Author/Artist: Tracy Butler
Format: Webcomic (link)
Published: 2008 – Present (though she’s been preparing it since at least 2006)
Pages: 104 and counting (the main plot is just beginning)
Updates: Slow and irregular. Probably about a page or two per month, on loose average.
Content Advisory: Some PG-13-level gangster violence, one or two “S.O.B.’s”, and gratuitous bootlegging.
Genre: Period gangster adventure/comedy/drama. Basically historical fiction, except that all the characters happen to be drawn as cats. This is only because Tracy Butler thought she could draw them more expressively than humans when she started the story. Not that she can’t draw humans incredibly well.
Synopsis: Set in St. Louis, MO during the 1920s, the owner and employees of the friendly speakeasy Lackadaisy struggle to keep their establishment afloat against the Prohibition, deadly rival gangsters, and their own weak business sense.
Reason for Beginning: I like that time period and the art captured my attention immediately.
Reason for Still-Reading: The characters and artwork, mainly. Beautiful, really beautiful artwork (it dramatically improves from the beginning pages). Fleshed-out, interesting characters. Perfect, memorable dialogue. And a plot that is developing very naturally, without shortcuts and clichés.
Re-readability: High. In fact, I frequently revisit pages at random for the sheer fun of it. The artwork is packed with fun little details and is astonishingly historically accurate, as well as just being plain good to look at. The dialogue is witty and pairs well with the art, so that the comedy is genuinely funny and the characters come to life. I would eagerly read anything written or drawn by Tracy Butler, such is the appeal of her art and stories. I think Lackadaisy is the only webcomic she has going on right now, though she used to draw great fantasy pictures for a story of her own on this site, which is currently defunct.
Recommendation: You! Go read it NOW! I think it should appeal to a wide audience. There is ample comedy, wit, drama, and even action to draw in a variety of readers. The artwork is gorgeous, the characters have depth and sympathy, and the plot is advancing organically without obvious clichés.
Lackadaisy feels kind of like The Sting (1973) filtered through Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), but with all cartoon cat characters. Especially The Sting, though. The Prohibition Setting, the early noir elements, the quick and clever (but not slapstick) humor, and the sharply-defined and sharply-dressed characters who, though technically petty criminals, are nonetheless sympathetic and trying to survive in a tough world with more violent rivals. It’s stylish and very fun.
The good guys, if one can call them that, are the members and friends of the genial Lackadaisy speakeasy. Mitzi May, the owner, is trying to keep the place afloat financially since the mysterious murder of her husband, Atlas, who had founded it. Rumors abound that the petite but seductive Mitzi might have had something to do with her husband’s death, though no one can prove anything. She finds it practical to encourage the rumors, but my prediction right now is that she wasn’t responsible, at least not intentionally. A few private scenes have revealed that she had great affection for Atlas, and, while Mitzi is a tough, wily lady, I don’t think she is a cold murderess. I like her – she seems good-hearted and treats her younger employees almost like children, and is admirably cool under stress. She’s not an ice queen, though, and is humble enough to admit her difficulties and failures in private. You do feel as though you get to know her fairly well, and yet she’s always hiding something from everyone. Lots of secrets with her. Her most recent actions, as of this writing, have the potential to set the actual “big” conflict into motion.
Rocky Rickaby is her young, wild (as in “a few screws missing so that the brain rattles constantly against the skull and occasionally bits of it fly out his ears when he’s shaking and bouncing too much” sort of wild) employee, a violinist in the Lackadaisy band who has been newly appointed as a rumrunner, in charge of obtaining alcoholic beverages for the establishment. Prohibition and the rival Marigold gang have cut heavily into Lackadaisy’s business, leaving Mitzi with only a few of her most loyal employees, and barely enough to cover the essential jobs. Rocky’s a pretty crazy guy, extremely entertaining for us readers but rather obnoxious and frightening to those around him. How many ways can I say “lack of good judgment”? I think this picture of him on the right sums it up best, and it takes place very near the beginning of the webcomic. I like Rocky because he’s so energetic, works wonders with words, and genuinely cares for his friends. Still, his recklessness puts many of his friends and fellow-employees in unnecessary danger, and while his affection for his cousin Freckle is touching, we mustn’t forget that he is dragging Freckle into a life of crime.
