A review of the Tales of Armstrong webcomic.
It's rare to see anything dedicated to someone's kids actually appeal to a large mass of adults based solely on material – but The Tales of Armstrong, an online graphic novel written by David Halvorson, manages to do just that. The characters, the story and even the very concept are not only creative, but intelligent and witty in a way that would win over even the most cynical of us.
Our story opens with a blonde girl applying a small amount of lipstick and singing – eerily, I might add – a nursery rhyme. She walks away, showing the very posies that make up the title of the first chapter. The Tales of Armstrong continues on to best friends Bryce, also known as the "hero" Scrap, and Yoshi. After helping out a few of the schoolyard fellows, the plot takes a scary turn as many of the boys are left unconscious from a cooties infection. And this is where the story truly displays its true genius.
Tales of Armstrong has its own unique view of reality that makes the reader wonder where the lines of the children's imagination begin and what is really happening on the playground ends. Surely the boys who were kissed by the opening's primary antagonist isn't turning the boys at Armstrong Elementary School into mindless flesh eating zombies, but something mighty peculiar is still going on. Are they all playing a game that they just happened to know the rules to? Or, later on, a girl falls into a pool of "lava." Now we've all played the imaginary game "the floor is lava" before. However in this case, one girl falls in and she is never seen or heard from again.
The Tales of Armstrong is very reminiscent of some kid's shows from a few years ago, most notably Recess and The Kids Next Door. Taking an idea like exacerbating the imagination of a child and making it bend the ideas of reality isn't an entirely new concept, but Tales of Armstrong's execution is infallible for two significant reasons.
First, although not foremost, the dialogue is just so intelligent. Unlike its predecessors, ToA characters say things you might actually hear on a playground but it is still aimed at someone who pays attention to subtle details. It's the wit of the interaction that is so stimulating, and it is what feeds into my favorite part of this and every truly well-written story: the characters.
The second great strength of The Tales of Armstrong is its wonderful characterization. No matter what these characters are going through, not matter what they say to each other, if you aren't emotionally invested in them you won't have any concern for their plight nor experience catharsis when they succeed. This story makes you care about these characters; through their successes and failures, through their dialogue and through their genuinely innocent yet sympathetic situations. When there is a deep argument between Bryce and Yoshi toward the end of the third chapter, you fear for their friendship. You don't want anything bad to happen to them because of what they've accomplished thus far as a team.
There is nary a little boy who didn't one day dream of being a superhero. There isn't one girl who didn't want to be respected and worshipped by her peers. And, most importantly, we all played games of pretend. We all were pirates, warriors, heroes, cowboys, Indians, cops, robbers, etc. This story pulls at the heartstrings of our treasured nostalgia while not pandering to it. It is its own universe, and one that is a joy to behold.
Three and a half stars out of four.
Read Tales of Armstrong at www.talesofarmstrong.com
Written or Contributed by: Dan Buckley