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December 31, 2004

Endings, and beginnings.

wiguend.png(From Wigu.)

It's a little more than an hour before the end of 2004 -- an excellent year for me and a bad year for the world, in so many ways. I won't go over the world's troubles. I'll mention a few of my own pleasures -- the surgery back in March, hard fought (and highly successful). A hundred and twenty pounds lost (quite a way to go yet, but it's an incredible start). A shift in jobs that vastly improved my world and stress. Nanowrimo. Many many many new friends. Good amounts of fiction written.

And all of you. Websnark's been vastly more successful than I had any reason to hope. I'm still stunned, and humbled, and loving every minute of it. For that, I thank all of you.

And yet, I knew this would be a bittersweet essay for me, because it's the last snark I'm doing this year, and that really means it has to be on the end of Wigu.

Jeff Rowland is the kind of guy that gives me hope. He has a gentle anarchy lurking in his brain, and he has no fear at all, it seems. A brown recluse tried its level best to take him down, but it failed. And so the man who brought us When I Grow Up and Wigu kept on keeping on.

And then, one day, with as little fanfare as he could get away with... he announced that on December 31, Wigu would be ending. His journal comic, Overcompensating, would continue, and he'd launch a new comic in mid-January, but the story of the Tinkle family would end.

And that's sad. Very, very sad. Because Wigu was nothing short of wonderful.

On paper, this was the story of young Wigu Tinkle, his imaginary friends Topato and Sheriff Pony (based on his favorite television program), his nihilist sister Paisley, his shirtless porn music impresario father Quincy, his alcoholic sex addict high powered financier mother Romy, his somewhat selfish best friend Hugo, his "romantic interest" he called Stupidetta, plus any number of monkeys, space mummies, glowing orbs, pillbugs, princesses, teachers, hot occult nurses, bigfeet, musical families and religious fanatics.

This story was whacked out. It was like reading Little Nemo in Slumberland if Windsor McCay had a mescaline habit and all the fantastic bits turned out to be real. Rowland kept it going with frenetic pacing and surprise twists -- sometimes surprising himself in the process. He wasn't afraid to decide he didn't like the direction he'd gone in, veering off suddenly and punching the strangest reset buttons known to man. Once, after Quincy and Hugo ended up facing a new archenemy on a roof, Rowland decided he didn't like the plotline, had Hugo jump off, parachuting to safety via his wide flared jeans, and summon the police. Another time, when he didn't like implying that Quincy would willingly cheat on Romy -- something Romy herself didn't have a problem with, it seems -- he pulled a sexy school nurse strip after it was posted, and replaced it with a new one that moved away from infidelity towards the occult. Another time, he essentially destroyed all of Butter Dimension3 and shifted the adventures of Topato and Sheriff Pony to Butter Dimension Quad.

Most of all, he had delight in every panel. No matter how dark the world seemed to Paisley, to all of us, it was as bright as the uniforms the cheerleading squad she found herself on wore. When Paisley experimented with drugs, it didn't lead to a tormented existence. It lead to a musical comedy about Cockfighting, where Wigu wore a costume and everything. When the kids meet a weird and frightening janitor (and Wigu tries a "hero move" that ultimately causes him to be plowed over by Topato), the janitor not only turns out to be friendly, but wealthy and eccentric. And then there was the monkey.

There were little references to When I Grow Up through it all, too. A sense of past and continuity, of outrage and delight. And always, geniality. When any given character was about to do something butt stupid, they got a delighted expression on their face just before they did it. This was a strip full of smiles.

It ended quietly, with Wigu beginning to outgrow Magical Adventures in Space (I have the Magical Adventures in Space theme and the Magical Adventures in Space: Opponent Force X theme song in iTunes and on my iPod. I'm listening to them now, in fact.) With that, Topato and Sheriff Pony move on to find someone new, Paisley continues to write and explore the depths of her despair, with signs of moving on to a Poetry phase. And we end with a vasectomy, which I think we can all agree is for the best.

It ended well, with one last adventure, including nudity and pummeling and puppies on pizza. It ended on a high note.

And that's sad, and good, all at once. I'd ask Rowland if he really wanted to end the strip, but he did it for me, over in Overcompensating:

Well, I don't know why Wigu had to end either, but I won't worry. I'll have myself a Cosmopolitan, put on some porn with some really phat sounds playing under the action, and dream of poison potatoes and their friends who crap vanilla ice cream and technically are the property of Satan.

You know, typing that is just plain fucked up.

Thanks, M. Rowland. I owe you a beer.

I'm also pathetically happy to learn they haven't gotten to second, yet.


(From PvP. Click on the thumbnail for full sized greedy!)

On the heels of the somewhat disappointing plotline resolution yesterday, Kurtz comes back with what might be the perfect archetype of a good PvP strip. It's not just that the joke is funny. It's that the joke is perfectly executed.

It's perhaps even better that it's Marcy and Francis. I mean, the joke would have worked if it had been Brent and Jade, even though they, to use the Garrity term, goink. It works because Brent and Jade enjoy negotiating these things. But Jade would have had an eyeroll in there somewhere. Marcy's slight smile in panel 2 is perfect.

Anyway -- this is a perfect PvP relationship strip, with a perfect PvP joke.

Kurtz gets a biscuit -- a tasty, tasty biscuit.

Have I ever given two of those in one day before? Not counting the Shortbread list?

Wherein we apply the confluence of Holy and Fuck.

(From Queen of Wands. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Oh He Did Not Just Say That.)

I've said positive things about Aeire's characterization before. And here's a good example of why. First though, let me say some good things about the art in the strip. Even stepping away from the Lightning Path and all the text, the art is first rate today -- lots of crowding and shadows and blurs for Kestrel in the distance. It all works really well. That's all first.

Now. Let's look at Seamus, walking across the room to talk to Kestrel. And what he says.

Holy fuck. He did not just say that.

Here's the thing. I don't buy it.

Oh, I think Angela does love Kestrel. She might even Capital-L Love Kestrel. But if so, she loves Kestrel the way that Heinlein was talking about when he said that "Love is the condition when another person's happiness is critical to your own." Angela wrestled with Kestrel going away, but came to terms.

Clearly, Angela wasn't thinking about this when she warned Seamus off. She clearly thought he was talking about his own feelings. To the point that she shut down anything about her needing to talk to Kestrel. And she told Seamus to not weigh anything more on Kestrel. But of course he did.

I think Seamus was jealous of Angela, ultimately. Jealous of her friendship and maybe her feelings for Kestrel. He couldn't handle that, ultimately. Which fits his personality, even though we've mostly seen him as a nice enough guy. He let his ex-girlfriend Elaine dictate his life -- dropping Kestrel like a stone when she came back to him -- and clearly sees love as a singular thing. You're with someone or you're not, and there's no room in your heart for anyone else.

Angela isn't like that. She's said so herself. Her relationship with Brad was open, and she was cool with it. She's happy enough to be happy, if the people around her are too. And I think that freaked Seamus. I think he couldn't quite handle not being the most important thing in Angela's life, because that's the only way he knows how to love.

And now he's thrown a grenade into Kestrel's brain. If this were Something Positive, I'd expect Angela to break every bone in his body and leave him a bloody smear on the wall. As it is, I think that yes, Angela and Kestrel will have to confront their own relationship and their own feelings and maybe even their own desires... but that in the end, Seamus is talking out his ass because he's selfish.

That's my theory. It may be wrong, but by God I'm sticking with it.

And Aeire? Gets a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

December 30, 2004

The thing is, the word 'testicles?' Comedy gold. I don't know why.

(From PvP. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Power to the People!)

You guys know I loves me the PvP. And I've liked this whole sequence. It's been a testament to the ways people can be bastards at the holidays, and most of all, it's funny. And now we have the payoff, and it too is funny, and a distinctive idea.

And... hm.

I guess it just didn't work for me.

In part, I guess it didn't work because I was looking either for Door Number Four (where neither Cole nor Brent gave in, but some external disaster wiped the competition out -- or something happened that caused them both to abandon it because it was more important to help someone else than it was to "win" the competition) or a total Scooby Doo ending as a fourth choice.

At the same time, I understand what Kurtz is doing here. This is the end of the Brent/Cole Christmas feud -- not just for this year but moving forward. Kurtz is retiring this plotline's jersey. And he's giving the people (like me) who think Cole's being the bastard the chance to see him admit it, the people who think Brent's the bastard the chance to see him admit it, and the people who think it's both of them... well, y'know.

On the other hand, I think all three punchlines worked as PvP punchlines. I would have been happy with any of these resolutions, and I like the idea of the Choose Your Own Ending.

I dunno. I guess it just didn't gel for me. Hey, it has to happen sometimes, right?

December 29, 2004

On Unity in Disaster.

The planet has been shifted in its orbit. About an inch, or so they say. We're moving about three millionths of a second a day faster now too. That's how much power was unleashed by the Earthquakes that spawned the tsunamis that have cost over 80,000 people (as of today) their lives, and countless hundreds of thousands their way of life.

Extra, Access Hollywood and several other shows of monumental excess and celebrity worship have been throwing Petra Nemcova's mostly nude body up on television (file footage, of course, not pictures of the terrified, traumatized girl), advertising their shows by promising updates on the condition of the "Tsunami Supermodel" and the search for her missing boyfriend. I feel something in my soul boil up when I see that. I mean, eighty thousand people are known to have died. That's like a meteor destroying four cities the size of Ithaca, New York at once. I don't care how good the girl looked on a beach in a bathing suit. Not compared to this level of horror.

I know there's been some backlash against people writing about this horrible scene. People don't want to think about it. It's too big. It's too horrific. And there isn't even anyone to blame. When there's an attack and thousands die, it galvanizes a response -- we have to beat those bastards back.

But there's no one to blame here. Unless you're religious, I suppose. And I can imagine any number of deities and devils or interpretation of deities and devils have been blamed in the last 96 hours. But for the most part, this is just something that happened one day.

I don't know if there's any tectonic activity in the Atlantic, but it's crossed my mind recently. What would happen if an Earthquake like that generated a tsunami like that off the American coast, I mean. What that would do to Boston, to Portsmouth, to New York City. Manhattan is a fucking Island. Boston is exposed to the ocean.

And there's Portland. And Freeport. Bar Harbor. Lincolnville. Camden. Rockland. Rockport. Searsport. So many places that are a part of my life, part of my past, part of Maine. All along a hungry sea.

These things just happen, sometime.

It's not going to happen, of course. These are astronomically rare events. But there are other disasters out there. Other horrors, that no one causes... that just happen one day. And in the face of those horrors, it falls upon the rest of us to close the gaps and help out. Help others the way we pray we'll be helped if it happens to us.

I'm reprinting something Randy Milholland posted on his website. Aeire reprinted this message in the Queen of Wands Livejournal as well. D.J. Coffman posted a similar message on the Yirmumah forums. I'm reprinting it because I don't think I could say it any better than Milholland did, and I think he'll forgive me:

As many of you know by now, over 22,000 60,000 80,000 people are dead now in Asia after an earthquake, and resulting tsunami, devastated lives in Thailand, Indonesia, India, Sri Lanka and Maldvives - among other places. Hundreds of thousands of people are now homeless as a result and need help. Organizations like Unicef, Direct Relief International, World Vision, and American Red Cross are beginning humanitarian efforts in these areas, but need your help.

Both Unicef and World Vision take monetary donations which allow them to meet the food, medical and shelter needs of those affected. Direct Relief International takes monetary and product donations. The American Red Cross is currently only accepting financial donations, but you can donate online or by call 1-800-HELP-NOW.


If you don't have the money to contribute, it's okay. Honestly. If you do, I hope you do. I have, because it's important to me.

Most of all... this is a time to be reminded that the world is much, much larger than we are, and there are times we have to come together as a race and help out.

Acknowledgement of my own limitations

I'm working diligently on the "Bringing the Story" Shortbread List, but as I work on it I need to acknowledge where I'm coming up against the wall, hard.

First off, the number of nominees in each category are going to have to drop from six to five. There's just too much writing to do, otherwise. So, if your favorite doesn't get nominated in a given category you think it's perfect for, assume it was nominee 6 and I'm just an idiot who doesn't know a damn thing.

Secondly, as with the Funny Shortbread list, I'm not including traditional Syndicate Newspaper Comics. I don't feel good about the exclusion -- I think the distinction is artificial, when they're both available on the web -- but even with the gaps in my reading (we all have gaps) there's simply too many to consider to be comprehensive. So, no, Annie won't be up for "Surreal Story" or "Adventure" any more than Foxtrot was up for "Gag a Day Funny."

The problem with doing that is it implies there isn't a level field between the newspapers and the web, for whatever reason. And that's not a good thing. Frankly, Narbonic was the strip I felt Brought the Funny more than any other strip last year. That's why I gave it the Overall Shortbread. There isn't a newspaper comic strip I'd have picked over it. But by not including them in the first place, there's a sense of "ghetto." A sense that somehow, the webcomics scene and the newspaper scene are different.

But, there's a practical dimension involved, too. As it is, I spend my time bemoaning all the stuff I don't read. To bemoan all the newspaper and independent paper strips out there too would be too much. So I do what I can. And I acknowledge what I can't do, here, so everyone knows going in what the criteria are.

Thanks, all.

I can honestly say I did not expect this.


(From Goats. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Virtual Reality!)

Gregor Mendel and his mutant plant creatures haven't been "live" in Goats for many a moon. Usually, the nefarious former monk and his mad creations are just recounted in long sagas of dubious accuracy by Diablo. When Mendel actually shows up, it usually means attractive waitresses are put into Princess Leia outfits, and that's never a bad thing. Also, it means adventure!

Fish looks like Hell, doesn't he? That's always bad. Still, it all makes perfect sense now. The trip to California by way of smacking upside the head. Leonard Nimoy. And of course, Reese Witherspoon and....

Wait... they're doing all this to convince Fish that Reese Witherspoon doesn't love him? What the fuck?

God, I love Goats.

December 28, 2004

There's something terrifying about a skunk with magical powers, but I'm not sure what it is.


(From Fight, Cast or Evade. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Walk of Shame!)

There's some nice emotion in today's Fight, Cast or Evade. See, Yerzle used to lead our party of adventurers, but Fubaar (he's the guy giving the orders) wrested control away from him. Yerzle put up with that for a long time, but finally tried to drive Fubaar out. Fubaar humiliated him and made it clear he had both physical and moral dominance in this situation. And Yerzle was forced to accept it.

In watching Yerzle schlep to the back of the party, it's interesting to watch the rest of the reactions, though. Perhaps Fubaar's motivations really are "purer" than Yerzle's, but there are levels of morality and ethics, and it's clear that in the eyes of their comrades, Fubaar's "moral high ground" isn't very high at all.

It's a nice character moment, heading in to the point when skulls begin to be cracked.

2004 Bringing the Funny Shortbread Part II

Something -- probably the sheer length -- in the Shortbread recipient list keeps breaking. The last few paragraphs will be there for a while, and then will disappear. And, as they include... well, the webcomic who took the overall, I'm kind of hoping it can actually be read.

So, after the "read more cut" (to keep from spoiling the suspense) I'm repeating those paragraphs here. So, if you want to know who took the Overall Bringing the Funny Shortbread for 2004... you should read the extended entry.

If you were lucky enough to see it in the long post, there is nothing new here. Oh, and my brain still hurts.

And finally, not that we need anything more... there is the 2004 Shortbread Recipient for Bringing the Funny. The comic strip that put it all together and did it all right. The nominees? Check out the fourteen categories above. Every last one of those webcomics deserves consideration and praise, because they're all astoundingly cool and, more to the point, Bring the Funny. But only a total wuss would get out of this list without actually revealing the recipient of the big piece of shortbread. As I am not a big wuss, I'm ready to tell you that....

The Webcomic that Receives the Tasty, Tasty Shortbread for Bringing the Funny is....

NARBONIC!

Narbonic was without a doubt my favorite discovery of the past year. I have no idea how this hilarious strip managed to avoid my radar for so long, but I've done my damnedest to make up for that fact. Shaenon Garrity brings it all together -- it's funny, it's well executed, it's well paced, the characters are sympathetic but we're still cheerfully happy to see terrible things happen to them. Garrity is a student of the art and history of webcomics, and it really shows in this funny, funny comic strip.

Thank you all. Now, I get to do this all over again for the Bringing the Story Shortbread Recipients. I have no idea how long that's going to take. However, in a year of truly funny Webcomics, these have all stood out, and we the readers have been the beneficiaries. Thank you one and all, and we'll see you soon.

December 27, 2004

The 2004 Shortbread Recipents for Bringing the Funny

Humor is inexorably linked with cartoon art in modern society. Look at the terminology. Cartoon. Comic Strip. Funny Pages. While I'm never going to claim that a strip has to be funny (because I value my life, and I don't want to be burned at the stake), it goes without saying that a good number of strips are going to be funny.

Or at least try to be funny.

This warm plate of Shortbread (Tasty, Tasty Shortbread) is going out to those webcomics that I feel most Brought the Funny in 2004. Bear in mind, these are the strips I read that I think succeeded. I don't read every webcomic (I doubt I read 5% of all the webcomics out there. I doubt you do too, for a statistically valid description of "you.") So I don't claim this to be an objective list of the best, funniest webcomics in the world. These are the ones that made me smile, pretty much every day.

Your absolute hatred of me and my opinions begins... now.

(Note, the list is going behind a "read more" link because it's fucking huge. You're welcome.)

The 2004 Bringing the Funny Shortbread Recipients

Bringing the Funny: Antihumor
Antihumor might seem like an odd category for the Funny Shortbread List, but it doesn't mean "serious" or "tragic." Antihumor in comedy circles refers to an almost ironic sensibility brought to humor, be it Andy Kaufman's elaborate setups and performance art (with Foreign Man being the Ur Antihumor moment) or Peewee Herman's shaggy dog stories. In Webcomics (and particularly here on Websnark) Antihumor refers to those strips where the Funny is quieter, less obvious and sometimes takes a moment or two. It's an attitude instead of a joke, a Zen and the Art of Cartoon Maintenance -- a jazz riff in place of a melody line. It's not the destination, with Antihumor, it's the journey.

