Monthly Archives: October, 2007

Good News, Bad News

Good News: I finally read Watchmen the other day, and thus have had the way I view comics entirely redefined. Well… not quite, but I was impressed with the work and pleased that it lived up to the hype. I still haven’t come to a conclusion on how I feel about the ending and the messages of the book, and I suspect that alone is evidence of how great it is.

Which is, by the by, one of the signs I’ve been noting about a number of specific webcomics lately. Clearly on a different scale, yes, but they are open to multiple interpretations of right and wrong, and that complexity leaves them all the better for it. I’ll toss out Punch an’ Pie as an example, and a comic I really wish I had the time to do a proper discussion of… but that unfortunately brings us to the…

Bad News: Work is busy. Life is busy. NaNoWriMo is a week away. Which means the time I have available to spend on reviews is unfortunately dwindling. I’m still going to try to get out at least a post a week, especially as there remains quite a bit I’ve been wanting to discuss – but consider this fair warning that updates will be down to once or twice a week, at least for the next month and a half.

I will try and keep any posts blathering about NaNoWriMo to a minimum, but… no promises.

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A Genuine Ultimatum, Part 3: For Better or For Worse

“Oh. Oh no,” I can hear you saying. “Please – just shut up about For Better or For Worse!”

I understand your concern – over the past several years, it has become an honored tradition online to mock and bemoan the state of FBoFW. And while the chatter has mostly subsided as the strip entered its strange new state of timelessness, though it still comes under assault by the usual suspects. I can’t deny the same holds true for me – every day it updates, and every day I shake my head at its attempts to merge the old comics and the new.

Only… I’m still reading.

Why is that? I’ll admit – I haven’t enjoyed the comic in ages. Partly due to the direction the comic has gone, and the unsatisfying final fate of certain characters. Partly because each time I saw mockery made of it, it became that much harder to actually judge the content of the work for myself – and by now, at this point, I simply can’t recognize the elements that once made it one of the best strips in the newspaper.

But it has remained on my reading list.

Sure, I can claim the usual difficulty I have setting a comic aside. The momentum I mentioned in previous installments, the fact that it is easier to go on reading rather than changing a routine.

But there is more to it than that – it lets one hold on to the disappointment, the righteous anger at being let down by the strip. It lets one reaffirm their decision to hate the comic, to criticize it. It lets one point out every new flaw, poorly executed joke, or terrible storyline – and prove, over and over again, just how far a comic has fallen.

There’s a certain dark pleasure in that – but a pointless one. I can understand reading a comic that has fallen on dark times in the hope of it one day returning to former glories – but this sort of indulgence is the opposite. This is all about reading a comic to see how bad it can get. And once you’ve entered that sort of outlook, it becomes irrelevant whether the comic is truly degrading – it is in the reader’s mind, and that is all that matters.

There are a lot of reasons to read a comic, or partake of any form of entertainment. Most revolve around enjoying oneself, finding jokes to laugh at or a powerful story to appreciate. There are even a variety of reasons to enjoy bad entertainment, such as trying to define exactly where things went wrong and thus improve one’s own understanding of the artform, or even to simply indulge in a mockery of the flaws with one’s friends.

I’m thinking that reading a comic for the sole purpose of nursing one’s grievances with the author, and allowing one’s disappointment to continue to simmer, is right near the bottom of the list.

It is a far better choice to simply let things go – and today, with For Better of For Worse, that’s what I plan to do.

Respect is not a weakness; compromise is not defeat.

So, there is a bit of a brouhaha that has arisen regarding a t-shirt produced by Jeffrey Rowland, overlord of Topatoco and producer of various webcomics.

The issue at hand is that Mr. Rowland produced a t-shirt design with an internet theme, which included a drawing of the O RLY owl. He recieved an e-mail, which may or may not be legitimate, claiming to be from the photographer John White who took the original photograph of the owl.

For purposes of simplicity, I’m going to assume the complaint is genuine and that John White does have copyright on the photo.

