Monthly Archives: March, 2006


So, has anyone else noticed, over at Sluggy, that Bun-bun seems to have mellowed out a bunch since his return? I mean, as if he… say… actually misses nerd boy and crew?

Well, I suppose 2 or 3 strips is too few to really draw any conclusions yet.

Still. I’m liking it.

Oh, I’m eager to see what’s up with Torg, and some resolution to all the loose threads of Oasis and Zoe and Aylee and whatever. But that will come in time, I’m sure.

For now, I definitely feel Abrams is getting his groove back. And if I might actually have reason to not entirely hate Bun-bun… well that will be something special in its own right.

What the future may bring: Modern Tales

I’ve been a subscriber of Modern Tales (and Graphic Smash, and Girlamatic) for about a year and a half now.

As such, it is with quite a bit of eagerness that I look forward to the upcoming changes in the pipeline. I am not entirely sure when those changes are coming, but they’ve been in the works for a few months now.

Part of the change is that the comics will no longer be subscription based. Or at least, mostly so – the announcement indicates that some subscription aspects will remain. Hmm. We’ll see how it goes.

So, obviously, as a paying subscriber, that’s good news to me – but that’s not really the part of the changes I anticipate.

Eric Burns is the new editor of Modern Tales. That’s obviously a big thing. He has done a lot for the field, has a lot of good outlooks on the way things should work, and will no doubt do a lot of good things in the position.

But again… not directly what I care about.

All I truly have, deep inside, is a small, tiny little hope that maybe Modern Tales will finally have an infrastructure that doesn’t totally suck balls.

Ok, that was a bit harsh, towards a system that features a lot of comics I know and love. But I stand by the statement anyway.

A year and a half of subscription to Modern Tales is not a vast amount of time. The total cost for that much subscription time is, say, around $150 bucks. Not a ridiculous sum of money.

Nonetheless, looking back upon my experience with them, I’d say that I’ve spent much of that time disappointed with the service.

I joined Modern Tales for one reason – Narbonic.
I joined Graphic Smash for one reason – Fans.
I joined Girlamatic for one reason – Li’l Mell.

Since joining, sure, I found other comics in the system to enjoy. But in each case, it was one single strip that pulled me in – two of them being strips I had read for years previously, while the last one was obviously something of an offshoot from one of them.

Fans ended. Fortunately, Graphic Smash continued to offer me a variety of comics to read, which updated consistently and in quantity.

Girlamatic had a few comics I read. It went through a low stretch where many of my favorites – Astronaut Elementary, Kismet: Hunter’s Moon, Smile – left it behind, but it brought in a variety of very good new strips.

Modern Tales itself, however… simply withered.

It still had Narbonic, of course. And Narbonic is good enough to carry the collective on its back singlehandedly. Access to the Narbonic archives is worth the subscription price alone.

Still. That is a distressing state of things.

These days, a bare handful of strips update on Modern Tales on any given day. Less than half of those are ones that I specifically am interested in – which in and of itself, I expect. But when that ratio translates to one or two comics, and nothing more… it is shameful.

Now, when Eric Burns joined the staff, he began accepting submissions for new comics to join the fold. So no doubt the quantity will improve.

Part of the problem, I suppose, is that webcomics are constantly in motion. New ones are started, old ones end, or fade away, or move elsewhere. With the strips that are part of the collective, many will move on towards striking out on their own, or leave the medium entirely. It is not something that I could see any easy solution to, of course. Despite this – when someone pays a fee to get access to a strip, and then suddenly that strip is elsewhere – either freely available or gone for good – it is disappointing. Finding a better solution should be the exact sort of goal one would think would be set by Modern Tales.

These days, it is a wasteland. There is Narbonic. There are a few others – some of which I enjoy, some of which don’t interest me, some of which are simply republished work from earlier. But… a bare handful at best. It is barren, empty and lifeless.

As I said… a distressing state of things.

Strike one.

My other concerns regard the navigation of the site. Namely, the organization of the comics.

Lets look at Graphic Smash, as it actually has enough comics of interest to me to be relevant. Assuming all goes well, I am able to easily browse the comics.

I log in every morning, take a look at what comics have been updated, and read the latest updates. That experience – which is, in fact, the one faced by one who browses the site for free – is perfectly fine.

But we don’t always get to read every comic every day. Let’s say something goes wrong. I miss a week of updates. Fortunately, thats why I subscribe – access to the archives!

I log on, and see which comics were updated that day. Now… how do I tell which ones were updated yesterday?


I don’t.

I have to manually go into every comic and see whether or not it has updated. And scroll back through the archives to see whether I missed multiple updates.

So, no automatic function listing what pages updated when. Well, maybe that is a bit too much to ask – after all, I suppose it could be a bit tricky coordinating a backlog of listings like that. I’d think that to be exactly the sort of service a site like Modern Tales would want to provide… but no matter.

