Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry Five: Lackadaisy

Some of the most glamorous and idolized periods of history were built on the darkest and most violent undercurrents. A gleaming example of this dichotomy can be found in the speakeasies that arose during prohibition: The night life, with dancers and music and fancy clothes, contrasts sharply with the world of gangsters and rumrunners supporting it.

In Lackadaisy, this contrast is reflected in the juxtaposition of the gritty, unpleasant tasks the characters undertake to keep their speakeasy afloat, and the cavalier attitude with which they perform those tasks.

Also, everyone is an anthropomorphized cat. This never becomes relevant outside of defining the characters’ appearances and expressions.

The story is everything in Lackadaisy, and the comic really must be read in order from the beginning. I’ll be careful with plot information in this post. If you’re very clever you may be able to infer plot details from my description, but I won’t give away important things outright.

Lackadaisy is a really fun comic in which characters frequently dismember, murder, or set fire to other characters (or themselves). I once tried describing it to my mom, and when I mentioned one character who is dead and that another character may or may not have killed the first character, my mom commented, “That sounds dark.” I tried to insist that it wasn’t really, that those underpinnings were relatively minor parts of the story... but reading through it all again, I had to admit that the story is dark. More than that, it’s intensely violent at times. (Note: This is crime-thriller violent, not gory-horror-film violent.)

Somehow, though, when I think of Lackadaisy, it’s significantly cheerier in my head. What I remember the most strongly are the parts that are whimsical, showing the characters at their funniest and most carefree.

Much of the fun in Lackadaisy comes from Rocky, who is often the focal character. Rocky displays a cheery disconnect from reality at the best of times, and a dangerous disregard for consequences at the worst of times. He’s the kind of person it’s fun to read about, but who would be terrifying to know in real life.

This type of disconnect is present in other characters, but nowhere is it as visible as in Rocky. In a way, he’s the key to understanding every other character. They’ve all become involved in a seedy underbelly, but every one of them has some sort of coping mechanism that involves acting as though their lives and careers are perfectly shiny. Characters differ in their levels of zaniness and the degree of their involvement in criminal activity, but that dichotomy manifests itself across the board.

This is a period piece where the creator has clearly done her homework. I am clueless about history, and I’ve learned a lot from reading Lackadaisy. For instance, photo booths have been around for longer than I’d realized. Then again, I’d never really considered life before photo booths existed. But there was a time when they were new and exciting, and that time is when Lackadaisy takes place!

Set aside the violence, the humor, and the history lessons (and really, what more could you want?) and what you have driving Lackadaisy is a compelling story about a business struggling to stay afloat. Characters rest their hopes and dreams upon small chances of success. Everyone wants something slightly different, and the interplay between characters’ desires and their manipulations of one another creates captivating drama.

A lot of backstory details and plot points are only hinted at, leaving room for the reader to infer things that are left unsaid, and ensuring that anyone re-reading is likely to notice things they haven't before. The world of the story feels rich and full, with more secrets to divulge the closer one looks. Some plot points involve rumors and intrigue, and often the readers are kept as much in the dark as the characters.

Drama comes from conflict, and Lackadaisy is full of conflict. There's not just the conflict between competing speakeasies, or between suppliers and buyers, but perhaps most importantly the conflict between people who are on the same side. Just because everyone works together and wants to keep their jobs doesn't mean they always see eye-to-eye. There are some major disagreements regarding the future and what should be done with the speakeasy, and a lot of minor disagreements about everything from mistakes people have made to clashes of personality.

In addition to the main story, there are numerous sketches, Q&As and other tidbits on the website. Reading those is in no way necessary to understand and enjoy Lackadaisy, but if you find that you do enjoy Lackadaisy, you might want to check out the other stuff as well. There are some comics there that give backstory that doesn’t fit in tonally or thematically with the main comic, as well as some non-canonical stuff that is nonetheless a lot of fun. I recommend in particular the St. Patrick’s Day comic, which contains probably the best description of St. Patrick’s Day that I’ve ever read.

Don't feel any pressure to read everything at once, though. There's plenty to digest in the main story, so start with that. If you finish it up to the current point and crave more, just know there is more.

To sum up: Characterization-heavy historical crime drama populated by cats, with beautiful art and engaging dialog. Interspersed with memorable bouts of silliness.

Lackadaisy is written and drawn by Tracy J. Butler and updates irregularly. Typically a few pages will go up at once, every few months or so. They're worth the wait.


  1. Of course the sepia-toned, soft-focus visual style just adds to Lackadaisy's feeling of period-accuracy. And even when it's not pushing the story forward it's delightful, as in the most recent update, all about Pancakes and Waffles. http://lackadaisy.foxprints.com/exhibit.php?exhibitid=398

    1. It's funny how we associate different time periods with particular visual styles. I mean, the 1920s didn't actually look sepia-toned, but it just feels right.

      And yes, pancakes vs. waffles is delightful.