Monthly Archives: November 2007
I’m back from Thanksgiving break, and I must say the travel was surprising light. My fiancée strongly insisted that we arrive at the airport a full two hours before departure, which is normally a good policy during holidays, yet we discovered that we breezed through the security gates in typically fifteen minutes or less. Bizarro.
Followers of the “Webcomic Overlook” from my Rooktopia site may be a little miffed (but probably not) that I’m not reviewing a strip (Thinkin’ Lincoln) that I had originally scheduled for #21. There’s a simple reason: I’m still about 80 strips away from finishing it. Barring distraction via “shiny object,” it’ll be up for The Webcomic Overlook #22.
Instead, I’ll be reviewing a webcomic that has the good fortune of possessing one of the world’s most alluring titles. Have you ever fell in love with something simply because of its name? You may know absolutely nothing about the subject in question, yet the name itself carried such an intriguing aura that it’s impossible to resist. I for example, am the proud owner of an Albuquerque Isotopes T-shirt. I know absolutely nothing about the minor league baseball team except that it’s name comes from a Simpsons episode. Lyrical, original, and odd names are primarily to blame with my obsessions with Zooey Deschanel; Marky Mark Wahlberg; Amy Winehouse; Calvin “Megatron” Johnson; Stone Temple Pilots; the word “Fergalicious”; The Great Muta; Ukiah, CA; The People’s Elbow; and the movie Live Free Or Die Hard. (And, don’t tell anyone, but I bought a house in my current hometown because the town itself had such a kickass name.)
Which brings us to the title of today’s Webcomic Overlook. How could anyone go wrong with a webcomic called The Adventures of Dr. McNinja? Judges, give this title a trophy made of pure awesome!
Hmmm… when I first started the “One Punch Reviews” feature, I initially was going to do small, single webcomic reviews (hence the name “One Punch”). Then I go ahead and violate that simple premise in the first two reviews. I guess I couldn’t resist the sirens’ lure of doing themed reviews. Well, no more! It’s back … or, uh, for the first time … to single-serving reviews for me. Also, I couldn’t figure out which webcomics I’d read would make good companion pieces for “Lucid TV.” Oh, sure, there’s technically two other webcomics I’m aware of, but I really wanted to give “The Adventures of Dr. McNinja” its own full-fledged review, and I hadn’t read enough of “Grumps” to make any sort of value judgement. So “Lucid TV,” the spotlight is all yours!
Lucid TV is based on a simple contradiction. Superficially, it looks like a medical soap opera strip similar to Rex Morgan, MD with situations cribbed from doctor shows like Scrubs, House MD, and Grey’s Anatomy. The strip, though, is hardly as heartwarming (and I’m including that one Grey’s Anatomy episode where that guy’s head exploded). Lucid TV is less about medical drama and more about a bunch of doctors acting like jerks to everyone. It’s a lot like Perry Bible Fellowship, except the illusion of sunniness has been stripped away and we’re left with uncomfortable, lazy black comedy. I laughed once or twice, but most of the time I cringed … mainly because I had a hard time believing there were people out there who’d find most of this stuff funny. Want to guess how many strips boil down to your child/spouse/baby is dead? And awful lot, that’s how many. And it’s not that difficult of a joke to make. Pair a yo-husband-so-dead quip with a dumb follow-up (“The good news: I saved a bunch of money on my auto insurance!”) and voila! An instant Lucid TV classic. It seems like the stuff only drunk fratboys would enjoy. Then again, I thought the Garbage Pail Kids were stupid, Ren & Stimpy were overrated, and Borat was stupid, overrated, and unfunny. But all that crap ended up making money, so what the hell do I know? Apparently a lot of people out there enjoy pain and humiliation. In fact, Lucid TV is the leading contender in this year’s Webcomic Idol. So I probably should get my fragile, peacenik soul out of the US and move somewhere sedate, like Canada. I guess if you think Xavier: Renegade Angel is the paragon of all things comedy, then Lucid TV is right up your alley. But if you’re a Simon & Garfunkel listenin’ nancyboy like me, then Lucid TV walk away with a small chunk of your soul. Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5).
David Willis is a huge dork. He’s not the sort of dork you try to avoid with impunity because every conversation will include Battlestar Galactica references. Those are the dorks for whom I advocate a “pro-wedgie” policy. I’ve never met the guy, but judging from the tone of his blog Willis seems more mellow and reasonable … a stealth dork if you will. Or, more accurately, an “adorable dork.”
He is, however, the sort of guy who seems to possess a frightfully encyclopedic knowledge of nostalgic ’80s toys — and this accrues him a couple of new titles. He is the King Dork of Action Figures. In the post-Sandler era, he is known as a “man-child.” A huge, unrepentant Man-Child … capital M, capital C, and everything in bold.
What worries me most, though, is that I’m just like him.
