Review: Comics #5 - WKRP in Cincinnati

WKRP is a comic that tries to straddle the line between autobiographical rumination on a formative experience and an actual history of that most hipster of sitcoms, WKRP in Cincinnati. What it achieves is a little bit less than an interesting version of either. WKRP is nominally Chad Lambert’s autobiographical story of finding himself as a broadcaster, and it starts off well, with a day in the life of Lambert as he drives to work in Cincinnati. He makes an analogy that where M*A*S*H* inspired an entire class of people to become surgeons, WKRP inspired him to become a broadcaster. It’s a well-illustrated sequence, as is its sister bookend at the end, in that it strikes a nice balance between accurate scenery in the Queen City and a recognizable tone. The lion’s share of the comic, discussing the actual WKRP in Cincinnati TV show starts off sterile and only goes downhill from there.

The bulk of the issue describing the show itself doesn’t focus much on the behind-the-scenes drama or the real-world issues the show faced. It gives lip service to Jerry Falwell and the Moral Majority; it spends a page on the death of 11 concertgoers at a The Who concert; it makes sure to mention that Jerry Springer was at one point mayor of the finest city on the Ohio River, and that yes, he was paying prostitutes with personal checks. These Cincinnati flavors help, but the discussion of the show boils down to a comic book version of the Chris Farley Show sketches from Saturday Night Live (“Hey, do you remember the episode with the Turkey Drop?... Yeah, that was awesome.”) I think what Lambert is going for is something like a policeman’s wake, where you list off the specific things you remember about the deceased, and their specificity fills in this life story. Instead, it comes off as just a list of things that happened.

WKRP-10.29.14When you’re writing a biography of something, you have to either a) be able to attack it from one specific angle, e.g. a biography of Robert Oppenheimer specifically about how his HUAC hearing ruined him for life forward and backward through time or b) be exhaustive and write everything about a subject. Otherwise, you’re just listing facts. You could be listing them in a certain, interesting list format, but it’s still a list. It’s an illustrated blog post about “This is what WKRP in Cincinnati means to me.”

The interior art during the history of the sitcom is a jarringly different style from the bookends, but it fits almost perfectly into the topic and tone. It’s a discussion about one of television’s golden ages, and it’s done in very clean lines, minimal backgrounds, and a shady kind of coloring that brings to mind less realism and more a celebrity caricature at Sardi’s. It’s completely unnatural, but so’s syndicated television. My only real beef is more of a conceptual one: they introduce Loni Anderson as being this maternal figure to everyone on the show, and then every time she shows up she’s in a bikini or she’s being defined purely by the fact that she was married to Burt Reynolds once or they’re spending a half a page making a joke about how her nipples got hard while they were filming the pilot. This is the kind of attention to detail that can fly in a prose bio because it’s sort of a funny story, but in a comic, you’re using up a lot of page real estate to reduce a woman to two boobs and a bikini body. Work harder, everyone.

With the new box set of WKRP being released with restored soundtracks, it’s a good time for this comic to be coming out. It may catch some of the feedback wave off that box set, and people may pick it up. It’ll be visually well put-together, and it’ll have an ending, but it won’t really feel like you needed to read about it.

Score: 2/5

Writer: Chad Lambert Artists: Patricio Carbajal & Apriyadi Kusbiantoro Publisher: Levity Biographies Price: $4.99