Monthly Archives: January 2011

The Webcomic Overlook #150: Piled Higher and Deeper (PHD)

A long, long time ago in a college far, far away, young El Santo went to college. It was a small technical school, one that had a lot of math stuff but not much on the humanities or the liberal arts. El Santo really loved comics, tough, and he never gave up his childhood dreams about drawing for a living. So he hung around whatever awful in-school art exhibits he could and took all the arts courses he could find in non-affiliated arts schools. He also drew some doodles on paper and managed to get them printed in the college newspaper.

I have a certain nostalgia for the pre-internet days, when the most you could hope for was getting a comic published in the college rag. There were both benefits and drawbacks. The audience was smaller… but there was also a very good chance you’d be running into your readers when you were headed off to class, which meant immediate feedback.

I remember browsing through other college-published strips, and I noticed a lot of them had to do specifically with college life. That made sense, really. In a way, these strips were a more honest about life in college in than pretty much any other media. Movies and TV shows are primarily interested in grabbing viewers, especially the lucrative 18-34 demographic. So that means selling teenagers on the idea of college an endless fantasy Bacchanalia.

Most college strips I’ve seen, though, paint a less rosy picture. They touch on money struggles, study groups, and the constant feeling of tiredness. Which, frankly is how I remember college. When was the last time anyone in a movie college studied, anyway?

Which brings me to Jorge Cham’s Piled Higher and Deeper (or PHD for short) the quintessential college comic strip that made the jump to the internet. Mr. Cham began PHD when he entered grad school at Stanford in 1997, which means PHD has been going on for a remarkable 13 years.

Man, shouldn’t the characters have graduated by now?

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Most deserving WCCA Best/Outstanding Comic winner?

So with the Webcomic List Awards results approaching, I decided to take a look at its immediate predecessor, the Web Cartoonists’ Choice Award (WCCA). Ah, yes, the illustrious institution that gave awards to both Jack and Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi. The Awards ran from 2001 through 2008, and gave Best/Outstanding honors to eight different comics. Of these, which do you think was the most deserving?

Captain Nihilist, where can I find real horror/experimental webcomics?

Art by Ralph Steadman

Reader Bey Lee sent me an e-mail with regard to the “Incoherent Ramblings” article I linked to from Savage Critics. He challenged one of the revered tenets of webcomics, as query where he could webcomics of a certain specific style.

That one article you linked to suggested that you could find webcomics of near every premise if you just looked. But finding stuff in the vein I want is hard now that I no longer play videogames.

Where’s the horror comics? I looked around and besides Split Lip it’s pretty much bog standard stuff with stuff from horror thrown in as a way to say “hey this is different” which would be fine if I wanted a Questionable Content imitation where all the chicks hanging around Marten are sexy zombies or cthulhiod superheroes, but none of it’s really spine tingling stuff.

Are there any webcomic artists who draw more inspiration from Ralph Steadman than from manga and Moebius?

Does anything do the odd outsider art shtick like Monster Killers without devolving into lolrandom?

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Pirates no longer allowed to practice seven habits

Seems like the Franklin Covey folks, publishers of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, have gotten to Schlock Mercenary‘s multi-Hugo-Award-nominee Howard Tayler:

About a week ago we got a nice letter from Franklin Covey letting us know that the number “7” in conjunction with the word “habits” was their trademark, and that in order to keep their trademark they needed to vigorously defend it. The words “cease” and “desist,” while not trademarked, appeared in the letter as well. But it was worded as nicely as such a thing can be.

I know just enough about trademark law to know that this is true. If you let somebody infringe upon your mark, eventually it’s not yours anymore and anybody can make stuff with your mark or logo on it. This is why Disney is so aggressive about Mickey’s silhouette, and why if you look closely at advertisments for certain Android OS devices you’ll see that “Droid” is a trademark of Lucasfilm, and is used under license.

Suffice it to say, I can send up Covetous Franklinstein just fine without violating any of their septuagenitally habitual trademarks. (Case in point. Moving along…)

This brings us to the retcon. It is large. That one book we keep mentioning with bits in it like ‘If you’re leaving scorch-marks you need a bigger gun’ is now called The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries. What used to be called “rules” are now called “maxims.” I wasn’t legally obligated to make that additional change, but it has the added effect of reducing confusion between Maxim 34 (which concerns scorch marks) and Rule 34 of The Internet (which posits that if a thing exists, a decidedly ‘nographous fetish site will exist for it online.)

