Love. Hate. Spontaneous Combustion.Zebra Girl tells the story of three roommates (Sandra, Jack, and Crystal) whose lives are irrevocably transformed when they discover an ancient magical tome in their attic. When the book is slammed shut after an accidental demon-summoning, Sandra finds herself transformed into the eponymous Zebra Girl, a demon with black-and-white striped skin, hooves for feet, long, wicked talons, acidic bodily fluids, and the ability to set things on fire with her mind. Jack, blaming himself for the incident, devotes himself to the study of magic in hopes of finding a way to cure Sandra of her transformation, and along the way becomes a powerful archmage and the only hope of restoring magic to the world at large. (Or possibly staving off a magical apocalypse; Sandra isn't the only demon running around.) And Crystal is... well, Crystal.Started out as a rather dark gag-a-day strip, but gets afflicted with Cerebus Syndrome in record time, as Sandra and the others discover that being transformed into/living with a demon is most emphatically not all fun and games. By all accounts, this has only made it better, as the storyline takes various twists and turns and the world gradually warps around the protagonist trio, thrusting them into the middle of a veritable supernatural maelstrom that they attract simply by existing in their current states.
Zebra Girl contains examples of:
Alice Allusion: Mabel, to the point that she may very well be Alice; white rabbits, falling down holes, misremembering poetry, winning her own thimble in a race, calling a demon the Jabberwock... even her name alludes to a scene where Alice becomes unsure of her identity and wonders if she's a girl she knows instead.
The "Angels with Dirty Fur" arc, where the gang is trapped in a parallel cartoon universe gone horribly, horribly wrong.
The Subfusc dimension is a variation of this. As Incubus points out, it's not so much another dimension as it is another "layer" of the Earth itself. Races long thought to be just myths or long dead are "banished" to Subfusc until they are "deemed" fit to "return" to Earth. It's complicated.
Animated Actors: Sam's home universe is built around the trope... or used to be, anyway.
Appropriated Appellation: When returning at the end of the Subfusc arc, Sandra is talking with some kind of insectoid customs officer who can't say the name "Sandra" and keeps calling her "Zzzandra", so she says her name is "Zandra" to get by it. The news posts suggest she likes it and will be using "Zandra" from now on.
Sandra, when she is not busy pitying herself, can be pretty badass when she needs to.
Jack started out as a normal and rather goofy human, but soon turned into a very skilled and dangerous sorcerer.
Sam, who even in the worst situation keeps his cool, face monsters bigger than himself and can take drastic actions (such as sliting his own throat) in order to save his friends and himself.
Viv is very knowledgeable about humans and demons, and already fought the latter a couple times and made it alive. In fact, she is very high on hell "Most-wanted" list. You have to be pretty badass to become actively hunted by demons and having survived for all this time (and when you take into account she is, as the canonical Eve, the oldest human who ever existed, that's quite an achievement).
Badass Boast: Lord Incubus begins a pretty impressiving one right after Sandra destroyed his illusions... Too bad for him, Sandra recognized him as the little wimpy demon she met at the beginning of the comic, and doesn't take him seriously.
Lord Incubus: Now I suppose you think you're terribly impressive. You... who have yet to see stars live and die, their ghosts lonely haunting corners of the space. You, who have not known the failed iterations of life which preceeded humanity on Earth and built their own crude hells. You, whose laughter never mingled with Satan's breath. Are you impressive?
Berserk Button: Don't tell Sandra that she's lonely despite herself. She's likely to drop you from a great hight and hiss at you.
Be Yourself: After Viv and Incubus trying to get Sandra to become human or demon, Mabel tells Sandra that she is not Viv or Incubus but her own person.
Blood Knight: Of all people, Wally displays some traits post-timeskip, reminiscing a little too fondly of his fight against Sandra in the past (while everyone else in the room is sad or outright traumatized by it), and is very eager to destroy her this time.
Break the Badass: Sam, post-timeskip, didn't really recover from the torture he endured from Sandra.