The Webcomics that Brought the Antihumor Funny are:

  • A Softer World: Perhaps it was the interweaving of photography and narration. Perhaps it was the blending of melancholy and irony. Perhaps it was because this strip always made me think of Jim's Journal, which is about the best example of Antihumor Comic Strips. But A Softer World consistently brings the Funny without ever slapping you in the face with it, and I look forward to each new strip.
  • Achewood: I've compared Achewood to Jazz before, and I think the comparison holds. Another word for Antihumor is attitude, and Achewood's attitude is rock solid perfect. It uses subtlety deftly, brings out a smile instead of a guffaw, and is so brilliant I have to wear sunglasses to read its archives.
  • American Elf: Journal Comics don't have to be Antihumor, but when they are, American Elf is there to show them how it's done well. A connected string of foibles and thoughts, cat pictures and baby pictures, heart and soul and rock and roll -- James Kolchalka is some kind of cartooning God.
  • Ascent: There is a certain oddity in being an adventure antihumor strip, but Ascent pulls it off. There is an offbeat oddity to the world, to its magic, to its problems that never fails to amuse and entertain. And, as with Mnemesis before it, there is a raw core lurking just below the surface, waiting to pop out. I can't wait to see where this is going.
  • Daily Dinosaur Comics: If Antihumor comics are performance art, then Daily Dinosaur Comics is up on the stage, naked, blindfolded, and trying to sacrifice a live chicken. Stripping sequential art down to its absolute bones by using the same clip art style artwork (the exact same artwork) day after day after day, but not only making each new strip fresh, but relating the writing to the action in the panels while doing it, this strip is pure goodness.

All of these receive a biscuit... but Daily Dinosaur Comics gets the Antihumor Shortbread -- the Tasty, Tasty Antihumor Shortbread.

Daily Dinosaur Comics is fun, fresh, funny and fearless. It's participatory (it gets huge amounts of fan art, has inspired a truly awesome song called "Crazy Utahraptor" that you should download from the fan art page and just listen to for a while), it's experimental, and it's just plain well written. Despite the replicated artwork, there is character development, there is continuity, there is consistency and there is humor. And while it does pull out punchlines (every now and again, at least), they're never nearly as important as the strip -- and its overall attitude -- as a whole. Ryan North deserves this piece of shortbread. I hope he enjoys it... and then goes stomping. Because stomping is a glorious thing.

Bringing the Funny: Character Driven
There are many different ways you can Drive the Funny in your comical strip. As odd as it sounds, Character Driven strips are pretty hard to pull off. In these strips, the nature of the characters brings out the humor of the situation. In a world of rationality and sobriety, these guys is crazy, man! Sometimes, the insane characters are balanced by a Mary Richards -- a person who's essentially sane who highlights the humor the other characters bring to the table. And most of the time, the characters have a deeper level of characterization than webcomics driven by other considerations.

The Webcomics that Brought the Character Driven Funny are:

  • Casey and Andy: The strip that brought the term "Asstard" to my vocabulary. Casey and Andy has raised the science of the batshit insane character to an art form. Every character is insane in their own way -- the titular mad scientists, the seemingly normal girlfriend with the claws, police uniform and deadly attitude to puns, Quantum Cop, Satan, Cujo, the Planet Devourer... even Jenn, the most normal of the crowd, finds she can't spend time around "normal" people any more. And I look forward to seeing all of them.
  • Nukees: There is a sense that Suzy Gee is actively trying to divorce herself from her own innate strangeness, but as a whole she is destined to fail -- and we're the beneficiaries. From Gav's cheerful evil to King Luca's insane geniality to Zen and the Art of Being Danny, the distinctive personalities of Nuclear Engineering can make me laugh just by showing up.
  • PvP: Probably one of the most imitated strips, PvP stays above its competition through nuanced characterization that takes the archetypes of geek, tech and gaming humor -- the pretentious Mac user, the Hapless and Outdated Boss, the Hot Gamer Chick, the Geek Girl, the Leet Gamer Kid, and the Innocent -- and broadens them into real people with real motivations that lead to real Funny.
  • Queen of Wands: Good characters are like brushstrokes, and Aeire paints exceedingly well. Felix's gentle lunacy, Shannon's "older sister" quality, Angela's wicked delight, Seamus's pleasant spinelessness, and always Kestrel's childishness, petulance, compassion and slow maturation drive the humor more than anything else in this strip. I feel like I know all of these people, which is of course insane on my part, but what the heck.
  • Sinfest: On the flip side from Queen of Wands, Sinfest drives its humor by having simple, straightforward characters with simple, straightforward motivations. Slick, Monique, Squigley, Crimeny, Seymour, Satan (Satan shows up on this list a lot, doesn't he?), God, Percival, Pooch, the Professor, Mary Ann... in the end, it's the clear personalities that make this strip funny as Hell.
  • Suburban Jungle: The raison d'etre of Suburban Jungle is "are you crazy? Is that your problem?" That underscores the hysterical cast of characters that populate what has to be my favorite strip featuring animals who walk on two legs, not on four (insert "House of Pain" lyrics at home) and try to deal with their crippling neuroses. In fact, Tiffany Tiger is arguably the sanest of all the characters, and as a result she's been steadily crowded out of her own comic. Underneath all of the craziness, though, is a core of emotion that really comes out. The day I discovered I was sympathizing with Leona was the day I knew Robey had landed me.

Biscuits all around for these great strips and the characters who drive them... but PvP gets the Character Driven Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Character Driven Shortbread.

There are two sides to this shortbread -- the humor that comes from the characters being who they are, and the depths of characterization those characters have developed, and PvP absolutely nails both of them. Brent Sienna is a fantastic character on so many levels -- he's pretentious, annoying, cynical, and nice. Put Jade, Miranda, Marcy, Sonya and Gwen into one big room and you get a microcosm of women in webcomics, from the geeky and techy to the hot and manipulative. When the self centered jerk and foil who runs the competing magazine turns out to be a generally better person than the PvP boss we sympathize with, you're seeing top characterization, and PvP's characters make me laugh and ring true pretty much all the time.


Bringing the Funny: Dark
There is an overall feeling that Dark Humor must be Angstful Humor. That's just plain wrong. There is something deeply funny in the horrible, probably because if we can't laugh at tragedy, we'll be overwhelmed by it. I'm a sucker for black comedy, as long time readers know, and so the narrowing down of comics that Brought the Dark Funny to six was hard. So, with a healthy dose of cynicism, we explore the morbid and hideous that made us laugh until tears streamed from our eyes.

The Webcomics that Brought the Dark Funny are:

  • Chopping Block: I was so happy to see Chopping Block come back from hiatus. The archetypical black comedy in webcomics, from the shadow-laden artwork to the horrific subject matter, the core message of this strip is "serial killers are people too," and it makes everything from Delusion of Reference to the eating of human eyeballs funny as Hell. It has to be the only art form in any media to offer a plush serial killer toy, and that might describe it better than anything I can say. This Gag-a-Day strip also makes it clear that Dark Humor doesn't have to be Story based.
  • College Roomies from Hell!: There is always an undercurrent of horror in CRFH -- one that may be funny, but also waits to snap shut on our characters like a bear trap. I never get the feeling that anyone in this strip is safe, though sometimes the horrible things that happen to them (and the horrible things they do to each other) tickle me six shades of pink.
  • Gaming Guardians: The day that EDG discovered he had been moved into the body of his evil ex wife, realizing he was trapped far away from his friends -- who themselves were now being set up for a horrible trap (especially Radical, who EDG had entered into a new phase of their relationship and who had already had a trusted friend, loved one and father of her lost child turn out to be a shapeshifted enemy)... and as the horror of the situation settled over him, he still paused to check out his female body's large robotic breasts... I knew Gaming Guardians grokked Dark Funny.
  • Scary-Go-Round: It goes without saying that any webcomic that kills the most popular character more than once (Shelley will soon earn her Frequent Dyers Card) and who has as its cheerful mascot Krakkager the glossy black bug beast that will eat us up though sugar makes him sleepy is well acquainted with the dark side of Funny. Scary-Go-Round took a subset of the cast of Bobbins (though I still miss Rich) and sent them through a stylish form of Hell, and we've been grooving on the horror ever since.
  • Sluggy Freelance: In any given year, Sluggy Freelance might come across as Light or Dark, Epic or Down to Earth. This year, with the long culmination of years and years of Dimension of Pain Halloween crossovers, demon incursions and the death of innocence, we'd have to put Sluggy firmly into the dark column. And yet, through it all we never stopped laughing, which is Pete Abram's special gift.
  • Something Positive: Some artists love their characters, and can't bear to hurt them. Then, there's artists like Randy Milholland, who can only orgasm when he's made a fictional character cry. Something Positive is brilliantly cynical, hysterically dark, and isn't afraid to build up our hatred of a character so much that when we see his broken silhouette through a blood stained window, we cheer and laugh.

It's dark biscuits indeed for our nominees... but Something Positive gets the Dark Funny Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Dark Funny Shortbread.

This strip dives into Dark head first and doesn't care if the water's just three feet deep leading to cracked spines. Milholland can make rape, poverty, stupidity, physical handicaps, coat hanger abortions, miscarriages and deviancy funny without making them gratuitous. God himself may enjoy laughing at Davan and his friends, but somehow there's still always the sense that they're going to hang together. Aubrey is a total horrendous whirling bitch to Davan and Peejee, but you never think for a second she isn't wholly devoted to them. Trips to the hospital are forms of love, and emotionally abusive fathers are somehow better than any of the possible alternatives. This comic rocks.
Bringing the Funny: Down to Earth
In a field where the staff of a small software design company can be regularly put at ground zero of battles for the fate of the entire world, and the members of a Science Fiction Club can become the greatest paladins in the battle for reality itself, there is something to be said for those comic strips where people just hang out and try to eke out a living. The Down to Earth Funny derives its laughs from the mundane. This doesn't preclude elements of the fantastic -- you can have robots and elves in your Down to Earth strip if those Robots and Elves are working at the local Kinko's and hanging out in coffee bars. Most of all, however, the Down to Earth strip brings an element of real life to the strip. The characters need jobs and have to take out the trash, and almost no one gets given several million dollars by a bored billionaire as a lark.

The Webcomics that Brought the Down to Earth Funny are:

  • American Elf: Not all journal comics count as Down to Earth Funny. Heck, a good number of Journal Comics don't count as funny at all. But American Elf finds the humor in everyday living. Spandy climbing the stairs or James and Amy singing as they walk down the sidewalk, drunk. These little slices of life, and the smiles they evoke, are what Down to Earth Funny are all about.
  • Boxjam's Doodle: There's nothing that says "Down to Earth" can't coexist with Surreal, and Boxjam's Doodle proves that about as well as anything I know. Sure, all the automobiles are represented by dinghys with outboard motors (because Boxjam can't draw cars, or so he says), and Boxjam's best friend has a mallet for a head, but the core of the humor comes from taking out the trash, the arguments of husbands and wives, hating one's job or coworkers... it's like regular life, distilled.
  • Gin and the Devil: First off, I should mention that thanks to all the comic strips I read, particularly all those with Satan as a character, my initial thought was "Gin and the Devil" was about a girl named Virginia and her buddy Lucifer Morningstar. That's not Matt Milby's fault -- it's mine. Milby, on the other hand, has created a a strip where hard liquor and bitter disappointment sometimes collide. This is a strip about expectations that don't get reached, and they turn out darn funny. This strip reads like "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," if T.S. Eliot could draw and wrote about young people. So, nothing at all like Prufrock, but the analogy means something to me.
  • Penny and Aggie: As far away from Gin and the Devil as you can get and still be drawing on bristol board, Penny and Aggie is just about the first high school girls' strip I've read where the girls actually feel like they're in high school. Popular or marginalized, the struggles are the same, humiliation comes in unexpected packages, and no one looks that cool when they've been crying. Oh yeah, and it's funny.
  • Questionable Content: Indy rock as love story makes for interesting situations and interesting characters locked into interesting relationships, with nary a world conquerer or glossy black beetle in sight. Even the one fantastic touch (Pintsize, the AnthroPC) feels like a cross between a normal character and a recalcitrant PC. I can accept Pintsize and still recognize that this is a strip where folks spend their time talking in apartments and coffee bars, and the wild twist is the cute hipster waitress who studies Marine Biology and Philosophy turns out to be 17.
  • Todd and Penguin: As with Questionable Content, the fantastic touches (the talking penguin and the talking cat) don't detract from the essential normalcy of the strip. At the same time, the essential normalcy of the strip doesn't detract from the sense of wonder. Penguin is a child who wants cookies and the chance to play. Todd feels overwhelmed by adult life and by the jobs he can manage to get. Even the reversion to childhood that took place this summer was a coma dream instead of a true flight of the fantastic... and Todd and Penguin makes money troubles and heartbreak fun.

All natural biscuits to everyone on the list... but Penny and Aggie gets the Down to Earth Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Down to Earth Shortbread.

T. Campbell and Gisele Lagace are no strangers to wild, out there plots involving aliens and supernatural powers, but their collaboration into the psyche of two very different teenage girls who discover they're not actually all that different at all is fascinating and funny, all at once. The core priorities of these two girls might run to popularity, boys and style right now, but under the surface you can feel them maturing and learning about the real world -- and you laugh hard at their stumbles as they go along.

Bringing the Funny: Epic
Sometimes, the humor of the situation derives from not having enough change for the parking meter or being too drunk to find the car you're too drunk to drive. And sometimes, the humor of the situation derives from the Vogon Construction Fleet that's show up to destroy Earth to make way for a Hyperspace Bypass. It is to the Hitchhiker's Guide fans that I dedicate this discussion of Epic Funny. Not so much an award for the storyline (that will come with the Bringing the Story Shortbread List) as the humor that the storyline evokes, these are the webcomics that not only have wide ranging plots of limitless potential... but absurd wide ranging plots of limitless potential, and the humor comes from them.

The Webcomics that Brought the Epic Funny are:

  • College Roomies from Hell!: It all started so innocently. A bunch of guys and a bunch of girls went to college and started living together, loving each other, hating each other, having sex and accidentally hotwaxing their hair. And then the stakes went no-limit. Wars with the Devil (what is it with the Devil and Webcomics?), secret island lairs with mermaids and unicorns, succubus girlfriends who can't cook, laser beam eyes and werecoyotes -- this dark webcomic Brings the Funny in broad situations that we'd better laugh at, or else we'll end up too horrified for words.
  • Gaming Guardians: This strip's very core premise is Epic and Absurd -- an organization that travels between different universes (based on role playing games, no less), protecting them from subversion and invasion (and, one assumes, Wizards of the Coast buyouts) and Avalanche Press's Cover Art. That the story leads into dark, painful areas doesn't change the underlying humor, or the sheer scope of it.
  • Narbonic: Narbonic's approach almost resembles short fiction -- we have adventures and affairs and short little sagas. And while some seem almost mundane -- or as mundane as Workplace Humor gets when the Workplace manufactures mutagens -- others clearly deal with Lupin Madblood trying to regain control of his android army to TAKE OVER THE WORLD or the gang having a slumber party and repelling the forces of Hell. Whether getting unstuck in time or shot to the moon, Narbonic doesn't think small. And isn't that everything Mad Science should be?
  • Schlock Mercenary: Being star spanning science fiction doesn't automatically get you a day pass into the Epic, but casually mentioning entire fleets of mercanary ships that fly too close to a star and get wiped out does. While sticking to Hard SF, and never losing sight of the characters, Howard Taylor handles the galaxy spanning elements of his strip with facility and -- more to the point -- absurdity.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Some years Sluggy isn't epic at all, and some years it blows expectations out of the water. From May on, this year, Sluggy Freelance spanned dimensions, had demon hordes invading a parallel Earth, and dealt with the reconstitution of about the most crap Goddess of Goodness ever seen. The scale was huge, and while the storyline had many tragic moments, it also was downright silly at times.
  • Superosity: Superosity is known for many things, but restraint isn't one of them. Happy to skip through time, creating alternate universes where Richard Outcault was killed before he could create the Yellow Kid, and his little brother Ralphie created the Green Kid instead and went on to be a horrific absolute dictator of Earth, and dealing with three -- count them, three -- George W. Bushes counts as Epic in my book.

The grandest, most glorious of all biscuits go to all these strips... but Sluggy Freelance gets the Epic Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Epic Shortbread.

Pete Abrams is well known for dealing in the grand scale. In the past, he's sent Torg and Zoe back into time (and created the most dangerous coven of vampires in the process), sent Torg and Riff into a pocket universe that ended up being wholly destroyed in the end to power a waffle iron, and thrown The Nightmare Before Christmas a total curve ball by setting the holidays at war with one another. While Sluggy Freelance doesn't have to work in grand scales, it's a scope that Abrams is comfortable with and manages to make funny, almost all the time.
Bringing the Funny: Gag-a-Day
When you get right down to it, people expect comic strips to be funny. In fact, they expect comic strips to be funny all on their own, without any understanding of the past to get in the way. Of course, there's plenty of sequential art out there that doesn't have that mandate, but there is still an art to setting up and delivering a joke each and every day, and many of the webcomics we love are masters of that form. From silly puns to fart jokes to shaggy dog stories, these webcomics are just plain funny, pretty much all the time, from the moment you pick the strip up.

It's also worth nothing that this was the category that gave me the most trouble. There's a lotof good gag-a-day out there. The six I picked all deserve to be on this list, but there's twenty more I could as easily name. Next week, I'm sure this list would look different, but for today, I'm standing by it.

