Friday, March 27, 2009

3/27: Week in Review

Happy Friday, all. It's time to take a look at what's happened this week, webcomics-wise.

First: I know this blog focuses less on "webcomics industry news" and more on "comics I liked this week," but it would almost certainly be remiss if I did not mention the New England Webcomics Weekend which happened this weekend. Three metric buttloads of cartoonists were in attendance, and many of them chose to create comics about their NEWW experience. Jeffrey Rowland, in his not-really-autobiographical strip Overcompensating, has particularly had a whole lot to say about it. Read his comic: he has a crazy knack for dialogue and I do not give his comic enough love.

Scott Kurtz also weighed in with an autobiographical NEWW comic that is perhaps funnier to webcartoonists than webcomic readers, and Kris Straub further celebrates with a suitably crazy Chainsawsuit comic. If you happen across any other shareworthy NEWW comics, feel free to share 'em in a comment.

Perhaps facilitated in part by the Webcomics Weekend, this has also been a big week for guest comics. Meredith Gran of Octopus Pie kicked off a guest week on Monday with this excellent strip from David Willis, Questionable Content dropped an enormous and exceptionally well-drawn guest strip from Lucid TV (, and Bobwhite rocked a guest week that included an F-Chords/Bobwhite crossover from the Straub. If you miss F Chords as much as I do, it was a welcome visit from Ash and Wade, however brief.

Also running guest weeks recently were Allan Wood's daily journal comic Allan and Unwinder's Tall Comics by Eli Parker. Typically, Allan stays painfully close to the ups and downs of its author's real life, but Allan's guest week (starting here) featured a bevy of comics with a hilarious disregard for reality. Celebrating a year of Unwinder's misguided adventures, the Tall Comics guest week featured a variety of really extremely tall comics, including a truly inspired foray into clay-model photocomics. I myself even collaborated with my friend Joe Harris on a Tall Guest Comic! I am hardly an objective journalist, so go check it out.

And finally, at the emailed recommendation of one Sanjay Kulkarni (creator of Cowbirds in Love), I have begun tuning in to Moe. Moe features a unique art style, with bold linework, earthtone colors, and a kind of calculated sloppiness to it. This week's comics feature everyman Moe's clueless and solipsistic forays into the world of organized religion, starting with confession. I definitely recommend it--I laughed out loud at each of this week's updates, especially this one.

And with that, this update draws to a close. I'll see you next week, with more to say about webcomics as always. Got a good comic to share from this past week? Drop a comment!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Cure for the Common XKCD

XKCD needs no introduction. It's the first Google search result for "webcomic," and its only real contender in terms of stick-figure-comic popularity is Cyanide and Happiness. You certainly already know about it, and friends who don't read webcomics will send you links to strips they liked over email.

I don't read XKCD regularly anymore, though. It's still clever, and I still enjoy it when I read it. But despite its math-nerd relationship humor and insightful musings, it's not a terribly deep comic. And I miss its experimentation: the experimentation with contrasting art styles, with the fourth wall, with parody (and that A Softer World parody is spot-on, right down to the art and the alt-text). Between its present simplistic art and lack of ongoing plot/complex characters, if I did read XKCD regularly, it would fill the "quick read" category, and my quick-read needs are currently met by The Book of Biff and Thinkin' Lincoln.

XKCD is certainly not a bad comic, and I'd absolutely agree that it's good at what it does. But there are a few comics out there that, in my estimation, do the same things that XKCD does, but better. Let me share some of them with you.

Piled Higher and Deeper
Jorge Cham's Piled Higher and Deeper--PHD--is a little comic about getting your doctorate, and it has a number of things in common with XKCD. They both feature nerdy scientific charts. They both revel in academic esoterica. But there are two things PHD has that XKCD doesn't: sharp, colorful art, and a diverse cast of characters who learn and grow through their experiences of enduring higher-education bullcrap. You've got engineering nerd and chocoholic Cecilia, student activist Tajel, expert procrastinator Mike Slackenerny, and the strip's unnamed protagonist. PHD is smart, funny, and surprisingly relatable--I enjoy it, and I'm not even in grad school.

Rock, Paper, Cynic
Ever wish XKCD weren't so darn optimistic? Then Rock Paper Cynic is the comic for you. The creator, Peter Chiykowski, openly acknowledges a creative debt to XKCD, but unlike his inspiration, he goes for the throat with unmatched relentlessness. From morbid twists, to nerdy cynicism, to raw angry vulnerability, RPC delivers a caustic and critical edge. It's got your intellectual esoterica, and it's even got its own twisted brand of optimism.
It's creatively acerbic, and it updates daily. Decidedly not for the childrens, though--it can get pretty dark in there.

