Monday, October 26, 2009

Product Review: Theater Hopper, Books 1 and 2

About a month ago, Tom Brazelton's movie-themed webcomic Theater Hopper had a fire sale to raise funds for producing its third book. I decided to take advantage of the sale and purchase myself the first two print collections, Theater Hopper: Year One and Year Two.

For those unfamiliar with it, Theater Hopper is Tom Brazelton's movie-themed webcomic starring exaggerated versions of himself, his wife Cami, and his friend Jared. It updates with three full-color strips a week (MWF) and has been running since 2002, making it the internet's longest-running movie comic. Together with movie-themed webcartoonists Gordon "Multiplex" McAlpin and Joe "Loves Crappy Movies" Dunn, Tom talks movies on the "Triple Feature" podcast every Monday evening.

Now, it's one thing to check out a new webcomic; the only investment it requires is time, and if at any point you decide the comic is not worth your time, you just cut your losses and close your browser. But merch is a different ballgame entirely. Before you lay down the cash equivalent of two and a half hours at your day job, you want to know you'll get your money's worth. How can you tell you'll get a quality product? It's not like a trip to Barnes and Noble or Old Navy, where you can see the goods for yourself and actually pick them up. There's a good chance the cartoonist has a photo or two of the goods in his online store, but the difficulty remains: you don't want to get a bum deal.

On that note, let's start talking about these books by showing you what you get:

Book One includes Tom Brazelton's introduction to Theater Hopper, the first 155 TH strips with creator commentary, 11 guest strips by other cartoonists, and a crossover storyline with Carrington Vanston's concluded webcomic "Movie Punks." Book Two contains a foreword by Tom's wife Cami, 153 more TH strips with further commentary from Tom, several pages of bonus sketches, an index of movies referenced, 7 guest strips (including strips by Joe Dunn, and Scott and Kent from White Ninja.

The first thing that struck me when I received the two books in the mail was the presentation. The cover art looks great, ludicrously referencing classic movies 2001 and Ghostbusters II with the TH cast. It's not stellar, but it's solid, and it's clear the creator went the extra mile on the covers. Inside each, you'll find 200+ slick full-color pages of comics, commentary, and additional content. Brazelton openly admits in Book 1's disclaimer that he did not create early strips with print in mind, and while he has tried to restore the artwork as best he can, some strips suffer from fuzzy colors or jpeg artifacts. Still, it's clear he's made an effort to improve the presentation for print, and by Book Two the artwork is largely sharp and snappy.

So it looks pretty good--but how's it taste?

Overall, it tastes pretty good too. I have to say, though, that Year One suffers in quality, as it would with any comic, simply for being Year One. Theater Hopper's humor style is less of the well-polished comic strip gag, the "craft of the joke," and more of the banter you throw around with your friends. Rather than building up to the punchline with immaculate timing, a TH strip will likely have a handful of funny moments--at least in theory. In early year one, Brazelton is still finding his voice, and some punchlines lack the punch even to carry the strip. The art has similar difficulties, and it cribs a bit from the Penny Arcade stylesheet. It takes several strips before it starts to resemble present-day Theater Hopper in quality.

To its credit, though, Brazelton's self-deprecating commentary on each strip in Year One goes a long way. He's utterly transparent about the first year's shortcomings, and the commentary's conversational tone makes the print edition a more personal experience than browsing online. Additionally, the collection contains a collaborative storyline with cartoonist Carrington Vanston that pits TH's Jared and Tom against the protagonists of the comic Movie Punks. The back-and-forth strips in the storyline are some of the book's strongest material and do a lot to add to its value.

Plus, the first book contains this strip. I laughed out loud right in the airport lobby at that one.

By Year Two, Brazelton is really getting a feel for his comic. The humor's more solid, the art is more solid. There are a number of inspired sight gags on par with the "small cola" comic referenced above, plus an increased predilection for
off-the-wall storylines that develop several jokes on a theme, such as the introduction of "Goth Jared" (whom Comic Tom has apparently encountered before). TH story arcs (at least in these two books) often begin in the middle, unexpectedly, with no explanation and perhaps even the suggestion of some backstory that is never explained. I like it, and I think it works. But I digress.

It's also worth noting that I didn't find the humor to be at all dated. With a movie-commentary comic, it's always a danger that comedy value will decrease as the humor ceases to be topical, but not so here. Theater Hopper doesn't stray too far from the mainstream movies and actors that we all know and love to make fun of, so you'll have no problem recalling relevant films from 2002 to 2004 as you're reading. There were a few isolated cases where the commentary had to explain the joke, which of course kills the joke, but these are the exception.

