Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saturday Revue March 7th: Stardust The Cat

Jaded? Cynical? Sour?

Have I Got A Strip For You!

So, have you had enough of dumb hippies, commercialism and crass sentiment?
Stardust the Cat knows your pain. And he still doesn't care.

This fully completed, witty and wry creation of Stephen Leotti can be found here for your reading pleasure.

If Sylvester had a younger brother who gave up on chasing small rodents, moved out of Mom's house, double majored in Philosophy and Social Sciences and really did something with his life before settling down to cohabit with a Buddhist who isn't very good at it, that would be Stardust. In the tone of one who's seen the world and suffered its myriad stupidities, Stardust begins as a philosophical gag-a-day comic and evolves into a dryly lovable storyline.

Our main characters here are Stardust himself and his chirpy, chipper mouse roommate Freddie, who injects some much needed levity and one liners. Together, they explore life and our culture from their own very individual point of view.

The Rating

Stardust, your Phil. 101 prof would be proud.

The Raves

By the time the project finishes, the art is a beautiful blend of classic Sunday Funnies strip style and ink-and- pen illustrative work. Even when I wasn't in love with the story, the illustrative style kept me reading. At its best moments, Stardust harks back to the golden era cartoons such as Loony Tunes; wry, rollicking, clever and irreverent.  In fact, it even explicitly nods to the days of the old Toons.
It's also amusing how much cultural and social commentary is worked in with this strip's signature sour wit reminiscent of Sunday Funnies staples such as Doonsbury and Mother Goose and Grimm.
When somebody manages to wrap up a quotation by Frost, a social commentary on Seinfeld and the kind of joke above in a few strips, I'm definitely amused.
The structure is an ambitious one, trying for a gag-a-day style with an underlying long-form plot structure comprised of interlocking stories. It doesn't always work, but when it does it's a lot of fun.
By Episode 11, I was really in love with Stardust the Cat. The art style had become solidly and unquestionably stylish. The use of color becomes a treat for the eyes and a well-used signifier for changes of mood or character state, and the plot lines get a lot tighter, much more focused and more dynamic.
By episode 14, I was sad that the story was complete.

The Razzes

So, I'll be really honest, I had SERIOUS trouble getting into Stardust The Cat. It took me until the 9th episode to really enjoy reading it, and at first I couldn't pin down the reason it didn't work for me. Then it dawned on me; I was suffering the reading equivalent of taking a step that wasn't there again and again. Everything about this strip told me it was a gag-a-day piece, but I'd get through three or four strips before I got to a punchline. It left me as a reader slightly irritated at all times. The irritation was exacerbated by a bad habit of skits degenerating into long-winded soliloquistic sermons. There was an attempt to break these up by spreading them over several strips, but that left you with numerous 'orphan' strips that were pointless out of context, like the one below.

The disconnect between what I was led to expect and what I was given really started to irritate me after a while, though in time it did get less and less frequent. 

My other major irritation with this strip did improve around episode 10, but until then it was a definite downside. And that downside would be size. The comic above is the original hosted size; small enough to make reading slightly difficult for one strip, really irritating after you've been archive-diving a while and find yourself squinting like your granny. When it began to improve I was really relieved, but the project would have been a lot better if the strip size had been consistently large and readable throughout.

The art style goes through several experimental permutations, and while I do admire experimentation, it actually came off as a drop in quality sometimes, especially when the artist experimented with a very grainy texture style that just doesn't work.

I was really happy to see the artist dump that texture after a while; it denigrated great linework. But experimentation is the way an artist grows, so I won't call it a mistake, only an experiment that didn't quite work.
 All in all, watching the artistic trial and error and the eventual perfection that came from all that work was a great treat.

The Revue

The perfect thing to read with your gourmet coffee on a Sunday morning, once you've finished your Kant and your perusal of the Journal of Philosophy and before you get into your Plato. 

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