Sunday, January 25, 2009

Review: Luke Surl

Sometimes, when you blog about webcomics, guys who have webcomics ask you for reviews. This is a cool thing, because you like to read webcomics and say things about webcomics, and bam, here is another webcomic to read and say things about. I have been approached by a couple such cartoonists. Today's cartoonist is Luke Surl.

Luke Surl's comic doesn't exactly have a name, other than (which I initially thought stood for "Luke's URL"). It doesn't really have a consistent form, either; sometimes it's single-panel, sometimes multiple panels in simple configurations, whatever Luke Surl deems will best fit the joke. A common topic or theme also eluded me initially; it seems that these comics are about whatever strikes the cartoonist as making a comic about. Now, the comics do tend to hover around the subject of academic humor, the sorts of musings from a college student's studies that one might find funny, but at the end of the day, it seems to me that the unifying element here is Luke Surl.

Which is okay. Luke Surl is not the funniest guy in the world, but he has amusing ideas. He enjoys verbal twists and plays on words, so it should come as no surprise that he often bases jokes on familiar lines from Shakespeare. Sometimes he plays meta-games with the comic format. I particularly liked the joke in this single-paneler, where Surl puts a clever fourth-wallish twist on the despairing-economic-analyst-leaping-from-a-window gag. My two favorites, though, would have to be the comics where he puts Santa Claus and Waldo of "Where's Waldo" on the psychiatrist's couch. I laughed out loud at these, and I think he's got a good thing going with the "psychiatrist's couch" motif. More of these, please.

Unfortunately, the art is a sticking point. Early comics especially suffer from pixel-grit, and while this condition improves, later comics still have problems with rough, jagged line quality and uneven line weights. Humans tend to look stiff and flat, with unnatural-looking limb positions. Surl often employs oblique projection with a lofted camera pointing downward at 45 degrees, and as Wikipedia notes, oblique drawings look very unconvincing to the eye. On occasion Surl makes the oblique projection work, as with these clever blueprints, and sometimes he finds workarounds for the perspective problems through judicious use of close-ups.

And sometimes, he even does pretty good art. Coloring is bright, perhaps a little over-saturated and unsubtle, but rarely hard on the eyes. This comic is well-drawn, shows a good use of perspective on a close-up, and contains an amusing reference to an also-amusing former comic. Another comic, featuring anthropomorphic numbers, is well-drawn, and a nice subtle touch is that each number's height is proportional to its numerical value. Other comics occasionally feature little jokes in the background--again, a nice touch.

Can I recommend Luke Surl? Not as wholeheartedly as I usually recommend comics, to be perfectly honest. His work is decent, sometimes funny, but one can see the influence of comics like The Far Side, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, and XKCD, and these are all hard comics to stack up favorably against--Lord knows I couldn't. These guys are professional humorists, and it feels to me like Surl is still finding his voice.

But the thing is, he's finding it. The art, for its shortcomings, shows definite improvement in the long run, getting cleaner and sharper, and while the first ten comics or so in the archive fall flat joke-wise, the humor consistently improves. Looking at the dates in the archive, I can see that he keeps up with his update schedule (initially weekdaily, but scaled back to MWF after about three months), and his persistence shows that if you diligently apply yourself to cartooning, you will get better. If he keeps at it and seeks constructive feedback and criticism, he could have a really good comic on his hands down the road.

So, give Luke Surl a look. Decide for yourself if his humor is your style. I can't make any guarantees, but if you can look past the dodgy art and stick with him as he improves, you might just find something worth tuning in to. At the very least, he's fun for Shakespeare fans.

Luke Surl
Updates: MWF
Style: color, variable-length, generally 1-4 panels
Bottom Line: not too shabby


Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the review. Your comments on the oblique angles are going to have to make me review my own work. I did want to say that while I don't visit Luke Surl everyday, I do have it on my "go to" list when I'm in need of a good laugh. I enjoy his take on humor.

Slightly Off-Topic

Jackson said...

I'm not gonna lie--Luke Surl is a clever, clever man. He may not always be "funny," but I find genuine wit to be more entertaining than simple gag-based "funny" any day. His comic definitely has something that not every comic has!

Anonymous said...

Ah. The switch from daily to MWF coincides with vacation to term time, as does, often, the switch from non-academic to academic humor. I like it.