One of the most interesting things about Penny and Aggie is the fact that the two title characters don’t necessarily turn out as who you think they will be.
Penny represents the popular crowd – she is charismatic, manipulative, apparently shallow. Aggie, on the other hand, is the type most webcomic readers would be more likely to connect with – she is the outcast, the poet, focused on creativity and remaining true to her ideals.
Yet somehow… Penny has become the more interesting figure. Perhaps it is because there is more room for personal growth and development (though the path to true maturity is laid out for Aggie as well.) Perhaps it is because the need to explore such a seemingly different personality has resulted in a much stronger presence. Perhaps it was simply an attempt to break stereotype – and encourage readers to be patient before making judgements, one way or the other.
Regardless of why, it has meant that Penny has had a bit more screentime (or it at least feels that way) – and somehow she’s ended up as the actual star of the show. She has matured, though she largely remains the popular girl, the queen bee – but she genuinely cares about her few true friends, and her social awareness also demonstrates a pretty powerful core understanding of how people work.
In the current storyline, her ex-boyfriend (who she still loves), has just emerged from being hospitalized after a stabbing. Upon recovering, he reunites with Penny in a remarkably effective scene. Shortly thereafter, announces his plans to ride off and “live the American Dream” – and he invites her along.
And that is when things get good.
We abruptly launch into the sort of high-concept scene that T is so fond of: A convention of Penny’s future selves, assembled to vote on which future she should head towards. Some of them are harder to visualize Penny ending up as, but none of them seem impossible – and all of them have a distinct voice and design. T and Gisèle clearly had fun with them – and with the challenge of defining them in the span of only a few moments.
They talk about the future, and about the pivotal decision of whether to follow Rich or not. Both paths clearly have good and bad potential outcomes, and any manner of possibilities along the way. But the chances of actually making a life with Rich seem low, and they vote, and decide to let Rick ride alone by a landslide…
And Penny – Penny as she is, not as she might be – shows up to have her say, and it is possibly the comic’s best moment yet.
“I am not a person-in-the-making, I am a person now.”
That’s a powerful line, and the speech that follows it is even more heartfelt. Penny is going to follow her heart, decide her fate based on the now, rather than the future, and leave with Rich, no matter how crazy it seems.
And here’s the thing – this is a terrible idea. I don’t think it will end will. I think that Rich is making a mistake by running off without a plan, and Penny is making a bigger mistake by pursuing him…
…but I’m rooting for them to succeed.
That’s the accomplishment here – that is the demonstration of the power of this scene. I know this will end poorly. I know this isn’t going to work out. But I can still tremendously admire Penny’s decision, and hope for it to turn out for the best. And in the end, even if things completely fall apart, it was her decision to make – and I suspect she will emerge the better for it, one way or another.
I am curious to see where it goes, certainly. I mean – title character, you know? Is the comic going to follow her new adventure? Let her fate go unknown into she rolls back into town a few months down the road, after things have gone south?
I’m really hoping the next page or two doesn’t pull some silliness to bring it all to a halt before it begins – stepping back from the decision to leave would not just be disappointing, but thoroughly undermine the power of the scene itself.
But… we’ll see what happens. And if Penny vanishes from the comic for a time, to discover whatever lies in wait? That just might mean a chance for Aggie to take center stage, and for us to learn what she is made of.
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.
Every so often I like to point out the strips that have most impressed me that day. Today brings forward two contenders – both standing out for being a break from the normal mood the strips in question tend to revolve around.
First up is Funny Farm. Now, this is one of the comics I have been reading the longest. It has stayed on my list all that time, but has never really stood out. It has been a consistent strip, and one I’m confortable with – I know the characters, I’m familiar with the villains. And every day I checked the strip, and chuckled at the jokes or noted the developments – but very rarely did it stop me in my tracks and make me pay attention.
Lately, however, has been a different story altogether. I notice – just now – that the strip is ending in 2008, which helps explain some of it – characters and the relationship between characters are changing in distinct and permanent ways. People are quitting jobs they have held since the start of the strip. They are settling into new directions that they have, in many ways, been inexorably headings towards since the very beginning. And unresolved romances are finally being… resolved.
