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Webcomic / Chimneyspeak

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Chimneyspeak is a webcomic by Jack Cayless taking place in America and England during the late 19th century. It focuses mostly on Elgie Piddlebottom, a dwarf enforcer; Alice McKenzie, madam of a prostitution ring with a complicated relationship with Elgie; and Chelsea Grinn, a completely insane serial killer out for Elgie's blood.

The comic has four lengthy chapters, and concluded on October 2, 2013. Cayless took the comic's website down in early 2014, citing the cost of maintaining it, but mentioned that a PDF version might be made available at some point in the future. A sequel to Chimneyspeak was mentioned as being in the works but it's not certain if this is still the case. A prequel involving Jack the Ripper and featuring Elgie and Alice near the start of their relationship was reported to be in the development stage. Cayless originally put character designs for the new seriesnote  and some early pages on his Tumblr, but has since created a separate Tumblr devoted to its development.

The story frequently features graphic violence (edging into Gorn at times), nudity, and sex scenes. While the comic's website was active, Cayless also provided a number of side stories which expanded on the background of the setting, which cost a modest fee. These side stories also frequently featured outright pornographic content, which the actual comic never crossed into.

Mr. Cayless's other webcomic, Redd also disappeared from the Web some time in 2015 though Cayless's personal tumblr is still active. Both comics may be found by searching for at archive sites. Some ChimneySpeak-related material remains on the artist's Deviant Art account as well.

This webcomic provides examples of:

