January 05, 2009

Review of FALA

I recently posted a preview of the Web comic FALA, a Native Alice in Wonderland. Now here's my review.

Synopsis [Spoiler alert]

Native girl Fala is studying edible plants in the wilderness. A jester-like Trickster appears, entices her with a "Who's on first?" line of double-talk, and scampers off. She eats a mushroom and finds herself in a company town-style rez with a Queen of Hearts-style "Diva" in charge. She steals a car and crashes it...is brought before Diva, tried and sentenced...is locked in a file room but escapes with Trickster's help...and goes home.

My thoughts

  • The art by Patricio Plaza has a nice cartoony feel to it. It wouldn't be out of place in a typical animated cartoon series.

  • It's good to see a spunky Native girl as the protagonist. I'm not sure Fala has much of a personality other than spunk, but unlike Lou Grant, I like spunk. I wouldn't mind reading more of her adventures.

  • Apparently Fala is supposed to be a gamer girl, but the only technology she uses is a cellphone. I thought her gaming skills might help her maneuver through the world she enters, but no. But even using a cellphone puts her ahead of most Native characters, who don't use anything more complex than a tomahawk, bow and arrow, or gun.

  • Like Alice in Wonderland, the story is a little surreal. It doesn't make total sense, but I guess it's not supposed to. Still, we wonder why she talks to strangers so readily. Why she eats a mushroom that she knows may be dangerous. And especially why she takes someone's car for a joyride.

  • Like THE WEST WAS LOST, I'd say FALA is underwritten. It relies mostly on the visuals, not the words. If the intended audience is girls like Fala, that's fine. But adults will find the story rather slight.

  • The preview promised "life lessons." I have no idea what those life lessons are supposed to be. Don't talk to strangers? Don't eat magic mushrooms? Don't take cars that don't belong to you? Don't let your rez turn into a dark corporate town like this rez? Don't trust tricksters because they may lead you astray, or do trust them because they may help you out of trouble?

  • At the end, Fala reassures her mom on the phone and walked smiling into the sunset. There's no obvious message or meaning to the story. The adventure could have been a dream.

  • Again, this may have been the intent. But dreams generally don't provide satisfying stories, much less useful "life lessons." I want the comics I read to be a little more meaningful than someone's kooky dream.

  • As a Native version of Alice in Wonderland, I guess FALA is mildly successful. I'd say it suffers from the same problem as Alice. The protagonist is buffeted by events beyond her control, doesn't take charge of her destiny, and doesn't grow (emotionally) or change as a person. She exists mainly to be a tour guide through the author's imagination.

  • Overall, I think FALA is better than THE WEST WAS LOST. At least it's supposed to be surreal, whereas THE WEST WAS LOST was supposed to be a straight post-apocalyptic adventure. If it cost $3.99 like DOG EATERS #1, I'd probably say skip it. But since it's a free Web comic, I say check it out.

    For more on the subject, see Comic Books Featuring Indians.

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