Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry Four: Cucumber Quest

Journey with me to a land of wonder and adventure. A land populated with rabbit people. A land where your name must match the theme of whichever country you're from. A land where a person's life plans can be thrown completely askew at the drop of a hat.

Welcome to Dreamside, the setting of the fantasy adventure known as Cucumber Quest.

Note: Though Cucumber Quest is a story-driven comic, and thus best read in order from the beginning, I don’t think any individual page or plot point is going to contain an enjoyment-dampening spoiler. I won’t describe detailed events here, but I’m going to play it a bit fast and loose in terms of providing story information.

The premise is simple enough: Great evil threatens Dreamside, so a legendary hero must rise up to defeat it. According to heredity and tradition, that legendary hero is a boy named Cucumber.

What separates Cucumber Quest from other fantasy stories are the idiosyncrasies in setting and humor. Dreamside operates by a set of rules all its own, featuring a mish-mash of magic and technology, and a very particular brand of silliness.

The plot itself, though familiar, still changes things up a bit. Cucumber doesn’t want to be a legendary hero; he’d rather be studying magic than going on adventures. One of his companions, Sir Carrot, is a knight who’s not particularly brave or strong or adept at fighting. This might just be because their kingdom doesn't usually have the sorts of problems that require well-trained knights to solve.

The only person accompanying Cucumber who at all fits in with this type of good-vs-evil quest is his little sister, Almond. In fact, if it weren’t for her youth and inexperience (both of which also apply to Cucumber), Almond would make a perfect legendary hero. She’s brave, she’s had some training in swordfighting, and furthermore, she’s the only one who actually wants to go on a quest to defeat evil.

Both Cucumber and Almond realize that the most sensible option would be for Almond to take on the task of being a legendary hero and allow Cucumber to peacefully continue his magic studies, but no one else agrees. Every authoritative information source they have informs them that the little sister cannot be a legendary hero, though none of them can give a good reason.

On the surface, the action-oriented little sister looks like just another element of the story. We’ve seen this particular role change-up before, but even if it’s not groundbreaking it’s at least handled well. The true thematic significance of Almond’s suitability to adventure, though, is much deeper.

Cucumber Quest differs from similar fantasy tales not only in the obvious, surface ways (that is, the setting and the style of humor) but also in the theme at the heart of the story. With every step of his quest, Cucumber tries to find the simplest, most effective way of dealing with the problem, and every time, those around him insist that they follow tradition instead. This adherence to tradition cripples them, but they continue to not only follow it themselves, but they do everything they can to force Cucumber to follow it as well.

This idea is shot down.

Tradition oppresses everyone in Cucumber Quest, whether by their own choices or the choices of others around them. Compared to the restrictions on them now, one wonders if life under the Nightmare Knight’s rule would actually be so bad.

None of this is obvious, and none of it has been dealt with in-depth, at least not yet. But the hints that things in Dreamside, or at least parts of it, are not typically happy and healthy, are clear. Cucumber and Almond have an emotionally distant and manipulative father, many of the villains have motivations entirely disconnected from the Nightmare Knight, and even the Dream Oracle seems distinctly dishonest.

When Cucumber learns more about the nature of his quest, and realizes that, by following tradition, he will never defeat evil, merely set it back to maintain an ancient holding pattern, he becomes even more soured to the idea of following everyone's instructions and becoming a legendary hero. If evil traditionally wins temporary victories on a regular basis, then perhaps a non-traditional approach could actually improve things, rather than keeping them as they've always been. Then again, a non-traditional approach also runs the risk of making things worse, and at this point Cucumber has no idea what alternative actions he could take anyway.

Don’t let yourself get bogged down in concerns about tradition and the morality of those we assume to be villains, though. That substance is there if you want to look for it, but the experience of Cucumber Quest is a stylistic mad romp. Fantasy story, silly jokes, questions about the moral underpinning of a society... feel free to enjoy Cucumber Quest on whatever level you wish to.

Cucumber Quest is written and drawn by Gigi D.G. and updates on Wednesdays and Sundays.

Oh, and this is Cosmo! He's my favorite character in the whole thing.


  1. A kid-friendly comic with a solid (if subtle) message about 'thinking outside the box' and how stifling that box truly is... but also the best use of food-based character names ever.

    1. Oh, I didn't mention the kid-friendliness, did I? Yeah, if anybody's looking for some good comics for their kids, this is one I'd recommend. (Which of course doesn't preclude adults reading it.)

      And I don't know if I'd say it's got the BEST use of food-based character names, but it's certainly in the top 10.