I talked about Home on the Strange just last week, yet already I find myself needing to discuss it again.
As mentioned back then, hefty stuff has been happening, and we knew we were going to be coming upon a scene of significant disaster.
I just didn’t think it would involve the brutal mauling of an almost-naked woman.
(Of course, he bears no small blame for both how she treated him and her current presence in his apartment, but nonetheless – she’s not a nice person.)
Ferrett says, regarding the strip, that hopefully this is everything the readers wanted to see.
And maybe, for most of them, it is. As I mentioned, Ann isn’t a figured designed to deserve sympathy.
Still, given the flaws and actions of the other characters, she has been established – at least in my eyes – as such a villain as to deserve this level of brutalization.
This isn’t to say it kills the story. It is, in many ways, an interesting development. But I just don’t think it is the development the writer intended it to be. He wants us to feel triumph from this, not disgust. He wants us to be laughing, not staring at the screen in horror.
Reading the script he wrote for the strip, it says the following: “The possum is violent against Ann, clawing at her in a cartoon frenzy of animation (funny, not realistic) as she flails about, knocking all sorts of shit over and smearing blood around the room.”
I’m not quite sure what went wrong. Somewhere in there, the ‘cartoon’ and ‘funny’ parts didn’t get through – and if they had, I probably would have been able to accept it. As it is, though, the woman fled the room completely drenched in blood. We saw the possom tearing into her face, possibly disfiguring her for life. And we’re supposed to find it funny.
Well, like I said, maybe other readers do. I suspect I won’t be the only one a little put off by the brutality of it. I wonder whether this will result in any change in what plot they have planned ahead. There certainly seems a difference between the way the script reads and the way the art itself plays out, and that could certainly play havoc with whatever they intend to come next.
Of course, it is to the credit of the strip that, as much as the scene pushes me away, I still find myself left with curiousity. Where will the plot go from here – will future strips be written with what this scene was intended to be, or what it actually ended up as?
Today, I rant.
I normally tend to look for the positive in a comic rather than the negative. Given that you don’t (usually) pay for webcomics, pointing out bad ones to ‘steer people away’ doesn’t strike me as quite as effective a service as it is for critics in other fields. I’d rather, say, point people towards the good stuff, right off the bat.
But the last few days have been a major pain, what with ice, ice, more ice, and the occasional spider.
So you get a rant.
When I do tend to focus on the weaknesses of a strip, I tend to focuses on strips that have promise despite those weaknesses. Like I said – singling out an irredeemably horribly strip is pointless. A strip that has potential, if it can overcome one tiny hurdle or another.
In this case, Trouble Konflik might have potential, or it might not. For the last six months that the strip has been updating, I have been entirely unable to discern what is happening or whether it is interesting or not. That in and of itself should be a sign something is wrong.
Now, let me pause for a moment, and read through the archives…
There is currently just over one chapter updated. And, reading it in one fell swoop… it’s actually not that bad. The art is really cool, with vibrant and engaging character designs. The plot… well, hard to say, as the story is exceptionally slow-moving.
Which is the problem. Or part of the problem, at least. A story doesn’t have to move fast to be good – but Trouble Konflik is relatively unique, in that each update consists of no more than one. single. panel.
There are good single-panel strips out there, sure – but they are gag strips. A new joke every update. They don’t have to deal with the struggle to tell a story, because you can’t tell a story with one context-less frame every week. It is completely incapable of conveying the necessary information to actually understand – let alone enjoy – the story being told.
Until I read through the archives today, my impression of Trouble Konflik was essentially a memory of watching a slideshow of disjointed images. Indeed, there were times when I wasn’t sure if it was updating with a story, or just… sketches, filler, meaningless images. I could not tell.
That, I say, tells me there is a problem at hand.
Reading the archives – having the entire story on a single page – is a different situation entirely.
And, sure – anyone reading the strip can skim back through the archive with every update, to refresh themselves on what is going on. And once they’ve done so enough, it will probably start to fall more into place with each strip – though some will still feel empty on their own.
When a strip relies both on what comes before for the entirety of its context, and what comes after, and is presented independent of either of those, it isn’t a strip at all. It is nothing.
