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Friday, March 31, 2006

More Than Cute. But still pretty dang cute.

Shocking conclusion! (or is it?) From Count Your Sheep.

So, I was actually planning to put up a post here about yesterday's Count Your Sheep, but since Adis has already got something up for today, and it's a pretty interesting strip, it would be silly of me to just ignore it.

First of all, let me remind everyone that Count Your Sheep is to me what Narbonic is to Mr. Burns. It's one of my most beloved strips, the strip I tend to champion to my friends as the "you need to read this" strip. That doesn't mean I absolutely love everything Adrian Ramos does (I'm not a drooling fanboy, although I shamelessly act like one at cons sometimes. But that's a horse of a different color, as they say.), but it does mean I love most of it. And it means I watch with quite a bit of anticipation whenever he seems to be changing up the formula, both because I look forward to how it's probably going to improve the strip and I dread how it might screw the whole thing up. I've been watching very carefully since Adis started the "More than Cute" campaign to see exactly where he was planning to go with it. And while we have seen a little change in tone on a few strips, for the most part it's pretty much been cute.

Not that I can really blame Adis. He's got such an incredibly adorable character in Katie that it's really hard to have her do anything without it ending up cute. Take this joke for example. It's a pretty lowbrow joke about snoring, and apparently farting in your sleep as well. But with Katie as the character, it comes off cute! The girl can't not be cute.

But then, about two weeks ago we suddenly had something new. Here was a strip with no Katie at all, and no Laurie either, really. Certainly outside the usual formula. It's just Ship on the phone. And who's he talking to? Laurie's sister (Karla). Interesting. And it appears that Ship and Karla have a history. Apparently she can't actually hear him herself, but she knows he exists, and acknowledges that fact. And that was interesting enough in itself.

Then, we get a couple of strips of Laurie on the phone with her sister. And for basically the first time in the history of Count Your Sheep we see Laurie interacting with someone other than Katie or Ship. And, surprise surprise, it reveals a side of Laurie we've never really seen before.

See, when Laurie is around Katie and Ship, she's pretty much sucked into the "cute zone". She's interacting with characters who are engaged in cute activities, and as a result we only see Laurie as the patient, loving, and struggling single mother who reacts to the cuteness around her. Presumably when she steps out of the house and goes to work or to the store she acts differently, but we never see this. Until now (ok, we saw a little of it in the Beatles storyline. But that was really focused on Laurie's struggles and not her character).

On the phone we see Laurie actually interacting with another adult. And not just any adult, but an adult with whom she shares a very close bond: her sister. And we see a completely different side of her. We see her yakking it up, cracking jokes, and ultimately ending up somewhat jealous of her sister's footloose ways. And it's all pretty funny, but it's not cute.

In and of itself that set of three strips would be eventful in my mind as the first time Adis successfully broke the cute mold. But he wasn't content to let it stand at that. Oh no. All of a sudden we got a week of "Laurie as a kid strips" focusing on her relationship with Ship. And most of us pretty much forgot about the phone conversation of the previous week and thought it was back to business as usual. But we missed the secondary focus of these strips. They weren't just about Laurie and Ship, they were about the nature of Ship's existence. Is he just an imaginary friend that comes alive when there are people to imagine it (ala Hobbes) or is he a real creature who can only be seen by those who believe (ala Skull the Troll)? If we had remembered the dual nature of Karla's relationship with Ship (she knows he really exists but she can't actually interact with him directly), we might have seen yesterday's strip coming.

...Or at least, we would have seen the first half of yesterday's strip coming. We never could have imagined this shocker:

Ship. In love. With Laurie's older sister. Laurie's older sister who is willing to believe whatever it is Laurie believes, even if she can't see it herself. Laurie's older sister who still, in the present, believes what Laurie believes, even though she STILL can't see it.

That just knocked me out of my chair. Now we understand the nature of Ship and Karla's relationship. She can't see him because she doesn't believe in him, but she can accept his existence because she believes in what Laurie believes. And what about Ship? He thinks he's found a love interest. He can't be a love interest for Laurie or Katie because he's their imaginary friend, not their imaginary boyfriend. To attempt any sort of relationship beyond a friendship would be to attempt to change the underlying foundation of his existence in their world, and that simply CANNOT be done. But he's not Karla's imaginary friend. To Karla he could be anything. There's no boundaries, and here's a college-aged girl showing interest by calling him cute (and let's not get into the ramifications of Karla calling him "cute" in a storyline obviously intended to bring the comic to a level "more than cute". The levels of irony in there are way thicker than I'd care to ply). For someone who's been stuck in a role of "friend and only friend" with no real way out of it, simply the sheer enticement of a potential romantic relationship would be more than enough to make more Ship instantly smitten.

And then, in today's comic we see Ship realize that Karla cannot see him, and only believes in him de jure Laurie. And we can only imagine the crushing blow this must have dealt to Ship as we watch him symbolically peel away the hearts from his eyes. Just like the rest of us, Ship wants to at least have the chance at something deeper than just a friendship, and now he realizes that this simply may not be possible. And now when you go back to the first strip, with Ship unable to even communicate a single word to Karla over the phone, it's practically heart-ripping. This is depth to Ship's character that I never even imagined, and it just makes him so much more real, as we learn just how imaginary his life is.

In a word, awesome. In two short weeks we've seen both Laurie and Ship evolve beyond cute to much, much more. Now we've seen glimpses of the people behind the cute and we know so much more about them. I doubt we'll see anything similar happen with Katie. Katie is supposed to be cute. She's not supposed to be anything more than cute. She's supposed to be the very picture of the innocence of youth, and if that ever changes then that means the whole strip is undergoing some SERIOUS changes. But now we have Katie providing the cute and Ship and Laurie not only supplementing the cute, but really for the first time adding charateristics of their own personalities beyond the cute. Once again Adis has me begging for more.

Now go to bed! (I'm saying that to myself, here. It's frickin 4:30 AM. I hope this post makes sense when I read it in the morning)


At 6:49 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Just a note on to Katie's psyche. There's a bit more to her than just an appelation of cute and innocence of a kid.
She know of her mother's pain and if we consider Ship as an imaginary friend role, see how he taught her of how to love her mother back and show her ways to try and drag Laurie out of her melancholic moods.

"If we can't make her happy, we'll make her angry."
At least she won't be sad, is a footnote, IMO.

And on that note, when Laurie was in her worst melancholy, hide-from-the-big-bad-world-you-can't-get-me-under-this-pillow, Ship told Katie to put up her SHIELD, at which Katie put up a kinda fake smile.
And at another earlier scene, when Laurie comes home, Ship and Katie prepared we-miss-you faces for the tired Laurie to see.

I might be wrong anyway, but those are my two cents.
CYS had always been More Than Cute.
But still pretty dang cute, as you said it. ;)


PS: I hope there aren't any typos. XD


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