Brutal Honesty: Mister Chalk has shades of this in his dialogues with Sandra.
Bystander Syndrome: This is how Sam goes drinking in bars and nobody even notices he has white fur and rabbit ears.
Call Back: At the beginning of the comic, when Sandra realizes she has been turned into a demon, she calls herself a freak. Years later, when she is wondering what she exactly is, someone who had disappeared from the radar delivers this line:
Mr. Chalk: Oh Sandra. You know. You called it on day one. You're a freak.
Censor Box: Used seldomly whenever Sandra becomes vulgar. For example, the f-word and s-word are almost always censored, but other insults get a pass, such as this one when she arrived in the Subfusc.
Cerebus Retcon: Jack. Fire. Apparently he thinks he deserves it. More importantly, he feels it relieves Sandra of her stress and keeps her from falling over the edge.
Cloudcuckoolander: Mad Mabel from the Subfusc. Implied to be either an imaginary friend or an alternate personality who was shed from someone in the real world, she has trouble making it through a whole thought without several bizarre tangents.
Covers Always Lie: The teaser image for Zebra Girl's return in 2014 shows a lesbian scene between Zandra and Crystal; the disclaimer on the comic, and the news post say this isn't a guarantee of any erotic lesbian action when the comic returns, as it is just a piece of commissioned art he drew.
Creepy Long Fingers: Sandra, post-transformation, got longer-than-average fingers (which now double as fangs).
Crisis of Faith: Zig zagged. Sandra refers to herself as an agnostic (you may want to take a look at the useful notes page of Atheism, which include the definition of agnoticism), and through the course of the story had many moments of doubts and anger towards God. After meeting Viv, she is quite shaken to discover that she is the biblical Eve, making her the living proof that God really does exists.
Damsel in Distress: Mabel, who is captured by Lord Incubus, who demands that Sandra releases him from his prison if she wants her back.
The Dark Side Will Make You Forget: Struggling against this is a major part of the series. It's eventually played straight: during her time with Viv, Sandra falls off into a time stream, in which she has a vision of a woman taking care of her after she got wounded. She doesn't recognize the woman, and it takes her a moment to realize that it was her own mother.
Disapproving Look: Viv gives one to Sandra here as she is threatening to kill the assassin who tried to kill her. Though it's Viv caughting her off-guard with the following sentence that makes her stop:
Double Standard: Viv thinks religion is like this. Saying that men in religion who reject paradise or luxury are worshiped, While she as Eve, rejected Eden and was vilified as the reason for centuries of misogyny.
The Dreaded: Eventually, Sandra became this to her whole hometown when she decided to embrace being a demon. She also became this to her friends, who had no other solution but to ban her into another dimension in order to stop her. Five in-universe years later, her former friends still view her as a very dangerous being and are extremely wary of her.
While she seems to act as a reasonable ruler, the demons of her hometown consider her powerful and would rather not anger her.
Drool Hello: A variant where the victim is smoking and the monster coughs.
Dumb Muscle: Wally never was the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his increase in muscle-mass, his total inability to understand how his companions feel about Sandra and his willingness to "finish the job" (while being excited about it) catapulted him in this category.
Eldritch Location: Sandra's house. Said place began to change when Sandra transformed into a demon, with shadows becoming darker and bigger, and it decided to have a growth spurt on its own while Sandra was away.
Enemy Within: Mr. Chalk, who haunts Sandra's dreams and taunts her with her lost humanity.
Even Bad Men Love Their Mamas: After being turned into a demon, Sandra had to hide her condition from her mother, which she hasn't seen ever since, something which depressed her deeply. The simple sight of her during Incubus's dream sequence is enough to make her have a My God, What Have I Done? moment and makes her burst into tears.
Exact Words: In order to release Sandra from the grasp of a big guy, Viv convinces him that she will punish her herself, telling him that she will "make her hurt in ways even you can't manage". True enough, she proceeds to make Sandra face her humanity and makes her realize what she has done when she succumbed to her demonic urges.
