In mid 2011, the Comic Genesis forums held another annual Webcomic Above You thread where each person would read and critique the webcomic belonging to the person who posted before them. Verycuddlycornpone, who creates the 1920s themed webcomic Loud Era, took a great deal of time to carefully read the entire archive of 1030+ strips at the time, and then wrote out this very positive critique for School Spirit.


SCHOOL SPIRIT

After I finished reading this comic, I decided to try waiting a few days before I sat down to write a proper review, wondering whether the waiting period would help temper the overwhelming feelings of praise I feel for it that would lead to a rabidly positive review. Alas, I am still enamored with the comic, and have decided to not waste any more time and give it a write-up anyway.

A bit of background- I have been intending to read School Spirit for quite some time, I think a few years ago I had gone to the site and meandered around the supplementary pages but hadn’t read any significant amount. Since then it has always remained on my “to read” list, each time I saw Dutch’s banner or avatar smiling pleasantly at me and reminding me “I need to read that at some point.”

Now that I’ve finally read the comic, I see that my eagerness was well-founded. I’ll admit it now, in case you were looking for me to make juicy and critical commentary, that I have no real complaints about the comic. As I read, any issue that I considered raising was quickly cancelled out by the charm and earnest nature of the story.

School Spirit has been online since 2003 and has amassed a considerable archive of over 1,000 strips. This may seem daunting to a new reader, but the strip is consistent enough that one could jump in now and catch up later if need be. However, the archive is an easy read, and I’ll admit I got a bit sentimental when I finished it and had no more new pages to look at, as it had become a nice nighttime routine.

The comic follows a group of elementary school kids, their teachers, and their other-worldly friends who “live” in the nearby cemetary. The subject matter is suitable for all ages, and doesn’t attempt to seem dark or edgy, a combination that many writers think is synonymous with high quality. School Spirit, instead, is whimsical and sweet, without becoming cloying, trite, or sugar-coated.

School Spirit takes place in Australia. I love reading about places and cultures outside of America, and School Spirit was no let down. It shares a lot about Australian culture, touching on historical, geographical, literary, and pop-culture aspects (and many others too). For those having some trouble with the slang, Dutch has been kind enough to include a Strine page, to translate the Strine for you. In addition, author commentary under the comics may also shed light on references that could be foreign to readers. School Spirit, appropriate given its title, is a learning experience as well as a source of entertainment.

Storylines are usually short, about 10-15 pages each, although a handful may be longer or briefer depending on subject matter. The comic is well-written, upbeat, and humorous, often using puns as punchlines. It’s tough to go through the archive reading the jokes and looking at the friendly character designs without having a smile on your face. The positive and lighthearted nature of the comic is consistent from start to finish, although some strips are rather poignant and solemn (especially those regarding ANZAC Day and other war-related memorial days) and some are very touching and sweet.

The art upon first glance didn’t seem to have changed all too much over the course of the comic, until partway toward the end of the archive I perchanced to sneak back to the first chapter and was quite impressed with the changes that had occurred. The style that Dutch has been using over the near decade has not been switched out for a new one, but rather has been refined over the years. Anatomy has improved and backgrounds have grown more detailed and picaresque when they need to be. The character designs are warm and likeable, particularly for Old Bill, Mr. Kelly, and that goat that appears every now and then :lol:

At the beginning I had some difficulty telling the children apart, however now I find it no trouble at all, I suppose it sorted itself out as I read. The head-sized ears make me think of chimpanzees- I’ll confess that before I started reading the comic I didn’t know that they were actual human children :oops:

Heh, as I read, I kept thinking to myself that the art looked really familiar but I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was. I figured it out. Remember those old classroom computer games from the 90’s, like JumpStart First Grade and its ilk? That’s what it reminds me of- same simple lines and coloring, except School Spirit has far more personality and emotion :P

Characters have gotten to be more expressive over time- little changes in the way Dutch draws parts of the face have helped quite a bit. One problem is that the characters (particularly the children) look fine when facing profile or three quarter view, but when they face directly forward or are angled away from us to show the back of the head, proportions get really distorted and their heads seem to be much thinner as opposed to their usual width. There’s also one recurring punchline where Cody says something foolish as Brylcreem throws his head back, as if to say “oh brother.” Brylcreem’s head looks really weird there, like a rubbery-pancake shape that got kind of rolled back and folded there. There are times though where the character expressions are just perfect, such as this strip, where I can’t tell you how long I couldn’t stop giggling over Cody’s face in the last two panels.

As for the characters themselves, gee whiz. I really like this cast a lot. Seriously- there’s not an unlikeable character in the bunch, even the grumpy old ghost in the cemetary (because you KNOW he’s got a soft spot somewhere, tucked away inside). The spirits intrigue me the most, and I can’t wait to learn more about them as their stories are revealed further. With regard to the children, like the TV show Recess, the comic does a great job of endowing the children with varied, recognizable, and relatable personalities.

That’s all that I can think of at this time. My apologies that I can’t construct a more critical, helpful review, but Dutch has ironed out the flaws that I initially was wary of. I really enjoyed reading this comic and look forward to following it in the future. I recommend this to anyone who works with children in some capacity, as well as anyone who is in the mood for a pleasant, feel-good collection of stories. Excellent work, Dutch!