So you like quick gags, few recurring characters with zero character development, and sketchy black-and-white art? Check out Chainsawsuit. Granted, it's not as intellectual as XKCD, but it's still darn funny. It specializes in unexpected twist endings, abject silliness, and juvenile gross-out humor--sometimes all three at once. In my opinion, Chainsawsuit shines hardest when it's parodying: as with Disastorm, the extended disaster-movie satire. Chainsawsuit even parodies XKCD!

To conclude: do you read XKCD regularly? If so, good. Keep on reading it. But if you like XKCD, chances are you'll also like these comics, so give 'em a look. They're good stuff.

Friday, March 20, 2009

3/20: Week in Review

I don't know if it's just me, but it's seemed like a slow week for webcomics. There've been some strips of interest, to be sure, but in all honesty, I can't summon up my usual enthusiasm today. Maybe it has genuinely been a dry spell, if only for the comics I regularly read. Maybe it's just my mood. Maybe it's that everybody and his webcomic mother has something to say about the Sci-Fi Channel changing its name of "SyFy." Look, I appreciate that webcomics provide a unique opportunity to provide timely and immediate commentary, but seriously! The name itself is the joke, and humor-wise, there's not a lot that a comic can add to that.

But enough grousing. Let's get to the good stuff.

Creating a webcomic presents several opportunities beyond just immediate news commentary. It also affords the creator a chance to draw humorous fan art and excuse it as "fair use and parody." In Tuesday's Shortpacked!, David Willis takes ample advantage of this opportunity, with hilarious results for any Super Mario Bros. fan (and who isn't a Super Mario Bros. fan?). Princess Daisy's expressions and the Shyguys' creepy letter are both particularly great.

With this past Monday's installment, Nobody Scores! delivered a rare gem. NS consistently provides sharp humor and great artwork, but it also consistently provides blood-spattering cartoon violence and enough F-bombs to level a small censorship board. In contrast, Monday's update "Nobody Scores with The Big Entrance!" is the Nobody Scores! comic you could show your mom. Jane upstages Sara at a semi-formal party by bringing...shall we say, a surprise guest. I don't want to give it away. Go see for yourself.

On a more serious note, Penny and Aggie this week has dealt with the aftermath of its titular characters' cooperative sabotage of Karen's popsicle party. Karen's been taken down a peg or two, and when Aggie's longstanding crush Marshall wants to apologize for misjudging the situation, Aggie makes what I would consider a surprisingly mature move.

There's probably a lot inside of Aggie telling her to set aside all the things that have come between her and Marshall and work on repairing their friendship, now that he shows signs of wanting to make amends. There's probably a lot inside of Aggie hoping for more than just friendship, too. But she recognizes the need for some distance from such an emotionally-charged situation, and she says as much. And as much as I'd like to see things work out with her and Marshall, I gotta say: smart kid.

One last note before I call it a wrap for this week. I'd like to congratulate Brock Heasley, creator of The Superfogeys, for the completion of his 200th strip this week. Truly nice job, Brock--the art looks great, and it's been improving since strip #1. Kudos!

And that's all I've got for this week. As always, if you've got a few remarks or a particularly good strip from this week to share, don't hesitate to drop a comment. Have a good weekend, and I'll see you right back here, next Friday if not sooner. Adios!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Animation and Gaming Ohio 2009: A Guest's Experience

Well, here I am delivering the Convention Report--two days after the fact. This weekend, I had the pleasure and privilege of attending Animation and Gaming Ohio as a guest. As the second convention I've ever attended, it was still a very new and odd experience. Some people live for these things, to the point where conventions are like a second home. To me, they still feel like stepping into another world, an alternate reality.

This being an animation and gaming convention, comics and cartooning received very little direct focus: anime and video games took center stage. I talked to several people who read webcomics, but found very few enthusiasts: most were either casual browsers who didn't really follow specific titles regularly, or gaming enthusiasts who read easily-recognized titles like PA and CAD. Still, people enjoyed talking about webcomics, and passion is contagious. If you're enthusiastic about something, then as long as the other person has even a passing interest, they'll generally perk right up and get into the conversation too.

A number of cool things happened at the convention, and I got to meet several cool people. Here are some highlights.

