I recieved my copy of Start of Darkness yesterday, along with the rest of the OotS books, and it is just as good as I was expecting it to be. It arrived a little weathered from the journey, unfortunately – just enough dinged and dented to be frustrating, but not enough so that I would feel justified in doing anything about it.
But as for the content within the book, I have no complaints. It serves as a good example of the changing state of Order of the Stick – while the first prequel book was from the days when humor held a stronger presence than plot, Start of Darkness stands as a very clear example of the primary focus on story. The jokes are still there, of course – but they take a back seat to character developments and plot twists.
Art, of course, comes in a distant third between plot and humor, but is nonetheless an undeniable aspect of the comic. I’m sure most everyone has heard about Josh Lesnick’s artistic critiques by now, but it is a post worth reading – though in this case, his discussion on OotS was one of the few areas where I disagreed with his analysis.
Now, I’m not going to argue that OotS is the subtle work of a master artist. I like the look of the strip, yes, but is by no means an artistic triumph.
What it is, however, is profoundly functional.
Josh L’s argument is that Rich should spend “the time he saves to really go broke on the expressiveness and body language of the characters,” but as much as I enjoy Girly – and I do – it’s own brand of chaos wouldn’t have any place in OotS. One of the comments in Josh’s critique – and one I was disappointed in how easily he blew it off – argued that Rich uses his time “on elaborate sets and subtlety in expression” – but I don’t think that is necessarily true either.
The expressions are generally appropriate to the moment, but they are usually not subtle. Backgrounds are fleshed out, but they are not elaborate.
What Order of the Stick does have is twelve-panel strips detailing entire action sequences, fully colored and with backgrounds and props – however simple – always present.
One of the things that has amazed people is the sheer amount of happenings in OotS. I would argue at least part of that is due to the art. It is practical – it allows for an easily identifiable cast and the ability to pack a ton of action into every page. It is simple, sure. I am confident there is room for improvement within that style, at least from an artistic perspective. But functionality is not something that should be so easily dismissed.
I read too many comics that are fantastically good strips, but are immensely hard to follow. Not just from day to day due to complicated plots or dialogues, but often within the strips themselves. Templar, Az, as I mentioned the other week. Girly itself, which is wild and unrestrained – but as Foibos very succinctly described it, is approaching the webcomic equivalent to WRITING IN ALL CAPS. Even Penny and Aggie occasionally loses me in exaggerated expressions and sudden panel transitions.
These are all comics that are right near the top of my daily update list. They are some of the best strips out there, both in general and artisticly speaking. And they are perfectly free to draw their comics however they desire, regardless of what it means for me.
But as a reader, I have learned to appreciate accessibility.
I’m not saying that OotS is artisticly better than any of the above comics – it isn’t. But analyzing it without paying heed to the benefits of its functionality is doing it a disservice, and one I wanted to comment on.