That’s the tragedy of Trouble Konflik. Looking back through the archives, I can see a promising tale. But I read it for half a year without getting anything out of it. A newcomer, glancing at the latest strip, will be completely lost. Sure, the archives are there, but isn’t the purpose of a strip that updates on the web to be about the updates, not the archives?
The strip is just now starting to hit its stride – from what I understand, just starting to see newly crafted pages (panels) twice a week. Which is great – if anyone is still reading. If anyone will continue to remain reading.
The solution is a simple one – don’t update one page at a time. Cut the updates from twice a week to twice a month, and update four panels in one fell swoop. Update, basically, with one full page at a time – or hey, only update three or four times a year, but give a full chapter every shot. It might seem like less output – but it would be output that a person could actually read.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Alone, they are nothing more than pretty pictures. Together, they tell a story. Which is the goal of the comic? That’s the decision that has to be made.
I haven’t done one of these in a while, so here’s several tidbits of news or observations regarding developments in webcomics this week:
NEWS: Gunnerkrigg Court is moving to three days a week, starting next week. Voted as the Outstanding Newcomer in this year’s Webcartoonist Choice Awards, Gunnerkrigg Court has been living up to its potential, and having even more content from it is nothing but good news.
NEWS: Kismet: Hunter’s Moon has come to a close. When I first joined Girlamatic, this comic was one of the top discoveries that convinced me I made the right choice. Even though I’ve since unsubscribed from Girlamatic (primarily due to the sparsity of new content), I still made sure to follow this strip on it’s own site.
It’s a good strip that goes into unexpected places, and I’m eager to see the short stories that flesh out the backgrounds of the strip’s characters, as well as keep my eyes out for the sequel coming next year. Congratulations to Layla Lawlor on a strip well done.
NEWS: Drama has been at an all-time low in webcomics this year, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there – and another scuffle has broken out in a debate between such long time stars as DJ Coffman, Joey Manley, and William G.
What really struck me about the entire debate was how… well, completely silly it was. I mean, not that I don’t normally find most flame-wars a tad ridiculous, but this one seemed to be entirely insults and misrepresentation for its own sake. When all an argument does is paint every single participant in a bad light… well, far be it from me to be the voice of reason, but I’m wondering when will some of these people realize that arbitrary mockery and debate is tarnishing their own reputation as much as the person they are trying to make look bad?
I just feel bad for Xavier Xerexes, since he had to deal with all the hullabaloo taking place on his site.
NEWS: Speaking, however, tangentially, about William G, he’s posted some preview art for his upcoming storyline (which arrives tomorrow, if I don’t have my wires crossed.) And let me tell you, that has to be the most horrifying thing I’ve seen all day.
RANT: Least I Could Do has been running a serious and intense storyline all week, which has been both heart-wrenching and an insight into Rayne’s character. I was really impressed with it, right up until today, when I wanted to reach into the computer and start punching people. (And, let me assure you, I’m usually a far more peaceful sort.)
Let’s talk about Rayne Summers.
Rayne Summers is an asshole. There’s no two ways about that – it’s basically the premise of the strip. And I’m ok with that – the strip is not only aware of this, but bases a significant majority of it’s humor off of this. Rayne’s a dick. He sleeps with women. He messes with his friends, and occasionally comes to their rescue. He’s shallow and self-centered, but charming enough to thrive despite this.
While I typically have a tendency to hate this sort of character (male Mary Sues who manage to miraculously come into dream jobs and have their way with the world without any real reason for it), Least I Could Do pulls it off well enough for me to stay interested, and even enjoy the strip. I tend to enjoy seeing Rayne get his comeuppance, of course, but I still laugh and read along in the storylines when (as is often the case), he comes out on top. (No pun intended.)
But this latest storyline left me intrigued. Rayne get’s his own little christmas spiritual visituation, in the vein of Scrooge before him. We all know where this starts, and we get to see Rayne in his past. We get to see exactly how Rayne became the asshole we know and love. And that was a great scene – it not only worked, it not only was enjoyable to read, but it genuinely was decent character development.
Next step: the present. Rayne waxes eloquent upon seeing the results of his actions, and professes how he never set out to hurt anyone, just to have a good time. And again… I can buy that. It might ring a little false, given some of his behavior in the past, but I can accept this attitude. And seeing him feeling remorse at his actions… not expected, but again – he pulls it off well. I can buy it.
