"Shortpacked!" by David Willis
Caught up 3.10-11.12
It totally counts.
"Shortpacked!" is an ongoing comic drawn by David Willis who apparently has a real thing for the whole comic book/cartoon/fantasy/toy world and has/does draw comics other than "Shortpacked!". I first met this strip when this one caught my eye:
Here Amber (the pretty, bespectacled brunette) says everything I have ever felt about comic books. I started reading sporadically (Willis updates a few times a week), but soon realized there was an entire background story that I just wasn’t getting by coming in this late in the game. I decided to go back to the beginning and read through until I was all caught up. All the way back to 2005.
Then, I got sucked the fuck in.
I couldn’t stop reading. I spent hours reading comic after comic. I basically did nothing else that weekend. I had to force myself to get out of the house (then I realized how much I have in common with Amber…..*). But its pretty safe to say I enjoy “Shortpacked!”. I find it witty and silly and meaningful and absurd. It’s fun and interesting to watch and experience the characters and how they grow and develop and mature (for the most part). The Transformers tangents, however, are entirely lost on me and I have no shame in admitting I skimmed through a lot of the “Fandom” stuff.
The Characters are pretty great and that’s, as usual, alls I really care about anyway. (And if this were ever a live-action program I would make a great ‘Amber’ – even though ‘Roz’ would be more fun.)
We start with Ethan:
Ethan has been working at Shortpacked! since his stand up comic career was on the rocks and he and his reclusive, shell of a neighbor (Amber) needed jobs and stumbled on the toy store; which turned out to be a dream come true considering the hole in his life that Ethan fills with collecting action figures and toys from his favorite current and childhood cartoons and comic books.
The hole in Ethan’s life stems mainly from an unknown identity crisis that revolves around him being Capital G gay, even though he’s always identified as straight (and even hooked up with Amber early in their friendship). But it is slowly revealed to him through a new, horny coworker who repeatedly unsuccessfully throws her body at Ethan for longer than most people would with no results.
Ethan is prone to long-winded rants about toys and comics (mostly Transformers and Batman). He also has a tendency to inadvertently get in arguments with customers when they say ridiculous things about toy companies and “comic canon”, especially this one dude who is never satisfied with much of anything.
Amber got her job with Ethan when the two of them were out walking around town. She had just moved into her first apartment – her first time living away from her parents, more specifically, her overbearing, abusive father with dubious ties to the Korean Mafia.
With Ethan’s help and the influence/aggravation of the rambunctious Robin, Amber begins to come out of her shell and learns to be assertive. Eventually she is able to stand up for herself and even enters into a somewhat bizarre relationship with the ever-so-pleasant Mike. Through all this Amber remains the smart, introverted nerd she is when the strip begins. Amber’s quiet and kind nature draws people to her, wanting to have her as their friend or more (unbeknownst to her multiple characters have the hots for Amber).
Here’s a trip. Robin, along with Mike, are characters from one of Willis’ previous strips, I believe. She has an undiscussed past as a Secret Agent which implies that she’s got some coordination and intelligence, but Robin is just about the battiest, dimmest character at Shortpacked. Her energy is (aided by the immense sugar intake) limitless and her inhibitions are nonexistent. When Robin puts herself out there, she puts herself out there and she always puts herself out there.
Robin joined the Shortpacked team because she was looking for a low-key job with limited responsibilities, but somehow, while cracked out on Cadbury Eggs, she ends up running for and being elected to represent her district in Congress. Her irresponsibility and sporadic nature drives pragmatic Amber up the wall prompting her to kick her out of the apartment Robin didn’t ask if she could move into in the first place. This pushes Virgin Robin into living with Lesbian Leslie who has not a little crush on the dynamic Robin.
Robin’s exuberance is often taken for conceit and thoughtlessness, but Leslie sees through Robin’s bravado and understands that she is excitable, but also well meaning and wants the best for the people she loves. Except her little sister, Roz.
Douche. Mike, like Robin, has some sort of Secret Agent/Military past, during which he died, despite his state of being very much alive. Mike’s favorite pastime seems to alternate between punching people in the face and kicking them in the nuts.
It could be said that Mike’s douchebaggery is the result of a kind, nice soul trying to keep people at arms length because he doesn’t want to let people get close to him, for whatever reason (his weirdly sexual father, his sweet, cookie baking mother, the fact that he died once), but that would be reaching. (Although there is evidence that Mike has a hidden “good guy”: he’s nice when he’s been drinking, he – after Robin threatens him – tries to comfort Amber after her hamster dies, and he does genuinely love Amber.)
While generally unreasonable, Mike is a pretty lucid dude. He knows what’s what and that most of it doesn’t really matter. He understands people, what makes them tick and how to get under their skin. He’s that kid in your 8th grade class who really knows where his towel is at, but just doesn’t apply himself (or in Mike’s case, is probably sick of applying himself) and just skates by and uses his talents for mild-to-bad naughtiness.