What bothers me about the entire scenario is that the response, when popular webcomics are accused of this sort of thing, is for the community to jump forward and say, “Oh, this is clearly fair use, and the accusers are just stirring up trouble with their claims.” But when an outsider attempts to do the same to webcomickers, the community forms into one giant fist to pound on them.

Now, I’m not saying that this situation is the same as the most recent scandal, because… it’s not. Todd Goldman stole art wholesale in an undeniable example of greed and plagiarism, and did so clearly without remorse. Rowland, in this situation, merely was making reference to a common internet meme, and likely didn’t even consider that the image might be copyrighted, and any violation was entirely accidental. So the two scenarios are most certainly different…

…but that doesn’t mean that Rowland was in the right.

Over at Fleen, Gary Tyrrell makes the argument that this is an instance of fair use. Specifically, that Rowland is commenting on the presence of the internet meme – and that since the image of the owl has so thoroughly nested itself (no pun intended) into the internet public consciousness, it is now fair game.

Of course – that would mean, by the same logic, that if a specific image from a webcomic suddenly became the basis for a wide-spread meme, there should then be no objection if it started getting printed out on t-shirts across the net, right? Right?

Well, no – webcartoonists would immediately get angry over this. They’d get roaring mad. Campaigns would be led, crusades waged. I am certain of that.

Now, I’m not actually saying if they would be wrong to respond one way or the other – just that the community as a whole would react in a completely hypocritical fashion from how they are doing now. It’s ok if one of our own does it, but criminal in an outsider. Even worse, when one of our own is accused, we don’t just disagree – we lash out at the attacker. 

I’ve seen it on several occasions – if one suggests that a popular webcomic might have snagged an image or idea from another source, they are showered with ridiculed for the suggestion. They are accussed of trying to cause trouble, or simply being greedy. That they aren’t just wrong, but abusing the ideals of copyright protection. That simply raising an objection to the use of their art is an act worthy of contempt or annoyance.

A while back, another member of Dumbrella had a similar situation – they had a number of t-shirts that featured various references to Star Wars. Lucas and company said “Hey – stop that.” Fleen responded by mocking Lucasfilm. Rich Steven’s own response was, largely, about he could simply claim the t-shirts weren’t about Star Wars at all. Sure, they were stylized enough that he could make that argument, or say that when he used the name “Chewie,” he certainly wasn’t talking about old Chewbacca… but whether he could make the claim or not, everyone knew it wasn’t true.

The t-shirts were about Star Wars. He was selling stuff to make money through references to another dude’s intellectual property. Now, were his t-shirts really resulting in a big loss of income to Lucasfilm? Of course not. (Though once they give others free reign on their copyright, that can be a slippery slope.) But hey – just because the one getting ripped off is a giant soulless corporation doesn’t make it right.

I notice, just as I am starting to really get my rant on, that over at Overcompensating Rowland mentions his plans to take down the design if the guy making the complaint is the real thing. So – hey, major props to him.

Because, really, that’s what I’m trying to advocate here. We make all this fuss about plagiarism and respecting an artist’s work – but you can’t just pretend those ideals are only true when you want them to be. You want to champion those ideals, then do so. Don’t make excuses about how pixel art can be interpreted or how your art being used for a meme automatically makes it communal property. Even if you do disagree with the claim, then present your arguments in a civil fashion – don’t freaking villainize anyone who dares raise a complaint against your crowd.

Show what you’re made of – here’s the chance to be the better person. Sure, it might be a gray area, as it is here. Sure, you can probably put forward a legitimate argument or excuse and keep your t-shirt in print. But what does it hurt to let it go, versus demonstrating your respect for another artist’s work?

So, Jeffrey Rowland – congrats on handling the situation with class.

And here’s hoping, next time, the rest of webcomics follows your example.

A Genuine Ultimatum, Part 2: Wicked Powered

Today continues my quest to ditch comics not worth reading – but since there are some other topics I want to also discuss, I’m going after an easy target: Wicked Powered.

Now, the reason this is an easy choice is because Wicked Powered sorta kinda somewhat came to an end just over two months ago. Or, more accurately… the main heroes of the show came up against the main villain, who hurled them into a time loop!

