Webcomic Wednesday: NHOJ

Review by Seán Donnelly

Created by John Cullen

The gag-a-day comic is a well-loved institution, going all the way back to the days of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. As the medium has evolved over the decades, with more and more ambitious efforts at storytelling and illustration, the idea of a self-contained work that you can simply pick up and enjoy has never lost its appeal. Even the medium’s leap to digital platforms in the form of webcomics has not slowed the gag-a-day comic down one bit; on the contrary, it represents an exciting new home.

NHOJ Comics, written and illustrated by Irish artist John Cullen, is a fine addition to this tradition. A man with a considerable online following, Cullen is perhaps best known for Gramfel, Garfield’s distaff (and very pessimistic) counterpart who spouts nihilistic philosophy. Jim Davis’s Garfield, of course, is one of the best-known gag-a-day strips in pop culture and Gramfel will often break this structure for the purposes of a joke. NHOJ Comics however rests comfortably within the four-panel structure adopted by comics such as Garfield, and Cullen is clearly aware of the advantages that this format provides. Jokes must be quick and concise, but can be easily understood by anyone who reads them. Because of this awareness, Cullen’s comics rarely – if ever- miss.

The subject matter of Cullen’s comics varies wildly, with some parodying different aspects of pop culture á la Gramfel while others show Cullen’s trials and tribulations with art (or just life in general). A good parody should be very much familiar with the work being parodied, which might sound obvious but is something that a surprising amount of people ignore in the pursuit of laughs. Thankfully Cullen has bypassed this issue entirely, with his parodies of iconic works (ranging from Marvel/DC superheroes to Power Rangers) clearly coming from places of affection. Meanwhile comics starring the artist are filled with an awkwardness that people will find either entertaining or relatable, and some comics dip into out-and-out surrealism at times. There’s something for everyone.

For a comic that uploads daily the energy in Cullen’s strips never subsides. His forms are loose and rubbery but confidently so, much like the Fleischer cartoons of the 1920’s. Speaking of animation, Cullen’s penchant for dramatic close-ups with tons of detail and off model character design call to mind the works of animator John Kricfalusi, most famously The Ren & Stimpy Show. An emphasis on bright primary colours is common to highlight mood, with some panels consisting of variations of the same colour, giving the comic a look like a UPA cartoon. In fact, ‘animated’ is perhaps the best word to describe Cullen’s art, as his drawings are so fluid and alive they seem almost ready to leap out at you through your monitor. If it isn’t already on your monitor, then what are you waiting for? Read it, binge it, love it.