Absurd characters in absurd situations, illustrating the idea that the world is indifferent as it hurtles through the vacuum of space. All that matters are the few sparks of joy we animals, with and without pants, share in this otherwise meaningless void.(Camden Bottoms contains melancholy, irresponsible behavior, occasional intimations of foul deeds, and words like gunsel)
In this age of Wacom tablets and Photoshop, the physical media used for visual arts in the last century have begun to fade away. Eventually, oil painting and pen-and-ink illustration may be as rare as sword-smithing and tapestry-weaving are today. But we have not yet entered that long night, and there are still people like Scott Quick practicing the old ways.
Mr. Quick’s line art is superb, showing a mastery at capturing detail and lighting that is very rare. All the digital aids available to artists today may have made it easier to make something that looks pretty good, but to be this comfortable in any medium can only come from years of hard work and perfecting ones’ craft. Camden Bottoms is worth visiting for this reason alone.
But after you’ve ooh’d and ah’d at the art, is it worth sticking around for the writing? I believe so, although it took me a surprisingly long time to come to that conclusion.
The first strip was a bit of a red herring for me, with its Krazy Kat style language leading me to believe that the comic would be a throwback to old newspaper serials, a literary historical reenactment. It took me a number of strips to revise my opinion and to begin to appreciate the comic on its own merits - as a dry, slice-of-life comedy that references its forebears but speaks with what is very much its own voice.
And that voice is cynical in the extreme. While cynicism is hardly unusual in this day and age - indeed, it might even be called fashionable - Camden Bottoms feels more mature in its world weariness. It doesn’t rail against the government or society or the video game industry or any of the other external things that make you angry. It instead tells simple stories about flawed characters and the problems they create for themselves. There’s no agenda to these proceedings, but they do reflect the belief that human nature isn’t going to change, so we might as well laugh at it and soldier on.
When Camden Bottoms is firing on all cylinders, it finds that rare balance of making the characters’ situations laughable and relateable. Unfortunately, the comic has only been able to consistently achieve that balance fairly recently. I often found the antiquated language, the unsympathetic characters, and especially the martini-dry sense of humor, off-putting in the earlier story arcs (‘The Wreck of the Medusa’ was particularly hard to get through). However, recent arcs have done a better job of balancing dialogue with action, and making the characters relateable in spite of their flaws. Most importantly, the humor works better, though I’m not really sure why - the content isn’t that different. Maybe it really all comes down to the characters - once you buy into them, everything else falls into place.
Camden Bottoms is an ideosyncratic work, and it won’t appeal to everyone. But if you try it, and like it, I think you’ll really like it.