Written in March, 2006, School Spirit was reviewed by the small site, Casual Notes, part of the webcomic site Casual Notice. Due to the time that has passed, the strip itself has of course moved on from some of the points raised, although the review is still relevant, particularly for its time.

I’m going to open this review with a little caveat. School Spirit by Daniel van der Werff and Daniel Quinney is Australian. I mention this because a casual glance at the comic may convince you that the authors speak English. Let me assure you that they don’t. At least not any version of English with which you may be familiar. Mind you, I’m not arrogant enough to think that North Americans (yes, I include Canada in this) speak anything that actual Brits would recognize as English either. This is due to a fascinating linguistic thing known as the dialectal shift. Essentially what happens is when a population spends enough time separated from its parent language-group, the unique needs of the society cause a shift in the usages and (occasionally) actual words. It doesn’t help that the parent language is also growing along its own path. The upshot is that you’ll be talking to an Australian, or reading Australian literature, and it’ll all go fine, then suddenly you’ll be faced with a series of random, made-up-seeming words and phrases. Normally, we Americans are protected from such scary concepts as dialectal shift by our protective Marketing Machine that even overdubbed the entire movie Mad Max with American Accents and took all of the scary British words out of Tolkien’s books.

I’m not finding fault. It’s nice to see that the world hasn’t been completely MacDonaldized. But I felt fair warning should be given that a “Golden Duck” is not some weird fetish (it’s a fielding error in cricket, which, considering they use a wooden ball and no gloves seems more like wise avoidance than lack of skill).

I should point out another thing which may prevent my review as being as full as it perhaps should be: School Spirit is hosted on Comic Genesis (nee Keenspace). Nothing really wrong with that except CG has a wealth of popups, popunders and other pop-thingies that find their way around my Norton Anti-Spam protection and make a wade through van der Werff and Quinney’s archives (which are extensive) difficult. Don’t count this as a strike against them. I still watch CSI despite CBSs insistence on showing that dumb ass commercial where the car is being chased by gas station price numbers. Advertising is the cost of free entertainment.

And free entertainment is what you get with School Spirit. No comic about children can escape the inevitable comparison with Peanuts, and van der Werff and Quinney come out of that comparison pretty well. In fact, in some aspects they come off looking a little better than Peanuts. Much of Peanuts’s humor, especially in the early strips, is somewhat mean-spirited, or at least driven by mean-spirited characters. The kids in School Spirit are mostly friendly to each other, and none of them is a “blockhead”. Most of the humor comes from poking at preconceived notions. When one of the lead characters (Cody) is bowled (like getting struck out) in cricket by Grace, he is joshed for getting bowled by a girl, despite the fact that Grace can out-play and beat up any boy in their school. You don’t laugh at Cody when it happens, you laugh with him, knowing full well that the teammate who is joshing him will also be bowled, and that their team will probably lose this game by an astounding margin (all margins in cricket are astounding, with scores that can often only be tallied using advanced calculus), not because they’re so awful and unlucky, but because Grace is so good. And despite being so painfully out of his league, Grace (unlike the snotty girls in Peanuts) really likes Cody. At one point she beats the tar out of a kid who hit Cody (in self-defense) then goes out of her way to ensure that Cody won’t know that she did (so she doesn’t hurt his self-esteem). Compare that to Lucy and the football, if you will.

They play a little fast and loose with the fourth wall, but it’s not often and it’s rarely intrusive.

The art…well, it takes some getting used to. It’s not bad art. It’s actually quite good, stylistically. It is, however, not attractive. Suppose some weird freakish scientist ran an experimental breeding program using the Peanuts kids and some Troll dolls. But it rings true. Kids are cute, but they aren’t attractive, and they shouldn’t be. Any artist who draws children looking and dressing like little adults needs help. Kids, especially kids in that awkward age between 9 and 15 are…well…they’re chunky, they’re gangly, they’re cute in a wholly unattractive way. Van der Werff and Quinney do an excellent job of conveying this.

I say van der Werff and Quinney, but I’m not sure if Quinney is even still involved in the project. His name is on the front page, but the actual strips are (at least for the past several months) all credited to van der Werff, so Quinney may not be working on the comic any more.

His loss if he isn’t.