I went to my first New York Comic Con last weekend, and for the first time I can recall, treated a convention as a convention and not simply as an excuse to wear cosplay and drink. (Not completely, anyway.) For me, this meant buying art and games, networking, and most relevantly, buying comics. While I love superhero lore and concepts, I’ve never been too big on the Big Two. I prefer either licensed comics (like Sonic and Mega Man) or smaller studios that have a bit more of an indie flavor. Titles such as Scott Pilgrim fit this bill for me perfectly, with their quirky art style and more off-kilter plots. An art style with a similar tone caught my eye with Welcome to Showside, a comic by Ian McGinty and Z2 Comics, and it checks a lot of my boxes in what I enjoy reading.
From what I was able to gather from the first issue, Showside is a story about three young friends who fight monsters to keep their town safe. It was pitched to me as “if you like Steven Universe, you’ll like this”, and this description is spot on. The art style is cute and the characters are playful with each other. The story stars Kit, a kind of swamp creature boy; Moon, a girl with magical powers; and Belle, the girl with the muscle. We don’t get too much in terms of backstory of these characters beyond some foreshadowing. (Kit tells a story at the beginning about how weeping willows don’t grow in Showside, which I assume will be significant later on, but their past isn’t referenced beyond that.) Additionally, we don’t get any explanations of Moon’s powers, but she does have a teenage version of the Necronomicon, which is sentient and mopey. We also aren’t told if other citizens have magic, but we are sure that not everyone is human. In the beginning of their adventure, the three friends are simply out to get lunch on a boardwalk. While there, a friend tells them that a new “pixel portal” has appeared and they hastily go to deal with it. These portals produce monsters that must be defeated and sent back in. The end of the issue introduces us to Kit’s father, who is the ruler of these monsters. The comic’s website tells us outright that his father is the Great Shadow King and wants Kit to run the family business, so we’re being set up for a story that could be comedic or have a darker slant.
That plot immediately sounds like one of Marceline’s plots in Adventure Time, and I don’t think that is a coincidence. Ian McGinty was a writer for both Adventure Time and Bravest Warriors, and that sense of humor is present here too. Conversations have a level of casualness to them, but occasionally characters will go completely over the top. As well, there are plenty of meta jokes within the panels. One story has Kit telling a rock monster that a game has a great soundtrack, but he won’t be able to hear it because he has no ears; also, he’s in a comic (in direct reference to the fact that this world exists within a comic book). Much of the humor is derived from how natural conversation can kind of go off the rails when not scripted, and how that feels a bit unnatural in a scripted medium. The only worry I have with this sort of comedy is that it may feel forced, as if the creators felt they needed a joke, rather than organically including a joke. This doesn’t really happen in the first issue, but I can see it happening in the future based on the style and my experience with similar writing. But for the most part, it’s an absurdist sort of humor, and I love it.
Some of the humor is also based on the characters’ ineptitude. This is something that showed up a lot in Adventure Time as well as in Steven Universe. We know in those shows how skilled and talented the characters are, but there is a laugh to be had when a forceful attack is responded to with zero effect and a “tink” sound effect. Besides humor, these events show characters to be resourceful as they find a way to still deal with the obstacle. In Showside, they find that the monster they are fighting is immune to direct magic spells and to brute force due to its hard crystal exterior. So in sensible fashion, they bring an equally hard crystal to life with magic, and have that use brute force to win. It’s all played for laughs, but shows the power of teamwork and planning, like many all-ages media do.
Most of the Steven Universe comparisons I could see were in aesthetic; there were bright colors, excitable protagonists, and a crystal being in their first battle. It doesn’t feel like a ripoff, because the goal and plot are way different, but it does have a similar feel. Again, it feels to be in a zone between Adventure Time and Steven Universe, with a touch of indie comic flair and a love of Lovecraftian lore—so something completely different.
Overall, I like comics like this. I appreciate stories that want to play around in cute spaces, are funny, and have a love of darker themes and plot. I’m looking forward to where the story goes in the future. I was told in the booth where I bought the comic that there is an animated series in the pilot phase. Hopefully that keeps the same tone and quality, and we’ll see a franchise coming. I’d recommend picking this up and seeing what’s going on in the town of Showside.
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