From Humble Beginnings
So I noticed that SMBC has recently trimmed the archive down to only include the most recent 120 comics, presumably to avoid having his earlier, less refined work evaluated by potential publishers.
I imagine that dealing with the change in one’s quality is a debate for many, many artists out there. Some ignore it, some fix up the most obvious offenses and leave the rest, some fully redo their strips one by one, and some restart their comic entirely.
Simply… removing the offending comic isn’t done quite as often, though I have seen some artists occasionally treat the older work as a seperate strip, and having it available but disconnected from their current projects.
But I guess the advantage of a gag strip is that one can cut out the past without disrupting continuity.
Is it worth it? I mentioned the other day that my first impression of xkcd was a bit weakened by his early work in the archives, so I can certainly see the benefit of ‘pulling a Lucas’, one way or another. But even with that, you might be losing good stuff along with the old – and how exactly do you draw the final line?
I suppose I should be talking about Platinum Studios.
At first, I couldn’t really get why it merited such uproar. I mean… ok, so they had a relatively silly article that didn’t pay much attention to the current existence and success of numerous online comics.
Ok, haha, pretty much everyone within this community knows they are full of it. I didn’t really see why that merited more than, say, one day of internet mockery. Why did it keep coming up all week long?
But listening a bit more carefully, I realized maybe it does merit a bit more discussion.
On the upside, maybe this genuinely will bring a bit more mainstream attention to webcomics. Even if they misrepresent the current status of webcomics, Platinum seems to like its PR, and will likely be trying to draw in as much attention as it can. If that does success in raising webcomic awareness, that is pretty much a solid plus.
On the downside, Platinum may have a tendency not to deal entirely evenly with their artists. I don’t really know the details of their plans for the web, and how fairly their deals will be with burgeoning webcomic creaters, but if it does look like they plan to grab some hot properties and shaft the artists, thats worth keeping an eye out for.
But as for the rest, we get to sit and wait and see what happens.
It is possible, certainly, to appreciate webcomics – or any type of story – by oneself.
However… webcomics are a story that unfolds over the course of time. New developments every week. Constant changes, speculation, excitement – all elements that breed discussion. Even strips that aren’t anything more than a punchline a day still bring out the need to chat about them. To share the joke, have others recognize the humor.
I read quite a lot of comics. It seems inevitable that I should do my best to try and foist many of them upon my friends.
That latest in this vein has been xkcd. Hardly the most typical of comics, it describes itself as a webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.
A simple description? Not so much. But it may be as accurate as one can get. The comic waxes from philosophy to parody to gaming references. It deals with Science. With Math. With Velociraptors.
This is not an easy comic to categorize. This is not even a comic for everyone – it will consistently have jokes that I just don’t get. (And I consider myself a rather bright individual. Humble, too!)
But I still read it. For every comic I don’t get, there is another brilliant one that I do.
When I first read the archives, I didn’t like it. I started at the beginning, which was the real problem. The early strips are relatively weak and unfocused, and somewhat… tainted my reading of it all. But I kept my eye on it. There had been a few gems, and his parodies of other webcomics were picture perfect.
Sometime later… I returned. This time I started at the latest strip, and went backwards one step at a time.
The grin never left my face.
There are comics where even if you don’t get the references, the context, you can still generally find humor in them. A good example of that would be Penny Arcade (which xkcd seems to have an extremely creepy love/hate relationship with). For myself, contrary to the strip’s opinion, I’ve found that I can certainly appreciate PA strips about games I’ve never heard of. I may not get the full meaning, but there is more often than not some extra punchline to keep the smile on my face.
xkcd, on the other hand? I’ll probably scratch my head, shrug, and wait for the next one. Someone, somewhere, is rolling on the floor laughing at it.
It just isn’t me.
(This, by the way, is one of the reasons I most desire infecting my friends with love for this comic. Our knowledge base – like that of many geeks – covers many and sundry topics. It is almost a certainty that no matter what we are discussing, one of us gets to just sit back, smile, and pretend they know what the hell is going on.)
(Anyway. Back to the show.)
