I was in this dark period of my life, coexisting with mini waffles and the same already read, and re-read volume of Scott Pilgrim, when in my seemingly useless, countless webcomic browsing sessions I encountered this interesting piece of webcomic gold some of us like to call a true wonder, or should I say, wander? Ladies and gentlemen I give you: Johnny Wander!
Johnny Wander is a webcomic/blog created by artists Ananth Panagariya and Yuko Ota, that centers around the everyday situations of the authors, their roommates, friends, family and overall the comic artist’s way of life, while also serving as a window to the rest of their visual work like one shot comics, short stories, illustrations, sketches and slices of random comic goodness . As in many discoveries, I was not greeted by a basic creation, with still developing characters and scenarios, but by a large cast of them, all set in various locations and situations to boot; I must say the character design and style caught my attention immediately, with its contemporary comic style and manga resources, mainly screen toning; a stylistic mix that has been in development for almost a decade, and that has created a tendency that describes our urban Young Adult comic artist demographic, made notoriously famous by the likes of Brian Lee O’maley and the rest of the indie, Oni Press wildlife. Most of the time the pages are done in black and white, although in some special occasions such as one shot or short comics, it features colored pages.
The theme is basically slice of life; you don’t see much of a complex plot or a highly articulated story line of “end-of-the world” proportions, and thank heavens, we have enough of those around here, Ananth and Yuko go thru life as artists, and show us the everyday adventures of urban new york gardening, subway antics, to cat ownership, and yes, cats are here a lot, being members of Yuko’s family Gonta and Mika, two cats with opposite personalities (while Gonta is your sort of paranoid ever worried house cat, Mika is more lively and somewhat more aggressive) rook, a cat adopted by Ananth and Yuko, and Cricket a kitten, serve as that bit of animal humor that we all enjoy, even if we don’t have to deal with their feline shenanigans. Ananth is a Young Indian-american who’s eyes are hidden under the unknown shade of his baseball cap, which he never takes of, he also dislikes coffee; Yuko is a petite Japanese american girl, who constantly gets mistaken for either a boy or a child, she loves dragons and dinosaurs, and Carl Sagan Oh my! They live together in a creative-cat and plant friendly apartment in new york, although they’re constantly on the move to conventions and other artistic or casual events; The cast features Conrad, a naive and kind hearted webmaster and programmer; John, who along with Yuko is a coffe-table enthusiast and the darkest more serious angry one of the group; George, the forever smiling pervert-type; Evan, a fellow artist and room mate with a fascination for Pokemon and cats; Lela, a daycare teacher and room mate, and many others; since the cast is constantly growing and changing, you might not see a character in a while, but be sure that when you see him or her again, you’ll remember every aspect of his personality. And that’s how good this comic is; when you know the details of a character, even in a large cast, and can easily recall the situations that they’ve been in, the comic has done a good job; even for a greatly diverse sum of stories, or situations with not much of a sense of crafted continuity, each one of them is either funny or relatable, and the characters are down to earth people you are likely to know, and the situations are easy to relate to, even if you’re not an artist or comic book type of person. It has all those daily struggles of Young adulthood and life after college, that are so colorful but seem so bland when you live it, but when you stop to think about your day, you can clearly see there are moments of utter randomness and brightly colored optimism along with the daily angst and traffic filled pessimism. This comic is about life, and last time i checked that was the greatest of adventures.
Subway scenes and the like, show us situations we might take for granted on our everyday life.
Of basilisks, death and blind love
Alongside the daily life themes of the main story (just to classify) we come across other related work, specially colored heartwarming short comics that dwell in the realm of the fantastic. Reading the about section of the website, i noticed that in Ananth’s description, one of his traits was “magic realism”, i thought, “well, this is nice” images of 100 years of solitude with its ghosts and Gipsies, romance, magic, and nineteenth century imagery. I must say that the initial page of the entire comic gives a small hint of this: the poetry, the inviting, tilted design of the page, the Font and even the paper background; in it where all these motifs hidden. I wouldn’t find this mysterious element until I came across this page:
With its yellow filter, color pallet, character design and scenery, this set me aside from what i had read at the moment: here i was Reading a story that seemed set in somewhere in the past, mid 1920’s, but that was actually part of our time. This creation of a time setting in its own, and blending elements of reality gave it away: there it was, that magic realism that i had been warned, it had arrived. “the girl with the skeleton hand” a short one shot story about a Cecilia, a girl that goes on a date with death, and because of a kiss, looses her hand to it, became one of my favorite aspects of the comic; the story has, since its first episode, become an essential part of the Johnny wander universo, spawning a more complex story.
From skeleton hands to cute Deliah
Along with “the girl with the skeleton hand” is “deliah and the basilisk” although maybe not as “serious” as “skeleton hand”, “deliah” still succeeds at giving us its share of magic realism, this time by the way of the mythical creature of the basilisk. Deliah is a blind elementary school girl who is bullied, until by some chance of destiny a truck carrying a case with the basilisk inside it, almost runs her over and crashes, breaking the case and liberating the beast, and a very cute basilisk this one is. Deliah cannot see the basilisk, which protects her from its Stone gaze, and also from knowing it is in fact a very dangerous creature; she quickly befriends it and they become inseparable friends.
Deliah is more “cute” looking and more “childish” than “skeleton hand” but it still has this small amout of dark tones, i mean, yeah petrified people, but that makes contrast with the art and makes everything as interesting.
Two Little Maidens
Another of the colored stories by yuko and ananth is the story of the “two Little maidens”, two brothers who have to deal with their feminine sounding last name “maiden” and their jobs as cops at a local police station. Saddly the story hasn’t been developed at the time, and the only simple of it there is are the two pages that outline the plot in the site.
Last but not least is this short kind of axe cop homage/joke called “pony cop” its short lived, only three pages, but its worth mentioning as one of their most bizarre and random strips as of yet
A wanderin’ with you
All in all, Johnny wander is a good read, and has a litlle bit of everything for everyone, from the man who wishes to laugh a Little of his very own urban state of mind, to the fantasy fan who seeks to go behind whats on his mind. Recently ananth and yuko have been working on what seems to be a one shot story that has added up to 100 and counting pages in the site, called “lucky penny” and by some old yuko sketches, seems that it was on their minds for a while. Because it’s more complex than the previous Johnny wander stories, i will be doing a separate review of it this week. So stay tuned…
Or wander around for a while, you might just find new wonders.
Link to the page: http://www.johnnywander.com/