La Cosa Nostra
|Original review author:||Lesbot|
|Webcomic name:||La Cosa Nostra|
|Author:||Darci Robbins, AKA "Eiko-chan"|
|End Date:||Got the cement shoes, I guess.|
|Defining Flaw:||If you're going to base your webcomic on the Mafia, it would probably be a good idea to actually research the motherfucking Mafia.|
The book Twilight by Stephenie Meyer, is the story of a young girl who moves to a new town and finds herself surrounded by vampires. Fortunately for her, unlike usual vampires - who are undead that burn in sunlight and like to drink blood - the vampires of Twilight are emotional and literally sparkly people. The most notable of these is an angsty young male vampire who feels that his life is utterly tragic.
The webcomic La Cosa Nostra, by Darci Robbins, is the story of a young girl who moves to a new town and finds herself surrounded by Mafiosi. Fortunately for her unlike the actual Mafia - who are criminals that consider murder and intimidation of others a hard day's work - the Mafiosi of La Cosa Nostra are emotional and literally sparkly people. The most notable of these is an angsty young male Mafiosi who feels that his life is utterly WAIT A MINUTE
On the "About" page of the website itself, La Cosa Nostra is described by its creator;
With a description like that, you just know this is going to be some deep and emotional shit.
In an F.A.Q. about the webcomic, the artist tells us;
Remember, if you don't care enough about setting to do some goddamn research, just say it has aspects of everything! This effectively gives Miss Eiko-chan the freedom to mix anything with anything and nobody can call her out on any sort of inconsistency. Clever move, miss. Too bad it makes your approach to writing look half-arsed at best. In fact, reluctance to do research is quite a theme in this webcomic.
Let's please not forget that the Mafia is a thing that actually exists, even to this day. There are countless books about the many varied systems in each country, so there is no shortage of reference material available. And as someone (that is, me, Lesbot) who actively reads said Mafia books because I find the facts within them fascinating, I feel personally insulted by this author's apparent allergy to doing a bit of goddamn research. So, let's see how this webcomic holds up to actual facts.
Firstly, Miss Robbins' Mafia exists in New York. Now, let's examine the name of her webcomic:
La Cosa Nostra
and a conversation with the author, taken from here;
BEEP, WRONG! THANKS FOR PLAYING! YOU WON A CAR! "Cosa Nostra", as a term, actually means "Our Thing" - as in, a thing that all the mafiosi share. It is a name used only and specifically by the Mafia on the island of Sicily.
ONLY THERE, MOTHERFUCKER. Even mainland Italy has a different name for its system! So naming your New York mafia webcomic "La Cosa Nostra" is a bit like creating a webcomic about lions on the African savannah and calling it The Tale Of The Endangered Indian Tigers.
I'm told by one source that the USA Mafia might actually call itself "La Cosa Nostra", but that's an American mafia and Robbins has said herself that these characters are 100% Italian, so I'm gonna be cruel and say it's not relevant.
Besides, even if they do, they must be fantastically shit at Italian because that actually translates to "The Our Thing". How embarrassing... (having actually studied Italian and actually that doesn't translate to 'the our thing' and in fact that is how they do things with possessive adjectives in Italian (unlike English, Italian possessive adjectives are also preceded by definite articles and agree in gender and number with the noun possessed, not with the possessor) bar some idiomatic phrases and referring to immediate family as well as probably some other examples I can't think of right now).
"But Lesbot," I'm sure somebody would probably whine, "a Mafia's a Mafia, right? I'm sure they're all the same really!" Well, you're wrong. You're very wrong. Punch yourself. Let's consider a quote from the book "Cosa Nostra", by John Dickie. (Yes I just happened to have it on hand.)
It's not just gang mentality that differs between systems; the Cosa Nostra are all about intimidation and land-ownership, whereas the Camorra (the Mafia system on mainland Italy) are much bigger and have more layers, and concern themselves a lot more with the drug trade. Unfortunately Eiko-chan's idea of research seems to be "I WATCHED THE GODFATHER ONE TIME, MAN IT WAS SO AWESOME".
