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.


El Santo said...

And to counter Solomon's assessment: Yahtzee Croshaw, who also did an infamous piece about bad webcomics, actually included Sluggy Freelance on his list of "The Only Good Comics on the Internet."

noachoc said...

Besides the Emergency Pants, there was the Chick Magnet

and one, ages ago, when Sam was trying to get Zoe to go out with him and she said "I can't go... I don't have... my... shoes... on"

oh, and there was one, very old, where the punchline was "creamed corn!" but I don't know where to find it.

Also, come to think, "No, YOU have no honor".

Too lazy to link, alas.

Jackson said...

Thanks for the link to Yahtzee's list, El Santo. Just goes to show: the only force stronger than a cantankerous internet critic is another cantankerous internet critic. Yahtzee's original "bad webcomics" post was some good reading too.

Thanks for sharing your favorite memories too, Noachoc. The "Shadow Boxing" storyline and the "Gofotron" storyline stand out in my mind as much-needed returns to the Funny.

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Anonymous said...

I gave up on Sluggy some time around Oceans Unmoving I. But I came back just recently to check it out...and though I skipped around in the archives, it it amazing how it has come along. Pete's sense of when to throw in humor to break up the drama is extremely good.

And I agree - I came back for the characters. And to see Riff blow up stuff. And to see Oasis vs. Bun-bun.