A webcomic worth reading: Wapsi Square

Webcomics have been good to me.

They found me my eternal sweetheart, kept me sane in the midst of storms, and filled my circle of friends and acquaintances with some of the best people I’ll ever know. There are thousands of them out there, so I’ve had to be selective; they can also be a terrible time-sink.

That said, I’d like to periodically recommend the strips that have meaning for me in one way or another. Today, one that sits at the top of my must-read list: Wapsi Square, by Paul Taylor.

From Wikipedia, “Wapsi Square is a slice of life/fantasy webcomic set in modern Minneapolis, “a world almost exactly like the one you want to believe you live in.” It also includes multiple supernatural elements, including a psychic and a god, which contrasts with its soap opera nature.The name derives from the Wapsipinicon River.

The story starts following the mundane life of main character Monica Villarreal and focuses prominently on her interactions with her friends. She works as an anthropologist dealing with artifacts for museum and the strips are mostly of the gag-a-day form. This changes, however, with the introduction of the character Tepoztecal, an Aztec deity, which marks the beginning of a change in tone, including longer story arcs involving mythological creatures, forgotten civilizations, gods and the end of the world.

What I love about Wapsi is more than just the stunning artwork and the captivating storyline – it’s about the inner journey of discovery that each of his dominant characters is taking. Whether the interactions are the day-to-day ones with friends and associates, or the “holy crap it’s a sphinx get in the car!” ones that happen along the way, these people fight every day with those internal demons that live within each of us: doubt, shame, guilt, insecurity, fear, prejudice, Harry the Worm, you name it. And sometimes they win, and sometimes they lose, and it’s a wonderful romp; even the demons have demons – nobody in this strip is exempt from the struggle.

Prominent among the issues Paul’s characters deal with is body image; Monica is a tiny Latina with a brobdingnagian bustline, and this provides ample fodder for both humor and introspection. Paul will often step outside the fourth wall on his blog to spotlight real-life women who personify the essence of a “Wapsi Girl”: strong, feisty, accomplished, and full of can-do attitude. If you’re wondering where the strong men are in the Wapsi World, they are there, but they tend to hide in the shadows for the most part. I for one would love to know more about Daren the bartender and his background – he reminds me a lot of Star Trek’s Guinan… a wise listener who somehow has a way of seeing into the soul.

Outside of the strip, Paul does some really nice artwork – you can see many of his pieces here, and most of these have been offered for sale at eBay, along with the original bristol-board artwork for the daily strips as well. I confess to having a rather substantial collection.

Wapsi can be lighthearted, but it can also be very dark. It would get at least a PG-13 rating, with an occasional “R” word thrown in, but adult themes are never tossed around gratuitously.

As long as it’s around, I’ll be reading Wapsi; it’s more than just entertainment for me, but also a daily reminder that all of us are fighting an uphill battle, and that we need to be there for one another. It has evolved mightily since it was started, both in storyline and artwork; the only thing I can guarantee is that nobody knows what is waiting around the next corner.

The Old Wolf has spoken.