Friday, July 31, 2009

Superfogeys, Chapter 3

As I continue my chapter-by-chapter reviews, Brock Heasley's Superfogeys advances well ahead of me. Currently it's looking into the earliest exploits of its now-retired super-protagonists with "Superfogeys: Origins," and I'm still getting caught up on the present. Today we'll see what develops back at the rest home in Chapter 3: "The Techno Shuffle."

What Goes Down in Chapter 3

Chapter 3's plotline centers around a new face in Valhalla: Dictator Tot. Sentenced to community service at Valhalla, the child-prodigy supervillain must introduce the Fogeys to the world of internet technology, and by "introduce" I mean "drag kicking and screaming into." There is a brief, amusing sideplot in which Spy Gal comes on strong to the rest home's Director, and we are introduced to Captain Spectacular's senile ex-wife, Star Maiden. In the end, though, the major events of the chapter are shown to be the machinations of the shadowy and seldom-seen Third Man, as a plot against Captain Spectacular. The Third Man himself is not who he seems to be, and at the end of the chapter the Fogeys continue oblivious even to his existence.

Is It Good Today?

In my estimation, this is the funniest chapter so far. The old-vs.-new generational dichotomy, introduced with the healer in the previous chapter, is played to extremes with Dictator Tot. It's utterly humiliating for the elderly superheroes to take instructions from the most childish of children, to the point where Captain Spectacular refuses to even turn on his computer (until he is called upon to stop a Dr. Rocket's viral-networking world conquest plot through his Webspace page). Dictator Tot herself is absolute money: a bratty supergenius toddler, dressed in a fur-lined cape, tiara, and military commander's uniform, makes for a ridiculous visual image, and her lines are loaded with comic irony.

The humor here is all about contrasts. We have such preposterous, surreal moments as a fearsome megalomaniac supervillain snuggling with her big-person friend and a warden who still suffers from her psychological torture. One note: a few characters' Webspace pages play a role in the chapter's plotline, and at the end of the chapter, there are more Webspace pages for various super-figures. Some of them are laughworthy, notably those for Swifty and Jerry, but the gag gets drawn out well after its humor has been depleted. Fortunately, though, the pages come at the end of the chapter, so a reader who finds herself bored can skip ahead to the next chapter with no real loss.

Although it's largely plot-driven, the characterization becomes stronger in this chapter. In previous chapters, the Fogeys largely manifested their character by having different ways of being old. Captain Spectacular's memories and stories from his super-past are fitting for a retired hero, but this chapter further differentiates the cast in ways that transcend their age. You get the impression that Spy Gal has always been savvy and competent, and Jerry has always been overeager and a bit of a dork.


At this point, I'm looking forward to reading the next chapter of Superfogeys--to the point where part of me feels like reviewing it chapter-by-chapter is slowing me down. The bottom line is: if you're looking for a humorous twist on the superhero genre, or if you just like good character-driven humor in general, Superfogeys is well worth your time.

7/31: Bullet Points

Today's full-length post will go up later today. But until then: the news goes bang.

More words about webcomics later today. And as always, you can follow my Twitter for links to new TWIW posts, daily updates with the "webcomic Pick of the Day," and inane babbling about Disgaea 2 and sandwiches. I'll see you in the future!

Saturday, July 25, 2009

7/24: Week-in-Review in Comic Form #3 (finally!)

Co-written by Jackson Ferrell and Eli Parker; illustrated by Jackson Ferrell
Unwinder appears courtesy of Unwinder's Tall Comics
Abe Lincoln appears courtesy of Thinkin' Lincoln, or maybe just history
(and frankly he'd probably make a more tolerable co-host, disembodied floating head or not)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Sidenote: a Little News about TWIW

As you can see from the results of the You-Choose-the-Reviews poll above, readers demand more Superfogeys and Marooned. To what extent this results from Brock Heasley and Tom Dell’Aringa hurling their fans at my site like so many Prinnies, I'm not sure, but their respective comics pulled into the lead early on before news even spread about the poll, so I'm pretty sure this reflects what the readers want. And who doesn't like more traffic?

But in all seriousness, thanks to all of you who voted or publicized the poll. I'll be reviewing Superfogeys #3 sometime in the next few weeks, and Marooned shortly after that.

