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.
If you spend any time with webcomics, chances are you’re going to run into something written or created by T Campbell. Mr. Campbell’s flagship work is the high school drama Penny & Aggie (reviewed here), which he co-created with artist Gisèle Lagacé. Yet, this comic writer has done much more: Rip & Teri, Search Engine Funnies, Cool Cat Studio, and the long-running Fans! Along with artist Amy Mebberson, he created Pop Star for the “Rising Stars of Manga” contest at TOKYOPOP, which would later become the comic known as Divalicious! T also co-created the webcomic transcription tool Oh No Robot with Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics.
I contacted T by e-mail, and he was very gracious about answering several questions I had, including a few about a project that he nowadays regrets: his book, A History of Webcomics.
The Webcomic Overlook: You wrote A History of Webcomics, which was published in 2006. Now, I haven’t read it, though I have followed its progenitor, the History of Online Comics essays at Comixtalk. What in the world compelled you to take on that project?
T Campbell: Idiocy? Hubris? Maybe I was just tired of being moderately respected by my peers.
Just as well that you’ve read those essays instead of the book, because they were much better-received, and, to my mind, much better. The book took the idea too far, and I wound up alienating a lot of people I respected, all for a project that I can’t even look at today. I still sort of like my old fiction, where the amateurishness gives it a goofy charm, but if I could burn every copy of that book I’d be happier and live longer.
WCO: I keep trying to imagine how you managed to compile the information for your History of Online Comics series, and I get a headache… especially when I think about the material from the earliest chapters. How in the world did you manage to gather that information?
TC: Though I looked at books and magazines, most of my research came from the Internet itself, and from interviews. (The Internet Archive is great for recovering lost information, up to a point.) If you do get a copy of the book, you’ll see it has a thick endnotes section. That’s one of the few things I still like about the book: at least I cited my sources and made it easier for someone else to do a good book when the time is right. They should have been footnotes, not endnotes, but oh well.
One of the criticisms of the book that I have come to agree with is that I didn’t rely enough on interviews. If I absolutely had to do it all over again, I would have socialized more and exercised more patience. And published around 2020.
WCO: Even though it’s only been 2 years or so since the book was published, things have changed a lot in the world of webcomics. Are you considering publishing an updated edition?
TC: Good God, no.
I was thinking about it when the book went to press, which is why it’s labeled “v1.0,” but that was when I was still deluding myself that the problems were minor.
I did a couple of webcomics-coverage projects in the years after History: the “Blowing Bubbles” podcast interviews, and an earlier version of webcomics.com. They were not earth-shattering, but they were a big improvement. But by that point, not many people cared.
These days, I’m happy to focus on scriptwriting, and readers seem happy for me to do so, too.
Does anybody still read Archie comics? Archie and his Riverdale pals haven’t really been relevant since they topped the pop charts with “Sugar Sugar.” I know that there are a bunch of Archie digests available at the grocery store checkout aisle next to the Disney Adventures, so somebody must be reading it. However, there’s something strangely anachronistic about the comic, you know? Some of the recent comics can still be entertaining in their innocence, like Betty’s temporary foray as a goth, but most of the time it’s a sanitized, kid friendly view on high school life that seems straight out of the 60′s.
Which is a shame, because there’s definitely room in the comics world for a lighthearted teen comedy. The manga shelves are filled with many entries into this genre, and readers are eating them up. When you think about it, they’re not too different from the Archie formula. Is the academic rivalry between Yukino Miyazawa and Maho Izawa of Kare Kano any different than the Betty-Veronica blood feud?
You have to wonder: what would Archie comics look like if it were written by someone, who, I don’t know, had at least some clue of how high school teens act in the 21st century?
Today’s Webcomic Overlook reviews “Penny and Aggie“, a comic that seems inspired by both Archie comics and romance manga. The comic was written by T. Campbell (is his first name just “T”? Were his parents letter-philes?) and illustrated by Gisèle Legacé.