Friday, November 28, 2008

Guest Bloggery

Happy Black Friday everyone! My name is Jennifer and I will be your guest blogger for this week. Now that you've gone out, bought that HDTV you've been waiting to go on sale all year, and have fully recovered from waiting in line since 1am this morning, let's get to some webcomics goodness. :)

- Although Multiplex only had one front page update this week, it was a mighty good update. I really liked that Franklin rallied behind Calvin and gave such an encouraging speech. You can read a future strip that happens after the game in the forums.

- McPedro, the loveable talkin Irish-Mexican cactus in Girls With Slingshots, is on the hunt to reclaim his mustache. Unfortunately, his mustache has a bit of assistance hiding from him. Danielle Corsetto's strip is well drawn and I always enjoy her storylines. After the drama-heavy story arcs of the past couple of weeks, it's nice to see some lighthearted strips and McPedro pop up.

- As if Joe Dunn isn't doing enough already, he and Phil Chan have teamed up again to bring you Another Videogame Webcomic. But why read it when there's Penny Arcade, Ctrl-Alt-Del, PvP, Applegeeks, VG Cats, Dueling Analogs, etc.? As Phil describes it, AVW is "Tron meets Office Space. Our characters literally work in the video games." I think it's a clever premise and look forward to reading this strip every Friday. There are only 3 strips up so now's a great time to get on board.

- Dear Santa, all I want for Christmas is for this chainsawsuit to come true.

- I'm sure a lot of people can relate to this week's Bobwhite story arc. Or maybe not. I know I can. I like Magnolia's writing because it's how college students act and talk. Plus, her comics are drawn in a unique style that I really like.

- Although it's not from this week, I really liked Jackson's strip in Borderline Boy about Twilight. I won't go near that book and movie because the only people who seem to like it are teenage girls, and as I'm not a teenage girl then no thanks.

- Rob and Elliot is trying out a new style, and I like this week's better than last week's. Removing the outline around the characters was a good choice.

- A big congratulations goes out to Alina Pete for two years of Weregeek! It's one of my favorite webcomics because, although I do not get half of the jokes, I appreciate the geekiness. Girl geeks rule. ^_^

Final plug: Kukuburi. Visually beautiful with a compelling story. I wish it updated more than once a week!

And now I'm going to go stuff myself with leftover turkey. Have a great weekend!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Guest Panel!

Hey all, this is Dan giving you the blow by blow for webcomics this week. It's gonna be a rough ride, so let's get into it.

has made some serious plot advances in the past weeks, so it's a treat to go away from the plot heaviness for a while with a series of gaming strips.

Oh boy.

Cat and Girl
gives us some commentary on the economy and the like; to drift into a little opinionated tangent here, it looks like the bailout of the auto companies may not be happening. Whatever does happen, we can always be secure in blaming the executives.

Megatokyo has given us a surprising week of updates, but honestly I've lost track of Megatokyo, and it hasn't pulled me in in the way it used to. It was my first webcomic, and for a long time my favorite, but for some reason I just haven't been able to enjoy it as much lately. My best guess is that at some point I stopped trying to comprehend the multiple storylines, and when I did that I lost a substantial amount of interest.

On the other hand, I recently discovered Sinfest, which is frankly amazing. Eastern art with Western everything else, and it's simply fantastic.

Side note: anyone who hasn't seen Dr Horrible should get on that. Now. I'm listening to the soundtrack right now, and it's making me very happy.

Back to webcomics. Penny Arcade is 10 years old! There have been highs, there have been lows. But overall, a triumph. And that's all I have to say about that cultural monument.

Freak Angels is another recent discovery of mine, and although the artwork is a little strange to me, the story and comic itself are more than enough reason to read it. It updates every (usually) Friday, with a six or so page spread of color, and it's a good read.

Well, that's it for my guest post. Enjoy these comics, and have a good weekend. Turkey Day is near!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Guest Bloggers, Comin' Up

Just wanted to let you guys know, for the next few weeks some friends of mine are going to be giving you the Friday webcomics reports. I need to take some time to focus on other undertakings, so while I take a break from this blog, others shall "regale you with their sagacity," as they say. So don't be surprised when you start seeing posts from people who are neither me nor Ari! And I may pop in with a little blurb now and then too, you never know.

