Monday, August 31, 2009

A Schedule Change Announcement

Hi, everyone. As you are reading this, I'm already at my new full-time job with National Liftgate Parts, learning the ropes and managing product. It's one of many exciting recent developments in my life (another one would be, oh say just for example, being merch guy for the freaking Multiplex Store). Obviously, with so much going on, I won't have nearly so much time to peruse webcomics at my leisure.

However, this doesn't mean you'll be getting any less This Week in Webcomics! I still plan on bringing you the weekly post by whatever means possible, because that's just my style. To accommodate my new work schedule, you can expect each week's post on Monday rather than Friday.

Also, you can expect an increased focus on reviews in the future, which I'm sure all of you who voted "you should review MY comic" on our last you-choose-the-reviews poll will be glad to hear. Vote in the poll above, and check out links to the comics up for voting in the post below.

Keep on tuning in, and I'll keep talkin' comics with you guys. I'll see you next week with a brand new review.

Slated for Review: Poll Options #1

Once again, I find myself polling my readers to see what they want to see reviewed. For your consideration:

Check 'em out, drop a vote in the poll at the top of the blog, and look forward to reviews of the comics you want reviewed. Let it never be said I didn't give the peoples what they wanted!

Friday, August 28, 2009

Getting Nifty with Sluggy Freelance

Welcome back, everyone. Today's post follows up on Wednesday's, in which I shared a Sluggy Freelance experience. Today the ensharening continues, with further reflections on Sluggy Freelance and some of my favorite Sluggy memories.

Like I said before, I'm well aware of Sluggy's flaws: a convoluted accumulation of backstory, a rocky transition from high weirdness to epic drama, and artwork that's decent at best. But no matter what John "Your Webcomic is Bad" Solomon may say have said, I don't consider a bad webcomic. It's no Penny Arcade, but if you can appreciate a "when weird things happen to normal people" story, it's worth reading.

Well, some of it, anyway. Thing's been running daily since '97--that's a lot of comic to read.

As I mentioned before, what I most enjoy about Sluggy is the central cast. They have genuine personalities, and as you spend more time reading their adventures, it gets to be like visiting good friends. Moreover, in a weirdness-driven strip, much of the fun comes from their diverse reactions to the bizarre phenomena around them. Torg meets the weirdness with boneheaded optimism; Zoe faces it with frustrated sarcasm or the occasional freak-out, and later on starts rolling up her sleeves and tackling things herself; Riff's basic response is "more firepower." Riff and later addition Gwynn are instigators of weirdness themselves. Sluggy's got the kind of cast that you can throw into a situation and just let them be themselves, and it's at its strongest when it does precisely that.

The art, moreover, has improved. It started off sketchy, with its share of stiff poses and proportion gaffes, but over time it's shown definite and substantial progress. Characters are drawn much more consistently now; Pete Abrams has developed particular strength with dramatic use of shadow and camera angles. Sluggy Freelance demonstrates that if you consistently pick up a pencil and go to war with the blank space, you will become a better artist. Never underestimate the value of dogged daily perseverance.

And that's true of more than just the art. Sluggy Freelance is significant for the webcomic world in that it showed new possibilities for cartoonists. As one of the longest-running comics online, and one that supports its creator as a full-time job, it's one of the success stories. Moreover, much of that support comes from its donor club "Defenders of the Nifty." As much as merchandise and ad revenue, Sluggy is supported by its fans simply saying, "We like what you're doing, and we want to enable you to keep doing it." Pete Abrams is willing to experiment, develop, and grapple with the balancing act between comedy and drama, and the cumulative effect of his tenacity is greater than any single flaw.

With that said (and said and said and said...get to the fun stuff, Jackson!), it's time for my favorite Sluggy memories.