But I can’t even just take a quick glance at a strip’s archives to jump back through the dates.

Because the dates aren’t. even. freaking. listed.

I mean, c’mon! Dudes! What the fuck, man, just… what the fuck.

Strike two.

So, Modern Tales is a subscription based site. As such, at the core of the system, it requires a log-in service to browse the subscription content areas of the site.

Which is why I find it sad, and a bit distressing, that it cannot easily store your log-in info between sessions.

I mean, that would be handy, right? Quite a convenience.

But, ok, fine, not a necessity.

So, I find myself wanting to look up a specific strip in the archives. I go to Modern Tales. Select the comic I want. Go to the archives. Select the story-arc. Select the specific strip – at which point it requests a log-in.

Sure, no problem. I log in.

And… bam, back at the front page. Oh, gee, thanks. Time to dig through four layers of infrastructure once again.

Or say I click on a link from another site to a specific strip. Again, it requests a log-in – and once I’ve logged in, I’m at the front page.

Does it ruin my comic reading experience? No, of course not. It is an inconvenience, and nothing more.

But I really don’t like to pay for inconveniences.

Strike three.

Joey Manley created this new collective, the Modern Tales family. It has been around for… what, four years now?

And at its core, it is built on a navigational system that seems cobbled together. That has countless little quirks that make manuevering the site frustrating – and that haven’t been fixed in the years it has been around.

The majority of the free webcomics I read have far better, far easier, far more convenient browsing systems. I can find my way through archives without difficulty. It isn’t an ordeal.

Modern Tales doesn’t offer that, despite being, supposedly, professional.

They’ve realized, apparently, that the subscription model is not the key to success. Other means of financial gain are being utilized.

But at least for me personally, I wonder whether it would have met with, at least, more success had the system actually been designed properly. Made user-friendly and kept up to date. Perhaps including a link on the site for feedback would have helped – sure, the forums are there, but it requires quite a bit of effort to hunt down how to directly contact the editor of each site if you don’t already know who they are.

That doesn’t scream professionalism to me.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe there is some magic button you can click to fix the problems I run into. But I haven’t found it yet, and I’ve taken a look around. All to no avail.

In any case, changes are coming.

I don’t know, yet, what those changes will mean. I don’t know how much they plan to alter the site, and what will be left once the new work is revealed.

But I hope the changes involve revamping the site entirely. I really hope that things get fixed, and are user-friendly. I hope the experience of using the site becomes an enjoyable one, not an exercise in frustration. Modern Tales has a ton of potential, several truly great comics, and some very dedicated editors. I’d really, really like to not feel bitterness when using their service.

We’ll see what happens.

For now, all I can do is hope for the best.

Know when to hold ’em

Penny Arcade vexes me.

I find that their epic sagas to be both a blessing and a curse.

They are good. Full of the potential for… story. For adventure. For sheer awesomeness.

And then… as soon as begun, the game is up. Three strips is all the sacrifice they dare give in to the dread spectre of continuity, and after that, it is back to business as usual – a commentary on current events in the gaming world, spiced up with a crude reference to wangs, that requires intense delving into the news post in order to understand.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love PA’s standalone strips to death. They are brilliant, and when I’m sitting around with my friends quoting Penny Arcade strips for hours on end, its those strips that provide the fuel for our terribly nerdy activity.

But even so.

I like Penny Arcade as it is. But I also like the glimpses granted when they tangle with continuity and plot. O cursed fate, to be torn between such fields!

A blessing and a curse, indeed.

Creative Endeavors

I like Tailsteak.

The site is a collection of various little creative works by Tailsteak.

This includes several different continuing comics, my favorites of which are band (fantastic), the blue android (kinda neat), and TQ (clever).

It also features drawing exercises such as twenty questions with a coin, which are nifty and relatively entertaining.

And sometimes is comes out with something entirely out of the blue – such as this recent little flash sudoku game.

Now, I’m not a fan of Sudoku. I’ve recently expressed my public disdain for it, in fact.

But this game was fun. I liked it.

For all that I like the standard webcomics that bring the same story to the table with every update, I like being able to drop by Tailsteak’s site and, more often than not, be pleasantly surprised.

Bitter Winds

There is a bitter cold wind blowing outside.

This is strange, for the last few days have been warm enough to necessitate a brief return to AC. And yet… now it is chill once again.

Strange, but that’s Maryland weather, I suppose. The only thing consistent about it is that it isn’t.

In any case, no worries for me, for I have hot cocoa and pastries to soothe me.

The pastries, admittedly, are of the toaster variety, and the chocolate isn’t even mine, but ’twas stolen from my roommate… though given it has gone a year without use, I suspect my theft will not even be noticed, let alone minded.

Hmm. So.

Comics. Let’s talk about them.