At first, I was excited. I mean – this was a genuinely exciting scene, and for a comic that was filled with highs and lows, it was definitely one of the former. So we suddenly have our cast get rocketed back to the beginning of the strip, and I’m thinking it is pretty awesome. I’m carefully paying attention, keeping my eye out for any minor discrepancies or other hints of the characters realizing they are caught in a loop…

…and I find nothing. In fact, I realize, they are just flat-out rerunning the strip from the beginning without any changes. That’s cold.

This is confirmed, shortly thereafter, by a news-post explaining just that. The comic is no longer profitable, so they aren’t able to keep it going. Thus, they’ve set-up this clever form of reruns. And it is clever – it lets them keep the comic rolling without actually bringing it to a close, but leaves them able to step back in and start things up at any time, should they desire to do so. Not a bad setup.

Unfortunately, one of the biggest things the comic had in its favor was its momentum. It started with something of a mystery and kept the action going from there – and suddenly everything has come to a stop. Sure, the scenes are still rolling – but nothing that will keep a reader’s attention. Instead, it just helps make the comic’s weaknesses more obvious, and lets the reader come to understand that there wasn’t really a grand plan to find out – that the plot was just being played by ear from the beginning.

Let’s be honest now – this comic was never a great masterpiece. Like most of Crosby’s work, it tends to cater to the lowest common denominator – pretty much every punchline is a boob joke, a gay joke, or toilet humor. And, sure, there are people who are looking for that, and find that stuff hilarious… but I also suspect there are a handful like me, who were reading the comic because we were drawn to the spark of the story inside. Sure, it was a story filled with parody and zaniness and that didn’t take itself all that seriously – but that was part of the charm. And as long as that story was rolling, it was an interesting read – but the story is over, and dropped in such a way that it will be hard to start back up.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Crosby and Gieni are by any means obligated to keep providing me with free comic material. It was created to make money from a sponsor, and when the money dried up, the story got set aside. Fair enough.

But I think the real shame is that they launched into the reruns without warning the reader – they left the reader, at least initially, with a different expectation than they deserved. If they had announced when the time-loop commenced that this was the comics way of going on hiatus, I think that would have been fine. But instead, the reader was tricked into thinking it was part of the story, and became invested in what was going on – only to find out there was nothing going on, nothing at all.

What does that mean, when all is said and done? It means any chances of a genuine return just took a pretty hard blow to the head. Because now the reader isn’t going to be as easily able to get invested back in the comic – they’ve already done so and had their interest fizzle. And so if, sometime down the road, the comic looks worth resuming, and they start things back up again, all the better for them…

…but we’re not sticking around to see it.

A Genuine Ultimatum, Part 1: God Mode

I titled my last post “Ultimatum”, clearly some sort of poorly worded reference/pun on my discussion of Ultimate Chugworth. I did not, however, include any sort of actual ultimatum in the post, which a reader called me on – so now to fix that.

I tend to focus far more on speaking praise rather than sharing criticism. This has been true since I started this blog, and I’ve mentioned my reasons for it a number of times – I tend to reserve my criticism for when I feel it can actually do some good, or for when I have been so disappointed in something that I need to share my words.

But I also have a difficulty with not recognizing when I’ve lost interest in a strip. I’ll read a strip, checking in with every update… even though I find the comic dull, offensive, or outright painful to read. Yet, somehow, it stays on my list. It is easier to let myself continue to be carried by routine then to turn away from something I know I don’t enjoy. I have the same problem with books – it is among the most challenging things in the world for me to put aside a book unfinished, even one that has me grinding my teeth from one paragraph to the next.

So today I’m putting forth a genuine ultimatum, as I take a look at some of the terrible comics I need to stop reading. I’ll be posting every day for the next while as I get this out of my system. This is not an ultimatum to the creators of these fine (or not so fine) strips, however – they can improve or not at their own leisure.

Rather, I’m issuing an ultimatum to myself – if this strips are genuinely this unpleasant to read on a daily basis, here’s my chance to give one final glance at them and them drop them for good.

So, let’s get on with the show, shall we?