Probably my favorite storyline of all time is when, after Torg has gone missing in the Dimension of Pain, the gang reach into the wrong alternate universe for him and retrieve a purple-haired Portuguese-speaking Torg. Meanwhile, the Torg we know finds himself in an alternate reality where everything is nice. The weirdness and humor are vintage Sluggy, including the fourth-panel reversal in this strip. In "Fire and Rain," a reference back to this story alleviates the drama with some much-needed humor. Sluggy often relies on classic setups with reversals and "What could go wrongs?" for its humor, but you've never seen them done with purple-haired Portuguese body doubles.

Another of my favorite storylines is Sluggy of the Living Freelance. It's a textbook example of the dynamic between the main cast that I mentioned before: Pete Abrams coops his cast up in a cabin, surrounds it with zombies, and lets the panicked terror do its work. The gags are entertaining, and the conclusion has two ridiculous twists to it.

One last strip bears mention in my Sluggy experience, but first a bit of backstory. In high school, my brother David began wearing gym shorts under his pants everywhere he went. If his pants developed a stain or a hole, or if he suddenly decided to go swimming, he would simply take them off. "You never know when you'll need them," he told us. One day Charles IMed me a link to a Sluggy Freelance accompanied by a single word: "Dave." As they say, great minds think alike.

What's been your Sluggy experience? What are some of your favorite strips or storylines? Drop a comment--I'd like to hear what you've got to say about Sluggy Freelance.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sluggy Freelance: Jackson Gets Personal

It's Saturday as I start writing this, and I'm sitting here staring at a blank blogpost form. I know I have to write this. It's not that I don't know where to begin; I know where to begin. But sometimes beginning is hard.

I'm going to open up in this post, and it's going to get personal. And that can be uncomfortable. I know we're all comic fans here, but still, it can be embarrassing to admit that comics mean something to you. What kind of a nerd-boy gets into webcomics this much? But you gotta start somewhere, so here I am: starting.

Let's start with high school.

I first got into webcomics in high school. Or rather, I got into webcomic in high school. My friend Jason introduced me to Penny Arcade, and while I didn't tune in for every update, I'd check it from time to time in the library before school started. That was 2000: when Metroid Prime was just a news headline at IGN, when there were still things to be filled with cream. I graduated in 2001.

College afforded me much more free time, and I began to fill that free time with more webcomics. I made new friends who introduced me to their favorites. I pulled late-night archive binges and caught up with Megatokyo, Real Life, Mac Hall, and Rob and Elliot. I started keeping up with update days. And my friend Charles introduced me to Sluggy Freelance.

I'm well aware of the criticisms of Sluggy Freelance. It's been accused of Cerebus Syndrome, bloated continuity, and artwork that one cartoonist has said makes him "want to murder puppies." Moreover, the charges have a measure of validity. All the same, it's a good thing I had more relaxed standards for artwork then, because otherwise I would have missed out.

Because Sluggy was funny. It had a freewheeling, make-it-up-as-we-go quality to it. The characters' schticks, from Zoe's beleaguered-everygirl bit to Riff's "let me check my notes," lent familiarity and consistency to the madcap sci-fi and parody adventures that befell the core cast. Pathetic, overconfident Sam Sein got turned into a vampire; it's only slight exaggeration to say that Sluggy Freelance lampooned the Twilight trend ten years before it started.

At 1 in the morning, I was stifling my laughter and trying not to wake up my roommate. Oh, the relentless puns! Puns saved the world.

But as I made my way through the archives each day, the cast began to feel like good friends to me. I tagged along on their bizarre adventures because I liked being with them. I got invested in their world; I genuinely liked them, and their ups and downs affected me. By the time I'd caught up with the archives, the recent dramatic storyline Fire and Rain had reached down in my chest and grabbed tight. I was hooked.

That was 2002. As I kept reading over the years, while Pete Abrams' art improved to decent levels, his storytelling spun out of control. I didn't get hooked on Sluggy because it had epic grand-scale plots spanning time and space. I got into it because I cared about the characters. Zoe and Torg's star-crossed, never-quite-on relationship was central to my interest in Sluggy's continuity, and as the central cast's lives took a backseat to weird events and cosmic power-plays, I lost interest.

