Category Archives: slice-of-life webcomic
I remember it vividly as if it were yesterday. The skies were clear this morning, but the temperatures were below zero. I had a scarf wrapped around my mouth and nose because it almost felt like ice crystals were forming. I was walking from my the parking lot to the building I work at. It was about a quarter mile walk since city restrictions prevented a parking garage from being built, so the company compensated by making the parking lot very, very large.
Fortunately the walkway was covered. However, as I walked down the path, I noticed something weird. There were lumps on the ground covered in frost. At first, I thought they were leaves. As I looked a little closer though, I discovered to my horror that they were birds. About a hundred birds, all littering the ground, dead and frosted. They’d taken shelter under the roof in an attempt to escape the cold snap. It was in vain. The frost had killed them.
Ryan Andrews, the writer of the Eisner-nominated Our Bloodstained Roof, taps into the same chilling realization that death is senseless, and how guilt has an unforgiving way of making our lives miserable for the rest of our lives.
I think we are entering a somewhat mature era for webcomics. Not necessarily “mature” in the sense of “growing up and getting a job” or “mature” in the way cable channels like Starz and Cinemax use it. (Though there are examples of both if you’re looking for it.) I mean mainly that it’s been around a while. When CAD aped the style of Penny Arcade, there was plenty of hoo-ing and hah-ing that somebody was getting their style ripped off. We’ve reached a day, I think, that if someone copped the same style these days, you could say, rather, that the comic was “influenced by” it’s more well known predecessor.
Can we seriously fault any new webcomic if it builds upon the precedents set by Penny Arcade or Kate Beaton or Scott Kurtz or Pete Abrams? After all, they were the ones who proved what worked and what didn’t. They’re the ones who know the safe route to success. Sure, it somewhat puts the limits of creativity. However, while a very few of us can be Pablo Picassos, most of us would be happy being Norman Rockwells: low in pizzazz, but just high enough in appeal for the masses at large.
These are the thoughts that flitted through my mind while ruminating over Citation Needed, by Christopher J. O’Brien and Amy T. Falcone. It’s a comic that stubbornly conforms to the established narrative as to what a webcomic should be. Namely it’s a roommate webcomic about wacky characters and totally random humor. Which means, bottom line, Citation Needed looks like pretty much every other webcomic ever.
Ah, the alternate universe. Those of us who are familiar with print comics may have heard of Marvel’s Ultimate Line in which all the Marvel characters were re-introduced with new origins set in modern times with none of the prior canon that could scare new readers away. It was a new universe with an established starting point that new readers could enjoy without any prior knowledge of the original continuity. And that’s what we have here today.
Before Scott Kurtz was paving the way for cartoonists to work online, David Willis was a college student with a strip in the paper called Roomies! The strip was enjoyable, and is currently being re-uploaded on a new site, which was part of celebrating its 15th anniversary. The art was blocky, the story telling weak and the tone schizophrenic. Eventually Roomies ended and a sequel series, It’s Walky, came around, a bizarre drama/comedy/action series with even weirder problems with consistent tone. It was an improvement, but oh dear God is it hard to pitch the strip to an outsider without it sounding stupid. “Just trust me, it’s good” tends to be how I go. And the that ended and Shortpacked was launched, which was reviewed here, and also a direct sequel called Joyce and Walky, which was subscription based. Both again were marked improvements although Shortpacked had a slow start but did get much better.
However, it’s hard to get people to read four different webcomics and thousands of strips, especially when the creator was still learning his craft. So, Willis decided to take his 10,000 hours of experience and return to where it all started, college, with the characters everyone loved in a new world. The goal was to make a comic old readers could enjoy but new readers could get into.
And he did a very good job at it.
Dumbing of Age is set at Indiana University with most of the core cast being the freshman class. The over the top theatrics are gone, the premise is much more down to earth, the drama and comedy are much more evenly balanced, characters have more depth and the main villain only exists as a comic book and cartoon character. And we have a comedy about that awkward period of life where you’re trying to figure out what being an adult means.
I read Derf Backderf’s graphic novel My Friend Dahmer not too long ago. It’s an almost sympathetic look at Jeffrey Dahmer, one of Mr. Backderf’s classmates while growing up. The signs of Mr. Dahmer’s decline are obvious. He’s a heavy drinker. He does an impression of a person with cerebral palsy to entertain his classmates. He is into strange hobbies, like dissolving the bodies of tiny animals in acid.
What makes Mr. Backderf’s portrayal to be a little sympathetic, though, is that he points out that the other students he hung around with were almost as bad. Dahmer wasn’t even the most off-putting student Derf knew. In fact, Derf’s story wasn’t picture perfect, either. He pulled horrible phone pranks and messed with the yearbook. He mentioned substance abuse wasn’t so weird in his school in the 70′s. He and his friends even formed a Dahmer Fan Club, which aimed to imitate Dahmer’s weird performance ticks.
Derf really believed then, that before Dahmer’s terrible first murder, he was a guy who could have been saved. That slight glimmer of hope is what the main character in Elaine M. Will’s Look Straight Ahead is reaching for. After one of Jeremy’s psychotic breaks, his friend cut ties with him. “You do realize that now everyone thinks you’re going to start shooting the place up?” he says. It’s a horribly lonely spot, but Jeremy realizes that unless he gets better, his friend might be right.
I don’t know about Tipsy and Ponngo other than that they are a couple and that they hail from the Philippines. I’ve been to that country a few times, so I’m going to go ahead and assume that, in real life, they look nothing like the blue and pink blobs that we see in Googly Gooeys. This very colorful little webcomic chronicles the silly challenges of a modern relationship … which seems to be increasingly dominated by LED screens that are growing ever so small.
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.)
I’ve heard it said that people in Seattle are insular. It’s no secret that it rains a lot in these parts. Summers are usually just a months break between rain showers. It’s not unheard of to have thirty day streaks of continual rain in the winter. As a result, people tend to spend a lot of time indoors. People, then, don’t interact as much as people in warm climates. So while Seattle folks aren’t exactly unfriendly, they are the kind of people who would prefer to keep to themselves and avoid confrontation in general.
In John S. Troutman’s webcomic, Mary Elizabeth’s Sock, a fellow by the name of Basil has just moved into town. However, someone’s in his house. After panickedly hurling a pop tart at the intruder, his discovers it’s one of his neighbors: a robust woman named Mary Elizabeth. (She of the sock.) She realized that someone new had moved in when the door was cracked open, so she let herself in to welcome him.
At this point, I was thinking to myself, “What the hell, comic? That’s not how it works! I can see this sort of think happening in Biloxi or Wichita, but here in Seattle we cringe at the mere thought of invading another person’s privacy!” It turns out, though, that Mary Elizabeth’s Sock takes place in a strange, alternate universe Seattle: a world where things aren’t played straight, and sometimes people are super detectives or robots for no particular reason.
What makes you happy? Maybe it’s spending quality time in the arms of a loved one. Maybe it’s being at the beach while the setting sun lights up the clouds with an ethereal palette of purple, red, and gold. Maybe it’s someone liking your Instagram photo that you snapped with your iPhone of two wet leaves on the steps of your house.
Or maybe it’s Chicken McNuggets. That’s the answer that Ronnie would give. Ronnie is the chubby, insecure protagonist (and I’m assuming the author stand-in) in Ronnie Filyaw’s Whomp!