Just wanted to give y'all the heads-up. Stay cool, everyone.

EDIT: the more I think about it, the more this chainsawsuit is my favorite chainsawsuit ever.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Time to get right down to business: the business of webcomics.

First of all, I owe our regular readers an apology. Last Friday, I promised a weekend post from my fellow blogger Ari Collins. As no post materialized over the weekend, I talked with Ari throughout the week, and although he tried to find time, he couldn't make up the post. I made the promise to you guys. Not him. That wasn't fair of me, so: sorry. To both you guys and Ari.

But now, let's get to the weekly rounds! It's been a pretty good week for the funny.

Quite honestly, I think Penny Arcade has been on fire lately. In my humble estimation, PA has been hit-or-miss for the past year now; when they're good they're great, but at times they just don't bring the comedy like they used to. But recently? They've been on a winning streak. You've got this one from last week, with a punchline that is vintage Tycho. And then you've got this Wednesday's comic. I'm not even sure what that game is, but I certainly laughed out loud. Inconsistent reality in video games is always a good source of humor--heck, Katie Tiedrich of Awkward Zombie practically builds her comic on it.

But the point is, you can't go wrong with the past three or four weeks of Penny Arcade. Which two years ago would have gone without saying, but such are the troubled times we live in.

It's certainly been troubled times down at the Multiplex this past week. The videogame rivalry between the theater and Flickhead Video Store, journalist-snoop Gretchen's information-mongering "friendship" with Calvin, and assistant manager Allan's general sleazy laziness have all converged and come to a head. The result is bad news for Franklin, who's been breaking the rules with his after-hours video games tournament and betting pool. Catch up on the action and intrigue starting with Monday's strip.

It's always fun when comics pack more than one laugh into their space, so as much as I can appreciate the economy of a well-crafted newspaper strip, lately I've been gravitating toward long-form humor installments. And Wednesday's F Chords delivered. Ash interrupts Wade's recording of a bubble bath commercial jingle to deliver some awesome news. Practically every line in it is funny, building up to a punchline coup de grace in the final panel.

Similarly, with its extended tales of drawn-out catastrophe, Nobody Scores! never fails to amuse me multiple times per comic. And this week it's delivered two standalone disasters: one murder investigation (by which I mean an investigation into the benefits and drawbacks of murder) and one housing purchase gone horribly horribly awry. Plenty of comic suffering in each: well worth reading.

Then there's today's Cat and Girl. Cat tells Girl a bedtime story about the Mainstream, which thrived and thrived until it was defeated by the internet. The notion of counter-culture bedtime stories--and the scary things that keep counter-culturists up at night--is a funny and clever topic, and C&G's social commentary is sharp as always.

Since its return last week, Nothing Better continues with a new update, as Kat comes face-to-face with the force that tore the roof off her dorm. It's God! God looks stern and imposing, but not threatening; he simply asks Kat why she won't believe in him. Considering that this is probably a dream and therefore indicative of Kat's perception of God, I'm interested to see where this dream goes.

I also meant to note that Undwinder's Tall Comics has staged a recent return. A little bit of social commentary, but mostly just ridiculous humorous weirdness driven by its absurd characters. Unwinder's parents chain him up in his yard for trolling on the internet; hilarity ensues. Be sure to catch up on all the new comics.

Finally, we have another sighting for the God Watch: today's Calamities of Nature discusses theism, atheism, and agnosticism in down-to-earth terms. I am one of those weird guys who both thinks there is a god and thinks he has good reasons for thinking there is a god, but despite disagreeing with the comic on that level, I think it's a good comic. I mean, it does make the bigger point that adamancy of belief promotes conflict, and conflict sells, so you've definitely got people on both sides of the fence belting out their views to create marketable spectacle. Hey, it's worked for Richard Dawkins and for the folks at the Creation Museum.

So, that's a wrap for this week. See you next week sometime! And this time around, I won't make promises that I can't keep.

Friday, November 7, 2008

I Read Webcomics Religiously

So, what's up in webcomics this week? Religion.