Somewhere around Oceans Unmoving, I started tuning in weekly rather than daily.

Somewhere around Oceans Unmoving II, I started forgetting to tune in weekly.

And shortly after Years of Yarncraft, I stopped tuning in at all.

It had been about a year since I'd had a real look at Sluggy. Then, Friday night, I came across this post at Damn Good Comics. Apparently, Pete Abrams had recently opened up the Zoe-Torg-Oasis Love Triangle of Death again, and the story thread was pushing toward a resolution.

I busted open the start of the story arc in a new tab and tore in.

There's a lot this story arc did right. Pitting the unstoppable force of Bun-Bun against the immovable object of Oasis was a good move. Riff's Mark 19 robot was another one: in a throwback to Riff's previous mecha, everything that could go wrong did, at first comically, then with mounting gravity as failure mounted on failure. Bottom line is, after so much time away from Sluggy, the storyline got me engaged again. Fast.

And by the time I reached the resolution in Friday's strip...sure enough, Sluggy had reached one of those moments where it reached down inside of me, grabbed my heart, and jerked hard.

If you've been away from Sluggy Freelance, this is worth coming back for. It's sad, and it changes things irrevocably, but if you're invested in these characters like I am, it'll move you.

It's funny how things coincide sometimes, how they all seem to come full-circle at once. Somehow this arc feels like a lot of things in my life: there's a tragic side to it, but at least you've gotten some closure. It's time to stand up and move forward now. And yes, this post is personal and a little rough around the edges, but I felt like I had to get this off my chest while it's still fresh. Sluggy Freelance is not without its shortcomings, but despite all its flaws, I've enjoyed it, and I'm not ashamed of that.

Check back on Friday, where I'll be revisiting a few of my favorite Sluggy moments. Also tune in this coming Monday for an important announcement. A few things are gonna be changing, but many things will be new and cool.

Friday, August 21, 2009

8/21: Friday Bullet Points

If you haven't seen yesterday's comic-form interview with the creators of Blank It, I'd encourage you to hop down an entry and check it out. But now it's time for...

  • The Multiplex Store launches today. This is especially exciting for me because I am the merch guy! If you place an order, I'll be the guy shipping out your t-shirts and stuff to you. Stop by the store and check out the selection--Gordon McAlpin and I are both very pleased with the shirt designs we've got available, and more are in development right now.
  • In shirt-related-but-non-me-related news, Real Life has done something innovative and awesome this week. Every comic this week was scripted by a Real Life reader! Greg Dean sorted through each day's submissions and created the strip whose idea he liked best. It's a hilarious Shirt Ninja adventure with an epic climax, and it's well worth checking out.
  • Cat and Girl has been similarly at the top of its game this week. It brought us comics about the youth-afflicting social disease sickle cell bohemia and late-80s edutainment software Mavis Beacon Teaches Typing. I learned to type with Mavis Beacon, and I, like Girl, always thought Mavis Beacon really existed, as some celebrity of education. Only thing is, what the heck was Thursday's comic about?

And that's the news. Have a good weekend, and buy lots of shirts! We at This Week in Webcomics are nothing if not shameless.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Comic-Form Interview: Aric and Lemmo (Blank It)

Visit the webcomic Blank It

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It
Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It
Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It
Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It
Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Aric McKeown and Lem Pew provide webcomic recommendationsJACKSON: Customarily, I close out the interview by asking for some recommendations. What comics do you guys keep up with? What are some of your favorites?