I should note that it is these things that have gotten my notices – not villanous plots or diabolical schemes. The action has always served as a good backdrop for Funny Farm, but it has truly been the characters – and their interactions and relationships – that has been its greatest strength.
Today featured a kiss between Boe and Mileena, two characters whose romantic tension has been a plot point since their first introduction. It isn’t a relationship I was ever really concerned about, nor are they among the characters I have most followed in the strip – but today’s strip still caught my notice.
It is a cute moment, perfectly executed, with just the right mix of humor and happiness. And it certainly leaves me with high hopes for Funny Farm’s final year.
The other big winner for the day is Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic – which, as a matter of fact, is a strip I’ve pointed out in a similar fashion on a past occasion, not all that many weeks back. That time, however, I was impressed by a scene of perfect comedy, that capitalized on the format to produce one of the funniest moments I had seen in ages, as a character finds herself with a genie, makes some free wishes, and watches as things almost instaneously go from bad to mega-catastrophic. All within the space of four simple panels.
Today’s strip, on the other hand, is a different sort of beast entirely. It is not a moment of comedy, though the last handful of pages have been filled with the usual slapstick of the strip. It is not a quick, compact moment, but instead a double-sized post filled with a character’s speech.
This has, of course, been a key element of the comic from the beginning – the very first strip gives personality to a goblin and a beholder, two beings normally seen in the genre as simply obstacles for heroes to overcome. It has been a prominent aspect throughout the strip, and likely one of the biggest elements that has made it stand out so thoroughly from the rest of the crowd.
Today, Turg, a minotaur, waxes eloquent on the driving force of mankind. (And minotaurkind. And orckind. And goblinkind.)
We’ve only really gotten to know Turg in this last arc. YAFGC is adept at featuring a variety of characters, and moving the focus from one to another without disruption – and maybe that is why it is hard to notice how central Turg has been to this storyline. He has been the leader of the current expedition (a quest to go find some treasure in some temple – the usual deal.) And along the way, he’s steadily been established as feeling alone. His companions have friends, lovers and family… he does not, not as they do.
Today’s strip is a culmination of the path he has been walking – and a startling, and powerful, demonstration of the comic’s ability to bring these characters to life. And a reminder of why, despite having been around for less than a year and a half, this strip has the potential be one of the best damn comics around.
Dominic Deegan has recently come under a significant amount of criticism. The latest storyline has left readers confused, unhappy and even frustrated, and for a variety of different reasons. Mookie spent the last week pouring out exposition, in an attempt to explain what had gone on in the storyline, and what it had been all about – but may have only made matters worse.
He wrapped last week up with an impassioned plea from Dominic, the title character, that seems to equally be his own attempt to show what the storyline was about to him. To show, I think, a bit of the vision that had lead him through this arc.
And yet, I found myself still unconvinced. But, perhaps for the first time in the arc, I found myself trying to pinpoint exactly why.
In part, I had simply thought that it was the exposition itself that was irritating me, and having an after-the-fact reveal used to excuse what had come before. But… Goblins, this week, did the exact same thing. Did it even more abruptly, in fact, with less warning given.
But with Goblins, it worked. It worked well, in fact. So why wasn’t that the case with Dominic Deegan?
The premise of the arc is as follows (and I apologize in advance if my bias makes it sound more hokey than it is): Snowsong, a powerful ice mage, arrives in the peaceful village that is home to Dominic’s brother Gregory. She has been there before, as part of a cult that tried to destroy it – brainwashed by the cult, she believes that the Deegans are tyrants, and the village in need of being ‘cleansed.’ However, she starts to realize that isn’t the case after all, as she witnesses the behavior of the villagers.
(As a note – I liked this part. This arc started out with a ton of promise. So there is reason number one – starting off on such a good note, if was even more disappointing when things went downhill.)
Meanwhile, Gregory has realized that his magic has been growing out of control, so has Dominic help him power-down – resulting in him having a completely different appearance. He disguises himself as a humble reporter, and writes an article directed at Snowsong, begging her to turn to the side of light and abandon her brainwashing.
