Monthly Archives: November 2009
AV Club has been doing Best of the Decade lists all month, many of which have been excellent and surprising. Recently, they released their Best Comics of the Decade. Two webcomics made the cut, and they’re accompanied by interesting observations about the medium:
Achewood, Chris Onstad (achewood.com, 2001-present)
This was the decade when webcomics tried to step up and prove they deserve a place alongside the great newspaper strips of the past, but Chris Onstad’s Achewood is one of the few that’s proven worthy of the challenge. Hiding some powerfully good storytelling behind simple art, Achewood quickly evolved from a reliably funny gag strip to a still funny but surprisingly deep character-driven comedy that’s stayed sharp no matter what bizarre direction it’s veered in. Ray and Roast Beef, the central funny-animal protagonists—human-like in their bad behavior, if nothing else—form the strip’s spine, and Onstad has found humor and meaning in their enjoyably quirky argot and exploration of the meaning of adult friendships. When he wants to go for more broad or surreal humor, he’s been able to draw on a bench of supporting characters as deep as any great sitcom’s.
American Elf, James Kochalka (americanelf.com/Top Shelf, 1998-present)
Billed as “James Kochalka’s Collected Sketchbook Diaries,” the three volumes (and counting) of American Elf offer far more than the solipsistic scribbling of yet another autobiographical cartoonist. Limiting himself to a maximum of four panels per day of his life, Kochalka distills oceans of poignancy into tidy, even Zen-like teacups. Kochalka’s strips, as always, possess a deceptively innocuous virtuosity, and his prosaic yet dreamlike anecdotes about daily life, fatherhood, and videogames controlled by erect penises deserve multiple readings—not to mention recognition for making a seamless crossover between webcomic and graphic novel. Above all, though, American Elf is drop-dead funny, and Kochalka’s organic, semisweet humor skims self-deprecation without plunging into self-loathing.
I’ve got a pretty embarrassing confession to make: I was pretty damn excited when AMC started airing commercials of The Prisoner remake. I told everyone within earshot about it. “Man, are you going to be watching Prisoner?” I’d say. “It looks totally sweet! Watch it watch it watch it!” I planned my weekend around watching it, even flipping channels from a riveting Patriots-Colts match-up on Sunday Night Football. The special effects looked slick, and changing the setting from an island to a desert not only looked scenic, but also opened up the possibility of new twists to the original. Plus it starred Jim Caviezel and Ian McKellen. You heard that right: Ian Friggin’ McKellen. The man who made Gandalf the Grey a believable parable for the Civil Rights Movement. There’s no WAY this was anything but must see TV!
And I’m not even that huge of a Prisoner fan. I’d only seen three episodes beforehand: “Arrival,” “The Chimes of Big Ben”, and the ridiculously trippy finale “Fall Out.” Plus I was indoctrinated by all “The Prisoner” pop culture references, mainly the infamous Simpsons episode where Homer ends up on … The Island. (“Why a balloon?” “Shut up! That’s why!”) There’s so much potential in a remake: perhaps we could get new, fresh resolutions to a lot of the unanswered questions in the original!
So I watched the remake and … well.. in the words of MST3K‘s The Mads: “Sandstorm. Saaaaaannnnndddstoooorrrmmmm. Deeeeeep Hurrrttttiiinnnggg.”
In the first two episodes, you get maybe 5 minutes of awesomeness (any appearance of Rover and most of Ian McKellan’s scenes) and 120 minutes of moping, “surreal” imagery that really wasn’t all that weird, and uninteresting secondary characters. I tried to like this remake. By God, did I ever try. Even after my initial disappointment, I tuned in to the conclusion on Wednesday, just to see how what the AMC series would tie it all together. I fell asleep only about 10 minutes in. Does Jim Caviezel dance to “Dem Bones” while robed judges in half-black, half-white masks cheer on? I have no idea. The Wikipedia plot summary doesn’t give me much hope, though, because the secret behind The Village sounds LAME AS ALL HELL.
At the same time, AMC launched a webcomic — I’m sorry, “online graphic novel” — to expand on The Prisoner mythos. It can be found here at the AMC site. Now, given that I hated, hated, HATED AMC’s The Prisoner, you’ve got to ask yourself: why in the world would I ever even bother to read The Prisoner webcomic? Well, I was partly driven by due dilligence and partly driven by morbid curiosity. I also held a small, irrational glimmer of hope, too, that there might be a chance The Prisoner webcomic could surpass the TV show as the standard bearer for the modern day Prisoner canon.