Today, though, we get to find out that Rayne’s not really responsible, however. Apparently, the only women who he hurt are the ones that brought it on themselves.
Look, as I mentioned earlier, Rayne being an asshole has been core to the strip from the very beginning. He has treated women poorly on many, many occasions. Ok, that’s fine. (Well maybe not fine, but it’s basically acceptable within the context of the strip.)
But going on to then say, “Hey, just kidding, he’s actually not an ass – it’s their fault for sleeping with him and expecting something more out of it?” Once again: Fuck. That.
It’s a shame, because Rayne, as a character who was hurt in the past and chose to become a womanizing asshole, but is now regretting the harm he has caused, is an intriguing character. Rayne, as a character who remains infallible and bereft of the responsibility of his actions, is completely uninteresting. It not only doesn’t help to develop the character, it actively undermines what the last week of strips has been building up.
If all that was happening was losing out on Rayne’s character development, that would be one thing – but this is actively sending a pretty terrible message down the line. Oh, I know what you’re saying – why in the world shouldn’t I expect a strip like LICD to be sexist? Isn’t it sexist all the time?
Well no, it’s not. Characters in it are, sure. But you can tell when Rayne’s being a dick, that’s because he’s a dick. There is a difference between that and the strip itself saying, “Hey, it’s ok for a guy to be an ass, he’s only going to hurt girls who are asking for it.”
Maybe I’m reading things wrong. The storyline isn’t over, and we still have (assuming things stay true to form) Rayne’s future to look in on. But seeing the morale of the story – even if only for a single day – be that the only women Rayne hurt were the ones who brought it on themselves? After seeing countless examples throughout the strip where that just isn’t true?
Once more with fervor:
NEWS: Finally, since I’d rather not end things on a bad note, especially so close to the holidays… go check out the news over at Penny Arcade today. In addition to some very nice discussion on everyone’s favorite Cardboard Tube Samurai, it looks like Child’s Play will be going the distance and breaking the one million mark this year.
Go ahead, spend a few minutes grinning about that figure. I know I did. Anyway, I’ll be back next Wednesday – till then, enjoy the holidays!
The last week or so, quite a few comics have really been taking the game to the next level. Usually, at any given time, there is only one or two comics keeping me on the edge of my seat, furiously checking the latest happenings come the light of dawn.
Right now, though? Close to a dozen.
Some of the crew aren’t doing anything, oh, specifically special. Simply delivering quality content day after day. Order of the Stick would fall into this category – back to consistently updating three days a week, the strip has just come out of an intense plot arc, and hit the ground running, tearing straight into the next plot without a pause for breath. I’ve heard quite a few people who advocate breaking up such storylines with a bout of good old fashioned laughs… but I think OotS is proof that while sticking to formula like that might keep your content constant, it won’t let you know one out of the park.
Sluggy, Narbonic, Sam and Fuzzy are all in the middle of seriously intense plot. Scary Go Round is reuniting friends long gone missing. PvP appears to have imported Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik into its world. I am confident hijinks shall ensue.
And while some have been laying down aces, others have, unfortunately, been coming up short.
And then… blah. The entire storyline smacked of super-heroism – the hero characters of the story (Faye and Dora, in this case) set up something foolish, but ends out working out just fine for them. They arrange a fight with this vigilante, beat the crap out of her, and the police thank them for it. I dislike that type of plotline in general – I can barely stand when Milholland does it, and he does it as well as it can be done.
But it was tolerable right up until the Vespavenger’s vespa turned into… a killer robot. An incredibly stupid-looking killer robot.
It’s not that I think there is something inherently wrong in the robot’s and assorted surrealities in QC. But I rarely find them funny, and I get the sense that I somehow should be – that they are tossed in so the audience can oooh and aaah. And instead I always feel like the quality of the story vanished in a puff of smoke.
Bah. I always feel bad when I’m just all-out critiquing a strip, so I won’t lay into it any more. Part of what really brought out the rant was that, for a time, I was really digging the strip. Top of my list, had me engaged in the characters and interested in the plot. And then two weeks of watching that feeling wash away.
