Balancing Act: The Wang—Erection Year

Posted by on February 10th, 2010 at 12:28 AM

Rob reviews THE WANG: ERECTION YEAR, a collection of strips by Stan Yan (Squid Works).

In adapting the travails of his Candide-like character, Eugene Wang, from graphic novel to weekly webcomic, Stan Yan faced a number of difficulties.   His first two THE WANG graphic novels were built on extended riffs that felt more like long-form improv than standard gag humor.  The expansive space he gave to certain scenarios (like a hilarious parody of the sort of pseudo-psychological self-help groups that are mostly ways of separating dopes from their money while building a cultish devotion) was rewarded both in the stories he told and the way he was able to layer jokes for a greater payoff down the line.  Yan mined sources for humor not normally seen in most comics, thanks to his background as a stockbroker.  There’s a viciousness in his satire of that sort of workplace that could only come from experience.

Launching his webcomic, Yan tried to have it both ways.  He wanted to introduce his characters to a brand-new audience, and so crammed a lot of exposition and backstory into the first couple of strips in a way that he tried to make amusing.  The problem was that this was too much information, with the crazy revelations of his first two books (his conservative mother becoming the lover of his ex-girlfriend, his long-lost father reappearing in his life) being introduced very matter-of-factly.  At the same time, these strips were very much the next part of these character’s continuity from the first two books.  I’m not sure what that experience was like for a new reader, but for someone familiar with Yan’s work, it was off-putting.

Beyond that, the six-to-eight panel episodic rhythm of the webcomic was ill-fitting for Yan’s comic timing.  The feeling of a punchline needing to come at the end of each page didn’t work as well as Yan’s more discursive attempts at creating a comic narrative. The flow that made the graphic novels work was replaced by stop-and-go driving.  If Yan had concentrated on making this strip strictly a matter of gags, it might have worked better, but he continued to create a greater character story arc that worked in fits and starts.  The problem with doing more gag work is that characters who were merely ridiculous (like Eugene’s mother, or sad sack Sue Ann Potts) became shrill and one-note walking punchlines.

ERECTION YEAR tended to work best when it zeroed in on work-related gags.  The strips where Eugene is trying to advise his father (or other idiots) not to invest in risky properties, only to be faced with utter stupidity in the face of reason, were especially trenchant.  Yan’s line has become much more streamlined and efficient, with less of the overinked fussiness that made his first two books lack clarity.  For some reason, he chose to employ horizontal hatching in nearly every panel for nearly every character.  The effect was as if every character was constantly in shadow, and it was a distraction for what was otherwise well-designed and executed comic art.  Yan would be wise to settle on one direction, and a return to long-form stories doesn’t have to mean abandoning the webcomics format.

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