Freckle: *holding a Molotov cocktail* “What’s in this?”
Rocky: “SWEET JUSTICE! …And motor oil and gasoline.”
Rocky: “What? What’s the matter? Don’t you like justice?”
Freckle, or Calvin for his real name, is Rocky’s mild-mannered young cousin who is terrified by the violent world he’s been ushered into. Relatively innocent, he has big, worried eyes that can elicit incredible amounts of sympathy. About eighteen or nineteen years old, we know he wanted to become a police officer but was kicked out because of a certain, um, transformation he undergoes when holding a gun. The irony of the most peaceful, timid character being the most deadly with a firearm is not lost on the other characters or on Butler. I like that Freckle remains horrified at the idea of killing, even though his “crazy” violence managed to save the lives of all his friends from the real bad guys. The danger with a story like this is that the heroes might become more violent, and we’re liable to continue rooting for the violence because we like them and it’s satisfying to see them win, even if the violence becomes immoral. Hopefully Freckle will retain his morality and justice, even as he becomes wiser and more experienced in life. If so, he could become my favorite character.
Rocky: “C’mon, laugh! You can’t tell me that wasn’t funny.”
Freckle: “I was counting how many laws we broke.”
Ivy Pepper is a pretty gamine flapper, finishing her freshman year of college, who works as the barista for the Lackadaisy café (the speakeasy’s “respectable” front). She is hyper, constantly excited, she dotes on and teases the grim Victor, flirts constantly with young men she fancies, is obsessed with fashion and the high life, and yet can also be surprisingly shrewd in a pinch. Both her affection and her wrath are fierce and becoming. When she develops a crush on Freckle the instant she sees him, his reaction is to hide behind a sandwich. It’s hard not to smile with Ivy around, both for the other characters and for the readers – she’s just so resolutely cheerful, energetic, and affectionate. Let’s hope the events of the story don’t make her too jaded.
Next we have Victor, the big Slovakian former strongman and rumrunner for Atlas and Mitzi, now reduced by a painful kneecap injury to bartending and glaring. At this point, he’s my favorite character. He speaks sparingly, but gets many of the best lines in his thick accent. In particular, his unusual protectiveness of Ivy is one of the few hints that there is a soft side to his heart, much as he tries to hide it. He never smiles, but is not above trying to make a joke. When his partner Mordecai left Mitzi for the rival Marigold gang (before the story begins), Victor remained loyal to her. Why, exactly, we don’t know, but it’s becoming clear that Victor has a pretty good heart and will go to great lengths to protect his friends. His heroism, when it’s called upon, is awesome. Just don’t get on his bad side. Really. He was once a bad guy, and can still be pretty ruthless in his methods if he has to be. He’s also the only person not afraid of Mordecai. (Mitzi acts cool and composed around Mordecai, but I think she does fear him.)
Other good guys who have had less page time, but are nonetheless important, are Sedgewick “Wick” Sable and Dorian “Zib” Zibowski. I like them both because of their essential goodness of character. Wick is a wealthy mining magnate and Mitzi’s latest boyfriend, whom she is courting in the hopes that he will invest much-needed money into Lackadaisy. He knows she’s a wily creature, but doesn’t hold it against her. He loves her and believes she loves him, and, as the reader, I’m not sure she doesn’t love him. But it’s a tricky relationship, especially with her being so in need of money and he being fairly innocent in the ways of the underworld. And he’s so essentially a nice guy, you don’t want to see his heart get broken by Mitzi, who, though she likes him, may very well put the financial needs of her establishment first. The development of this tricky relationship is fascinating because it involves so many moral choices on the part of each of them. I’m happy that this relationship seems like it will provide the most momentum for the plot.