You want to know what’s really subjective? Top ten lists. No two people will ever agree on what the best ten of anything is as long as people have the ability to think for themselves. Isn’t merely the act of putting together such a list an example of arrogance? Probably.
Still, we love lists like the one I’m compiling below for one big reason: its fun to argue why something made the list, and why things were left off.
So, as we head into the Holiday Season and close out the aughts, here’s my list of what I think are the Ten Best Webcomics of the Decade (2000-2009): The Second Decade of Webcomics.
These aren’t the most influential — otherwise Penny Arcade would be a shoe-in. And since we’re talking about The Decade, longetivity counts — so, sorry Gastrophobia. This is a list of webcomics I enjoyed because they told great stories, opened readers to different sorts of humor, and basically stuck with me for some reason or other.
Each of these are a great credit to the new genre/medium known as “webcomics” and show that, in some cases, the outlaw world of webcomics can produce comics that are heads and shoulders superior to their boring, predictable print counterparts.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this webcomic. Gunnerkrigg Court‘s artwork is beautiful and unique. Tom Siddell tells a mysterious story set in a sprawling Gormenghast-style city that mashes up fantasy with science fiction. While this is the sort of place where fairies and robots coexist, Gunnerkrigg Court feels natural and not at all contrived. The highly likable cast includes Antimony, a wide-eyed girl with destiny written all over her, and Reynardine, a stuffed animal who is more than meets the eye. I loved this comic so much, I reviewed it twice. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: if there is only one webcomic you will read in your entire life, read Gunnerkrigg Court.
Kate Beaton’s comic has achieved the impossible: she’s managed to make Canadian history interesting. Man, I doubt Canadians even find Canadian history interesting. She pokes fun at other events in history as well by showing us that, really, were those bygone figures really different from us? Is it so implausible that the Bronte sisters would be dishing on distasteful men or that, as above, suffragettes would spend just as much time hitting on the dudes as they would protesting? Hark! A Vagrant makes jokes based on a weird, universal truth: human nature is pretty much the same, no matter what era.
Can old school cartooning can be adapted to and be made new for audiences online? Now, Gunshow and its predecessor, Horribleville aren’t for everyone. They’re vulgar and crass; the fart jokes of webcomics. Still, anyone can make a poop joke. What make’s KC Green’s webcomics so special is his unique brand of rubbery and hyperkinetic artwork. KC’s drawings — in some ways reminiscent of Looney Tunes and Spumco — is goddamned hilarious. It’s great to know that in a webcomic world where everything seems to rely on sterile Flash drawings, there’s someone out there who can make you laugh the old-fashioned way: by drawing someone with a smile that’s goofy as hell.
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Ah, 100 reviews.
This is truly a milestone in the annals of The Webcomic Overlook lore. True, I’ve also written 20+ smaller reviews, which are actually longer an more elaborate than the earlier Webcomic Overlooks. Plus all those reviews I wrote for ComixTalk and Comic Fencing (all lovingly catalogued on this very site).
Still, 100 reviews and 500k page views is a hell of a milestone. So a big thank you to all the readers who have been following The Webcomic Overlook all this time. I seriously would not be writing these columns if it were not for you, your input, and your enthusiasm.
Now, let’s get past the valedictorian speech and on with the review. To commemorate the 100th, I asked you, the readers, on the Twittersphere — and if that term hasn’t been coined yet, I’m totally going to claim it — which webcomic I should review: xkcd or PHD? In an awesome demonstration of my Twitter prowess, I got four whole replies. One vote went to PHD, one vote went to Girls With Slingshots (automatically disqualified because it was not one of the options), one vote went to xkcd, and one vote went to something called kxcd.
I think the latter was written by bRYAN NOORSOOMAIKXCD. (And yes, that reply WAS from Sarah Zero writer Ace Plughead.)
I had strong inclinations to do a review of PHD. It’s a curious, long-lived webcomic in its own right, attracts audiences beyond the typical webcomic spectrum, and yet doesn’t typically get much attention when discussion turns to webcomics. I may still review it some day. But I decided to settle on Randall Munroe’s xkcd after all. Because deep down inside, I really am a glutton for page visits.