Queer Comic Review: Capitol Hillbillies

October 8, 2014 in inQueery

x2014-09-19-capitol-hillbillies-take-us-to-your-leaderOne of the first Capitol Hillbillies comics features three friends sitting in a bar, talking about an incredibly serious relationship problem: farting in bed. It’s a fun, natural conversation, and as exaggerated it may seem, it still ultimately feels like the kind of thing that comes up when you’re hanging out with friends. Which is only natural, considering it’s an semi-autobiographical comic about Christopher “Stu” Lange and his closest friends. Even the name of the comic has a personal touch, coming from the Seattle neighborhood of Capitol Hill where the author (and main character) resides. It’s in this easy and familiar tone where Capitol Hillbillies gets most of its appeal: it feels a lot like joking around with your buddies. Only your buddies constantly have the perfect witty responses to your misfortunes and also one of them is naked all the time and sometimes a talking unicorn shows up.

Okay, so it’s not necessarily a 1:1 portrayal of reality. But it’s the naturalistic tone of the majority of the work that makes it easy to accept the rare instances when Beyoncé comes down from on high to deliver important life advice. These small trips into absurdity aside, the majority of the strip serves as a cute reflection of current mainstream gay culture through the eyes of a group of close friends. (This can actually be kind of disorienting as you go back through the archives – it’s a little surreal to see everything from the initial reaction to prop 8 to the strange time when people still cared about Glee.) Really, the specific emphasis of the strip is clearest when looking at the cast list on the website, which lists all the characters by their name, likes, and positions. It’s a strip with particular emphasis on the stripping, and doesn’t try to be anything more serious than that.

As for the comic parts of the comic, the art is more utilitarian than anything else. Most of the style is concentrated on simplistic, bold shapes that communicate whatever action is going on without requiring too much detail. The style gets increasingly refined as the comic goes on, but doesn’t evolve all that much throughout the roughly 500 strips so far. (The biggest change comes from the switch from black outlines to colored outlines, which makes things more stylish at the slight expense of some readability.) But really, it doesn’t have to do much more than what it does. The focus of the comic is on the characters and their conversations, and the art mostly exists so that the dialogue can shine.

Most of the emphasis being on the writing, however, means it’s that much more important for the humor to click with your own personal sense of humor. For the most part, the jokes stick to the common mainstream style of gay humor found in things like the Eating Out series: a lot of explicit sex references, a few camp in-jokes, and a handful of things that push the edges of taste. It’s the last one where you’re most likely to run into problems in Capitol Hillbillies – a lot of the early strips depend on this boundary-pushing style of humor that would probably be considered a little too far of a push in 2014. This can range from the unfortunately widespread racial penis size joke to a more troubling instance of making light of date rape. It’s not unusual to find that kind of humor in this style of work, but it doesn’t make it any less uncomfortable. In a work that’s dependent on liking the characters, reading these kinds of tasteless jokes can make it that much harder to relate.

Luckily as the strip has progressed, these instances have mercifully gotten fewer, and the author has recently approached trans issues and open relationships with both respect and playfulness, showing that it’s still possible to address sensitive issues humorously without being hurtful. Because of the day-in-the-life nature of the comic, it’s easy to skip past that early era of boundary pushing without losing any context for the slightly more sensitive later strips.

Capitol Hillbillies can be found at www.capitolhillbillies.net, and has a store where you can get physical copies of the book and associated finery. If you’re really excited by it, you can always support the author with monthly payments at his Patreon, with rewards ranging from early access to content to physical goodies. As noted above, the humor can get excessively raunchy, and is not necessarily recommended for readers under the age of 18.

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Ellen Perry is a Guest contributor at InQueery and a volunteer at the Pacific Center.