An examination of the webcomic Wapsi Square. Contains minor spoilers.
Supernaturally oriented soap-opera-like U.S. webcomic written and drawn by Paul Taylor. Started in September 2001, ongoing. Updated Monday through Friday. Rated “R” for occasional nudity, sexual situations, sometimes EXTREME violence and adult themes, and language.
WS started as a simple slice of life, a humorous comic set in Minneapolis. Monica Villarreal is the focus. She’s very short, very busty, and very pretty. A combination that gets her lots of attention, not all welcome. She’s extremely bright, an anthropologist and assistant curator at a local museum, vivacious, and fun-loving. Also, a klutz, lacking in confidence, and trouble-prone. The strip at first is all about her everyday comic misadventures and troubles, her interactions with her friends Amanda and Shelly, her dog Dietzel (who has opposable thumbs, can walk upright OR run like a dog, and seems to have human-level intelligence), her work, and evenings out.
It continues in what is a gag-a-day mode for a long time until one day Monica accidentally frees from centuries of imprisonment the Aztec god Tepoztecal: A two-foot-high, the little blue guy with power over alcohol. Monica insists he’s a hallucination and ships him off to Utah as poetic justice. But Tepoz, as he’s called, eventually comes back and becomes Monica’s persistent problem. He MEANS well and tries to be helpful to her in gratitude for setting him free and as a friend, but he bumbles and irritates a lot. Especially as Monica continues to insist he’s a hallucination. Her conviction that Tepoz doesn’t exist is because as a child she used to see extraordinary beings no one else could. And one day some of them chased her into the path of a speeding bus and nearly killed her. Monica spent time in a psychiatric hospital as a result, learning there’s no such thing as the supernatural and the monsters she saw were not real. But slowly, Tepoz’s presence makes her question that belief. Especially after he mistakenly summons up what appear to be just three drunken college girls: Brandi, Jin, and Bud. But they’re not girls, they’re living artifacts, golems, created via a horrific process by a long destroyed civilization, and who has sealed away long ago because they were so dangerous. How dangerous? They’re the ones who in a burst of vengeful rage obliterated the magically advanced civilization that created them so thoroughly there’s almost no trace of it left. So powerful any of them could destroy the world with ease. And because of circumstances, the only one they’ll listen to and obey now… is Monica. She finds herself the guardian of not only a doll-sized Aztec but also three engines of destruction who just want to be normal women. And all of whom, more and more, pull her deeper into the world of the supernatural.
Mr. Taylor’s art has changed tremendously from the start. It was originally cartoony and sketchy; now it’s much more detailed and fluid, expressive and appealing. This, combined with the fact that the Waspi Square cast consists mainly of attractive females of a variety of shapes and sizes (and species), has led to charges of sexploitation and pandering to the prurient interests of male fans. As there IS a good deal of fan service, most of it centered around Monica, this can hardly be shrugged off. Indeed, at one time the tag line for WS was “Come for the babes, stay for the story”. Girlie art isn’t the main focus of the strip, but it is an element. As for the writing, Mr. Taylor is extremely good at character development, and writing comedy, drama, the bantering dialogue between friends, and people’s reactions to stunning and shattering events. However, as most of the action IS dialogue-driven, this sometimes results in large expositional speeches to explain what’s going on. There is also a major problem with plot and continuity. The comic has gradually added extended storylines to the usual short gag strips, but Mr. Taylor seems to be making some of this up as he goes along. This results in arcs that meander occasionally. And also seem sometimes to contradict what we’ve been told before. Such as that the golem girls spent thousands of years shut down and inert. The key here is, as most of what we’ve been told comes from the lips of characters, there’s always the chance of lying, or error, or inadvertent deception. That escape hatch has been used to explain a variety of changes and retrocons that have been made during the strip. For those who prefer fantasy structures that are cohesive and well-established, this is a problem…
Wapsi Square may be an individual taste. The characters and situations are extremely interesting, and Mr. Taylor tells stories that are certainly entertaining and absorbing. There’s still considerable slapstick humor; there’s also agonizing horror and violence. The process by which three women were turned into golems consisted of unspeakable torture and brutality, and human sacrifice. And although it’s not graphically shown, what happened maybe all the worse for being left largely to the imagination. On the other hand, what IS graphically shown is the cheesecake factor. Whether that repels or attracts is a personal preference. And despite the horror, danger, and occasional glitches, what comes through in WS is the conviction that Good can triumph precisely because it IS Good, and the worst the universe, the gods, and Man can do can’t change that. It is a webcomic worth at least checking out.