  • Ax-Crazy: Chelsea's body count is in the hundreds.
  • Ballistic Discount: Done by Chelsea Grinn.
  • Beauty Is Never Tarnished: Averted ever so much. Chelsea used to be the most beautiful character in the comic, and was convinced she was the most beautiful girl in the world. Now...well, she's still cute, but in a ripped-up teddy bear kind of way.
  • Bilingual Bonus:
    • Suka's Russian (which is pretty accurate) and her tattoos.
    • Elgie's French-speaking absinthe fairy.
  • Boom, Headshot!: Alice shoots Suka right between the eyes after Suka gut-shoots Elgie.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Elgie's dream about all the boys that fit his description that were killed by bounty hunters looking for Elgie.
  • Cold Sniper: Alice employs two, Question Mark and Tabby. They're kids.
  • Crapsack World: Most definitely. Even the supposedly most sympathetic characters are still remorseless killers who have done terrible things.
    Alice: Do you remember how we first met?
    Elgie: You were a kid who'd taken to whoring herself out.
    Alice: And you were a thief slitting innocent throats for pennies. And yet you seem to think you're the good guy? Is all that tipple messin' with your little head?
  • Deadpan Snarker: Several characters, especially Chelsea. To herself.
  • Determinator: Chelsea's murderous insanity (more specifically, the personality that embodies that insanity) drives her to get up and keep going, no matter how badly she's hurt. It has been theorized that her body massively overproduces adrenaline, allowing her to ignore the crippling effects of the injuries she's sustained.
  • Disproportionate Retribution:
    • Why did Chelsea slaughter her way through England, find her way to America, and start killing her way through town (twice), racking up enough wounds that she has more scar tissue than non? Elgie ran past her one night and accidentally tripped her, causing her to fall and get a small scar on her face. She went ballistic.
    • Suka had a pretty good one as well after Alice's husband left her.
      Suka: Are you sad? Why are you sad!? Mikhael! Kill everyone!
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Elgie does this enough that his absinthe fairy is practically a character of her own.
  • Dynamic Entry: Chelsea. First when she rams a boat into an English dock on her return from Australia. Shortly thereafter, she goes into a tavern to track down Elgie. The blood of the people upstairs soaks through the floor and begins to drip on the people in the basement.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Elgie will murder all the adults you want him to kill, but children are off limits for anything. And most of the people he kills are utter depraved lunatics or total bastards.
  • Eye Color Change: Chelsea Grinn's eyes change colors depending on which of her personalities is in control. When she gets red rings around her pupils, everyone around her tends to die horribly.
  • Eye Scream: At the end of their fight in the street, Chelsea cuts Elgie's face open with his own knife, damaging his left eye.
  • Fade to White: Soon after Elgie gets shot. There's a small "...Ouch..." in the middle of the white space.
  • Fanservice:
    • Suka and Alice get a lot of screen time in various stages of undress. Alice even spends most of her time in the last part of ch. 4 wearing nothing but a shirt tied around her waist.
    • The Working Girls are frequently shown plying their trade.
    • Chelsea gets her fair share as well, but is more Fan Disservice because of her scars.
  • Glasgow Grin: With a name like Chelsea Grinn, it would have been a surprise to anyone in the present if she didn't have this. The side story "Smile" reveals how she got it.
  • Good Scars, Evil Scars: Chelsea's first scar actually falls into the "cute but warlike" top-of-page example on the trope page, and it's solidly within the good scars rage on her "good" mental construct. The rest of her scars, on the other hand, especially the cheek scars that never healed right...
  • Gratuitous French: Elgie's absinthe fairy, and Elgie when she's around.
  • Grey-and-Gray Morality: Apparently, random murder is OK, but pimping kids isn't.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Invoked by Alice in ch. 4, strip 53, in reference to Elgie, although they're really Platonic Life-Partners (see below).
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: A climactic example in ch.4, when Chelsea is (apparently) killed by the very sword used to kill Angus only a few panels earlier, thanks to some very unfortunate position shifts and Angus not having the good grace to fall down immediately after being impaled.
  • Hooker with a Heart of Gold: Subverted. She engages in child prostitution, got her position by hiring a man to kill her predecessor's husband, and taking over when she broke down. She also employs children as snipers.
  • Ignore the Fanservice: This comes up both in the original comic and the prequel. Elgie's been around Alice and the Working Girls so much that nothing about their attire (or lack thereof) or what they do in their "work" fazes him, and he appears to be similarly unmoved by seeing Chelsea in the altogether.
  • Impaled Palm: Happens to Chelsea during her fight with Elgie.
  • Impaled with Extreme Prejudice: This happens to several people over the course of the comic, but the most significant instance happens in ch. 4, when Chelsea puts a claymore all the way through Angus. Shortly after, since Angus has a sword blade sticking out of his chest but is still standing, Bonnie kicks him in the back. Chelsea, who has moved around in front of him, gets skewered, apparently through the heart, which finally kills her.
  • Interplay of Sex and Violence: A brutal fight between Elgie and Chelsea is intercut with panels showing Suka and Alice having sex, which is happening at the same time elsewhere.
  • In the Blood: The queen of England claims that all the Grinns are as bloodthirsty as Chelsea, although there is evidence that they know exactly what they're doing. Not Chelsea, though. She's just crazy.
  • Karmic Jackpot: Chelsea spares an entire group of people in the basement of a bar that she had planned to slaughter gleefully, all because she recognizes one man there who had given her a single genuine compliment six years earlier. And yet she still blows a guy's head off for telling her what she wanted to know (just because some other guy vowed to kill him once they got out).
