Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wednesday Webcomic Wordiness - "I Like Your Early, Funny Ones"

by Ari Collins

I think a lot of webcomics have the same problem lots of people say Woody Allen's movies have. "I like his early, funny ones," his fans always say. I'm sure you can think of a webcomic that you used to read, and thought was really funny, only to realize eventually that the funny was gone. That's what I'm here to talk about today.

Sometimes a comic starts out funny, only to become serious. Unfortunately, you sometimes find the cartoonist isn't really well-suited for ultraserious. Dresden Codak, to me, is a perfect example of this. The Hob storyline is big and epic and full of neat sci-fi ideas, but it's poorly paced and plotted and just plain not as FUN as the early stuff. The epic storyline feels stilted, with details glossed over and character unexlored. One reason for this, I think is that the epic Hob story is in the same scenes-from-a-story setup (almost microfiction-esque) that Dresden Codak has always used (with great success). I'm not sure if everyone would call the early stuff "funny", anyway because half the time it's the kind of bleak, gotta-laugh-cuz-otherwise-you'll-cry funny, but you don't find stories more literarily and artistically absurd and imaginitive as The Bear That Steals Ideas, Dream Employment, D&D: The Philosophy Students' Version, or Absolute Truth in Liquid Form.

In some cases, though, perhaps you find that you love the serious turn a comic has taken more than you ever loved the early stuff! Goblins began as a humorous look at Dungeons and Dragons through the eyes of minor monsters. The whole first part of it is about a group of goblins who are about to be raided by a group of players. They don't understand why their leaders are doing things like placing all of their valuable weapons in the middle of the village in an unlocked chest. But even partway through this first, jokey storyline, the comic becomes a heartrending look at the ugliness of intolerance and violence. With occasional gut-bursting humor to relive the tension. And you know what? It's actually better now than when it was a silly parody. It's great to see an artist grow in ability and tackle more mature material at the same time.

And then there are the comics that never become "serious". Some such comics keep changing their style or level of humor to keep it all fresh. Others keep doing the same joke over and over again. Sometimes you don't even mind that. (Newspaper funnies have been doing the same jokes over and over again for years. Even decades. Which is why only old people read them.) One comic I'm sad about these days is Buttersafe, which is a comic I absolutely adored in the early going. But even with two different writers, the jokes haven't really changed for over a year now. It can coast for quite a while on the strength of the original jokes, mind you. The Buttersafe humor is really strange and kind of meta/postmodern. Ridiculous things like daydreams of watermelon monsters, relationships with skeleton harvesters, and the classic puzzle of one brother who always lies and one brother who is always a rabid coyote. And while I think these and maybe a dozen other Buttersafes are some of the funniest things I've ever, eventually the two Buttersafers kind of... ran out of steam, I guess? It's still basically the same jokes, only now they're simply variations on the originals. Oh well. We'll always have The Ham Smash 'Em Up Sandwich.

So what about you? Do you have any comics that stopped being funny, either in a good way or a bad way? Tell me about them!


Jackson said...

One of these days, Ari, you will run out of "w" words. And then where your precious alliteration be?

I guess Sluggy Freelance is one of the classic cases of webcomics that "stopped being funny." Or, more accurately, didn't so much stop being funny as started being epic. Which is all well and good, but it simultaneously got very convoluted--the cast expanded way out of proportion, it stopped being a genre-parody comic and started having ongoing-and-going-and-going storylines that make copious reference to previous storylines, and...generally got as out-of-control as that last sentence. I still tune into Sluggy Freelance every Sunday to catch up on the week, because I like Torg and Riff and Zoe, and the comic is still funny sometimes, but dang if I don't miss the days when it didn't take itself quite so seriously.

John Solomon of "Your Webcomic is Bad..." fame wrote a review of it, and while I don't quite agree with how harsh he is or that Sluggy is a bad webcomic, his general point has some merit to it. Sluggy is pretty bloated, and Pete Abrams might do well to try a new strip concept.

Shortpacked has sort of toyed with the line between melodrama and comedy from the very beginning. Did you see what I did there? With the word "toyed?" I did that because I am clever.

Jack Carter. said...

Hi, just letting you know I put a link to your blog on my webcomic review blog site, Good stuff! Keep it up!

El Santo said...

Sadly, one of the comics I'd say was decent until it got too serious is "Penny and Aggie." It's a mixed bag: I like Gisele's art, and I do like the central two characters, but the story has gotten so melodramatic lately that I really don't feel like following it.

Jackson said...

Now that you mention it, that really is a bummer. I tune into Penny and Aggie regularly, largely because both the dialogue and art are so well-crafted, and I like the main characters too. But even though the dialogue is quite clever, it's rarely funny these days, especially not in the way that earlier material was. I miss the visual gags--it's been awhile since we saw the Shoulder Angels, or stuff like this.