At least I have Dominic Deegan to fall back upon. I was worried – really worried – that our erstwhile seer was going to swoop in once again and solve everything… but Mookie managed to avoid falling back that old pitfall. Pretty intentionally so, from what I can tell. That is awesome. We’ve managed to have a plot where the enemy isn’t yet another world-shattering epic madman out to end the world. We’ve managed to have a plot where Dominic doesn’t just snap his fingers and save the day. It is a really good feeling to see an artist actively learning from what they’ve done before.
And it certainly is going to keep me coming back, and checking the strip every day of the week.
Shit Happens is the latest in the line-up.
The comic itself, as many do, starts with random roommate humor and hilarity, and then somehow finds its way to exploring dark and intense drama, with the requisite blood and glory that entails.
But as much as I hate to see that sort of thing happen, eh, it doesn’t really frustrate me – man wants to tell a more serious story, more power to him.
What bugs me is the main character.
You see, Halifax is a Gary Stu, which I just learned is the term for a male version of a Mary Sue, thanks to the wonders of the internets.
To quote wikipedia: “Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies on the part of the author.”
It irks me. It is one of the single biggest pet peeves I have with webcomics, and largely because I keep running into it, over and over, and it invariably is the single biggest thing that keeps the comic from being a quality piece of work.
I read a handful of other comics that are offenders. Ctrl+Alt+Del has been well-famed for it, and seems, at least of late, to use that element almost self-referentially. Least I Could Do is practically built around it as a core concept. And even with those two comics, which do it about as well as it can be done, it makes me want to shake my head and walk away when I see it in action.
Halifax lives up to all the expectations. He treats his friends like dirt without them actually, say, stopping to be his friend. His job consists of not doing anything and getting paid tons of money for it. Pretty much every female character in the series has been in love with him at some point. Did I mention in his past he was a secret agent, for no apparent reason?
Anyway. We’ve got a comic with a lame and cliche plot, with a main character who fits every archetype I despise about main characters. Yet somehow, by the time I finished the archives, I find myself enjoying the comic.
Well, the main problems aren’t quite as terrible – the plague of drama has wandered off, leaving the crew mostly meandering through life – which I find far more engaging then mafioso deals and back-alley shootings. Our ‘hero’, Halifax, remains a pristine asshole, and the friends he so mistreats seem unable to do anything about it despite being in a position of power over him – but baby steps are fine.
No, I find myself far more interested in the side characters. Former villains seeking a better understanding of the world. Demonized ex-girlfriends now offered the possibility of redemption. (Both featured in the picture above.)
Now, both of these characters suffered from being forced into the formulaic drama that dominated the strip for so long. (And for at least one of them, it was a terrible disservice to their character’s representation up until then.) But I’ve found the small dwellings on their current state, and the possibly of redemption for the two of them, to be strangely compelling.
On the one hand, I know that that plot element itself – that of ‘redemption for the fallen’ – is itself formulaic in many ways. But even with the build-up from the rest of the comic, and walking into the scenes dealing with those characters keeping that in mind… I found myself engaged, and actively interested.
That was a surprise, and surprises can be good things.
So there it is – not exactly the most inspiring review, I imagine. I generally try to avoid too much naysaying here – if I have a comic that I honestly can’t find anything good to say about it, it isn’t worth the time to do so, as much desire as I may have to rant about it. Even the trashiest comics are the product of hard work and a story that someone, somewhere, is proud of, and I don’t feel it is my place to do nothing but sit back and rag on that. (Cept Megatokyo. I kid, I kid!)
But here you have a comic that starts off weak and walks into the pitfalls that many have before it. And at the end of it all… well, at least for me, I found a faint spark of quality, enough to keep me interested. I can’t promise it will make the best reading experience for anyone, but it was enough to give it some recognition.
And that’s definitely better than nothing.
I’ve spent the day rereading through Squidi’s A Modest Destiny.
Now, Squidi’s has gotten a lot of flak for various things in the past, but the comic itself is, in my opinion, a pretty damn good one. Pixel based art that is quality – expressive and interesting and diverse characters, backgrounds and scenes. That’s not easily done, and a lot of people overlook the quality simply due to the medium alone.
Even more than that, it is a good story with good characters. Sometimes it falls into formula – but one that fits smoothly within the essentially video-game RPG world it has set up for itself. It works, and I was glad to have the comic return, because the story really dig grab me up and leave me eager to see how it all ends.