Let’s take a look at the parallels. Willis is infatuated with Transformers and G.I. Joes and cheerfully posts about them on his blog. At my blog (Rooktopia), I have Arcee and Ratchet on the banner, and I post my own Transformers reviews. Willis frequents the Comics Curmudgeon and even donated a “Finger Quotin'” Margo T-shirt design. I also love to read that blog, and I even contributed a far less significant accomplishment when my own “Milford Matrix” YouTube posted. Willis probably spends too much time arguing on internet message boards, blogging, and updating Wikipedia. Son of a gun, me too.
The evidence points out that a) all dorks, while feeling like outcasts with a unique hobby and thus championing individualism, gravitate toward the same obsessions just like everyone else, or b) David Willis is my twin brother.
Then of course, there’s c): I actually am David Willis, and when I take of my mask I sort of forget my alternate personality like Edward Norton in “Fight Club.” This seems rather unlikely … but it does explain why, sometimes, there’s a new Transformer inexplicably occupying my bookshelves when I wake up.
It also explains why David Willis’ webcomic seems specifically catered for me. Today’s Webcomic Overlook reviews the dramatic saga of a group of toy store employees: Shortpacked! Willis also does a smaller Shortpacked strip for the Toy News International site. I’ve heard good things about this strip. To keep this review simple, though, I’m limiting this review to the one on Willis’ main site.
As Japanese manga and anime artists have long known, schoolgirls make for compelling storytelling. There’s probably a good reason for their popularity. Maybe it’s because it reaches out to a female readership while appealing, aesthetically, to the core male readership. However, I won’t go any further with that train of thought because it’ll probably lead to something perverted and more than slightly misogynistic. The genre is so prevalent in Japan that I suspect it’s practically impossible to turn your shoulders without smacking into yet another adventure involving girls in school uniform (usually skimpy).
However, as if to challenge the Eastern dominance on the genre, several Western webcomic artists have created their own stories with schoolgirl protagonists. And you know what? They’re surprisingly good. So join me, reader, in a series of three short reviews for Minus, Aki Alliance, and Alma Mater.
Minus, created by Ryan Armand, is a webcomic about little girl (the title character) who has magical powers to alter reality, speak to ghosts, and whatever else is required of the storyline. In a way, it’s not unlike Bart Simpson from Treehouse of Horror II; anything that Minus thinks, happens. The webcomic, though, is filled with whimsy rather than horror. Other characters in her world get annoyed from time to time with her pranks, but otherwise don’t give second thought to her supernatural powers. It helps that Minus’ antics seem more good-natured than mean-spirited. For example, when she sends two of her friends into an alternate dimension, they’re entertained or enobled, but never truly endangered. The story is so sweet that serious things like death and aging are treated like minor inconveniences. Armand’s art is beautifully simplistic and recalls the minimalist style of European comics. (Armand himself cites “Little Nemo” as an influence.) Minus is one of the best webcomics I’ve ever read. It’s the sort of comic that causes you to smile and to contemplate the meaning of life at the same time. It’s a shame that its nomination for the 2007 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic went nowhere. Rating: 5 stars (out of 5).
Read the rest of this entry
“Adventure games” nowadays are a generally defunct genre. For those of you unfamiliar with the concept, these games were embraced by the sort of insecure gamer who were driven to tears because they lacked the twitchy reflexes needed to avoid frags in First-Person Shooters. These were also the sort of gamers that were easily thrilled by interactive cartoons where the most visceral thrill occurred when you clicked on a colorful background item and— for time in a long, long while — your character doesn’t mumble some variation of “I can’t pick that up.” They were, for the most part, heavily story-based and tediously linear. Naturally, I was a huge fan. What can I say? I’m a sucker for good storytelling and lush visuals. (And… I totally suck at FPS.) At its best, adventure games churn out magically imaginative worlds like The Land of the Dead from Grim Fandango. The best most FPS games can scrounge up is yet another rip-off of the Alien series.
1993 was located at the center of adventure gaming’s Golden Era. It was the year Myst was released, which went on to become the best-selling video game in history until I Finally Have An Excuse To Play With Dollhouses Again (a.k.a. The Sims). Sierra,still cranking out its Quest games, was just starting up the highly acclaimed Gabriel Knight series.
In the same year, LucasArts — with its noble goal of writing games that could be used in film — released two of the most beloved games of all time. The previous year had seen the releases of highly anticipated games like Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge and Indiana Jones and the Fate of Atlantis. Yet this year would also see the release of two instant classics. The first was the absurd Day of the Tentacle, where a gang of slacker kids must change events at different points in history to stop a sentient tentacle from taking over the world.
The second was based on a little known comic book by Steve Purcell featuring the adventures of a dog detective and his buddy, a “hyperkinetic rabbity thing.” With Sam & Max Hit the Road, the modern day animated descendant of Martin & Lewis finally hit the big time. The game is funny … legit funny, not the kind of torpid video-game funny. The jokes were disarmingly clever, too. Play your cards right, and you got a musical sequence, sung by stuffed and mounted animals, devoted to preservationist John Muir while “Edutainment” flashed in the background. Hit the Road was such a phenomenal sucess that the game has eclipsed he original comics as Sam & Max’s baseline medium. (This is not unlike how discussions on James Bond gravitate toward the movies, while the original Ian Fleming novels are mostly forgotten.)
