The View From Wisconsin
Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.
Thursday, July 12, 2007
Now, three decades later, another cute-but-naïve young girl in the Twin Cities has taken the stage – not on a television screen, but in a web-based comic strip known as Wapsi Square. Her misadventures and growing pains have brought similar feelings of joy and pain from people around the world as they follow her on a five-days-a-week basis via Paul Taylor's finely crafted drawings.
The similarities between the two, however, pretty much end there. The years and the jobs are not the only things that separate Mary Richards from Monica Villareal; there is a vast difference in the everyday lives of the two as well. About the only outlandish thing that Mary ever had to deal with, other than her boss Lou Grant, was probably her TV station's anchorman, Ted Baxter (or his wife, Georgette). On the other hand, Monica deals routinely with the supernatural, speaking in a long-dead language and pondering ancient cultures with a demi-goddess and golem girls, all the while fighting off the influence of her inner demons.
Monica's story is not one that can be easily grasped by the first-time reader, as it is somewhat like a soap opera (and in almost as many installments). It's an understatement to say she had a difficult childhood. She was involved in an accident where she nearly died, and she had issues both mental and physical along the way. Mental in that her sanity was questioned when an old lady who was no longer living had apparently taught her "glyph reading"; physical in her poor eyesight that resulted in milk-bottle-thick corrective lenses, and her early "blossoming" womanhood.
Lesser individuals would, at first glance, dismiss Wapsi Square as a boobs-and-babes story, especially due to Monica's exceptional physique. Digging below the surface and beyond the girder-and-rebar brassieres, however, is a very intelligent and extraordinary girl. Though she sees herself as a bit of a nerd, focused on museum antiquities and calendar machines, she knows herself in a way few others do. The way she deals with the supernatural activities going on around her serves to reinforce her inner strength and her intelligence – something Mary Richards could only dream of having. Of course, I doubt that Mary and Rhoda would know what to do in the presence of a sphinx librarian.
The supernatural characters and storylines are seen as a drawback to the casual observer, since it's difficult to pick up who is who (and what exactly they are doing in Minneapolis) without some background. At times like that, the reader should definitely remember two pertinent laws of fiction: Clarke's Law, which states that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic; and Joel's MST3K Law, which suggests that you should remember it's just a show, and you should probably relax and enjoy it.
Paul Taylor does a wonderful job of storytelling, with characters that you are immediately drawn to (no pun intended). Though you see the pitfalls of Shelly's relationship issues, you empathize with her for how she feels as she's trying to deal with a very difficult situation with another woman. Monica, of course, is the main focus of the strip, and her character is probably the most complex. Consider the following:
- Her exceptional bustline developed back when she was in fourth grade, making not only for awkward feelings growing up, but also major issues with her clothing and self-image. As if this wasn't bad enough, she also had poor eyesight, resulting in milk-bottle corrective lenses as she was growing up.
- She was taught a language that was long dead by a person who she believed to be her great-grandmother (abuela) – until she discovered after the fact that her abuela had been dead for over a dozen years. That language (referred to as "glyph") not only gave her interesting powers, but is also a key to an ancient secret.
- The process of her learning this language put her in touch with her inner demons – to the point where they manifest in a near multiple personality manner. The demons actually nearly drove her to suicide, which resulted in a long fight to regain her sanity.
- While working at the local museum as a curator, she unwittingly freed an Aztec deity from a curse – a deity whose job, it turns out, is to protect her as a "glyph reader".
- That "little blue guy", Tepoztecal (known as Tepoz for short), unleashed another huge problem on Monica – namely, three female golems who were part of a larger destructive force known as the Chimera. Somehow, the three were separated from the monstrosity, but it wasn't until they met Monica that they began to develop their individual personalities again.
- As if this wasn't enough, her friends are having their own issues as well: Amanda, her best friend from high school, is trying hard to establish herself as a photographer (and dealing with a kitten with delusions of being an industrial-strength shredder); another friend, Jacqui, is stepping out on her own as the operator of a punk-rock based yoga studio. Another acquaintance, Owen, is starting up a new life with a steady girlfriend who invokes images more of an Amazon princess than a "girly girl".
- Then, of course, there is her friend Shelly, who has similar supernatural issues of her own. Shelly's issues, stemming from her mother's sudden death and subsequent tribulations, have affected her profoundly – and not just emotionally or relationship-wise. The running gag is that somewhere along the line, Shelly started eating spinach to get her dock-crane-like arms and physique. She's been known to throw a V-8 engine block clear across a garage without effort.
- Her role as a glyph reader has given her access to an immense library of knowledge run by that previously mentioned sphinx, known as Phix. This has given her more insight into her past, but has also caused her great frustration; imagine a book that had the answers to all of your life's questions disintegrating in your hands – not once, but twice.
To say that Monica Villareal lives a complicated life, then, is akin to saying the Grand Canyon is a pretty big ditch. Obviously, her saga is far from being over. The questions of what her role as a glyph reader really means, and the questions surrounding the calendar machine, the Sun Stone, and what those figurines of Shelly's really are, are enough to keep the strip in potential storylines for years to come. Which is fortunate for the rest of us, because resolution of Monica's life would make for a pretty boring story.
At this point, though, we're not entirely sure if Monica's first statement, questioning if she is a naïve girl, is true or not. She may be naïve in certain things, but is growing closer to understanding them – perhaps more than she wants to know. And, perhaps at some point down the road, the statement attributed to that other girl from the Twin Cities may eventually prove true to our heroine – she's gonna make it through, after all.
EDIT: I was reminded (gently) that Phix is actually a Sphinx, and not a Griffen. If she were a griffen, she'd have the face of a cat, not of a librarian.