In other news, I've had video games on the brain lately. Yesterday I posted a few reflections on Penny Arcade, which you may have seen already. And those of you who have been following my Twitter know I've been playing Disgaea 2. I beat it yesterday, and it is hands-down the most hilarious tactical RPG I have ever played, not that there are many hilarious tactical RPGs out there. Apparently there is a manga, which I am thinking of picking up to see if it is as hilarious as the game.

But I digress; you come here for the webcomics. In all likelihood, Friday's week-in-review post will go up late Friday evening, and long-time readers know what that means. I'll see you guys tomorrow, and until then, stay cool and read good comics.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Adventures of the Irrelevant Webcomic Critic: Penny Arcade

A little over a year ago, shortly before I began this blog, I made a post to my personal blog on the topic of Penny Arcade. The post, titled "The Adventures of the Irrelevant Webcomic Critic," was in a way a precursor to this blog--about that time, I was realizing that if I read so many webcomics, I might as well talk about them with the internet. Here's a slightly-edited excerpt from that post: edited because, well, I am a better writer now.

Lately, Penny Arcade has been falling flat for me. Some of the recent strips have been good--like the one about the crystallized demon blood in the guy's refrigerator--but a lot of them I have just not found funny. The other day I was asking myself why, because I really want to like PA, every time, if at all possible.

Some of Penny Arcade's funniest and most compelling work, I realized, revolves around the concept of
shame, particularly characters' perceptions of merited and unmerited shame. Consider the following comic, in which Tycho is reluctant to share the content of the user-targeted in-game advertising he is seeing: even while laughing, the reader can almost feel his discomfort sympathetically. Here's another one, where Tycho has forgotten his embarrassment and gets far too enthusiastic about the erotic possibilities of science-fiction extraterrestrial encounters. Gabe often doesn't know when it's appropriate to feel or display shame: for example, here. Or here. He is far too open about his endeavors! And that's funny.

But within the past month or so, deep though it may be, that
well of shame has scarcely been tapped. The last place we really saw situational humor of this sort, relying on characters' differing expectations of what should and should not be was this comic. Now, Penny Arcade has a rich and diverse past of jokes, and they need not rely on shame to create quality material. For example: they're typically excellent satirists. However, Samus kicking Pikachu in the face is simply less robust as a comedic concept than Gabe's obliviousness to his own social dysfunction.

Lately I've been thinking about Penny Arcade again, for a variety of reasons. I figured I'd dig out that old post because at the time, I thought the path to a better and funnier Penny Arcade was paved with further explorations of shame. But then they busted out of the slump with the whole Deep Crow thing, and while their current work isn't the best they've ever done, it's decidedly stronger than a year ago. And lately I've realized: Penny Arcade doesn't have to be funny all the time in order to be good.

Penny Arcade provides more than just humor. As I've mentioned before, their take-no-crap attitude brings much-needed accountability to the game industry, whether it's through satirical invectives or celebration of genuinely awesome games. They're not beholden to game companies, retailers, or advertisers. They're not even beholden to their readers, in the sense that Krahulik and Holkins are free to experiment with off-the-wall not-even-gaming-related things like Twisp and Catsby or the Cardboard Tube Samurai.

And I guess that's where they're taking things these days: somewhere new. Krahulik's art has been taking new directions, shedding a bit of its Stephen-Silver influence for a more painterly approach to coloring. Also, with concepts like Lookouts and Automata, and projects like the Penny Arcade Adventures computer games, the two are expanding beyond continuity-optional humor into original storytelling. And if nothing else, the sorts of stories they're telling are at least original.

In short, I'm not sure what the future holds for Penny Arcade, but they do seem to be making better comics as of late, and hopefully the trend will continue. Suffice it to say that while a year ago I was considering taking them off my list of regulars, I'm much more interested now in following what they're up to.

(This post has been brought to you by Google and The Penny Arcade Wiki)

Friday, July 17, 2009

7/17: Week in Review

I suppose it was only a matter of time. In light of the flagging economy, businesses are playing it conservative and cutting back, and it was all but a given that we'd see it in webcomics, as three strips from my list of regulars have scaled back their update schedules in some form or another. However, that doesn't explain the confluence--why this week? I majored in English, not Econ, so I don't know.

First, this marks the first week that Thinkin' Lincoln shifted from a daily comic to a Tuesdays-only weekly. Fans of Miles Grover's characteristic absurdist humor need not fear, however, as he has launched a new comic titled Creep House. This new offering features a house of monstrous flatmates: a wizard, a Dracula-style vampire, an evil skeleton overlord with a distinct visual resemblance to He-Man's arch-nemesis, and others. The first comic gets things off to an especially good start, and even though I've largely grown used to Thinkin' Lincoln's disembodied floating historical heads, it's nice to see something fresh and hand-drawn from Miles Grover.

