|Original review author:||putzgrila|
|Forum Discussion Threads:||Link|
|Webcomic name:||Poke Madhouse|
|Authors:||Lily Orchard and Mikaila Turkleson|
|Start Date:||Feb 2019|
|Defining Flaw:||Bites off more than it can chew|
I used to be a fan of Lily Orchard's videos but I stopped being one because of reasons unrelated to this review. After reading through the fallout of her disastrous 100 tweet long thread of writing advice (now deleted, but there are people reacting to it online. Example.), I discovered this amazing webcomic.
It starts out fine, a normal slice of life Pokémon fancomic with a tumblr ask kind of layout, but as soon as they start talking about how Ralts are really vulnerable to grooming and sexual abuse you start noticing that there's something terribly wrong with this work.
Story and Plot
(Note: the webcomic is posted on tumblr, as such it's hard to link a certain page/panel with the context needed to understand it. Luckily, there is an arc guide on the right section of the website, so you can read the entire arc to get the context)
The story is about Lily Orchard's self insert (Not a joke, the character is literally named Lily) and her relationships with other people/creatures in her life, especially her Gardevoir (Nicknamed G). Lily is a capable trainer that lives in a compound with her Pokémon, with G being her best friend: both were united when G was bought from a Pokémon mill, G has defended Lily from abuse coming from her parents and both share a strong psychic bond that keeps G alive (more on that later). It has been revealed that G has a romantic crush on Lily and Lily did reciprocate in her teenage years but not anymore.
Most of the conflict in the story seems to come from how the species Gardevoir is viewed by society: apparently they are very sexualized and big sufferers of abuse, with stereotypes having heavy impact on G. At some point, they have a lab-created child together, and tabloids are quick to pick up on it. The rest of the conflict comes from the fact that G is an endangered and very strong, territorial, possessive psychic Pokémon and it’s not easy to have a healthy relationship with her.
And you see, all of this is actually a pretty good premise for a work of art. Not only are you analyzing the mind of a horror creature and how it would behave in contact with normal humans, but also deconstructing a society that has powerful, semi-human creatures basically being slaves to people that might not have good intentions. Really good stuff can come from there. The problem is that the comic is simultaneously too dark and too soft.
It’s too dark because they just keep shoving horrible, real life shit in situations that would not apply at all: first it’s the whole “Ralts are specially vulnerable to grooming” shit that was talked about earlier, but it starts seeping into the storyline: it’s revealed that the bond between Lily and G is actually a mating bond, done in secret because G needed it to extend her lifespan and wasn’t sure if Lily would agree to it. The entire thing is treated as a gross violation of consent, with vocabulary most often used for discussion of sexual assault (the name of the arc is literally Violate), but let me remind you: this was done to save her life and Lily didn’t even notice. You see, I’m not against depictions of sexual violence, there’s actually a rape attempt in the comic that was really well done, but why use this heavy, biased vocabulary for a situation that doesn’t apply at all?
The worst part is that the whole situation is forgotten and not talked about again. Lily forgave G very easily and is fine with everything, in spite of the webcomic, again, comparing this to sexual assault. And it’s not the only fucked up thing that happens: G literally goes behind Lily’s back and creates a hybrid Pokémon-human abomination using machinery that they don’t own and treats the scientist that wants to destroy it as a horrible human being. Honestly, I felt more sympathy towards her than towards everyone else in the plot: she is dealing with a creature never seen before, with unknown powers and limitations, that already has the intelligence of a 4 year old human child, with her job on the line. She was very, very kind to allow a normal civilian to raise the damn thing (then again, maybe she was a troll all along, and decided to dump the ticking time bomb to someone that would have no idea what kind of diseases she would have, how they would form relationships in her life or even what she needs to eat).
The effects of the “softness” being forced on the comic don’t stop there. There is absolutely nothing going on the lives of any other characters (Mikaila, Ginger, the other Pokémon's Lily has sans Mismagius) because having conflict is bad! This is a soft and heartwarming romcom uwu. It’s perfectly fine that G dumped a kid in Lily’s lap without her consent, Mikaila will adapt to this with no complains at all, there’s not even any legal problems (and laws regarding gardevoir training are frequently brought up in the comic).
I think the biggest problem with this comic is the excessive anthropomorphization of G. This comic can’t just be about the effects of a powerful, possessive animal living with you, it has to portray her as having full human capacities, and demand her to abide to human morals and responsibility. There’s a video comparing the Oscar winning documentary “My Octopus Teacher” to a horror movie, and it’s kind of scary how most of these points could apply to Poke Madhouse. Special mention goes to the moment G asks for advice on dealing with a relationship with another gardevoir and Lily says to treat it like a human relationship. Yikes.
It’s bad. It’s copying a joke from a Guitar Hero review to use on a dramatic, important moment bad.
Multiple comics have memes. There’s this weird habit of putting “le” before onomatopoeias like some kind of fucking rage comic. The human-Pokémon abomination mentioned earlier becomes one of those kid characters that are there to do cute funny things but come off as really annoying.
Honestly, if you don’t agree with most of Lily Orchard’s takes on media and writing in general, give this work a read and enjoy the view from your newly acquired high horse.