I like the unpredictability of xkcd. I like how easily it oscillates from horrifying to humorous, from uplifting to surreal. But no matter what it does, it does it well.
So I’m doing my best to share it with my friends. If they do start reading? Well, there will be days when I laugh at a strip that leaves them shrugging, and days when they nod sagely at wisdom I just don’t see.
But just maybe, every so often… we’ll both get it. And even if there isn’t much to discuss, even if there isn’t anything we can do on our part aside from acknowledging it – it will be nice, just having someone else there to say: “Yeah. It’s not just you. That strip really was simply awesome.”
Change and Stasis
Not much to report today:
–Abstract Gender has a new artist. It’s fourth one, in fact. While normally that heavy turnover is a sign that a strip may be giving up the ghost, in this case it seems to bode nothing but success – dozens of artists tried out for the new position, and the strip seems to have a pretty heavy readership for something that has been around for under a year and a half.
–Mac Hall is setting aside what it has been up until now, and will be returning in a new form in October. This seems to be a change that has been coming for quite a while, and I am certainly interested to see what new shape they have in mind.
–Sam and Fuzzy is brilliantly evil, and likes cliffhangers. I hates him so.
–Scary Go Round is brilliantly evil, and likes cliffhangers. I HATES HIM SO!
Two Short Years.
I recently read a comic miniseries called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not the Justice League!”
It is a lighthearded and entertaining look into a team of generally B-list superheroes, whose dysfunctional group is referred to as the Super Buddies, and who spend as much time dealing with troubles of their own devising as taking care of actual supervillains.
It’s a good read – a fantastic read, even – but it has unfortunately slipped a bit behind the times. I’m sure most comic fans are already aware of the current state of affairs in the DC universe – in general the result of Dan Didio, the Executive Editor, wanting to take things in a more serious direction.
Let’s take a look at the result this has had on the Super Buddies, shall we?
I was going to type up my own list of the impact on each one, but I see someone on Wikipedia has already done so – so I’ll just copy that:
- Blue Beetle Ted Kord is dead, killed by Maxwell Lord.
- Maxwell Lord himself was killed by Wonder Woman and retconned into always having been a villain.
- Fire has returned to being an assassin, working for the Checkmate organization.
- Booster Gold was killed defending Metropolis.
- Mary Marvel is currently depowered and in a coma.
- Sue Dibny has been killed.
- Without his wife, Ralph Dibny is a shell of his former self, and appears to have snapped following a botched Kryptonian resurrection ceremony.
Now, some of you may recognize these names, and already know them and their fates. Others might have no idea who these people are. But it should be clear even so – pretty much every member of this entertaining, and for the most part happy, crew have had their lives torn apart and dragged down.
This is just one example. As I said – throughout the DC universe, the goal is, you know – Drama.
Now, a lot of people have complained about this. Some have called out for a return to the ages of yore, when comics were light and entertaining.
Myself? I don’t agree with that either. Sure, comics for kids are fine – and I approve of their existence. I just, well, wouldn’t buy them. I like story, and character development, and something more than “Biff! Bang! Pow!”
That’s the thing. I don’t think comics are going in the wrong direction in principle. What got me started on comics in the first place? It was the Death of Superman and Bane’s breaking of Batman. Big events, dark events, that drew in a large audience. Their trick works.
And, clearly, the same holds true with recent stuff. Sure, fans complain. People hate Didio. He is destroying the characters they love!
…but they are buying the books. They bought Identity Crisis. They bought Infinite Crisis. They are buying 52, and the new titles taking off in the aftermath of it all.
I like having stories with depth. I like superheroes having an element of real people that I can connect to. I like stories drawing forth emotions beyond simple humor.
But that doesn’t mean that drama can only come from darkness, that characters can only develop from having trauma after trauma placed upon them! That doesn’t mean that there is no need for genuinely happy superheroes. For innocents. For goofballs. That doesn’t mean the only way to draw forth emotion is through pain and suffering.