Unsurprisingly, his condescending tone doesn’t convince her, and she comes after him in a frenzy. This leads to a confrontation between Snowsong and Gregory, and several of his friends. In the process almost all of them are nearly killed – Gregory himself, in fact, is hit by an attack that should have killed him outright, and it was a miracle he survived it at all.
(Issue number two – having characters constantly brought to the brink of death, then fully restored, starts to grow dull. “Oh no! Character A is almost dead! Now they’re better! Oh no! Character B is almost dead! Now they’re better!” The emotional impact starts to weaken, and eventually loses all significance whatsover.)
At this point, Gregory suddenly powers back up into a Superman-esque figure, and uses his super-powers to save everyone and capture Snowsong.
(This, for a lot of folks, was the big problem. Even once it was established that comic books about “Supermage” existed in this world… for many, it simply broke the fourth wall. There didn’t seem to be any reason for it. It might be easy to accept a fantasy universe, it might be easy to accept a setting with superheroes, but to suddenly have one thrust without warning into the other… well, it certainly left my suspension of disbelief shattered and broken.)
And from there, the strip launched into exposition week, wherein we learn that Dominic was behind everything that happened, and he explained day by day how he had manipulated things, and, to a lesser extent, why.
One could tell right away that this seemed to be a response to the criticism of the arc, and an attempt to fix the problems people were having with it – which I suppose meant it would be even more disappointing when even more complaints came to the front. Some were frustrated with Dominic retroactively being declared the mover and shaker of the arc; for good or ill, it is always refreshing when some of the other characters get the spotlight. Others felt it was a poorly delivering twist, and that more hints should have been given beforehand as to what was going on.
Yet others just wanted the storyline to be over – in the words of one poster, “The only thing worse than this arc is this arc twice.”
But for myself, it was simply how meaningless it seemed to be. Why would Dominic come up with such a poorly designed plan? (One that almost got his brother killed!) Why doesn’t he seem even slightly upset over how his plan fell apart, and how many lives were risked because he wanted his brother to play ‘Supergreg’?
And I realized that I wasn’t going to find a reason, because the one who was really setting this all up was Mookie himself.
Now, ok, ok – that may seem obvious to, well, everyone. Here is the thing, though – what I realized is that Mookie was writing this arc for himself. Pretty much every element of the story was designed with one goal in mind – he really wanted to see his love for superheroes brought into his comic.
I get where he’s coming from. Look at the picture up above, of Supergreg flying along – you can really see what he’s trying to do. The sense of joy he’s trying to capture. He wanted to see one of his characters as a superhero, and that is what the arc was designed to accomplish.
And I can’t blame him for that. I’ve said it before, I’ll say it a thousand times again – it’s his comic to write. He gets to decide what goes in it, not me. And sometimes it is ok for an author to indulge themselves. To tell their own personal fantasy, to reward themselves for putting up this free comic day after day, year after year.
But… they do need to accept that such a story isn’t going to be met with rousing cheers of appreciation. Most fans are looking for a dynamic and well-balanced story – not what is, essentially, glorified fan-fiction. Seeing the characters turned on their heads for the sake of a brightly-colored spandex suit…
Well, it feels hollow, to everyone who had already come to enjoy the pre-existing paradigm. And the author doesn’t have to play into what the audience wants – but they also need to occasionally look at what their goal is with the comic. Are they trying to tell a genuine story, to develop a work they want people to take seriously? Or are they just bringing to life random concepts they find neat?
The choice is certainly theirs to make – but I think a bit of awareness about what they are striving for, vs what they are actually doing, can go a long way.
So I had totally been going to try and get an actual review in this week, and had gotten a solid bit of the way through discussing the awesome that is Get Medieval when events conspired to divert my attention. It is now late in the hours of the morning and I find myself wanting to do nothing so much as ramble on about a great many things – so that’s what ye’re gonna get, and next week I’ll be back to writing webcomic reviews, you know, like I’m supposed to.