The Webcomics that Brought the Gag-a-Day Funny are:

  • Irregular Webcomic: Proof positive that you don't need to be able to draw to have a hysterical online strip. David Morgan-Mar's photo comic might star miniature figures and LEGO, but the time, care, processing and attention to detail he puts into the strip rivals that of any webcomic you'd care to mention. And each and every day, there is the Funny. Whether Hobbit puns or obscure scientific facts or Nigerian Spammer jokes, each day is another chuckle or groaner. And that's just cool.
  • Men in Hats: I've been an Aaron Farber fan since the Pentasmel days (and I honestly think Keenspot's made a mistake by putting the Pentasmel archives behind a Premium-only lock -- or else they should be pushing it hard in advertising. There's brilliance in them thair comics). And as much as I miss Pentasmel, Men in Hats is better. Cheerful and mean and funny as Hell, this is a strip that entirely wants to make you laugh. That's why it's here. And it succeeds brilliantly.
  • Penny Arcade: No one reading these words needs to hear me say Penny Arcade is good. You know it as well as I do. A gag-a-day of a very different stripe (often, the newspost that accompanies a strip is necessary reading to understandthe strip), Penny Arcade is king of the gamer comics, is almost always savagely hysterical, resists most flirtations with continuity and is just plain good. And whether it's for me or not, Twisp and Catsby rock so hard they're worth a nomination all on their own. Well, in the Surreal category, anyway.
  • PvP: The last three strips have been strongly oriented on low-continuity, high-gag quotients. (What we here at the Websnark call Bringing the Funny, not the Story.) But you can be high continuity and also make every damn strip an exercise in humor, and Scott Kurtz does it about as well as anyone I've seen. Whether a sophisticated joke, a pun, gamer/geek/tech humor or a joke about a basset hound farting, Kurtz makes sure there's some Funny in every fourth panel, and that's just cool.
  • Real Life Comics: Greg Dean's webcomic is ironic from the get-go. It's "real life" comics, based on his own real life... and yet it's far more wish fulfillment than journal comic. (Unless Dean and his friends really do travel to the future to buy new games in the discount bins, upgrade their computers with FutureTech™, and have a Dreamcast that's Sentient.) What isn't ironic is Dean's sense of humor -- he brings straight up Funny in every strip. He also manages to be one of maybe three webcartoonists to make themselves a major character in their strip with almost no sense of Mary Sue about it -- Greg in the strip is a doofus and the butt of most of the jokes that hit the page, and that makes things funny indeed.
  • Two Lumps: The anti-Garfield. This strip by Mel Hynes and J. Grant brings the dark sensibilities of FLEM to a far less... intimidating forum, and singlehandedly rehabilitates cat comics, washing away Garfieldish Banalities in favor of B. Kliban. More to the point, the pair bring a real understanding of cat behavior, which they then project into malevolance and stupidity, leading to serious Funny. Every day makes me grin, and what the Hell more can I ask of a comic strip?

Biscuits for snickers everywhere we look... but Men in Hats gets the Gag-a-Day Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Gag-a-Day Shortbread.

This is almost a gimmie -- Farber is wholly devoted to humor and nothing but, and if there's a better person at the straight gag-a-day, they're not coming to mind easily. There is a caustic wit coupled with an absolute cheerfulness that fuels the joke's setup and execution, and every strip is wholly self contained. And, as an extra added bonus, they're actually funny. What more could you possibly ask for?

Bringing the Funny: Light
Sometimes, webcomics are just plain cheerful. Sweet, instead of nasty. Even if they have some caustic wit worked into them, there's no heavy sides or painful edge to them. They're just fun. Which is not to say Light comics have no substance. Often they have as much depth as any other story driven comic strip. However, angst generally isn't part of the equation, any way you look at it.. The Light Funny are those rest stops we take on the trawl through the comics page, which make us just happy to be walking the path.

The Webcomics that Brought the Light Funny are:

  • Adventures of Sporkman: Fool of a Spork! Without a doubt one of my favorite strips, and perhaps the epitome of "Light" funny, Sporkman brings nothing heavier than a half-gallon of butter pecan ice cream with it to the party. And everyone loves a good scoop of butter pecan ice cream!
  • Freefall: Every so often, I'm shocked to remember that Freefall is a hard science fiction strip. I'm shocked because it's so much fun, pretty much all of the time. Always a bright point in my comics reading day, because it takes itself seriously while never taking itself seriously, and that's a very hard tightrope to walk.
  • Melonpool: The Space Opera to Freefall's Hard SF (or the comedic Doc Smith to Freefall's Robert Heinlein), Melonpool embodies the comic strip tradition of taking setbacks and making you laugh about them. And when Steve Troop goes to conventions, he brings puppets with him. Puppets, for Christ's sake!
  • Men in Hats: As hard as Jeriah tries to bring the pain and anguish of his dark, poetic, sad clown soul to those around him, this is a strip of snickers and giggles and out and out laughs. Besides, Jeriah's poetry? Sucks. Anyway. This strip knows exactly what it's doing when it makes you laugh and laugh and laugh, and never cry.
  • Real Life Comics: Perhaps the opposite side of the Light coin from Men in Hats, Greg Dean's Real Life Comics may be "suggested" by Greg's Real Life (you know, including Greg's recent trip to Mars), but he leaves the heartache of that Real Life behind in lieu of good, cheerful fun. And I like it.
  • Two Lumps: I know, I know. If I like Two Lumps so much, why don't I marry it. Well, too late. The creators are engaged now. By now, you know what I'm going to say. This strip is hysterical, and never bogs down into angst or depression. It's a cheerful stop on the road. And Snooch likes the birds. Yay!

The biscuits these strips receive are light and flavorful... but Adventures of Sporkman gets the Light Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Light Shortbread.

Folks by now know I really like John Troutman's work. One of the things that blows my mind is the range of work he produces. From the Cerebus Syndrome attempts of Basil Flint to the Sexcapades of Felicity Flint to the darker, layered Vigilante Ho!, Troutman's proven he's in T. Campbell's league when it comes to range. But it's this silly, funny, self contained strip that makes me happiest when it appears on the screen. Sporkman is just plain fun, with characters that need no explanation to make you laugh. Interestingly, Spoonman is one of two "prequel" strips in the KeenSyndicate newspaper pages (Roomies being the other), and somehow it manages to transcend its own future with every giggle-inducing strip.

Bringing the Funny: Madcap
Some comic strips proceed from very careful, rational plot evolution. And some comic strips run in, shout "BAT TAG! You're it!" and go from there. These are the webcomics that need no justification for wild, crazy, zany adventure. They just leap in with all the zeal of an eight year old ADD sufferer on crystal meth and honey vanilla lattes.

The Webcomics that Brought the Madcap Funny are:

  • Casey and Andy: There's a lot of mad science in webcomics, but Casey and Andy are just plain nuts. clearly enjoying the sheer insanity of life, willing to blow anything up any time for any reason, and taking the occasional break for Sawblade Tron, Casey and Andy get themselves killed in insane adventures through space and time with frightening -- and hysterical -- regularity. Also, there is a mime who kills people.
  • Checkerboard Nightmare: Say what you like about Chex -- the man knows his way around zany adventure. Even if he has to beat people in the face with a shovel until he gets it. One of the best satirical strips in webcomics (albeit one I came late to, because I'm an idiot), the flimsiest of excuses can be transformed into the funniest of storylines. Also, there is a robot who chokes lawyers.
  • Irregular Webcomic!: A webcomic that blends a dozen or more storylines together, and half those storylines proceed from wild assumptions. Whether its launching into cyberspace because the ship's computer needs to be restarted and no one built an external button or escaping burning zepplins on the backs of pteradactyls, Irregular Webcomic is more than happy to be as madcap as it can cram into LEGO. Also, there is a Crocodile Hunter who Wrestled Cthulhu to death.
  • Narbonic: Ah, Narbonic. The weed of Mad Science bears succulent fruit indeed. Blasting through time, being shot to the moon, with henchmen who need chronic accidential death insurance and where dozens of identical killer androids can necessitate a road trip to Canada to essentially draft dodge, Narbonic knows from zany. Oh yes, they know from zany. Also, there is an intern who likes massively overpowered weaponry.
  • Superosity: Look, our heroes decided to travel back in time to the 19th century so they could view the very first Labor Day, and while they were there they accidentally killed the creator of the Yellow Kid, so Nicola Tesla, Time Guardian raised up his brother Ralphie to take Richard Outcault's place. This naturally led to the creation of an alternate universe where Ralphie was absolute dictator of the world and the world's first cartoon, The Green Kid, was the only form of entertainment allowed. Do I really have to justify Superosity's inclusion among the Madcap? Also, there is a talking dog who aspires to work at a convenience store.
  • Wigu: Wigu Tinkle once lulled himself to sleep with the certain knowledge that he couldn't live without having adventures forever. Well, this strip may have only a few days left before it ends, but it's safe to say Wigu's life will go on, one adventure after another. Whether it's road tripping to put on the best damn family musical act ever, or finding the Googal Maverick deep in the Pillbug Caverns below the Tinkle's house, or Topato and Sheriff Pony saving Butter Dimension Quad from Space Mummy's latest nefarious attack, it's time to Spring Into Action!™ Until the 31st, at least.

These strips get their biscuits out of nowhere, man... but it's Casey and Andy that gets the Madcap Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Madcap Shortbread.

The very first Casey and Andy strip featured Andy juggling, then accidentally fumbling a ball into a convenient box of antimatter. Since then, there have been pandimensional rifts leading to struggles against Quantum Crook, Don Cindy, and always Lord Milligan. Their longest storyline to date started with Jenn wandering into the target area of the time machine Casey and Andy just happened to be building in their rec room. You just don't get more Madcap -- or fun -- than this.

Bringing the Funny: Plot Driven
You might think it odd that there's a "Plot Driven Funny" category among the "Bringing the Funny Shortbreads" instead Well, much as Epic Funny refers to strips where humor comes out of the epic scope, "Plot Driven Funny" refers to strips where humor comes out of the specific plotline the characters find themselves in. And if that sounds like splitting hairs to you, write your own damn awards show. In any case, these are the strips where the humor of the situation derives from the impossible and hysterical scrapes our heroes find themselves in.

The Webcomics that Brought the Plot Driven Funny are:

  • Basil Flint, P.I.: It almost goes without saying that a comical strip starring a Private Investigator is going to have its humor derive from the mysteries our heroes find themselves investigating. Really, this slot could go equally well to Flint's secret agent sister, Felicity, but... well, I like Basil Flint more, so here we are. Troutman knows how to pace a mystery for good comedic effect, with twists and turns that make us grin all the while.
  • Freefall: On the other side is Freefall, whose plots are more grounded, but bring out the (scientifically accurate) absurd all the while. When the crew launches into space on a satellite deployment mission, humor derives from the nature of microgravity, space suits, technical problems, even an oxygen joke or two. Back on the planet, humor comes from Florence heading out for a date (and an army of robots trying to deliver a message to her), while Sam heads out to get paid. Stanley knows how to evoke every drop out of humor from every situation, while sticking to the hard side of science fiction.
  • Lost and Found Investigations: It probably makes sense that if Basil Flint is on the list of Plot Driven Funny, so's Lost and Found Investigations. (Sooner or later, these guys need to do a crossover. Or at least trade villains for a plot arc.) Matt Milligan (hey, we've never seen Matt Milligan and Lord Milligan in the same room at the same time, have we? Hmmmmm....) has a somewhat different tone, but still organizes his Funny around the cases and plot arcs Frank, Max and Beth find themselves in. And he organizes it well.
  • Narbonic: Shaenon Garrity has a clear love of 19th Century protopulp fiction, as evidenced by plotline titles such as "The Astonishing Excursions of Helen Narbon&Co." and "Professor Madblood and the Lovelace Affair." And there is a real feel of romantic (in the traditional, Frankenstein definition of that word, instead of Romance© Novels) adventure through it all. There is always something specific that needs to be accomplished, some plot to be resolved. And it is always patently absurd. And we love Narbonic for it.
  • Schlock Mercenary: Obviously, Schlock Mercenary is a strip Steeped in Story. It's also just as obviously a strip Steeped in Funny, and after establishing his characters, Howard Tayler sets them into epic, ridiculous adventure and wrings every moment of humor he possibly can from them. Adventure blends with excitement at every given moment, and both will make you at least smile while you cheer.
  • Sluggy Freelance: This was something of a dark year for Sluggy, but you still have to acknowledge its mastery of the totally ridiculous plotline. This was the year that Zoë, Riff, Kiki and Leo ended up in the Dimension of Sham-Pain, after all, and were cursed with weight they can't ever lose. Even the dark and poignant That Which Redeems took place in a world where Tactical Leaflet Weapons are illegal. The adventure brings the Funny, as Abrams has always known.

As you can see, it is inevitable these strips get biscuits... but it's Narbonic that gets the Plot-Driven Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Plot-Driven Shortbread.

Narbonic's plots make perfect sense and are always -- always -- funny. Shaenon Garrity knows her form perfectly, and by working in "short stories" she can evoke humor out of her situation without ever getting to the point that she belabors it. There's also always that point where Dave or Artie kind of says exactly what they're trying to do out loud, and the absurdity becomes apparent to everyone around. In a lesser pair of hands, this could become tiresome. In Garrity's hands, this is sublime. And really, really funny.

Bringing the Funny: Quiet
In the webcomics of Quiet Funny, there are no zany, madcap adventures. Things are pretty mellow. Things might be a little bittersweet, but it's not dark so much as it is... well, life. Things happen, but they're personal, not national. These are the strips of character moments and poignancy, and in a sea of webcomics focusing on sex and violence and explosions and poison potato superheroes, they're calming and sweet. And while a Down to Earth webcomic covers similar territory, those can be plenty loud. At the same time, a strange or science fiction strip can also be Quiet. Everyone clear? This will be on the test.

The Webcomics that Brought the Quiet Funny are:

  • American Elf: James Kochalka's journal comic obviously covers his life, as journal comics are wont to do. At the same time, there is an essential sweetness even when he's being sad. These are moments in the day -- the look of Amy's body lying in bed, the day that the door was left open and Spandy and Eli both crawled out. The euphroia that comes from walking down the street while drunk. These aren't the dramatic moments of what seems to be an occasionally dramatic life. These are the quiet moments, and they're wonderful
  • Count Your Sheep: I'm very new to the Count Your Sheep fold, and as with most people who've come to it I'm utterly enchanted. In part, because this is such a gentle, warm strip, but also because this can be a sad one. Laurie, the single mother, misses her dead husband and frets over finances, but Katie (the child) knows only a world of wonder, and Ship (the Imaginary Friend they share -- Laurie from her own youth, Katie's from now) manages to bring hope to them both. This is perfectly bittersweet... and great examples of Quiet Funny.
  • Ozy and Millie: Whimsical and fantastic, but never overwhelming. Ozy and Millie enjoy the philosophical side of weird, eschewing world saving (or conquering) except in Millie's own imagination. Proof positive that you can be weird and still quiet.
  • Questionable Content: I know, I talk a lot about Questionable Content. The simple fact is, it does a lot of things right. One of those is the way it uses its scope. Jacques never forgets that he's dealing with the interactions of two or three people, and its humor comes out of banter, not fire. Fire bad. Banter good.
  • Sinister Bedfellows: As much a koan as a joke, Sinister Bedfellows never seems to lose its sense of personal perspective. The humor is part observational, and part Deep Thoughts, and even moments where one considers Madeline destroying downtown Paris are the internal thoughts of our observer, not a sense of what is to come
  • Todd and Penguin: Perhaps the perfect balance of bitter and sweet. Todd and Penguin Brings the Funny even though Todd's life really could be a lot better, and bad things keep happening. And Penguin's faith is strong and childlike enough that it seems like it's never hopeless. And, while stolen cookies bring joy and lost jobs bring depression, the pair and all those around them keep things together in their own way.

All these strips sit around and enjoy their biscuits together, with a nice cup of tea or coffee... but Todd and Penguin gets the Quiet Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Quiet Shortbread.

David Wright is a master of the personal moment and the bemused expression. On the surface it's Penguin's love of cookies and Todd's ennui with his job. Under the surface it's humor coming out of acceptance, love, and selfish housecats or officially bitter goth girls. It's broad enough to have fertile grounds for humor, but it never loses its quiet core.

Bringing the Funny: Relationship Driven
How we interact with each other, one-on-one, ultimately forms the web of all society. The Relationship Driven comic finds the Funny buried in the individual loops and knots of that tapestry. This generally involves love -- or at least sex -- but certainly the interaction between close friends is a Relationship, and the balance of how the best friend and wife hate each other but have their common bond through the one they both love. Relationship-Driven webcomics are popular, because they reflect our own troubled relationships -- sometimes all too closely for our own comfort.

The Webcomics that Brought the Relationship Driven Funny are:

  • College Roomies from Hell: See, Dave loves Margaret, and to a degree Margaret loves Dave, but because she knows she's doomed she's pushed him into the arms of Blue, who really has feelings for Dave which Dave is beginning to reciprocate. This doesn't sit particularly well with Mike, Blue's sister and Dave's roommate (and a real bastard), but he wants to protect both Dave and Blue from the manipulative evil of his mother, while managing to hold his relationship with his beloved, batwinged Marsha together. Only April loves Mike too, and is more than willing to destroy everyone around her, plus Mike, plus herself over it. That doesn't touch on Roger, whose mother was just killed by Margaret and who loved Diana, the prostitute with the transvestite brother... oh and he has a rock. And yeah, it can be hysterical, which is the point. Do I need to really go into the relationship based humor of this strip?
  • Diesel Sweeties: The very title of this webcomic refers to the relationship between the robotic Clango and the ex-porn star Maura, with complications in the persons of Lil' Sis and Indy Rock Pete and Red Robot, and Pale Suzie, only they also end up pairing off with each other. Who's sleeping with who and who's jealous over it is a core component of what makes this strip funny, and if that isn't Relationship Driven my name's Toby. And it's not. Toby, I mean.
  • Kevin and Kell: The subtext of Kevin and Kell, of course, is racism. Or gay rights. Or anything you want to call it. But in the end, it's about people who are different who still love each other, whether society likes it or not. Carnivores and Herbivores being married and having definition-jumping children, existing children who have a lack of trust or appreciation for these aliens. At least one carnivore who's had surgery to make himself a herbivore to pursue his relationship with a sheep... this is all about the individual relationships that can shake society to its core... and still manage to keep together through it all.
  • Queen of Wands: Something of a different take on "relationship-driven," but still very much within the definition, Queen of Wands at its core is about Kestrel's journey, as defined by the different relationships she's forged with the rest of the cast. Her relationship with Shannon, with Felix, with Angela and Seamus and even Zot defines who she is, and as she prepares to leave her home and move away, changing those relationships entirely, we see them evolve and see the other relationships' among her cast change as well, remaking the world as they know it in preparation for Kestrel's departure. Oh, and it's funny. Honest.
  • Questionable Content: Indy rock guys and girls enjoying coffee and banter and bottom jokes and wanting very very much to have sex with each other, but it doesn't ever seem to work out that way. Is there anything that doesn't scream "relationship driven humor" to you in this? Didn't think so.
  • Suburban Jungle: In a way, Character Driven strips and Relationship Driven strips blur each others' defintions. Certainly, it's the strong characters in a strip like Suburban Jungle that lead to strong relationships, and those relationships play off those strong characters. However, it's almost always been requited and unrequited love that's driven the craziness in this strip, and that's good enough for me, damn it.

One hopes these strips are sharing their biscuits, not arguing about who gets to eat them... but Diesel Sweeties gets the Relationship-Driven Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Relationship-Driven Shortbread.

