Any young person knows that parents can be the biggest pain in the ass. They're always judging your friends. They're always getting on your case about homework. They're always getting concerned about your future. Blah, blah, blah. They're only doing it because they love you, but it can be a bit much. It can feel like they're overbearing and controlling. Seriously, Ma! Give me some damn space. I'll move out of the house eventually!
Anyway, as embarrassing as your folks can be, at least you're not Rebecca "Becky" McQuarry. Her dad isn't just overbearing, he's a freaking ghost! Helicopter parenting takes on a whole new level when Becky starts attending Morgue High, a school for the supernaturally gifted. He can literally keep an eye on her given walls aren't exactly an obstacle for the undead. With the added pressure of tests, projects, and the occasional demon possession, Becky's relationship to her dad will be stretched to the limits.
Dawn of the Dad can be seen in the same vein as The Addams Family, taking the tropes of family sitcoms and throwing in a whole bunch of B-horror movie cliches. I don't use the words "tropes" and "cliches" negatively. It's fun to take the ingredients from diverse genres and try mixing them together. Anita Zaramella, the series creator, is currently cooking with some ingredients for a potentially juicy blood sausage. But right now, it's coming out more like poltergeist cheesesteak. Before this food analogy gets any more ridiculous, let's get cracking with the review.
Anita Zarmilla's art style is inspired by the Jhonen Vasquez school of eccentricity. When characters emote, their facial features expand or shrink to fit that mood, i.e., enlarged eyes for fear or shrunken lips for when they taste something sour. Movement is chaotic, arms and legs flailing like spaghetti noodles. There are sometimes flaws to character design, but they arguably make the art enduring. Just like Vasquez, Zarmilla's character designs have a punk rock tone to them, exuberant in emotion when lacking in draftsmanship.
That said, the art does significantly lack in backgrounds. They don't pop out as much as the characters do. Interiors and exteriors are very basic in design, and that's when they are even drawn. Some panels are just blank slates occupied solely by the characters. It seems like a misstep for a series with a world open to numerous possibilities. There could be purple jam leaking from the walls, Morgue High's campus could be constructed from the bones of a fallen Eldritch god. A lack of equally interesting backgrounds seems like a big loss to the comic's charm. Zarmilla does make up for it with outstanding colors. A background might lack detail, but it probably will have an eye-catching shade. These colors also lead to some cool visual effects, such as this scene where Mr. McQuarry loses his shit:
The colors add to the comic's eccentricity. It doesn't have symbolic meaning, but it does keep your attention. You'll be hard-pressed to complain much about the visuals when they're so colorful and keep your eyes focused on the page. This is Anita Zarmilla's first major work in comics, as far as I know. It's not lack of skill so much as attempting to figure out the look of a series, and what better way than to actually draw it?
One odd thing about the art I did take note of are the sexual innuendos. There are many panty shots, although in the comic's defense a number of those seem to be for technical realism. Some of the ways female characters fall over would lead to an accidental reveal. I think seeing those as sexual or not is a matter of personal perspective. However, the breasts size of a seemingly underage character, Julie, is harder to justify. I'm not trying to shame this imagery because there are women, even girls, that just naturally have large breasts, but the framing of them is akin to their stereotypical presence in countless cheesecake art. Julie's breasts always have massive cleavage, their outline underneath clothing is frequently exaggerated, and there are moments of physical comedy where they wobble like sacks full of jelly.
I don't understand what their purpose is outside of cheesecake. At first, I thought they might be tied to some joke about the character's personality, but nothing I've seen demonstrated from Julie would suggest she is a sexual character. I guess my complaint is that Julie's breasts seem to just be cheesecake, which wouldn't really bother me except, like a lot of inappropriately applied cheesecake, it's a distraction from what's going in the story. I'm not here to shame or police Zarmilla's choice. I simply suggest that applications of cheesecake or beefcake, like any element of a story, be considered if they serve a purpose or are a distraction. Cheesecake might be appropriate to Dawn of the Dad if it were an erotic story, but it's not. Furthermore, no matter what, sexualized teenagers will always be scrutinized.
While art is certainly Dawn of the Dad's strength, story is more of a mixed bag. The story structure of the comic is a series of 20-odd page episodes focused on self-contained story, like an older comic or TV episode. This structure has the advantage of making each chapter easy to read. If you're a first time reader, you can read any chapter then decide if you want to stick around to read more. The challenge is that with this limited space, the storyteller must find a way to tell a satisfying story that is its own narrative while still able to connect to the ongoing narrative. In this case, Dawn of the Dad struggles a lot to meet these demands.
