Shanda the Panda #50, by Mike Curtis and Razorfox – review by Roz Gibson
by Dogpatch Press Staff
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Welcome to Roz Gibson, furry artist and animator in Southern California. Roz was guest of honor at Confurence and created the Jack Salem comic character that first appeared in Rowrbrazzle in 1987. This is Roz’s furry graphic novel review part 4 of 6 on the way. Read in order as they post: 1) Myre 2) Angelic Book 1 3) Marney the Fox 4) Shanda the Panda 5) Cinderfrost 6) Tim’rous Beastie. See Roz’s tag for the rest. Roz is a community access guest and contents are hers.
Shanda the Panda #50
Written by Mike Curtis
Art by Razorfox
Part of the furry comics boom in the early 1990’s, Shanda the Panda recently published its fiftieth and final issue. Written by Mike Curtis, illustrated by a dozen or so artists over the years, it was one of the longest-lived furry titles. Following the life and loves of the titular character and featuring a large cast of friends, family and neighbors, it was the quintessential slice-of-life furry comic. Each issue featured a main story, with one or two back-up comics focusing on the supporting characters.
Over the 50 issue series there was a lot of stuff going on, with side plots and a cast of thousands. The main story followed Shanda (the panda) and her courtship with Richard (a Cajun raccoon). This is complicated by her lesbian best friend Terri, who wants to be more than just friends, and Richard’s very vindictive ex-wife. Shanda works as a movie theater manager, and the other employees (mostly high school kids) provide a lot of the supporting cast. Shanda’s very traditional Chinese family, who doesn’t want her dating anyone other than another panda, Richard’s nasty ex-wife and a misogynistic panda from Hong Kong provide some antagonists to keep things interesting.
And “interesting” is certainly a word to describe this series. A furry soap opera is probably closer to what Shanda the Panda is than simple slice-of-life. Among the issues the characters deal with: domestic abuse, incest, unplanned pregnancy, kidnapping, murder and alcoholism. There’s also lots of sex among the cast, particularly the randy high school kids and the lesbian Terri. One of the kids is nicknamed “Tripod” because he has an enormous penis, and the main character attribute for a rabbit girl is that she’s extremely promiscuous.
Characters grow and evolve over the course of the series. Enemies become friends, couples break up and form new relationships, people die or move on. Despite the lack of plausibility with some of the events or character motivations (Richard is unrealistically tolerant of Terri’s pursuit of Shanda, for example) I always found the book to be extremely readable. There were several distinct multi-issue story arcs, as well as stand-alone issues that made it easy for new readers to jump into the series, with the back-up stories adding extra depth to the world.
With art done by so many different people, the visual quality of the comic varied wildly from issue to issue. During the early and mid run of the series some of the best cartoonists working in the genre did the art, and those comics were some of the finest furry books ever produced. Michele Light, Mike Sagara, Carla Speed McNeil, Terrie Smith, Joe Rosales and Shelly Pledger all did outstanding work. Later issues featured artists Smudge and Caribou, but after they left the series the quality of the art took a steep nosedive (with a couple of exceptions, like Shelly Pledger’s #49) and the book’s publication became more irregular, with literally years between issues.
For fans of the series, how does issue #50 shape up? The art is by “Razorfox,” who can do the characters reasonably well, but remember what I said earlier about a lot of furry artists being allergic to backgrounds? Backgrounds here are basically non-existent, and nearly every panel is a medium shot of the characters from the waist up. This is the big wedding issue, but there’s no shot of Shanda being walked down the aisle by her dad, no shot of who’s in the audience, none of the wedding party or even the minister. The fan in me was disappointed. There were also a lot of plot threads involving the secondary characters left hanging, so we’re never going to find out who was in the grave Quinn visits in one of the flash-forward episodes, how Sissy ends up with an elephant baby, what happens to “Boris” in America, or any number of other things.
Hopefully there will be a collected version of the entire series some day. It deserves to be more than just a fond memory held by older fans.
– Roz Gibson