Second, Michael Firman is scaling back his comic Moe, in what he calls an Emergency Nose Reduction. Owing to some changes in schedule at his day job, Moe will now be running two or three times a week, with details to be revealed as Firman establishes his new cartooning routine and figures out exactly what he can commit to. Even with decreased update frequency, Moe is still worth reading, at least in my book. You can start following the latest plot thread here.

Third, Norm Feuti's Gill has gone on indefinite hiatus. According to the cartoonist, Gill will be placed on hold entirely while he pursues two other projects for (roughly) the duration of the summer. However, Gill fans can still get their fix of Feuti's cartooning work with his syndicated comic, Retail, which is exactly what it says on the label: life in retail. As of this entry, it's in the middle of a story arc, so this is a good place for those interested to start getting acquainted with the characters and what they're up to. Hopefully, we'll also hear more about Feuti's other two projects as they develop.

In cutback-related news, Joe Dunn and Phil Chan's Another Videogame Webcomic hasn't gone on hiatus, but it has begun a No-more-PSP-reviews-a-thon. Phil Chan's PS3 is broken, and to raise the $150 required to repair it, AWV is having a donation drive. Contributors can receive desktop wallpapers, prints of original artwork featuring the AVW character Damsel as Princess Peach (image may be previewed here), and prints of other AVW strips, depending on their level of monetary contribution. Additionally, to further broaden the spectrum of games that AVW can review, all surplus funds will go toward the purchase of an XBox 360. If you're a video game fan who also enjoys Dunn and Chan's work, please consider making a contribution--there's something in it for you and them both.

So, that's the news of note that I've dug up this week. I want to share a few more comic updates, however, so it's time to hit you with another installment of

  • This week, Sheldon concludes a storyline it began last week in which Dante enters a children's art contest. Characters with creative pursuits, when well-written, allow the cartoonist to explore the topics of art and inspiration, without the heavy-handed level of meta that comes from making the character a cartoonist. This short storyline has stayed true to Dante's character as the plot arc develops into a test of his artistic integrity, and it stays funny throughout, so I think it's a success.
  • How is the above item supposed to be a bullet point? It's practically a fricking paragraph. Geez.
  • Nobody Scores also addresses the nature of art with its latest comic, Nobody Scores with a Captive Audience. Expressive cartooning as always, and Beans' narcissism as an artist is pretty hilarious. In my estimation, Brandon Bolt has really been on fire lately, so go ahead and check out his recent comics.
  • Thursday's A Softer World delivers a well-timed and painfully funny comic that I expect many of us can identify with. To tell you what it's about, though, would spoil the punchline.

And with that, we bring this week's entry to a close. Readers from Marooned and Superfogeys have migrated here en masse to influence the You-Choose-the-Reviews poll above (hi guys!), but if you haven't already, you still have until Monday to cast your vote and tip the scales. Also, if anyone else has seen a popular comic scale back its updates or go on Indefinite Hiatus ™ this week, please let me know. I'm curious whether this is part of a larger trend. As always, feel free to share your own comic picks from this week in the comments, and I'll see you all next week.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

This Guy is Going to Put Me out of a Job

Webcomics Update

As a webcomic blogger, I sometimes find myself beaten at my own game. I'll be considering doing a comic-form update, and then the Webcomic TV guy goes and starts Webcomic TV. Just recently, I was thinking of writing a review of Daisy Owl, and then El Santo of Webcomics Overlook goes and posts a review that pretty much says it all. And now there's this guy, the Webcomics Update Guy.

What I do roughly every week with my "Week in Review" posts, this guy does every day. He reads a host of webcomics and writes a few lines of summary and reaction to each daily update. It's what I do, only more concise and more frequent. Curse you, Webcomics Update Guy! You have rendered me obsolete!

In all seriousness, I thought you guys might enjoy seeing what this guy is up to. Drop back here on Friday for your usual week-in-review post...assuming you haven't all migrated over to Webcomics Update. Or, for that matter, Is It Funny Today?, which is still the best online equivalent of the newspaper funny pages. Open it up and find yourself some funny.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Share Your Story: How Did You Get into Webcomics?