Some have said that the whole of webcomicdom consists of poor man’s rip-offs of Penny Arcade. This is not true. There are many quality strips out there which feature original concepts and vibrant characters. There are even more than a few gaming comics that stand on their own, either demonstrating equal humor to Penny Arcade or their own brand of uniqueness.

Unfortunately, God Mode is not one of them.

I’m not entirely sure how this strip originated. It was apparently thought up by Chris Crosby, though he never actually produced the comic – that was one Ryan Kerns, and then later Raven Perez. I always found this something of a strange situation – while passing along a title is regular practice in print comics, it is a rare thing on the web. In this case, I attribute this to God Mode being entirely formulaic – it was invented to try and grab the gamer crowd, and will continue to be milked as long as possible.

I’ll start out by saying some good things about it, however, because that’s just the way I roll. So – the art (both the original and the recent stuff) has a certain cartoony style that works well for the comic’s slapstick comedy. I find many of the character concepts original, even if they quickly become entirely cliché. I was especially a fan of Broderick, whose description reads: “He is afraid of everything that exists in the world, with the possible exception of bees. (He is, however, afraid of why he’s not afraid of bees.)” Maybe I just like the description of the character – hard to say, as he is woefully underused.

Now, the bad part of the strip? It really does read as a bad imitation of Penny Arcade. Being a gaming comic it constantly deals with gaming references and current events – but they are thrown out haphazardly, and without any newsposts to help ground the reader and help them understand the context of the strip. When the earlier jokes start to wear thin, it devolves into the same mindless violence that Penny Arcade has been criticized for – but without the ingenuity or distinction that really made it work. Even worse, it doesn’t treat it as something to be used sparingly – instead, strip after strip trades brutality for a punchline, and expects the reader to laugh.

It isn’t that it becomes offensive. No, its even worse – it becomes boring.

The hyperaggressive violence and convulated inside jokes results in the worst fate that a comedic strip can face – it just isn’t funny. Even worse, you can see the elements of humor there, underneath it all – but they just don’t manage to deliver. One of the recurring jokes is that Sony is the Borg. Another is that gamers are fat and like chocolate. These aren’t especially funny to begin with – but they are used over, and over, and over again, and grow even less humorous with each repetition.

For the characters, we have Marceline, who runs God Mode (a gaming review website that somehow has netted her millions.) She is sadistic and a smoker – that is pretty much the extent of her character.

Then we have two of her reviewers, Kraig and Barret, who are essentially indistinguishable, aside from Barrett’s lack of hair. I don’t think they are meant to be so – the cast page indicates that Kraig is the idiot and Barrett the pushover, but the comic itself doesn’t really do a good job of supporting this. They pretty much just exist to be abused by Marceline.

Tory is the sales manager, who makes tons of money through using her sex appeal to sell games and systems. Broderick is the fearful reporter. Alex is the corporate overlord who is a massive, frightening man with a heart of gold – another character who could use more screentime. Moru is Marceline’s son, a seven year old genius who generally makes the adults look like idiots.

The comic revolves around the entire concept that everyone is an idiot and bad things constantly happen to them. Ok, I won’t deny that there is a market for that sort of idea – but violence for its own sake isn’t funny. We don’t feel bad for the characters being abused, but we can’t laugh at them, either – we’re not even that invested in them. When Penny Arcade features random and senseless brutality, it usually goes hand in hand with a punchline or some element of irony – God Mode instead simply indulges itself, and expects that to do the trick.

And, unfortunately, it doesn’t.

The tragedy of God Mode is that, if it was willing to go its own way, it has the potential to be a decent comic. There are clever ideas buried underneath it all – but as long as the strip is wedded to the formula of what it thinks a gaming comic should be, it will never truly establish itself.

I’m not sure what actually got me reading the comic in the first place. There must have been something there, though I can’t really say what. But I can’t deny that I’ve been reading the comic now out of momentum alone. The updates don’t bring laughter nor, even, interest – it has become a daily task. I open the link to the comic, read the latest strip, and then close the page. All out of habit alone. Five minutes later, I don’t even remember what the strip is about.

