• Let's Review: Friends Forever #22

    Ah, this should be interesting.

    This comic is infamous. Though much time has passed since its release it remains a point of discussion.

    So let's take a look at Pinkie Pie and Princess Celestia's cake-baking adventure! Just be aware that there's a heavy frosting of spoilers.

    Going to break with my usual format of artwork then story discussion. The story itself is very straightforward but still holds meaning. However, there are some points that raise an eyebrow.

    The mind boggles at a cake that would need welding.
    Yet I would totally try that flavor.

    Case in point, we open on the Exposition Express as Pinkie and Twilight head to Canterlot. For once, Twilight is not the one freaking out about a mysterious summons. They know Celestia needs them for something but won't say what. In almost any other scenario, Twilight would be a nervous wreck. Here, she looks quite bored. It's Pinkie who is a bundle of nerves.

    Twilight looks like she's trying out to be a model.
    "I'm bored with looking beautiful..."

    It's here that we encounter the first art aspect that has set fans off: Jay Fosgitt's depiction of Princess Celestia. The sun princess is already a tough character to draw with her ethereal mane and different body proportions. Fosgitt's style often favors more human-like poses and so the first image of Celestia looks more like a very skillful cosplay.

    Celestia's pose is one thing,
    but I adore Pinkie's expression here.

    Yet fair is fair. The recently-aired Horse Play featured a very similar pose. The show and comics often struggle between characters with relatable, human traits and horse-based visuals. We will see more human-like poses from Celestia and other ponies throughout the comic, which is part of Fosgitt's approach.

    I find it odd whenever a pony tries to sit like a human.
    Looks uncomfortable.

    We will also see tremendous energy, such as when Pinkie learns she's to create a cake for Princess Luna's birthday.

    Famous last words.

    Celestia is strangely unfocused with her explanation. The cake must be fun, exciting, and grand while at the same time elegant and befitting royalty. These are all abstract concepts coming from a pony who is usually very direct or at least knows how to point the right pony towards a solution. So there is a hook as we try to understand what this is really about.

    "Last Course" sounds very fatalistic.

    It's on Pinkie's journey to the royal kitchen that we see Fosgitt's artwork and its energy take full form. Chef Chase and his crew are all bounding around the kitchen, full of energy that is enthusiastic rather than frantic. Contrast that against Pinkie, who is adorably hesitant and not her usual self. Fosgitt's style often emphasizes the ponies' small statures and this really drives home how Pinkie doesn't feel up to the task.

    Such a mix of elements here. 
    Great energy, but that tray should be falling over.

    Some of that energy comes back when Pinkie spies all the resources at her disposal. It's gone just as quickly as Celestia does what we've never seen before. She hovers over Pinkie.

    Quick! Name which cake you'd like to try first.

    Thus we come to a two-page spread that has references and creative works galore. A Beatles yellow submarine cake, a distorted starry sky, a jack-in-the-box, and a cake I think Spike would appreciate in his teenage years.  All of these cakes are wild, fun, and interesting to see. Unfortunately, none of the match Celestia's vague criteria and thus Pinkie's emotional and mental state drain away.

    We've reached projection status!
    Someone get Rainbow Dash!

    Thankfully, Celestia is quick to come clean. It's interesting how the more time we spend with Celestia the more willing the franchise's storytellers are willing to show her more fallible moments. We've had Celestia reflect on banishing Nightmare Moon in the show. We know that's she's forgiven Luna, but I don't think even the show has addressed whether Celestia has forgiven herself.

    Such a big memory for a disproportionately smaller head.

    All of this is her way of apologizing/reconciling with Luna, and Pinkie was an unfortunate casualty. Not by malice or dismissal, but Celestia just couldn't factor in everypony. I often think it's a mistake when we compare Celestia and Luna to gods. They are powerful, but mortal with all the limitations and distractions from which we suffer.

    So much for palace security.
    One can smuggle in a cannon!

    Unfortunately, this admission loses some impact because of how Celestia looks while talking to Pinkie. In some cases her towering size makes her appear intimidating when she's meant to be comforting. In other panels her flowing mane and expression make her seem more a spirit than a physical pony. Though I could argue for the style that makes these panels unique, they're making Celestia appear unearthly when really we need to see her as a relatable character.

    Her mane gives the impression of a floating head.
    Makes me think of the medusa heads from Castlevania.
    Hated those things.

