At a first glance, one might think that Unlike Minerva is a pretty spiffy comic, but one look behind its vaudeville stage curtain, and the illusion is shattered -- the wizard is revealed as an answering machine recording, one that keeps looping over and over with the same droning message until you finally hang up, frustrated and angry that you weren't able to get through.
Hosted on Purrsia (and a member of The Nice), Unlike Minerva appears five days a week, and is essentially a furry comic that revolves around five main characters, who are all either performers or shopkeepers at a local vaudeville theatre. That's the setting, and also, unfortunately, what passes for a plot. The first strip starts off with Brisbane the hedgehog arriving at the Minerva theatre, looking for a job. There he meets the people who work there, and from that point on, hijinx ensue. Or at least, they're supposed to.
In the 400+ strips that Terrence Marks has written to date, it's only in the last few dozen that any semblance of a real direction has begun to show. Prior to that, it's easy to sum up everything "important" that has happened to date: Brisbane gets to theatre (1st strip), meets all the people (1st week), and then becomes involved in a few romantic escapades (here and there in the rest of the archives). That's it. The rest of the time, the strip focuses on the characters, and herein lies the next big problem...
...all the characters are one-dimensional. They are given no substance whatsoever, and barely even given a distinct "type" to set them apart! Instead, they are all allocated one quirk each -- Caleb doesn't believe that there is such a thing as an "outside" (of the theatre); Peter is extrememly absent-minded and forgetful; Brisbane is meek and the typical sympathetic character of the cast, with pathetic schemes and plans to be something great; Sofia wants to be a Princess; Kimberly is obsessed with making money, selling crazy things and whipping up cons at every opportunity from her little shoppe in the lobby. In three years and 400+ comics, they fail to develop much (if at all) beyond these cardboard cutout specs. What you see in the first strips, unfortunately, is pretty much what you get the entire run.
Now one-dimensional characters and a lack of story do not necessarily have to equate a bad webcomic, so long as there's humour or something else to compensate for it. Unfortunately, Unlike Minerva doesn't do humour very well, either. I personally only chuckled out loud about 5 times in the process of reading through the entire archive. More often than not, the joke timing isn't quite right, and the "punchlines" fall flat and lifeless (or aren't even punchlines at all).
Moreover, one of the biggest problems in the humour lies in the fact that the jokes are mostly based on each of the characters' single quirk -- this results in the one-trick pony effect, and like a one-trick pony, the novelty quickly wears off, and the joke grows old fast. There are only so many times that you can use the punchline (or similar variants), "easily distracted, aren't you?" with Peter, or "you don't get out much, do you?" "Out?", when dealing with Caleb. On the rare occasions when he isn't making jokes based on the characters' one quirk, he re-uses overdone, unoriginal humour. Bluntly put, Terrence has to work on new material.
I want to offer a shining point to this, something positive, because while it's got a lot of problems, there ARE some redeeming qualities to the writing. The strip works best when it doesn't try to force out the funny; it does "cute" adequately, and I can see that it might even have a small-to-medium-sized following for its romantic elements (Terrence does lighthearted romantic tension fairly well), as well as just the fact that it's a furry comic 1.
You may notice that I have yet to mention the art. The reason for this is that it's very difficult to accurately judge the art, seeing as Unlike Minerva seemed to have a new artist practically every week, for about 300 or so comics. This, too, had the effect of a one-trick pony: it was interesting at first to see all the different ways the characters could be depicted, but it gets old fast, and it also raises a host of problematic issues -- with shifting character art, it's hard for the reader to accept exactly how any of the characters are supposed to look or act like. One week, you'll see Brisbane portrayed as meek and spineless, the next fierce and scheming. It doesn't help that Terrence hasn't fleshed out his characters, because the artists are left to pretty much guess at character expressions and body language.
This also creates problems in the story flow itself. Not only is the shift in art abrupt from one strip to the next, but sometimes the strips themselves become disjointed -- the characters may suddenly find themselves wearing completely different outfits, even though they were in the middle of a conversation, or the scene will have changed, or etc. And at times, it appears that the artists have taken a few liberties from Terrence's scripts, which adds to the discontinuity.
However, in the last fifty or so strips, a regular artist has thankfully surfaced (Isabel Gonzalez) and the art has become, if nothing else, consistent. Her character art is actually quite good -- she makes the characters expressive through a standard animangart style. Terrence writes mostly "talking head" strips (meaning little action, but a comic driven by words), but she compensates by trying to draw each panel at a slightly different camera angle, or by placing the characters in interesting settings. Her colouring is likewise more than fair. Unfortunately, she shares the same flaw that a number of amateur webartists (especially those who dabble in the animangart style, I've noticed of late) have: while she draws very nice characters, she can't render equally good backgrounds or peripherals. She should make an effort to practice on these other elements, so that the final product doesn't look so unbalanced.
Overall, I was fairly disappointed in Unlike Minerva -- what's that old cliche? It looks good from afar, but it's far from good. Terrence Marks really has to work on his humour, as well as the fleshing out of his characters. On the bright side, he seems to have started just that, with some depth and backstory on Kimberly being recently offered. I only pray that he keeps going in this new direction, because all of the old lack of direction quite literally wasn't getting him, or the reader, anywhere.
Unless you're a die-hard furry comic fan, or you don't care at all about story and just wanna see cute anthro animals drawn by a plethora of artists, or you like "cute" more than funny, I would say avoid this comic for now, and wait until Terrence plans out a newer, better format for his lack of story. I know that I'll be checking in again in a few months to see if he stuck with his hopeful new direction, and improved some -- but I do this out of a sense of duty, really, and not because I liked it enough that I'd want to read more. In the end, if we remind ourselves that Minerva (Italian-Roman equivalent to Athena) was a Goddess of Victory among other things, then we can say that this strip truly IS Unlike Minerva.
FINAL TALLY: paws down with skunk tail up, poised and ready
Name of Comic: Unlike Minerva
Hosted on: Purrsia
Genre/style: humourous(?) furry
First comic: not indicated (c. 1999)
Updates: daily, Monday to Friday
Total # of comics
(at time of review): 413, in various shapes and sizes
% of archives read at time of review:: 100%