Written by Matthew Pardue
As promised, today we have three comics by Dylan Meconis, a freelance artist and writer who’s worked on a lot of publications according to her FAQs page, but is best known (by me, anyway, which is what counts) for her webcomics. I’ll review them in the same order they were made, because I can’t think of a more creative way right off-hand.
Bite Me! is first (that exclamation mark is going to annoy me thanks to Microsoft Word’s capitalization settings, so this is the only time you’ll see it). You may already guess just by the name that it’s about vampires; to Meconis’s credit, she started this back in 2000 before the vampire craze really took off (with the exception of Anne Rice, anyway, but at this point accusing people of copying her is like accusing them of ripping off Dracula). More to her credit, it’s a comedy, and a good one too, so she mostly parodies the dark-and-seductive-stalkers-of-the-night business. Her undead characters also gleefully describe themselves as agents of Satan rather than taking a woe-is-me attitude about it (a change that would have livened up Twilight a fair bit).
It’s set in the French Revolution, because Meconis is a history buff and she looked at that time of inequality, aristocratic corruption, starvation, violent social unrest, and mass executions of tens of thousands, then did the only sensible thing and made it the backdrop of a comedy.
That’s Lucien (the mostly-serious one, insomuch as someone who died thanks to chickens can be serious) and Claire (the funny one who may be just a little crazy). They meet largely by accident, but something happens to stick them together. Not that Claire minds about her new life, quirky woman that she is.
Their story is short and self-contained; I just read it from start to finish in about two hours while also answering emails and keeping an eye on the Red Bull Stratos base jump (which finally got cancelled after long delays, damn it). As such, it’s a quick and easy comic that could pass a slow afternoon and get you interested in Meconis’s next work, Family Man.
I still don’t get the name. If she’s referring to the main character, Luther, then the title doesn’t make much sense. He starts off staying in the family home but soon leaves to take a job offer; none of his relatives have walked on-screen in a good five years. Don’t let that number mislead you; Family Man seems about as short as Bite Me, actually. It just updates rather casually. Normally one new page comes out each Friday, but Meconis has to take breaks now and then, usually because she injures her drawing hand. The plot also has a pretty slow pace. You might not like that; Bite Me moves along much faster, has more action, and is already finished. Family Man spends a lot of time foreshadowing and hinting (for example, werewolves have been promised since the start and they’ve only recently been revealed), so you need a little patience to get into this story.
Anyway, the details. Luther leaves home to take a faculty position at about the only university that’d tolerate him; that’s what happened when you studied theology in the 1700s and switched to atheism during your dissertation. It tended to make you unpopular with the other professors (and just about everyone else). Weirdly, Luther’s religious leanings don’t stop him from still enjoying the subject matter, not to mention teaching it.
If a story about academic politics sounds thrilling to you, then you’re in the right place (which is good, because you won’t find many others that’ll suit you). Well, academia and werewolves, like I mentioned earlier. It’s a strange but admirably creative combination, like cheesecake and bacon. Sure, it looks weird on paper, but until you try it, how will you know?
Assuming you like history and have the patience for a genuinely slow plot, though, Family Man is a great comic (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve accidently written Family Guy during this review). The art, characters, and story are considerably more sophisticated and realistic than Bite Me; I recommend reading the archives with the Notes page in another tab or window so you can see all the thought and historical accuracy that goes into this thing. Meconis also realizes that her story doesn’t exactly fly along at breakneck speeds, and she graciously reminds her readers of who certain characters are or what an earlier plot point was when we haven’t seen either in a while, something that you may remember me wishing for with Schlock Mercenary.
On a side note, two characters (possibly three if you count a brief, wordless appearance in the epilogue) carried over from Bite Me to Family Man. Meconis has said a few times that we shouldn’t expect many similarities. Some aspects are deliberately opposite, according to her. That’s kind of a shame, because I like Luther’s older self in Bite Me.
Onto the third webcomic, “Outfoxed.” This one’s much shorter (as you might’ve guessed from the format of the name if you’re one of my literary people), only twenty-two pages not counting the cover, so you could read the whole thing in a matter of minutes. It’s a nice little fairy tale with some very thematic shading; the shadows are probably my favorite thing about it.
I can’t say much without ruining the story, since it’s so short, but the basis is that the laundry woman saves a fox from the hunters. From there, things get strange. Meconis herself describes it by writing, “The old saying goes ‘be careful what you wish for,’ but this fable suggests it’s a good idea to be careful of what other people wish for, too. Even when they’re not people.” I think she puts it pretty well.
So that’s the basics of Dylan Meconis: a clever history writer who draws well and does more research for her stories than any reasonable person would attempt. Regardless of the order I used here, I recommend reading “Outfoxed” first, since it’s so brief, then going to Bite Me. If you like both of those, then you might enjoy Family Man too. If not, then strap electrodes to your head and zap your brain until you do like it, because they’re all three great stories that at least deserve a chance.
Oh, I only now remembered the disclaimers as I edit this before posting it. Bite Me is surprisingly tame for vampires in the French Revolution (aside from people occasionally shouting about the dark angels of Satan and such); its violence is pretty easygoing and played for laughs even if you see some blood. On the other hand, Family Man is weirdly more adult despite the formal academic setting. A dead rabbit gets graphically sacrificed in detail, and there’s some nudity (historically accurate nudity between consenting, well-adjusted adults with explanations of the social norms surrounding their relationship, which I guess makes it downright educational). And “Outfoxed” briefly shows a naked guy with a strategically-placed speech bubble for censorship. Unless the thought of Luther’s chest hair disturbs you too deeply, you should still check out the comics.