February 29, 2012
If there’s one thing Heaven has ever managed to screw up, it’s paperwork.
Misfile is a long-running comic by Chris Hazelton and his wife Third-Child, produced regularly since 2004 and currently releasing a page every weekday. Considering this has been managed for such a long period despite various family commitments, hospital emergencies, and indeed even pregnancy and birth of their latest son, that alone I think qualifies them for a feature.
But don’t be discouraged if you think I’m just giving them a pity-review of somesort, Misfile is actually worth checking out. The story focuses dominantly on three main characters: Ash the racing fanatic, Emily the scholar, and Rumisiel the pot-smoking angel.
While your head kind of reels from that last one, I’ll explain: At the start of Misfile, Rumisiel smokes some pot whilst on the job at the celestial filing section of heaven that determines all manner of details that go on down on Earth. This event is what creates the whole situation that continues Misfile and brings the characters together. Ash gets gender-switched, including history and perception by his family and school peers, and Emily loses two years of hard work getting into university. Rumisiel appears to them both to apologise and explain in the hopes of keeping his mistake quiet so he can resolve it faster, in the process bringing them together by virtue of shared hardship and mutual association with Rumisiel.
The comic then covers the two girls adapting to their new lives, particularly with their knowledge of their original ones and, in Ash’s case, complete lack of knowledge about her new one, whilst Rumisiel works to get back into the filing depository to sort out their misfile. As time goes on, they develop new situations in the world as well as new understanding with themselves and others. Initially for example, Ash has to come to terms with being female, whilst Emily copes with losing all her hard effort and starts to doubt if it was ever worth pursuing when she found little fulfillment in it.
More recently Rumisiel’s brother Vashiel has arrived, a former archangel who is literally incapable of lying and has a, shall we say, “Japanese” response to risque situations? Other angels have appeared in the series, building up a kind of conspiracy theory plotline that whilst it does seem important, is rightfully kept off to the side while the comic focuses on the very mortal main characters.
So, time to put my review hat on and cover the standard points. First up, artwork.
Having had eight years to progress, Chris’ art has rightfully and properly advanced. It’s mostly in the fine-tuning details that one barely notices over time, but the difference between the first and latest pages is marked. Perspective was off, characters were mis-proportioned, there was an excessive and poor attempt at shading for effect, all manner of problems initially. But as time has gone by those problems have degraded and gradually vanished altogether, and whilst things started out with various gag parts borrowing or parodying typical manga jokes the art style has sort of incorporated them over time into a more unique style. I’d almost compare the progression from deviantart manga fan to published manga.
On to the writing. Similar to the artwork, this has developed a lot over the years, beginning with clumsy scripting and dialogue that practically shoved jokes in wherever possible, Misfile has graduated into a writing ability that fits jokes where appropriate and manages complex and intelligent characters with excellent capability. For example, Rumisiel initially appears to Ash acting cool to resolve the problem he’s caused, and his being an angel is literally shoe-horned into a single frame of the page where he just outright says “How about an angel?”. Later on, there’s also a nod to the common trope of the male porn stash, which in Ash’s case hasn’t actually vanished so much as converted to something more female-appropriate (something which makes her very disturbed to discover considering her female form’s life until the misfile was effectively “cruise control”).
The story initially also centers on the misfile incident itself as various efforts are made to repair it, but few of them are handled particularly well in the writing. As the story goes on and time passes from the misfile event however the characters are forced to deal with more new things in their lives and various dramatic tensions (mostly in the realm of Ash’s racing) begin to develop, most of which are handled progressively better. Ash for example has to deal with the relationship he now has with his separated parents whilst Emily begins to understand her education addiction was more the product of her mother than her own drives.
Misfile became Hazelton’s main job quite a while ago and they’ve done well to maintain a decent budget for a growing US family on a webcomic’s paycheck. This is probably to do with the collected editions as well as with the wide range of merchandise you can buy, plushies included, typically all emblazoned with the comic logo and subtitle. Chris has also branched out into other projects, such as Steel Wing and Building 12, but honestly they show more the overspecialisation of his art style than anything else (you’ll notice a lot of characters resemble Misfile ones to a great deal). I wouldn’t write them off purely for that though, and I’d recommend giving them a look before writing them off.
Misfile updates every weekday with blog posts at the bottom of the page irregularly, and whilst there’s a substantial archive to dig through I’d recommend just starting at the back and reading a couple pages daily rather than marathonning it outright, but it’s worth a read as things get covered very well over time and the art gets more and more competent at properly showing them. You can drop Chris a message at his Twitter (@misfilecomic) and let him know I sent you!