If you’re not chuckling to yourself two pages into The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies written by Wahab Algarmi with art by Joel Sigua (and some truly impressive covers by Sherwin Viray, Jeremy Natividad, and Thien Pham), then it might not be your cup of tea. But if you are lucky enough (and, truth be told, I’m sure the vast majority of you will be) to get sucked in then you are in for quite a treat. In the realm of referential humor there are two camps: the sharp and clever style a la Arrested Development and The Venture Bros., and the trite and pedantic style like Family Guy and any movie with “From 2 of Producers who brought you Scary Movie 12” in the adverts. SOUYL falls squarely in the former. It is a pastiche of 80s pop culture that takes the shape of a Schwarzeneggerian action movie storyline—America sends its best secret operatives to fight the covert side of the Cold War. Except that it just so happens their top operatives are the girls from The Facts of Life, Punky Brewster, The Adams Family, and Out of This World (a show I had never heard of until I read SOUYL that sounds like a predecessor of 90s Nickelodeon staple The Secret World of Alex Mack. Help me out, am I right?). The team is led in a Charlie’s Angels-esque fashion by Scott Baio’s very own Charles of Charles in Charge.
It’s very funny. I was laughing to myself quite a bit when I read it. It’s a quick read, there are only six issues in the first “season,” which can be knocked out in about an hour’s time. But the writing is so layered with homage and in-jokes that it is more than worth a re-read from time to time. And though I believe that the story and writing holds up on its own without you needing explicit knowledge of the time period it embraces so wholly, I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that younger readers, or readers who just never caught the pop culture bug, feel a bit alienated by how packed it is with all that bubblegum. I found myself constantly doing research for every character name, trying to be sure that I didn’t miss out on any of the jokes.
From references to the infamous “very special episode” of Diff’rent Strokes that features televisions most indelible pederast to jibes at the sensational personal lives of the actors who first brought these characters to life, if you’re a pop culture junkie at all (I’m going to be frank with you, dear reader, I have spent more than one afternoon binging on those marathons of Vh1’s I Love The Insert Decade Here) then The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies will be right up your alley.
The art style is fun, it conveys a quirky cartoonishness that brings out the absurdities of not only the comic, but also the shows and continuities it draws from. Why is there a holding facility hidden in the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant? I don’t know, and neither do our heroines, but that’s beside the point because it doesn’t change the fact that it is there. The lines are strong and clear, the action is energetic and fun to watch. The only downfall on the art side of things, I’d say, is that the artists all seem to be afraid of exploring panel work. The paneling is all pretty standard stuff, but I suppose in a comic based on sit-com mythos’, having a standard visual structure is kind of a clever joke all it’s own.
The biggest problem I had with The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies (aside from there not being more of it yet) was with the website it is hosted on. You can read the whole series on creator Algarmi’s blogger, but when I went to try and enlarge each page to read, it was still a struggle to read the lettering. The first two issues don’t really have this problem, but as the series continues they’re packing more and more words into less and less space, and for whatever reason zooming in further only serves to cut-off the bottom of each page. My optometrist would have a conniption fit if she were to see the way I was jamming my face against my computer screen. Obviously, this is a small price to pay for quality indie comics. Especially as it's eminently fixable. It may have been frustrating, but never once did I think it would turn me away from reading.
With the recent resurgence of post-modern self-aware humor (for better or worse) it’s nice to see a work that wholly embraces the idea and the absurdities it can create.
TL;DR: The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies proves its mettle by balancing campy referential humor with a subtler dryer wit than most projects that run so dangerously close to fan fiction. I can’t wait for season two to begin.
The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies is written by Wahab Algarmi with art by Joel Sigua. You can read it on Algarami's website.