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A curmudgeonly week continues in a curmudgeonly way.

(From Meanwhile in Hell, in Sluggy Freelance. Click on the thumbnail if you really feel you have to.)

I'm willing to accept Bruno the Bandit is both good and groundbreaking. And from what I've seen looking through its archives, it's funny and internally consistent and in all ways a worthy strip by a worthy artist, considerable in archive and solid in its place in the history and evolution of webcomics.

I'm willing to stipulate all of this. Ian McDonald is good at what he does. He deserves success and fame and a car full of pie.

But it's official. He's not bringing anything to Sluggy Freelance.

The idea was a good one -- give Pete Abrams a day off but still provide content, one day a week. Create a lighthearted little romp in the side corner of the Sluggyverse, with its own touches of Story and its own sense of Funny. Only... its Story doesn't fit Sluggy. Its Funny definitely doesn't. It's just... not....

What's the word I'm looking for.

Oh, yeah.

It's just not good.

Sam has been unrecognizable in both art and personality through all of this -- the "Puppies" bit fits what we know of Sam, but somehow it was just wrong. And the way the Dimension of Pain had been used before McDonald got involved and the way it was used after Abrams reclaimed it now shows there's just a sense of disconnect between the two styles. It was most pronounced last Halloween, when the Dimension of Pain plot intersected Sluggy's plot briefly. It was just frothy, without substance, without a sense of the zany complexity that is Sluggy's hallmark.

It's especially clear after the last couple days of guest strips by Clay Yount. There's something far more Sluggyish in Yount's figures, humor and handling of the cast. I get the feeling that Yount would be able to create a once-a-week subplot that would better reflect the Sluggyverse.

Or, maybe that's just because it was rare. I liked McDonald's contributions to Sluggy Freelance, Where Are You just fine. Maybe what Abrams and the Sluggites should do is get a rotating cast of permanent guest artists to turn in Saturday strips. It'd mean broader exposure for those strips, and we'd still have fun goodness.

McDonald could even be one of those. I wouldn't mind. But as things stand right now, this just isn't working.

Also -- do we really need the whole "ice cream thing?" Or am I just becoming too sensitive? I mean, it doesn't bother me when bikini babes show up in Narbonic....


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Oh. You actually read the DoP episodes?

In all honestly, back when I still read Sluggy, I always skipped the Saturday comic. But then I've stopped reading Sluggy for ages now, so moot point.

I've made it a point of never loading the Saturday comic for a long time, in the hopes that if there are enough of us the difference in hits might send a message, but I dunno. Most of my friends and I feel as you do about McDonald's comics, but it seems from the forums that there are, naturally, some people who do appreciate it.

As to Clay Yount's contributions, I agree that his last two strips were funny, although they felt a little bit... hmm... obvious. I wonder if he could sustain it over a longer period of time. In fact, I'd argue that his week-long guest stint suggests he might not be able to. The above linked strip comes across as a sort of Sluggy light, particularly with the Kiki and Bun-Bun punchlines of Tuesday and Friday, which don't seem to actually be funny, merely hit on some Sluggy cliches. On the other hand, it's possible that that stuff was his first attempt and he's getting better.

Certainly, at this point, I'd be all in favor of getting somebody other than McDonald to give it a try.

I think the thing you're complaining about stems from Ian McDonald's basic storytelling style.

Bruno the Bandit's humor is primarily drawn from satire- satire of contemporary pop culture, such as celebrity, roleplaying games, etc. In recent Saturday Sluggy, he's done the same thing with Hooters, impotence, spam, etc.

Unfortunately, without exception, the characters in both Bruno and Ian's "Meanwhile" strips are one-dimensional. Even the starring characters in his regular strip, Bruno and Fiona, are flat and self-cliche. They do not grow, do not learn, and often repeat the same gags over and over again.

The thing which caused me to drop Bruno from my reading list is this: Ian runs his jokes and storylines into the ground. In fact, he makes attempts to turn his Funny into Story; when he does this, the Story is no better than cheap soap opera, and the Funny evaporates.

Although Sluggy does do pop-culture parody quite a bit- "Gofotron," Riff's mother, and most recently to my memory "Vroomba", just to name a few- the core of Pete Abrams' humor is the characters. It took me ages to overcome my loathing of Bun-Bun (who, in my eyes, almost never amused me- I don't find death threats funny) and appreciate the rest of the strip. What hooked me and held me, throughout Pete's metamorphosis from whimsical gag-strip adventures to whacky but solid story-telling were the characters; characters that grew, learned and evolved, but remained comedically flawed nonetheless.

The Funny isn't that a guy is chased by a Hell full of incompetent demons; it's that the guy is a slightly dim-witted ordinary geek who doesn't react to the situation the way a generic heroic character is expected to.

The Story isn't that the demons killed his girlfriend; it's that the demons killed an extra-dimensional analogue of the woman he loves, who was uniquely unsuited to deal with demon attack, whom Torg had accepted as a substitute for the woman he could never have.

The result is like unto a sweet fruit cooler with some cubes of Swiss cheese or a mild cheddar on wafers. Compared to Abrams' work, MacDonald's guest strips are hot chalky tap water with Velveeta on the side.

To be fair, the "Meanwhile" storylines have allowed the DoP to progress in the background while Abrams focuses on other things. It allowed for minimal involvement in Halloween 2003 where their complete absence wouldn't have made sense (and given the nature of Halloween that year, the developments under McDonald fit rather well). Then it set up for the invasion of the Goody-Two-Shoes universe without stalling other plotlines. So it served its purpose, albeit in a somewhat OOC fashion.

But I'll agree that there could have been better choices for the stand-in artist/writer. And now that the DoP situation is back firmly in Abrams' hands, I think continuing side-plots about Horribus' bratty little sister is unnecessary... plus I don't like to consider that some of this counts as Sluggy canon.

The Meanwhile stuff was one of the reasons why I stopped reading Sluggy. I figured that, if this was what merited a featured Saturday slot, let alone partial canon status, then they'd lost me some time back. (The overwhelming reason was the whole neverending holiday thing; I realize that's over now, but... geh. That should have been resolved years before it was.)

What I want to see is a Saturday comic by the artist for the other Bruno. Christopher Baldwin's "Meanwhile, In The Dimension of Self-Analysis" would rock.

Thank you. Someone has got to get this message back to Pete. The Meanwhile strips have been awful since they started; I'd rather see filler art once a week than this stuff.

I find that Bruno the Bandit amuses me, but when I read a new comic I always go all the way back to the first strip, and if that's not good I can't get interested. Bruno #1 is just awful. Webcomics would be well served by being self-aware enough to include a "first strip that was actually funny" link between the link to yesterday's comic and the link to something that looks like a nine-year-old drew it on a napkin.

Azathfeld -- remind me never to give you the link to my own terrible webcomic. ;)

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