It isn’t the goal that I take issue with, it’s the execution. We don’t need children’s tales. Go for the serious stories. Just, please – spend some time thinking them up. Actually design a story – don’t just think that a sudden act of drama will be enough. You’ll get us for a moment, sure – but once you’ve cut the strings, you’ve got nothing left to work with.
And you might keep people buying with every new disaster and every darker turn, but when you reach rock bottom, there won’t be anything left.
We’re not saying you need to kiddify the books. (Well, ok – I’m not.) And we’re not saying that darkness shouldn’t exist – occasionally that moment of shock, of intensity, can bring the entire picture into perspective.
But when it happens to every single character? When you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting seven dead or dying heroes?
Trust me. I felt the first one. At the second I started to get outraged. And by the point we are at now? I’m dangerously close to not feeling anything for the comics any more – and once it reaches that point?
Well, I’m gone, and that’s game over.
That Singular Burden
Some time ago, Tailsteak put forth this comic, wherein a lizard of a distinctly aggressive demeanor accused him of no longer being an online cartoonist, due to slow updates on his site.
Now, it is admittedly true that it is all too easy for works of accomplishment on the web to be quickly forgotten. So while I will disagree with the cross little lizard’s sentiment at heart, I do concede that there is some grounding in truth to it.
For example, though once I checked Tailsteak’s site on a daily basis, it was over a week before I noticed the magnificence of his latest offering.
With this work, one of his finest to date, I believe he has left his mark, come what may.
It strikes me as a lapse that, in my thoughts yesterday, I didn’t think about all the times I go back through and re-read a comic on my own.
Occasionally it happens because some comics and books are just that good. Especially short works where, a few years after first reading it, you can go back through and experience it all over again.
More often than not, however, it is due to a story growing complex and difficult to follow, and there being a need to refresh oneself on what has come before. I keep getting sucked back into the Wheel of Time, and with several years between books in the past, I have felt the need to immerse myself in the thousands of pages, just so I have some faint recollection of what’s going on.
(This, by the way, is the real kicker. The stories that are complex enough to lose you are also the ones with the heaviest content to slog through.)
Now, I obviously wouldn’t do it if I didn’t enjoy the re-reading anyway. Sluggy is a great example – if I really feel the need to get back to speed (and if I should actually have the time to take on such a task), it’s an enjoyable experience. It’s also right there – the easy access of webcomics helps.
As well as the ability, if I don’t want to hunt down everything, to go looking through this or that random storyline to find whatever it is I’m looking for. And even with the clunkiest of archives, its a lot easier to root out specific storylines than to find one specific passage in a book. Or, even more so, it is easy to go back and read one specific plot arc, and enjoy it, then it is to go and enjoy one single chapter in a novel.
I’d say, in the end, that there are a handful of strips I like enough for them to be worth reading over and over. But given the size of archives that most comics begin to develop – and even more importantly, given how many other comics there are on the web – it isn’t something I am as likely to do as pick up my well-worn copy of the Hobbit and dive back in.
Second Verse, Same as the First
Even when other members of the Modern Tales collective were running low on strips, Graphic Smash still had the quality and quantity to keep me reading nonstop.
Despite this, they’ve gone ahead and, like their brethren, added a nice little collection of new comics.
Which means they now officially have a metric fuckton of strips updating every day.
I mean, I’m counting ten strips updating today, along with an announcement of another five strips joining the roster. Almost all of which looking damn awesome. So that’s impressive – but not actually what I wanted to talk about.
One of the strips is Johnny Saturn, which was previously part of Graphic Smash. Which, previously, left and joined Komikwerks, and began rereleasing the strips thus far there. And, of course, the next arc in its epic saga has it rejoining the fold with Graphic Smash – and re-rereleasing its strips again, from the start.
Quite a few strips have done this, of late, as they’ve been joining these conglomerates. Usually they release their stored strips at an exceedingly souped-up pace, thus both impressing new readers with a substantial stock of story, while also giving themselves time to build up a larger buffer. Occasionally the strips have been touched up with spiffier colors and cleaner lines.
Now, I am not going to say that this is a bad practice. It can, in some ways, be wearing on your current audience, who is eager – even desperate – for new advancement. (Does a hiatus by any other name smell as sweet?) But it provides a sense of continuation even with the temporary break, and certainly works well to bring in new readership.
