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The Hook

Thread Description
Just what is it about webcomics? | Issue #1 : Subversion of Expectation, and how Cucumber Quest does it so well


Dishes in the sink, think I need a drink
Team Delta
Pokédex No.
May 13, 2019
in a pile of bugs
Pokémon Type
Bug, Cute
Pokédex Entry
oh fuck oh shit my dots...............................................................................................................................
Hello and welcome to The Hook, a blog where I talk about web comics and what it is that makes them appealing. I've been wanting to do this for awhile now, as web comics really are my passion. So, we'll start small, and really highlight some gems. The beauty of web comics is as we progress, we'll have a unique opportunity to revisit these comics in the future for a second look to where they've gone over the course of time. ​

But, with that said, I suppose it's time to christen this blog by breaking that exact expectation. We won't be revisiting this one, for as of July 3rd, 2019 the author announced the cancellation of their popular web comic:​

I'll be the first to admit that if I had known going into this comic that it was cancelled, I wouldn't have bothered reading it. In a digital landscape that is so saturated original and fan comics it's hard to allow ourselves to become invested in something we know we won't see the end of. Perhaps it's a bit cynical, but when we see so many creative projects get launched into the metaphorical sun, the big 'ol CANCELLED label is enough to make us decide we'll spare ourselves the emotional turmoil this time. So when I decided it was finally time to sit down and read this monolithic web comic (literally the DAY after Gigi d.g. announced it's end), I am glad I didn't know, because it took me places I never expected.​

We're no stranger to the hook of a story, whether or not you know what a hook is by name or not. It's what keeps pulls us in and keeps us turning pages. It's a situation that poses the question to us: 'what next?' And for those sharing their stories with everyone else, it's often also the first impression they'll leave us with. In a comic, we'll maybe look 10 seconds before deciding whether or not we want to keep reading, so a hook can make or break a web comic (of course, there are always exceptions, but that's for another time). And the hook is... Well, let me show you the first page, and we'll break it down.​

4 panels of gold.

Read it? Great. This page is a masterpiece, and I don't say that lightly. Within four panels we already have so much information relayed to us in subtle cues we've internalized from consuming loads of other media. It's a whimsical fantasy complete with a candy castle, and secret work is being done under the cover of night for our villain. How do we know she is a villain? She's bathed in a hell-like fires with what looks like devil horns. Our visual first impressions let us know so much instantly, before we even leave the first page. It even cleverly shows us one of the mainstays of this story, even if you don't consciously realize it yet: denial of expectation.​

Now, trope subversion is nothing new. There are so many villains that make a heel-face turn that this subversion of expectation has become a staple, and thus much less unexpected than it probably used to be. In more recent memory, Avatar: the Last Airbender comes to mind, but the idea of a character that is supposed to fit and archetype failing to stay that archetype is nothing new. Popular modern media often has one character that will encompass this idea of bracing up against the expectations thrust upon them, and becoming literally the opposite. It's a popular set of tropes, and just like any trope when you place it in capable hands it is a helpful story-making tool. The way Gigi D.G. uses this tool from page one creates not just one character, but a whole world balanced on the idea that everything is not quite what it seems.​

You see, four panels is all it takes for us to become invested in exactly what the story is presenting on the surface, but it's slips one under most of our noses with the framing and character design. Cucumber Quest does this a lot. And I do mean, A LOT. If you've never heard of shape language before, the quick and skinny is that circles and friendly, triangles are mean, and squares are strong. Unconsciously, we assess illustrated characters based on a set of rules most of us know by media osmosis. But with this knowledge in hand the first page starts to tell us a lot more, and maybe if we didn't realize it right away our villain raises a lot of intrigue by defying expectation. She made up of a LOT of round shapes. The dutch camera angles and colors do a lot to cover it from immediate notice, but our villain isn't quite... right.​

And the same goes for our lovable hero, Cucumber!... Except Cucumber isn't much of a hero. He's soft and round and friendly and fits a lot of the visual hallmarks of a male child hero about to come of age. But Cucumber just isn't that hero. He doesn't want to be that hero. He's sensible, timid, and a huge nerd. All in all, he just doesn't fit the bill. Maybe his rowdy and cute sister Almond does, but for some reason nobody wants to make a little sister a hero of legend.​

The more questions Cucumber asks about 'why me' the more we all begin to wonder why him, and why this quest at all. That's the beauty of the setup of this story. It uses our expectations and subverts them to create satirical and dramatic effect, plus a whole lot of questions to keep us reading. It uses this to unbelievable effect for the whole course of the story, and I was on the edge of my seat for the whole read laughing, crying, and at a loss for words. I don't want to talk much beyond the first few pages and risk giving too much away, because Cucumber Quest is an experience to be had. If this little review on the artistic finesse of it's opening doesn't sell you, I'm sure the work of the author will do a mighty fine job of turning your expectations on their head a few times over.​

If you're worried about the cancellation of Cucumber Quest, much like I was, don't worry about it. Gigi D.G. has promised to release the rest of the comic as an illustrated script. It's not the comic format we're accustomed to --unless you read Homestuck-- but it is a guaranteed conclusion to a stellar story. Being an aspiring comic author myself, I like to study works like this whenever I get a chance. You can read the whole work online, but if you're like me and like to collect comics you can get your hands on a physical copy of books 1-4 to add to your collection. (Putting sticky notes on all the cool paneling is an obsession of mine!) ​

Thank you all for reading. If you've read Cucumber Quest, what was your favorite part? Please spoiler any big spoilers for anyone who hasn't read it yet!

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