Today the strip is taken off my list.

One down – many more to go.

Ultimatum

Chugworth Academy often defies description – so I won’t attempt such folly. Instead, I’ll simply mention that it is back, after having vanished from the web for a time. It’s absence had been so complete and grown long enough that I had actually assumed it had gone forever into the great hiatus in the sky, as webcomics sometimes do. This was reinforced by the fact that, at conventions, I would see signs proclaiming: “We don’t know where Chugworth Academy is! Don’t ask us!”

So when it did reemerge, having resolved technical difficulties or whatever, it was a pleasant surprise. I’ve been trying to remember who these characters are and why they all seem to be in therapy, and despite a brief detour into some braindamagingly terrible filler, the picture was slowly congealing back into its once-remembered whole. As always, Chugworth is an exercise in pleasant nonsense and silliness – which can be a recipe for disaster, but Chugworth manages to succeed where others often fail.

What brings this all up, however, is not the antics of the regular cast and crew, but rather the latest update – an exploration into Ultimate Chugworth, wherein they demonstrate an accurate knowledge of what makes Marvel’s Ultimate universe distinct. After all – the main continuity Marvel universe is now filled with heroes that blend the line between good and evil, and where everyone lives in fear of the tyrannical government and their Various Acronym Organizations (VAO). What keeps the Ultimates distinct?

Samuel Jackson, that’s what.

I don’t ask for much in my comics, its true. Sometimes nonsense and silliness is more than enough. But an added dose of geekery, and I really can’t do much except sit back and applaud.

A Few Notes on a Friday

Apologies for the sparsity of posts this week – expect things to remain a bit slow as NaNoWriMo approaches.

A few brief thoughts I meant to discuss this week, but which never had time for a proper post:

1) Halloween storylines are starting to emerge among webcomics, as they are prone to do this time of year. I have, however, been pleasantly surprised by both PvP and Schlock Mercenary, whose storylines seem to have flowed from the existing events in an entirely natural fashion, rather than feeling like the usual shoe-horned October spook-fest.

2) There has been a bit of hubbub in the last week about New Avengers #35, wherein superheroine Tigra is brutally beaten in a rather exploitative fashion. What really bothered me about the scene, however, was learning that the likely reason for the occurence was a simple one – the author, Brian Michael Bendis, hated the character, and wanted to humilate her in the worst way possible.

Might not be true, though thus far it seems otherwise, as apparently this is something he has done before. And, mind you, I like his work on a lot of other comics. Still, this is bothersome, since the entire idea of using one’s position as a writer to put the characters one hates in their place… well, it seems remarkably petty.

I recall a little while back where a similar thing happened between Garth Ennis and Frank Tieri. In Ennis’s Punisher, Wolverine got his face blown off, his legs chainsawed, and was run over by a steamroller, among other things. It was a ludicrous portrayal, the sole purpose of which was to make him look bad and the Punisher look good. The current author of the Wolverine series, Tieri, took offense to this – and so had Punisher show up in his title, wherein Wolverine kicked his ass, and to top it all off, pointed out the gay porno Punisher happened to be carrying around. Ha ha! You sure told him!

Look. This sort of childish nonsense might be something I’d expect in webcomics, if only due to the lack of editorial control – sometimes people want to lash out, and use whatever medium they’re skilled at to do so. But I really expected better from DC and Marvel – the entire point is for them to be professionals, and when writers stop worrying about producing stories, and instead simply about indulging their own illicit bits of fan-fiction… man, it’s just kinda sad. When people are actually getting paid for this, you would think they would be held to slightly higher standards.

So that’s my rant of the week.

3) So, I’m probably going to SPX this weekend.

I’m never entirely sure what to do at these sort of conventions – as cool as I find the concept of meeting webcomic creators I respect and admire, I pretty much end up just wandering around without any idea of how to actually converse with them, and I usually end up simply spending more money than I should on various webcomic paraphernalia.

But on the other hand, I really can’t come up with an excuse to not go to a con with so many webcomickers in attendance, especially one such a short drive away.