  • Killed Offscreen: Chelsea (depending on how you interpret what happened to her during the climactic swordfight) and her parents, based on the fallout from strip 44 and strips 54 and 55 of ch.4. The mask-wearing man is wearing Mr. Grinn's coat and carrying his sword, and cooks up a plot to squat in the Grinn's mansion. His cohorts also mention doing a good job with the graves.
  • The Lad-ette: Suka (except when she's with Alice).
  • Let's You and Him Fight: The Russians and the Scots all arrive at Chelsea's manor with killing intent, but promptly engage each other.
  • Made of Iron:
    • Elgie is 2 feet tall, and shrugged off having a horse thrown at him and being kicked and thrown around by Chelsea. He also survived Suka gut-shooting him, although it was touch-and-go for a while.
    • Chelsea's survived being impaled and having multiple point blank gunshots to the chest and torso. The current theory is that her body overproduces adrenaline constantly (so much so that her usual low point is where most people are when they're on an adrenaline high). That said, she doesn't survive the Impaled with Extreme Prejudice instance above, since it appears to go through her heart.
  • Made of Plasticine: Bit characters. Chelsea or Elgie are both more than capable of ripping or cutting an Innocent Bystander or Mook in half without breaking a sweat.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Chelsea Grinn sports a Glasgow Grin, also known as a "Chelsea smile".
    • "Suka" means "bitch" in Russian (in both the "dog" and "not-nice-behavior" senses), and also something like "traitor" or "informer" in Russian prison-speak. Alice kills Suka and the comic ends without revealing if the latter is meaningful. No word yet on whether or not the prequel will go into this.
  • Mercy Kill: Chelsea to Heinrich, after he tells her where Elgie is. Alice's pet American tells Heinrich "You're a dead man", by which he probably meant a brutal murder. Chelsea kisses Heinrich on the forehead and shoots him in the base of the skull, through the mouth.
  • More Dakka: Ivan states that the Maxim Gun needs more Dakka.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong: Suka and her men.
  • Naked on Arrival: Chelsea is introduced stark naked, and she murders a sailor for his clothing.
  • Notorious Killers: Elgie is referred to by the surname of "Mr. Ripper" early on in the series, and the story from which he originated connected him to the Jack the Ripper murders. The author's commentary places this story as non-canon to Chimneyspeak. Alice confirms in the third chapter that Elgie killed Jack the Ripper. The prequel will, in part, revolve around Jack the Ripper tangling with Alice and Elgie.
  • Out with a Bang: Played with. The comic ends with Elgie about to go down on Alice...again.
  • Pants-Free: Chelsea on plenty of occasions.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Elgie's a midget but is exceptionally strong and agile for his size.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: Alice and Elgie have known each other since Alice was a teenager and, despite the bad blood that crops up between them over the course of the comic, are about as intimate as a man and woman can be without actually being...intimate. Eventually subverted; at the very end of the comic they're anything but platonic.
  • Proud Warrior Race: The Scots, which is a pretty good summary of the real life version from the time.
    Chelsea: These men will be remembered as heroes. These men that shot blindly into the smoke. These men that screamed and cried and ran. These men who couldn't kill one little girl. Honestly, I'm disappointed. Are these the best soldiers that England has to offer?
    Highlander: Aye, lass. Those were the best that England has tae offer.
  • Scars are Forever:
    • All of Chelsea's scars, but most importantly the first one. Justified: she's a noblewoman, and delicate skin scars very easily.
    • Elgie ends up with a couple of impressive facial scars (especially the slash through his eye), and the scar on his belly from being shot.
  • Shoot Your Friend: One of the causes of Elgie's nightmares.
  • Shown Their Work: All the slang is correct, as are the foreign languages and the weapons used. Oh, except that the Highlanders use the wrong type of sword, but that's fine:
    The Rant: Yes yes, sword nerds. We all know that during the 17th century onwards, Highlander officers preferred the basket-hilted broadswords. But fuck it, they ainít nearly as terrifying. And they have an Italian flare that leaves a foul taste in the mouth when it comes to the brutish juggernauts the Chimneyspeak Highlanders need to be!
  • The Speechless: Question Mark, on account of having his tongue cut out.
  • Split Personality: Chelsea has several personalities, representing how she was before the accident, how she could have been (if she had just accepted her first scar as an unfortunate accident and gotten on with her life), and how she is now. And then there's the last one, which even the others are scared of.
  • Squee: Suka's reaction to Alice's freckles.
  • Talking to Themself: Chelsea did this out loud in the early strips, bouncing back and forth between first, second, and third person depending on which personality is doing the talking.
  • Tattoo as Character Type: The Russian mobsters have large tattoos on their arms and hands as a status symbol. Suka's tattoos cover most of her back as well.
  • Underboobs: Chelsea shows them off.
  • V-Sign: Elgie gives Chelsea the palm-inward version when she basically tells him to come with her on her quest to take over England.
  • Victorian London: Large portions of the comic are set there.
  • Weapon Tombstone: In ch. 4, the dead Highlanders' graves are marked with their swords as well as name plaques.
  • What Did You Expect When You Named It ____?: Chelsea Grinn's parents could hardly be blamed for naming their child after a slang term for certain facial scars that wouldn't show up in British parlance until many decades later.
  • Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds: Or, as the author put it: "Why do I keep making all my serial killers so cute?"
  • Yandere: Suka is one for Alice, which fuels her hate of Elgie. Her abusive behavior toward Elgie is what finally leads Alice to kill her.
  • You Have Failed Me: Inverted. After Elgie and Chelsea succeed in acquiring Chelsea's deed from them, Suka's cohorts abandon her, claiming that associating with Alice has made her soft.