The following is an article from the first issue of Sequential Magazine. Available for download and now in print as well. Issue 2 coming May 1st featuring Jason Loo and other TCAF exhibitors!
“Well, I Might Be a Robotic Panda Girl”: BADASSICAL and Stylistic Hybridity
Interview by Zach Rondinelli
What do humans, animals, and machines have in common?
And when you mix them together, you get BADASSICAL: a story about three plucky, action heroes (Susan, Kate, and Pandora) “trapped in a futuristic reality television show on a citywide scale”. So far (three issues in) the girls have battled against everything from evil ninjas and giant robots to, my personal favorite, no-nonsense, business-clad vampires.
So far, Fleming and Turner have had incredible success crowdfunding their series on Kickstarter. The first issue saw 182 backers pledge over $8,000.00 to ensure its release, which was followed up by 230 backers for issue #2 and 283 backers for issue #3. In September 2018, issue #4 had reached all of its stretch goals with 491 backers raising a whopping $31,651.00 with plans to release early 2019.
“[We have] an amazing community that’s offered it’s support” says John, “we’re really thankful for that.”
Of course, support of this magnitude doesn’t happen without an incredible product to back and there is no doubt to anyone who so much as glimpses at BADASSICAL, that Fleming and Turner have created something truly inspired. Simply put, BADASSICAL is a visually stunning and narratively captivating book that asks incredibly difficult and complex philosophical questions, all while demonstrating a mastery over the formal elements of sequential storytelling that powerfully enhances the thematic content through stylistic experimentation.
In other words, BADASSICAL is, indeed, badass.
“Whenever I begin working on a character’s design and look, I always take into consideration [their] personality and defining features and try to really focus on bringing those through.” Turner says.
The three main characters, Kate, Susan, and Pandora are all rendered in such unique, yet complimentary ways. Turner’s choice to render her characters right in the middle of McCloud’s “continuum of iconic abstraction” is an excellent one (See Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art for more details on this). It allows each character to maintain their own independence and personality (rather than taking on the readers as is the case with impressionistic cartooning), but also avoids distancing the reader from them entirely (as often occurs with realism/photorealistic renderings). This balancing, or existence on, the precipice of two contradictory ideas is one of the books most powerful narrative tools and so it is spectacular that the visual element of the storytelling reflects it as well. In fact, the stylistic unification of the visual and thematic content is part of what makes this book so special.
Almost immediately, it is clear that Kate, Susan, and Pandora are not what they seem to be. After Pandora is pounced on by Kate (and subsequently seems to fall unconscious) in BADASSICAL #1, Kate suggests that she is running a “diagnostic or somethin’”, to which Susan replies, “But those can take hours!”. What Fleming is subtly revealing here is that the girls are either cyborgs or possibly, one-hundred percent robotic. These subtleties continue both visually and narratively throughout the three issues, but we’re never told outright what the truth about their existence really is. As Fleming says, “too much backstory would unbalance that situation…we’re exploring the matter of memory, real memory, constructed memory, etc”. However, regardless of their origins, it’s clear that all three ladies have their feet in the worlds of organics (humanoid appearance/connection to animals) and robotics (mechanical design).
Ultimately, this narrative makes us focus on the philosophical questions that define the human condition. Are the ladies human in any way? If so, how does the cybernetic enhancement effect their humanity? If they’re totally robotic, are they any less “human”? Is the human condition limited only to the organic? All of these questions are bubbling right under the surface of every panel.
And this is without even discussing the element of “celebrity” or “living archives”. Throughout the book, it becomes clear that their exploits are being recorded for the entrainment of others in the form of a reality television show. This layer of the narrative adds even deeper, “darker undertones” to the story of BADASSICAL. Were the ladies created for the sole purpose of reality entertainment? If so, are we participating in some sort of twisted voyeurism by reading the book? Are we complicit in the objectification of these ladies? All of these questions have yet to be answered, but the fact that they all work to resonate through the question of hybridity speaks to the narrative gymnastics that Fleming has accomplished through three short issues.
All that said, let’s bring this back full-circle, shall we?
Fleming and turner have selected the medium of comics to tell their story. This isn’t a given since both artists have worked with many different mediums in the past (Fleming is also a novelist whose dabbled with absurdist theatre and Turner studied 3D animation and has done work with wildlife art). However, this choice speaks to the real hidden genius behind their story.
The reason is really very simple: comics is a hybrid medium that communicates through both the visual and linguistic elements simultaneously. In this way, the comic itself becomes a meta-layer to the story as only a hybrid medium is suited to tell the story of these hybrid characters. When you combine Turner’s vibrant and beautiful character designs that visualize the hybridization of the human, robotic, and animal with Fleming’s exceptional philosophical and narratological undertones, and drop them into the panels and pages of a comic book, what you get is BADASSICAL.