I see that Scott Kurtz has posted an explanation as to the specific relationship between Max and Skull.

It, well… it’s a good read. It explains very well exactly why things are the way the are, with Max, with Skull, with Sonja.

And yet, it is a shame it needed to be written. A lot of it worked very well without being said in the comic – just by being there, and showing it to us as we went. I think Kurtz feels this keenly, and views the need to say it more as his own failing, which I think is hardly the case.

I think, personally, he had reached a very good level of balancing how he knew things worked behind the scenes, and how much he revealed, bit by bit, to the audience. It is what made the jokes work – every time we thought we knew exactly what to expect, it didn’t quite meet our expectations.

I liked that. It was subtle.

But, well… sometimes that is too much for people. And they want to know more. Want to have the details laid out clearly for them – and aren’t afraid to make that demand quite clear.

Admittedly, there can be a fine line to walk between inaccessibility and exposition. I recall some years ago the same such commotion occured with It’s Walky, and Willis responded to those confounded by an especially enigmatic strip by given them a version with all the details laid out, painfully clear.

Looking at those two strips, neither one is really satisfying. The overwhelmingly expository one is obviously unneeded. But the other one, as dramatic as the silence of it may be, can be a bit hard to comprehend even by those fully observing it within the context of the series. The answers to its mystery come in time, of course – and it becomes a question of whether one can wait for answers, or feels the need to have understanding promptly.

Hmm. I’m not sure I know where to make the call on whether or not people should feel justified in wanting more clarity.

But I do know this – it is a choice to be made by the writer of the strip, not the audience.

If Kurtz or Willis felt that they were satisfied with how much information they’ve got in their strips, then they should leave it at that, regardless of those who feel the burning need for more explanation.

And if they hear complaints, and feel there might be some truth to them? Well then – roll with it, and let a few more crumbs of info make their way into the comic.

Tossing out a full reveal, though… I don’t think is ever the best solution. I can understand it, sure. You’ve got all these people clamering that they just don’t get it, no matter what you do. But its the easy way out, the easy way to give in to them.

Kurtz says he hopes he “didn’t ruin things more by trying to explain things out.” I don’t think he has to any significant extent.

I just think its a shame he had enough people feel the need for an explanation, and that he felt the only way to answer them was, well, to give them one.

It’s a cold and windy night out, I’ve got a half-full mug of hot cocoa too rich for my own tastes, and this has been me, talking about comics. G’night, folks.

The curse of an interesting life

Journal comics can’t be easy to do.

On the surface, oh, sure – you just take what happens in your life and make a comic out of it. Anyone can do that.

Of course, anyone can make a comic about talking rabbits or space ships or what-the-hell-ever – that doesn’t mean those comics will be good.

Take a look at a comic like Malfunction Junction. It ‘brings the funny’, as they say in the industry, with damn fine consistency. Funny stories about his life, and the crazy things that happen to him.

I mean, not everyone can say they wake up and – bam! 8,000 dollars! How about that?

I know a remarkable number of people who that sort of thing would never happen to. If you asked them to share some of the fascinating tales of their life, they’d likely come up short. It simply isn’t the case that everyone can live a life of adventure and excitement, right?

But back to Malfunction Junction. Matt Milby’s life, one would argue, is not a life of adventure and excitement. His description of the comic, and his life, explains that he is an art-school drop out who works at a gas station.

That is not a life that exactly screams entertainment.

And yet… he keeps the comics coming. And they are funny. And filled with little stories and interesting things that you wouldn’t think happen to most people, right?

Well… wrong.

He describes his reason for making a journal comic as follows: “I am most inspired by everyday stuff that happens to me.”

Every day there are plenty of fascinating things that happen. To us, to our friends, to strangers. But sometimes it can be hard to actually notice them.

For the longest time, I would feel out of place when my friends would share humorous stories. I mean, I didn’t have any anecdotes of my own to share. I’d never been driven out of an ice cream store by angry and cantankerous cops, or amassed a cult following in my high school years. I didn’t have any exciting convention stories or tales of drunken debauchery.

I blamed myself, of course – I blamed not having an exciting life doing exciting things. Stuff like that happened to other people, not to me.

And sure, that is part of it – the world does need a person to walk out into it in order to experience what it has to offer.

But it was also a matter of perception. I didn’t think I had anything interesting happen to me. So I just didn’t notice when it actually did.

Once I realized that mistake, and started actively paying attention… started feeling a bit of inspiration… well, soon enough I had my share of stories. And they weren’t always about me – sometimes they would be about coworkers or friends, or random strangers I saw along the way, or whatever.

And there isn’t anything wrong with that – sometimes people do crazy stuff, and it makes for some funny tales to tell. Sometimes you notice some simply odd people. Thats part of noticing the world around you, and letting everyone know exactly how fucked up it is, in a way that makes everyone laugh.

