Sometimes I’ll come across a recent comic, film, game or television show that sincerely makes me wish it existed back when I was a kid. Tamberlane is one of those comics, a warm-hearted comedy about forest creatures trying to deal with the newfound arrival of a human child in their presence, and a young clumsy teenage bat named Belfry Baker who has become attached to it and won’t let it out of her sight. Developed by Caytlin Vilbrandt, it has visual and atmospheric nods to classic Disney films and even old MGM shorts. And on top of its unabashed sincerity, there’s enough wit and modern sensibility in its writing that will probably make it attractive to a wide-ranging audience.
It could have been fairly easy to make Belfry a klutz to such a degree where the character could be unbearable and obnoxious, but Vilbrandt balances her ineptitude out by making her a genuinely caring and loving person, so she’s an easy lead to get behind. She does have her dumb moments, granted- even if you’re a bat/squirrel hybrid, that’s no excuse not to use oven mitts while handling baked goods. Still, the fact that she’s ashamed of her clumsiness makes it all the sadder.
So one day Belfry’s friend Ainsley bursts into the shop she works at, in fear of a strange whatzit in the forest that apparently made a horrible wailing noise. And since I’m guessing the Wyatt family isn’t anywhere nearby, it’s probably some sort of unknown animal. One Belfry-trademark accident later, she runs into the unknown entity- and quickly starts to care for it. The gruff librarian Claude Oakwood decides to take them both in, though not without his own fears.
What we’re essentially seeing form is Belfry’s gradual maturation. Through the dialogue in this scene it’s made clear why this situation has struck such a sharp emotional nerve with her, and it’s not through boring exposition that’s lumped in a part of the story that would cause it to drag. As the reader realizes what’s happening and the specific way in which this is affecting her, they’ll emphasize with her more and more.
However, her intense attachment to the Tamberlane doesn’t make the challenge of taking care of it any less daunting. Some of the funniest parts come from the look on Belfry’s face in moments where she realizes she’s completely in over her head. Fortunately, she gets some help from a very enjoyable supporting cast, who are varied in personality but still appealing in their own ways. Piper, a small black cat, is irrepressibly charming, and I liked Tess the motherly badger character a lot as well.
Vilbrandt’s artwork is remarkably appealing, with heavy detail and vivid colors that display some beautiful lighting. The facial expressions of her characters have elements common in both anime and western animation, and she has a knack for illustrating a character to be cute, but not to where they feel cloying. She can squash and stretch her figures without them looking unnatural, and she’s equally as good with more subdued moments as she is comedic ones. The dialogue is funny and smart, but the art direction is well realized to the point where the reader could probably still follow along if it were silent.
Tamberlane’s design, along with the premise of a non-human tending to a baby human, gave me visions of Spot from The Good Dinosaur. (The key differences here are that unlike Arlo, Belfry’s friends and family are somewhat more supportive of her newfound desire to be a mother- to an extent, or perhaps as much as her being prone to accidents will allow them.)
While reading Tamberlane, I got the impression that Belfry is a deeply loved member of her community, which is refreshing since many “well-meaning screwup” characters tend to be written as outcasts or losers among the rest of their cast. Vilbrandt never lapses into this cliché, it’s clear that everyone ideally would love for the Tamberlane experiment to succeed, arguably against the odds. Overall, I think this is an extremely charming webcomic, and I’ll happily recommend it. You can read it here!