As you know, I run this blog because I enjoy talking about webcomics--not just to you, but with you. Thus, from time to time I invite you to speak your bit about comics.

Today, I'd like to hear how you got into webcomics. What was your first webcomic? How were you introduced to it? When and how did you start following webcomics regularly? Tell me your stories--I'd love to hear 'em.

Also, you have about one week left to vote in the Review Requestion Poll above. In case you're curious about some of the comics up for possible review, here's a handful of links:

So, vote in the poll, drop a comment, interact. We welcome your input. And by "we" I guess I just mean me.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Why Web?

As you may have noticed from my Twitter feed or from the current review request poll, I recently bought copies of Deadpool Classic #1 and #2. Also, I've been picking up graphic novels from the library, such as Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis and K. Thor Jensen's Red Eye Black Eye.

I've had print comics on the brain recently, and I've gotten to thinking: creating a print comic is an involved process, from the creation to the printing to the distribution and promotion. It costs to create a physical, tangible comic--an investment of both time and effort. Creators and publishers alike want to ensure a good return on their investment; they make an effort to avoid bad ideas and to develop good ideas through the editorial process. My Deadpool comics credit a massive creative team in each issue, from directors to writers to letterers to inkers and colorists. Each person brings his own unique talents to the project, along with a silly nickname. But the silly nickname is beside the point.

Webcomics, on the other hand, don't have such an entry bar. (Again, I'm talking about quality, not the silly nicknames.) The low cost of online distribution allows anyone to publish his comics to a site or blog with very little effort. Further, strips can exist on the web that would never get past the editorial process--crude and sketchy trainwrecks drawn in MS Paint, or story-based comics with shoddy characterization and no attention to plot. The upshot of all this is that any comic committed to print will possess a bare minimum of quality that the average webcomic has no compulsion to match, which leads us to the question:

If print comics tend to be better--then why web?

Why--despite my dabbling in Deadpool and "autobiographic novels"--do I predominantly turn to the internet for my comic fix? The simple answer is that I'm a cheapskate. The guy who writes this blog is addicted to clipping restaurant coupons and buys his fish sticks in bulk. But there's a deeper reason beyond mere "economy of reading."

The 'net may have no minimum quality bar, but 'net innovates. There are comics that work on the web that you simply can't find elsewhere. A static-art comic in which dinosaurs discuss philosophical and social issues while a T-Rex is locked in a perpetual cycle of stomping a log cabin? Good luck selling that one to the syndicates! Penny Arcade's MA-rated violence and obscenity would bar them from all but the most lenient publications (even gaming magazines), but their caustic satire and intolerance for crap games brings much-needed accountability to the gaming industry, along with the inspired weirdness of Twisp and Catsby and The Song of the Sorcelator. Similarly, Nobody Scores' R-rated hijinks would be impossibly-pressed to find a home in print, and even if they did, their cynical and anarchic energy could not be adequately contained in anything but infinite canvas. And where else could you find an affectionate parody of superhero comics whose titular character is both a licensed medical practitioner and a ninja?

And the technical proficiency of Dr. McNinja's creative team illustrate the principle: while there is no minimum quality requirement for online publication, neither is there a maximum. There's nothing keeping a talented and hardworking cartoonist from producing comics just as good as those of his print brethren.

I read webcomics because I'm a cheapskate, certainly. But I also read them because I like good comics--and you can't find this level of innovation anywhere else.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Poll: Review Requestions, Anyone?

Hello, all. I hope you had a good 4th of July weekend. I hope you also enjoyed this past week's comic-form update. It is democracy that makes this country truly great, and let it never be said that I don't listen to the voice of the masses. As part of my ongoing quest to give the peoples what they want, I would like to know what comic you want me to review next, so please take a moment to vote in the poll above. I'm still working on the free waffles, but in the meantime, you can let me know what reviews you're interested in.

If you enjoyed the comic-form update, please share it with a friend who likes comics. Thanks, guys--I'll see you again on Friday.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

7/4: Week-in-Review, Once Again in Comic Form

And that's a wrap for this week's show. Tune in next week for more words about comics! But without the pictures this time, my hand is cramping.

Co-written by Jackson Ferrell and Eli Parker; illustrated by Jackson Ferrell
Unwinder belongs to Unwinder's Tall Comics
Sara Peterson belongs to Nobody Scores
Memnon Vanderbeam belongs to Starslip
Mike Warner wants you to die in a fire