The Best of Livejournal: Get Medieval

Since Comic Genesis is, once again, inaccessible (at least for me), let’s look at a comic hosted on a site not altogether famous for hosting webcomics. The strip in question is Get Medieval, a comic that has managed to be under-the-radar for several years now. In some ways, this is surprising – in others, less so.

Surprising, because it is a cleanly drawn webcomic that updates every day, with clockwork reliability, featuring a perfect blend of humor and plot.

But at the same time, there are two things that are holding it back. First, as mentioned, it’s hosted on livejournal. Don’t get me wrong, the site gets the job done just fine, with archives, a cast page, and general information – but while efficient, it is also somewhat bland, which can be discouraging to those just happening by. Even worse, I get the sense that there is a perception of livejournal-hosted webcomics being at a more amateur level than ones found elsewhere. The issue here isn’t that it is an inferior webpage to other webcomics – but that readers may assume it is regardless of the evidence, and that can be just as big a problem.

The second real hurdle is the opening sequence, as the reader is thrust into the middle of the show without only vague ideas as to who people are or what is going on. Also, while I love the drawing style, it tends to result (especially early on) in everyone looking exactly the same age, which causes further difficulties with distinguishing between the characters. The result? No connection to the characters or their situation, and the start of your story is exactly when you need to reel people in for the long haul.

Of course, if you can get past those two elements, you can really discover what a gem this comic is. Some fifty strips in, the action truly begins, and even more importantly, the original cast gets split up. And while the early strips might have had some difficulty dealing with the half-dozen characters initially crammed together, a long stretch of dealing with no more than two at a time allows the strip – and the characterization – to really begin to shine.

Let’s back up a step and look at the premise of the strip.“Once upon a time, long, long ago in a faraway land, a spaceship landed on Earth.

Its occupants were on the run from the interstellar mafia and looking for a place to lie low for a little while. What they got was this grubby, misogynistic little steel-age world where the beer’s always warm, there are too many eels, and peoples’ idea of fun is watching guys in metal exoskeletons hit each other with sticks.

You take what you can get.”

Now, that’s a good set-up. The space opera and the medieval elements are mixed together surprisingly well, you’ve got a full dose of conflicts right from the start, and a wealth of setting and atmosphere (no pun intended) to draw upon. You have plenty of historical elements that you can either indulge in or gleefully mock, and the strip’s creator, Irony, does both in equal measure.

But at the same time, you might notice that my little summary of the comic’s best qualities, at the start of this post, doesn’t mention the premise or the setting. They are good things, don’t get me wrong – but I feel like you could take the elements of what make the comic great, and transplant them into an entirely different scenario without any loss in quality. The strip has that most important property that screams professionalism – consistency. Regular, reliable updates with crisp (if cartoony) art. A good sense of pacing, and the ability to keep the plot constantly moving despite setting up daily punchlines.

I’ve seen a number of comparisons made between it and Narbonic, and I really can’t deny them. Oh, they are clearly similar on the surface, judging by art-style, update schedule, and format of the strip – but far more important to me is that they move along in a very similar manner, with a similar sense of confidence. On the other hand, Narbonic was a strip that clearly evolved over the course of several years – while Get Medieval has always had a very firm sense of itself, at least once it got past the slightly meandering beginning.

And there is the tragic state of affairs – this is a comic that has very few flaws, but they unfortunately happen to be ones that specifically form obstacles for new readers. Oh, once a reader manages to get a decent way into the archives, they will be hard-pressed to stop reading – but if you can’t get them to that point, the battle is already lost.

I don’t think the battle is lost for Get Medieval, and while it might not have the prominence it deserves, it still has a solid and loyal following. But I think it does stand as a good warning – that presentation and perception can be just as important as the actual quality of the strip itself.


3 responses

  1. You missed the list of storylines.

    I don’t see what’s so difficult about the opening. “Spaceship arrives in unknown system” is a well-established way to start a story, and it carries with it the expectation of not immediately knowing everything about everything.

  2. I beleive that the LJ platform helps the reader feel more a part of the process, being able to discuss the strip with other readers and the author. That helps forge a sense of community, and while the conversations diverge far off topic more often than not, that is part and parcel to having several people talking at once.

  3. That’s definitely true – it is a much smoother, and more immediate, avenue of response than you will find with most sites.

    I do think that a forum would tend to serve as a more organized arena for a user community, but I’d certainly take the LJ platform over pretty much any sort of tagboard I’ve ever seen.

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