The first item on the entirely-arbitrarily-formed-list is drama! Specifically, relationship drama, which I’ve seen very, very, very few webcomics really handle in a realistic and honest fashion. And right now we’ve got two doing so! Scene Language managed to show how a perfect evening can quickly turn into an ugly fight, and do so in a fashion that is heartbreaking, even while you want to punch everyone involved with the situation.
Punch an’ Pie, meanwhile, also shows something of a rough discussion, but one that pushes a lot deeper than the normal pettiness of everyday life – and, perhaps, cuts even keener because that is the case. A lot of webcomics toss in fights and drama and tension because they need some quick conflict in the plot.
For both of these comics, it’s because that is what these characters, in these situations, are inevitably going to do.
Switching gears entirely, Scott Adams has posted some of his advice on how Basic Instructions can break into syndication. ComixTalk has some good discussion on it all, but I really wanted to make mention of it, as I suspect this will be a far more fascinating thing to watch than the attempts of (sorry) Diesel Sweeties or PvP to break into print comics.
Not just because Basic Instruction is a really brilliant strip (which it is), but because I see it as having just the right brand of humor to take the newspaper by storm – and also because it comes in a format that is very not-newspaper-friendly. Which means that seeing him try and whittle and hone and produce a perfect gem for the papers is going to be an exciting challenge, and one I’m quite interesting in keeping an eye on.
Also, I think it is just all-around-cool that Scott Adams is giving this sort of advice out, and even more than that, making it publicly available for everyone to enjoy. That’s pretty rad.
Speaking of rad, I should have mentioned this earlier – but go see Stardust. This movie is just awesome in every way.
Also awesome – Mind Flayers wearing their tentacles as curly mustaches. I’m not even sure if I can adequately describe why this is awesome, but I know it is, because it left me laughing at it for days.
And on the topic of laughter-worthy, I found the latest Ctrl+Alt+Del downright hysterical, and then needed to spend a good bit of time analyzing why .The conclusion I arrived at is that the behavior which I find obnoxious in Ethan is not only acceptable in secondary characters, but actually pretty good stuff. It is only when combined with Ethan’s built-in wish-fulfillment that the absurdity annoys me – when tossed in as a gag with some throw-away characters, it manages both to give them some character and produce a surprising amount of laughter. Rock on, Ctrl+Alt+Del!
Ok, I know I’m not done yet… Ah! Anywhere But Here has just gotten through redrawing the early strips of its old archives, and is about to embrak into a solid year-and-a-half of missing time from the original story. (At least, I think that is the comic’s plan.) I am quite eager to see this – while the new strips are very nice to look at, and the jokes aren’t bad by any means, the repetition has slightly dulled it for me, and seeing all-new territory should really freshen things up.
And, seriously – see Stardust. It’s worth it.
Finally, a small note of criticism – Dire Destiny’s latest page is in color. With the vast majority of strips out there, adding color clears away flaws and is an easy way to make a simple comic look good. With Dire Destiny, unfortunately, it doesn’t get work. It isn’t that the addition of color is really all that ugly – but rather, the black and white art works fantastically well for the series, and putting that aside is something of a crime.
Well, that wraps up my list. Next week, more reviews.
For now, more sleep.
Once, Wapsi Square held a prime spot among my favorite webcomics – but my interest in it has waned in recent years, largely with the rise in strange mythological mysteries over the down to earth character development drew me into it in the first place.
This isn’t to say the comic has gotten bad – just that it has gone in a different direction than I would have liked to see. That’s the creator’s prerogative, and that’s fine – and if nothing else, the appearance of various mythological and spiritual beings has given Taylor a chance to really stretch his artistic skills, and he’s done so with style.
But that said, I am loving the latest arc, wherein Katherine – who is introverted, isolated, shy and a tad unintentionally creepy – decides she should go to the beach. (With, of course, her pet fish Oscar.)
Katherine’s evolution over the course of the comic has been, at least in my opinion, one of the most genuine developments. And it just might be that I find myself more interested in the more unusual characters – Hannelore from Questionable Content is another character who has grown in confidence and social capability, and the development these characters has gone through strikes me as a much more profound journey – or at least a much more recognizable one – than many of the changes others undergo in most webcomics.
