I have what could be described as a...mild affinity for cartoons. I'm kind of bitter that Saturday morning cartoons are no longer the institution they once were, and I still tune in for the occasional marathon of Recess or Danny Phantom. So I'm a pretty happy puppy when I come across a comic that reads like a smarter entry from Adult Swim or the Disney Afternoon.
That's what makes David McGuire's GastroPhobia such a welcome surprise. The titular characters are Gastro, a cheeky seven year-old aspiring bard (who employs a horn in lieu of a lyre), and Phobia, an exiled Amazon warrior and Gastro's single mother -- who just might be the lesser known sister of the famed Greek hero Heracles. Together, they wander about ancient Greece and have the sort of adventures Ancient Greeks do: facing down vengeful animals, monstrous fiends, and the ghosts of obnoxious relatives.
McGuire employs the representational minimalism of manga-style art, but wisely adds thick lines to match the comic's irreverent tone. The artwork is silly, affectionate, and full of head-chopping, monster-slaying, child-scolding action. And he's got a way with anthropomorphized animals, creating a host of malevolent mockingbirds and dastardly deer. McGuire also keeps the color palette relatively simple, giving each story arc it's own fairly narrow color scheme, a thin range of oranges, greens, reds, purples, and blues. It's a device we've seen before, but here it creates a nice sense of warmth and sets the main storylines apart from the black-and-white interim comics.
But the real treasure in GastroPhobia is McGuire's storytelling, which is at the same time straightforward and highly referential. Main storylines borrow from Greek myths and Disney (I swear, I'll never be able look at an adorable fawn again without thinking, "Bambikles!"), but also reference a wide range of other media, from "The Jabberwocky" to To Kill a Mockingbird. And McGuire has gags that are all his own. There's a running joke about how everyone knows the riddle of the Sphinx, and everyone who isn't named for a mythological figure (Alcides, Jason, Helen) gets a punny Greek name (a ghost named Pneuma, a thieving slave named Klepto, a fluffy pooch Mania). And, if you're wondering why you never read about Gastro and Phobia in your Edith Hamilton or your D'Aulaire's, the kingdom where they live is aptly called Inconsequentia. It all adds a happy layer of smart that puts GastroPhobia a minotaur's head and shoulders above similarly themed fare like Dave the Barbarian.
GastroPhobia works well as a light and goofy webcomic, but I say bring on the 15 minute animated episodes. It's got that perfect blend of silly stories and clever humor that would translate well to television. Now it just needs a kickass voice cast.