I want a pet manticore. I never knew that about myself until I first encountered Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell, but it’s true. The webcomic’s protagonist, Skittles, is just too damn adorable for words. Oh, there are those -such as the authors- who will argue that the actual protagonist is the eponymous Darwin, but they are wrong. Skittles is the true hero of the piece- who is it that adorns the banner? That’s right. Darwin’s tale of woe is just a framing mechanism, used by Sophie Goldstein and Jenn Jordan to situate Skitíls saga fegursturs in a manner to which modern audiences may relate.
The Darwin Carmichael of Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell1 is cursed to Hell. I guess you can get that from the title. It turns out that his karma is out of balance thanks to an incident in his wayward youth involving a babysitting gig, a punk girlfriend, and an unstable high chair. The story of the webcomic has us witnessing Darwin’s shitty job, his best friends, the stoner angels crashing on his couch -and his pet Skittles, the true hero of the story- as he half-heartedly attempts to rectify his error and save his soul from eternal damnation.
If this sounds like a bad White Wolf adaption, you couldn’t be more wrong. DCiGtH2 brings the serious occasionally, but for the most part the ‘comic is hilarious with the occasional side note toward adorable. The clash of the everyday New York life with some of the more bizarre creatures of mythology provides endless opportunities for humour. Like all good works of fantasy, much of the funny is satire directed at modern life. Hipsters take it in the teeth, as does urban development, and the sexism inherent in art.
As mentioned, Skittles steals rightfully claims the spotlight. A two thousand year old manticore with the heart of a thirteen year old girl and the eyes of a despairing puppy, the plotlines dominated by him never fail to bring a smile to my face. Whether it is his birthday party (revealing that most mythological critters are adolescent girls at heart), or the crayon episodes detailing the adventures with his previous owners, his tales are hilarious and sweet in equal measure. For all my jesting about him being the true hero of the piece, I actually suspect his role is critical. The little guy frolicked alongside Christ, Oscar Wilde, and Joan of Arc, among others. These are important figures in literature and history, and all of them faced severe trials of faith and spirit in their time. Is it a coincidence that Skittles is now companion and friend to Darwin Carmichael, Damned? I doubt it.
I will freely admit that I am drawn to DCiGtH because of the mythological content. I am a fantasy fan of long standing, having grown up on Greek myths and King Arthur and studying, you know- medieval history and literatures. The concept of ancient deities waiting bars, citizens balancing karmic checkbooks, and mermaid artists with their own tank (how does she get around?) appeals to my very bones. I am particularly pleased that Jordan and Goldstein include elements of Christian mythology in their tale; the stoner angels and their demonic dealer are a nice touch. Too often these sorts of stories are hesitant to treat all mythologies as equal.
Of course I could not go without mentioning the jokes levelled at atheists! The fanatical, proselytising street atheists of DCiGtH make me walk the streets with a giant grin for days every time they make their appearance. The joke works on several levels, which I am not standing here to discuss, and each of them makes me smile. The fanatical Einstein lookalike who briefly deconverts the angels; the grouchy street preacher who gets annoyed when he is mocked. Pure comedy gold.
I have to confess that when DC3 started I was not sure where it was going. The art looked occasionally awkward in the first few strips, I was not sure of the plotline, and I thought Skittles was grating. I know! I was so wrong– I must repent. These issues resolved themselves rapidly, demonstrating that they were just the bumps every new webcomic must endure before it can get great. The art has improved while retaining Goldstein’s style of clear lines and simple colours, and the writing has become clear and sharp. The result may not necessarily be to everyone’s taste -some people just don’t like nice things- but it is a good piece of work.
Darwin Carmichael is Going to Hell has become one of my favourite ‘comics over the year and change it has been running. The updates are regular, there is a cast page, an about page- all the minimum standards a modern webcomic ought to have. It is difficult for my native perfectionism to rise up and find nits at which I may pick in Goldstein and Jordan’s work. This is pleasing, because it is such fine work. Wholesome and fun, funny and engaging, DCiGtH is realistic myth-fantasy about a manticore named Skittles and a boy named Darwin at the highest levels. You owe it to yourself to have a read.
Full Disclosure: I’ve known Jenn Jordan on the internet for a while. She blogs at Per Omnia Saecula where she watches bad medieval movies so we don’t have to, and is generally awesome. Plus, the DCiGtH creators are offering a t-shirt as a prize to people who say nice things about them, so.
1. There has to be a better shorthand than DCiGtH for that.
2. There must be.
3. See, this one doesn’t work because it looks like that famous comic company.