My Panel, "The Harsh Truth about Webcomics"
On Saturday morning at 9 AM, I delivered a panel on the challenges of monetizing a webcomic. Five people showed up! I'd planned to speak to a larger crowd, so I ended up chucking my notes and simply talking about webcomics with the handful of panel attendees. We had a good conversation, and as we started bouncing ideas off each other, we had some valuable insights into turning online cartooning into a paying job. For example--why do you never see the online equivalent of a "funny pages" gathering several comic strips together in a single place? Would people subscribe to such a service?
For the follow-up panel on Sunday afternoon, we scrapped the premise of discussing webcomics at all and ended up talking about how Japan is weird. Not that the United States isn't also weird. But man, Japan is pretty weird.

Meeting DM Ashura
Bill Shillito, better known as DM Ashura, is a talented electronic musician whose music has been featured in various mixes of Dance Dance Revolution. He's also a very cool guy to hang out with. He and I talked about the value of a public space for gaming and what DDR has done to keep the arcade scene alive; I listened to his music and grooved out at the Saturday night rave that he hosted; we randomly sang bits of "Still Alive" at the closing ceremonies. All in all, it was cool to meet this guy, even if we only briefly discussed webcomics. Hopefully our paths will cross again in the future.

Signing Autographs with Steve Blum
I have to admit, I came into this event with only a vague idea of who Steve Blum is. He's done the voices for Spike Spiegel, Wolverine, and a host of other characters: which means that he is a big name in the voice acting industry. And DM Ashura and I had the express pleasure of signing autographs with him.
There was a line practically out the door, and almost immediately I could see why he was so popular with the fans. He was extremely personable, posing for photos with fans, signing personalized autographs on anything and everything they requested, doing voices on command. One guy had a friend whose sore throat kept him from attending the convention; this guy called up the friend and had Steve Blum talk to him as Wolverine. "So I hear you're out with a sore throat. I know how that feels, bub--no fun at all. So listen, take lots of antibiotics, get plenty of rest..." He's really an incredible guy.
Most people came for his autograph, but DM Ashura and I signed a few ourselves. I made a few doodles along with my John Hancock. One girl was cosplaying as Zach from Final Fantasy VII, and I got to draw a cartoon of Zach on her buster sword.

In summary, the con was pretty incredible. I met some very cool and talented people, I got to be a guest judge at a Rock Band Concert, I drew a bunch of ninjas and ate a bunch of delicious free food and played retro video games in the gaming room, and I killed a man with a trident.

Be sure to tune in again on Friday, when it's back to talking about webcomics as usual. See you then!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

3/12: Week in Review

Today is the first day of Animation and Gaming Ohio. I will be a guest there, talking about webcomics with a host of people who are there because they like video games and anime. Tough sell? Perhaps. But geeks are geeks, and let us not forget that there are manga-style webcomics and video-game webcomics as well.

It is with perhaps the most famous of these video-game webcomics that I begin today's entry.

For several weeks now, I have found Penny Arcade even odder than usual, and not especially funny. With tangents into 90s pop-culture figures such as John Stamos and New Kids on the Block, and a bunch of stuff that you probably won't understand even if you read the accompanying newspost, it's felt like Tycho and Gabe have developed their own language of funny that they babble incomprehensibly to each other. And it's certainly funny if you put forth the effort to study their new language--but such activity is anathema to the casual reader. Who has time to decipher their arcane ululations?

Well, I am happy to report that this week, there is no need to decipher anything. On Monday, PA pokes fun at the challenge of marketing books in a technology-driven age. Wednesday brings us a satirical jab at GameStop, the pawn store of video games. And today, our beloved comic does not disappoint, shamelessly mocking Fitty Cent's new game "Blood on the Sand." Krahulik and Holkins are really at the top of their game when they're lampooning the market-driven ridiculousness of the video game industry, and I think much of this past week's success stems from the fact that they're laughing at things.

And we're laughing too.

What else has made me laugh this week? Let's have a look.

Tuesday's Shortpacked looks at the worst jobs in Hollywood, delivering laughs in every panel, compounding the ridiculousness with each successive Bad Job and culminating in a coup-de-grace punchline. Did you ever think about the fact that someone had to render that thing? You'll laugh, because the only alternative is to weep for the guy.

Gill also brings the laughs this week, as Gill discovers a missing wallet and, guided by his television-weaned conscience, tries to convince his dad to help him return the wallet. In the process, he learns that reality seldom happens in the way that television often presents it.

Calamities of Nature breaks the fourth wall this week in order to open up the Reader Mailbag. Each comic features two of the main cast answering a piece of fan email to humorous effect. It occurs to me that the fourth wall with Calamities is more of a garage door that Tony Piro raises and lowers at will. But at any rate, I enjoyed all the Reader Mailbag comics, particularly today's, which incorporates an extended artistic gag.