(There are some other things that are up in webcomics this week, like the election results, but frankly I am pretty tired of politics, and this blog is nothing if not biased. I don't even read Octopus Pie regularly, what the crap kind of webcomic enthusiast am I. But anyway. Religion.)

This week marks the long-awaited return of Tyler Page's Nothing Better, a serial tale of two reluctant college roommates with a lot to learn from each other. Pretty much the instant I discovered it, NB became firmly cemented in my "comics I can't get enough of" list: it regularly delves into issues of religion, life, and meaning that most other webcomics would treat with an innocuous quip, and what's more, it manages to be thoughtful and sympathetic in its treatment of its characters' deeper convictions. This past Wednesday, the first page of Chapter 13 dropped readers into the middle of what I can only guess is a weird dream for Kat, unless the roof actually did come off their dorm in the middle of the night. I'm interested to see where this goes.

Page is also beginning a daily feature, Page-a-Day, for those of us for whom one or two weekly pages of Nothing Better is not enough. Woot!

I also made a new discovery this week: Evangeline. Originally debuting as a print comic during the 80s, Evangeline chronicles the adventures of a nun who tackles missions for the Vatican in the 23rd century. The creators were dissatisfied with the simplistic, "nun-and-gun" turn the original storyline took, so they are rebooting it for the web, with the first three chapters as the base. On their site's About page, Chuck Dixon & Judith Hunt state, "We...wanted to do a fun-to-read comic with some serious thought behind it."

The art is solid, and definitely reflects the 80s comic-book ethos; you can tell it's from the same period as Frank Miller's Dark Knight Returns and The Watchmen. So far, the story looks like it may tackle the theme of how personal faith can survive and persist in the face of religious corruption. We'll see. In the meantime, it's updating with a page every weekday, so check it out.

More "restarts" news: on Monday, You'll Have That creator Wes Molebash announced that he will be concluding his comic on Friday, January 2nd, 2009. This is sort of sad news, as Wes will be wrapping up his comic's loose ends and bringing everything to a conclusion, but he also promises: "In February of ‘09 I’ll be launching a new comic feature here at this site." I'll miss YHT, but I'll also be glad to see what new project Wes has in store.

One thing I appreciate about Wes' work in YHT is the subtlety with which he addresses religion. One can infer from certain comics that focal couple Katie and Andy are Christians, but the strip is never too overt about it. The two never beat their friends and acquaintances over the head with religion; instead, they simply try to live and love in a manner consistent with their faith. Wes himself is a confessing Christian, and if Angie Kurokami from Multiplex is an example from a non-christian's perspective of a Christian who's unobtrusive about her faith yet takes it seriously, then Andy is the same, but from a believer's view. The parallel just now struck me, and I find it kind of interesting.

I'd explore it in greater depth, but I have a headache from searching through the YHT archives on my slow-as-Christmas internet connection, and my brother and I are going to eat lasagna and watch some Heroes this evening. So, that's a thought for another day--or perhaps left as an exercise for the reader.

So, that's all the religion-in-webcomics news this week (unless you've got something to mention in the comments, which is of course always welcome!). A few quick shots of funny, and we'll call it a wrap.

So that's that. Be sure and tune in sometime this weekend, when Ari Collins will deliver a post as well. No, really.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Interview: Chris Hallbeck from The Book of Biff

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Chris Hallbeck, the creator of The Book of Biff. Biff, the titular character distinguishable by his shaved head and crazy eyebrows, has bizarre, full-color, single-panel adventures every weekday over at His strange problems and stranger solutions make for a fun daily diversion, and cartoonist Chris Hallbeck regularly delivers glimpses into Biff's surreal world, often in themed weeks such as "magic tricks" or "childhood playthings." He and I sat down over email for a closer look Behind the Biff. (And by "he" I mean Chris, not Biff.)

JF: So how did you come up with the Biff character, anyway? And why did you decide to name him "Biff?"

CH: Biff evolved from a doodle that I did in my friend's student planner. We had lunch together and I would draw things to try and make him laugh. Biff became a reoccurring character in those doodles. I liked the name Biff because I didn't know anyone with that name and it could also be used as a sound effect.

JF:I always think of truck drivers when I hear the name "Biff." Or that guy from Back to the Future. But Biff seems to have a very different personality from Biffs like those.

