Monday, February 23, 2009

"Abominable" Charles Christopher is Anything But

Yetis are fast on track to become the next big thing in genre entertainment. After all, we had a magical yeti in the last Mummy film, yetis in Pokemon, Maple Story, and Twilight Princess, an abominable Sci Fi Channel popcorn flick, and oodles of snowman-themed toys.

DC artist Karl Kerschl may be ahead of the curve with his weekly webcomic The Abominable Charles Christopher. Kerschl takes a break from superheroes to venture deep into the forest, a world teeming with animal life. Birds, skunks, otters, and bears all go about the daily drama of their lives -- first flights, sports matches, marital discord, and finding a date for the big dance. But some of the forest denizens have begun to notice the encroachment of man. Steely bear traps and hunters' rifles go unnoticed by most, but slowly, more and more animals are falling to human excess.

Amidst all these chattering animals, there is one silent being: a pacifer-twirling missing link by the name of Charles Christopher. The dim-witted yeti simply bumbles through the forest, attracting the curiosity and scorn of his fellow forest-dwellers. But Charles is unwittingly climbing towards his destiny; neither man nor beast, he is able to travel between both worlds and may be the only one who can save the woods.

Kerschl employs a fairly realistic drawing style. His birds have well-defined feathers, his porcupines carefully groomed quills, his insects serrated limbs, and his otters whiskers and coal black noses, all in proportion with the real animals on which they're modeled. Only Charles himself is wholly invented -- an oversized top, a bulging potbelly, and a set of whiskers that would make the Mythbusters jealous -- and even he is rendered in such careful detail that he seems anatomically plausible. I initially had my doubts about my ability to care for characters who seemed straight out of the wildlife pages of National Geographic, but Kerschl is so skillful at meshing anthropomorphic expressions with animal characteristics that his critters are as emotive and vivacious as any cartoon racoon from Over the Hedge. It also creates a wonderfully immersive experience; when it rains in Kerschl's forest, you can practically hear the pitter-patter.

The larger story arc of Charles Christopher follows the yeti as he travels through the forest, but through shorter vignettes and one-off strips, we get acquainted with the other animals, notably Vivol the bear, whose history with the humans is being slowly revealed. Although Charles Christopher is by no means a comedy (in fact, many aspects of the story are downright tearjerking), some of the strips employ a traditional four panel comic gag. But the humor is light and soft, contrasting the usually happy lives of the animals with the encroaching dark. Many pages are completely free of dialogue, letting the art and the tone of the comic speak for themselves. And there is the promise that the Kerschl will eventually lead us into the city of men, a journey that will hopefully prove as rich and restrained as our time in the forest.

There is also a deep mystical current that runs through Charles Christopher. Leaving aside the question of whether the yeti is himself supernatural, we encounter a bear made of moonlight, the ghosts of the dead, and a lion who sits atop a mountain cryptically demanding totems of fairytale power. But this all unfolds in the slow, understated manner of the rest of the comic, so that it feels like a natural part of this world rather than hokey or saccharine.

We still don't much about Charles Christopher or the obstacles he'll face. But it's a full and beautiful world that we'll get to see him stumble through.

[The Abominable Charles Christopher]


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