R. Stevens isn't afraid to mix his Sweeties up, breaking them up and putting them together into new patterns and deriving humor from all sides. In the end, however, it's the tension of those relationships that drives the funny, and it's hard to imagine anyone keeping this many singles and couples straight in his head, making changes when needed (including possibly even Maura and Clango themselves), and keeping it all funny as Hell through it all. Also, there is a Red Robot who sleeps with girls and kills people.

Bringing the Funny: Savage Wit
Sometimes, comedy is sweet and heartwarming. Sometimes, jokes make us laugh at ourselves and each other. And sometimes? Comedy goes for your fucking throat and beats the Hell out of you and makes you LAUGH, BITCH! LAUGH! And you do, because it's funny. And you feel dirty, because it shouldn't make you laugh, because it's mean and savage. And that makes you laugh more. It owns you. You just have to cope with it.

The Webcomics that Brought the Savage Wit Funny are:

  • Checkerboard Nightmare: Kristofer Straub isn't shy about the targets of his satire. In one of his early plot arcs, Chex -- out of jealousy -- viciously attacked other cartoonists with a shovel. Even now, Straub is willing to show off his versitility (and his targets' foibles) by aping their styles and holding no punches. Sometimes painful, but always, always funny.
  • FLEM Comics: Look, if you don't have a spine, don't read this comic. It will offend you. Even if you do have a spine this strip will offend you. It sometimes offends me. It sometimes offends J. Grant himself. And as long as he's willing to draw it, I'm going to read it and laugh and laugh and wince and sometimes throw up. But laugh all the while.
  • Goats: There is a geniality in Jonathan Rosenberg's Goats -- a pleasantness that belies the fact that there is absolutely no quarter given when Rosenberg's got a good head of steam going. We knew this back in the days of Jesus Brand Penis Butter Cups©, and it's reinforced every time Scott "Charles in Charge" Baio shows up and discusses the quality of his feces. Also, die die die fornication.
  • Penny Arcade: The king of the Gamer Comics and one of the clear aspirants to the Throne of All Comicdom, Penny Arcade's stock in trade is a vicious sense of humor that slashes through its targets then turns on itself with a viciousness usually never seen outside of certain badly abused dogs. Hungry dogs. And what that little metal thing does to grapefruit will haunt you the rest of your days.
  • Something Positive: On the very first day R. Milholland put a comic strip up onto the web, it featured a joke about sending a coat hanger as a present to a baby shower. Sometime after that, Milholland developed some edge.
  • Yirmumah: There's a way in which Yirmumah is still trying to find its voice -- it recently changed its format and its schedule. And yet, one thing hasn't changed -- when it goes for satire, it goes with sharp stick in hand, ready to ram it up Yirass™. This strip is hysterical when it's mean, and it's mean because it loves. Honest.

These strips don't give a rat's ass if I give them biscuits or not... but Something Positive gets the Savage Wit Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Savage Wit Shortbread.

Milholland knows from funny. He wields attitude like a knife, and the suggestion that he might have gone too far inspires him to head a few more kilometers in. A partial list of his targets includes Pagans, Christians, Liberals, Conservatives, Republicans, Democrats, Asians, Blacks, Whites, Rednecks, RPG Gamers, Computer Gamers, Gays, Straights, Bi's, Short People, Midgets, Directors, Actors, Writers, Poets, Goths, Indys, Emos, Livejournal Writers, Pretty People, the Vapid, the Sensitive, the Pretentious and the Stupid. And the thing of it is, he's fucking funny the whole time he does it, and at no time do you feel like he's being gratiutious. That isn't easy, punk.

Bringing the Funny: Situation Comedy
I usually use the phrase "Workplace Comedy" to refer to those webcomics whose setting and premise drive their humor, but really we're discussing Situation Comedy. Drive those horrified images of Hello, Larry out of your head, sparky. Sitcoms are a technique, not an indication of quality. these are strips that derive their humor inexorably out of what the people involved are doing.

The Webcomics that Brought the Situation Comedy Funny are:

  • Greystone Inn: There's a certain way that Brad Guigar wants to have his cake and eat it too. He wants to be able to do straight comic strips, and workplace humor, and super hero satire, and celebrity satire, and whatever else passes through his brain. He manages to do this by setting his cartoon in a television studio where they "film" a comic strip, and it works startlingly well. That must be some good cake.
  • Help Desk: One of the purest of situation comedies, as the different characters work as tech support -- in the loosest definition of that term -- for the most evil technology company in the universe. The culture of ennui and cynicism that grows out of the situation fuels the humor on all sides.
  • PvP: Sometimes we forget this fact, especially because Cole blurs the line between "boss" and "buddy" pretty often, but PvP really is a situation comedy -- they work at a magazine, they're there because they do a job, and if they weren't working together every day, there's not much of a chance Francis and Marcy -- at the least -- would ever see Jade, Brent and Cole.
  • Schlock Mercenary: One way you can tell a Situation Comedy is if it opens with someone getting a new job. This gives the reader a viewpoint into the situation and the humor that grows out of it. Check out the beginning of Schlock Mercenary to see this done pretty wholly correctly. And then check out the rest of the strip for the ways the situation can evolve, and the funny evolves along with it.
  • User Friendly: Probably one of the most famous Webcomic Sitcoms, User Friendly's core is Columbia Internet. When it got sold at one point, everything changed. As the company evolves, the funny evolves. Really, User Friendly and Help Desk are opposite sides of the same coin -- it's just, the immoral and incompetent in one strip are the users, and in the other it's the staff. In any case, User Friendly is wholly a Sitcom, and does it well.
  • /usr/bin/w00t!: Cut in a similar mold from other tech workplace strips, /usr/bin/w00t! becomes distinctive by focusing on its protaganist, Sarah. Sarah, purple hair and all, becomes the Mary Tyler Moore of this Sitcom, both in her work life and her home life, ending up the rational center surrounded by insanity.

These strips take the good and take the bad, and then take the biscuits... but Greystone Inn gets the Situation Comedy Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Situation Comedy Shortbread.

In a way, there was no other possible choice. Greystone Inn embraces its situation heartily, populating Creative Contracts Studios with all the nuts you'd expect, letting cameos and satires slide in from one side and back out the other, and letting Guigar play in every sandbox he wants to, while holding everything together through the common place of employ. Perhaps most significantly, when Sammy lost her job at CCR, she almost vanished from the strip until she and Mac got married (and thus got an official "role" in the Situation once more). No matter how much things range, they'll always find their way back to Creative Contracts Studios.

Bringing the Funny: Surreal
You know, I know that what we call "surreal" in Webcomics would probably disgust René Magritte. C'est la vie. "This is not a dinosaur holding a tray of shortbread." Any way you look at it, when I say "surreal" in Webcomics I mean the weird, the wild, the harnessing of the purely imaginative. Surreal webcomics are differentiated from Madcap ones because their humor is less what they are doing and more what is happening. Anything can happen at any time for any reason. And of course, some strips are both.

The Webcomics that Brought the Surreal Funny are:

  • Daily Dinosaur Comics: Possibly the webcomic on this list that André Breton would most recognize as surreal. Or else he wouldn't. Either way. Still, the strip contains random elements (the car, the house, the woman) and also becomes an exercise in repetative art, accentuating the importance of the text. And there's also implications of dinosaur sex, which makes one think this is very odd indeed. Oh, and jokes about the French.
  • Goats: There is something very odd deep within Jon Rosenberg's mind. Something that thinks talking fish who live in beer and pine for Reese Witherspoon while hanging out at the Manhole could also be zombies reanimated after their murder, that satanic chickens and womanizing goats who wear Panties of Potency can hang out alongside Aliens and madmen. Oh, and there's Philip. I mean, that boy ain't right.
  • Penny Arcade: It's a juicer. It's a juicer but it fucks fruit. At night it runs its little metal hands over women's hair. Also, there is Twisp and Catsby. Dude. It fucks fruit.
  • Scary Go Round: When John Allison ended Bobbins and launched Scary-Go-Round, he brought much of his old cast along with. However, while he never much worried about sending rock singers to the Alps or destroying red haired men with the power of the MIND, Scary-Go-Round meant it was perfectly fine to start letting anything he wanted to happen happen. Black bugs. Men who turn into gas. Women who die and are brought back as terrible zombies, then struck by lightning back into the living. Also, Satan. And sometimes other dimensions and alternate timelines where Shelley becomes famous for playing Beatles Music in the 19th Century. Look, how much justification do I have to do, here?
  • Superosity: Look, our heroes decided to travel back in time to the 19th century so they could view the very first Labor Day, and while they were there they accidentally killed the creator of the Yellow Kid, so Nicola Tesla, Time Guardian raised up his brother Ralphie to take Richard Outcault's place. This naturally led to the creation of an alternate universe where Ralphie was absolute dictator of the world and the world's first cartoon, The Green Kid, was the only form of entertainment allowed. Do I really have to justify Superosity's inclusion among the Madcap Surreal? Also, there is a talking dog who aspires to work at a convenience store.

    Yes. I am perfectly well aware that I repeated the Superosity Madcap nomination. Look, this thing's broken 10,000 words as it is. What is it you want from me? Blood? Is it blood? My guess is blood.
  • Wigu: Even without Butter Dimension3(or Butter Dimension4 for that matter), Wigu would be credited for being surreal thanks to the drug hazes, the chicken musicals, the golden idols, the wish granting, the Googol Maverick, and Hugo using his flared jeans as parachutes. Oh, and Bigfoot. Anyway, my point is, after all that, we still can add in Topato, and Sheriff Pony, and Princess Dongle, and their ways. And that takes a surreal strip and turns it into "Dr. Seuss accidentally licked a tab of acid after staying up all night." Also, I expect hookers were involved, somewhere.

As always, these strips deserve their biscuits, no matter how strange they seem... but Wigu gets the Surreal Shortbread. The Tasty, Tasty Surreal Shortbread.

Jeffrey Rowland's boundless imagination takes his "journal comic," Overcompensating, and makes it the same kind of glorious ride as his more famous Wigu. And even with Wigu scheduled to end within just a few days, I'm finding myself enjoying the ride and wondering what will happen next. This is more than surreal, this is joyous, and that is a fine fine thing indeed.

December 26, 2004

Nothing says "Iguana Queen" like beards and green taffeta.


(From Annie. Click on the thumbnail for full sized... full sized... Jesus Christ I don't have the words.)

It's been a month since last we talked about Annie Warbucks, the girl long on pluck and short on luck, unless you count the luck of having a multibillionaire arch-conservative adopt her and her dog (who's been AWOL in Alaska for months upon months now). As you'll recall, Daddy Warbucks and Amelia had flown out to Broadcast Ranch to be rejoined with their brain damaged young orphan, taken to wearing Western Getups, funneled massive cash into Broadcast Ranch, propping up the ancient cowboy music show, getting it wider attention and of course having Annie becoming Cowboy Music Singing Sensation (there's four words you never expected to hear in a row) Rosie of the Range.

But this did not make everyone happy. Anton Veil, the bestselling author and noted Satanist, had been applying pressure to Broadcast Ranch's sponsors to drive them out of business, so he could buy the ranch up as part of a nefarious, devil worshipping plot! And Daddy Warbucks had marched right over to have it out with Veil. What, I say, what could possibly happen next?

Well... now we know. And I think I can say without fear of contradiction that we did not expect the answer to the question that we got.

Warbucks and Veil sparred verbally, followed by Veil attempting Satanic hypnosis. When this failed, Veil's reaction was a predictable "Bah! Bah! Bah!" Warbucks then demanded to know the score, and backed up his demands with the financially astute and American Capitalistic power of Mr. Fist and his partner Mr. Knuckle-Sandwich. (Counterpointed with scenes of Annie and the old coots singing songs using the word "YEE-HAW!" of course.)

Veil, thwarted but delusional, retreats back into the less painful realm of words, and gives Warbucks a copy of The Testament of Anton Veil. To Warbucks, it all looks like meaningless gibberish... and that opinion is reinforced when Veil tells Warbucks that the Martian Iguanas would explain it to him... and the Iguana Queen will Reveal All.

Okay, my thought was Veil was blowing smoke up Warbucks's absurdly large ten gallon hat, but as it turns out... no. No, Veil meant it... the old coots back at the ranch remembered that back in the day, there was a terrible, terrible movie called Martian Iguana-Men of the Sagebrush... and Annie and Amelia find both reams of Iguana drawings and at least one Iguana wearing a crown in his book.

That's right. The Satanist... is obsessed with Iguanas. QUEEN Iguanas! MARTIAN QUEEN IGUANAS!

A quick trip to the Internet Movie Database (by Annie -- I'm scared to check it myself) reveals that said movie was directed by noted Hollywood Schlockmeister Enver Drood, and his wife died horribly... and that in the movie, the Iguana Queen was played by... VESUVIA!

Yes, Vesuvia! Italian Film Diva of 50 years ago and old cohort of Warbucks and Plucky Orphan. Think of Scott Thompson playing Francesca Fiore and you're on the right track.

So, they call Vesuvia and ask her -- and she is in torment, torment remembering those days when she was desperate for a part, and so agreed to join this production (so, if it'd been today, this would have been a porn storyline. Featuring iguanas.) Sadly, Drood was part of that whole twisted Hollywood scene. You've seen it on E! any number of times -- the fast times, the nightclubs, the drugs, the alcohol, the blood sacrifices, the being torn apart by coyotes... check up on Robert Downey Jr.'s career if you want more details.

Anyway, as it turned out, the Iguana Queen of the movie was meant to be sacrificed in real life (see? It was a porn movie!) but Vesuvia walked off the picture, so Drood sacrificed his wife instead. It was all too much for the Italian Diva to bear.

Cut to Anton Veil, who's talking to reptiles. And giggling. Giggling.

Back at Broadcast Ranch, Warbucks, Annie, Amelia and the Coots work out that Anton Veil -- the self described son of the Master of Darkness -- must in fact be Enver Drood's child. And now he talks to lizards. Somehow, this is seeming less and less like an immanent threat for Annie to overcome.

But it gets better. Oh, it gets better. Driven wholly insane by the pain of listening to "Rosie of the Range" sing Silent Night on the Broadcast Ranch Christmas broadcast (and to be honest, I'm on Veil's side with that one, though why he didn't turn off the radio himself is beyond me), Veil decides the Iguana he has named queen is little more than a strumpet! A base strumpet. And that he himself is the Iguana Queen! He puts the little crown on his head, giggling with glee! GLEE! And then today... today....

The gown I could cope with. And the stole. And if a bearded Satanist is going to wear a gown and stole, the tiara is just good accessorizing. But it's the blood red lipstick that just makes it complete.

So what happens next? I don't yet know. All I know is that Little Orphan Annie's greatest adventure of all is about to begin... Annie Against the Crossdressing Satanic Son of Hollywood!!!

Okay. Anton LeVay was one thing. But Anton LeVay crossed with Ed Wood, Junior?

And I thought this thing couldn't get any more batshit insane. Ovaltine must contain PCP.

Perhaps she got highlights done while Greg fed pennies into the machine that distorts and stretches them into "commemorative coins," which I believe is against Federal Law....

(From Real Life Comics. Click on the thumbnail for full sized rotating lunch!)

I've been up the Space Needle more than once. It's just one of those things you do when you live in Seattle, which I did for several years. It's a nice place, it's a great view, and the restaurant is indeed both high quality and "tourist priced." But then, I was more likely to go to Beth's for breakfast for dinner (Greg and Liz take note -- you must go to Beth's for food. 12 egg omelets. Hash Browns to die for. Some of the only decent drip coffee in a fucking city of espresso drinks. And crayons at your table) to begin with.

So, I'd like to extol this strip's accuracy and humor, but I'll be honest. I'm distracted by the fact that apparently they opened up a hair salon on the observation deck of the needle, since in the last strip they were about to ride the elevator up, and now they're there, and Liz has gone from redhead back to blond.

Unless, of course, the prices turned her hair grey, but it hadn't quite finished the process yet. You can't rule that out.

December 25, 2004

A note from Christmas in 2004

Obviously, this hasn't been a day I've been overly concerned about Websnark. I have been concerned with a little Scrabble (I'm somewhat good at that), and being decimated in Risk by my sister, who I dub "the Mongol" from this point forward, having seen her sweep down from Asia to decimate the rest of the world.

There were three presents of significant note to you, the Websnark audience. First off, there was America: The Book, which is hysterical and a good basic primer in high quality literate snarking. I have much to learn. The other two are Art Spiegelman's In the Shadow of No Towers and Brian Walker's gorgeous The Comics Before 1945, a rich treasure trove of Krazy Kat, Thimble Theater, Little Orphan Batshit Insane Annie, Mutt and Jeff, Boob McNutt, the Bungle Family, Gasoline Alley....

Tomorrow, my nieces return home, and we do some more Christmas with them. Monday, of course, we start shortin' some bread. Tonight, I'm sitting next to a tree, surrounded by my family.

Oh, and we had Jiggers. Jiggers comes from my grandmother originally (to our knowledge, she invented them), and is essentially pie crust, cut into cookies, with cinnamon and sugar and baked. Mom had a spare crust from making the Quiche we have every Christmas morning, so we had Jiggers through the day as well. They echo down through the ages in my mind.

I hope you're all as happy on a night like this.

December 24, 2004

Awwwww....


(From Todd and Penguin. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Christmas Eve traditions!)

On Christmas Eve, warmly decimating my family in Scrabble, smelling a gingerbread candle and listening to A Christmas Story, I find myself in a Yuletide mood. And that was the mood I happened to read Todd and Penguin in.

Penguin, despite being a Penguin, is the most like a little kid I think I've seen in a webcomic. He's innocent and sweet... and also selfish, in his own way. But not in a bad way. I could see any five year old saying the same thing. And Holly understands and teases him just right.

It's sweet, and it makes me hope even more that Holly remains a part of the comic strip. This was just nice.

Merry Christmas, David Wright. And Merry Christmas to everyone.

Now go to bed. Santa's coming, and he's got IR scope equipment.

Two fast notes from Christmas Eve in the rainy rainy land of Maine

Two fast notes, from my family to you and yours, this rainy Christmas Eve.

First off, we've been listening to music and singing carols all evening. However, without a doubt our favorite music of the evening, bar none, has been Crazy Utahraptor,, by joey comeau and gilyan merry, made as fan art for one of my long time favorite comics, Daily Dinosaur Comics. My sister's been dancing to the phat rhythm, and calling people "Crazy Utahraptors" all day now. Which is joy.

Secondly, we've had our traditional Christmas Eve nosh -- meats and cheeses and fruits and crackers and the like -- and are now about to sit down to hot cocoa and lemon, orange and ginger wafers. Or, as the British would call them... biscuits.