So, what's the final verdict? Was it worth my ten-bucks-per-book?

Overall, I think so. I found the books to be entertaining, and I got a different experience than the kind the TH site offers for free. A 200-page book with extensive full-color artwork is the kind of thing you'd usually pay upwards of $20 to $30 for, and I got two of them for this price. Compared to Year Two, Year One is rather lacking, and perhaps a better purchase for TH fans than for newcomers to the comic--TH: Year Two makes the better introduction.

Even though I'm not a huge movie enthusiast, I enjoyed both books. With the holidays coming up, TH: Year Two could be a good purchase for any friend or relative who's way too into movies. If you're thinking of getting either book for yourself, you can always sample Tom Brazelton's humor for free at to figure out if it's your style of comedy. Apparently, the two books are still selling at the fire-sale price of $9.99 each. It's also worth noting that the third book is available for pre-order, and from the preview provided, it appears to raise the bar even higher for quality.

Theater Hopper Volumes 1 and 2 are available for purchase in the Theater Hopper store.

Friday, October 23, 2009

10/23: Week in Review

It's been awhile since I did a bona fide week-in-review Friday post, but this week I ran into some cool webcomic strips I wanted to share, and evidently I've managed to balance writing this post with all the other things I'm up to in my life. I'm sure you're all thrilled out of your minds.

Duck and cover, y'all, 'cause it's time for

  • The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon
    Here's your new discovery of the week: I saw this comic advertising here on my blog, I clicked through, and it hooked me. The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon reminds me of The Wotch, only actually pretty good instead of pretty bad. The art is a step up; even though it'd benefit from more unified color schemes, the artist has a better grasp of composition, basic anatomy and stylization. The storyline doesn't drag, the main character is much less of a Mary Sue, and there's no fetishy pandering to make you feel icky for reading.
    So what the heck is it about? Titular character Jack Cannon is the new guy at high school, and he instantly runs afoul of a gang of hackers. When it turns out that the hackers can hack reality, ridiculous action sequences ensue. From there, it only gets crazier.
    Just for example, there is a character named Max Facepuncher. "Max" is short for "Maximum."

  • Max Facepuncher in "So Now I Hate the Moon"
    The creator of Jack Cannon also created a 24-hour comic starring Max Facepuncher, in which Max is hired by a government agency to punch out the moon. Like Jack Cannon, it's totally madcap and thoroughly entertaining.

  • PVP
    On a similar note, PVP this week brings us a parody of the original Superman movie, featuring internet-meme superhero the LOLBAT. It's some seriously great stuff. For those who play City of Heroes, there's even more LOLBAT to be had, as Scott Kurtz recently collaborated with developer NC Soft to create a LOLBAT-based City of Heroes mission.

  • Blank It
    If you aren't following Blank It yet, you should be. Between its ridiculous absurdity and its treatment of existential themes, it has the best mix of smart and dumb humor I've seen yet in a webcomic. This week's strips, following an action-packed escape from the City of Cookie People, have got some truly inspired writing. I actually laughed out loud twice while reading Monday's strip.
    Yo, Aric and Lemmo. When are you guys going to go to three updates a week? C'mon, I crave the goods!

  • Fanboy Radio: interview about Kickstarter
    Kickstarter--as Multiplex readers already know--allows independent artists of all stripes to fund their projects through support from their fan communities. This past Sunday, Fanboy Radio interviewed Multiplex creator Gordon McAlpin, as well as Kickstarter co-founder Yancy Strickler and kickstarting cartoonist Jamie Tanner. If you're interested in the self-supporting and business side of webcomics, definitely check it out, but even if you're just looking for something fun to listen to at work today, it's an entertaining and engaging interview. Behold: the link.

And that's a wrap! Tune in Monday for your regularly-scheduled post. I, in the meantime, am off to work, and then off to the weekend.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Eben07 Operation Mongoose Review: Follow-up Thoughts

I have a small addendum to make to Monday's review of Eben07: Operation Mongoose. Through an unidentified source, I was given an exclusive look at the additional content of Operation Mongoose's print edition, and from what I've seen, the extra material in the print edition really adds a lot to the story. The prologue and epilogue provide a context to the story that helps to set the tone more clearly, and they definitely add to the quality of the production. Again, Project Mongoose probably isn't the best jumping-in point for new Eben07 readers, but if you check out the comic and like what you see, it may well be worth your while to snag a copy of the print comic.