Probably the least and most interesting character in the comic. Ninja Rick is that guy who is obsessed with one tiny aspect of a fandom/culture and has exploited it to the wildest extreme possible. Somewhere in his mid-thirties, Rick carries around a katana and randomly attacks things and people. When Malaya shows up he claims her because she is Asian (but before he can kidnap her and drag her back to his lair she develops an enormous crush on Leslie).
Ninja Rick has no real loyalties. Anyone who requires his skills as a ninja seems to be able to buy Rick’s allegiance. His life seems to be fairly empty outside of his job and attacking things. When Galasso fires everyone for mutiny, Ninja Rick tries to get another job, but fails to gain a potential new employers trust. It was really lucky for him Galasso hired everyone back for the reopening.
Leslie comes into the picture when Robin needs a friend. She accepts Robin for who she is and is really very big on doing this with everyone. After she came out to her parents and divorced her husband, Leslie was ostracized/estranged from her very Christian, conservative family; although, recently, her mother has been friendly-ish, but keeps it a secret from her husband that she’s in contact with their daughter.
Because of this, most likely, Leslie has trust issues: it is after she finds out that Robin had a girl crush on Amber when they first met that Leslie asks Amber to move out of her house. Leslie is all about telling Amber the truth about why she is being asked to move, but because Robin doesn’t want the cat out of the bag, the women lie. Leslie feels guilty about this because she genuinely likes Amber and the two women are very close. She has trust issues sometimes and a sever problem with Fundamentalist Christians, but she is not a liar.
This is a strange, naïve, megalomaniac of a man. It’s entirely possible he opened the toy store in order to have unyielding power over something. He has an overly sexualized grown up daughter named Conquest whom he doesn’t value as a person and seems to think the only thing she’s good for is “siring him an heir”, but then Galasso appears to be unaware of the differences between men and women and what it takes to knock up his daughter. (There’s no sight of Conquest’s mother, however. What happened there? Your guess is as good as mine.)
Malaya and Ken
Ken is a relatively new hire at Shortpacked. Malaya is his mouthy, bitchy, totally hawt roommate who he convinces to work at the toy store because she’d been unemployed and not paying rent for the past six months. He’s also stoopidly in love with her and hopes by spending more time together she’ll notice him.
Even though Malaya is mouthy and unpleasant most of the time she’s also trying to be a different, nicer, kinder, more forgiving person – which is what draws her to Leslie (that and a pathological need to compete with Robin). But she realizes she’s not actually into chicks when she kisses Leslie on their first date. Despite this, she still has nothing but respect for Leslie continues to try to be a better person (not always successfully).
Jake is totally hawt. Jake is totally into Amber. Jake is totally in recovery from multiple addictions including sex, booze and comic books. All the ladies (and by ‘all’ I mean Robin and Roz) want desperately to get into Jake’s pants. But they get nowhere (until he relapses) due to his insane crush on Amber. Because he knows everything, Mike is the first (and only) person to notice Jake’s feelings and uses this knowledge to manipulate himself an easy out of their relationship (until the time comes to actually do it).
Through sharing his secret shameful hoarding proclivities with Ethan, Jake is able to act as a warning for Ethan in regard to his toy collection. Ethan realizes that he doesn’t want to become Jake, only able to fill the hole in his life with plastic children’s playthings that he’s spent hours hunting down, and tries to make a change in his own life.
After flat out stopping going into work and his subsequent firing, Jake manages to get his job back because Amber has made herself Assistant Manager and rehires him in order to help him get his life back on track – maybe getting him back into law school one day? Who knows?
There are some other characters (like Ultra Car, the weird, soulless talking car that works in the storeroom; Faz, the awkward, creepy Shortpacked! version of Fez from “That 70s Show” who constantly hits on Amber even though he may or may not be her half brother; Roz, Robin’s bitchy, pay-by-the-minute Internet video sex worker, little sister who drops in randomly and lives by the motto: act first, ask forgiveness later; Drew, Ethan’s dreamy boyfriend who is freaked out by the action figures; Conquest, Galasso’s angry, prematurely sexualized daughter; Ronald Reagan; Jesus Christ; and some random seasonal workers – including a recurring, delusional woman who has it out for Shortpacked! and Robin, for some reason), but they’re really neither here nor there.
A few common themes amongst the characters are Daddy Issues (Amber, Robin + Roz, Leslie, Conquest); religion (Robin is “Catholic”; Amber is Christian; Leslie’s family is very Christian; Ethan is “Jewish”; Faz is something, not quite sure what); Addiction (Jake, sex, comic books, pizza boxes; Ethan, toys, Transformers Wiki; Robin, sugar). But this implies that the comic is super serious, which isn’t the case at all. If nothing else Shortpacked! has no problem making fun of itself (see Ethan’s dislike for David Willis). Neither does the comic treat these issues lightly.
Willis manages to create interesting and dynamic characters (and some, so far, stock) tied together by a common interest and true affection and friendship… and, more than occasionally, a love for old skool Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.