That's right. We're having tasty, tasty biscuits.

Merry Christmas, everyone.

December 23, 2004

Christmas in Maine: 51ƒ and pouring rain.

Hi all from Maine, where I -- still sick, but on vacation at least -- have settled in with my family. They all say hello, and wonder why exactly you guys read this thing.

We were discussing Websnark, and I mentioned the Sestina that I did for Narbonic. This made my father, the Professor, quite happy. My mother blinked, and said "oh, you wrote a Sestina? So did I!"

I blinked in answer -- we're a blinking kind of family, and said "really? Was it about Gerbils?"

"No," she said. "But Isadora Duncan was in it." And she and Dad disappeared into the basement. They returned after a few moments with a tan magazine, The Maze, from 1974. And she showed me her Sestina.

My own Sestina I thought was higher level because I didn't just do the end-line things -- I also made it Iambic Pentameter. My mother didn't just do a Sestina, and do it in Iambic Pentameter... she made it rhyme.

With her permission... here is my mother's Sestina:

SESTINA

to decadence

Here! Stop a bit and watch our play;
And wait now for the perfect chance
To join the game. this is the day
We've planned to start our ritual dance.
So don't hang back, Ducks; What pleasure
To move within this tidy measure.

No doubt you could stand a measure
Of bubbly, or some such, to play
Your part with wild abandon: Pleasure
Often needs some help lest the chance
For spontaneity be lost. Dance
And draft, then, will create the day.

Still shy? Hesitate and the day
Is lost. Now's the time to measure
Your worth, the time to prove through dance
The stuff you're made of. If you play
The innocent here, Lady Chance
Must think you need no pleasure.

And now, my friend, it is my pleasure
To present the cast: Lil Here (Day-
Light is her bane) devours the chance
For youthful pranks by dark. Full measure
For our Dennis, there; he'll play
If the cup o'erflows throughout the dance.

This is Dora; her ; her frenzied dance
Has cast its spell on pleasure
Seekers of every sphere. Her play-
Mate here, Dear Aubrey, spends his day
In elfin merriment. Measure
Well his effects. Leave none to chance.

The rest you see did merely chance
To pass this way, saw how the dance
Progressed, and fell within the measure
As though entranced. Life's sweet pleasureń
Principle we claim; and no day
Of reckoning shall menace our play.

So, will you play? Hey grab the chance
This judgment day; for in our dance
Macabre, pleasure eludes measure.

--Dian Burns, 1974


Dora refers to Isadora Duncan, Lil to Lilith of Hebrew myth (she wrote a Sestina and included Lilith -- we're bonding on so many levels tonight. And no, my mother's not a Goth), and Aubrey is Aubrey Beardsley. She doesn't remember who "Dennis" is, though he sounds like a musician who drinks. Anyone who has a theory as to Dennis's identity (Wednesday -- I'm looking at you) feel free to chime in. It would likely be someone from the turn of the 20th century. It could possibly be John Dennis, but he doesn't fit the time period) feel free to chime in.

I just think I have the coolest mother on Earth.

Also, Kim's got the best facial expressions in the strip, for my money.

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized working the angles!)

I look forward each year to the week long "Old Familiar Faces" series in Something Positive, where we get caught up with formerly major characters who've rotated out of the limelight. There's usually a touch of Eva (who seems to have reverted back to being a victim -- either her boyfriend, who didn't seem like a douche when first we saw him, has undergone a vinegar and water sea change, or Eva either has pushed him into distancing himself or is just overreacting to what actually is a legitimate business trip), and some other folks. I'm hoping to see some T-Bob (and maybe some Jesus Mickey) before the end of it.

But I had to remark on the return of Kim, who's always been one of my favorite characters. She mentions she has one semester left, which could potentially lead to a return to the regular cast. (A return I for one would like to see.) Kim brings a somewhat more sophisticated sense of dark humor, in my opinion -- she's as dedicated as Aubrey and Peejee to chaos and suffering, but she's far more subtle in her execution of it.)

And more to the point, the strip is hysterical. Especially because it touches on one of the things I hate most about the Pagan community (a community I tend to be sympathetic to, I would add): the treatment of Christmas as an affront needing to be counterattacked, in a way that's honesty funny and darkly cynical. I appreciate that.

I should mention, I'm not a Christian. I'm what I consider a spiritual agnostic (I think there is more to this world than the eye can see, but I don't know the shape and form of what that is) who honestly respects Faith and has no time for intolerance. That's good for my good Liberal cred, but I tend to get in trouble with my peeps when I defend Christians in the same breath I defend Jews, Muslims, Pagans or Atheists. Especially at Christmas.

Dude, it's Christmas. In American society, that's become a thoroughly secular ritual, in a land where we need all the secular rituals we can get. If that secular ritual grew out of a Christian tradition... well, said Christian tradition grew out of pagan traditions too, and besides, who gives a damn? I have no problem singing Silent Night or remarking on Nativity Scenes or listening to the Choir of King's College perform the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. That sets a tone -- a beautiful moment that brings back years and years of happy times with my family. The fact that there are people out there who don't believe in those lessons or in the central thesis of Silent Night, and therefore shouldn't be "subjected" to them, is patently ridiculous to me. That's like trying to ban Johnny Cash music because there are people out there who don't believe in Boys named Sue.

The core of all of this is a sense that we have to be tolerant of other peoples' beliefs. This is something I agree with. I think we should acknowledge and support Chanukah and Kwanzaa, Ramadan and Agnostica alike. I think there is room for the Yule and the Solstice and Kris Kringle at this time of year. The fallacy of the current pravda is the only way we can be tolerant of all of these festivals and religions and beliefs is to acknowledge none of them. No Christmas or Chanukah or Ramadan in public areas or schools, because there might be students who don't believe in these things.

That's not tolerance and that's not separation of Church and State. That's radical intolerance aping the language of the tolerant. That's saying "because All do not believe, we must act as if None do," and that's not only wrong, it's stupid and unAmerican.

During the High Holy Days, I feel we should celebrate what it means to be Jewish in America. During Ramadan, I feel we should celebrate what it means to be Muslim in America. During Christmas, I feel we should celebrate what it means to be Christian in America. And during all these things, I think we should celebrate what it means to be American in America. And that includes the fat man in the red suit who gives things compulsively, as well as the virgin birth and the miracle of the oil in the temple and the seven Nguzu Saba of blackness, in and around this time of the year.

Milholland touches on this obliquely in this strip. He includes the shrill denunciation of Christmas that I've heard from several Pagans (not all, I'd add -- not by a long shot), but makes it clear that the shopkeeper is more interested in provoking fundamentalists into burning her shop to the ground for the insurance money than in the respective symbolisms involved. Milholland, as always, cheerfully goes for the throat here -- he's not attacking Pagans, he's attacking attitudes on both sides of the equation. And I love it. I really do.

Milholland gets yet another biscuit. A tasty, tasty Christmas biscuit, sprinkled with that green sugar that makes you wonder if it's safe to eat.

Totally meaningless statistics.

Since the start, I've written 365,910 words in this thing, not counting this post.

If we still went by the "typewritten page" standard (man, I totally want a USB printer that's actually a Smith Corona manual typewriter that types itself) of 250 words a page, that 1,463 pages, plus a little bit.

There are essayists in American History that are revered and extolled, to the point that Freshmen in College are forced to read them years after the essays are relevant, that didn't write so much as 500 pages in their entire career.

I am not getting paid for this.

Just, you know, for the record.

December 22, 2004

I wonder if someone's marketed plastic Charlie Brown pathetic trees that droop and raise automatically.

(From Blahsville. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Christmas Spirit.)

Hi all.

Still sick. In fact, looking at the screen seems to give me a massive headache. So each one of the letters I type for this post is at a price paid out in pain.

Which might mean that I'm pretty stupid. I mean, why am I even typing in the first place, given that?

Still, Blahsville is back from hand-injury hiatus, and that should be noted to one and all. And it's Christmas, or put near. And if that doesn't deserve a headache or two, I don't know what does.

The "cat-poisoning-me" theory seems to be holding up pretty well. I woke up at one point and saw her sitting on the coffee table next to the couch I was sprawled on, staring at me with obvious contentment. When I reached to pet her, she play bit my hand and sauntered away. Also, I found receipts for various poisons, and the signature was in her handwriting. Explain that, Mister Holmes -- if you can.

For those wondering

For those wondering (I've gotten several nice emails), I've been asleep all day. I'm going back there now.

Night.

Gastrointestinal distress is all the rage in Milan, darling.

Hi all. My local time is 4:40 am, I have significant pain in my intestines, and I have a body temperature of 100.2. Obviously, I'm not feeling at my most chipper.

I've decided that the Shortbread lists will have to start coming out next Monday, and proceed until the end of the week. That will give me a chance to get over this piffling inconvenience and do some serious writing without stress. Oh, and there's some family obligation over the weekend if I remember correctly.

I'm going to go lie down and accuse my cat of poisoning me.

December 21, 2004

A quick picture to whet your appetites for shortbread

As I put together the Shortbread Recipients lists (there are four lists -- Bringing the Funny, Bringing the Story, Bringing the Toolset and Bringing the Other Stuff), I thought you might like to see the artwork Ursula Vernon (of Digger fame) provided for the project. Snarky is without a doubt the best thing to come out of this website, in my humble opinion, and there's always something adorable about chef's hats. Needless to say, I'm thrilled with the picture. (Click on the thumbnail if you want to see it full sized.)

As I said, there are four lists. The first three -- Funny, Story and Toolset -- are then divided into categories. To be a category, there has to be at least six webcomics that come to mind that fit the category. Those six get listed, and then I give the category Shortbread out. At the end of the list, an overall webcomic for the list is picked as well, to give everyone a reason to read to the bottom.

No big deal, right?

Hah. I'm working on Bringing the Funny right now, and there are fourteen categories in it. With six nominees per category, that's eighty-four blurbs to write. Plus fourteen blurbs on the categories themselves, and fourteen blurbs about the winners. And the Overall, of course.

That's for one list.

I'm an idiot. See me roar. I'll try to get it done for today, though.

A double-snark, for you!

(From Timmy Kat! Click on the thumbnail for ordering information and to consign your soul to the inky blackness!)

One of my overall problems in life is ambition. In another window, I'm working on the first of four Shortbread lists. I'm totally insane. And needless to say, it's got my writing time a little bit consumed. At least it's being consumed for all of you, right?

But I need a break, and fortunately I have the perfect thing to Snark! You see, my copy of Timmy Kat came in today.

Timmy Kat is the first comic book from Mel Hynes and James L. Grant, who are best known as the writer and artist of Two Lumps. (Two Lumps is the Keenspace comic that currently heads my "why the fuck isn't this on Keenspot proper? Don't Crosby, Crosby, Bleuel and Stone like money?" list.) Well, there's some of that good old fashioned Two Lumps humor in this... and a nice healthy dose of humor from Grant's other comic, FLEM Comics.

If that doesn't scare you and thrill you all at once, go click on the FLEM link and read the archives straight through. I dare you.

This is a double-snark, however. Not only is this a fast set of impressions on Timmy Kat itself, it's also my inauguration into ComiXpress's wares. ComiXpress, for those who don't know, is the latest project from Logan DeAngelis, webcartoonist of the brilliant (and underappreciated, in my view) KU-2 and impresario of PV Comics. DeAngelis is trying to bring quality Print on Demand comic books to the Indy Comics community, coupling a certain degree of editorial oversight with the POD model.

So, on the one hand, there was no way in Hell I wasn't going to buy this comic. I'm too much of a Two Lumps and FLEM fan not to. On the other hand, this would be a chance to see the actual execution of the ComiXpress experience and see what kind of quality they could produce. In the Critical Community, this is what we call win/win.

Ordering was moderately painless but slightly frustrating. The site was well laid out, though it kind of insisted on me opening an account (which isn't my favorite thing to do when I just want to buy something). It was easy to use, though, and it featured a Paypal option for paying.

I like paying with Paypal. I always have. It's by far my favorite means of giving people money on the Internet. If Amazon.com took Paypal, I'd never go to Barnes and Noble again. So that got props from me. I went through, punched in my password, hit submit, Paypal told me the money was sent, and redirected me to ComiXpress's website to give me a receipt....

And got a page of PHP errors.

Well, shit.

So, being in a technical field, I did what I do in these situations -- I did a copy/paste of all of them and e-mailed them to their technical support. And I got back a response in like three minutes thanking me and letting me know that yes, the Paypal order went through and I'd get my stuff. Logging back in confirmed this. So, while it was scary, and could potentially lead someone to double-order, it wasn't a dealbreaker and the ComiXpress staff were fast to reassure me. And that's a good thing.

They shipped that same day, by Priority Mail, in a nice flat, solid mailer. And it got to me.

Let me finish up the ComiXpress discussion by talking about quality of printing. This is black and white, including the cover (I believe that covers at least can be printed in color over at ComiXpress, but that's not what Hynes and Grant elected to do). It's about the right size for what we think of when we think of comic books, and it's nicely put together. More to the point, my brain thinks "comic book" when I hold it, not "saddle stapled bunch of paper," which is a good sign. It prints to glossy paper for the cover, and then what feels like a seventy pound laser safe paper for the interior. From the reproductive qualities, I assume it's produced on the current generation of Docutech printer/copiers, or a competing brand that does the same thing as the Docutech. There is a little bit of streak in the greys, owing to xerographic instead of offset printing, but that's expected and hardly a dealbreaker.

Yes, I used to work at Kinko's. I own my McPast, damn it.

The interiors are bright and clear, thanks to the paper choice (quality paper really stands out, especially in the greys). The pictures look good, and the text of the introduction and foreward (by R. K. Millholland and Nick Mamatas respectively) is crisp and clean. The text of the story proper has a little bit of jaggedness to it, but that's more an issue with the font (which really wasn't meant for the size it was printed at) than the reproduction.

Suffice it to say, I don't feel badly for spending five bucks on this comic. I sort of expect to drop five bucks on a 36 page comic with minimal advertising (which is confined to the back of the comic and is all in-house for ComiXpress) these days, and I'm not disappointed with the quality.

So, enough of that. You want to know how Timmy Kat is.

The art is beautiful. Two words: Sand Castle. I don't know how Grant has enough life to draw that. The story hits the tone it was going for -- this is written as a children's book (well, in style. Though my nieces might like it. But then, I have exceptional nieces with dark senses of humor), and it comes across exactly right for that. The pacing was excellent, and the story resolved in exactly the way I hoped.

Oh, and Hynes and Grant are total bastards who will come to a horrible end, and I need to spork out my own eyes and wander the streets in a purgatory of my own creation, babbling incoherently but insightfully until the darkness of sweet oblivion claims me at last.

But that's really what I was looking for in their first comic. Needless to say, I am content.

Now, back to these damn Shortbread recipients. Me and my fucking bright ideas.

December 20, 2004

I suppose I could always leave a print of this strip for my parents to find, with "Crate O' Porn" circled. Of course, then they'd make me leave the house until the New Year....

(From Yirmumah. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Holiday Suggestions!)

One of the things I've always liked about Yirmumah is it's willingness to cheerfully go for your fucking throat. Today's... well, yesterday's... okay, by the time most of you read this, Sunday's Yirmumah exemplifies this. It's so happy, even while its subject matter is so vicious. Go ahead! Pick up a few old people and some medical waste for Christmas! Tis the Season, bitch!

Also... I'm not sure why, but seeing Drew in a hat made me a very happy Panda. I've been grooving on the expanded format strips (and the December 12 strip was poignant, which is not a word I often use with Yirmumah), but seeing a floppy hat on Drew just felt right to me. Mad Stylin', yo.

There's probably a psychology paper in the association of credit and food in this blog.

From the very start, I've tried to make a distinction between critiques, which is what I try to do with Websnark, and reviews. It hasn't been easy. Part of the problem is terminology, of course. The technical term for literary and artistic analysis is criticism, which back in the 19th century didn't presume to be positive or negative. Criticism simply was. However, in the 20th century, the word criticism came to mean adverse judgment. It got to the point where they came up with a whole new phrase for criticism that wasn't meant harshly -- "constructive criticism" -- and even there the idea was "here's the stuff you're doing wrong and should change."

But over in the world of literary criticism, "criticism" doesn't mean "here's what they did wrong." It means "here's what they did, decoded and analyzed, and put into perspective." Different critical theories lead to different senses of perspective, of course. A historicist might want to put an author's short story into the perspective of the author's life, or into societal trends of the time, or into the cosm of literary development as it was shown both at that time and into the present. A new critic might want to explore the subtextual perspective, finding connections in the specific story's text and tying them back into each other. A Marxist critic might want to show how the short story highlights societal evolution and class warfare. And so on, and so forth.

A reviewer, on the other hand, wants to judge worth. He might bring all of the above tools and perspectives into play, of course. But in the end, he's rendering a judgment on the piece. "This is good," he says. "This is not good. This sucks berries."

Our word for the analyst mentioned two paragraphs ago? "Critic." Our word for the reviewer mentioned one paragraph ago? "Critic."

C'est la vie. I am a critic. I work at being an analyst, discussing technique and meaning where I can. Often, I am a reviewer, saying "I think this is so fucking cool!" (Or, at the other extreme, "you had me, and you lost me.") Somewhere in between the two aspects of the word "Criticism," you'll find Websnark.com.

Well, reviewers tend to come out with their ten best list, their award shows and the like. And many of them also come out with star ratings or things like that. Well, I don't do "stars" or anything like it. I just give out biscuits to individual strips that really appeal to me, and otherwise I do short essays expressing my thesis and move on.

But, it's the end of a calendar year... and at the end of a calendar year the urge to have the big gala prize events is overpowering. And I am just a man, like any other. I have needs, you know. I'm only human.

So. over the next several days, we're going to have our Websnark Year End Wrapup, where I give some general props to the webcomics that have made me just plain happy to be a webcomics fan. We're going to ape an awards show, in that I'm going to have several nominees in each category, and then announce who gets the nod, but it's all purely my opinion, no one else's, and so you're going to disagree with some of them. Hell, a month after this, I'm going to reread it and think what was I thinking?

Be that as it may. It's my website, and I want to play at being a reviewer for a few days. And it's going to be a Websnark-happy series of events. We're going to go through the old jargon pretty hard. There will be Bringing of Things, there will be Cerebus Syndromes. There will be Funny and Story and Toolsets galore. If you're not a fan of the Lexicon -- and I know there's people out there who aren't -- this is pretty well going to suck for you. Consider that the disclaimer.