Story and Plot
So, plot. Our story begins, fittingly, with Chapter One; wherein miss Saoirse (who is IRISH) is staring at a folded photograph of her family with a haunting, dead-eyed gaze. It's quite big for a photo actually, it might be a printout or photocopy. Come to think of it photographs are quite difficult things to fold right. Anyway, Saoirse continues to tell us about herself; how she is IRISH and an awfully sassy girl, and her family are moving away from Ireland because of the famine.
Wait, what famine? When is this set again? I've seen it assumed that Saoirse's family left Ireland in the Great Famine (also known as Potato Famine) of the mid-1800's. This "we left because of famine" plot point is so incredibly un-explained and never-referenced-again that it seems like a bit of a reach.
Nonetheless the boat journey to escape the famine continues, as Saoirse marvels at the Statue of Liberty because that is what all immigrants do when they arrive in America. She's interrupted in her brooding by a Japanese man from Japan with a Japanese name. You can tell he is Japanese because he has spiky anime hair, though for the record I have no idea why a Japanese person from Japan would be on the same boat as all the IRISH peasants. Maybe Japan and Ireland have always been right next to each other and I just never noticed.
Watashi Japanman gives her a generic couple of lines about America being "the land of freedom" and then never appears again ever, thank God. The next page even hammers in the fact that he was just a boring cameo with the line "I knew I'd never see Yukio again". No real explanation why, as we're rushed into an introduction to her family. Her mother seems to have developed a head-cold during the trip.
Saoirse spends the night angsting about how she's scared about her new life, which is fair enough really, considering what a shithole their apartment is. Fortunately the night passes in a couple of panels and soon she's having a horrible morning riding crowded subways (What year is this, anyway?) to get to her new school, which is quite a grand building that appears to be suspended in the white void of nowhere. Unfortunately the school she is meant to be attending didn't think to tell her that she needs a uniform to go to class (THEY ARE MANDATORY YOU ARE NOT WELCOME WITHOUT ONE) so the angry-looking nun teacher sends her away. She's given a sympathetic ear by a girl who tilts her head a lot called "Chastity Vittorio" (ooh an Italian name, can't you feel the Mafia vibes just ooze off her) and Saoirse makes a friendship that some ominous foreshadowing tells us that she will soon regret. DUN DUN DUUUUN.
After such a long first chapter with so very little happening, I bet you can't wait to get to all the gunfights, car chases and other illegal blood-pounding manly Mafia shit like that, right?! Well tough, because the first thing Chapter Two does is introduce us more to what a charmingly brain-dead brat Chastity is.
Chastity: Hey Saoirse, what's IRELAND like?
Saoirse: It's the countryside.
Chastity: Boo, I hate the countryside.
Chastity shows common little Saoirse how a girl should live, sweeping her up in a whirlwind of shopping all at the expense of dear daddy's credit card. So I guess either this isn't set during the Great Famine or Saoirse took so long to get to her first day of school that by the time she graduates she'll be fully qualified to drive a spaceship. Since they're now BFFS 4 LYFE, Chastity wisely decides to take Saoirse to a
gangster family party and introduce her to a bunch of gangsters family members. It's here that we're first introduced to La Cosa Nostra's very own answer to Edward Cullen; Vincent Carmine Valentino.
Despite them being cousins Chastity is all over Vinny like a particularly talkative rash, which is a level of incest I'm not really that comfortable with. I dunno, I hear in some places cousin-loving is acceptable but I'm just gonna go ahead and say I think this is kinda weird. Most of the pretty-boy Mafiosi descend on Saoirse like fucking hawks and start trying out their pick-up lines, but Vinny spends the rest of the chapter sending Saoirse accusing glares as if she just kicked his dog. I'm not sure if we're meant to be curious as to why he's so unfriendly, he just comes across as whiny and ever-so-angsty, as many close-ups of his gorgeous eyelashes will show you.
