Everybody loved middle school, right? The beatings! The puberty! The loneliness! The embarrassing surprises and suddenly uncomfortable interactions with the opposite sex! Now…. how would you like to read a comic (for free! On the internet!) that allows YOU to relive those marvelous years of wonder and excitement? My friends, Zack Morrison's Paranatural is the webcomic for you!
Perhaps no one actually wants to relive middle school. And reading Paranatural will bring you back to those years, but in a way that actually makes you want to go back. You see, it exaggerates the good parts of middle school with broad comedy and slapstick, and glosses over the pubescent body horror and humiliation with the literary magic of genre and metaphor!
Granted, sublimating those NWS aspects of puberty into tangible narrative forms isn't an original concept by any means, but that time-honored conceit never needed to be original to be effective. The "tangible narrative form," in this case, is the existence of ghosts and spirits that only our protagonist Max and a few other kids from the school's "Activity Club" can see, and the Activity Club was formed to do battle with the bad spirits using their "tools:" haunted objects that grant them visually interesting, thematically related powers. Along the way, Max finds new friends, new enemies (in the form of Johnny and his gang of bullies), and numerous acquaintances and adults to round out the cast.
Most of the comic is delightfully silly, whether that silliness comes from the characters (nearly all of whom are broad and crazy), or their expressions (which are consistently hilarious, and also where Zack Morrison's anime influence is most obvious), but what makes the silliness work is that it's grounded in the middle school experience. We had teachers like Mr. Garcia, who did not care what we learned or what he was teaching, and the wacky, overexcited Mr. Starchman. Parents sometimes pulled the wacky, overexcited bit, too, maybe because painting the move to a new town, like what happens to Max's family before the beginning of the comic, as an adventure, can distract from the inherent social upheaval.
Those facial expressions I mentioned earlier, besides being amazing, are as rooted in preteen anxieties as they are in FLCL. The dialogue comes from this extremely dorky place: these kids try to make up their own action movie-style quips and trip over themselves, make silly jokes, and can barely contain their excitement (or their creepiness). Even the spirits that hang out in the background are reminiscent of doodles you'd find in a 7th grader's notebook.
Oh, and speaking of backgrounds, it's wonderful when Zack Morrison draws Mayview, the town the comic takes place in. His use of color, especially in the more recent comics, pops with this bright, cartoony energy. It's a place one wants to visit again, once weekly, on a random schedule because the artist is in school and sometimes that eats all of your time in a week. And you should visit it again, because it's awesome.