The question is... what are we going to call this?

Well, individual daily strips sometimes earn a biscuit -- a tasty, tasty biscuit -- from me.

Strips at the end of the year? They get Shortbread. It's Christmas, after all.

A fast Anacrusis correction

A reader (not Brendan, but someone else) wrote in to let me know that my examination of Anacrusis's archives wasn't quite accurate. I indicated that Anacrusis had been running almost as long as Hitherby Dragons. In fact, Hitherby Dragons unofficially began on 25 September 2003, and officially began on 26 November 2003. Anacrusis, on the other hand, actually started on 18 July 2003, two months before the earliest dated note in Hitherby's archives, and was off and running full out from day one.

The 18 July 2003 entry is called Stephanie, and while it's not as deft as later entries would become, it's still a good read and shows the strength of the 101 word limit right from the start. I wonder if Brendan's found the weblog equivalent of the haiku.

Mm. Hopefully not. 90% of all haikus suck.

Server move is complete! And Thunderbirds are GO!

People have noticed that the commenting, search, and... well, pretty much all automated features of the site have been down for a little while. As I told you not too long ago, they were moving me to a whole new server, chock full of new server goodness and that new server smell that makes you feel so proud to be an American.

I've done the necessary bits of maintenance to acclimate Movable Type to its new home. At this stage, everything should work. Please let me know if you come across something that's still unhappy.

And thanks, all!

Edit: Okay -- Typekey, which is my eternal nemesis, has decided to bitch about the server move. So commenting's still dead. I'll get it running as quickly as possible.

Comments are working. Game on!

Now, if I could just keep these snarks down to 101 words, we'd really have something.

Since having it brought to my attention, I've been thinking quite a bit about Anacrusis. You should know by now that I'm interested in how people use the web (particularly content management software) to work creatively. Sure, most of the time it seems it's webcomics I talk about when I bring it up, but there's a lot to be said for textual experimentation. In particular, there's something fascinating about the short scenework that's being done. I've mentioned Hitherby Dragons before, and I've mentioned Pulp Decameron (which itself is muddling through some unfortunate technical problems, but seems to be producing on schedule regardless).

Well, running almost as long as Hitherby (it's just passed its one year anniversary) is Anacrusis, and there are ways it stands out even in Rebecca Borgstrom's illustrious company. Brendan (I don't have a last name... or first name, if Brendan turns out to be a last name. I mean, how would I know?) writes five entries a week, one each Monday through Friday, and if he's missed any days I can't find them on casual examination.

What makes these entries stand out is their format. He describes them as webcomics without art, and I think there's something to that -- instead of being bound to a four panel a day strip, he holds himself to the absolute constraint of one hundred and one words a day, period. No more, no less. 101. Just like the room where everyone's fear can be found in 1984, though I don't think that's what Brendan has in mind.

The results are profound, in the best sense of that word. There's almost a metrical quality to the work -- as though Brendan were working in a new kind of poetry instead of prose. Many (most?) of the entries have a strong sense of imagery as well, which also reinforces the almost poetic sensibility going on.

And really, that makes sense, if this is a textual webcomic. Poetry and visual art are very closely related, thematically. Both operate in the world of image instead of narration. And Anacrusis steeps itself in that tradition. Here's Friday's entry, "Dresden", as an example. (Please note I reprint this under the terms of Brendan's Creative Commons License, and the reprint is bound by his license, not my own CCL.)

Dresden feels things turn inside out. His vision's broken and he can't walk. He braces himself against the wall and tries to vomit, managing only a mouthful of sour bile. He spits on the ugly carpet; it's the same ochre yellow as the drink AJ handed him at the bar, calling it a Pissguzzler. He smiled. He had green eyes. Dresden wanted to show off, so he slammed it, then another, and not long after he was feeling much too drunk, too heavy, and as he felt the air cool on his sudden legs he wondered what "AJ" actually stood for.


See how the economy of words acts like a crucible, burning away the dross and excess words and leaving an almost pure sense of image? Dresden's nausea is evoked, not implied. The sentences are short -- staccato, almost Hemingwayesque, conveying a sense of mood and scene and making every adjective carry its own weight.

It occurs to me that in my snark on Pulp Decameron's self-described microfiction, I compared that work to poetry as well. Perhaps the paring down to the very basics involves blurring the dividing line between poetry and prose. Looking at Hitherby Dragons, which also works in short fiction and vignette, one sees similar elements -- short, simple sentences, with heavy imagery -- applied with completely different intent. As my father, the English Professor, was fond of saying... there's probably a paper in there somewhere.

I don't mean to pigeonhole Anacrusis. It works within its firm limit very well, and there is a real sense of experimentation. At the same time, it's not experimenting for the sake of experimenting. Brendan is really trying to tell stories, working within his limits but not letting his sense of ambition be limited.

In the end, like he said... it's a webcomic made up of words. I can really see that.

I actually had thought, about a year ago, to reprint my old Superguy stories one post or part at a time, three times a week, using KeenPremium's software -- as though it were a webcomic without a graphic. After all, in the preWeb days, Superguy is what we had for webcomics. But I think Anacrusis gets closer to the idea than our stuff ever would.

In any case, I'm enjoying reading it... and I'm looking forward to reading more.

December 19, 2004

This is getting astoundingly recursive.

(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail, if you're a subscriber, for full COLOR and SIZED Burns Sestina goodness! Or click on the link and see whatever Narbonic is today's, if you're not a subscriber!)

Ordinarily, when Websnark gets referred to in a strip I read and happen to mention over here, I put up a "submitted without comment" note at the beginning, and then proceed to comment in like six parenthetical postscripts. It's like humor, only without the laughter part.

But that's not what's happening with this Narbonic. You see, we're officially entering into a feedback loop here, and that should be appropriately noted.

It all started when I put a snark here on Websnark up for auction. It was for charity. And it was really successful, being won ultimately by Jac Olwyn, whose won Snark will be posted in the new year, at Olwyn's request.

Shaenon Garrity, one of the bidders, said that had she won, she would require me to write a snark in the form of a sestina. Which is a poem where....

...no, I refuse to define a sestina again. Just deal with it.

Anyway, while I wasn't obligated to do the sestina, the idea of it appealed to me. And there's nothing that says I can't do stuff that sounds cool just because Garrity didn't win. So I ramped up the difficulty a bit (because while said sestina would be by definition clever instead of great poetry, when you're showing off you might as well go all the way), and I wrote that puppy.

Shaenon asked for the right to reprint it in Narbonic, which she did today, in the post I referred to. And she also did actual hand colored art for it, which makes me bounce happily. Said art is pretty, said typography is decent, and as for the rest....

...well, the rest is something I wrote, so it's not really up to me to say if it's good or if it sucks. But I enjoyed seeing it, and it seemed only appropriate to get another snark out of this whole thing. Next, we just need a Snarkoleptics post about this post, and then a webcomic's rant post about that post, and so on, and so on....

December 18, 2004

Another snark about Identity Crisis. Because clearly, I am a nerd.

This is going to get into spoiler territory. If I were a better person than I am, I'd rig up some kind of "click here if you want to know how it all comes out" thing for this, but I'm not going to because... well, because. So, if you don't want to know the shock ending and various plot points on Identity Crisis, I'd just stop reading.

Still here? Cool.

It was a lie. It was all a lie. Every bit of it was a lie. The premise of this series, the execution of this series... and most importantly, the stated goal of this series, was based on falsity.

I don't mean the actual in-comics plot points. Those were just there. Gratuitous at times, and deceptive at times, but still. Those are the breaks.

No, it's the metacommentary... the reasons this story was done in the first place. Even the name of this story.

Identity Crisis.

The point was supposed to be "it's wrong and bad for super heroes to reveal their secret identities. If they do, it's their loved ones who suffer." Thus, the murder of Sue Dibny and the willful destruction of one of the rarest of rarities in comic books: an actual, happy marriage between a superhero and a nonsuperhero, with the "normal" half of the marriage an equal partner in the crime fighting adventures. They solved mysteries and bantered and legitimately loved each other and were happy. And Ralph didn't take super heroing that seriously and neither did Sue -- she was an heiress, and they just liked being with each other.

But Ralph didn't have a secret identity, so Sue had to die, because that's what happens, isn't it? That's why secret identities are necessary.

Only... Sue wasn't killed out of revenge. Sue wasn't killed to hurt Ralph or super heroes. Sue wasn't killed by a Super Villain.

Sue was killed by Jean Loring, who apparently went psychotic after the poor performance of Power of the Atom. She was trying to throw a scare into the super heroes, in a bid to win Ray Palmer -- the Atom -- back. It wasn't the criminal fraternity looking for revenge. It was just Jean acting out a bad movie of the week plot.

The whole rape scene? Utterly unrelated to the plot. The Justice League mindwiping Doctor Light and conditioning him to be a buffoon (wow... just like the Squadron Supreme miniseries, only stupider!), and then going on to mindwipe Batman, tarnishing the League and raising the specter of their inappropriateness to use the power they have been given? Irrelevant to the murder mystery. The fact that Ralph and Sue Dibny were publicly known? Irrelevant to Sue's murder. Unless you believe that Ralph should have hidden his identity from the Atom, lest the Atom's wife decide to go walking in Sue's brain.

I didn't put these pieces together, mind. I was trolling the web and came across this post on the "Comics Should Be Good" blog. It was expressing some good old fashioned outrage at the rape of the wife of the fucking Elongated Man as a red herring. I read through the comments afterward, and it gelled for me. It really did.

This is absurd. This is obscene. And the much ballyhooed "darkening of the DC Universe" that will follow this (because Christ knows we need to make mainstream comics less fun these days) is being predicated on an essential lie.

Secrets versus public identities? Had nothing to do with the plot of this story.

You want to fuck around with the cultural mythology of the last sixty years? Go right ahead. But don't lie about it in the metacommentary.

Potential Websnark Technical Issues

So, it's pretty clear that I'm going to break the bandwidth limit for my current account, and so it's time to do the move up to the next level. However, this upgrade means moving to a machine. So, sometime in the next two business days, there's going to be some downtime while the shift takes place. The good people at Pair are handling it, and it should have at most momentary outages as far as being able to see Websnark. However, this might break some of the key functions (like commenting, not that commenting doesn't seem broken to begin with), and might need some repairs on links and the like.

With a little luck it'll be smooth sailing, but if not... well, I warned you, didn't I?

December 17, 2004

On jumping the shark: a fast irrelevant comment

For whatever reason, discussions of the term "Jumping the Shark" are floating around the blogosphere today. Different things are accused of jumping the shark, other essays and comments accuse "jumping the shark" of jumping the shark... it's a chumfest, boyos.

Chum.

It's cut up fish. They use it to bait for sharks.

Look, I'm under medication.

Anyway, I like the term because it does its job. It conveys a concept, quickly and easily. "This is the point where something cool went past its peak and into its decline. This is the point where everyone knows its over." All things jump the shark, eventually.

But I'm thinking back to the Happy Days cliffhanger where the term originated, when the Fonz, to prove how cool he was, learned to water ski and then jumped a shark.

Well... I also remember that it was done cliffhanger style... the Fonz hit the ramp, went into the air, hit his apogee high above the shark holding area... and then the screen froze, with "TO BE CONTINUED" superimposed over it.

I was, like ten years old when that happened. And the thing I clearly remember thinking was "well, duh. He's at the high point of his jump. I saw the first half of it. He's clearly going to make it assuming that a team of Supervillains didn't extend a transparent sheet of glass for him to slam into the way they did in front of the highway Superman and the Flash were racing on, so they could take the place of Our Heroes and fix the ending. Damn villains."

So at ten years old, it wasn't that the concept was lame. As Bobby in Superosity once said, "dude! He jumped a shark. He can do anything he wants!" It was that I had to wait the entire summer to see the back half of a jump that any cretin could see was going to make it, and we had to pretend like there was suspense involved.

Morons.

One note

I'm on cold medication today (I can endure symptoms until they involve bad sinus headaches. I'm a total wuss when it comes to bad sinus headaches), so even though I'm at work and snarking alike, I'm also definitely spacey. So if my word choices or punctuation or spelling or thesis seems... odd, in a snark today... please bear in mind that I'm not entirely sure I'm sapient today.

A very brief snark about Foxtrot.


(From Foxtrot. Click on the thumbnail for full sized "you know, he has a point.")

This is hysterical, because it is true. And somehow my eyes glazed over it in my daily trawl, but a friend name of Dave Weinstein passed this through a different friend, and it made me look at it again.

Once again. This is hysterical, because it is true.

Thank you, and try the chicken.

Seriously, dude. That cat'll cut you.

(From Diesel Sweeties. Click on the thumbnail for full sized cheerful threats of violent retribution!)

One thing I've always liked about Diesel Sweeties is R. Stevens's willingness to mess shit up. He doesn't rest on the premise, even though he also doesn't hugely stray from it. Indy Rock Pete was a hapless virgin for a long while... and then he hooked up with Pale Suzie for a while, and that was different. The humor stayed the same (this strip is the antithesis of the Cerebus Syndrome attempt), but the situations got shuffled. It stayed fresh.

Well, he's messing with the core relationship of the strip now -- Maura, the alcoholic ex porn star and Clango the extremely pleasant robot are in trouble, romantically. Maura got drunk and had sex with Electron Mike (man, who knew there was that much alcohol in the world), and Clango's headed out on his own. He dated Pale Suzie, which led an outraged Maura (outraged under the theory that she "waited until she was drunk to cheat on Clango!" to come deck the cheery goth. Through it all, Red Robot's been egging Clango on cheerfully... it's just fun.

I'm good with whatever happens next. I suspect that Maura and Clango will hook back up (they always seem to, even though Maura's... well, a pretty crap girlfriend. Once Clango's head got separated from his body, and when his batteries ran down and he seemed to die, her response was "huh -- guess I need a new boyfriend"), but if they don't I'm good with that too. There'll still be good stuff following. It's all interesting, it's all fun, it's all funny. Life's good, man.

On Superman, Batman, and Stunt Casting Writers

So, in the brief snark about my lack of snarking, yesterday, I expressed a brief, negative opinion about Identity Crisis. I felt the plot was TV Movie, not Super Hero. I felt it committed cheap thrills instead of real character evolution. And I felt that the story was the last nail in the coffin for the idea of Super Heroes -- of the Justice League -- as something meant for teenagers. This was a story meant for adults, and this was also a story meant to guide the forward evolution of the DC Universe, or whatever we're calling it this week.

And, I referred to the hiring of Brad Meltzer -- author of The Millionaires, Zero Sum, The Tenth Justice and other novels, as well as the creator of Jack and Bobby on television -- to write the series as stunt casting. Take a successful writer in another field -- one with some bearing and relation (The Tenth Justice is a Young Adult book, for example, and Jack and Bobby had science fiction elements to it), hire them to write for the comics and hope that the publicity pulls in new readers.

Well, this wasn't Meltzer's first comic book series (he did a run on Green Arrow that's now been collected into The Archer's Quest), but certainly DC has leveraged his non-comics credentials hard in promoting Identity Crisis. Which irks me at best -- it's like they're trying to convince readers that no, really, it's okay to read this comic. It's not being written by one of those hacks like Peter David or Roger Stern. It's being written by a real writer. One you like!

I despise that. I despised that when Kevin Smith was put on both Daredevil and Green Arrow. I despised that when J. Michael StraczynskiĘtook over on Spider-Man, too. And to be blunt, that annoyance is unfair to the writers.

It honestly is. It's unfair to Smith, who wrote a Green Arrow series with tremendous affection and understanding of who Green Arrow was in the 70's, who he became in the 90's, and who he would have to be in the 21st Century. (I don't know enough about Smith's run on Daredevil to speak to it intelligently.) It's unfair to Straczynski, who's been a journeyman on Spider-Man for years now, who wrote the beautiful Midnight Nation before that (Rising Stars never interested me. I can't tell you why), who writes one of the few comics I've actually bought in the last several years (Supreme Power) -- and who's been let into the lodge officially as of this latest Spider-Man arc, because no one's trashing him mercilessly because he's a Hollywood Writer writing Spider-Man. They're trashing him mercilessly because they can't stand what he's done to the legend of Gwen Stacey and they expected better of him than that.

(I use "they" instead of "we" because I've never been enough of a Spider-Man fan to care about Gwen Stacy. So it just sounds like an interesting story to me, not an affront to Man or God. My point, however, is that it's not Straczynski's background that's fueling the anger -- it's the actual story. Which means he's officially accepted as "Comics Folk" by the community.)

Well, I honestly do believe that Meltzer was put on this incredibly controversial story to drum up even more interest, get some mainstream attention and some publicity... to "hotshot the angle," to use a wrestling reference. I think that's evident from the way DC has handled this.

But this morning, I got an e-mail from someone who knows Meltzer, somewhat. Someone who is good friends with one of Meltzer's best friends, in fact, and who has gotten some inside story. That person didn't disagree with me on my impression of the story (he couldn't in fact speak to the merits of the story, because he hadn't read it), but there was one thing he was absolutely certain of: Brad Meltzer didn't consider this stunt casting. Brad Meltzer loves comics. Brad Meltzer has always loved comics. And Brad Meltzer knows comics, and was excited and enthusiastic to write this -- not as a job, but as a fan.

And thinking back over the story I read... I have to concede that he's right. It shows. There's too many touches... too many details that reveals that Meltzer is deep into this stuff. He knows who Jean Loring is. (Well, he knows her name and role, anyhow.) He knows from Zatanna, and Doctor Light, and Captain Boomerang and the Flash Rogues Gallery.

Going back to The Archer's Quest tells us even more. This was... a travelogue, in effect, of the DC Silver Age. This wasn't a story written by a duffer given the keys to the kingdom because he wrote a few thrillers. This is a comic fan.

The elemental difference between what Kevin Smith has done in comics and what Brad Meltzer has done is Kevin Smith's Green Arrow run was pretty much liked by everyone, so he got a bye. The difference between J. Michael Straczynski and Brad Meltzer is Straczynski put in enough years before the incredibly controversial story that people are now hating Straczynski the way they hate John Byrne. Which in its own, sad way is a compliment.

Well, Brad Meltzer's Identity Crisis was certainly a commercial success, but not a critical one. I'm not the only commentator who was caught between sadness and offense by it, and I'm not the only one who feels it represents bad things for DC ahead. So the real elemental difference between Meltzer, Smith and Straczynski is Meltzer's huge project is seen as an artistic failure instead of a success. It's seen as a mishandling of the characters, a tarnishing of them, not an exalting of them. Certainly, it's how I see it.