So it's Chapter Three, and Saorise has hardly finished telling us how very much she loves her new buddies before some leering stranger squeezes her precious little behind. She cries to Chastity, who tells her Mafia boys, who unleash their psychotic pet emo Vinny on Mister Buttgrabber. Saoirse sees him break the guy's nose with a single punch (BECAUSE HE IS A BABY-FACED BADASS, YOU DO REALISE) and is pretty uncomfortable about it. Oh well, I'm sure Vinny is still a nice guy-
Oh, except that time he murders that one guy in an alleyway, yeah. 'Cause that's how you kill someone professionally; you drag them to a public place where anyone can see you and talk to them for half an hour before getting it over with. SECRET PRO MAFIA TECHNIQUE. So Saoirse witnesses her very first murder, in all it's painfully-bad-dialogue glory. She's understandably upset that Vinny is clearly fucking psychotic and she freaks out, so Vinny turns on her with an amazing speech about how he don't get no respect just because he's a murdering criminal. Those intolerant twats! He compares the treatment he gets for being part of a criminal organisation to bigotry, particularly the bigotry Saoirse has been on the receiving end of because she is IRISH.
What do you mean there's been no mention of hatred against Saoirse's IRISHness so far in the webcomic? Oh, wait..
Vinny finishes his speech anyway, ending on the beautifully tragic line, "We are all God's forgotten children."
So Saoirse vows to keep her mouth shut about the whole "murdering people" thing because these guys are her buddies and they accept her and they're totally the city's downtrodden heroes. Vinny is a baby-faced angel boy who is cursed to kill people for money because that is his curse, and it makes him ever so dangerous and interesting.
First point: look at the art in Chapter 1, and in Chapter 8. Do you notice the difference? Yeah, she's worked on her style a little more, but here's what I'm getting at: She stops putting in effort.
In the first half of the first chapter - the 'epilogue', if you will - she may not be as good at drawing as she'll later be, but there's so much honest effort there. There's shading, lighting, backgrounds... you actually get the feeling that the character is there, existing in an actual environment. By the end of the first chapter Eiko lets her laziness run rampant and the shading stops, the lighting stops, and backgrounds are only added when necessary. The characters spend most of their time floating in undefined white space, which detaches the reader from the setting in which the characters reside.
I mean really think about it for a second. Here we have a story about a powerful, merciless criminal organisation, set in the iconic city of New York. How can you not want to put scenery in this? Some shots of the city would really hammer home the sort of scummy, morally-bankrupt existence these people live, yet instead we are limited to the goings-on of a couple of melodramatic school-kids in a boring white void. In fact when it comes to action scenes you'll be lucky if she even draws the characters.
Second point: Speaking of characters, let's take a look at a couple of the trends that are visible in the character art of Miss Eiko-chan. First of all, there's the brown-nose syndrome.
You know you've seen it. Despite not bothering to add shading to her characters, Eiko will cake their noses in so much shadow that they begin to look like they've been digging through soil with their faces, or have a head cold, or are all drunk. It looks unnatural and Eiko is fully aware that she does it, but unwilling to change. Observe this piece, where fans actually point out the ridiculousness of the bright red noses:
Eiko also has a bit of a problem with the rest of the face; clearly not a fan of flipping her canvas to find hidden easily overlooked mistakes (Take time on a drawing? What a crazy idea!) she has a habit of not putting enough thought into the placement of facial features and making her characters look lopsided. This becomes especially apparent the few times she dares to stray from her beautiful-bishie-with-pouting-lips template and actually attempt to draw less aesthetically pleasing people.
I'm not saying that miss Robbins lacks talent; there's definite potential there, but she's very much held back by her own laziness and bad attitude toward criticism.
While the art may be lopsided and lazy, the real killer of this webcomic is the writing. The story, setting and characters are so poorly put together and generic that the melodramatic zooms and speeches just become laughable; as if the author is a child acting out a soap-opera-esque story with Barbie dolls, stopping for a dramatic silence every five minutes.