It’s not a perfect comic, admittedly, but there are no really glaring problems that leap out of the page at me.
…well, ok. Maybe just one.
See, he has trouble writing the crazy.
Now, I’ll be the first to admit that madness is a damn hard element to capture in a character. Convincingly showing someone as crazy is never and easy task. Sure, some can pull it off on a regular basis, but that’s usually the product of a powerfully intense and creative mind.
And I am willing to allow him some leeway, because he isn’t just arbitrarily throwing in a crazy dude for shits and giggles. The crazy dude in A Modest Destiny is a combination of victim and plot device – there is both legitimate reason for his insanity in character, and deliberate use of it to further the story.
Now it might just be me. I mean, sure, there are crazy people in real life do just say random crap all the time. I am not an expert in that field, but it is not an entirely illegitimate portrayal of some varieties of insanity.
But nonetheless! It doesn’t work for me. It feels forced, it feels arbitrary… it feels lazy. Rather than try for convincing dialogue, the artist just puts in words. Any words, any topics, any concept that pops to mind. Bam! Cheese monsters devour Denver with perplexity! Done.
Now, I mentioned before that our good friend… Pippity Bobo… is occasionally used as a plot device. The old ‘crazy guys hears voices, and some of those voices say important things.’ A time honored tradition, really, and Squidi does a better job with it than the normal randomness. It still isn’t flawless, and often feels a little forced with his ‘cryptic advice’ – but I much prefer having a guy who clearly has something important to say, but is genuinely unable to directly say it. And is more frustrated by that his listeners. When it seems that he isn’t just speaking random words, when he is honestly trying to communicate as best he can, but is limited almost as much as if he was speaking another language entirely…
…well, that has context. That has a grounding in his setting, and his character, and his relationship with other characters. And it is that sort of context that makes madness something interesting.
So I’ve got hope that Squidi’s eccentric little madman will keep developing, and maybe find a bit more of a method in his madness. If not? Well… it’s just one character, and one irritation alone won’t break me out of the story.
And if he does pull it off? Then that’s more than worth the trouble getting to that point.
Madness is difficult to master, but if you can accurately portray that combination of disconnection and genius? Convincingly get into the mind of something that is a half-step to the left of our own mental workings, and then draw out that disruption for us all to see?
Then let me tell you – you’ve got it made.
Over at Commissioned, they announced the advent of a new comics collective, Gamers Pair of Dice. As someone who recognizes that webcomic collectives are generally a good thing, and being a gamer myself, I dutifully went browsing through several of the strips.
I wouldn’t go so far as to call them Penny Arcade rip-offs. They are simply exploring the same field and making jokes on much the same subject matter, and that is perfectly fine.
But even if I don’t make the accusation, the comparison is inevitable. Penny Arcade mastered that genre of strips before most of them began, and as such, it is hard for them to stand out. The mere presence of the webcomics juggernaut, in some ways, stifles those trying to follow in its footsteps.
On another note entirely, one of the strips – a guest strip, even – left its mark on me. More specifically, it set Gato’s little song running through my head over and over again! I spoke yesterday about my poor memory, and I haven’t played the game for years, but I’ll be damned if simply seeing a virtual screenshot didn’t send the song rampaging through my mind on repeat!
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is one of those horrifyingly funny gag comics that you can easily snicker about with your friends. It is great for providing one-liner inside jokes that will puzzle those who haven’t read the comic, but cause your friends to keel over with laughter. (I can make puppies appear anywhere!)
Then I made the mistake of reading them. Oh, I can tolerate Chason, and I have a tendency to avoid journal comics as a whole, so that wasn’t really his fault.
The real problem was with the third strip, Zach Your Own Adventure. Wherein I realized that there seemed to be a trend for ‘choose your own adventure’ style comics to often be absymally bad.
There, like here, the entire sequence was a bunch of stupid random crap. There wasn’t any real jokes other than, well, the shocking chaos of what was happening. The highlight was the choice itself – the fact that the strip was chosen by the audience.
Which, well, its a cool idea. But if it doesn’t produce material actually worth looking at, what’s the point?