And so Meltzer is seen as a novelist and screenwriter who got stuntcast into writing comics and didn't get it. He's seen the way the literary novelists who decide they want to write a science fiction novel, because they think no one's ever really written literary science fiction (because they don't know anything about science fiction other than Buck Rogers and Star Wars), are seen by the SF community -- as a poseur and a hack who doesn't have enough experience with what's been done a thousand times before to not end up looking like an idiot.

And it's unfair to Meltzer. Because clearly, he's got the background, and the love. He's done the research and taken the time to learn. That e-mail I got today made me think long and hard about what I wrote yesterday.

Identity Crisis is a sad moment in comic books. And DC hired Meltzer to do it because they wanted the publicity. Those are both true things, as I see them.

But Brad Meltzer himself is trying. He understands the responsibility. He knows the history. It's not stunt casting to him.

And I shouldn't imply that it is.

December 16, 2004

A pause, because my brain is full and mushy

Hey all. Not much on the snark front today. I'm tired and worn down, in part because it's been a busy week at work (though the students are leaving! Soon, all will be joy!) and in part because I had an excellent, but late night last night.

I and a couple of friends (and fellow Superguy authors, for those playing along at home who read Randy Milholland's news post on Superguy -- though no, he wasn't at dinner with us) did our "friend's Christmas night out" last night, as they're both driving for home tomorrow, and they wanted a day of recovery between the events.

So, we hit the comic book/game store. Which looks different to me now (I look a lot more at the alternatives than I used to, I have to admit). And, while they both negotiated their purchases (which took a while -- I wasn't buying today but they were) I read Identity Crisis. All seven issues. I'm a fast reader.

It... well, it made me sad. I mean, it was something of a complete waste. They hired a writer of thrillers -- stunt casting, except in the writing world -- and it really showed. The "shocking twist ending" was straight out of the last ten minutes of a melodramatic TV movie, right down to the "smiling, calm, insane discussion." Hack work at best, in my not so humble opinion, and utterly out of place in the world of DC Comics. There were also implications throughout that... well, that are meant to tarnish. Specifically meant to tarnish the Justice League, in fact.

And I put it down, and glanced at the comic. Obviously, there was no Comics Code Authority emblem on it. (Is there even a Comics Code Authority any more?) And that's okay....

...but I realized that it was official. The Justice League just isn't for kids at all any more. Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman aren't being written for 12 year olds any more.

Oh, I know. This is a comic book store. This isn't the newsstand. This wasn't meant for the kiddies (though I don't think I saw a Mature Readers label -- though there may have been). But they're simply not even trying any longer -- this is an event meant to span all their titles (certainly every issue of Batman is going to have to deal with this, as is the Flash, the JLA...) and it was clearly intended for people in their twenties and thirties, not their tens, tweens or teens.

And that's sad. I mean, no one needs to sell me on the idea for comic books for grownups. I'm sold. Whether Fantasy or SF or contemporary or real life, alternative or mainstream... I'm good with this concept.

But that doesn't mean giving up comic books for kids in the process. Especially the core Super Heroes -- especially Superman and Batman, Wonder Woman and the Flash... the heroes who create a sense of wonder, who encourage a sense of justice and honor, and who thrill kids with every minute.

It's just sad. But that was just part of the evening. From there, we did some light shopping, then hit dinner at Uno's, where we traded friendly gifts. (My gifts were largely DVD based, and involved the suggestion that perhaps the Murdering of William was in order. Plus a season of South Park). And then we went to see National Treasure at ten to ten.

It was fun. We did some MSTing of the movie (no one was within four rows of us, so we didn't disturb anyone), but there was also a basic element of the clever throughout. I like Clever. And the ending was not what I expected from a Brukheimer movie, and that's a good thing.

And then home, well after 1 in the morning.

So today, I'm tired. I'm stoked, because my cable modem was installed today (yes, my school's T1 is so oversubscribed it's worth it to me to get outside internet access again), but I'm also blunted. And I don't think the snarking is going to come to me today. Well, beyond this bit here.

Peace, all.

December 15, 2004

Cause, then effect.


(From Nukees!. Click on the thumbnail for full sized new media perceptions!)

There is a core reality involved in this absurd joke. In a weird way, it reminds me of Reverse Polish Notation. For those of you who didn't go to college in the 80's (do Engineering calculators still use RPN today?), HP's high end calculators used a different, more efficient method of inputting numbers and getting out results, called Reverse Polish Notation. (No, it wasn't a Polish joke.) In Reverse Polish Notation, you actually input your information the way the calculator processed it, instead of making the calculator convert to it. So, if you wanted to solve for (2+3) x 6, instead of pressing "(" "2" "+" "3" ")" "x" "6" "=" and reading the answer, you'd press "2" "3" "6" "+" "x" with an enter key in between the numbers.

Why do this? I have no Earthly idea. But it makes sense to Engineers, and Engineers make the cars I drive and the electricity I consume in the computers and Tivos they made for me, and launched the satellite that gives my TV. So if Engineers like it, I'm all for it, baby!

My point is, we've adapted our interface to better suit the web and use it more efficiently. There's something terribly counterintuitive about blogs -- we're used to reading the old entries at the top and working our way to the new entries, in traditional media. To have the new entries on the top and scroll down to move back in time seems desperately wrong, when you're first getting used to it. But it makes vastly more sense for the web -- when I update Websnark, why shouldn't the newest entries go to the top of the page -- the bit that appears right in the window when someone shows up to read it. This way, people don't have to scroll to the bottom to see if I've updated or to read something new. It's always presented right where we want it -- at the top.

Well, sooner or later, going back and reading traditionally laid out information's going to seem a little screwy. Almost as screwy as using a standard calculator after you get used to RPN. And so this strip makes me a happy person.

Tasty, 2, Biscuit, Darren Bleuel, x + +

Wiley blinks.


(From Non Sequitur. Click on the thumbnail for full sized hubris!)

Okay, one note before we go any further. Take away any knowledge or perspective of relative situations, change the name of "Scotty" to, say, "Toby," and look at this just as a comic strip.

All set? Cool. Taken in a vacuum, this is actually pretty funny. I think we should mention that -- no matter what agenda or behind the scenes shit is being flung against the walls, this strip will play in Topeka. It Brings the Funny. So Wiley Miller's done his primary job. I think it's important to acknowledge that before we discuss the subtext here.

Okay. The subtext. "Scotty." Scott Kurtz. Get that? Hah hah hah hah hah hah! It's about how the web cartoonists think they're celebrities because they have a lot of people reading their websites.

There's a moment I really love, back when the West Wing was good. President Bartlett is meeting Governor Ritchie, who's the presumptive Republican Nominee running against Bartlett for reelection. Bartlett is in a bad mood because one of his Secret Service detail has just been shot and killed by a petty criminal. They spar for a bit, after Ritchie's oh-so-insightful and sensitive "Crime, jeez. I dunno" when he hears about the murder. And Ritchie makes it clear that he hates Bartlett in a litany of Right Wing catchphrases. "You're what my friends call a superior sumbitch. You're an academic elitist and a snob. You're Hollywood, you're weak, you're liberal, and you can't be trusted."

It was a moment of sheer, unmitigated hubris. Now, no one watching -- I mean, no one watching -- thought Ritchie was going to beat Bartlett's reelection bid. I mean, that's the ball game for the series, and at the time it was a monster hit. But at that moment, the viewing public had a switch click over in their brains. They wanted to see Bartlett come back and wipe the superior smirk off Ritchie's unengaged face. Here he was, inarticulate and insensitive, and he has the gall to call Our Guy weak and elitist and untrustworthy?

And on his way out, Bartlett looks back and says "In the future, if you're wondering, 'Crime, boy, I don't know,' is when I decided to kick your ass." Ritchie looked amused.

And Bartlett proceeded to kick his ass in the election. And we loved it.

As funny as the strip is on its own merits, it's mean spirited and it's ugly and it highlights a sense of close-mindedness. And make no mistake, Wiley Miller is talking about Scott Kurtz, here. He's been very vocal about Kurtz's plan for newspaper inclusion and extremely dismissive about the ability for webcartoonists to make a living or build a following based largely on their online readership.

And it made me stop and think, oddly enough, about Coca Cola and Pepsi.

As long as Pepsi Cola's been taking a shot at the marketplace, they've held "Pepsi Challenges." You know the theory: two cups of soda. The person drinks them both and says which one he likes more. "Gosh," he says. "I preferred the Pepsi!" Cue logo.

You never saw Coca Cola hold those taste tests, or talk it up, or even mention Pepsi. They talk about "The Real Thing," and teaching the world to sing, and polar bears that drink soda. But they don't talk about their competition. They don't have to. They're at the top of the heap. It's the same with McDonald's. Burger King talks a lot about how flame cooked burgers are better than fried, and any number of other invidious comparisons to the golden arches. McDonald's? McDonald's has "I love this place." Burger King isn't in their world.

Of course, Coke did react once to Pepsi. They created "New Coke" to stave off the Pepsi Invasion. Who do you think came out better from that move?

Wiley's at the top of the Syndication ladder. Oh, he's not Lynn Johnston or Cathy Guisewite or Jim Davis or Scott Adams... or Garry Trudeau, Bill Amend, Johnny Hart, Aaron McGruder, Pat Brady... or....

Okay, Wiley's a solid second tier syndication performer. He's certainly doing just fine. He has several collections in print, and that's a sign of success any way you look at it. And if he's not a household name, he's certainly well read on the newspaper page. He's on my daily trawl (the My Comics Page section), so clearly I like his comical drawings and witticisms, and I'm hardly alone.

The point is, Wiley's not a struggling syndicate cartoonist. He's not going anywhere. He's Mainstream.

And when you're in his position, you don't take shots at the people trying to fight their way up. You don't call attention to them at all. You're ahead. You don't need to legitimize your opponents by actually referring to them. When asked about them, you look confused and say "who?"

Wiley blinked today. And if you think Scott Kurtz showed some hubris by announcing his plan... that's nothing compared to the hubris of dismissing the web wholesale publicly. One thing that's incontrovertible is that newspaper circulations (and the newspaper comics page) are on the decline, while the web is still growing, dot com bust or not. If Scott Kurtz gets some traction... if he gets into dozens or hundreds or thousands of newspapers over the next few years... and if his business model continues to feed Kurtz's family and grows... then this strip will be considered a watershed moment. This is when the buggy driver shouted "get a horse!" at the automobilist. And when history of illustration texts are written, this strip will end up reproduced as the point where the newspaper cartoonists began to react to their inevitable decline.

I don't know if Kurtz will succeed or not. I really don't. But someone will succeed. The one thing we can be certain of is things are changing tremendously, and that change can't be stopped.

All I know is this. Up until now, this has been an academic affair for me. Now, it's not. I want to see that smirk wiped off their faces.

In the future, when we all look back to now... this will be the time when the "webbies" decided to kick the syndicates' ass.

December 14, 2004

If this is true, that Snark Auction was desperately overpriced.

According to Froogle, Websnark.com is on sale for $147.50.

I should mention they are in error. I'm always high priced, baby.

You know, that dog is aggressively cute.


(From Freefall. Click on the thumbnail... well, to go to the main site page because for whatever reason they don't create an archive page for the current entry, just for past entries, and I hate pointing people to 404 errors, but with luck I'll remember to backlink this to the actual archive entry at some point. And if not... um... go Giants!)

I haven't mentioned Freefall lately, and that's sad, because Freefall remains rock solid and consistent. It first crossed my radar because it was funny. It stomped all over my radar because it was funny and hard SF. Neither of those have changed.

In a way, that's what we've got with today's strip. Oh sure, there are no rockets, but there's solid computer science and sociology and artificial intelligence theory bundled in behind the scenes in this strip and the strips preceding it. Winston was delayed in heading out to his date with Florence when his dust mop with legs dog Beekay ran out into the mud. He wanted to call her and let her know he'd be late, but he forgot her last name. (I've had that problem myself. But then, I'm a jerk.) He asked for the database to find a Bowman's Wolf named Florence, but ran into "non-discrimination code." And that set up today's joke.

And the thing is, I can totally see an artificial intelligence doing this -- mostly because I can see a human operator doing this. The rules for things like privacy are meant to protect us, not hinder us, and an AI for a communications system would be designed to be helpful. So, while it can't come out and say "okay, here's Florence, the Bowman's Wolf," it can helpfully suggest searches that will give Winston what he wants without breaking the rules. Only Winston's annoyed because he can't do the direct search he wants.

I know, I'm overexplaining the joke. My point is, I can see this exact situation taking place, in this exact way. It makes sense to me. And it's also funny.

And that is why I like Freefall so much. It's not just that it's got good jokes. It's that it's got good jokes that have a solid foundation underneath.

December 13, 2004

Oh, a challenge....

(From Narbonic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized taking over of the world if you've paid the subscription fee, or click on the link for today's comic if you haven't.)

So, Shaenon Garrity was one of the bidders bidding on the Websnark Auction. And she was unhappy because it was an early morning end time and she got outbid while demon sleep took her. And she mentioned that, because she is evil, she would have let me snark on any subject, so long as it was in the form of a sestina.

Which, for those of you who don't know, is a six six-line stanza poem without metrical constraint but which requires that the lines of each stanza end with the same set of words in a very particular order, ending with a triplet that has to contain all six words again. Wikipedia's definition of the form is here, for those who want a clearer definition and to learn more.

Requiring me to do that would be evil. I'm glad I don't have to do it. I mean, I don't have to. She didn't win the auction. I don't. Have. To write a snark in the form of a sestina. Period. I sure as Hell don't have to make it even harder by conforming more or less to iambic pentameter in the stanzas before the triplet (with a few amphibrachs here and there and at least one dactyl thrown in), using the key words science, woman, gerbil, Dave, cute and mad.

I mean, that would be crazy.

If I even tried to do that....

...why, they'd call me mad. Mad! Mad I say!

On the Snarking of Today's Narbonic

We come once more to Helen Narbon's science
Backfiring 'pon both her and loyal Dave,
When Artie, thought to be a sane gerbil
Of intellect and wisdom -- not overtly mad --
Declares that he and his are not so cute
By embarking on usurping man and woman.

Now Helen is a most compassionate woman
(Though dedicated first to twisted science!)
And though she might find little Artie cute
She always thought the same about old Dave
(And when he died she didn't seem that mad)
Which makes me think Artie is one dead gerbil.

Still, Ms. Narbon does appreciate her gerbil
And Artie knows the way to survive the woman
Who created him (by means that some call mad!)
Is her appreciating triumphant science
In this mad course -- unlike (perhaps) Dave
Who won't find gerbil masters all that cute

I find this situation very cute
because I've always liked the smart gerbil
(who counterpoints quite well with cynic Dave
Violent Mell and the somewhat flighty woman
who crafted him upon the lathe of science)
and speaks with quiet voice that's not so mad.

And can we call young Artie's plan so mad
Simply because the gerbil is so cute?
We know that Artie understands (mad) science
And wouldn't you prefer an honest gerbil
leading you, instead of, say, a woman
like President Mell, who we know once met Dave?

But this is not a plot about some time-lost Dave
striving to return home and not go mad.
No, Dave is distracted with his new woman
Who he so wants to meet and hopes is cute
So I don't think he'll care about the gerbil--
never dreaming that Lovelace is also mad science.

So, given the crises of personality implicit in Helen's panel,
Dave's new cybernetic woman, and Artie the gerbil's mad plan,
We can be sure that in Narbonic, science will remain both funny, and cute.

We have a WINNAH!

Wow.

After five days of auctioning, we have a winner in our first ever custom snark Websnark Charity Auction. That winner is Jac Olwyn of the United Kingdom, who bid an astounding $255.00 to beat out Shaenon Garrity of the USA's West Coast in an auctioneering duel to the death.

Olwyn's already made the Paypal transfer, and I'm turning that transfer around and sending it to Child's Play. So, all Olwyn needs to do is e-mail what custom Snark topic I'm going to be producing, and I'll set myself to whatever research needs to be done to do that topic justice. It should be sent to the Websnark address over at gmail.com, or alternately to the same address used by Paypal to complete the transaction.

Thank you... and thank you everyone. This is going to help out Child's Play a lot... and is an incredibly good feeling to boot. You all deserve to feel a bit of this pleasure... and if you want to feel more, hit Child's Play and donate some cash. It's fun and fulfilling, and who wouldn't want something fun and fulfilling in their life?

December 12, 2004

I'm not just saying this because I'm a proud Mac user either. Well, not completely, anyhow.

pvpbrentsnark.pngFrom PvP.

Every so often, I'm struck with the levels of characterization that Scott Kurtz brings to PvP. You've heard me on these thing before, both in terms of Jade Fontaine vs. Miranda Fontaine as characters and the infamous Max Powers snark. There's usually more than meets the eye going on in PvP, and that's pretty damn cool.

Well, there's something that's been bubbling under the surface in my mind, when I read PvP. Specifically, in what I think's going on with the character of Brent Sienna. Something I couldn't really name or quantify. But the Unsinkable Wednesday White figured a good chunk of it out, and in a post to Snarkoleptics she explained her own frustration. And that post absolutely crystallized my thoughts. I reproduce it here (with her permission):

I'm totally feeling for Brent in PvP at the moment. It's not even been a week since he got dragged out to Blade: Trinity, and already someone else is ragging on him for being critical.

For god's sake, maybe he doesn't like popcorn movies. Maybe the only way he can stand to watch stuff like CSI is to make running commentary (and what's snide about making what sounds like a reasonable point? I'm not familiar with the show, but if that's what they do, then... what's the problem? Sheesh).

I realize the other staff must find Brent's preferences somewhat grating, and I know he can be a bit of a git, but do they honestly believe he'll change his tastes and reactions on a dime to make them happy? Does Cole seriously think Brent can make himself enjoy something because he's told to? (My partner points out, incidentally, that, since Cole is evil, of course he'd do that.)

God, it ticks me off when people do that. I don't see Jade or Cole or anyone else bothering to see "some art-house film" with him. I'd have paid money for Brent to turn round and say, "just for once, could you stop worrying about my attitude and let me enjoy what I want to enjoy?"


I read that, and it hit me. "Holy crap... she's right. Brent's friends are being total bastards to him, pretty much all of the time."

Now, don't get me wrong. Brent is a pretentious git. He really is. And he can be as selfish and self serving as everyone else at Player vs. Player Magazine. (PvP -- where we're all a pack of self-interested jerks. Well, except for Skull. He's a nice guy.) And that's fine -- that's a big part of the Funny in PvP, and Scott Kurtz is absolutely great at Bringing the Funny.