Our first honorable mention goes to the comic's official 'tagline': Love is a movement. One of those lovely little phrases that could mean, gosh, absolutely anything! Whatever it is, I'm sure it's very tragic and beautiful. Well, here's an explanation taken from this interview;
It might just be because I'm not a giggling teenage girl, but I don't really see what on earth love has to do with a system professional criminals like the Mafia, particularly when your characters are young, spoilt and melodramatic. Money? Yes. Cars? Yes. Dwelling on things they can't control? Emo. It's as if Miss Robbins can't quite decide whether she wants her characters to be superficial or ttly deep so she tries to have it both ways, and they become confusing, sobbing messes.
Let's look at these characters. Now Eiko-chan herself has said that while the webcomic tends to follow Saoirse around, she is actually not the main character; she is just there to be the reader, to be new and ignorant to the whole mafia situation and lead us through it. So let's just hop straight to the obvious main character, Vinny.
Simba Vinny's backstory is quite interesting in the fact that if the author knew shit about the actual Mafia, this character would be long dead. Vinny is some sort of "Mafia prince", promised the clan throne by his father and untouchable to lowly peons. In reality being blood-related to someone does pretty much absolutely nothing for your likelihood of being accepted into the system; how you progress through the ranks is all down to your own merits, and even if someone is THE SON OF THE MIGHTY DON, they'll start right at the bottom of the ladder like anyone else.
This particular part of the story - where his father is being hunted by soldiers from a rival clan, but they find baby Vinny instead - sings of 'don't you know anything'. The Mafia are not above the kidnapping and murdering of children if it will get the message across, finding your enemy's baby son should be the goddamn ransom jackpot. Unfortunately all of the BAD MAFIOSI (as opposed to the lovely, pretty ones) in this webcomic are as clueless as the author and they leave. They... they just leave.
Being faced with a gun when he was a tiny baby is used to explain away all of Vinny's many and varied psychological problems, ranging from insomnia to murdering. It's also used to shoehorn in some awkward homosexual subtext between Vinny and his other cousin, Jimmy.
Okay, really, all this cousin love is weird, I mean it. Cut it out. They're family for fuck's sake!
So Jimmy actually goes out, as a thirteen year old boy, and shoots a trained Mafiosi. To avenge his cousin. who isn't actually dead, or even harmed, so I guess it's just kinda... fuck I dunno why he thinks it's worth killing someone over. It's not like Jimmy is even given a personality in this webcomic; he just sorta shows up whenever Vinny is around and looms over him like a creepy old vulture.
WHY ARE ALL THE "BAD GUYS" IN THIS WEBCOMIC SO FUCKING USELESS. They're like Bond villain henchmen, for fuck's sake. Who the hell hires a gangster that can't even overpower a trembling child?
A lot of this webcomic's terrible writing stems from the fact that it basically glorifies the Mafia. Let's not forget that just after shooting someone right through the brain, Vinny goes off into a speech about how tragic the life of a criminal is; how people look down on him just because he's a murderer. Jimmy goes out and kills someone just because they gave his little cousin nightmares; yet this is presented to us as something touching. "Oh just look at sweet little Jimmy, looking out for his cousin like that. What a trooper!"
Chapter Seven is a particularly good example of this mentality. Let's look at the chapter's description;
HE WORKS FOR THE FUCKING MAFIA, GENIUS. WHAT DO YOU THINK HE DID?!
And just take a look at this goddamn policeman.
He wants to put criminals in prison! BOOOO! Pretty boys should be free to murder whoever the hell they feel like! I'd better draw him to look nasty because he is a nasty man that wants to take away the bishies!! ;m;
Oh good GOD.
Twilight comparisons become even more relevant when you take a look at the mewling, squeeing fangirls of La Cosa Nostra.
