Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Feature: Small Comics

Welcome to a special feature on small comics. Today, we begin with a Venn Diagram.

The left circle represents excellence in cartooning: comics within this circle are well-written, visually appealing, and generally awesome. The left circle represents prominence: these are the comics that everyone and his grandmother has heard of. Thus, we have excellent and prominent comics, prominent but not excellent comics, and excellent but not prominent comics. It is comics in this latter category that we celebrate today.

With the advent of Ryan North's ad auction system Project Wonderful, it suddenly becomes possible to know, roughly, the daily readership of most webcomics you encounter, simply by checking the comic's PW stats. Project Wonderful is crazy popular with webcartoonists. All of the comics featured today have an average daily readership of less than a thousand, but they're still worth a look. Check 'em out.

The Robot is Sad
Updates: MWF
Style: b&w newspaper-strip
The Robot is Sad does not have as many robots as you would expect. Certainly there is a robot, and he feels emotions, but there are also other things. The strip doesn't have a continuity so much as it has themes: inept dinosaurs, friend archetypes, medieval warfare, and Kurt Vonnegut-flavored video games. It tends toward visual rather than verbal humor, a couple of times using the visual gag to break the fourth wall, but it also has a little observational humor to mix it up. Sometimes it is crass, but it's generally amusing. Check it out.

Unwinder's Tall Comics
Updates: Saturdays
Style: long-form, color, penciled linework
Unwinder's Tall Comics is about a kid named Unwinder who looks like one of those Roswell aliens and has bad ideas that he pursues relentlessly. He fabricates and propagages his own internet meme, writes his own commercials to sell to Taco Bell, reads ponderous science fiction novels, and thinks up about a million different ways to turn a rock concert into a practical joke. For example, imagine if the band takes the stage and tunes their instruments...only to turn out to be an acappella group, so that the musicians just stand around looking bored. As a person with a penchant for bad decisions and thoroughly unmarketable creative ideas, I can sympathize with the character of Unwinder.
The art style of Unwinder's Tall Comics is weird. The linework is done in pencil and is very sketchy, which contrasts with the bold and polished color scheme. What's really weird is that it sort of works. From time to time it delves into other art styles--Unwinder sometimes reviews fictional photocomics, and for the science-fiction-novel comic, comic creator Eli Parker collaborated with a friend to create the covers for the fictional sci-fi series Khron's Wager. There's a weird sort of seven-comic interlude where Parker diverts into the realm of Victorian-style steampunk, which truthfully I didn't find too interesting. Also, as you might imagine, tall comics are often meta.
Anyway: Unwinder's Tall Comics, worth checking out. Next up:

Calamities of Nature
Updates: Mondays & Thursdays
Style: full-page, color
Calamities of Nature is a testament to the power of consistency. It updates dependably, has a solid and polished art style, and can be counted on to deliver clever, amusing comics. The woodland-creature cast is a pretty standard-fare ensemble of personalities--Aaron the deadpan snarker, Alp the gadgeteer-genius weirdo, Ferd the overenthusiastic wacky guy, and Harold the Nice Guy Who Finishes Last--but they hold their own fairly well as a means to the humor. For example, when Aaron and Ferd create miniature copies of themselves and fail to dispose of them in a timely fashion, the mini-duplicates run amok in an amusing montage of miscreancy. Things escalate as the crew tracks down the mini-dupes. Another good series of comics is the Wal-Mart exposé, in which Ferd and Aaron take a close look at that iconic institution of American consumerism. A theme of Calamities is social commentary, which gives it just enough bite to keep you coming back.
The art is particularly solid. It's nothing complex, but it's always polished, employs a pleasing color palette, and uses a combination of hatching and cel-shading to add a little depth to the art. Backgrounds strike a good balance on the level of detail. If anything, Calamities shows that you don't have to be a Dresden Codak in order to have effective and high-quality artwork.
In short, Calamities of Nature is nothing too ambitious, but it's got clever jokes and good execution all around. Give it a look.