It’s a good thing, to share a bit of humor about everyday stuff. And it doesn’t require living the life of a secret agent to do so.

That Good Old Drama

No, this post isn’t about any drama out in the wild world of webtoonists – this is about the actual use of drama within a comic, if you can fancy that!

Suburban Tribe is a webcomic that, a year ago, I wasn’t always entirely sure why I read. It had a cast of folks trapped in miserable jobs at a marketing agency, who were by and large crude, hateful people who went through many of the same jokes about their circumstances. I read it, and had some laughs, but it didn’t really have much staying power at keeping my interest.

And then John Lee, the creator, decided to have a bit more of an intense plot. He decided it was time for the Big Story, and took a gamble that many folks have – keep some of the humor, but turn the focus towards plot, and character development, and so forth. After over two years of doing a different thing, changing a comic like that can be pretty dangerous.

In this case… it worked. I couldn’t get enough of the comic, with the government conspiracies, love triangles, secret agents and all that jazz. It took a gamble, and it paid off big.

The Big Story wrapped up, and things returned to normal – but the comic seemed a bit stronger for the struggle. The characters had a bit more tangibility. We could see lasting effects from what had happened, and future questions still to be resolved.

Then came along the second round of Big Story. The same elements came back in – conspiracy, romantic tension, spies and action. And… it’s still great. I am glued to my seat waiting for each update.

So sure, sometimes it can be a risky business to try and make that shift from humor to drama. But John Lee did a damn fine job of it, with a comic I never would have expected it from.

Oh boy… comics!

The Official Strategy Guide for World of Warcraft includes a number of WoW specific comics done by the fine lads at Penny Arcade.

I’d read a friend’s copy back when the game came out, before I had actually played it myself, and, as is often the case, the comics were funny as hell.

Quite some time beyond that, I began playing WoW myself and could finally appreciate the comics – but alas, the nearby game stores had a poor selection of literature on the strategical arts, and no book to be found. Aside from that, I was too lazy to order it online, and buying a guide I wouldn’t use solely for the comics seemed a bit silly.

But lo and behold! Blizzard has been placing the various comics on their site for all to see!

So for any of those who like hunting down all the non-PA stuff done by the Penny Arcade guys, here is a good selection that can be appreciated with or without actual knowledge of the game.

A Piece of the Pie

I know a while back I gave Accidental Centaurs a bit of grief over the artist’s methods of getting donations; namely, actively threatening and ranting at the readers.

That said, he is currently having a guest month storyline done, and giving the guest artists a share of the donations that come in during that time.

Now that’s pretty cool.

In Other News…

Debate and discourse ensues over the webcomic review medium!
A new contender enters the fray!
Bitter rivals resolve to join forces to work for the greater good!

Man, I’m just glad all the crazy in-your-face drama has died down to everyone having a good laugh at each other… or whatever the current state of things is.

Seriously, if only WvW was here to save us all, and/or set us back at each others throats. Is it a shame that such a brilliant thing fell into nothingness, and was left only as a repository for redundant spam?

The easy part is going crazy

I like characters that I can understand in the webcomics I read. I don’t have to know every secret and hidden twist to a character, but I like a character that makes sense to me. That, at least in some regard, I can understand and accept as something more than random gibberish.

That concern of mine is what drives my biggest beef with Ctrl-Alt-Delete. This gamer comic is the subject of much controversy, from its quality to the artist’s behavior to its current foray into animation.

For myself? It’s a fine comic. I’ve enjoyed some of the stories, I like the art and the jokes are sometimes clever. I haven’t exactly been impressed with some of Tim Buckley’s behavior in the past, but I don’t always have to agree with an artist in order to enjoy their work. And I think if his animation is fun for those who watch it, awesome! More entertainment is a good thing.

But the main character of his comic, Ethan? Pisses me the hell off.

The character is a crazy video game addict. Period. The joke is that he has no connection to reality, and hence, acts crazy. Doesn’t think things through, doesn’t seem to understand how the real world works, and thus, gets into crazy hijinks and so forth. And the entire world seems built to accommodate him. It is infuriating.

It is not that a character who acts off the wall is inherently bad. The most recent Loserz does a good job of showing a character doing something random and batshit crazy, but it makes perfect sense. We can see Ben’s thought process, twisted as may be, that leads to the batshit craziness. It is good characterization.

Ethan’s craziness exists for one reason – to let more random zany adventures occur. Period. And because he’s the main character, and perfect, the world accepts him having no depth whatsoever. His boss is fine that he doesn’t actually come in and work, his girlfriend doesn’t care about his behavior, his best friend always forgives him after he burns their house down.

It isn’t that I dislike Ctrl-Alt-Delete. I like the comic. I like most of the other characters on their own, and I especially like the standalone strips.

Call me crazy, but I just really hate Ethan.