It's kind of ironic that this guy is meant to be one of the 'crooked cops' we were promised in the webcomic's description. The guy is trying to arrest criminals. He has arrested a criminal. I see no foul play here! If the author really wanted to make an actual crooked cop the most sensible thing would be to have him actually work with the main Mafiosi characters. (Y'know, because they're criminals, remember? Please stop trying to make us forget that, Eiko.) Unfortunately she is so desperate for her murdering gangsters to come across as deep, tortured victims of society that she seems to have forgotten that the Mafia is a bad thing at all.
Strangely I find myself drawn to Chastity as a character because although she is a money-leeching little daddy's-girl, the author doesn't make any attempt to convince us otherwise; this is the sort of character that actually fits the setting. Women who get involved with the Camorra are usually just this sort of person; shallow, cunning and devious girls who delight in the fact that landing a Mafioso boyfriend pretty much assures them the money to buy whatever they fancy, as long as they keep him all to themselves. Unfortunately Chastity is a bit too much of a bimbo to really explore the full potential of a diamond-hording Mafia-bitch, but she's nowhere near as annoying as November.
November's situation is incredibly similar to that of Vinny; if Eiko knew shit about the Mafia, November wouldn't exist. Or she'd at least stop pouting and trying so desperately hard to be one of the big boys. For those not in the know, I'll give it to you straight; women don't get to be soldiers in the Mafia.
The Sicilian Cosa Nostra are a system literally obsessed with tradition; women have no part of that business. If a Mafiosi in the Cosa Nostra wants to get married he is actually required to ask permission of his Capo (Mafia wives need the right qualities, like the ability to keep their yap shut about how their husband brings home the bacon). Interestingly though, there have been some powerful women in the mainland Camorra. Here are a few quotes from the book Gomorrah by Roberto Saviano (I have a lot of books ok shut up):
Women only became a real part of the business much later on, in the 90's and 2000's. They have never been accepted as soldiers, and as such November's "I'm such a little badass, lookit me shoot things" act is something that I can't quite figure out. Does Eiko know that there aren't female soldiers, but threw her in anyway? Or is it just yet another lack of research? The world may never know, but it's baffling and, yet again, hideously inaccurate.
Darci Robbins comes across as having a few attitude issues. In her DeviantArt gallery she's known to hide everyone's comments if they point out flaws in a picture, rather than worshipping her work unconditionally. She demands that it is nobody's buisness to critique her webcomic because it is something she does for fun, implying that she's perfectly content to become well-known for artwork that looks half-arsed and lackluster (much like some others we know). Overall she manages to turn what could have been an exciting and touching story into boring children with boring relationships and melodramatic teenage angst.
What can be said that hasn't been already? I am a huge fan of stories about organised crime, particularly the Italian Mafia; and this webcomic is almost offensively unimaginative with the subject. There's no moral struggle, no hunger for riches, no murder of innocents, and absolutely no mention of all the business aspects of the system. Darci's vision of the Mafia is one of beautiful men in suits, sitting around in coffee shops all day and then paying the cashier by threatening to shoot him; she seems completely detached from the reality.
You might argue that bending and distorting the truth isn't a flaw in a webcomic. Why shouldn't Miss Robins create her own Mafia, manned by pouting pretty-boys that conduct their buisness in public alleyways? And in some situations, I might agree. But let's not forget:
They do, they kill people. Not just each other, either; women, children, whoever they need to. They're not made-up monsters like vampires, they're real people that exist, just as those they bully and kill exist too. Eiko's webcomic advertises the Mafia as a collection of frowning porcelain men with troubled pasts, much like how emo poetry is known to describe death as something lovely like a rose or a frilly dress. La Cosa Nostra is thick with the heavy scent of ignorant teenage angst, a perfume that we at this wiki have smelt before.
Miss Robbins, you may be able to draw some quite precious dollies, but this material is too much for you. I'd suggest this author go for a lighter subject, use critique to better herself artistically (instead of sticking her fingers in her ears and ignoring it) and grow from the experience.