Boxer Hockey
Updates: Monday/Wednesday evenings
Style: full-page, color, early comics b&w
With a name like Boxer Hockey, you're probably expecting a sexy-antics comic in the vein of Anders Loves Maria or Least I Could Do. Bzzzt, wrong.
Boxer Hockey, as the prefatory strip explains, is a fictional sport, essentially a cross between soccer, hockey, and a brutal gang beating. Points are scored by delivering a live frog into the opposing team's goal; the three runners are allowed to carry one "stick" each, which can be any sort of blunt object, and the goalie is allowed gloves. There is a five-point penalty for killing the frog. There is no such penalty for violence against other players. Have fun.
The inspired, violent madness that ensues is dynamically illustrated, with huge manga-esque action scenes and bold colors. Seriously, this stuff is good. And BH is nothing if not gratuitous. There's plenty of manic action: leaping, charging, passing, crunching, bludgeoning, and parodies of "dramatic" visual cues like close-ups and hyper-dynamic camera angles. The time between matches is spent with slapstick nonsense, timing gags, and gross-out humor. Think BASEketball: the Anime, and you're getting the vibe here.
All of this craziness is propelled by the five personalities of Team Mekpen, hailing from Alabama, USA in the International Boxer Hockey League. The main character, Rittz Tibbits, is one of those guys who sees the world through a lens of crazy, as if his brain had faulty wiring or had simply received too many bludgeonings. He's also kind of naive. Then there's Skip, the team captain and straight man--because with Rittz around, you need a straight man just to keep the kid from killing himself. Add in the team's goalie "Gay Chuck," who isn't gay, but everyone calls him that because it gets under his skin, bulky stoical power-player Billy, and an irresponsible Tom Selleck look-alike for a coach, and you've got the team. Storylines involve major matches with such teams as Japan and Australia, travels between games, and the occasional airplane crash spurred by Rittz's hyperactive irresponsibility. Sometimes there are out-of-continuity tangents, like when Rittz kills Santa Claus, or when Santa Claus kills Rittz.
Boxer Hockey. Fun times. Check it out.

And now it's your turn. What obscure comics do you like? Have you stumbled across any hidden gems? Maybe you know of a webcomic by a talented friend or grandmother. Share your favorite small comics with us.


Tam Nguyen said...

I think crude sounds cooler than crass. Crass reminds me of the Crass Clown from Yugioh, which, by the way, was a very effective card when used in conjunction with either another Crass Clown or a Dream Clown along with some sort of attack restriction card such as Messenger of Peace and Gravity Bind, which was made even more effective with the late introduction of Marauding Captain in the Legacy of Darkness set. Unfortunately, with the release of the more effective Swarm of Scarabs and Swarm of Locusts cards a few sets later, the Clown pair were rendered obsolete for the gaming environment.

I-I guess what I am trying to say here is that although the Crass Clown was useless when it was released in the Metal Raiders era, it was very effective for a brief four set era spanning from Magic Ruler up until Pharaonic Guardian.

Jackson said...

An excellent point, Tam. Also, let us consider Raphael, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, who the opening theme song informs us is "cool but crude." Thus, in the character of Raphael, the traits of coolness and crudity are inextricably linked! Er...unless they were actually singing "cool but rude." In any event, I think we can conclude that Raphael, as a Ninja Turtle, is cooler than clowns.

Anonymous said...

I'm going to have to check Boxer Hockey one of these days. Your description makes it sound like something right up my alley.

Now for my favorite obscure comics: Purgatory Tower, hosted on Drunk Duck. (Which is basically the go-to place for super-obscure stuff.) It's a furry comic, yet that part is integrated into the story. In a ritual similar to the Terrigen Mists in Inhumans, characters are fused to an animal, which gives them certain traits. The characters are all criminals, assembled at Purgatory Tower, hoping to gain a pardon by reaching the top.

Jackson said...

Thanks for the recommendation, Webcomics Overlook. :) Purgatory Tower sounds like it's worth checking out.

Bengo said...

Excellent to see smaller, worthy strips receiving attention. Good on ya.
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