Prequel, Or Making A Cat Cry: The Adventure (What) / by David Anderson


Any of you guys know what MSPaint Adventures by Andrew Hussie is? Anyway, the comic format he uses involves making images and gifs in Adobe (The author started in MS Paint, hence the name, but almost immediately switched due to complexity) and then posting them with a narrative style evoking the PC days of yore, when gaming involved punching commands into a keyboard to advance a story plot. You'd type "GRAB YE FLASK" and you'd either grab ye flask or find it stolen by a goblin. It was all words back then though, and MSPA added pictures to what was once left to the imagination. The popularity of MSPA's style led to a bunch of spinoff adventures, creating a niche inside a niche part of the webcomic niche. It's full of wildly different fan story projects running the entire spectrum of quality and success. One of those projects is called Prequel, Or: Making A Cat Cry: The Adventure, and honestly I think it might be one of the better attempts in this field.

At first I wasn't interested in it since it felt slow and too reliant on Hussie's tropes and jokes to distinguish itself. However, once I actually sat down and made a second attempt, I found it enjoyable. I think you might too, if you're patient and curious.

Prequel, created by a guy under the username Kazerad, seems like a typical MSPA knockoff- fans get to vote on what the main character does, and the author tries to work democratic action into the framework of the story. Judging by what Kazerad has said in forums and talks, though, I think this is also some kind of Milgram experiment he's running, because he's managed to integrate user choice into the story in a way that seems to be dedicated more to testing the reactions of his fanbase and seeing how they feel about the decisions they make. Most writers, like Hussie, only minimally depend on user choice considering how unreliable it can be for useful plot points, but "Kaz" appears to have used it well. Once he stops aping Hussie's jokes and starts building his own identity, it gets better.

The story takes place in Bethesda Softworks' Elder Scrolls series, specifically beginning an indeterminable amount of time before the events of Oblivion, a game for the Xbox 360, PC and PS3. A young and nervous Khajit- some kind of cat race in the game- calling herself Katia Managan has just arrived in Cyrodill by ship, and she's looking to start her life over. The only problem, however, is everything- her own personal flaws and the circumstances and opportunities she stumbles into all seem to conspire to crush her dream of being the least terrible person in the Elder Scrolls universe.

The tone of the story blends comedy, tragedy and angst together in sound proportions. It isn't afraid to be serious but never becomes dark enough to stop it from being funny. I think the reason I became so engrossed in this in the first place was because Kazerad developed the character of Katia Managan so well. The narration is the second person style that you see in text adventures from the 80's, but it quickly becomes apparent that it's also her inner voice, describing events and berating her for her own mistakes.

It can be hard to make an anti-hero that's not a caricature. For example, few adults would be able to take the Warhammer 40K canon seriously because it is so over-the-top with misery and darkness and one-dimensional characters that you can't see it as anything beyond a parody of heavy metal culture. A truly interesting story needs to diversify somewhat, or it becomes predictable in a way that destroys any sense of tension or intrigue.

In that context, so many bad things happen to Katia that it would be easy to just give up and go "Welp, guess this comic is nothing but a string of disasters with no happy turn of events in sight", but Kaz has been doing a good job so far of balancing hopefulness and hopelessness. It's weird how much you can invest in the character- her goals are comically modest and her results are frequently atrocious, but you still find yourself cheering for her when she succeeds in using all her willpower to prevent herself from being an embarrassment at a dinner party. I think the reason for this is that Kaz has done such a good job of making the audience sympathize with her and avoiding decisions that would make her situation permanently caught in a dead-end. She's massively flawed, but she's got the willpower to try to change her ways, and that is what makes people want to read it. Not only that, but he's good at introducing depth to his story. It may not be as complicated as Homestuck, but there are definitely things you might miss on your first read-through that have an impact later on.

His art is typical of this sub-sub-genre, with pretty basic and mostly earthen colors. Lots of thick, black lines are used mostly for outlining profiles rather than details, and they are jagged with aliasing. Most characters are iconic in their designs and the camera angles are used mostly to evoke a style reminiscent of side-scrolling video games, giving the comic a lighthearted feel while still holding the potential for action. Kaz has more recently been using more varied styles and angles for character close-ups and drama, and it has all contributed positively to the atmosphere of the comic. Characters can be goofy or menacing in this style, which also allows for frantic action. Gif files are especially hilarious in this style thanks to the looping animations, which helps the slapstick.

The only real problem I have with it is that the author's updates are fairly slow. Also the fanbase may come off a bit weird but then MSPA as a whole has had that reputation for a while.

At the time I'm writing this, the plot is getting really interesting and kind of intense, so I think it would be a good idea for you to read it from the beginning. It's a little slow at first, but once it picks up it gets pretty funny and intriguing. I recommend it.

TL;DR: Prequel is a funny and interesting project that goes beyond the material it borrowed to become a comic worth reading in its own right.

Prequel, Or Making a Cat Cry: The Adventure is written and illustrated by Kazerad, with animation help from various users.