Thursday, February 23

Webcomics, Part 1

I would like to share one of my hobbies with you. Webcomics. The online and unregulated counterpart to the syndicated counterpart to the sickly unfunny comics, barring the two I read online, you find in the daily newspaper. Its kind of a niche hobby, since the greater audience and lack of a need to appeal to great numbers allow the comics to gear themselves towards various niche interests; gaming (both video and role-playing) and anime among the more popular. I have grown tired of syndicated comics. They've been sanitized and sunk to the lowest common denominator so they neither offend or amuse anyone. Furthermore, they rarely end. Webcomics break these restraints because they are rarely the principal source of income for their creators and can end, thus allowing for changes to occur within the comic.

I guess this post is prompted by what I see as a renaissance going on in the webcomics I'm reading now. Four of them are currently undergoing what I assume will turn out to be fundamental shifts in the plot direction of the comics. As an art form, these are maturing to the point where they have progressed beyond the joke-a-day format to try new things.

Still, webcomics are a mildly difficult to get into. It takes a lot of time to find the quality comics and then to read all their archives to get up-to-date so the current storyline makes sense to you. Thus, I have taken upon myself to list my personal favorites, the ones I check daily, so you can save yourself a little time. Without further ado, I present...

8-Bit Theater (
A classic. If you're into webcomics at all, chances are you've come across this. Originally, the comic required a fair amouont of video game, role-playing comic knowledge, but, now that it's established (having well over 650 individual strips up) it's more character driven. Using sprites from Final Fantasy I (leading to a text heavy humor), the adventures of a group of anti-heroes are told in 8-Bit Theater. Fighter, Black Mage, Thief and Red Mage consistently amuse me with their failed attempts to work together and random acts of violence against the innocent, undeserving and each other. There is a fair amount of swearing and sexual innuendo, especially between Black Mage and White Mage. Realize that you have been warned.

The Order of the Stick (
A bit younger than 8-Bit Theater but immensely popular, now running in the monthly Dragon magazine I believe, is The Order of the Stick. A group of adventurers wander around a fantasy world trying to beat the bad guy and make sense of the inane rules that govern their lives. Nice, simple, fun. This one requires a working knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons or, barring that, at least of the D20 system, but the pay-off is well worth it. The cartoonist has succeeded in generating sympathetic and unique characters, and his stick art style is clean. I like it a lot, if you haven't guessed so already.

The Boondocks (
The first of the two syndicated comics I follow. You've more than likely heard about this one, the comic about the experiences of a black man and his two grandsons in the suburbs. It's nasty at times (never too much, remember the syndicate), very topical and does tend to treat race as a bigger issue than I believe it should be (that being another post), but it's good, preferable to Doonesbury at least. The art doesn't change much, but it still looks good.

Dominic Deegan: Oracle for Hire (
Absolutely stellar art is the high point of this webcomic for me. The cartoonist varies up the positions and angles a bit and does pretty good action scenes. The writing is not my favorite, but the story arcs are very good. My biggest gripe about Dominic Deegan is how saccharine it can be. All of the heroes are pure wholly good, no gray areas for them, while many of their enemies to betray decent tendencies every once and a while. The perpetual optimism and generally happiness of the main characters simply seems out of place for some of the horrible things they've gone through or are currently going through. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy sweet and touching, just not that much, that often. Not much humor, unless you think alliteration is simply hilarious, and it's fairly character driven. Be warned that there are over a thousand past strips to work through.

The Last Days of Foxhound (
This one will probably be the most hit-or-miss of the ones I put up because of the specific background knowledge it requires. Not merely do you need to be a video game nerd, but of the Metal Gear series and Meatl Gear Solid in particular. Liquid Snake has just joined Foxhound and learns to live and fight with his eccentric and evil coworkers. Owes a lot to 8-Bit Theater but stands on its own. If you have that though, and many do because it's such a great bunch of games, it's worth a look. The art is more than a little simplistic and goofy, but I feel that just adds to the humor, when these rough and tough characters just look silly. Another warning, there is a lot of swearing, but you should be able to handle it if you've played the games.

There are another six webcomics I'd like to share with you all, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow. I'm tired now, and I doubt anyone wants to read some monstrously long blog this evening. Come back tomorrow or maybe the next day for part two.


Emmett said...

As an avid 8-bit theatre and Dominic Deegan fan, I'd like to put I own two cents in. (by the way, I notice that this was part 1, so I'll forgive you for leaving some of the best ones off.)
Let me make this clear for everyone; I admit, I am a fan of webcomics. For most people, this would be weird behavior- behavior that would get me a certain label, or at least, could strengthen certain ideas about me that are not flattering. I can accept that. But I can tell you, for the most part, that the webcomics that Chris put up are not just amusing for the geek crowd. Most cover real topics and cover real human characters, and anyone can find them funny if they forget the sterotypes for a moment and look at them with a reasonable mind. You never know.

Ann said...

Chris, you know that I have an addictive personality... I blame you for getting me hooked on Order of the Stick! I really don't think I needed more hobbies, but that won't stop me from reading through the archive when I'm supposed to be writing Literature journals...
I love how Order of the Stick makes fun of bards- I've always mocked them in my head because they're worthless...not that I play dungeons and dragons games or anything...