The alcohol-free era of the Eighteenth Amendment. Gangsters and speakeasies. Kitties. There is absolutely no way that the combination of the above could be anything but completely awesome. Heck, it may also be, in some respects, a cultural milestone, something that should be preserved behind Plexiglas at a museum for future generations to admire and imitate. Tracy J. Butler draws all these elements together with lush illustrations to boot in her critically beloved webcomic, Lackadaisy.
The story follows two protagonists making their way in Prohibition Era St. Louis. Rocky Rockaby plays in a jazz band at the Lackadaisy speakeasy while he runs booze illegally on the side. He’s also somewhat obnoxious, and he grins in a most frightening way. Freckle, Rocky’s striped younger relative, has been following the straight and narrow — even dreams of joining the police force — until he is roped into one of the Rocky’s revenge hits. He is just discovering how to laugh… which, disturbingly, is triggered by acts of violence. He’s the more adorable of the two. Lacakdaisy follows their run-ins with rival syndicates, hillbilly enforcers, and stern, disapproving relatives. Meanwhile, the Lackadaisy itself has seen better days. Its owner, a flapper gal by the name of Mitzi May, has had to open a legitimate old lady cafe to supplement income. (The horror!)
The highlights of Lackadaisy are Tracy’s highly detailed illustrations. Perhaps there are the furry-phobic among you that is leery of delving into a comic book that stars cats who walk, talk, love, and kill. Fear not: Lackadaisy has more in common with The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck than it does Omaha the Cat Dancer. Each character — and Lackadaisy boast a fairly large cast of characters — is beautifully rendered, from their distinct facial expressions to their authentic period clothing. Yet the cats look decidedly feline and not humans in cat costumes. The hands remain paw-like, and their heads are sometimes so fuzzy you have to resist the urge to scratch them behind their ears. (Yes, even old Aunt Nina, that lovable fatty.)
Character design is only one example of Ms. Butler’s artistic proficiency. Her backgrounds are so lush that it manages to tickle the other senses. You can almost smell the rotting vegetation of the Missouri backwater, the dank mustiness of the underground speakeasy, and the smoky fumes hovering over the streets of St. Louis. Similarly, Ms. Butler spends so much detail on small things like instruments that I can almost hear brassy jazz music when they show Zib and his band. The only problem with such detail, though, is that it’s enormously time consuming. It’s not unusual to wait more than a month between pages. Is it worth it? It depends where you stand on the “Should artists take as much time as they want until something is absolutely perfect?” debate.
Still, if your patient — and if you can stand the sight of kitties getting mowed down by other kitties with tommy guns — then you’d be very hard pressed to find an independent webcomic out there with the same mixture of beautiful artwork, effortless storytelling, and dark humor. Ms. Butler’s profile says that she’s self-taught. If that’s the case, Lackadaisy is the best argument in the world that art courses are absolutely useless.
by Tracy J Butler