CH: Biff is more of a childlike mad professor.

JF: How does it feel to take Biff from his humble origins to a widely-read webcomic with two print collections? Did you expect Biff to be this successful?

CH: I think one of the most important things to happen was that when I got out of college I tried to get Biff accepted as a syndicated newspaper comic. I still have the stack of rejection letters in a box somewhere. I stopped drawing Biff for a number of years after that but when I decided to start it up again it was without any dreams of success. I realized that I just wanted to draw comics for the sake of drawing them. I made zero dollars from this project for the first 2 years but that wasn't a problem since it was not my original goal. The main attraction to me to the concept of drawing a webcomic was that it would cost me a very small amount of money to make it available to a large number of people.

JF: It also allows for more immediate fan feedback; I imagine that's a plus too. What's your favorite facet of being the creator of The Book of Biff?

CH: I like the challenge of it. Each comic is a new puzzle to solve and it's satisfying when I find the solution.

JF: The Book of Biff is a unique webcomic in that it takes the single-panel approach. Apart from the ubiquitous Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, it's the only single-panel webcomic I can think of. I'm not sure where I'm going with this question, but do you have any thoughts on Biff's single-panel-ness? What made you decide to go with that format?

CH: There are definitely a bunch more single panel webcomics out there. Savage Chickens is one that I read daily. The reason that I draw a single panel comic is The Far Side. My cartooning developed from drawing in the margins of school books and notebooks. Those small spaces are better suited to a single drawing with a caption than a strip format. I think those early doodles wired my brain for thinking one panel at a time.

JF: The Far Side really is the iconic single-panel comic; it's what everyone thinks of. But one thing that sets Book of Biff apart from The Far Side is its recurring cast—of one. What do you think being able to center the weirdness and humor around a single individual does for your comic?

CH: On the positive side, it can give me speed and focus. The writing can go faster because I only have to figure out what Biff's reaction will be to the situation. And unlike a multi-character comic I don't have complex character relationships and storylines to maintain.

I think having a single character can also be very limiting. There are a lot of jokes that I throw out because they won't fit into the limits of one panel/one figure/one sentence caption.

JF: For a typical comic, what does the creative process look like for you? How do you take an idea from…wherever your ideas come from…and carry it to its completion? Is there a lot of variation in the process, apart from the particular content, or is it pretty standard?

CH: I have a few different writing strategies. Sometimes I think of a funny image and try to reverse engineer a caption to fit it. Sometimes I'll think of a theme and write a list of objects or activities in that theme to bounce ideas off of. Usually I think of some sort of problem that Biff has to solve and then explore a few successes or failures he may experience and then I write down the one that I think is the funniest. The writing is the hardest part and it is the most random in the amount of time it takes. Some comics pop into my head fully realized. Some take days of chipping away at them. I know there's a comic in that idea somewhere I just have to peel off enough of the bad punchlines to find it.

The physical part of the comic is pretty straightforward. I do the drawing in Flash and the coloring in Photoshop.

JF: The relationship between what's weird and what's funny is a weird one. What do you think makes weird things so funny?

CH: I think it's just enjoying something that's new or unexpected.

JF: I'm surprised to discover that you draw the comic in Flash. The linework looks really hand-drawn, at least to me. Do you have a personal preference for digital or traditional craft? Any thoughts on how new digital tools are changing cartooning?

CH: Well, I still draw the lines with my hand. I think there is sometimes confusion when I hear comics described as either "drawn by hand" or "digital." As if artists in the "digital" category are somehow bashing their face into a keyboard to create their images.

The reason I use Flash is because my computer is not powerful enough to draw in Photoshop at the file sizes I like to work in. For me, drawing digitally allows me greater speed an I'm more fearless with my brushwork since I can always undo. I was actually afraid that I was going to lose my pen and ink skills when I first started drawing in flash but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the speed and line quality improvements carried over when I did my first post-digital ink on paper drawing.

JF: Thanks for your time and responses, Chris. Do you have any parting advice for aspiring cartoonists? If you could give one single piece of advice, what would it be?

CH: Keep drawing. If you look back on what you did every 6 months and you hate it then you are going in the right direction.