Written by Matthew Pardue
Today’s webcomic started out as an entry for an online contest, I’m told, and even though it didn’t win, people liked it enough for the creator (Kelly Turnbull) to keep it going. The title describes it relatively well, although there’s more here than you might think. Sure, Manly Guys Doing Manly Things (let’s trim it down to Manly Guys) is primarily just what it sounds like, but it first has a slightly different definition of “manly” than I expected, and second sometimes shows the characters going about their lives even if nothing manly occurs. Concerning manliness, the comic spends a lot of time contrasting masculinity as tough and confident yet not pointlessly confrontational, versus masculinity as eternally and hatefully murderous. This page sums it up nicely:
That’s Sarah Jones and Commander Badass, a time travelling Navy SEAL (technically Navy TIALS: time, air, land, sea) from the future who worships Marlon Brando as a symbol of manliness and might’ve been synthesized from American soil and steak (there’s no official word on whether or not he was joking). He runs a small office where he finds jobs for socially-disastrous action heroes who need firm supervision if they’re going to make it through the day without flying off the handle and hurting people because it’s all they’re used to. And if you aren’t at least curious about the comic after that, then I’m just not sure we have much else to say to one another.
My first impression of Manly Guys was that it’d be a straightforward, simple webcomic about pop culture and video game figures who run through one fish-out-of-water scenario after another with little extra thought involved beyond some clever jokes. I soon found that I’d given it too little credit. Yes, about half of the pages are just here to poke fun at the movie and game heroes who have testosterone spraying from their pores, but the whole masculinity contrast thing I mentioned earlier is usually really well done. Seriously, you could probably use a few of these pages in a Gender Studies paper. Even though it’s first and foremost meant to be funny, there’re some surprisingly deep themes on gender roles and what manliness means to different people. The way Commander Badass (for real, that’s his name, although most people just call him Commander) interacts with Jared, the nerdy intern, is a good example:
The game he’s talking about is real, by the way, although Jared neglects to mention how potentially disturbing it can be.
Aside from the manly pages, the other third-to-half of the comic is about Commander’s life, his kids/ex-wife, and his relationship with Sarah (or Jonesey, as he calls her). It turns out that he’s a straight-up awesome father:
Of course, his parenting goes back to good masculinity, bringing things full-circle.
The downside to Manly Guys is that you might not get all the references. A lot of the characters are from various video games, some more mainstream than others, and Turnbull occasionally brings out people or jokes from other forms of entertainment (Donnie Darko and “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream” come to mind). I’ve missed the punch line on several pages. That said, below each comic strip Turnbull usually at least mentions what story or game she’s using even if she doesn’t explain the joke. Further below that on each page are comments from readers, so sometimes they might clear things up if you’re confused.
Now for the disclaimer: as you’d expect from so many action heroes crammed into one spot, there’s violence here. Profanity too, if in small amounts.
Manly Guys updates once a week around Monday, and new pages are often either late or uncolored because Turnbull is very busy with her actual job. The fact that she does this comic in her free time, just out of the goodness of her heart, makes it even cooler for me. Most of the webcomics I read are full-time endeavors; the writers and artists make their living off of them with books, merchandise, and sometimes fan donations. Such a casually-done webcomic has no business being as fun as Manly Guys is, much less having this kind of hidden depth about gender expectations. It’s like I went to a fast food drive-through one day for a quick cheeseburger, only to have it be the best damn cheeseburger I’d ever eaten. I guess that if I had to choose between this and steak (Girl Genius, Unsounded, and so on), I know what I’d pick as my favorite, but still. This is a damn good comic.
Here’s the first page. Check it out and feel manly.