    And then there's this panel. Celestia sitting as a human would, but so many factors make this odd. Her mane is obscuring part of her neck, but the violet on either side makes it look like her neck is thinner than an apple core. I can't tell how long her wings are if it is both level with her head and draped over the table. Her horn is angled too far to the side, making me think it's coming out of her ear. And I had to map out her leg placement just so I could make sense of it all.

    Celestia is one of the most challenging characters to draw.
    Yet could she not be standing next to a sitting Pinkie?

    I'm making an awful big deal about just one panel. That may be fixation or exaggeration on my part, but it also highlights how an odd visual can distract from the tone. Thankfully, now that Pinkie understands what's really at play she knows what to do and can involve Celestia. It's not a long sequence but here the art really does compliment the story.

    I think the squirt gun with sprinkles is my favorite element.
    After the hug, of course.

    We get to see Pinkie's exuberance and Celestia's enjoyment. The character's poses, the organic lines, and the action all help reinforce this as a positive experience. The final hug between them is a perfect cap to it.

    "Odd, but lovely" sums up so much of this show.

    I'm not sure if the ending is meant to be humorous, heartfelt, or both. I get the impression it's supposed to be that last option as a bite of a cake is all that is needed to get Luna to acknowledge Celestia's feelings. Yet in this case I feel like the two feelings cancel one another out, and so I feel a sort of vagueness.

    Odd feeling how Twilight is at the fringes of this story.

    It's within the final panel that this comic's most infamous trait is on full display. Chef Chase's cutie mark is an egg whisk clip art that one can easily locate and download online. Many fans have denounced the comic. Yet I think that putting so much emphasis on this one aspect distracts from the larger picture. For an alternate take on the same issue, look at the crowd Twilight addresses near comic's end.

    The huge buffet table really makes the crowd seem poorly attended.
    Don't hurt Luna's feelings, ponies!

    There are some celebrities turned pony in the audience, but do you notice how many of the three tribes are represented in that panel? They are all Earth Ponies. The same can be said for Chef Chase, who wears the trappings of a chef but has no distinguishing features. He doesn't even have a mane, nor does the rest of his staff. For a character who makes recurring appearances, he seems very forgettable and if not for that clip art cutie mark I think he'd have gone unnoticed.

    More color in the characters,
    but not so much variety.

    My main issue with the whisk clip art is how it represents a shortcut. It's an expression of how invested an artist is with a character, and I don't get the sense that Chef Chase was ever a priority.  Yet there is tremendous effort put into the various cake creations and showing Pinkie and Celestia's combined efforts. This comic is a mixture of strong and weak elements. The whole clip art discussion is an offshoot of where Jay Fosgitt's strengths lie.

    You cannot escape me, Pinkie!

    Only knowing him through his work, I've come to view Fosgitt as someone in love with action. The characters he draws are always in a state of movement. Fosgitt draws everything in a perpetual flow, including the ponies and their hyper-cartoonish proportions. He can convey feelings and excitement well and create some adorable imagery.

    Why do I feel like this should be a real
    thing on those reality TV cake shows?

    I do not think he is as invested in the mythical setting of Equestria. Give him the proper references and he can recreate the look well, but ask him to add to this world and the results often seem too minimalistic. A pony without a stylized mane, wearing a simple uniform, and using a stock image for a cutie mark. A crowd of Earth Ponies in a city known for its unicorn population. Even much of the palace interior is simple shapes and gradients.

    This is one of the more detailed elements.
    I do think this could feature in the show, minus the English text.

    This comic is a mixture of an interesting character expression of Celestia but distracted by some visual choices. It's a demonstration of how a comic's artwork can detract or support the story. I think Fosgitt's artwork does both depending on the scene. Yet combine that with a slightly confusing ending and this is an issue that doesn't fly as high. It's an interesting piece but nothing I'd hold up as an example of Friends Forever at its best.

    Flaxseed and licorice? Can't say I've seen folks try that.

    I think aspiring comic artists could learn a lot by studying Fosgitt's style and asking what they like and dislike. For the general, I will point towards other entries that provide a more consistent feeling and story. Yet all this talk about comic-exclusive characters has me thinking.

    I am interested in how happy and energetic Chase seems.
    Many chefs would be more stressed and loud.

    I could describe what I think makes for an interesting character, but I'd likely sound like Celestia. A lot of vague descriptive where concrete evidence is required. Since there's no new comic next week, I'll instead talk about some of the comic-exclusive characters that stood out in my memory and what I think makes them distinct. Until then!

    I know Celestia is meant to be comforting.
    But her looming size comes off as intimidating.

    I'm Silver Quill. Thanks for reading!

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