Karl Kerschl is another comic artist who has dipped his toe into the big pond, he’s worked for DC on a multitude of titles, but his real magnum opus is coming in his longform webcomic. He works with the TransmissionX Comics studio where he often collaborates with fellow webcomic master Cameron Stewart, who I featured in an article about his seminal web-work, Sin Titulo, previously. Kerschl’s masterpiece is called The Abominable Charles Christopher, a tale about a strange beast known as Charles Christopher who might be a yeti type of creature, or perhaps just a confused bear, but what I am certain of is that he’s exceptionally well written and completely lovable.
When we first met Charles Christopher, way back in June of 2007, our first impression was of a simple creature. He sits, propped up against a tree, and we have no idea who he is, what he is, or where he came from. I like to think that a multitude of adventures took place right before that panel and we’ll never know about them. Charles Christopher won’t ever tell us, either, as he’s probably forgotten it all as these sorts of things seem superfluous to him. He sits there and his mind is completely empty, he’s enjoying life, at least when it’s simple. Then the rain comes.
The very first instalment was a wordless half-page with only three onomatopoeic sounds as the first sentry of the rain hits Charles Christopher in the head, and then the cracking break as the storm fills his world, and finally we get the repeated delicate ‘splish’ sounds as Charles Christopher hightails it out of the rain. He’s like a kid retreating back to the homestead when the rain catches him out on the fields. It’s an amusing introduction to this hulking character who seems to have the actions of a very small child.
Through the next instalments we come to realise that Charles Christopher might just be an infant of his kind, if not a terrible toddler at times. We see him pacified by a dummy while the rain beats down on his makeshift fortress from the elements and then as we see him launch an offensive on a bee hive to get some honey and deal with the sting he gets in quite a simple manner. Charles Christopher’s emotions and desires seem to always be on the surface. He goes after what he wants, he reacts simply and quickly to all extraneous factors, and when he gets angry it’s quite the sight to behold. We don’t see Charles Christopher angry for quite some time as he’s presented as an almost angelic force, but when we see that he can be angered you understand he’s still a large force to be reckoned with. He might be young in the head but his body can still grind bones for bread, were it to be necessary.
As the story continues to open up like a flower to the sun we see more seeds of the story that Kerschl really wants to tell. Charles Christopher begins a quest and we soon find out there is far more at play than we ever suspected in this simple anthropomorphic tale. There are mythical elements at work and Charles Christopher has been chosen for a reason. He is going to do something great, and yet he has no idea of what this is. He wanders from scene to scene like a goldfish travelling the entire oceans of the world and he takes little baggage with him. He simply arrives and reacts, but the powers above him obviously appreciate his way of working so they have tasked him with protecting his world from some unknown great danger. There is a slow introduction of a destructive, and perhaps a human, element to the tale but for now Charles Christopher simply interacts with the other woodland creatures and goes about his travels.
The other woodland creatures are worth a mention as not only are they well worth tuning in for on their own, they also make up a good deal of the comic when not looking at our eponymous lead. Kerschl has created a tapestry of animals great and small from bears to bees who all interact and provide a variety of scenarios to enjoy on their own or with the juxtaposition of the silent Charles Christopher. Kerschl is happy to leave our hero alone for weeks and simply focus on the animals and their lives and cultures. It’s a surprisingly smart move as Kerschl imbues these creatures with such character and life that you can’t help but feel the passion and enthusiasm on the page.
Kerschl’s birds have married lives that they’re not always great at managing and his circus animals have histories that span years. His skunk is a delicious parody of capitalism and his bees are the workers of the world operating in many guises. It’s a dense and thoroughly enjoyable society as Kerschl world-builds from the very beginning. It’s often a pleasure to take in a one strip joke involving the married birds or the cute bunnies that Charles Christopher protects. Everything works together to give levity when needed as the strip shocks when it gets darker or more serious in tone. For every time Charles Christopher smiles, sucks his pacifier and does something good he also gets put in a very different strip where danger and possible evil lurk and the shadows overtake the tone of the title.
The story being told is an incredible slow burn, once a week so long as Kerschl is on time and he’s nearly always on time, and it’s been going for years now. But it’s all worth it as we are slowly introduced to new characters and the mythology of this brand new world slowly expands and shows us a much more complex story than we might have imagined at the start. Where this tale is heading, or where it will end, is anyone’s guess but when you’ve got one of the few comics that can elicit laughs, screams, cheers and tears you know you’re onto a winner. You become absorbed in this story and each and every critical story point digs into your heart like a scalpel thrust with scientific precision. It’s rare to find a story, and a storyteller, who can so easily slip between emotions so effectively that this tale almost defies genre classification. It’s a mystical anthropomorphic tale but even that long winded handle doesn’t do it all justice. It’s a great story and it certainly needs to be seen by as many eyes as possible as Kerschl writes most other comics, web based or not, right off the page as he handles everything so expertly and in such short bursts.
Kerschl’s artwork is also a major sell as his grey and blue tones create a uniform world that exists purely on his pages, nowhere else. The creature creations are clean and very well acted. The use of sound effects is also quite effective and the centre stage player is a wonder to watch as he stumbles through the play and acts as a very strange pair of eyes for our viewer. The acting on the face of Charles Christopher is perfect on so many occasions as we feel for this creature and very slowly come to completely love him. I also love the hell out of his moustache, it’s like Burt Reynolds met a linebacker and they left their love child in the woods to be raised by the most awesome grizzly-polar hybrids you’ve ever seen.
The Abominable Charles Christopher is easily one of the best, and classiest, comics being offered for free on the internet right now. It’s a great story that you can easily catch up on all 162 pages so far and then be set for each weekly addition from here until the end, whenever and wherever that be. And when we get there I have the feeling that we’ll leave Charles Christopher propped up against a tree, still aiming to enjoy only the most simple elements of life, and while he’ll be happy to forget what has come before, and probably live similar epic loops, we’ll be forever changed for the one cycle we shared with him.