I guess that explains why Schlock Mercenary gets a cease and desist, while Dilbert‘s Scott Adams can publish a comic strip compilation with a similar sounding name. Don’t ever pair “7” and “Habits” together, people.

EVER.

(Franklin Covey is watching you. Those eyes. Those horrible, piercing eyes….)

(h/t ComixTalk)

The Webcomic Overlook #149: Strawberry Death Cake

Strawberry Death Cake, written and illustrated by Elliot Dombo, bears more than a few similarities to a notoriously banned webcomic strip. I’m speaking of Penny Arcade‘s parody piece: a sexy drawing of a tarted-up (heh) Strawberry Shortcake lampooning American McGee’s Alice video game. That very comic got Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins in trouble with American Greetings, which led to some legal mumbo jumbo, which led to that particular comic strip not existing officially. Also everybody got a nice lesson in “fair use” … mainly that no one has any idea what the hell “fair use” even means.

But back to Strawberry Death Cake. Is it possible that this very webcomic was inspired by the parody strip? There’s the title, which features both the words “Strawberry” and “Cake.” Its heroine look like a sexy Goth stripper out of Suicide Girls’ central casting. Penny Arcade has a demon cat; Strawberry Death Case has a demon moose. The parallels are interesting, no?

Curiously, Strawberry Death Cake is more similar to the Penny Arcade parody than to the actual freckle-faced youth in the strawberry-print bonnet. I mean, there’s no strawberries, and there’s definitely no cake. So… why is this comic even called Strawberry Death Cake? Was Goth Panty Flasher too on the nose?

Ah, THAT got your attention!

I should probably give you some fair warning ahead of time: assume, dear reader, that every link is not work safe. Oh, there’s no straight up nudity, if that’s what you’re looking for. However, if your boss catches you looking at underage underwear models in striped nylons, I have a feeling he won’t be giving that raise you asked for.

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Incoherent rambling makes a “Best Of” comic critics list

Chris Mautner over at Robot 6 posted several of what he considered the Best Online Comics Criticism of 2010. While yours truly wasnot on this list (nor should I be, since I’m more of a “reviewer” than “critic”), there was one odd piece — not Top Five winner’s circle material, but one that Mautner voted for — about webcomics on The Savage Critics site entitled “Does Abhay Rambling Incoherently about Webcomics Sound Fun? Oh. Oh well. Whoops.” It was published around this time last year, January of 2010. A few meaty excerpts:

If you google “overstimulated“– the seventh link google finds, at the time of this essay, is for a webcomic.

The Webcomic List lists 15,075 comics at the time of this essay. That isn’t the total number of webcomics in existence; that’s just the number of webcomics that signed up for that particular website. So: more than 15,075. Maybe a little more, maybe significantly more– either way, more.

Scott McCloud on March 20, 2009: “I expect webcomics to continue to grow in number and importance to the comics scene in coming years. […] I was saying that I expected it to be a decade or two before webcomics ‘slowed down’ — i.e., stopped growing.”

More and more and ever more.

How do you find the good one?

I wanted to write about the future. What does the future look like?

Takeaway: there are sure a lot of webcomics.

If you’ve never heard of either, can you tell me without looking which is available for free and which you have to pay for?

Answer: the previous page was free, on the internet; the latter page, Image Comics charged $3.50, for the pleasure.

How about art-comics? Here is a page of comic I strongly disliked recently, Danica Novgorodoff’s SLOW STORM. That one costs about $18.00.

Takeaway: if you’re going to be disappointed, tis better to be disappointed for free.

If the future is digital comics, if the future is webcomics: how do people expect to cope with the deluge of material? How is anyone expected to find what they consider signal in that noise? Surfing through webcomics, past Achewood, past Kate Beaton, past “respectability,” it’s hard for me to stop and pay attention to any one comic. There’s always some other comic to surf over to, you know? With that level of choice, how do you know when to stop and actually spend time on any one thing? How do you know there’s not something just a little better a couple clicks away?

How do you find what you like? How do you find a needle in a haystack? How do you find a cliche to type into an essay? You ask me for one because you know how much I love them. You’re welcome.

