I’ve been reading the webcomic Octopus Pie from about a year into its start. Before its tenth anniversary in May of next year, the comic will be coming to an end. Part of what makes reading a webcomic (or any comic) fun and interesting from its beginning to its end is watching the changes that occur. Not just the characters, but the change in writing and the art style. Especially with webcomics who often have one creator for both.
From when I started my blogger site, to when I created this site, and to the present day I’ve had a draft on both blogs trying to write about my love for Meredith Gran’s Octopus Pie but I’ve never been able to put my finger on what it is about it that I love besides the fact it makes me smile and laugh like no other webcomic does consistently while making me care deeply for its characters.
There’s a part of it that you, the new reader, will appreciate it in a way it took a reread for me to take in. Gran’s art style and writing evolved with the changing lives of her characters. It’s not so much that the creator finds her voice as the comic goes on, but her voice changes and with it the voices of her characters. From the beginning, I felt Gran had the voice of her characters down pat, even if that may not necessarily be true.
“The stories accommodate the characters, and the characters reflect the changes in my own life.The stories accommodate the characters, and the characters reflect the changes in my own life.” – Meredith Gran, Paste Magazine
Octopus Pie is the story of Eve (Everest) Ning and Hanna Thompson living in Brooklyn in their twenties. In the second volume of the comic, “Music at Home with Octopus Pie” Gran writes about living in a commuter town on Long Island before the storyline “Exile on Jericho Turnpike.” If you’re also a New Yorker, the settings will resonate with you differently than others, but that’s how it is with a piece of fiction we admire taking place in the fictionalized version of the real area we live in and visit. Everyone thinks of New York City as their city, whether you’re from Long Island like I am, from Upstate New York or if you actually live in the city. See, we refer to it as the city. We see Eve and Hanna in their apartment, on the subway, in the bar, in the coffee shop, in Chinatown, or in Central Park and our ability to relate and to empathize shoots up. Brooklyn is alive in every panel of Octopus Pie even when it doesn’t speak.
I want to tell you how great the art is, the way she nails facial expressions and body language that is silly one minute and deep into that drama the next. I want to tell you about the humor. All the quippy lines, observational humor, visual gags, situational comedy, and smart ass comments from her characters. What is best about Meredith Gran’s sense of comedy is that she isn’t afraid of the joke. What I mean by that, and this is part of what makes her storytelling so well done, is that every kind of joke I just mentioned come naturally to her characters. I’m not talking about to the story, but to her characters, who laugh with the reader at other characters being funny like they’re people and not part of a narrative. You don’t see being done well often. Either the artists doesn’t show their characters laughing or when they do it looks like the end of a Scooby Doo episode.
You put the crisp dialogue, the humor, the setting, the stories, and the art into a pie dish and you’ll still be missing the main filler that makes Octopus Pie such a delight to read. That filling is the characters. Gran writes her characters for a comic like great novels do. They all come with a history that is delved in small spoonfuls over time, often without all the details. This missing history makes her characters read like real people because there is some baggage you don’t get to learn about a person, that they don’t want to share, and that they’ve moved past it but it still remains part of this life.
The cast all has a family and their own unique relationship with them but those relationships are part of the background, not the main plot. It doesn’t end there, but my point is that the characters have former jobs, former dreams, former loves, and former friends that shaped who they are in the ongoing story. Like a new friend, your first impression of the characters doesn’t reveal everything about them. You get to know them, flaws and all, as you continue through the comic. Eve seems the straight-and-narrow, cynical, and sarcastic type in the beginning, struggling to deal with Hanna’s smoke-filled, carefree, non-conformist personality. Underneath, you get the feeling that Eve is lost, struggling not so much to define who she is but where her life is going like many twenty-year-olds. Her past, like the break up with first love and the divorce of her parents, is a weight she carries more than any other character. Meanwhile, Hanna, though often well intentioned, is manipulative to her friends and is constantly seeking control over herself and those around her. Her struggle comes with the loss and lack of control we often face in our twenties.
The strip isn’t simply about Eve and Hanna’s relationship but relationships as a whole. The empathy Gran has for all her characters comes out in every arc, on every page. She rotates the cast of characters in Eve and Hanna’s life just as relationships seem to change so rapidly in our lives during our twenties. People move, quit jobs, get new jobs, get new interests, and forge new relationships. Marek, Will, and Marigold round out the main cast of the strip each with their own arcs and lives that exist alongside Eve and Hanna, not rotating around them. Marigold and Will start out as friends of Hanna but gain larger roles and story arcs later on. Both struggle with who they are and want they want in life with different paths and approaches to how they find what they are looking for.
Almost like a role reciprocal to Hanna, Marigold constantly feels like she has no control over her life. When we meet her, she believes there is no satisfaction to be found within the system she is in, namely her job. The structure is controlling her, in her mind, not giving her a stable environment in which to find control. She sees Hanna, who has an independent business, as the friend who has both freedom and control, two things she feels she has neither of. Meanwhile, Will is looking for simplicity and structure in his complicated life. He forces a half-assed structure to his lifestyle without ever committing to what he truly wants, something Hanna points out Eve tends to do the same.
Marek knows exactly who he is, or believes he does. His inner conflict is hidden behind a curtain of desperately trying to get through college. When we see him stressed early in the comic it’s because of deadlines. We often see Marek, if not with Hanna, through Eve’s eyes. From there he seems to be the wise one among them with the most insight but Marek is not without his own problems that may not appear onscreen. The reason for this is Marek, as opposed to a lot of the other characters, knows what he wants, knows what he believes, and knows where he wants to go in life. This leads to future conflict with Hanna because they don’t necessarily want the same thing.
Change is the great conflict for the characters of Octopus Pie. Their individual lives are changing, their jobs are changing, the people around them are changing, and their relationships are changing. With change comes great joy and great pain, all the while laughter will come in between. Meredith Gran quickly found her tone and interweaves it well. She knows when her readers need a break from the conflicts with her brand of smart observational humor and silliness that can only be pulled off in comic form.
This is what compels me to read it, and why you should read it as well. The changes come quick, and you’ll ask yourself but why does it have to change? You’ll move past the empathetic pain you feel for Eve, Hanna, Eve, Will, or Marigold and you’ll ask what happens next?
Meredith Gran makes comics and teaches at the School of Visual Arts. She lives in Brooklyn and has tried every vegan cheese, even the good ones.
All images are property of Meredith Gran. Read more Octopus Pie online at: Octopuspie.com
The current volumes of Octopus Pie are released by Image Comics. Find them in your local comic book store, book store, or online retailer.
You can find Octopus Pie merchandise at Topataco