Viv: Growth is painful, you know?
Everyone Is Bi: Dream!Sam's (a figment of Sandra's imagination) says that everyone is this to some extent. It comes up when Sandra asks why Dream!Crystal is trying to seduce her, and Sam says that Incubus created her by reading Sandra's memories and found Sandra's clandestine feelings for her.
Expy: Harold Duvasenote "Du Vase" is french for "of the Vase", or Potter is one of Harry Potter.
Face-Heel Turn: Sandra, one of the very few examples of this with the main character of the strip. As of 2013 onwards, the comic is pushing her back into "Face" territory... or at least out of the "Heel" side of the equation.
Facepalm: During the Lotus-Eater Machine sequence, Sam does one, after Sandra ignores his warnings and lets her curiosity gets the better of her.
Failed a Spot Check: When Incubus kidnaps Mabel, Viv tells Sandra to go after them, but she says she can't without her demon powers. Whether she didn't notice or forgot in the carnage, Mabel's Be Yourself speech has reawakened Sandra's Zebra Girl form. The cackling when Viv points it out can be heard for miles.
Fully-Embraced Fiend: Sandra pretty much lost this battle once the professor pushed her to it, though there seem to be forces in play that are struggling to remind her of her humanity now that she got sucked into Limbo.
Gender Misdirection: Turns out that Tomie, Jack's Grimoire, is a girl when she takes a physical appearance.
The whole main cast rapidly acquire this, most notably how every one of them independently guesses what Wally is as soon as they learn his name. Thanks to his showbiz background Sam takes it Up to Eleven, at times reaching borderline Medium Awareness.
Collywobble from Subfusc sent one of his minion, Quick Slick Spitlick, after Viv and Sandra, because he figured that Viv would hurt Sandra in some "vague, existential fashion that doesn't involve actual physical damage". Turns out, he was spot on:
Viv: Nuts. Didn't think he'd catch on. Growth is painful, you know?
Mabel, in her own damaged way and in a meta-sense, realizes that Sandra is crucial to the plot:
Mabel: Oh, dear. I'm starting to think the world revolves around HER!
Heel Realization: Sandra has one when she is being trapped into Incubus's fake world.
Heroic BSOD: Of all people, Sam has one when he saw several years later the cabin in which he was tortured by Sandra for days. Seeing the character who until then was known for his Nerves of Steel fleeing from the scene, having nightmarish flashbacks and needing some time to compose himself is rather distressing.
Hero with Bad Publicity: Viv has fought her fair share of monsters and demons thoughout the centuries. Yet is universally despised because she is Eve, the first woman. However she explains that she resisted the temptation of the fruit, but rejected Eden as she wanted people to be able to stand on their own two feet.
I Just Want to Be Normal: Of all people to be afflicted by a Baleful Polymorph, it was Sandra rather than her more adventurous friends. She lampshades this when, after her Face-Heel Turn, she reflects on the fact that she actually became evil partly because if she couldn't be a normal human, she'd be a normal demon. No matter what she does in this direction, it will backfire on her because the Cosmos is out to make her special, whether she lies it or not.
Sandra does this to her entire town once she fully embraces her demon nature. Things get really serious when you realize that she imprisons and tortures (at least, mentally) Sam.
Once being turn back into an human again (albeit it may only be temporarly), Sandra steals Mabel's thimble from her, just because she can. However, this time, she takes pity on Mabel and give it back. This is the first sign of humanity she has showed in months.
Sam: This place is a sand trap, see? It feeds on inertia! Don't relax, just leave!
Luke, I Am Your Father: Lord Incubus reveals to Sandra that he's her father, not biologically, but that her demonic form is the result of his residual energy reacting explosively when Jack slammed the book closed. She is a piece of him, making her the closest thing he could have to a daughter, and he feels something akin to love for her.