Wolverined

I’ve realized in recent days that there is a certain character archetype that bothers me – the Wolverine.

Now, I’m sure lots of people are aware that there are elements of Wolverine that are a joke, from his ability to guest-star in 90% of all Marvel comics, to his myriad convulated and complicated origins. But for a long time, I was blissfully ignorant.

You see, when I was but a wee kid, I was quite the fan of the X-Men. Not from comics, mind you, but from saturday morning cartoons, the true source of my fandoms in those days. And I watched X-Men, and enjoyed it, as did my friends.

I would, in fact, get together with my cousins and my sister, and we formed a little club where we pretended to be part of that illustrious team, each claiming one of the cast members as our identity. And I remember being delighted that I got first choice, and was able to choose Wolverine. He was my favorite, after all!

And so, remembering this fact in the present day, it was with some startlement that I realized I had come to loathe the character – or at least certain representations of him. The third X-Men movie was really what made me aware of this – while I had thoroughly enjoyed the first two, this one felt atrocious, and Wolverine’s role in it was the worst part. The movie was no longer about the team, but about him and him alone.

Shortpacked illustrates it well – every aspect of the movie seems to be focused on sidelining other characters and pushing him forward. I noticed that even Storm, who also had larger screen-time in the movie, took a back seat – despite being the supposed team leader, she’s the one following Wolverine’s orders and tactics in the midst of battle. Even the central plot point of the movie, Jean Grey and her growing instability, culminates in a scene about Wolverine as he has to make the choice to kill her for the good of all.

And I realized that, while he may be a good character at heart, he loses something when he is written so that he can do no wrong. It isn’t – quite – the Mary Sue phenomenom. Rather, it is a result being so in love with the character – or the idea of the character – that they make them into the idealized bad-ass. A character who is hardcore enough to win every fight, but also smarter and more sensitive than everyone else around.

Once I became aware of this, I started noticing similar characters elsewhere, and a lot fell into place with why certain comics were losing my interest. Fables is one of my favorite series… but I find the earlier stories significantly better than the more recent work, and realized this was why. Bigby – the big bad wolf – started out as the Sheriff of Fabletown, just one of a large cast of interesting and well-balanced characters.

And then he became a Wolverine. Other character have lost their identities and exist to show how awesome he is. He is the protector, the guardian, that everyone else has to rely upon. And so it has slowly become that whenever he shows up to save the day, I lose a little more interest in the title, and hope the action will quickly center on someone – anyone – else.

In webcomics, Johnny Saturn is the largest example of this problem that I’ve seen. I’ve been thinking about the comic a lot, lately, because it has recently pushed a little too far for my tastes.

See, I’ve enjoyed the comic for some time now. It was a true, old-school action comic, and really seemed to represent what Graphic Smash was all about. But… well, Johnny Saturn himself was so very 90’s – a grim and gritty hero who was supposed to be more heroic than all the brightly-colored capes flying around overhead.

I like many of the secondary characters in the comic, I like the setting and the background storyarcs – and let’s be fair, in the beginning, the entire comic starts off well. The opening scene is of the Utopian (who appears an equivalent of Superman) giving a speech at Johnny’s grave, talking about how easy it is for the cosmic heroes to forget what the street heroes accomplish.

It is a very good speech.

I regret that, unfortunately, we’ll continue to have its message drilled home with every panel of every page of the comic. The comic goes on to show how Johnny, despite an ordinary man with no superpowers, was able to beat the crap out of the Utopian in a one-on-one fight. Later, he was able to do the same to the Squadron Premiere, the Utopian’s superpowered allies, before going on to handle the problems they couldn’t solve.

When he then heroically gives his own life to stop a villain (as one knows will occur from the opening scene), we got a step further – he rises from the grave through sheer force of will alone! A fortunate thing, as his archenemy has done the same, returning from Hell with a demon’s power, and is singlehandedly killing dozens of superheroes at a time. A good thing Johnny, an ordinary fellow, is around to step in and imprison him in a magic circle!