Webcomics, for me, are a prime example of the Paradox of Choice. The paradox of choice (which I think Jeff alluded to previously) describes how greater consumer choices invariably lead to greater consumer anxiety. Consumers with fewer choices buy more, are happier with their choices. But “consumer hyperchoice“? That usually leads to “frustration, fatigue and regret.” I know a lot of people are waiting for an iTunes for comics, but frustration, fatigue and regret? Dude, that sounds like a stone bummer.

I probably shouldn’t worry. There’s a lot of free music out there, and that hasn’t stopped iTunes. I’m not the guy to ask about that– between youtube and mp3 blogs, not counting concerts, I haven’t paid more than $10 in a year for music in more than a decade. But I guess somebody out there is…? The internet didn’t stop Lady Gaga. Neither did ears. Go figure.

You can say: “Oh, there should be critics who guide you to the good stuff. 95% of everything is shit, so we need critics to find that 5%.” Who can possibly wade through tens of thousands of comics in a meaningful way? With the number & range of webcomics both predicted only to increase, what will a “knowledgeable opinion” even look like?

If you believe that 95% of everything is shit, and only 5% is good-stuff, if you accept “Sturgeon’s Law”, at 15,000 comics? That means there should be about, oh, 750 great webcomics in existence. I would bet that I can name maybe … twenty…? And I like less than I can name.

Takeaway: only 5% of a sturgeon is edible.

I remember reading this piece way back when (there’s a link in there to a ComixTalk roundtable I participated in), but I didn’t put a up link to it… probably because it wasn’t under consideration for Best Online Comics Criticism yet. Anyway, check it out and see what webcomic criticism looks like through the eyes of someone who’s clearly Robo-trippin’.

Random Quickies: Scandinavia And The World

Scandinavia And The World (formerly hosted at humoncomics.com), created by Danish cartoonist Humon, plays around with a lot of national stereotypes. Finns a bunch of stabby drunks, Icelanders a bunch of fantasy obsessives, Swedes a bunch of overachievers, and Scandinavians in general eat gross rotten fish. But you may also be interested to learn that, though the eyes of this particular cartoonist at least, America is the redneck meat-headed kid of England, Australians are cool surfer dudes, and Canadians have a disturbing amount of body hair (probably safe for work, but… body hair). It’s definitely rather political, though a lot of that is somewhat defused by the overwhelming cuteness (which, when you think of it, isn’t that different from the South Park way).

And, hey, this comic inspired me to make a “Detroit is Finland, Chicago is Sweden” analogy at work to explain why I can never root for a Chicago sports team! Go, globalism!

The Webcomic Overlook #148: Guilded Age

So what am I playing on my Xbox these days? Most recently, I’ve been working my way through Dragon Age: Origins, BioWare’s spiritual follow-up to its Baldur’s Gate roots. Yeah, yeah, I know the game’s be out pretty much forever, but I’m sorta patient like that: wait for a game to be out for a year or two, then pick it up for cheap on eBay.

Anyway, the game’s got me incredibly hooked, reminding me much of my incredibly anti-social habits when I picked up CRPG’s in the first place. Going to bed late. Sneaking in a quick game before heading out for work. Hanging around message board forums to discuss the incredibly similarities between this game and Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series. Actually finishing Eye of the World and finally getting past the prologue to The Great Hunt. Getting disappointed stares from my wife for wasting time on video games and/or bringing a reading light to bed so I can read a paperback.

In other words, great times. Great times.

So, while on this fantasy high, I sought out a fantasy comic steeped deep in the high fantasy of the Tolkien tradition. I’m talking elves, dwarves, epic quests, medieval castles, and the like with traditional comic-style artwork. Stick figures, a la Order of the Stick, and pixel art weren’t going to do it for me. Neither were manga/anime interpretation. I have nothing against them. It’s just that that style, the artwork, plots, mood, and mopey protagonists are almost always lifted from Final Fantasy. When you’re on a Dragon Age/Wheel of Time binge, that ain’t gonna feed my fantasy jones.

Fortunately, I ran into Guilded Age. The webcomic was written by veteran scribe T Campbell (who I interviewed here and who wrote, among many other things, Penny & Aggie, which I reviewed here) and Phil Kahn and illustrated by Erica Henderson and John Waltrip. I imagine that these creators — or T Campbell at least — were inspired by the very same Dragon Age game. After all, it follows a similar plot line: a group of individuals from several different backgrounds band together to form an alliance that will, in the end, save the kingdom.

That, and the fact that some of the characters collect XBox achievement points.

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