Cartoonist Of The Moment: Meredith Gran

September 6, 2009

Octopus Pie is one of the few webcomics that, rather than just kind of stumbling upon it, I actively made the decision to start reading it. Pretty much every other webcomic I read had a link to Meredith Gran’s site someplace and I’d clicked those links a few times but never really got into it. The night I finally determined to see what all the fuss was about, I was astounded that it had taken me so long. You guys, Octopus Pie is phenomenal.

Octopus Pie is sort of an Odd Couple type story. The story takes place in Brooklyn, where Gran herself resided until her recent move to Portland, Oregon. Its basic premise is that the main character, Eve Ning, is broken up with by her boyfriend and now she needs a new roommate. Eve’s meddling mother leases Eve’s vacant room in her Brooklyn apartment to Hanna Thompson, an old classmate from Eve’s preschool days. The two turn out to be a very unlikely pair, with Eve being a little more structured and uptight and Hanna being more of a hippie, stoner and part-time nudist. Though different, it becomes obvious that these two begin to share an important friendship and truly care about one another, and as the comic continues their habits and ideas start to rub off on each other. Isn’t that heartwarming? (It  is).

Eve has got a pretty typical post-college job, working at an organic grocery for an incompetent and overbearing boss (you can buy Olly’s Organix tote bags, which has always cracked me up, right here), while Hanna’s post college job is a little more interesting. Hanna runs her own business through the internet called Bake N’ Bake. She sells baked confections that she makes well, while she’s baked! Eve is a little judgmental about this at first but she seems to get over it as the comic goes on. Hanna’s business partner, her boyfriend Marek, may have had something to do with this, having attempted to teach Eve that “Everybody judges. Except for the duck, who seeks only bread.” A revelation that makes little sense to her at the time, but eventually sinks in later.

Eve Ning has a philosophical epiphany in Octopus Pie

Eve Ning has a philosophical epiphany in Octopus Pie

Undoubtedly my favorite storyline in Octopus Pie has been “Tag.” This storyline begins with the revelation that Hanna has never been introduced to Eve’s asian friends because they are all – stereotypically – nerds! The introduction of Eve’s nerd friends to a group of Hanna’s stoner friends results in a conflict that there could be only one civil way to settle… LASER TAG! The rest of the storyline involves a lot of funny visual gags and sound-effects, and a couple great one-liners (“Stoners, not Pwners” being my favorite). This storyline also involves a lot of hilarious drama, with people switching sides and betraying their team members, and a whole lot of terrific art. This storyline is unique to the rest of the comic in that involves a lot of action sequences. I think these pages of the comic show us that Gran’s work is pretty versatile and that she can do a lot with it.

The art of Octopus Pie has a very charming cartoony quality that I find matches its cheeky, good-natured humor. Gran does the penciling, toning and lettering using a Wacom Cintiq and Manga Studio, and about halfway through the comic she started doing the inking by hand. I wasn’t familiar with Manga Studio before I started reading this comic, but have since then become intrigued. Gran often broadcasts the creation of the comic via Ustream so you can watch exactly how she makes it as she’s doing it. If you don’t want to wait around for her next Ustream (which she notifies people of via her Twitter account) you can watch this video of her process in Manga Studio (set to “Atlas” by Battles).

I think the reason it took me so long to finally get into this comic was the fact that it’s not one of those comics where there’s a simple, slapstick joke in each strip. A lot of the humor of the comic is heavily reliant on the readers’ familiarity with the characters, so you need to read a few storylines before you really get hooked. It’s like a really great TV show in that way, I guess. You can watch one episode of Mad Men and think, “Wow this is really visually appealing and well-produced…but who the fuck are all these people and why do I care?” It’s only a truly great show once you’re already addicted. Same deal with Octopus Pie. With that in mind, I suggest reading it from the beginning rather than starting in the middle.

I make the comparison to TV for this comic because, in my personal opinion, TV  is more fun to watch on DVD… I have the habit of specifically NOT watching a show while it’s on TV so that I can wait until it comes out on DVD and watch it all in one go. Gran is doing a similar thing with her comic, posting on the site a few weeks ago to say, “…constant deadlines, while good for productivity, also tend to limit the sort of stories and pictures I’d like to create. …So, starting with the next storyline, Octopus Pie is going to start updating in larger, story-based chunks. Which means, depending on the length of the story, the comic will update every couple of weeks, or every month or so, with a brand new, multi-page chapter.”

It’s been about a month since she posted that, and ever since I have SO been looking forward to sitting down and reading the new storyline all at once. I think it’s very brave of her to say “Fuck it!” to the endless deadlines and create her comic on her own pace, to bring us work that’s she’s happy with. That obviously was not an easy decision because there’s a lot of pressure on artists with such a large following as hers. She’s made the quality of her work more of a priority than meeting a schedule and I commend her. Word on the line is, the new storyline is scheduled to be posted Monday (tomorrow), and I am so excited! (Obviously, I’m making no effort to hide it).

So if you haven’t read the comic yet, get caught up today and get ready for the new storyline!

2 Responses to “Cartoonist Of The Moment: Meredith Gran”

  1. Christine said

    As I was reading your review, I was saying to myself, “Oh, no! Another comic I have to read! In little, tantalizing bits.” I am thrilled that I can look forward to reading it in larger segments. What would even be better is…a book!

    • EMI said

      You can totally buy books!

      There are two volumes so far available here:

      http://www.ollysorganix.com/collections/books

      She also sells a bunch of other merchandise including a pint glass with pictures of of her characters parading around it. I have always wondered why more cartoonists don’t make barware merch. Seriously, who doesn’t want a pint glass with their favorite comic character on it? (This is like one of 1,000 reasons I think Meredith Gran is awesome).

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