Operation Mongoose's pre-order deal may be a particularly good purchase for those fans of the comic who need to cover their walls and torso.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Review: Eben07: Operation Mongoose

Gentlemen, behold! Following up from yesterday's post, it is time for the promised review of:

The first thing to note is that this chapter is a quick read, at a brief fifteen or so pages. However, it's not necessarily the best intro to the comic--for starters, its focus is not the present-day protagonist Agent Eben07, but rather his grandfather Abel, founder of the ICA. The storyline, told in flashback-style black-and-white rather than the brighter colors of Agent Eben07's contemporary adventures, covers Abel's assignment during the 1970's to assassinate Fidel Castro.

Truth be told, I'm not sure what to make of it.

It's not the art--I've always been impressed by Eben07's artwork, and although it loses a little without color, it's still a strong point. And the story succeeds at its goal of placing the ICA and its founder into American History. What it comes down to is the tone.

There were spots I found funny. Abel's present attempt on Castro's life is interspersed with his reflections on his mission, accompanied by snapshots of past attempts, which are absolutely ludicrous. Plus, the seriousness of Abel's internal monologue and the whole "men in suits" vibe are juxtaposed with such images as Abel in a dress. But that's the thing: the seriousness. Throughout the storyline, there are some rather gravitous musings on the nature of choice and fate in a political context, and Abel, it appears, is intended to be taken as a sympathetic victim of greater machinations, a pawn trying to maintain some semblance of human dignity.

There are numerous moments of humor in the fifteen-page story, but it ends on a deadly serious note. If it's trying for that whole-spectrum-of-human-emotion thing that I discussed earlier with Marooned and Superfogeys, I can't say it succeeds as well.

In all honesty, I've never been sure entirely what to make of Eben07. There's no denying that it's a well-executed comic, but the whole thing is so odd that at times I wonder about its accessibility. The janitor/secret-agent juxtaposition at the core of the thing has a lot of potential, but there's some inscrutable part of it that seems to be taking the whole endeavor too seriously--or perhaps taking it seriously in the wrong way. It's not mine to say that a secret-agent-janitor story can't have its serious moments.

But neither is it mine to say exactly how you can take a secret-agent-janitor story seriously. Such answers are decidedly beyond me.

To conclude, despite everything it does right, Operation Mongoose may not be the best introduction to the comic. Fortunately, though, the latest version of the site includes a page for new readers, and if the comic has piqued your interest, that may be the best place to start.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

An Introduction to Eben07 (Now with More Musings!)

It's been about a month and a half since I started my full-time job, and lately I've felt unsatisfied about the quality of the posts here at This Week in Webcomics. It's Sunday afternoon, here I am sitting down to write a post, and I can't remember the last weekend where I wasn't putting together something at the last minute. I suppose it's to be expected--I have less time to work on the blog now, especially if I have a busy weekend, and I guess that's as it should be. But none of that means I have to feel completely at ease about it.

I just wanted to get that off my chest, and it also sets the tone for the upcoming post, which will discuss the comic Eben07, specifically the chapter "Operation Mongoose."

As the Guy Who Does This Blog, sometimes I get press releases from various cartoonists. There's a side of me that feels kind of weird when I do, because--tying into the quality thing I discussed before--I'm not doing serious journalism here or anything. I'm just a guy who can't shut up about webcomics. Still, it's cool to catch word of new it's not as if I don't appreciate the press releases.

As you know if you've noticed the You-Choose-the-Reviews polls lately, I've been batting around Eben07: Operation Mongoose as a possible subject for review, and on Friday I received a press release announcing that the print edition of Operation Mongoose was up for preorder. I figured it was as good a time as any to finish reading through the chapter and give my assessment.

First, though, a word of introduction for the comic Eben07.

Eben07 is, in essence, a comic about a secret agent janitor. Its titular main character works for the Intelligence Cleaner Agency, whose task is to ensure that the classified operations of America's intelligence operatives stay classified. The Eben07 website presents itself as an official publication of the ICA, disclosing to the American people the information that it is required to disclose by an obscure clause of the Patriot Act. In the form of a webcomic.

A bizarre hook if ever there was one, but it certainly is inventive.