Keong "speearr" Chan, creator of the now-retired daily comic T-N-T, launched a new comic this week: Terence N. Tijuana. His latest offering is a mix of art styles and subjects, loosely centered around non-chronological snippets from the life of its titular character. Topics include the well-meaning lies parents tell, mothers-in-law, and the future--all treated with a liberal dash of surreality. Give the archives a quick read and see how you like it.

Finally, I discovered a new comic with a truly bizarre premise this week. It takes the format of a reality TV show: Griffin Griffins is offered a chance to live rent-free for one year in a luxury condominium that exists outside of space and time. Sharing the living space with Griffin are four alternate Griffins from parallel universes, ranging from White Trash Alcoholic Griffin to Wannabe White Gangsta Griffin. It only updates once a week and currently has a small archive, but you've probably never read a comic like this, so it's worth checking out. Good art, too.

What did you find funny this week? What made you laugh out loud? Drop a link in the comments and share some humor with us.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

"Watchmen in Webcomics" Poll Results

(links to the entrants available here)

Well, you all weighed in, and there are the results. PVP easily carried the day with its "Ombudsmen" take-off, and Unwinder's Tall Watchmen Comic also showed a reasonable following. There was no clear leader among the other entrants, although I do think Thinkin' Lincoln's contribution was particularly notable for its hilarious mouseover alt-text. But anyway.

So. I saw The Watchmen on Monday. What did I think of it? Overall, it was a basically faithful adaptation of the comic, at least in the discrete elements. All the characters are there, well-acted and faithful to their comic personalities. The plot was true enough, and comprehensible to outsiders, at least those willing to put forth a little effort to follow it. But I couldn't help but feel that the movie missed the forest for the trees.

Because it's a superhero movie, an R-rated superhero movie, and it revels in scenes of stylized sex and violence. To me, a key part of The Watchmen is how it calls into question the role of the superhero in dispensing justice. It asks what happens when flawed human beings put on the mask and undertake their own personal campaign against crime. Rorschach, with his unwavering commitment to skewed ideals. The Comedian's brutal cynicism. Ozymandias' sacrifice of "millions to save billions." Somehow, some of that gets lost in the movie. Most notably, Rorschach is portrayed as a badass hero rather than a disturbed sociopath, though there are other examples. At the end of the day, there are few people that I could actually recommend this movie to, just because it's so dark, and pointlessly so.

So, that's my take. Did you see Watchmen? What did you think? Drop a comment, or post a link to your review.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Religion Watch (and Watchmen Watch?)

So you've already noticed if you follow my Twitter, but Sunday and Monday's "Pick of the Day" both treat religious subjects. Let's have a closer look.

From over the weekend, Gill delivers a few thoughts about God as an author, allowing bad things to happen to us for the entertainment value. I found it reminiscent of the Calvin and Hobbes comics that feature theological conversations about God, the devil, and other such topics. And while I don't think God allows suffering for something so flippant as mere entertainment, I do think there's something to Shandra's observations. Aren't our choices invested with moral significance because we make them in response to suffering? What are your thoughts?

Secondly, today's Pick is Calamities of Nature, in which Aaron and Harold answer a reader's email about whether Calamities is too hard on Christianity. And in past comics, religion has gotten the short, blunt end of the stick, but I actually like this comic. It would be easy to try and make a joke at Christianity's expense off a reader email like that, but instead, the humor comes from Aaron's personality and his typically provocative response. In general, Harold and Aaron contrast well with each other, which certainly holds true when they're talking about religious matters.

(It's also worth noting that when it comes to persecution, Christians have historically gotten as good as they give. Christians were persecuted in the Roman Empire, and they were the persecutors during the Crusades.)

Saw Watchmen tonight. I'll probably deliver a couple lines of commentary on Wednesday, along with the results of the currently ongoing Watchmen comics poll. Additionally, for much of this weekend I'll be at Animation and Gaming Ohio 2009, so we'll see what I can do for Friday's post. See you all Wednesday!

Friday, March 6, 2009

Poll: The Watchmen in Webcomics

The nominees are in, and the polls can begin. Which of the following delivers the best Watchmen comic?

Cast a vote for your favorite using the form above this entry. The poll will close on Tuesday (3/10) at 11:59 PM EST. Should you wish to vote "other," please drop a comment and share a link to the Watchmen-related webcomic you wish to vote for. And if you haven't seen it already, continue reading below for today's special feature: Recommendation Rampage Friday!