Zib is Lackadaisy’s bandleader and jazz saxophone player, and has apparently been a close friend of Mitzi’s since she first came to St. Louis and entered the speakeasy business. His first appearance was early in the comic and was minor enough that I quickly forgot about him, but in the last few pages (starting with the one entitled “Lackadaisy Mystique”) he suddenly was revealed as a rather pivotal character in Mitzi’s life, and probably one for the plot, too. He’s nervous when the guns start firing, not being a thug like Victor or a trained gunman like even Freckle (courtesy of the police academy), but that’s not to say he’s a coward. Though aware that Lackadaisy is technically part of the illegal underworld, he is trying hard to hold on to his moral principles. It’s not the speakeasy’s financial woes that depress him nearly as much as its illegal nature and the way it encourages his friends to, uh, “relax” their principles. I’m eager to see how Butler develops him.
The bad guys are the rival Marigold gang, who guard their highly profitable establishment with far more violent methods than Lackadaisy is even capable of. Their public representative, Asa Sweet, is a big cat whose genial personality probably conceals a ruthless streak, but at least he seems to prefer diplomacy to outright brute force. However, he does employ the Cajun sibling-assassins Nico and Serafine Savoy, who appear to get a perverse delight out of causing harm to others. While dressing snappy.
The most dangerous and intriguing antagonist is Mordecai, a psychotic assassin who obsesses with cleanliness, fashion, and symmetry, and who used to work for Mitzi (alongside Victor). We don’t know why he switched sides, but he’s a pretty scary guy and much more violent and evil than anyone else, even compared to the sadistic Savoy siblings. Whereas they cackle during murders, Mordecai always remains calm and composed. He likes to think of himself as rational. But while he’s told Mitzi that he will destroy her with no regrets if Marigold orders him to, he also displays some interest in Lackadaisy’s private affairs. If he has a good side waiting to be brought out, that would be quite extraordinary and interesting to see, but as he stands, it’s best to avoid and never trust him. Quite an effective villain.
You’ve seen the artwork I’ve posted here. It’s the detail that makes it shine. Look at this panel of the big lug Victor recuperating from a wound in an old lady’s apartment. What do you notice immediately? Probably the patterns. Patterns on the curtains. Patterns on the window shade. Patterns on the upholstery. Patterns on the blanket. Patterns on the doily. Intricate, real, pretty patterns, that have been either researched or specially designed by Tracy Butler herself. Just because this is an adventurous webcomic with cats filling in for humans doesn’t mean it can’t have realistically drawn cars, radios, houses, guns, and clothing packed into every frame.
And the faces of the characters, even the minor ones in the background, are wonderfully expressive. I agree with a friend of mine, also a fan of the comic, who said, “You could say that the anthropomorphized cats are hardly strictly realistic. Yet the incredible facial expressions they display strike me as very realistic in the sense that they perfectly evoke emotion and feeling. I suppose, like so much art, it’s in fact hyper realistic.”
The plot is only just getting underway, after about one hundred pages of establishing characters and setting through some intrigue, comedy, and a dynamic action scene or two. It’s looking to be very good, though. The only unfortunate thing is how slow and irregular the updates are. You can expect about one new page a month, on average. Sometimes we readers have had to wait closer to three months, and other times just a couple weeks. A single update might be one short page or a handful of long ones, or anything in between. It can be agonizing, but Butler always makes the wait worth it.
Fortunately, the webcomic is well-supported by an excellent art gallery, which showcases amusing sketches, full-color drawings, and comic previews to distract impatient readers. Some are early versions of pages that later appear in the webcomic proper, while others are one-shot scenes or detailed character portraits. Some even show the process by which she draws the comic. The one-shot scenes can either “be canon” and take place in the story-world proper, or they can break the fourth wall for humorous reasons, such as when Butler draws herself interviewing various characters with reader-submitted questions. All of these either deepen the characters beyond the story proper or are deliberately goofy and funny; frequently, they’re both. But special mention must go to the full-color scenes and character portraits, which are truly beautiful.
Since the story is still ongoing, I will probably write a follow-up review either when it is finished, or when there’s at least enough new plot to warrant talking about.