I've seen Eben07 a number of times across the internet, first finding it through the now-defunct comic site At the time, the website was a confusing mess of HTML, and the "Official Declassifications of the ICA" presentation did little to alleviate my confusion. The site insists on presenting the ICA as a real entity, and framing the comic in a reader-friendly way without breaking character has always been a challenge for it. I've seen the website go through several versions, each one an improvement over the last, and the archives are now accessible and navigable. Presentation-wise, the current version seems to know what it's doing.

Which, in turn, makes it eminently possible for me to review

Full review to follow Monday evening; it's been a busy weekend. Be sure to check back then.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Congratulations to Doug Wilson and K-9Lives

A week or two ago, I mentioned Doug Wilson's webcomic and short film, K-9Lives, about a conjoined cat/dog duo. A quick update: "K-9Lives" was nominated for best animation at Marbella International Film Festival alongside "Leonardo" by Pixar artist Jim Capobianco, and "Body" by Zhivko Dimitrov. I decided to see for myself what all the fuss is about, and the animated short is decidedly strange. If you like surreal animation, give it a look.

Congrats, Doug! Prestigious accolades are yours in abundance! I like big words.

I also like comics, so be sure to tune in on Monday when I talk about a comic. It will provide ample opportunity for me to use big words.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Zombies Are the New Ninjas

So, this weekend the horror-comedy Zombieland tore up at the box office, and I couldn't help but notice that numerous webcomics are getting in on the zombie craze. To commemorate the zombie-comic epidemic, for the rest of the week the TWIW Pick of the Day will feature only zombie comics! This even includes Saturday.

For those not familiar with Pick of the Day, you can find my daily webcomic pick by checking out my Twitter account. Just search for the hashtag "#pickoftheday" and you'll have each of my Picks of the Day in one handy feed. You'll also have other people's Picks of the Day, plus some unrelated crud about Betty Crocker and whatnot. I can't help it if other people want to use the #pickoftheday hashtag for stuff that's not related to webcomics.

But I digress. Stop by Twitter and come check out the zombie action. We're kicking things off with Wednesday's cliffhanging installment of Multiplex, and there's more zombie action to follow from comics all across the 'net. If you spot any zombie comics yourself, I encourage you to join in and tweet 'em up!

Monday, October 5, 2009

It's Bullet Points Monday

Greetings, everyone! This weekend I have been traveling, visiting my parents and a certain friend who lives in Chicago, and with all this travel and people-visiting, I haven't had time to archive-binge a comic from my review list. Thus, it is now time for everyone's favorite blog feature where I deliver a bunch of random links that are somehow related to webcomics:

  • After listening to Andrew McDonald's interview with Gisele Lagace (mentioned in this recent TWIW post), I decided to check out one of Gisele's newest projects, Eerie Cuties. Much like Miles Grover's Creep House, it takes horror/fantasy archetypes and places them in a mundane setting for comic effect, but Eerie Cuties puts a high-school spin on the whole thing. It's entertaining and it has Gisele's excellent signature artwork, but it also has a bit of her signature salacious humor, so read at your discretion.
  • As usual, I can't write a genuinely short bullet point to save my life.

  • Speaking of Andrew McDonald, he's got another interview up just this morning. This time, the spotlight's on Brad Guigar from Evil, Inc.. I haven't had a chance to listen yet, but the first two were good, so I'm definitely gonna check it out.

  • Webcomic Planet is now accepting nominations for the 2009 Webcomic Readers Choice Awards. Scope it out, make some nominations.
  • This isn't news of any sort, but with my new job as a purchasing agent, I have to track shipment ETAs and account for manufacturing lead times when I place orders. It occurred to me the other day: arranging for shipping dates often feels like this Penny Arcade comic.
  • This past weekend, Doug Wilson's wordless comic about a conjoined cat and dog, K9-Lives, competed in the Marbella International Film Festival. The comic features not only 100 traditional strips, but also an animated short. I haven't had time to check it out fully, but it looks interesting, so give it a look yourself. I may have a bit more to say about it in the future, too.

And that wraps things up for this installment of Bullet Points. I'll see you guys next week! Or later this week. I do that sometimes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

10/4: It's Time For

  • Wednesday's Penny Arcade features another appearance of everyone's favorite savior of mankind. It always surprises me that Penny Arcade's depiction of Jesus, if not entirely accurate theologically, is actually fairly reverent.
  • Some people believe that there's no reconciling science and religion. In considering the theological ramifications of the many-worlds hypothesis, however, Rayne from Least I Could Do sees no conflict at all. In fact, when science and religion collide, it's pretty awesome.

Tune in tomorrow for your regularly-scheduled TWIW post.