Comic Fodder

Webcomic Review - The Nineteenth Century Industrialist

And now for something... completely different.

Renee Katz' offbeat gag strip marches to a different drum. In fact, I don't think it's a drum at all. It's more like a bubble machine. A bubble machine of insanity.

The Nineteenth Century Industrialist follows the exploits of Hiram Thorpe, a temporally displaced oddity who runs a factory in the here and now. Think of him as a cross between Ebenezer Scrooge and Invader Zim. Hyperactive. Grumpy. Stingy. Uncaring. Mean to his employees Grimey and Sooty.

And stupid. Incredibly, incredibly stupid.

The format of the book is pretty representative of the main character. It's seemingly random. Layouts range from single frame gags to more complex 4-10 panel layouts of varying lengths and proportions, all vertical. Rulers and straight lines also have no place in the comic. It gives the webcomic a unique dynamic and fits well with the mood. Every so often, Renee dips into a loose story arc that runs for a few pages. These tend to be highly amusing (check the Karl Marx story arc). But if you think you mean there's story continuity, here, you'd be sadly, sadly mistaken. That's not what it's about, after all.

The art style is frenetic, to say the least. The highly exaggerated body language and classic facial expressions fit perfectly with the off-beat storytelling and effectively supplements the humor quotient. Renee's mastery of the stylized anatomy is evident in every panel and she uses it to nefarious ends to make you twitch with chuckles at appropriate times.

Reviewing the storytelling proves a bit difficult since it doesn't have a cohesive storyline. However, the dialogue is spot on and reflects the characters quite well. Thorpe is a hateful little cowardly bastard and the creator makes you love it.

Although the lettering adequately reflects the craziness of Hiram Thorpe's world, I wish it were just a little bit more legible. It's a challenge, sometimes, to make out what the characters are saying as the dialogue gets crammed into the word balloons. The flat coloring works with the style of the book, but even so, the edges sometimes contain photoshop artifacting, uncolored spots caused by the anti-aliasing of the linework.

Overall, it's a fun read. Definitely different, most of the time. Though it's not always laugh-out-loud funny, there's something goofy to be gleaned from every strip. It's hard to guess what's going on in Renee's head, but it's either a fantastical world of beauty and sarcasm or a twisted pile of bitter funny hate.

Either way, give The Nineteenth Century Industrialist a try. Who would've thought the tales of a temporally displaced 19th century industrial mogul would be entertaining? Read it. READ IT!
Daniel Fu is the Comic Fodder Webcomic Reviewer
He lives in Austin, TX and is the creator of The Retriever webcomic.