I love webcomics. Over the past two decades, I have moved here and there throughout the websphere, trying different comics, adding a few to my daily reading list, and removing the occasional comic that starts to lose me. I have actually been reading a handful of comics, like Penny Arcade and PVP, fairly consistently since they came online way back in the infancy of the industry. I have watched as many of these old guards worked to shape and define what the webcomic industry could become, ultimately paving the way for various newcomers to the medium over the past years.
Unfortunately, I have often become so embroiled in this old guard, that I approach any of these new artists with trepidation and fear, a rake in my hand ready to shake at them if they step on my lawn. Usually, when I do dip my toe into something new, I am greeted by the downside of having such established titans create the industry. I can’t tell you how many webcomics I’ve read that involve two gamers, one straight man and one fool, who sit on their couch and play video games. In fact, for the longest time, this was a fairly accurate representation of most video game webcomics. So much so, that I actually created such a Penny Arcade rip-off back when I started writing comics in the early 2000s. I’m not going to link to such embarrassment. There’s something called Google. If you really want to find it, I’m sure you can.
Sometimes, though, when I find a new comic, I’m pleasantly surprised. I not only find something that is enjoyable to read, but something that challenges me as a writer and creator. Such is the case with Camp Weedonwantcha by Katie Rice.
Camp Weedonwantcha tells the story of three primary campers at the titular camp, and the many adventures they have. You have Malachi, the sometimes selfish main character; Seventeen, the over-optimistic nature-lover; and Brian, the quiet, gentle giant. On the surface, the comic may not impress some comic readers. At first glance, it seems fairly light, and the art would back this up, featuring bright colors, expressive characters, and gorgeous backgrounds. When you dig a bit deeper into the story, though, what you find is an emotional and complex journey through various layers of humanity, a darkness that belies the bright exterior.
The first note you may get that something in this camp is not right is in the name of the camp itself. Camp Weedonwantcha. Say it aloud. Do you hear it? Camp We Don’t Want You. You learn early on that all of the kids in this camp are sent here because the people in their lives no longer want them. For example, during a remarkably poignant story, Seventeen ingests some memory pills and is transported back in time to the backwoods from which she comes. As a hopelessly optimistic and bubbly girl, the seventeenth child in her family, Seventeen constantly annoys her brothers and sisters, who eventually ostracize her. When she accidentally blows up her older brother and sister’s still, they send her to the camp. It’s a sad and terrifying story, and easily one of the most engaging I’ve ever read in a webcomic, especially when placed in contrast to Seventeen’s personality. She is happy and go lucky and so full of energy and positivity, that you begin to wonder how anyone can maintain that in the face of what has happened to her.
And she’s not alone. The majority of the stories involve the trio getting into various scrapes and having to work their way out of them. There’s a sense of light adventure and sitcom-ness throughout the bulk of the series. It’s funny and fun, and it’s enjoyable for readers of all ages. As previously mentioned, the artwork is bright and vibrant, and the characters are all expressive and positive. It works very well, as it provides a very stark contrast to the darker, more emotional moments in the comic when we’re given glimpses into the backstories of these characters.
This is remarkably present in the latest story arc, which sees Malachi setting up a talent show among the campers. He begins auditioning different performers, attempting to find someone who is not better than him at something, and in doing so, we get brief pictures of the sad backgrounds of these other characters. One side-character was a former child pop star, who eventually faded – as child pop stars usually do – which led to his abandonment at the camp. Another character’s talent is humming, something that she practiced by filtering out the loud fighting of her parents. Each of these backstories are presented with such lightness, it’s easy to forget the seriousness of the topic at hand. And that is why the comic works so well. There’s an innocence to the comic despite the dark undertones, and it seems very fitting. These kids were abandoned by loved ones, but they don’t seem to let that bring them down. They are positive and energetic, and they make the most out of their situation. It’s a positivity that many adults would be well-served by learning.
Ultimately, Camp Weedonwantcha is a spirited and engaging comic, which I would recommend for anyone on the basis of fun alone. When you dig deeper, though, and you find the gold nuggets of strong story beneath the bright surface, you find something that is truly special. And I, for one, love that.