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.


Genna said...

Yeah, the whole Bunbun in space thing really got boring but, ever faithful, I kept trucking. Mostly what I mourn is the abandonment of the funny though, like you, I keep reading because of a certain loyalty to the characters. Still, I miss the days of emergency pants and spamming Satan. These days I go to Questionable Content for my funny.

Alec said...

You make a good point. I could never stop reading sluggy freelance, but I did sit out for all of Oceans Unmoving, which I then got to read all at once, which was so much better than the alternative.

The current arc is incredible, I think.

El Santo said...

I tried to read Sluggy Freelance, and I quit about three years in. It was getting pretty convoluted by the already. I think Abrams writes interesting characters. It's just that the story demands a lot of the reader to keep track of. I've seen snippets of the recent storyline, and what I've seen does intrigue me, but I'm really quite hesitant jumping in right now when there's at least 7 years of backstory I haven't read yet.


Oasis > Zoe

Jackson said...

Oasis > Zoe
In what respect? I mean, obviously if you're referring to combat skill--but I don't expect that's what you meant. :)

El Santo said...

In awesomeness, duh!

But mainly because I just found Oasis stories to be more interesting. Zoe stories are about 50/50 on the hit/miss ratio.

Jackson said...

Awesomeness, eh? I can agree with that. Oasis is too psychotically-clingy for my tastes, but one can certainly be both psychotically-clingy and awesome.

Anonymous said...

A great analysis of the evolution of Sluggy Freelance. I came to the comic quite a bit later and have had to go through the big stories and read through all at once. As stated by someone else, Oceans Unmoving is a great story when read all the way through. I found it to be one of the best in the series just by sheer imagination. :)