It’s no surprise, then, that a video game website hosts the latest issue of the Sam & Max comic. Telltale Games produces both the “Sam & Max Season One” game and the illustrated heir to the original comic book series, Steve Purcell’s Sam & Max digital comic.
Recently, a couple of readers pointed out a bone-headed error on this site. When I wrote up a review of “Ctrl+V Derivitaries,” I stated that “I know enough that the two guys in The Ctrl+V Derivitaries are supposed to be spoofs of Gabe and Tycho.”
How wrong I was.
It was pointed out that it was more of a spoof to Tim Buckley’s “Ctrl+Alt+Del.” It makes sense. The art style is the same, and the criticisms, I’m led to believe, are more applicable to CAD than to “Penny Arcade.”
And, hell, there’s even a “Ctrl” in both titles.
This is what I get for failing to do my research. So there you go: the yelling goofballs in “Ctrl+V” aren’t spoofs of Gabe and Tyco. They’re spoofs of Ethan and Lucas. So hopefully this clears everything up and OH GOD WHY WON’T THE LAMBS STOP SCREAMING!?!?!??!!?
One Punch Reviews #1: The Critic Webcomics (Webcomics Are Awesome, Shmorky, Comicspresso, and The Ctrl+V Derivitaries)
I’m going to try something new here.
Not every webcomic warrents a full fledged review. There are some webcomics that have very short runs. There are some webcomics that have long expired, yet they remain on the internet like everything does. And there are others that I just don’t have much to write on beyond “I liked it” or “I hated it.”
With “One Punch Reviews,” I’ll put several of these smaller reviews together. And, from time to time, I might be able to bundle a bunch of these smaller reviews under the umbrella of a common theme … like today. For the first group of “One Punch Reviews,” I’m going to look at webcomics that were created specifically to mock other webcomics.
I’ve made it no secret on this site that I’m a fan of the now-defunct “Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad.” It was a breath of fresh air in a world where true criticism was absent and loyal fans were loathe to provide any input other than the webcomic was utterly fabulous and brilliant. Like the bastard offspring of Jay Sherman and a vicious rottweiler, John Solomon and company systematically ripped on every aspect of the webcomics they reviewed — sometimes attacking the writer on a personal level.
Sadly, YWiB came to an end recently. I suspect this was due to a massive and unwanted deviation from the original mission statement. On the SomethingAwful boards, John Solomon (a.k.a. “Fuego Fish”) posted the following: “YWB is on actually-a-hiatus hiatus for a few reasons. First is to discourage the festering s***pile that was the comments section. The negative comments stopped being funny about two weeks ago, and the positive comments are either pointless or make my skin crawl. If I paid the slightest attention to them, I’d probably end up like Maddox. That kind of s*** wakes me in the middle of the night, terrified and screaming. Second is that I’ve been off my game and I need time to recover. Also, this way I (and the others) can build up a bit of a buffer. That way it won’t get to an update day and nobody has anything ready and someone has to rush out some review. This way we can be more competent in our vitriol!” Follow-up comments seem to cast doubts that YWiB will be restarted at all.
However, YWiB was hardly alone in the world of webcomic criticism. Quite a few expressed discontent through thear own webcomics. A webcomic that exists solely to say that other webcomics are bad? Shouldn’t this partially self-mocking concept collapse on itself?
At the very least, it’s something that could get old fast. And that’s the case for most of these examples. Two of the webcomics had very short runs. Another is a long-term project, yet is struggling to move forward. Mockery is a tough thing to sustain. You risk repeating the same criticisms over and over again. The write-up must be both relevant and entertaining. And there’s the possibility that you sympathize with the writer, and you lose your nerve.
So which of the critic webcomics had the sharpest barbs, the keenest of wits, and the bluest blue eyes? Let’s take a look.
Shmorky’s best known for SomethingAwful’s Flash Tub feature, but, in the middle of 2006, he also drew a series of biting webcomic parodies. The comic strips bear his unmistakable style —- characters are rubbery, organic, and world-weary. And, of course, a character peeling off his own face. Popular webcomics like MegaTokyo, PvP, and Penny Arcade are mangled and re-processed with a disturbing sense of humor. Shmorky saves his Grade-A vitriol for the extremely liberal Minimum Security, here disguised as Maximum Vulnerability. Admittedly, Shmorky is not for everyone. However, “Webcomic Reactions to 9/11″ was one of the funniest strips I have ever read. Rating: 4 stars.
Addendum — Believe it or not, I was in the middle of writing this piece when Shmorky posted his latest Flash Tub: an animated parody (R-rated and NSFW) of “Maximum Vulnerability.” Flash is a showcase of Shmorky’s greatest strengths, so I was pleasantly surprised that the original webcomic parodies were equally enjoyable and equally relevant as the new cartoon. Also, I’m surprised that, one year later, Shmorky still has a bone to pick with Stephanie McMillan.