LEMMO: Girls with Slingshots, Dr. McNinja, Wapsi Square, and check out Joe and Monkey's return from hiatus.Aric McKeown and Lem Pew provide webcomic recommendations
ARIC: I love Nedroid, Scary Go Round, Pictures for Sad Children, Hark, a Vagrant!, and Overcompensating the most.Aric McKeown and Lem Pew provide webcomic recommendations

Jackson Ferrell interviews Aric McKeown and Lem Pew of Blank It

Be sure to check out
Visit the webcomic Blank It

Monday, August 17, 2009

The Pick-of-the-Day Project

It's been awhile since I did a genuine, bona fide week-in-review update--and I've got a special feature planned for this Friday, so it'll be longer still--but you can still get my recommendations of the best of the recent best. I update my Twitter with a "Pick of the Day," my favorite strip from my regularly-checked webcomics (and whatever others I may happen to read that day). If you need your recommendation fix, just tune in on Twitter.

Whenever a strip you read is particularly good, I'd like to encourage you to do a Pick of the Day of your own! Just tweet it up with a link to the comic, and hashtags #webcomics and #pickoftheday so that it's easy for us to pick up your recommendations. I look forward to seeing what you've got to recommend, and I'll see you all on Friday with a brand-new special feature!

Friday, August 14, 2009

Top Ten: Nobody Scores Comics #1-275

If you read this blog regularly, you're no stranger to Nobody Scores. While it's not for everyone, its angry, R-rated tales of protracted failure have their own appeal. You have to be a certain sort of person to appreciate the humor, but when you read a Nobody Scores episode, even the most hardened pessimist can't help but think, "At least my life isn't this bad." Plus, the whole thing is one of the best-drawn comics on the web.

With cartoonist Brandon Bolt preparing to take his traditional "summer vacation," from his comic, Nobody Scores readers will have to make do with the archives for the next month. To sate your thirst, I present the top ten comics of the first two years (#1-275), in ascending order of excellence.

As with our previous top ten list, this list is no mere catalog of personal preferences! Each the excellence of each entry on this list has been confirmed by empirical observation and placed in an ordinal scale among the other entries, through the scientific process known as "archive trawling." The results are absolutely normative and free from bias of any kind, and if you dispute them then you clearly have no understanding of comic science.

No, really.

10. "The Confrontational Dead" (NS!#144)
Even though zombie apocalypses have been done to death (pun intended), Brandon Bolt breathes some life into the subject by tweaking the expected ending. Sara and Raoul's dialogue also keeps the scenario fresh. I particularly like Sara's blatantly indifferent response to Raoul's inquiry about Beans.

9. "The Winkerbeaner" (NS!#107)
Nobody Scores loves to comment on the state of newspaper comics, and when you stop to consider it, the Funkywinkerbeaniverse and the Nobodyscoresiverse are a match made in heaven. The only real difference is that the Nobodyscoresiverse is a little more self-aware about its catastrophes. And a little more over-the-top.
Just a little.

8. "The Duckulator" (NS!#175)
When the situation calls for a duck: there's the Duckulator. Inspired "Doofus Ex Machina" surreality, but the highlight is Raoul's authoritative command of the classroom. Truly, he brooks no dissent!

7. "Cynical Girl" (NS!#258)
Jane burns through fads like they're three-way appetizer samplers on Football Night at Willie's Sports Bar. But what does she do when her "casual cynicism" schtick finally sticks? Just ride it out, breaking hearts and shattering dreams all the way.

6. "The Scott McCloud Injection" (NS!#86)
When Nobody Scores takes on the topic of comics as a medium, self-parody has never been more vicious.

5. "You Just Had to Ask" (NS!#65)
This is your descent into madness. This is your descent into madness on drugs. Any questions?

4. "Meet the New Boss" (NS!#15)
As far as the main cast's interpersonal dynamic goes, this is a textbook Nobody Scores comic. Sara takes over as boss of the apartment, and proceeds to abuse her position. And by "position" I mean "roommates."

3. "Allllnighter" (NS!#61)
High school and college students as well as corporate-minded professionals will identify with this comic--though hopefully not too much. When caffeine proves insufficient to keep her working productively through the night, Sara leverages her resources to create a conducive work environment. The resources are her roommates.

