Sister Claire by Elena Barbarich (aka Yamino)

 Seeing how it’s the day after Christmas it only seemed logical to review Sister Claire.  A mix of The Sound of Music, The Powerpuff Girls, and just a spice of Kung Fu Hustle, Sister Claire is the story of a young orphaned nun who, while sitting on the toilet one day is very explosively informed by a very mysterious and seductive woman named Gabrielle that she is in fact pregnant with the new Messiah (did I time this right or what?)

The comic is chock-full of visual gags and hilarious pop culture shout-outs, but all the while hiding a very dramatic and emotionally evocative core, mostly focusing on the struggles and turmoil of the titular character, Claire.

Genre: Supernatural/Paranormal Adventure

Plot:  Claire is a young, well-meaning but clumsy novice who lives in a monastery high in the mountains.  Her life is far from simple though.  Not only is she under constant scrutiny by her superiors, she lives in perpetual fear of Sister Marguerite, a cruel and unforgiving nun who is always eager to punish Claire for her bumbling.  Her one solace is in her mentor and foster mother, Sister Catherine, a kind nun with a mysterious past.  Sadly, Catherine has an extremely violent allergy to cats, which is a pretty big problem for Claire, who adores them and is often caught playing with the many kittens that wander the grounds.

The trouble starts when Claire, after another cat-related incident, prays while on the toilet for a sign from God.  Immediately afterwards the toilet erupts and like Venus emerging from the foam, we meet Gabrielle.

Gabrielle, a representative for G.O.D, informs Claire that she has been chosen to birth the new Messiah, a matter she has little choice in, since she’s already carrying him (according to a handy pregnancy test).  However, while Claire is desperate to keep her holy condition a secret, deeper problems are brewing among the sisters.

What follows is an adventure that explores the nuns’ long standing, and prejudiced, war with a race of witches, Sister Catherine’s murderous feline alter-ego, a secret and sacred martial art known as Nun-Fu, and Claire’s own developing abilities, many of which are beyond her control.

Warnings: Sister Claire is very cartoony, but there are definitely some dark moments in regards to the sisters’ involvement in a gruesome period of historical witch trials.  While there is no truly graphic violence, it is certainly an unsavory topic.  Also, while Sister Claire’s take on Christianity is satirical and certainly not meant to be taken seriously, people who want to steer clear of religion in their comics (whatever their personal reasons may be), might want to read Sister Claire with caution.  Also, its worth noting that Gabrielle is portrayed very seductively, both physically and through her actions (especially her interactions with Claire)  However she’s seductive in the mannerisms of characters like Hello Nurse from Animaniacs or perhaps a toned-down Jessica Rabbit.  She’s all flirt and charisma with no actual sexual interactions.  Overall I can say Sister Claire is pretty tame and certainly balances humor and action in a way that I dare say is family friendly, despite its darker elements.

Art:  Ms. Barbarich is a personal favorite of mine for her cartoonish style, noodly poses, and expressive faces.  I have seen her more realistic work which is stunning, but Sister Claire is more reminiscent of Craig McCracken and Lauren Faust.  Its a very colorful, humorous, Saturday Morning Cartoon style of art that suits the story well.  Claire’s expressions are nothing short of hilarious, and Barbarich excels at visual gags and physical humor.

However don’t let this Powerpuff-esque style fool you.  Barbarich is a master of the faux-naive (Herge actually comes to mind), meaning that while Sister Claire may resemble something out of the funny pages, the art is rendered with a great understanding of design, proportion, motion, and an excellent and vibrant grasp of color.  Also let it never be said that a big headed little nun can’t make you cry, as evidenced by Barbarich’s highly emotional scene here:

Final Recommendation:  I truly enjoy Sister Claire.  It updates regularly and Miss Barbarich is certainly the kind of artist who is constantly improving and adjusting her style to better suit her storytelling.  I also must give her props for taking so many cliched elements and incorporating them into a truly original and heartfelt story.  She seems to have a good rapport with her fans, throwing humorous easter egg style shout-outs into every page and then daring her readers to find them (so far she’s managed to cram in references to Sesame Street, My Little Pony, Panty & Stocking, and The Little Mermaid to name only a few). 

All this being said, I’m not sure Sister Claire is for everyone.  It certainly is a fun and fantastical story, but I can see how some people might find it too varied or spread too thin in its plot elements, and it certainly tends to switch directions abruptly (though personally I think Barbarich does well in bringing these aspects full circle. For example, while Gabrielle and G.O.D. have not been addressed much recently in the current plot, I am positive that they will continue to be of importance in Claire’s journey.) The real reason to read this story, though, is Claire.  She’s a likeable, relateable character, and a joy to read.  Claire’s struggles become our own, her doubts and fears worn on her sleeve for all to see, and her intentions always noble, even if they are to her own detriment.  She’s the emotional core of the story and fills this role wholeheartedly.

Overall I say go read Sister Claire for yourself, it starts out with a bang and continues to introduce characters and plot twists that are genuinely surprising, a rare and pleasant attribute to humorous comics that I think many will enjoy.  Sister Claire is currently six chapters long and updates every Monday.

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