I know that while it may be jarring to have strips I am currently reading take this tactic, I’ve been delighted to find it in new strips. In the case of Girl Genius I willingly deprive myself of the newer material, gleefully proceeding at a calm, leisurely pace through the older works. I’m not sure why I haven’t bought the rest of the trades to catch myself up, or borrowed them from friends that I know for a fact have them – but in this case, I enjoy the anticipation of more to come, and the ability to engage in mass consumption of the works on the day the backlog catches up to the more recent comics.
I’ve wandered a bit off-topic. My apologies. I additionally appear to have avoided arriving at a point at all, aside from to say that rereleasing content could be good or bad, I guess, depending on the state of the reader at the time of the transition. You know, maybe.
In the end, I’m a fan of almost anything other than sheer hiatus. I like the artist going that extra length to say “Hey, I didn’t forget about you.” If whatever filler is provided is not to my liking, then I shrug and treat it like a normal hiatus, and come back when it starts back up. (Yes, even with shirt guy Dom. In time, I can forgive even that.)
And if the filler is to my liking – if the rereleased content has, indeed, been remastered artfully – then I guess I win. What do I win? Well, some additional hours of entertainment from a resource that has already provided amusement.
I know that replay value is a valuable thing in many games, and I suppose it shouldn’t surprise me that the same holds true elsewhere.
A Few Observations
I’ve noticed that Penny Arcade has returned to early morning updates. It isn’t anything I feel entitled to demand from a free strip, of course, but it feels good nonetheless. Bonus: Wii drama ensues!
I failed to notice that the new PvP site had gone live, due to my bookmark not redirecting me (forgivable, given he’s come down ill). In any case, to my shame, I didn’t even notice a day or two had passed without updates, until some other site mentioned the new look. Bonus: Kurtz outlaws handshakes!
Now that I’ve told you a bunch of things everyone already knows about webcomics everyone already reads, let’s switch gears to point out information people need to know. (Cue ominous echo sounds here.)
Within the last few weeks, both Kittens! The Comic (which is about kittens) (or, at least, about a kitten) and Puppies!! (which is not about kittens) (or, for that matter, about puppies) have both begun. I sense a conspiracy. (I also sense that I have used far too many parenthesis in the last few sentences.)
(That is all.)
The Inevitable Changes
I started reading Yirmumah again.
I had stopped reading it, some ages past, after D.J. did something arbitrary and assholish, and I figured it wasn’t worth my time to read something put together by someone with so little class.
But… well, he doesn’t seem quite so bad these days. Few in the community do – flame wars still flare up, but generally die down in apologies and little more.
So I decided to give another go at his strip – and discovered it has changed quite a bit. Still filled with a dark humor, but going for a much more serious, story-driven tone.
In fact, quite a few strips this season seem to be going through that sort of transition. It is always a risky move, and more often than not, turns me off. It is hard – damn hard – to take characters that exist in one context, and shift them to another, without completely losing the audience.
Which is why I found it surprising that Yirmumah’s attempt – a comic that I only sorta tolerated liking, at the best of times – worked well for me.
I think it helps, tremendously, that we are dealing with an entirely new cast of characters. They are connected to the previous stars of the strip – but only loosely. Enough to see the similarities, but for the different style not to feel jarring and over-the-top.
Others have learned that lesson – Poe tried to turn Exploitation Now into a serious strip, but eventually decided it was best to switch gears entirely. And it worked. If you want a serious, story-driven comic… well, you need to build the story up properly. You can’t just suddenly insert drama and expect story to follow.
Well, not usually. I don’t like to speak in absolutes, and I’m sure some geniuses have managed just that – but nine times out of ten, it isn’t going to cut it.
So far, the new Yirmumah… well, it stands on its own. It’s a good start. I’m not entirely sure where he is going with it, and how it will end up tying back in to the classis strips. But he’s taken the risk of moving into a new direction, and he’s actually done a pretty damn good job of it – and that deserves more than a bit of respect.