Tawny:[immediately after Sam has met Sandra and Crystal] God... Next you're going to tell me you've met humans! Sam: No. Tawny: What? Sam: I'm not going to do that. The joke where you hypothesize some really unlikely scenario and get more and more specific, not knowing you're exactly describing actual events, while I stand here all awkward from your inexplicable outburst of irony.
Milking the Giant Cow: Wally does this during his "inspirational" speech about their fight against Sandra and how they are going to "finish the job" this time.
Mind Screw: The very nature of the Subfusc is one.
Monster Mash: The initial group is composed of one normal human (Crystal), a sorcerer (Jack), a demon (Sandra), an anthropomorphic rabbit (Sam), a werewolf (Wally), and a talking book (Tomie) who got an human form at some point. Later in the comic, Sandra's hometown attracts a lot of monsters, with now vampires, ghouls and other kind of creatures roaming in the streets.
Mood Dissonance: So, on the one hand, you have a group of friends preparing themselves to fight again a former one (and, for all they know, this dangerous ex-friend is out for their blood), all of them being deeply saddened by the situation and traumatized by past events, and on the other hand you have a werewolf completly ignoring how said group of friends really feel, reminiscing past traumatic events with excitement, and seemingly impatient to kill her (whereas the others don't really want to think about such possibility).
Jack, when Crystal points out to him that Sandra may not wait until nightfall to come at their home, and completly falls into panic mode once he hears her scream. Sam is unfazed.
Sandra has a big one when Viv makes her realize that without her "sticking aroung", she probably would face a little problem:
Viv: Well, try this. Now we're surrounded by feral gremlins. The fire I made will keep them away until dawn. I know this stuff. If not for me, you'd be eaten. Sleep on that.
Lord Incubus himself has one when Mabel appears out of nowhere and completly sabotages his attempt to corrupt Sandra.
Our Werebeasts Are Different: They change at will, but only during the night. They can grow to any size while transformed, and discard all excessive mass when turning back, which quickly decomposes into a puddle of unidentifieable organic compound.
Precision F-Strike: Sandra threw quite a lot of them when she was banished by Jack to the Subfusc, and a few more there as well. Most of them were barely censored.
Prehensile Tail: Sandra's tail is very flexible, and can be effectively used as a weapon, a lasso or a restraining device. She can even increase its lenghts, something that Viv called the "infinite tail" constriction technique.
Protagonist Journey to Villain: Sandra slowly goes insane following her transformation into a demon. Her drive to become human again slowly fades away the longer she remains in that form, and at one point she completly embraces her evilness, making her town and friends her playthings. Seeing that she had now become a danger which can't be restrained or convinced to go back to her older self, she is banished to an alternate dimension by Jack. In said dimension, she regains her human form, something which upsets her greatly because at that point she clearly came to enjoy being a demon.
Really 700 Years Old: Viv claims to be human, but Sandra, despite being deprived of her demonic powers at the time, is still able to tell that something is amiss. Later, Viv says that she is human, just "old" (despite looking rather young). Even later, Viv hints that she is millennia-old. When you realize that she is, in fact, Eve, and thus one of the very first human beings, calling herself "old" is an euphemism.
Recap Episode: The author likes to do some every now and then (and since the story started in 2000, they are most welcomed), but especially when he wants to introduce a new act. Said recap episodes also became more serious after a while, such as the Recap introducing the Heaven on Earth arc (which takes place after the Subfusc one).
Sandra's repeated attempts to make a Deal with the Devil around the 1st of April would lead up to a joke strip of her getting turned into a pony.
Sandra has a tendency to fall quite a lot in the Subfusc. Lampshaded by Viv:
Viv: Have I mentioned how you seem to fall down a lot?
Scary Teeth: The rabbit lady from the Subfusc who appears later in Sandra's town has some very sharped ones, making the contrast between it and her dandy costume/attitude all the more disturbing.
