How often have you watched or read a story about teenagers that presents the same old character archetypes (the queen bee, the cool loner) and plots (the wild party, the makeover) without variation? If your answer is "too often," Penny and Aggie may be for you.
Writer T Campbell delights in subverting, deconstructing, and otherwise playing with staple teen dramedy elements. The queen bee, from the start, has a strong conscience and sense of compassion. The cool loner isn't always "cool," and isn't that happy being alone. The ugly duckling's makeover reveals an inner self that isn't so pretty. But apart from playing with such tropes, Campbell remembers always to write his characters as human beings, as teens view themselves, rather than through the often-trivializing lens of adulthood. At the same time, he avoids romanticizing or idealizing any aspect of teen life.
The writing isn't without flaws. Several story arcs have problems with inconsistent or otherwise inappropriate pacing. The comic rarely gives the full context of a scene, instead showing snippets of conversation and action. Sometimes this works well; other times, readers are left confused and in need of clarification from the author in the comic's forum. Campbell's love of experimentation with story structure and even genre succeeds in some cases (a tightly-structured kidnapping plot that combines elements of police procedural with psychological thriller and moving character development) better than in others (a farce which runs too slowly in this medium to allow for suspension of disbelief).
The art, originally by Gisèle Lagacé, starts out simple and cartoonish (targeted as it initially was for newspaper syndication), but gradually grows in realism and detail, reaching its apex in her final arc, "The Popsicle War," while retaining occasional exaggerated, "toon" elements where appropriate. Jason Waltrip, her successor, has a simpler style, but one that's mostly faithful to the comic's established look. However, he lacks Lagacé's intuitive, natural eye for teen girls' fashion, an important element of the comic. Instead, his outfits veer between plain "tee-and-jeans," and mismatched or otherwise garish pattern fills, although there's some improvement over time.
In all, Penny and Aggie is a superior, at times genuinely literary, series, worth multiple reads.