The art is mostly competent. It’s no Lackadaisy, but it doesn’t have to be. There are no big action scenes, complicated poses or heart wrenching drama moments because it’s just a slice of life Pokémon fancomic. The drawings aren’t disgusting or awful and the Pokémon are well drawn.
With that being said, let’s talk about the lettering. Or, to copy a joke from Yahtzee, the FUCKING lettering.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, you don’t care about lettering, nobody does, and I agree with you! The fact that I gave enough of a shit to even acknowledge it, not to mention criticize it, just shows how atrocious it is.
Apparently the font is the same as the one Lily Orchard uses for her videos, but instead of it being white with black borders, it’s solid colors depending on which characters are talking, except when characters are communicating telepathically, then it’s the worst color/border combination you’ve ever seen in your life, because Mikaila could use speech bubbles frequently, but honestly who cares? Having completely unreadable panels is a trait all the good webcomics share!
I know that I sound very dramatic, but I am baffled that this is a problem in the first place. Seriously, just draw thought bubbles. How hard could it be?
I decided to save the best for last.
So, a little bit of context first: Lily Orchard dated a woman named Lizzy. They even share last names. The relationship ended and Lily decided to shit talk her ex in her Pokémon fancomic for, like, 2 years.
Lily Orchard said that Lizzy was abusive and was a horrible person. Lizzy has replied to the accusations with more accusations of her own, and Lily replied to those and there was a back and forth that is irrelevant to the comic and if you’re curious you should look it up yourself.
The reason why I bring this up is because I am a huge advocate for using the internet in a responsible way. I am against doxxing, harassment and hate mobs. So, when this Pokémon fancomic starts accusing a real, identifiable person of vague stuff, I feel like I have to step in and say something.
Now, shitting on people you dislike is not rare in the works reviewed in this wiki, but the important thing is that it was never clear, in the comic, what exactly Lizzy did. Lizzy herself hasn’t made an appearance yet. If Lily isn’t comfortable talking about this, she shouldn’t have brought it up. And “it’s available in her YouTube/blog/twitter, look it up!” is no excuse. The readers of the comic need to have a good idea of what happened in the same way they found out she was a bad person. This just smells like some kind of deniability plot, so Lily could say “Well it’s not my fault if they assumed Lizzy did X, I just said she was really bad and abusive and wasn’t clear, it’s not my fault that my fans didn’t do the research and decided to attack Lizzy online”.
If you have a problem with that last paragraph, I’m just going to state that I didn’t say that Lily thinks that or did this on purpose, I just said what it looks like. It’s your fault for assuming things. See? That’s the effect that this kind of vague finger pointing has.
To truly understand how bad this is, let’s take a look at this panel from a comic:
The context is this: G dumped that human-Pokémon hybrid abomination in Lily’s lap. This is Lizzy’s supposed reaction to the event.
The first problem, and the worst one: THIS IS LIZZY’S REAL, ACTUAL TWITTER NAME. The @ is obviously some bad joke (and let’s be real, just because someone uses their parent’s money, doesn’t mean they’re a bad person), but if you go on twitter and look for this twitter name, you will find Lizzy and will possibly contact her.
The second problem is this: Gardevoir sexualization is treated as a serious problem in Poke Madhouse’s universe. The stereotypes are something that make G’s life worse. Gardevoirs are actually frequently abused because of their sexual desirability.
So the people making this comic decided to put someone’s actual internet name next to a horrible opinion THAT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR THEM TO HAVE, BECAUSE POKEMON DON’T EXIST IN REAL LIFE. Classy.
The funniest thing about this is that comic Lizzy is right. G does have a crush on Lily, and would probably be in a relationship with her had things gone a little differently. So I guess this attempt to dunk on the ex failed really hard.
If you think that this is excusable because Lily Orchard was probably feeling really hurt and vulnerable and just made a mistake, scroll back up and notice that two people are in charge of the comic. Yes, two adults, and none of them thought that this shit was a bad idea.
But I guess they suddenly noticed how stupid this is, because the ex’s name has been changed to Kirsten, because they are either idiots that didn’t realize the consequences of their actions or they’re cowards full of bravado that back down once the other party starts speaking up. But this change was only in the wiki, not in the comic, for some reason.
The sad part is that I don’t know Lizzy Orchard and I have no idea what kind of person she is. Maybe she is an abuser, maybe not. But now I have to defend this stranger because the things she’s being portrayed doing are batshit insane.
Man, what a fucking shitshow.
I honestly used to think that Mikaila had the raw end of the deal, because she’s basically drawing her fiancé having sexual tension with a Pokémon and portraying her own comic self as a secondary character that has nothing going on in her life, but I’m starting to think she’s coming out the best. She’s portrayed as a reasonable person and didn’t put all her personal hang-ups on display for the entire internet to see.
I do recommend this webcomic, as it is very fascinating. This is what happens when a creator doesn’t let go of their personal issues, fetishes and story preferences and just does whatever their sick little mind tells them to do. Next time you see Lily Orchard voicing her awful writing opinions, just remember that this is what she has to show for her capacities and laugh at her.