Katherine’s current expedition isn’t one she would have embarked upon when she first entered the comic. It isn’t one she would have even considered. Monica, the strip’s main character, may have served as the spark that began the change… but it is one that has been fully realized by Katherine herself.
And that’s a pretty cool thing indeed.
Things are quiet, what with the better part of the internet away at SDCC, and only guest strips left behind to console the forgotten. And considering exactly who might be attending the con, who knows what might yet happen to those in attendance?
Starslip Crisis is a very interesting strip. It feels like something formulaic – and I should make it clear that isn’t meant in a bad way. It is a strip designed around a relatively simple premise, with straightforward characters who live in a single stable environment. When it started out, I viewed it as a simple device for commentary on art and pretension, in much the same vein as Checkerboard Nightmare. And while it may have overridden that perception early on, it has remained the sort of strip one could see in the funny pages – four panels with a small, identifiable cast, and a punchline you can count upon at the end of every strip.
But every so often it does shake things up. Things may return to what resembles the status quo – but some changes remain. The plot slowly but steadily moves forward. This is what has managed to make the comic really excel – that it has managed to bring in all these elements of plot and characterization while still holding on to its original form.
That doesn’t mean, though, that every single shake-up doesn’t come with a measure of risk. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – we’ve all heard the saying, right? But just because the formula works, doesn’t mean there is no reason not to try and improve upon it. Every now and then, things heat up, and we get a glimpse at the Chronomantic or see a familiar robot in his quest to destroy all humans.
Or, in this case, we move from what seems to be just another musuem exhibit to a full-on trip through space and time.
I’m not sure where things will go from here. I suspect it will be largely a chance to have fun with cameos and the like – but nonetheless, I like the lengths to which Straub went to set it up. And more than that – I like the surprise of it all. The fact that we have a strip that enjoys occasionally just changing gears, and that can do so in a fashion that isn’t disruptive to the reader.
It is always a good sign when you can tell that the creator of a comic is indulging themselves and has decided to just have fun with what they’re doing – and not only doesn’t ruin the comic doing so, but actually manages to enhance it.
Not much on my mind today, but I’ll give credit where it is due – today’s PvP made me laugh out loud.
One of the things I really like about PvP is that it manages to surprise me. I mean, Kurtz has a solid thing going – he’s got a nice looking strip centered around a pretty simple formula, and has plenty to draw from in that vein. He could never deviate from that strategy, and his comic would do just fine.
But he doesn’t. For the most part, sure, he sticks to the gameplan – but every once in a while, something like this pops up, where he isn’t afraid to toss the norm out the window and indulge in something new. Sometimes it doesn’t pay off… a little too odd, a little too insular, and it ends up as a complete miss.
And sometimes he hits one out of the park.
Every once in a while a comic will deliver a strip that really takes the bar to the next level. Now, this isn’t to say that these comics are delivering weak content the rest of the time – far from it! But with most gag strips, the day to day laughs tend to fall into a nice, comfortable pattern. There is nothing wrong with this, after all. We enjoy the familiar. A strip that regularly brings a smile is enough to stay on our radar – we don’t need every update to knock us out of our seats, whether in laughter or in tears.
But this makes it all the more rewarding when a strip really manages to nail it. To capture a scene that not only uses their common style of humor, but practically defines it.
I’ve seen two really good moments in webcomics this week. The reason I know that they are good is that I can’t get them out of my head – my mind keeps drifting back to the images they left in the back of my mind and chuckling. Given how easily my mind normally tends to leak information, that tells me quite a bit about how good a job these guys did.
There are more things than I can count that really make this scene work so well for me. How happy the genie seems to be as he cluelessly carries out his owner’s desires. His wild little hand gestures as he works his magic. Or simply the speed from which the normally unflappable Charlotte (the drow making the wishes) descends into utter panic, and how well the expressions capture that transition.
The concept itself is nothing new – poorly worded wishes that backfire on the wisher is practically a staple of the genre. But that’s the thing – I was expecting this to turn out poorly, but I didn’t see remotely how fast it would go downhill. Look at panel one, wherein Charlotte is cool, confident and collected – and totally in control of the situation. Within a handful of panels she hasn’t just lost control, but has degenerated into crazed, hysterical screaming, while the genie with the omnipotent powers doesn’t bat an eye at what he’s done, or the reaction it’s provoked.