The problem is, the audience is composed of a bunch of random blokes who don’t know – or don’t agree on – how to tell a good joke, or a good story. You can’t just throw a bunch of topics at them and expect for it to result in anything interesting. They may be engaged in the process of making the choose, and enthused if their choice wins out – but the content itself becomes meaningless.
The other issue with these strips? Because the main point of it is to let the reader choose, the author doesn’t have to put any thought into the options at hand. It doesn’t matter if they are funny or not, it doesn’t matter if they would use them on their own if they were writing the strip. All the user cares about is the choice, so as long as they present choices, the quality of those options is irrelevant.
[Insert Title Here], which sadly appears to be on hiatus, is a fully fan-written strip that actually has promise.
The key is that they don’t let the entire audience choose a random topic for the author to interpret. Nah. They actually have people submit scripts for each page, and choose the best one to go with.
Clever, still interactive, and producing actually decent material. I like it.
Another comic that has pulled it off well is Goblins. It has a rather extensive feature about a goblin named Tempts Fate, and the bad situations he seems to wind up in. The reader’s donations (and occasional poll) determines whether he lives or dies, how well he does, and occasional other information.
But that doesn’t mean the man behind the comic slacks about it. He puts together pretty damn sizable pages with genuinely interesting results having been influenced by the readers. The final product is actually readable.
Again, I like that.
The lesson here is that if you are going to have these sort of drives or randomly reader-driven strips… don’t settle for that being the whole of them. Sure, even if you don’t put any effort into it, it will still stir up some excitement while its running. But once the moment of the gimmick is over, it’s useless – it is some random crap sitting on the site for people to read. That doesn’t impress anyone.
I like the idea of reader input. I think the way the web works allows for interesting events like this, for an interactivity between the creator and the audience.
Which makes it all the more depressing to see the potential in those sort of interactions thoroughly wasted.
Man, it appears to be one of those days where I’ve got way too much to talk about, and not nearly enough time to do so.
I laughed at Megatokyo today. Man, I miss that.
Sinfest is back, and has a new website! Once upon a time, I thought Sinfest was one of the most solidly updating comics out there. These days, it has its share of occasional absences, but always returns in the end. It has had some very good storylines over the last year, without losing its normal brand of humor. And now seeing the newest comic doesn’t requiring scrolling down the page ten times!
DnDorks has been getting back to its original cast of characters. This is cool and all, but I still find myself inexplicably confused by the previous arc, despite still thinking the story was awesome. However, things seem to indicate we’ll get some explanation for stuff. Maybe. I dunno. Eh, whatever. It’s a cool comic and captures the gaming experience well. That’s pretty much all I care about.
Man, my posts today seem faintly bitter, and I’m not sure why – I was actually really happy about all these comics today.
Let’s try some focusing here. On a completely upbeat note, Girly has been rocking out of late, and the upcoming storyline looks to have something to do with Policeguy, one of my favorite characters. So that’s awesome.
Anyway, time to get back to work! Tune in tomorrow, when I don’t talk about webcomics at all. Oooo, mysterious.
Ok, maybe not so much.
Webcomics seems to be preceding apace, and I don’t find myself with nearly as much on my mind as usual.
Nonetheless, there are a few interesting developments afoot:
–Penny Arcade has been enjoying quite a bit of success with their webcomic creation Podcast. (Guilty little secret: I have never actually listened to a podcast. Ever! Shamefully, nor do I own an i-pod or similar device. It’s true!)
I wonder how many other webcomics may follow in their steps – admittedly there are numerous others that already make use of the podcast medium, but with a bruiser like PA breaking it out, I can’t help but think it may pick up more notice than before. And, as usual, webcomics blur the line between numerous mediums of entertainment.
-I may be alone in this, but I am indeed feeling out of sorts with the wonderful world of Goats. I really had been grooving on the uber-storyline they embarked upon, but I felt is somewhat reached its peak… and simply kept on rolling. I do appreciate still the normal humor he has managed to keep cropping up, but the plot itself has left me restless.
-Does anyone else have a bad feeling about why Ornery can understand Brian? I know I do…
Not much else to announce, I’m afraid. On the other hand, it is somewhat nice for things to be on the casual and routine side. Well, no objections here!
Milholland is in his mansion, and all is well with the world (wide web.)