Category Archives: alternative webcomic
The Eisner nominees for Best Digital Comic often include some absolutely bizarre entries that look like they were done under some sort of chemical influence. I think Dash Shaw’s Bodyworld may have been one of them, but the geometry-based digressions, while challenging from the standpoint of linear storytelling, were so lucid it makes me doubt my assessment. Still, the webcomic itself was about smoking drugs, so I think it fits in some way. The thing about these sorts of comics is that the writer can wave away inconsistencies, plot holes, and artistic decisions under the catch-all excuse of “Just not getting it.” Which isn’t entirely untrue. But still!
Here’s what you need to know about Michael DeForge’s Ant Comic: the first sequence shows a depiction of two homosexual ants having sex. The second shows some ants marching into a giant ant vagina.
I was tempted to put up an NSFW tag, but I think most curious co-workers looking over your shoulder would have an impossible time figuring out what was going on. Still, probably not something you’d want to recommend for your kids.
Outside of the righteous “Pinball Number Count” by the Pointer Sisters, the Sesame Street song that has always managed to stick in my mind with the tenacity of a hungry Rottweiler is “Garbage Man Blues.” You can watch the video on YouTube here. It’s an ode to recycling and conservation. Footage of garbage trucks in a dingy urban area are accompanied by a tune that sounds vaguely like something from Paul Simon.
The reason I remember it so vividly, though, was because I always misheard the chorus as “Garbage Man Food.” They show all this footage of debris, and all my mind could think was that through some sort of process that stuff could be converted into edible foodstuffs. I remember even asking my dad, “Dad, is this what garbage men eat all day?” And I could remember the look of confusion and disgust that passed across his face that day, as if our moving to America had somehow robbed me of all common sense.
That song ran through my head once again as the mental background music while reading John “Derf” Backderf’s Trashed, a webcomic about the hard-working people who toil in our nation’s waste management industry. (NOTE: The comic is periodically Not Safe For Work.)
Did you know that April is National Poetry Month? Unless you’re an English teacher, my guess is your answer would’ve been, “What’s poetry?” I, frankly, wouldn’t have known either if one of my co-workers didn’t sorta make it a thing over here by posting verses on a nearby board.
The poets.org site tells me that “National Poetry Month is now held every April, when publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, schools and poets around the country band together to celebrate poetry and its vital place in American culture.” There’s a Poem In Your Pocket Day coming up April 26, where you’re supposed to recite verses that you happen to have stored in your shirt pocket. (Good think I checked; I’ve got a week or so to raid my library of dirty limericks.) The site also suggests reading interviews and literary criticism. Now, this is the “Webcomic Overlook,” unfortunately, not the “Poetry Overlook,” so I don’t be tossing out my scathing opinions on Sylvia Plath.
And webcomics can’t be poetry … or … can they? After all, webcomics are visual, and, as poetry critic Jan Schrieber says, poetry is partly defined by sound: “To make that formula a little more explicit, we can say that a poem, being a creature of language, has meanings that are conveyed through linguistic means, and being also a creature of sound (which is not incidental as in prose but structural), has the potential to affect the hearer’s sensibility through auditory stimulus, including rhythmic patterning, the repetition or modulation of phones (speech sounds), and the strategic deployment of silence.”
If I were to dabble in the realm of evoking imagery through aesthetic language, then perhaps one place to start would be with Chilean comic creator Juan Santapau and his webcomic The Secret Knots.
There’s a place in San Francisco called the Tenderloin. It’s a sketchy area filled with crime, drugs, and prostitution. In its past, the neighborhood was filled with boxing gyms, gambling establishments, and speakeasies, and today it remains the same, only replaced with liquor stores and strip clubs.
The seediness is almost a point of cultural pride. Dashiell Hammett, author of the Maltese Falcon, immortalized the area as the base of operations for hard-boiled detective Sam Spade. He elevated the Tenderloin to mythical proportions by transforming it into a place that seethed mystery and danger.
When I visited San Francisco a few years back, I stayed in a hotel a block west of The Tenderloin. Trust me, I wasn’t quite so well versed in San Francisco geopolitics at the time. One thing you notice immediately is that the place is full of homeless people. Generally non-threatening homeless people (at least from what I encountered), but quite numerous nonetheless.
Massive Black Entertainment’s Transient Man is a romantic adventure about the homeless of the Tenderloin. The story is told through a homeless man named Bob who talks to interdimensional beings that aid him on his journey in saving the universe. This high concept premise is already so inherently intriguing that it would have to work incredibly hard to fritter away any goodwill.
A small part of me is fascinated by motion comics. Their creators face an uphill battle that stem from the limitations of the interface. Motion comics exist in that strange netherworld between static comics and animation. They are eye-catching, admittedly. And they attract a lot of attention. Several pundits seem to think that motion comics are what a webcomic should strive to be, unencumbered as they from the static limitations of a page and expanding artistically into realms unknown and embracing the liberating tools available to all that use HTML, Flash, Java, XML, etc.
However, there are drawbacks. Most readers are familiar with them. They are issues that bring into question the definition of “comics”. Unlike with traditional comics, the reader of a motion comic has little to no control over the pacing. When reading a motion comic, the flow becomes intermittently interrupted. You tend to cruise along for segments at a time when suddenly you come to a complete stop. There’s a second or two where you hesitate until you click the prompt to continue. Why is this such a big issue? After all, you still click on the “page forward” link as a reader of a traditional webcomic. However, the action becomes such an integral part of the experience that it become barely noticeable. When watching a cartoon, you don’t click anything at all. But when you’re forced to switch between the two modes, you tend to get self-aware for a moment. The jarring transition between hands-free animation and hands-on comic tends to yank me out of a story.
Yet, there are a lot of motion comics that I do like. Nawlz, for instance, which I gave a positive review here. I think one of the biggest reasons that Nawlz works is how natural the controls felt. Cut scenes didn’t feel overly long. Scene transitions weren’t alienating. You retained the sense of control over the dimension of time, one of the key elements that separate comics from movies and videos.
Not too long ago, Shaun Gardiner sent me a request some time ago to check out his motion comic, The Boy With Nails For Eyes. While he’s currently a resident of the UK, he lived in the Middle East until he was 15. During that time, the first Gulf War broke out. While The Boy With Nails For Eyes can be intentionally esoteric, several elements strike me as autobiographical.
If one were to put together a list of Hall of Fame webcomics, A Lesson Is Learned But the Damage Is Irreversible would easily be a first ballot inductee. It was surreal and dreamlike, pessimistic and funny. After a two year run, though, creator Dale Beran put the comic on hiatus. It was the Buddy Holly to Perry Bible Fellowship‘s Elvis, blazing the trail before the whole genre of surreal webcomics really caught on.
Dale Beran never really disappeared, though. His work went on in The Nerds of Paradise, which is a lot like A Lesson Is Learned only that it sometimes updates instead of never updates.