Managing to take a concept that has been seen countless times before, and not only make it new and funny, but make it perfectly capture the core of the idea – yeah, that’s pretty good stuff.
The genie himself is a new addition to Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic, but seems a perfect fit. Once again, it seems an easy win to have a character where Rich can go for broke on lively, cartoony expressions.
Meanwhile, if the above strip perfectly captured the concept of the monkey’s paw, a recent strip from Dr. McNinja perfectly epitomizes the fun and zaniness that drives the comic.
First off, we have the quote. This is an eminently quotable comic, and what that means to me, is that it is a comic I can appreciate with my friends. I can walk up to them and say, “I don’t much care for your tone, Mr. Clone of Benjamin Franklin” – and instantly, they get the reference, recall the scene, and can share a quick laugh. Here we have a similar moment, so immediately I have a phrase that will be stuck in my mind for the rest of the day.
Meanwhile, we have the standard heights of absurdity that Dr. McNinja has risen to. Out of context, this is more than bizarre – it is outright surreal. For readers of the strip, we know why the boy has a mustache, why he is talking to an ape, and why there is a zombie dressed as a ninja – but to the uninitiated, it would seem almost like random images tossed together. Even for the enlightened reader, the introduction of the uncola is essentially inexplicable – and yet, the page flows smoothly, the story rolls on, and we move through the strange moment without the slightest hesitation.
This, then, is Dr. McNinja’s strength. It does not so much revolve around punchlines as much as it throws the entire world off-kilter, letting loose a realm where positively anything can happen. It feels like walking through a dream, and putting together all these moments of absurdity almost physically compels the reader to laugh.
I’ll be back in business with regular posts starting tomorrow, but for now, a few quick notes:
–Sam and Fuzzy turns 5, and is going stronger than ever. A tip of the hat to Mr. Logan!
-I just discovered the return of Abby’s Agency, an enjoyable little strip about an ordinary girl who gets a job as a secretary with a secret government spy agency. It went on a mysterious hiatus some time ago, and I only just noticed it had returned this last month – so that’s a plus.
-I also was informed that Niego had returned, a crazy little strip that sprung up in recent years, burned brightly, and then went out with a bang. And then, apparently came back! Only maybe not – I notice that it hasn’t updated in a month and a half, which bodes poorly. The latest news post mentions the artist going out of town for a bit – here’s hoping the strip’s downtime has been due to entirely mundane and boring life troubles, rather than, say, a zombie attack.
-In other news, Brian Daniel (of Surviving Mars) is looking at shifting gears with his comic – once the current arc wraps up, he’s looking at putting it into a temporary hiatus, and henceforth release it in one full story-arc at a time. Honestly, it isn’t a bad idea – one of his previous series, the Saga of the Ram, ended eruptly right while it was heating up, and I wouldn’t want to see Surviving Mars do the same. Moving from a standard update schedule to an issue-driven routine is a tricky one, but it’s been done before, and if it helps the artist enjoy making the comic, then I’m all for it.
-I’ve found Penny Arcade surprisingly sub-par the last few weeks – but I’ll assume that’s due to their attention being focused elsewhere. I mean, damn, have you seen the trailer for On The Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness? If not, go here, scroll down a bit. I am completely blown away by this.
I talked about this before – others have tried to branch out webcomics into new and exciting grounds, such as with the PvP and Ctrl+Alt+Del animated series… and sure, those weren’t bad. But you could feel that they were new, and they were experimenting with how to capture the feel of the strip in this new format, and were learning as they went. Even with both of those strips being big names in webcomics – even with them working with a studio intent on releasing kick-ass animation.
But Penny Arcade has the name and the resources and the flair to make their own experiment work. It feels professional. It doesn’t feel like little kids playing with some new toys – it feels like them taking their carefully crafted product and translating it into a new format, smoothly and successfully.
Of course, we won’t know for sure until the game itself comes out, but a trailer like that is an awfully promising sight.