by Don Aliff
When you have a serialized narrative like a comic strip, it tends to focus on some sort of family dynamic. Exploring relationships leads to character development as opposed to a driving storyline. It could be anything from the traditional family setting to a group of coworkers to a street gang or a set of close friends. In many ways Out at Home, by author/artist Alex Wendzel, sticks to that model. What sets it apart is that it takes that familiar formula, twists it a little, adds a dash of wit and eccentricity, and then throws in a few explosions for the hell of it.
Out at Home focuses on the adventures of the Beckett Family and their acquaintances. These experiences range from the mundane to the extraordinary (Think kidnappings, paramilitary actions, and laser bears.). In short, if there’s anything to learn from Out at Home, it’s that you can do just about anything if you have enough money. Herman is the patriarch of the family, an extremely wealthy retired professional baseball player and recent divorcee. He has two children: Kate, a 17-year-old high school senior with creative aspirations and a good head on her shoulders, and Thurman, a selfish 10-year-old brat who would rather spend his time playing elaborate pranks on people than going to school. Kate’s best friend is Penny, an unmotivated genius who has a penchant for liquor. Thurman spends most of his time with his friend Eddie, who is in love with Penny despite their great difference in age.
The family stuff gets old kind of quick. The supporting characters are what really shine. Penny never fails to make me laugh. She routinely breaks the 4th wall with hilarious results. She once got Thurman to stop talking by popping his speech bubble. Another time she reacted to character redesigns. No one else seems to understand that they are merely comic strip characters, although Herman’s friend Ordog, the elderly actor, can sometimes hear narration boxes. He calls them “the voices” and doesn’t seem to understand what they are.
Kate serves as the emotional center of the comic, if only for playing the straight man to just about every other character. She generally dislikes her brother and she often finds herself taking care of Penny when she’s had too much to drink. Kate’s father has good intentions, but his naiveté coupled with his wealth leads to things backfiring and it brings a lot of unusual drama in to the family’s life.
Honestly, it’s pretty standard fare for a webcomic, but it is enjoyable. The writing is clever and the art has a great cartoon style to it. What personally kept me reading were the many references to New England. Author Wendzel is a native of Massachusetts and went to school at the University of Hartford, so he clearly incorporated his experiences living around the area. As a Connecticut native myself I was pleased to see that Herman played ball for the Hartford Weasels (not a real MLB team, but we can dream!). When Herman’s parents visit from Maine, Wendzel took the time to incorporate local Maine vernacular into their speech. He makes note of how there are Dunkin’ Donuts locations on nearly every street corner in another strip. There are many more references too. It’s those little endearing odes to home which make me smile, but as a New Englander I’m a bit biased. I doubt anyone from anywhere else would really care (or notice).
TL;DR Give Out at Home a shot. It’s a good read with witty dialogue and funny characters, even despite being a bit formulaic at times.
Out at Home is written and drawn by Alex Wendzel. It updates every Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. You can read it online here. You can also purchase “Stop Ruining the Moment”, volume one of the eBook on the Out at Home store.
Don Aliff graduated from Central Connecticut State University in 2010. Since then he has dubbed himself a Professional Dreamer. You can usually find him reading, writing, performing music all over Connecticut, or passed out in the corner somewhere. Ask him to tell you a story sometime.