Friday, April 24, 2009

On Guest Strips

Long day at work? Check.
Delicious root beer float? Check.
TWIW post about guest strips as promised? Check.

Guest Strips are, for the most part, a phenomenon particular to webcomics. I could go into the reasons why the practice is so foreign to newspaper strips or comic books, but suffice it to say that when real life strikes and events interfere with a webcartoonist's production, it's much more feasible for him to enlist the help of his cartoonist colleagues in order to provide comic content.

Brandon Bolt of Nobody Scores has gone on record as "not believing in guest comics," arguing that guest cartoonists rarely produce something consistent with the original cartoonist's idea for his comic. There's some merit to this critique--guest strips pretty much necessarily have to be non-canon, and might even be viewed as little more than glorified fan art. And though not impossible, it's certainly hard to bring dignity to the task of creating fan art for a webcomic. Additionally, as one reader recently stated, "Guest strips can be fun, but I doubt any of us signed up so as to see more guest strips."

But me? I actually like the guest-strip phenomenon. I enjoy seeing familiar characters in a different artistic style, for starters. Additionally, it's a way for an artist to basically share his comic with another artist, a kind of circumscribed collaboration project. From a practical standpoint, it's a feasible way to take a brief sabbatical when necessary, or keep one's comic updated when one gets hit with one of life's little crises. Plus, guest strips can introduce readers to cartoonists that they may not have been aware of.

So, the "guest strip" concept has its critics, but in my estimation there's also some merit to it. That said, let's look at what guest strips we have this week.
  • Scott Kurtz of PVP is currently taking time off from his strip to mourn the loss of his basset hound, Kirby. Pets are often like family members, and their death is no light thing. You can read Scott's reflections on Kirby in the PVP blog and check out the two weeks of PVP guest strips from several prominent webcartoonists.

  • Gordon McAlpin of Multiplex, in order to allow himself time and space for moving, ran guest comics on this past Monday and Wednesday, which take advantage of their guest-strip nature to deliver some very silly Multiplex scenarios. For today's Multiplex update, however, Gordon provided a normal in-continuity strip, and next week will show one or two more guest strips before Multiplex resumes as normal. Interestingly, Brandon J. Carr's Wednesday update provides timely commentary on Earth Day and Disney's recently-released documentary "Earth."

  • Putting a rarely-seen twist on the "guest strip" concept, Luke Surl is set to deliver a month of guest artists; while Luke himself will provide characteristically witty writing for his comics this month, we'll see these concepts illustrated in a variety of artistic styles by a broad spectrum of cartoonists. The collaborations began with Wednesday's update, drawn by Cedric Atizado of Familiar Ground.

  • Finally, Penny and Aggie is preparing to make permanent changes to its resident artist. As T Campbell recently announced to P&A's fan community, artist Gisele Lagace, while continuing to be involved with P&A in a consultative capacity, will cede the role of artist to Jason Waltrip (Fans!) and use her time to pursue other creative projects. As Jason prepares to take the reins, P&A will employ a number of other guest artists until he settles in. The most recent story arc, beginning with this comic, is drawn by Sam Romero, and today's comic was created by Erica Henderson.

So, the above guest strips should provide you with some interesting reading, but equally interesting is the idea of the guest strip itself. What do you think about the concept of "guest strips" and their role in webcomics culture? As always, I welcome your comments.


George said...

I think guest-strips are great becuase it's like getting to play with someone else's way-cooler toys. Plus, it's a good break for everyone involved. I like to see other artists' interpetations of varying characters.

Brendan McGinley said...

Delicious root beer float? We are clear to launch.

Peter said...

was this all just a clever way of asking for guest strips for borderlineboy/pungirls/actionrobotadventures?


Jackson said...

I meant to mention this in the actual post, and I can't believe I forgot to, but one of the most interesting guest strips to me was
one from last year at Calamities of Nature ( It's the only time I've ever seen a guest strip inspire an entire in-continuity storyline, and moreover, I think the "little big problem" is one of Calamities' funniest plot arcs. It's an interesting example of the communal and collaborative aspect of webcomics.

T Campbell... said...

Minor correction: I agree that Luke Surl's method is rarely-seen, but I've been using it for about nine years. All of Fans and virtually all of P&A is written by me but we've worked with a variety of guest artists now and again.

fluffy said...

There have been other cases of in-canon spawning as a result of out-of-canon fan strips. For example, early Keenspot comic "Everything Jake" took a massive turn in direction as a result of a one-off joke in a guest comic (involving one of the main characters losing a hand and some fairly random WTFery), and I believe Sluggy Freelance has similarly incorporated guest strip content into the main continuity.

And then there's quite a few comics out there which are run by a writer and drawn a chapter at a time by what is essentially a roster of guest cartoonists; "Unlike Minerva" is an early example, and Shaenon Garrity's "Li'l Mell" operated in that fashion for a long time (although Garrity has recently just taken to drawing it herself).

Jackson said...

Thanks for pointing those examples out, Fluffy. I think I remember that bit from "Everything Jake," actually. I guess what I labeled as "rarities" aren't as rare as I originally surmised!

Luke Surl said...

Well, judging from the response so far the month seems to be going pretty well. I'm quite aware that people probably read my comic for the writing rather than the art - I don't think anyone will mind if the art changes (largely for the better) for a month.