The Third Panel: ‘Gunshow’ – A Heartbreaking Work Of Staggering Green-ness

Gunshow by KC Green

Welcome to a new column at Heave – The Third Panel! Every other week, Alex dispels the myth that comics are only about superheroes by sharing comics books, graphic novels, and webcomics that are off the beaten path.

Writer’s note: make sure when you read the comics, you read the alt text too! Just about all of them have super-secret special jokes for you and only you!

KC Green’s webcomic Gunshow started in 2008, succeeding both his previous comic Bee Powered, as well as his semi-autobiographical comic Horribleville, both of which ran until early 2009.  It was the first webcomic of his I read and followed regularly, and it’s pretty brilliant.

So what’s Gunshow about? It’s about a lot of things: Sometimes it’s about compromise. Sometimes it’s about pushing your limits. Sometimes it’s about getting back out into the dating world. But sometimes it’s just about the joys of being thrifty. The brilliance of Gunshow is really that it defies categorization: Green can go from a really endearing two page story about a crab falling in love with a lady to a comic about jealousy that uses some of the most heinous and unorthodox combinations of cuss words I’ve ever read on the printed (er, web?) page—and they both work. They work for different reasons but the sheer amount of tone variation Green is capable of still amazes me.

Speaking of “sheer amounts,” Gunshow’s been going on for five years now—with a total of 756 strips as of September 27th. This number alone can be intimidating for some people. Personally I’d recommend starting at the first strip, since Gunshow tends to get self-referential as the series grows and some of the jokes won’t quite translate without understanding their development. But I realize that reading 756 comics is not feasible for everybody. With that in mind, I thought I’d recommend some good starting points:

“The Blood Cloud”: A mysterious cloud makes it rain blood for four days, and no one really seems to know why. It’s just such a weird concept (which I love for its sheer weirdness), but it works because it focuses less on the phenomenon of the blood cloud and uses it as a vehicle to explore peoples’ relationships and reactions to it. It also contains a Dracula, which would be enough to sell me on the whole affair outright.

“The Ghost Ship”: A guy goes to visit his parents, who died at sea and are now ghosts. I didn’t like it much when I first read it, since I would have been perfectly happy reading this strip from Bee Powered forever. However, it grew on me the more that I went back to it—at its heart, it’s a story about growing up and getting older and feeling more out of place in your childhood home than you used to, even if your childhood home is now a spooky ghost ship.

“Grave Robbers”: A couple of blokes trying to make easy money by helping out a beleaguered med school doctor. But there’s no such thing as easy money. I like this one a lot for the dialogue between the two grave robbers themselves. That and the ending.

“FIGHT GANG”: A love-letter to River City Ransom and all the other side-scrolling beat-em-ups of the 80s and 90s. Worth it for the great amount of slapstick and intentional “poor localization” misspellings.

Anime Club”: Green’s most ambitious piece (with the exception of the as-yet unfinished “Graveyard Quest”) is the story of four awkward nerds who like anime and get kicked out of their meeting spot (the library) for showing a hentai film (don’t look it up if you don’t know what that means) called “Smegma Princess” (again, if you don’t know what smegma is…just…don’t). The early comics into the first official part of the story can be a little confusing, since it relies a lot on having a passing understanding of the anime community. Don’t let this dissuade you. The story really shines when the references to Sailor Moon and Naruto take a backseat to Green’s characters themselves, starting around the second chapter, “The Refund Of The Anime Club.” Just read it. It’s really good.

I’ve been reading webcomics for a long time, and Gunshow was one of the first comics I put in my bookmarks so that I’d always be able to get to it. From comics about forbidden desires to anxiety and how we cope with it, Green is someone who’s constantly striving to improve and push himself in new directions—sometimes they’re just odd and whimsical and sometimes they’re a little too real, but I’ve never opened up Gunshow and gone “Yeah, that’s pretty much what I expected.” KC Green sounds almost facetious when he says “Truly Gunshow must be THE comic for everyone,” in the “About” section of the site, but that’s sort of true—Gunshow brings so much to the table that you’ll always be able to find something about it that strikes your fancy. It’s often unexpected, always surprising, but never unwelcome.