2. "The Trick, Somewhere" (NS!#261)
Even though the official "Nobody Scores with Scoring" 3-strip arc concluded this week, I still consider this to be the quintessential "even when you win, you lose" comic. Everything's going Sara's way--what's responsible for this winning streak? And what will she do with her newfound good fortune? And why doesn't Firefox's onboard dictionary recognize "newfound" or "onboard" as real words?

And my all-time favorite the objectively best Nobody Scores comic of #1-275 is...

1. "Scalia's Gonna Cry" (NS!#116)
Plenty of webcomics mine internet memes as a source of potential comedy, but this is the only comic I've seen to tap into the "diet coke and mentos" trend on Youtube. Brandon Bolt takes a simple prank war between friends and escalates it to cataclysmic proportions, ultimately yielding the most surreal court decision ever to grace a comic page. I'm still waiting for a poster of this one to show up in the Nobody Scores store. Are you reading this, Bolt? I demand posters! Posters!

Totally objective!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Poll Results: Your Reading Habits

According to poll results, readers enjoy finding new comics and keeping up with their favorites in equal measure. They are markedly less likely to go back and reread a comic that they're up to speed on, but if the poll is indicative, a few webcomic enthusiasts (among whom I would count myself) enjoy going back and checking out older strips and storylines from their favorites. Now you know--and knowing is half the battle.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Review: Marooned

Webcartoonists, more so than others in the comic industry, have to be jacks of all trades. At a major comic company, a project typically employs a sizable team--a writer, penciler/inker, colorist, letterer, project director, marketer, and more--and a staff member rarely has to fill more than two of these roles. Even the syndicated cartoonist has his editors, helping him polish his strip and weed out unfeasible jokes. Ostensibly, anyway. The webcartoonist, in comparison, has to wear a lot of hats. For this reason, it helps to be completely and utterly off his rocker. Even if a webcartoonist is not crazy, he may soon become crazy, simply because he has so many hats to wear.

Today we're looking at mad hatter Tom Dell’Aringa and his comic Marooned. Marooned, billed as "a space opera in the wrong key," might also be described as a comedy of errors. On an expedition to Mars, Captain John and his robot companion Asimov find their shuttle broken down, and as they enlist the help of the local Martians to find a way off the planet, one thing after another goes wrong. Earth is unable to send help, hostile forces threaten their mission, and Captain John even acquires a serious illness.

The Story Hat

The comic initially takes the tone of a gag-a-day strip, but as cartoonist Dell'Aringa finds his footing, it becomes clear that he's much more interested in telling a story. And as a story, Marooned particularly succeeds in its pacing and overall scope. The plotline contains one twist after another to keep the reader engaged (most often in the form of something else going wrong), but the twists are never a gimmick to grab attention. Each revelation builds on the existing story naturally and fits into a larger plot structure, even hinting at parts of the structure that have yet to be revealed. At the first major twist--the introduction of a second, hostile robot that wants to take over the Mars mission--I found myself reading because I was genuinely interested in the storyline.

Its lead duo, John and Asimov, differs from your usual pair of protagonists in that both of them are thoroughgoing cynics. John is an egotistical space captain with an inflated view of his own abilities and a low view of his AI companion, while Asimov has low expectations for the fallible human astronaut. Much of the humor early on revolves around their back-and-forth insults, which are (truth be told) about as memorable as the typical banter that you exchange with your friends and colleagues. Pacing and plotting are strong points, but at points the script is lacking (as in this uninspired joke). At one point, an artifact of great power is revealed to be a glorified Rubik's Cube, and I'm still not sure what to make of it. Is it a successful joke that turns the whole drama on its head, or does it detract from the gravity of the situation to the comic's detriment? I don't know.

