Friday, August 23, 2013

Buttercup Festival is...

It's one of my all-time favorite comicstrips, yet I don't often recommend Buttercup Festival to people. Partially, this comes from a selfish place---I want to keep this comic as mine, even though I know it has countless other fans out there. Then there is the fact that I'm not sure how broad an appeal it has, but even that's not really what stops me from showing it to others. What makes me most hesitant is that Buttercup Festival is difficult to describe, and it's hard to explain what I personally find so attractive about it. Because there aren't really plots, and in some individual strips there isn't even what I would describe as storytelling, it's not easy to define what the series is about. It's not truly about anything, a comic that prioritizes creating a certain sense of wonder or sadness or admiration in its reader rather than delivering a concrete narrative. Often ending on non sequiturs or panels of silence, the strips usually have no real point or purpose beyond providing the briefest, most ethereal moment of elation or depression. But sometimes whatever feeling it evokes is just what I need when I read it.

Written and drawn by poet David Troupes, Buttercup Festival began in 2000 as a strip for the college paper for UMass Amherst. That initial run lasted until 2005 before Troupes put the project on hold. In 2008 it returned, this time online,  as "Series II" which is where I was introduced to it. The current incarnation updates on a highly irregular schedule, but every time a new strip is posted, my heart flutters with anticipation.

The main character is nameless and faceless, resembling a grim reaper (hood and scythe) but otherwise having no definitive age or even gender. His/her personality is typically very childlike, full of wonder and curiosity, but there's also a thoughtfulness and an appreciation for nature that denotes some level of maturity. This blend of traits is perhaps the protagonist's best feature, if not the best feature of Buttercup Festival on the whole. The series' generous use of puns, talking food or plants or animals, and general lighthearted goofiness make reading it feel a lot like interacting with kids. But there is a pervasive poignancy as well, from the black-and-white coloring to the often pensive tone, especially in the wordless strips meant only to stir up some specific amount of sadness or joy with the simple beauty of their imagery.

It seems silly to keep attempting to pin down such a hard-to-grab comic, so I'm just going to link to several of my favorite strips that I also think represent the title's range. These are just in the order they were published, and are also all from Series II. If you like any one of these, I suggest just spending the few hours it takes to read all the Buttercup Festival available.


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