Chapter One has two halves to it. The first half introduces Becky at her old school and how having a ghost dad is a burden to her social life. Concerned school officials send over child services and a priest to investigate, prompting Mr. McQuarry to lose his shit. After Becky makes him realize how shitty his behavior is, the priest offers a chance to enroll at Morgue High, sensing she has potential supernatural abilities. The second half is Becky starting at school, realizing how tough it's going to be, and meeting her new friends Julie and Sam. The sandwiching of these two plots feels very uneven. The first half is somewhat fleshed out, while the second half feels rushed. It's like Zarmilla was really rushing to get to Becky becoming friends with Julie and Sam that she neglected the development of Morgue High. We don't learn a whole lot about it, only that it's a place where kids learn about the supernatural and how to combat/interact with it. Actually, I can only assume that's what they do. Never is it explained exactly what Becky and her classmates are to do with the knowledge they gain. Furthermore, we don't get a whole lot of world-building to explain how such a school even got started. It's suggested that the supernatural is an active part of this world, but it's never made clear if it's a regular part or an anomaly. So much is crammed into the first chapter that a whole lot goes undeveloped.
Chapter Two is a little better, but not by much. There are still struggles with story development mostly due to how it seems Zarmilla focuses more on the jokes. It's sad because there is a nice little story here involving the misunderstood school janitor, Razlo, and Becky learning not to judge him, and perhaps to a larger extent the school, on first impressions. We're also introduced to a new student, Takehiko, but he doesn't matter much until the third episode.
Chapter Three is my favorite chapter so far because Zarmilla manages to fix most of the flaws. In fact, it does a lot of what is missing from the other chapters, planting and payoff. This refers to how story elements are introduced and then play out significantly throughout the story, leading to a payoff that affects the narrative in a significant way. In this case, it's an amulet that Becky's grandma thinks will bring her good luck. When Becky puts it on, her personality does a complete 180. She's suddenly more organized, studious, self-controlled, confident, social, and overall just a better person than her usual clumsy, disorganized self. This freaks out her dad and friends because it is such a drastic change. Julie, Sam, and Takehiko do their best to get the amulet off to no avail, and it even leads to Becky deciding to ditch them as friends. Back at home, Mr. McQuarry tries to have an intervention with Becky, which leads to her accidentally breaking the amulet. It's then revealed that the amulet had previously belonged to Becky's deceased mom, and that some of her personality was latent in it (no, that's never explained). This leads to Becky and her dad have a serious talk about how her lost really affected their relationship, mostly Becky's confusion to why Mr. McQuarry got to come back and not her mom. Mr. McQuarry admits he doesn't know, but they have to continue on because that's what Mom would want. Becky agrees to improve and be more like Mom, but the next page is her losing the study planner she wrote out. At least she has her friends back. The reason I like Chapter Three so much is that it the running joke of the story, Becky's amulet, actually leads to a heartfelt moment that addresses a major plot point set up in Chapter One. It manages to fit into the structure of a self-contained episode while also developing the ongoing narrative. It was also the first episode where I didn't notice any major pacing issues. Oh, and Takehiko develops a crush on Becky.
Chapter Four attempts another bit of character development, this time Becky developing a crush on a popular guy while also having a running gag, some type of spooky, supernatural haunting. It even starts out similar to Chapter Three with a first page that sets up the joke. This time, it's blue slug creatures that are actually the souls of people. It just so happens that the flu is running rampant in the school at the same time, and students are literally sneezing out their souls. Those souls without a body seek out an empty vessel, leading to a Night of the Living Dead meets the body switch scenario. This setup went from being random to oddly enjoyable, especially with all the detached soul slugs and their random quotes. And the quotes are so, so random and reach so many different aspects from culture. The slugs referenced everything Agatha Christie novels to Aaliyah's "Try Again". Remember Aaliyah? Shit, I had to fucking google just to remind myself of the lyrics. Sadly, the running gag ends up overshadowing the whole Becky develops a crush on a guy. It doesn't come up again until the end. Now, neither did the twist about Becky's mom in Chapter Three, except that it was revealed the amulet was part of this important reveal all along, so it's more satisfying.
Chapter Five, while not done, is a little more on course to what Chapter Three accomplished, and looks to address matters involving Takehiko's crush on Becky. It's just too bad that so many of the episodes so far are inconsistent. It takes a toll on character development, particularly the side characters. While Becky and Mr. McQaurry get to develop a little more so, there is very little for Sam and Julie. They're so far just generic brands of their respective archetypes (Julie, the sassy best friend: Sam, the stoner). Even Takehiko's crush on Becky is his only defining personality trait.
With all that said, Dawn of the Dad is still worth a read. It's very rough in all aspects, but its entertainment value is still intact. I like a lot of the jokes, I love the colorful energy of the art, and, most of all, I admire Anita Zarmilla's clear enthusiasm for the series. That's the thing, as long a writer or artist clearly fueled by passion for a project, I can still enjoy something. I hope that the critiques I've given are seen not as deterrents from continuing Dawn of the Dad, but constructive criticisms on how to improve. Given that the series does operate on an episodic structure, there is plenty of time to do so. In the meantime, go read the comic. It's a fun comic for anyone who thought Saved By The Bell could've been better if Uncle Fester made a cameo.