Also worth noting is the "humanity" of the Martians. Its Martian leads, Ugo and Ril, and the rest of the extraterrestrial cast are every bit as quirky, petulant, or grave as any human being. There is no language barrier, and with a few eccentricities, Martian culture is not terribly different from that of earth. Contrast that with Starslip, whose current storyline features twenty-story tall aliens with twenty-three distinct meter-long radial tongues. Now, I'm partial to science fiction that conveys the sheer alien-ness of its aliens, but Maroon's cyclopean Martians have their own charm, and their relatability as human-like characters actually enhances the story.

The Art Hat

Marooned is a color strip, making good use of dusty Martian reds and steely blue-grays in its palette. Additionally, despite its cartoonish and stylized characters, it occasionally employs digital lighting effects, spot hatching, and additional detail work to good effect. The art isn't sophisticated, but it's solid, functional, and willing to go the extra mile at times. The results can be striking.

I came across one serious hiccup, though. When a second human is introduced to the comic (warning: strip contains spoilers), Dell’Aringa opts to draw her in a realistically-proportioned style. Unfortunately, this choice reveals an artistic weakness in rendering realistic human figures. Additionally, the style clashes with John's cartoonish face and padded-spacesuit body, and with the appearance of the rest of the cast. I'd give Tom Dell'Aringa the same advice as Luke Surl: continue to practice real-life figure drawing, and make use of such resources as

But I don't want to harp on this hiccup, because the art is decidedly, decidedly above-average for a webcomic, especially with regard to lettering and word-bubbles. Even though Dell'Aringa experiments and develops his art as the strip progresses, trying out new shading and detailing techniques, it shows notable consistency. One week's comics, "Marooned Classics," revisits and improves upon previous strips. It's fun to see the results, and one revision employs some sharp digital effects.

The Bottom Line

It's quite a balancing act for a webcomic creator to wear so many hats on his head, and it's harder still to look good doing it. Dell'Aringa tackles that balancing act well overall--in some areas more so than others--but the real strength of his comic lies in how he wears each hat in the service of telling his story. As a webcomic, Marooned shows marked cohesivity, and its down-to-earth sci-fi story makes it a good recommendation for webcomic enthusiasts and the average reader alike. I might not have checked it out if it hadn't been recommended to me for review (thanks, you guys!), but I'm glad I did, and Marooned may well prove an enjoyable read for you too.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

7/6: Bullet Points

Sometimes it's a good day for webcomics--or at least for the webcomics that you follow. Today gave me more than enough cool material for a week-in-review post, which was convenient, because I'm planning on doing the Marooned review for tomorrow. Gentlemen, behold: entertainment!
  • Terence N. Tijuana gives three gags for the price of one: canceled meetings and time travel paradoxes.
  • This week at The Book of Biff, all comics have the caption "Not all hobbies can be combined successfully," with a variety of hilarious results. The failed hobby combinations start here.
  • Over at Real Life, Pepsi Natural presents new challenges for Greg's Pepsi fanaticism
  • At Blank It: as the new, phantomesque, unnamed female cast member loses her cool, we get to see what she looks like in color. It comes as no surprise that she's quite pretty.

Additionally, I've happened across some cool comic-related things today (and yesterday) that aren't recent updates, so I'm gonna pull an Unwinder and link indiscriminately here...

Stumble Across Cool Things Theater
I had an amusing idea for a banner for this but it would take too long to draw

Enjoy the excellent comics, and I will see you tomorrow.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

How You Read Webcomics

I have a handful of comics that I read regularly; you may well have a good idea of which ones they are, given the frequency with which I mention them. Additionally, I enjoy discovering a new comic and rampaging through the archives, or researching an unfamiliar comic for a review. Sometimes I'll trawl through the archives of a comic I already read regularly, just because it's so much fun to revisit. My point is, there are a lot of different ways to read a comic.

Which brings us to our current poll, which you can vote in at the top of the page. There are a lot of different ways to read webcomics, and as always I'm interested in how you approach your favorites. The three options above may not cover how you most enjoy catching up with your comics of choice; if that's the case, drop a comment and get qualitative on me. I'm looking forward to hearing more about how you read.

Return to top & take the poll!