryan Morrow – Reviewing “Pretty Face”

Wide World of Web Comics 2014 Logo FINAL

Hello IMJ Nation! This is my first column– so I want to explain my goals and motivations for this new endeavor. Webcomics are everywhere… But they are not created equal– some aren’t in the same ballpark… Or even the same universe. But that doesn’t mean webcomics can’t be GREAT.

In fact, I think digital is the future of comics. There I said it.

But it’s a future that’s already getting extremely noisy– kind of like the black and white comic book boom (some call it an opportunistic glut) that occurred in the 1990s. When I first created a search for the highest quality comics on the web, search engines pointed me to little more than some well-meaning “laundry lists” of titles. The lists were helpful in finding some new webcomics, but they weren’t filled with anywhere near the same level of detail I’d come to expect when researching print comics.

So my humble hope is not to just give you links to various comics– but add many reasons why you might want to actually take the time to check them out. To further simplify this process, I’ll also include a box score for each title featured– grading them all on the same point scale. 15 stars (five stars in each of the 3 main categories) is the highest score a comic can receive– with an option for 4 extra credit stars. If I’m doing my job as a critic correctly, we’ll likely not see a “19” rating for quite some time. But if I happen to come across a comic that deserves a 19 score… I promise it will be dynamite!

That’s the preamble. Now here’s an actual review!

Pretty Face Box Score

Pretty Face is an ambitious comic… It tackles modern religion, Hollywood and sexuality– all against a noir/mystery backdrop. The interior art is sleekly handled by Sergio Tarquini and enhanced by the conservative but engaging lettering and coloring of writer Anthony Mathenia. Both creators blend modern comic sensibilities with some of the time-tested positives first pioneered by DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint during its heyday. Each page is “finished” without being overdone– serving pacing and storytelling in a very fun way.

The comic is enhanced by a beautiful cover painting by K. Anthony Lawler. (Well deserved Bonus Points adding an actual cover for each chapter of Pretty Face– and doing so in such a serious fashion.)

The story centers around the lives of two reporters: Barry Barnes (a tabloid newbie trying to turn a buck) and Enrique Frost (a photo journalist focused on the war front). Both Pretty Faceindividuals are on quests for “truth”… Positions that will no doubt cause them to collide with David Murdock– the current leader of pop-religion Scificism (pronounced sigh-fix-izm).

There are several other characters (with their own sub-plots) throughout this first chapter: The ostracized actress Hamburger Sunshine, starlet on the rise Jenny Vivid, recluse Gloria Moreland and current Scificism sweetheart Kati Kolada. These 4 characters, although engaging, provide my one true bone of contention with the series.

They are the only female characters in Pretty Face– and sadly, they feel more like character sketches than real people. Gloria is a crone, Jenny’s the fresh-faced kid, Kati’s the spoiled and excessively sexed up pop-star… And Hamburger– she’s the only woman we’re really supposed to feel pity for.

This is just the first chapter, so I have faith this creative team has plans for adding more depth and dimension to all these women. (It just isn’t there yet.) If they can manage to infuse half the personality they’ve already given Sailor Sam (a “merchant” of sorts dealing primarily in the “personal effects” of the rich and famous), then all these women will swiftly become characters you’ll want to see more of.

I recently had the opportunity to speak directly with writer Anthony Mathenia. He was kind enough to talk about his process– and fill me in on all things Pretty Face.

RM: Thanks for taking the time to answer a few questions for our readers today. Let’s get some nuts and bolts style questions out of the way. But I’ll let you know up front– these aren’t going to be softball questions!

AM: I’m not afraid of criticism. It’s the only way to get better, yes?

RM: What’s your current update schedule… And how much content do you share in a standard post?

AM: I currently update Pretty Face every Friday, with a standard comic page around six panels.

RM: Do you ever take a scheduled hiatus– or is it non-stop comics?

AM: I don’t intend to, but shit happens. When Sergio was unable to work on the comic for a month late in 2013, I was fortunate to have a backup comic to run in its place. Part of the Pretty Face concept is the inclusion of short meta-comics. I’m going to continue to have a few of these extras in the back pocket as a contingency plan.

RM: (Spoilers ahead!) OK, it’s hard question time. The female characters aren’t being depicted as strongly as the males in the story– creating a “women in refrigerators” factor. Butterfly is clearly sex-ploitation– but Pretty Face’s first issue has 4 women in it… An old lady who hides her face that we are supposed to be frightened of, a woman who the cult has disfigured (taken her hair) and that we are supposed to feel for, and the young slut– who gets a “rape red herring” that turns into just a straight forward murder. Not sure which is worse… I guess I’m glad it wasn’t both?

AM: An unfortunate thing about serial comics is that we can only trickle out so much information at a time. Right now, only the first chapter of ten is out there– which is probably the equivalent of the first ten minutes of a film. As a writer, one thing I try not to do is beat a message over the reader’s head with all the panache of a Full House ending. Often, this means running the risk of readers not getting it at first. But if you look a little bit beyond the surface there are clues hinting to the bigger story the entire work will reveal.

Pretty Face has much to do with women’s issues. In part, it is a critical commentary on the exploitative treatment of women in the entertainment industry. Another element tackles the abusive nature of patriarchal religious sects. Another thread deals with the horrific standards of beauty placed on aging models and actresses.

There is some meta-commentary on women in comics… And at the very heart is this sweet love story between two remarkable women, struggling to survive a system rigged against them. Pretty Face is pro-women– and if it sparks some conversation on these and other important topics, I’ve done my job as a writer.

RM: How do you personally tackle content that enhances an experience– but doesn’t necessarily serve a meat and potatoes plot point or story beat? I’m speaking specifically to the back-up feature that’s in the print edition of Pretty Face, a great throwback to early 80s comics– which I love– and the reason you got the 4 stars in the “extra credit” column.

AM: My plan is to do a short meta-comic per chapter to expand upon the world of Pretty Face. For example: In Chapter One, characters reference a religious leader named Grandpapa– who was a writer. The companion meta-comic, Grandpapa Speaks, purports to be an actual religious comic-book tract written by the founder of Scificism. It’s a goofy info-dump that introduces the quirky character of Grandpapa and expands upon his theology. It’s not necessary to understand the main story, but it fleshes it out more.

RM: Are you staying the course, or are there any developments in the near future?

AM: I’m happy that I have a good buffer now of 7 weeks. I want to keep ahead of the game so there is no interruption in programming. I’m also working on a Butterfly follow-up and developing Aporkalypse in addition to my novel writing. That’s a lot of balls to juggle and not drop. Wish me luck.

RM: What is at the top of your webcomics reading list?

AM: My comic collective Stache Publishing has just launched a new newspaper serial called Aporkalypse that we are running on the web. I also enjoy Outrunners by Jonathan Gelatt and Andrew Krahnke.

Pretty Face updates every Friday at PrettyFaceComic.com. The web comic is free to the public.

Please read Pretty Face, enjoy… And I’ll see you next month on Inveterate Media Junkies!

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