Sealed Evil in a Can: Lord Incubus is sealed inside his own pocket dimension, and can't interact much with the rest of the world. He only manifests as a black square in Subfusc. However, that doesn't mean he's helpless: he can still talk to other people (like while he's trying to make Sandra free him), and God help you if he happens to know your real name: Mabel was captured by him, since she doesn't know her own true name anymore, granting him power over her. Since he also knows Sandra's name, he is able to read her mind, making her the perfect target for his Lotus-Eater Machine trap.
Stab The Salad: Confronting Sandra in her newly-recovered demonic form, Viv produces an object which appears to be some sort of bolo-weapon, which she uses as a magical swing. Then subverted, when it's further revealed that yes, it does also serve as a bolo.
Stunned Silence: Quite a few characters do this, but especially Sandra during the Subfusc arc. Quite understandable when a talking spider from the moon has a chat with you (this particular example also counts as an Aside Glance).
Take a Third Option: The Subfusc arc consists of Sandra grappling between her opposing natures as demon and human, with Lord Incubus and Viv trying to win her over to their respective sides. The one who finally wins her over is Mad Mabel, whose mental state is likewise confused.
The Shadow Knows: If 13th september 2014 strip, Wally's shadow in a panel reflects his werewolf form while he is in human form. It also highlighs his ferocious nature and his wish to get rid of Sandra once and for all.
The Unfettered: The nature of a demon, and what Sandra and Lord Incubus find so awesome about it.
Sandra big time during her Face-Heel Turn. It takes a while before she reverts back to a nicer persona.
Wally, post-timeskip, acts a lot more insensitive towards his friends (see Innocently Insensitive), and has no qualms about saying he is willing to destroy Sandra in front of her former friends. Said friends include his current girlfriend, Crystal, who he knows was Sandra's closest friend.
Town with a Dark Secret: Both subverted and played with: just like with Sunnydale, most people seem to ignore that their town became a monster den. However, some humans (or, at least, a character who is believed to still be human) are aware of the situation and of the return of Sandra.
Trickster Mentor: Viv is very fond of this kind of approach, often giving cryptic informations or advices to Sandra.
Invoked by Sam, who is a giant anthropomorphic rabbit. He actually counts on people rationalizing him as a hallucination, some guy in a costume, or whatever they can think up. He has yet to be proven wrong.
Subverted by Sandra herself, who spends a good portion of the early comics just trying to be able to go out without attracting TOO much attention, settling on what is quite nearly an outright monk's robe with incredibly long sleeves whose hood completely covers her face in shadow. Anyone who DOES get a look at it, she explains away the facial markings as "make-up to cover up burns".
Crystal: Not even that, but it feels like ten to me.
Weirdness Censor: Lampshaded: Sandra's house litteraly grew on her own, but people remained oblivious to the supernatural thing happening next to them. It also seems that most of them choose to ignore/forget what happened in the past, when Sandra went on her terror spree. The comic implies that most of them didn't notice their town slowly but surely filling up with monsters.
World of Chaos: The Subfusc, especially because of its inhabitants. When you have anthropomorphic psycho rabbits, nonsensical talking spiders from the moon and a flying doggy-snake thingy who is litteraly attracted to crucial moments, marriage proposals and other life-altering decisions, you begin to get the idea that this place is just downright bizarre. As for the location in itself, it quite obviously doesn't follow the usual laws of physic, and people there are able to float (not fly) if they let go of their concerns. There is also a place dedicated for people who feel at their lowest, adequately named "The Pit", and an healing river made by the flow of time... You get the idea. As a pretty pissed off Sandra said:
Year Outside, Hour Inside: As of this strip, it has been confirmed by Jack that almost five years have passed on Earth, while Sandra was trapped in the Subfusc for a week or so at best. The possibility of this was discussed in dialogue between Sandra and Viv.
You Remind Me of X: Viv says that Sandra reminds her of Lilith. In Jewish lore, Lilith was Adam's first wife, instead of Eve; Lilith left the Garden of Eden because she didn't want to be subservient to Adam, and may be the mother of all demons, which makes sense why Sandra now has her eyes.