This, really, is where the strip lost me. The strip goes on to show how, despite the demon being imprisoned, one of the superheroes is still dumb enough to get himself killed by it. Fortunately, Johnny demonstrates he alone has the tactical knowledge to show how the demon can be killed – by having the supers focus their energy attacks on his head and chest.

And, with that sage advice, the evil is vanquished, thanks to Johnny Saturn.

Now, this is a comic about the guy – it is allowed to portray him as a hero. He is allowed to be the focus. But there really needs to be a limit, or it stops being about a competent hero, and more about the writer specifically setting things up to cast the character in the best possible light.

There needs to be a sense of balance. I’m not simply talking power-level – but when a character is stronger, smarter and tougher than everyone else, when there is no action they can take that will not result in triumph over their enemies… well, what’s the point?

Without even the possibility of a challenge, without the outcome ever being in doubt… why am I even reading?

Cover Up the Past

I’ve always been a fan of webcomic sites that have a new ‘cover’ from month to month – even though the update schedule of these sites is often on a daily basis, thus negating any real attempt at portraying monthly ‘issues’, it still lends a nice little touch, a small surprise at the start of every month.

On the other hand, it also tends to result in weaker website design – the two places I’ve really seen this in action are Girlamatic and ComixTalk, and both commit some design sins in their cover use. Girlamatic keeps it on the front page of the site, which coincidentally features nothing else – you have to click through to see the latest updates, which can become annoying for a site that users theoretically check daily.

ComixTalk, on the other hand, has it as part of every page, where it sits at the top of the screen – and unfortunately shoves all the proper site content beneath the fold. This is more forgivable than in webcomics proper, since there is always enough info on the site you’ll be doing some serious scrolling anyway, but it is still a rather unfortunate choice.

I suspect someone could come up with a better format for displaying covers on these sites – but that isn’t what I’m here to discuss, and I’ve already let myself be sidetracked.

Up until now, of the two sites, I’ve always paid more attention to the Girlamatic covers, largely because it was more prominent. ComixTalk’s have never stood out as much – until this month, which features a brilliant cover by Spike, the mind behind Templar, Arizona.

The cover in question features a ghost-haunted graveyard – perfect for the month of October, right? But it goes a step further, and has five gravestones lying around, each with the name of webcomics that sadly were cut short before coming to a proper end.

Now, I could give a little speech about the tragedy of how easily such comics fall by the wayside, and what a tragic loss it is for webcomicdom when another enters the “permanent hiatus” – but to be fair, I can’t really blame people for keeping their regular reading lists focused on comics that still update.

But I do find it something of a shame how easily such comics vanish from sight – both completed ones and those that will never see a proper end. I’m guilty of this myself – Strings of Fate, one of those featured on the cover, was a long-time favorite of mine… that I forgot the name of when it went away. Every so often I tried to track it down again (how many zodiac themed webcomics could there be?), but no such luck.

As such it is nice to occasionally see a bit of remembrance and recognition for the fallen few. So props to ComixTalk for doing so, and props to Spike for creating such a classy cover.

Thoughts upon reading today’s Alma Mater:

Thought number one: Hey! A Choose Your Own Adventure strip! That’s awesome!

Thought number two: Huh. That first path had a rather… dour ending.

Thought number three: But hey – Escherworld! Nice!

Thought number four: And more melancholy… wait… do all paths end with this? Damn.

One of the recent storylines in Alma Mater has been focusing on how one of the characters, Eileen, feels isolated from the rest. Now, it can be tempting to disregard feelings of ennui when they come from the perspective of girl in 7th grade – but today’s comic does a remarkable job at capturing how thorough the sentiment runs, and giving a solid look at exactly what thoughts lead to it.

I’ve always been impressed by WJR’s willingness to experiment with the strip, especially with somewhat unique layouts; today is no different, and the experiment clearly paid off. The Choose Your Own Adventure aspect made for a more exciting read, but also served to make the culmination of the strip even more profound. It demonstrates the inevitability of the mood Eileen finds herself afflicted with, and by having the readers walk through that path themselves, forges a more personal connection with them than they would otherwise have.

As I said – I’m most certainly impressed.