(published on June 18, 2002)
Take Ralph Bakshi's "Wizards" and mix it with good art (NOTE: not a knock on the Bakshi art!) and a healthy dose of standard RPG/fantasy humour, and in theory, you should have a bubbly potion for fantasy webstrip gold. However, if you don't have a good Comedic Philosopher's Stone, you may find yourself dragged down by the leaden weight of flubbed and unoriginal jokes, and never graduate from FunnyWizard U.
Chuck Whelon's Pewfell Porfingles seems to fall under this alchemic misformulation. The Moderntales -sponsored fantasy humour comic delivers very deft art and a mildly to sometimes fairly interesting loosely-bound "story", but unfortunately, the humour tends to fall flat -- no bubbles to perk up the mix at all.
The strip revolves around a supposed-wizard named Pewfell Porfingles, a lazy, selfish, indulgent, dyonisiac type who loves to smoke his marjaweed. This odd fellow is complemented by his Red Sonjaesque wife Tina (the brains of the outfit, which is humourous to say because of how little outfit she usually wears), the always overrighteous Ye Olde English-speaking cleric Bish, a ratfaced thief named Pedwyn, a softheaded (and softhearted) barbarian called Fug (who's berserker rages are, admittedly, VERY cool!), and a few other recurring characters. Just like in any typical fantasy/RPG comic, they go about in party formation, on adventures and quests, and ye olde hijinx ensueth.
The art of Pewfell is fine -- more than fine, even. It is very organic and elastic, just like a Bakshi cartoon, a Crumb doodle, or that "Keep on Truckin'" fellah that was so popular on 70's T-shirts. The artist draws great buildings and backgrounds (his rock formations and landscapes can be really trippy!), and unlike many comic strippers, Chuck doesn't draw everyone from a "single template" (i.e., everyone looking the same) -- each character SCREAMS full-on Paris Original unique, and looks pretty snazzy, too.
Colour is also a strength of his. Chuck learns fast from early on that CG dodge/burn shading isn't meant to work with his characters, and switches over to the more european flat colour style, which is anything but a sign of laziness -- it looks very sharp, and compliments his linework perfectly. On the whole, his art does everything that one would expect for a fantasy series and more -- the images and layouts are elaborately detailed, drawing the reader into Pewfell's weird worlds like an Unlikely Hero(tm) to a big magical sword...
...until the reader slams into a huge wall of convoluted writing.
Chuck can be forgiven for the awkward initial few attempts at stories, because he was new at this, and one can't expect to hit comedy platinum from the get-go. In fact, after the first few stories (none of which made me chuckle, though I smiled at least once or twice), Chuck goes on through a gag-a-day phase that starts out pretty darn strongly, though it eventually peters out to a more dull brand of bland recycled humour (with emphasis on the recycled -- so many jokes were variations or blatant rips of things I'd seen/read before).
His comedic strength is knowing how to use misdirection, but it's really his only funny-ha-ha strength. Nine times out of ten, he can't seem to think of witty or original punchlines, instead copping out with lines like, "I hate you, Pewfell Porfingles", "Miserable Git!", "What did I do *this* time?", "I'm gonna get you for this, Pewfell Porfingles!", etc. etc. Worse is when he does that cheesy 'everyone laughs loudly in the back while someone delivers one of the above lines' endings -- doing it once might count as parody, but doing it it on a number of occasions goes past that and becomes, well, a lame way to end a story. There are actually a number of times when I found myself screaming loudly at the monitor with words like, "Dammit! It would be SOOO easy to write a better punchline than that! You're not even TRYING!! AUUUUGH!!!"
Now, to be fair -- Pewfell is consistent in its inconsistency -- meaning that the comic tends to slide back and forth from tear-out-your-hair unoriginal to pretty darn interesting with fair regularity, and that yes, it CAN be interesting. When Chuck doesn't try to be funny, for example, the dialogue usually works well, and the stories can become captivating. Heck, the "Wizard of Oss" storyline -- particularly when Pewfell and Bish are trapped inside the wyrm god -- is GREAT. Chuck lets loose with his imagination and the reader is treated to an incredible landscape of the fantastic. Beyond psychedelic, this section was by FAR my favorite part of the series as a whole -- even the anticlimactic end wasn't so bad this time around. And there *are* other good bits, too, sprinkled here and there, enough that you can read the entire archives without hurting your brain too severely.
Overall, I think that with Chuck's art, and his ability to plan out fairly decent story plots, Pewfell could be a strong comic -- indeed, there are many fantasy webcomic artists and enthusiasts who already emphatically believe so. However, his apparent need to try to be funny (and his failure to do so more often than not), his tendency to wrap up storylines way too quickly (often *just* as they are starting to get interesting), the gratuitous drug references (it's not that they're offensive, but rather that aside from two plot-related instances, there's really no point to them -- they're not even shock value), and a few other negatives pretty much bring you down from the high points, and end up making for an unbalanced comic that hovers around the almost-mediocre-to-average level.
If I had any advice to give to Chuck, it would be to invest in a joke writer or co-writer: if the punchlines were worked on (with more original and witty humour) and the stories balanced out some (e.g., tighter/more satisfying climax/conlusions), Pewfell Porfingles would easily be getting the lead out and hopping up to a shiny new Golden Age.
Fantasy lovers and Bakshi fans, you'll probably still enjoy this, but people looking for a strenuous funnybone workout, avoid it like bat guano.
FINAL TALLY: a unlabelled D&D potion -- pretty colours with an aftertaste that may kill ya?
[DAMONK's NOTE (June 23): I had meant to point out something that was mentioned in my original draft notes for this review, but forgot when I wrote up the final copy, so here it is: Pewfell HAS improved a bit since joining Modern Tales -- Chuck seems to have reduced his number of attempts at punchlines, and instead is letting the dialogue drive the humour; the "funny factor" is now more of a subtle underlying thing, which works much better than the older blatant punchline misses... So please note that While the "comedy" writing is still weak, Chuck is clearly working on overhauling this problem, and making progress.]
Name of Comic: Pewfell Porfingles
"Sponsored" by: Modern Tales
Genre/style: fantasy, mostly serial but w/ gag strips
First comic: sometimes in 2000
Updates: now daily
Total # of comics
(at time of review): 257 colour strips
% of archives read at time of review: 100%