Scare-O-Deleria: Wishin' and Girl Spy are Fun Size™ spinoffs of Scary Go Round, an online comic strip. Online comic strips, like their newspaper counterparts, mostly suck. Of course, you could say that about any medium: Sturgeon's 90% rule is a dramatic underestimate of the crap quotient whether you're talking about movies, TV shows, books, songs, you name it. But comic strips have a unique liability. Most of them are in the wrong medium.

There is no reason for most comic strips to be comic strips. The art adds nothing. Sometimes it is so dire (Cathy, Dilbert) that it borders on the offensive. There's nothing about the content that calls for a visual medium. A short "Joke O' The Day" column, written in prose, would serve just as well — better, in fact. But newspapers don't have Joke O' The Day pages, so we get abysmally drawn figures reciting the lame jokes instead.

This is not the case with Scary Go Round. Look at the clip of the cover of the first issue of Scare-O-Deleria there at the top right. Could it be more charming? It is so cute and full of life that it alone is worth the price of the book. There have been very few comic strips whose art is as big a draw as the comedy: the list pretty much begins and ends with Calvin and Hobbes. It is a shame that John Allison does not generally hand-draw Scary Go Round; the art in Scare-O-Deleria is a treat.

Not that it looks bad when Allison draws Scary Go Round in Illustrator, as is his usual method. The Illustrator art is stiffer, not as warm, but it's still better than most of what you'll find either on the web or in the newspaper, with expressionist backgrounds and bold colors. (This is the style used in Girl Spy, the other mini-comic I bought from the Scary Go Round site.) Even so, I probably wouldn't read Scary Go Round — much less shell out for spinoff books — if not for the fact that, like Calvin and Hobbes, Scary Go Round is not only the best-looking major comic strip of its era but also the funniest.

Scary Go Round revolves around the British town of Tackleford and its denizens: squeaky, naive Shelley, spoiled punker-chyk Amy, semi-competent secret agent Fallon, hunky mad scientist Tim, amiable slacker Ryan, and several others. All of them speak in a distinctive patter. This Scary-Go-Round-ese is the chief draw of the strip. Shelley tries on a low-cut dress: "I can't wear this to work! My unruly charges are clearly visible to passers by." Hugo explains to Shelley why Amy is "the ultimate lady": "Shelley, you are classy. The future wife of a dentist or architect man. Amy is like the prow of a rude Viking ship." Amy explains to Shelley why a blueprint entitled "(In No Way A) Doomsday Device" may not be entirely innocuous: "A horse wearing a bowler hat is not necessarily a stockbroker." Shelley on the advantages of moving out of the city: "The countryside is the cradle of evolution, Ames! You may see an educated pig taking tea with the vicar! That is nature being awesome." Pretty much every strip is like this, and while not every outing is a classic, all in all it's a winning formula: cute chyx + amusingly tortured phrasings = profit.

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