Clown Corps

Creator: Joe Chouinard

Review By Masha Zhdanova

A few months ago, a hilarious Frasier and Columbo crossover comic was going around on Twitter, notable for its pitch-perfect characterization and hilarious cartoon stylization of the iconic cast. The comic, titled “I HEAR THE BLUES A-KILLIN’”, was posted in 4 parts on Twitter by its creator, Joe Chouinard to great acclaim. But this is not a review of that comic. My enjoyment of Joe Chouinard’s crossover fancomic prompted me to check out his ongoing longform webcomic Clown Corps, linked in his bio.

Clown Corps, just like “I HEAR THE BLUES A-KILLIN’”, demonstrates an incredible understanding of comedic timing, caricature, and snappy banter. Unlike the minicomic, however, Clown Corps is also full of dynamic, intense action sequences, starting right from the opening chapter. Clown Corps follows the adventures of Mary McBell, an intelligent and gifted thief skilled in multiple martial arts who is apprehended by the titular Clown Corps when a robbery goes wrong. After saving the life of the trainee clown bringing her to justice, McBell is offered a choice between prison and becoming a student at Clown College, leading her to join this colorful and exciting new world. Unbeknownst to the clowns, a darker force is targeting their crime-fighting organization…

This webcomic is a visual delight. Each character is designed thoughtfully, with their different clowning routines reflecting their personalities and how they approach clowning. Chouinard knows when to exaggerate the art into a more cartoony style and where to pull back for maximum emotional impact. The fourth-wall jokes and references to the comics medium accentuate the artifice of the clown performances, and draw attention to the fact that the world the characters exist in isn’t quite as realistic as our own. They are also very funny.

Clown Corps

As hilarious as Clown Corps may be, the comic is also capable of being more serious. Chouinard isn’t unaware of the problems with law enforcement and the legal system, and the slow corruption of the Clown Corps from emergency response team to private security and protection for big business is a recurring throughline in the story. As Binky puts it in chapter 2, “there’s something unsettling about watching the firefighters become the cops.” The characters are all smart, self-aware people in a silly world, who wield humor with as much precision as the pies they throw. Mustard’s happy-go-lucky nature contrasts with Binky’s stoicism, but when push comes to shove, she’s capable of putting all jokes aside to focus on the threat in front of her. Knowing when to be serious and when to be funny, when to make a clever quip and when to let the action shine, is an incredibly powerful skill to have as a cartoonist, and Chouinard does it masterfully all throughout.

The comic is, unfortunately, a victim of Webcomic Pacing: the pressure to make each individual page satisfactory on its own can lead to some scenes dragging a bit due to the necessity of including some kind of “beat” or punchline on every page. After nearly 400 pages and 5 chapters, there is still clearly much more story to go, and many more threads that can be explored in future chapters. But whether those characters and subplots will actually be followed up on remains to be seen. Nevertheless, the originality of the humor makes up for any pacing inconsistencies.

Clown Corps is a hilarious, well-drawn, action-packed webcomic about clowns who fight crime with teleporting pies, and the different factors that can push marginalized people from one side of the law to the other. A strong cast of appealing characters who bounce off each other well make this comic easy to binge and read as an ongoing story.

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Masha Zhdanova is a part-time editor at The Anime Herald, the manga reviews editor at Women Write About Comics, and a contributor at Shelfdust and Publisher’s Weekly. She likes webcomics, manga, and graphic novels. When she’s not writing about comics, she’s drawing comics or working at her hometown bookstore.