Thursday, May 26, 2011


I have found a webcomic other than The New Adventures of Queen Victoria that takes its inspiration from the Victorian era.  And this one isn't just a cleverly cropped photograph of the monarch who gave her name to the age.

It's called Chimneyspeak.  Taking place in 1890s London, the comic follows the story of a prostitution ring called the Working Girls Union led by one Alice McKenzie.  The exploits of herself and her girls and lackeys (most notably the midget Elgie Quintessential Piddlebottom) consume about half of the comic strip.

The other half is covered by the gruesome story of Chelsea Grinn, an aristocrat gone bonkers over a little scar Elgie gave her 15 years earlier, and who has been killing people and creating her scars for herself in her attempt to revenge herself upon Elgie.  Most of the pleasure of her storyline comes from cartoon bloodbaths a la Johnny the Homicidal Maniac as she can't seem to contain her bloodlust even when she recognizes that it would be more beneficial to keep someone alive.

The author, Jack Cayless, has a rather unique drawing style that seems to mix aspects of anime with Jhonen Vasquez.  And probably a bunch of other influences that I have missed because I am by no means an expert.  His attention to detail is also rather amazing- Chelsea Grinn's many scars are duplicated to the same sizes and positions in each panel. 

This comic isn't quite my cup of tea- there's just too much blood, violence, nudity and graphic sex scenes for me.  The gore of Chelsea's many bloodbaths gets old after a while, and in some strips the artwork gets disconcertingly close to pornography.  If you like graphic sex and violence in a Victorian setting, then Chimneyspeak will be just the comic for you.  But I personally find it rather distasteful.  I definitely wouldn't recommend showing this comic to anyone under 18 for those reasons listed above.

There are also enough anachronisms to make me wonder if certain things are anachronisms to the point where it distracts me from the story.  I can ignore some of them, such as the sometimes oddly-colored hair and even odder dress of the female characters.  But I do have to wonder at the extensive use of variations of the word "fuck."  That word has existed in the English language much further back than the Victorian era, but I am not so sure that Victorian low-lives would have used the word as often as it is used in Chimneyspeak.

I am not saying that this comic is pretending to be historically accurate.  It's not.  If it was true to the Victorian era Chelsea Grinn would not be able to rip a man apart in two with her bare hands and would have been dead years before this story took place as punishment for her many homicides. 

Despite my issues with some aspects of this comic,  I must laud the author, Jack Cayless, for his proper, spot-on use of Victorian slang and attempts at making the characters, especially the prostitutes, speak with the "local colour" of Cockney accents or various nationalities (Irish and Australian seem to make their way into the mix as well.

Overall, I think the strongest parts of this comic are the dialogue and the artwork.  The storylines get a little less interesting as you go along, but it's well worth checking out.

If you're 18 years of age or older, click here to read Chimneyspeak and decide for yourself.

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