Recommendation Rampage Friday

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. But it can be a crazy thing too, because sometimes you get inundated up to your elbows with review requests and you're just like AAAAAHHHHH.

Because reviews take time, you know? And good reviews take even more time. You want to read enough of it to get a good feel for it, and you want to give it a fair shake. Some awesome comics are obviously awesome, but some comics have hidden awesomeness that you must uncover. Maybe the art starts off dodgy but improves over time. Maybe the comic tells an extended story that starts off slow but really finds its footing a few months in. Maybe it's great, maybe it's bad, more than likely it's somewhere in between, but whatever the case, you want to be fair to the comic. And that takes time.

But there are other things going on in your life. And even though you want to support great cartooning, you can't always review every single comic you get told about.

So, I've got a compromise.

What follows is a list of comics whose creators and/or fans have requested a review from me. I've taken some time to look over each of these comics, and I've boldfaced my top recommendations from the list--titles that represent high-quality cartooning regardless of my subjective preferences. Some of the creators have even provided a short summary of their comic.

So, take a look at a couple of these. Check out the summaries, and if a given comic sounds like your style, give it a read.

And if you yourself want to recommend a comic? Just drop a link in the comments section. After all, it is Recommendation Rampage Friday.

Capes 'n' Babes: The everyday adventures of comic-book store manager Marc and his friends working at neighboring stores in the strip mall. Capes 'n' Babes features comic book fan humor, workplace humor, and a werewolf.

Road Crew: a comic about the guys behind the scenes of a touring rock band, "Road Crew" follows the adventures of a sound engineer, a lighting engineer, and a roadie as they fall through the gaps of rock-and-roll excess. (WARNING: occasionally NSFW)

Addanac City: Seven-year-old Hank Addanac, a rambunctious 2nd-grader, constantly finds himself in hot water with his parents, friends, and school officials.

The Superfogeys: Where do old superheroes go when it's time to out of the game? To Valhalla--Home for the Supertired.

Someday Hero
The Pursuit of Mandy

Clementine Beauvais

The Original Nutty Funsters: Three friends wax sarcastic, put up with annoying neighbors, and barely put up with each other.

The Home World: Garrett and his dog Speedy's ordinary suburban life quickly took a turn for the weird when the Smiths showed up. For starters, they're gray, have triangular heads and large almond-shaped eyes, and tend to attract Federal Agents and tabloid reporters...

Marooned: Stranded on the hostile red planet of Mars, Captain John and his robot companion Asimov find unlikely aid in the form of Ugo the Martian. In order to survive and find a way home, John and Asimov must face the dangers of stupidity, sarcasm and starvation.

Galaxion: The crew of an interstellar survey ship, the Galaxion, tests a new experimental hyperdrive engine.

Astray3: Emily Hargrove, a daydreamer who works at the local Burgerville restaurant, suddenly finds herself transported to a confusing alien world of intrigue, danger, and strange creatures.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Watching the Watchmen

As you are likely already aware, The Watchmen opens tomorrow--the movie based on the groundbreaking 1980s comic book that deconstructed the superhero genre. But if you weren't already aware, then perhaps you've heard about the movie by reading webcomics.

That's right: webcomics are breaking out the Watchmen parodies and tributes, just in time for the big release. Here's a few I've come across.

I'm certain that more Watchmen-related comics will surface as the movie is released. If you come across one, please drop a comment and share the link with us. Come Monday, there will probably be some kind of poll thing again.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

SFIV Poll Results

Well. The results of the poll...are the results of the poll.

It's perplexing, because even though "Other" won out, no one wrote in any alternates whatsoever on the original entry. I can only conclude that the three voters for "Other" simply found the available options thoroughly unfunny and voted "Other" in protest. Personally, I thought the CAD strip was unusually well-paced humor for CAD. But that's just me. At any rate, 2P Start carried the day, with its strip poking fun at Chun Li's disproportionately large hands.

Matt Moylan's Lil Formers also weighed in on SFIV this past Monday, but unfortunately, it was too late to change the poll. A shame, too, because Moylan's comic is actually fairly amusing.

Also, on an unrelated note, here's a blog that you may enjoy if you enjoy This Week in Webcomics. It's called "Webcomic Finds," and essentially is about reading good webcomics and talking about the good webcomics one comes across while traveling the internet. The blogger, Ping Teo, appears to be a savvy humorist with a few comic projects of her own. If you're looking for some insightful webcomic recommendations, be sure to give it a look.