Category Archives: WCO Big Review
Some time ago, I thought about revisiting webcomics that I’d already reviewed, since I was getting an increasing amount of email on it. Girl Genius. Spinnerette. Evil Diva. But I knew I couldn’t move forward unless I revisited this particular sore point.
The last time I reviewed Sluggy Freelance, I concluded it with the following:
(Part Two coming … in about two years. Seriously, when the hell is that damn space moose going to shut uuuuuuppppppppppp?!?!??!)
That was a joke. I was actually planning on reviewing the remaining comic in a couple month’s time. If you recall, I’d given my initial review of Sluggy Freelance a positive score. However, Ocean’s Unmoving II is when I decided I could go no further. Everything had gotten so bogged down by that point. I was perfectly, PERFECTLY happy to drop Sluggy Freelance and never, ever have to look at it ever again. Life was too short to have to deal with the talking space moose over again.
Well, it’s two years later. Talk about self-fulfilling prophecies.
So here we go! The follow up review that dozens of readers asked for! Pete Abrams’ Sluggy Freelance — this time, covering the era in between “Oceans Unmoving” and “Oceans Unmoving II”, which spans from between 2005 to 2006. It inspires very polarizing opinions. Mention “Oceans Unmoving” and you will inspire either wistful remembrance or deep seated loathing. Admittedly, I’ve run across more the latter. “Dear Lord, Oceans Unmoving isn’t working”, says Websnark’s Eric Burns-White. “Somewhere around Oceans Unmoving II, I started forgetting to tune in weekly”, says Jackson Ferrell. But there are also some blog posts that I’ve run across that Oceans Unmoving is actually well structured, and overall a better re-read than the previous story (that I liked) where Torg was battling demons in another dimension.
Let’s dig in, shall we?
Listen: Bun Bun has come unstuck in time.
After man first set foot on the moon, young kids dreamed of voyaging to other planets. After all, if human beings can put their footprints on soil not of this earth, how hard can it be to, say, go to Mars? As it turns out… very hard. Universe Today estimates that the journey would take 250 days. And that’s the nearest planet. How long is it going to take to get to the moons of Jupiter? To the rings of Saturn? Heck, are we even going to get out of the solar system?
So we resign ourselves to the fate that most deep space exploration is going to have to be conducted by robots and computers. Like Voyager 2 and it’s ground breaking tour through the outer planets. Or Mars rover Curiosity, journeying the red planet to unearth new scientific discoveries. Is it as thrilling as Neil Armstrong hopping off a lunar lander? Maybe not. At the same time, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel a pang of empathy when the Spirit rover got stuck in sand. Sure, it was just a piece of machinery. And yet, it had sort of anthropomorphized into a poor little explorer stuck on a weird alien world.
James Anderson’s Ellie on Planet X is the story of one such space probe. this one, though, is a whole lot more adorable than anything assembled by NASA. Well, maybe except for Sojourner. That one was pretty darned cute.
You can say many things about webcomic veteran Kris Straub. Maybe you can say that for some reason he has an almost pathological fear of nostrils. Or that he replace the first letter of his name to a “Ch” to avoid gender confusion. Or that his beard is weird. Like I said, many things.
One thing that you cannot say, though, is that he has no ideas. Kris Straub is the sort of man where any fool thought pops into his head, and he has to go and make a webcomic about it. A webcomic space opera? Sure. Done. Got it. A comic about a struggling band? On it, buddy. A suit made out of chainsaws?
When you think about it, by the way, chainsawsuit (reviewed here) provides the perfect outlet for an ideas man. A thought pops up, and a hastily drawn comic later — BAM!!! — it’s the latest hit on Reddit, garnering tens of upvotes. In one of the Webcomic Weekly podcasts, Straub marvels how the comic was sort of done as a lark, but it turned out to be the one picking up the most views. I suspect, more than anything, that the format fit him like a glove … much like blogging about webcomics, for me, has given me a wide-ranging platform for my racist polemics.
The latest joint by the bearded man with an aversion for the olfactory senses comes in the form of Broodhollow. This time, Straub invites you to enter his particular vision of horror! Only it’s set around the turn of the 20th Century. And it’s still nominally a comedy. And people still don’t have noses.
Seriously, noses are for ethnic people.
One of the most mockable aspects of anime is when the characters have a big brother/little relationship when the two characters are not actually related. (And, let’s face it, sometimes when they are.) There’s usually a sizable age difference. The girl will be barely into her teens, and the guy will be college age or older. The girl is typically portrayed as somewhat infantile, especially when mewling something along the lines of “onneeeeeiiiiisaaaannnn!” (Alternately, “neeeesannnnnnn!”) The guy, on the other hand, is some aloof, emotionally distant dude who appends the heroine’s name with “-chan.” While this is typically portrayed as sibling closeness, there’s a little bit of creepiness in the subtext of how that same closeness can easily translate into something more serious. (And it can get really weird when it actually does happen.)
In Strays by Samantha Whitten and Stacey Pefferkorn, we’re introduced to a young 12-year-old girl named Meela. She’s homeless and trying to survive in the big outdoors by herself. Suddenly, a fight breaks down nearby, which destroys her rickety lean-to. She meets the 28-year-old Feral. Feral, while being a silent badass, takes some pity on Meela and decides to let her tag along.
So many alarms were going off in my head.
So many alarms.
(Incidentally, I was writing this on the day before Easter — a huge shopping day, due to the many sales at the mall — while sitting at a window facing an American Girl doll store, which is abundantly populated by many tiny girls. I imagined a terrible scenario where someone called security, and they confiscated my laptop which currently has the first paragraph written up without any further context. I think that chances were high that I would’ve had to register my name on a list of not very nice people. These are the sorts of sacrifices I make for you, dear readers. Blogging is more dangerous than it sounds.)
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.