Webcomics Wednesday: Christopher Wrann's Aquarium Drinking / by David Anderson

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You may be chomping at the bit to see reviews of comics I got from NYCC. Or not. I am, but we all have to be patient. There is still one more webcomic I want to review before we get down to business with some more high-octane stuff.

Christopher Wrann was one of the people on display at Webcomics Con a few weeks ago. I spoke with him a little bit but since I'm not much for talking, as you might know (or not, since I talk a lot here I guess), I swiped a business card with few words exchanged. Between such a brief interaction and this review, I think I'll have cemented myself as a grade A d-bag.

I've only just recently managed to get around to seeing his comic Aquarium Drinking, and while it made a good first impression, second impressions leave me wanting. I hate being a dick, but as I am a reviewer, it's a duty of mine to speak up when I think something is subpar in quality.

I'll try to be gentle since it's the first time I've had to write a review like this. Up until now I've been fortunate to only review things I truly enjoyed. I typically like to keep my harsh side in my head.

Aquarium Drinking is written and illustrated by Christopher Wrann, and it follows the life of a jubilant underachiever named PJ as he loses his job on the same day his fiancee informs him that she's pregnant. His plans for using his severance pay to drink away the summer instantly evaporate, his impending marriage nearly going with it. But in short order he manages to wise up and get a job at his favorite bar. The name of the comic comes from the protagonist's internal observance that being a bartender and watching others recover from their daily trials feels like watching fish in an aquarium--if the fish were drinking tequila, of course. It, like YPcomics, is a workplace piece focusing on Our Dull Lives and the things we do to stave off lunacy or suicide. It might be a tired old story that you've seen from the 90's, in the heyday of "Office Space" and the like, but like a run of the mill American Lager, taking it in can still give you a sense of satisfaction even after tasting better ones.

Wrann's bio says he is always looking forward to collaborating with an artist on his work, and I think this is the most obvious thing to take away from this. His writing is pretty solid--could always improve, I guess, but at the very least I feel like he can write realistic dialogue that allows you to connect with the characters. The jokes usually fell flat for me personally, but there were a few "a-ha" moments where I found myself going "guh, I know what that feels like." That quote, I think, is the theme behind all of his writing. You've probably had a moment where you felt like an idiot because you thought someone was talking to you or acting like a moron, only to realize they have a Bluetooth earpiece on. You've definitely had days where you've felt like your world is falling apart and where problems come in staccato bursts instead of lone stray shots. His characters are easy to relate to and in spite of occasional awkwardness and spelling errors, his dialogue feels fairly good. The story is a bit slow--I'm 50 pages in and there's about 100 total after two years, as it's updated every Wednesday. Still, I think his work focuses more on exploring the characters than any kind of plot, so I don't think it's a big deal.

The characters fall very easily into archetypes--PJ is a Homer Simpson-esque disappointment, his fiancee is his moral anchor. His friends all have problems of their own--one hasn't had a girlfriend in eight years and another has PTSD--so the characters are more interesting than the Mary Sues and self-inserts that typically proliferate webcomics. PJ isn't even really the main character, as a lot of time has been spent focusing on the group he hangs out with as a whole. I am so glad he hasn't decided to make PJ's initial idiocy into a comedy trope and that PJ can actually be introspective, because Homer and Peter Griffin dominate the "idiot adult male manbaby" field like they were Budweiser purchasing another cluster of microbreweries. In case you can't tell, uniqueness in any piece of media is a fetish of mine.

Like I said, he can always get better. But you know that is mandatory for anyone who writes.

His artwork is absolutely atrocious though.

Okay, maybe "atrocious" is the wrong word. The thing is, though, I think the writing suffers for it--it's supposed to be serious subject matter discussed in a light tone with a few jokes to ease the tension, but because of the quality of the art all the dialogue feels wrong, spoken by a bunch of blocky creatures. I feel like he had this idea for a comic and wanted an artist, but I guess he must not have a lot of connections to talent so he went ahead and solo'd as best as he could, hoping to strike while the iron was hot and while he was still excited by his idea. It's an admirable feat I will never commit to, but please, if you're good at drawing and you feel like you want to give it a shot, drop him a line and ask to illustrate his comic. I think he needs it like a sinking man needs a rescue rope.

He at least has some basic anatomy, pose and perspective work down so that he can convey emotions with body language and give you an idea of a character's personality based on their look and build, but we're talking basic in a very skeletal sense. He suffers if he tries to get complex with it. Hands look like square tools and he has effectively one type of face copy/pasted onto each character--two commas for eyes, a shape for mouths and a letter for noses. Most of the time you'll see the same kind of bored grimace on the characters, but every so often he'll get more creative. Colors are flat and his palatte is kind of dull, which probably fits for the theme of the comic but seeing things in only one shade and seeing objects with only a few details really doesn't make me feel like I can concentrate on the aesthetic theme when I'm always thinking about how his drawings look like they could belong on a grade school art exhibit wall. It does make a noticeable improvement by the time you catch up to the latest page, but it's just smoother, no leaps or bounds.

Whether it's my pathological obsession with not being a dick or just the spectacle of it all, I feel like his efforts have made me endeared to him. This guy must know he's far from being decent at illustration, but you better shut your mouth before you tell me he's going to just give up on an idea because of that. Determination has made battle hardened generals weep, and it makes me feel like Wrann deserves better than what I've said. Again, if you're a talented illustrator and if you think Wrann's got the right stuff, check out his comic and offer to collaborate. I think he's got the beginnings of something good here, but what he needs to make the story really shine is a good polish to his veneer.

TL;DR: You won't be impressed at all by Aquarium Drinking's artwork, and it may not be the most original story, but the dialogue and the characters are realistic and relateable. If Wrann ever manages to get a collaboration going with some talent, I think this comic can be a great read.

Aquarium Drinking is a webcomic that is written and illustrated by Christopher Wrann.  You can find it here, along with links to some merch he has.