But as self-absorbed as Brent is... there's a lot of ways that his friends are vastly worse to him than he is to them.

Take Cole. Cole absolutely delights in trying to make Brent do things Brent doesn't like to do, because Cole likes to do them and is in charge. He makes Brent (and the rest of PvP) have a Thanksgiving Dinner in the office (finally luring them into it by promising violence and danger). He gives Skull's Thanksgiving With Brent the force of Office Law each year, even though Brent actively doesn't want to have to take Skull every year. He forces Brent to try and get in the Christmas Spirit, when Brent doesn't believe in it and doesn't like it -- and clearly he's enjoying Brent's pain in the process more than he really wants Brent's heart to melt.

Heck, when Brent finally finds a game both he and Jade like to play, Cole jumps in with teasing him as mercilessly as Francis does. Now Francis is a kid. You expect that from him. But you'd expect better from Cole, wouldn't you? Brent doesn't, of course -- all that turned out was Brent was right in not wanting to tell his friends about the virtual date.

By the way, take down notes on that whole Christmas Spirit thing, will you? We'll be coming back to it.

Jade, on the other hand, has demanded vastly more from this relationship than she's given. This goes back to the year long epic storyline of Jade and Brent having broken up. What was Jade's primary complaint about Brent? She was annoyed at him because he wanted too much of her time. What was Brent's complaint? Jade was spending all of her time playing Everquest and gaming on their vacation to Vegas, then getting unreasonably jealous when Brent was kissed on the cheek by another Everquest widow. This is absolutely crucial to understanding the entire breakup of Jade and Brent -- Jade was entirely at fault. Brent might have been sarcastic and annoyed, but for Christ's sake, his girlfriend had chosen chatting with her guild over spending time with Brent on vacation. Frankly, he should have let her stay dumped.

But not only didn't he... and not only didn't he ever get an apology from Jade for what she did... and not only didn't he ever demand that she not see others (including Max Powers, when he took her out dancing)... but he started playing Everquest himself -- a game he hated, on a computer he hated -- entirely so he could build up to a hopelessly romantic moment with her in Vegas. That's right. He sacrificed to put them back together. Jade didn't. And though I believe she does love him -- and was about to walk away from her online boyfriend when she realized she did love Brent (though of course, it was Brent) -- she didn't have to truly sacrifice or apologize to get him back.

This carries through in the recent "online date" strip, by the way. Brent's avatar gives Jade a flower, because he loves her and because... well, I think that's the appeal of these things for Brent, when he does play them. He's a romantic. (Heck, even when he burnt her apartment to the ground, it was entirely to do something romantic and nice for Jade. When Jade did the exact same thing -- a romantic homecooked dinner -- it was to break the news to him that she'd installed Everquest 2 and he'd better get used to not seeing very much of her. How sweet.) Jade accepted the flower... and immediately started crafting it. Because that's what you do with flowers in online RPGs. It's a good thing she's willing to dress up as a bikini elf, because there has to be something keeping Brent coming back.

Brent's relationship with Skull is the cornerstone of Brent's own assholishness. He treats Skull terribly, and no one can claim otherwise. Hell, after he got foisted with Skull for yet another Thanksgiving (and for Christ's sake, why didn't Jade volunteer if she didn't mind Skull coming over for dinner, rather than forcing Brent to be something he doesn't want to be), he kenneled Skull. But when push comes to shove, Brent's the best friend Skull has. Look at last year's "let's give Brent the holiday spirit" campaign by Cole. Francis took in a free cat to try and inspire Brent, then was ready to dump the cat when it didn't work. (Jade just tried to get Brent horny to get the cash prize Cole was giving out, and Cole flat out admitted he just liked making Brent uncomfortable -- merry Christmas to you too, jerk.) But when Cole refused to pony up the money for the cat brought in because of Francis trying to win his stupid prize, and Skull's heart was breaking... who gave up the prize money so Skull could keep Scratch Fury?

That's right, Brent. That hug he gave Skull in the elevator, years back, really speaks volumes.

So I'm with Wednesday. If Brent doesn't want to get in the holiday spirit... leave him alone. He's not asking you to give him presents and then refusing to give them to you, is he? And before you sniff at Brent for not liking cheap popcorn movies (I've seen Blade: Trinity, and while I had a good enough time I could see Brent absolutely hating it) even though he's always happy to go along to blockbusters with you, why not go to a few god damn art films with him? And Jade? If you don't want him snarking (okay, I couldn't resist) during CSI, don't watch it with him, okay?

Of course, they won't stop trying to change Brent, and won't stop poking him with various sticks to make him react. And of course, we don't want them to stop trying to change Brent -- because... well, because this is funny, and conflict in a comic strip is a good thing.

But I appreciate that the joke is actually on two levels -- the surface joke of poking the pretentious git with a stick... and the deeper joke that Brent Sienna is generally a better person than the rest of these bastards.

Scott Kurtz does this stuff well.

Sixteen Hours left in the Websnark Auction for Child's Play

The eBay auction ends in sixteen hours, at 8 am Eastern Standard Time tomorrow morning. Now, it's been a phenomenal success (we're at $172.50 as of this writing!) but, since it's for such a good charity (remember -- Child's Play for more information), if you've got money to spare and any inclination to spend it on kids, feel free to do so by bidding. Or, just hit Child's Play itself and donate money there.

In the end, we're going to do some good things for Children's hospitals. And that's a good thing, any way you look at it.

Thanks, everyone!

Rememberances and Evolution, or Eric goes all Emo on you.

(From Queen of Wands. Click on the thumbnail for full sized bittersweet lullabies!)

When I was twenty years old, I moved from the Greater Metropolitan Boston Area (technically Brighton, though where Brighton, Brookline, Boston and Newton began and ended, I couldn't tell you on a bet, and neither could anyone else I knew) to Ithaca, New York. I did so because I felt like Boston wasn't leading me anywhere, and because I was in love.

Ithaca stands out in my memory as the happiest time in my adult life. Oh, I was dirt poor, working as a temp, rarely breaking ten thousand a year in salary and always living on the far edge. Circumstances weren't ideal between my girlfriend and I (a subject for another story sometime, though it wasn't that she wasn't cool -- she was. And I was... well, me. So if you think I'm cool I guess I was then too), but I was happy, mostly. I roomed with my best friend, Frank, who remains my best friend today. I love the feel of Ithaca, which by virtue of its two full sized four year colleges (Ithaca College and the majestic Cornell University) had almost all the cultural amenities you'd find in a much larger city, while maintaining a certain townish appeal. There was live jazz often played. There was theater. There were mass market movies and two art movie places. There were stores of all kinds, and bars of all kinds, and good pizza made by Greeks, and Blues bands, and the coolest two bars I've ever had the privilege to vomit near -- the Chapterhouse Brewpub, which at the time brewed its own beers and served them in pints, half yards and yards, and the Rongovian Embassy to the United States, which had a bigger beer selection than I've ever seen and the best live music. My official twenty-first birthday party -- which took place some weeks after my actual birthday, and which a number of my Boston friends came up for as well -- was at the Rongo. I still owe about two pitchers' worth of beer in drinks for a Quarters game I disastrously, gloriously lost.

Most of all, I loved Ithaca. And I loved it because I loved my friends -- the ones who lived there and the ones who lived in nearby(ish) Syracuse. Karen, Frank, John, John, Kevin, Becki, Rebecca (two different people), Nin, Christie, Suzanne... all the folks up at the Sterling Renaissance Festival, all the folks at Collegetown Bagels and Ragmann's and the late, lamented Other Side, all the folks at Borealis Books (which has fallen on hard times, I'm sad to say)....

It was wonderful. And it couldn't last. It was a bubble in my life -- my early twenties, when I felt romantic and exciting and immortal, when there were little rules and less money.

Things began to change, of course. Frank and Becki got married and moved on. I went away for a year to finish up my degree and try to shake the logyness out of my life. I got involved with a different girl who didn't end up being that good for me... and ultimately I knew I was spinning my wheels. The world I loved was in the past, and I had to do something to move into the future.

So, I headed West, to Seattle. Which was a fantastic move for me in so many ways....

But there were some months between my decision to go and my actual leaving. And there was the realization that what I most loved about Ithaca were the friends there who I loved... and they would continue to grow and evolve without me. And that they would be all right even when I was gone.

This Queen of Wands is beautifully done. All the things I praise Aeire for are here -- the creative use of text, the lightning path, the fact that she still draws dynamic motion in each panel... and the song lyrics floating along the path unifies and makes it all more immediate. This is a beautiful strip.

And Kestrel's tears in the last panel strike me hard, because this is the very definition of bittersweet -- the recognition that Shannon and Felix and their baby are going to be all right... that the family Kestrel adopted and the life she loved has evolved and disappeared even if she were going to stay... that she's making the right decision for herself by leaving, and that the world will not end when she's gone. They're going to be all right. It's okay. Kestrel really can go.

That moment really resonates for me. It's been eleven years since the day I experienced that same moment. I sometimes go back and visit Ithaca, and those friends who're still there... and it's truly wonderful to see them. I should move back here, I think to myself. But I'm not likely to -- because I can't move back to my early twenties, and I can't move back to Frank being single and he and I living on Raman and having a blast... or to my ex girlfriend, or to our broken down basement apartment. I'd probably love living in Ithaca again... love spending time with the new friends I have there, and the friends I'd make... and if I won the lottery I'd probably move there.

But it wouldn't be my Ithaca. That's gone, the same as "my" High School stopped existing in 1986 when I graduated, and "my" Boston disappeared when my friends graduated or left Boston University, and "my" college disappeared after I graduated that, and "my" Seattle went away when I moved back east, and so did Dominic, who broke up with Annie....

The places we love are places in our past, shaped by events and people. And when we leave them, they change, and they evolve, and the people move on. And they're generally all right. All the people I love are all right, even though I left.

And that makes me happy and sad, all at once. And Aeire captured that perfectly, and I felt like I should mention that.

Man, now I need to go do something cheerful.

December 11, 2004

Some fast notes on a good day

So it was a day of meetings and festivities. I'm now slightly liquored up, so I'm feeling cheerful back to the home, while my cat lies on my foot and slowly sands it to the bone with a painful tongue of affection. And now I want to give you all a snapshot of a pleasant day.

First off, I had lunch and saw a popcorn movie with a couple of friends from the world of the Internet. We had good sushi. I'm a fan of good sushi. One of these friends, who shall remain nameless to protect the innocent, is also the one official, on the record fan of Unfettered by Talent. That's right. My webcomic... actually has a fan. She used to bug me to start writing it again, in fact.

To me, this tells me that there is in fact an audience out there for anyone, if they try their best. Even if they draw like a retarded vole.

Secondly, we went to see Blade: Trinity. I can say without fear of contradiction that this movie succeeded on every level it actually tried to succeed on. Particularly on the level where Wesley Snipes kicks someone's ass while making it look like he's affecting nonchalance, followed by his adjusting his coat and preening. Also, Jessica Biel is even hotter when she's killing things.

The movie also had the most mind bogglingly gratuitous product placement known to man. Apple better have paid them a lot of money.

(By the way... if your encryption routine causes the computer to explode when it completes... why do you have to encrypt in the first place. I'm pretty sure when your computer's hard drive is in tiny burning fragments, no one's going to be pulling data off it.)

This evening was a work-related Christmas party. I had scotch, one of my coworkers is a new grandfather, and I discovered a true thing I will now impart to all of you: any song that causes a white man in his fifties, while dancing, to throw a spin into his dance, should be outlawed by the Geneva Convention.

And then, as I was walking home... I stopped to look at the Christmas display at the Dentist's next door. Santa on the lawn, some lights... some kind of light in their lobby... no, wait it's a lamp....

...no wait...

...this was the lamp from A Christmas Story. The Very Special Prize.

I am so getting a teeth cleaning there.

Settling down to Justice League Unlimited. More later.

He calls it Microfiction...

...but Pulp Decameron kind of defies easy definition. There's elements of the hitherby about some entries, while others approach prose poem. In any case, this project -- one hundred microfictions playing off of ten classic pulp genres -- has been interesting and intriguing, and Snowspinner (I have no other name for him) has been diligent in producing.

Well, today's entry -- I am Ready to Serve my Country -- is my favorite so far. It's light, it's funny, and it's creepy all at once. It also highlights the chameleon nature of the work. Yes, it's short and pulpy, but it could just as easily be poetry. Taking his Creative Commons License at face value (and making sure I both credit him and release the work under the same conditions, so check the link to see how this particular post varies from my normal Creative Commons license), we have the following:

I have mastered the art of surveillance.

For the past four years
I have meticulously watched
The same woman
Through my telescope.

I know every bra and pair of panties that she owns.
I can describe, to the millimeter,
The location of every blemish on her body.
I have also learned endurance.
I went the entirety of last March without touching myself as I watched her.

My language skills are admittedly below
What you typically ask for in your operatives.
However, I am a fast learner.
In the event of interstellar war,
I am prepared to speak Klingon.

In desperate situations,
I have learned that I can kill another man.
A month ago I went out and found a homeless man.
I lured him to the railroad tracks and garroted him.
The police have yet to name a suspect.
I am confident that they never will.
The experience was exhilarating,
But not so exhilarating.
I would not consider myself a psychopath.
I am confident
I can keep my random murders down--
Once a month
With minimal effort.

My resume is attached.


See what I mean? (Though for brevity's sake, I cut the paragraph on Final Jeopardy.) Go read the original, and the all the rest. They won't take long, but they convey lots of flavor for the size.

December 10, 2004

A brief electronic discussion on City of Heroes

Chris Meadows 02:16: I'm amused that the Kheldian level bump on the City of Heroes test server has been made "permanent". Leading to a request from someone to wipe all the Kheldians after update 3 goes live, for the benefit of the people who use test as their main server.
Eric Burns 02:16: Wait. Things are unstable. Events and inventories get wiped out regularly. Powers vary from moment to moment. There are terrible crashes. Who in their right mind would *want* to use the test server as their main server?
Jesse Taylor 02:17: DC Comics fans.

An update on the Websnark Charity Auction

So, when I told you all I was putting a Snark up for Charity to benefit Child's Play, I honestly thought I could end up looking really stupid. "What if no one bids on this at all," I thought. "Won't you be embarrassed?"

Well, sure, I decided. But what the heck. It was for a good cause and it seemed likely someone would bid... and it might even get up to twenty or thirty bucks, and wouldn't that be nice.

Shows what I know. As of this writing, with roughly two days and twenty one hours remaining, we're up to $147.50 for Child's Play. I have some suspicions of some of the folks who have bid... and I'm honestly kind of stunned.

I've also had a number of people say "boy, I'd love to bid, but it's gone way out of my price range" to me. Which I can understand. I mean... a hundred and fifty bucks? While I heartily encourage anyone who wants to bid that to do so, I can fully understand not bidding that. But it seems to me we should do more of these.

No, I'm not looking to do one where I get the money. That would be hubris. But there's a lot of charities out there, and a lot of them could use our support. Maybe one of these a month would make sense -- say, do one in January for the Cartoon Art Museum....

I wonder if I should do a second Child's Play auction now, too -- I mean, sick children and all -- but would that perhaps make the people who've bid on the current auction unhappy? I'm not sure. In any case, I'm thrilled. Thank you all.

One friend, amused by this, said "hey, Eric. You've promised a thousand words -- at least -- on any moderately safe for work topic, right?"

"Yeah?" I answered.

"Well... that's four standard typewritten pages," he said.

"How 'standard' is a typewritten page in today's world?" I asked. "When's the last time you saw someone typewrite a page of text."

"Shut up," he answered. "My point is... what's to stop some kid from bidding, winning this auction, and telling you to 'snark' on the subject of his history or English paper?"

I thought for a moment, then checked the bidding, which was at $122 at the time. "For a hundred and twenty two dollars to charity?" I asked. "The fucker's getting an A."

Words to live by, old chums.

And please. If this has gone way out of your price range, head over to Child's Play and donate. This is for sick kids. You can't get more Christmas Spirit than that.

Of course, Schultz would have had the lettering of the letter much scratchier. But Penguin may simply be precise.


(From Todd and Penguin. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Not Crazy Letter!)

I got paged into work last night, and was there until tennish. I had to be back in this morning for six am, which is where I am now, waiting for the results of a network engineer's tearing through the network with an array of powerful diagnostic tools. I also am drinking coffee like a madman. However, by 1 in the afternoon, I expect to pass out onto the floor. Just, you know, for the record.

Fortunately, there is Todd and Penguin.

This is not the newest joke in the world. But then, they don't have to be. I'm not a member of the cult of "always original, all of the time." Most comedic (and essentially all dramatic) situations are variations on some theme that has come before. The big question is, "does this make you smile."

In particular, this joke reminds me of Peanuts. Charlie Brown or Lucy could be the cat, and Penguin would be Linus or Sally. The joke then could proceed almost completely as written, and be satisfying. As it is satisfying here.

I'm not saying David Wright stole this. He didn't. I'm saying it's a well worn, but perfectly serviceable joke which he has used well. And to be honest, anyone who does a comical strip that makes me think of Charles Schultz and smile is doing something very right.

December 09, 2004

Because I don't want today to just be rants about beloved icons of cartooning, here's some happy Sluggy stuff.

(From Sluggy Freelance. Click on the thumbnail for full sized tears in the darkness.)

People ask me why I say Sluggy pulled off the Cerebus Syndrome that so many have failed. That Which Redeems, though it dragged on a bit (as many major Sluggy plotlines do), highlights it well. On the one hand, we have death, and pain, and redemption. On the other, we have Mister Serving Tray and Goddesses in the bathroom. (And the Tarot. The hysterical Tarot.)

And then we have today's strip. We have ZoÎ's profound, unmitigated joy and relief at Torg coming home... we have Torg's emotional reaction. We have ZoÎ sensing it, and adapting to it, comforting and welcoming.

And, though it's not as clear from the art as it could be, as the title says, we have Tears in the Darkness.

A successful Cerebus Syndrome comic can go from Mister Serving Tray one day, to Tears in the Darkness the next, and then back again, and lose nothing. It is depth with purpose, Story with Funny. It maintains its own sense of premise and self even as it explores new dimensions. And it never feels cheapened, like it didn't have the goods, like it ran out of jokes so now they're getting gunned down in the streets.

Today was nice, and poignant. Tomorrow may be as well, or it might have me giggling. Either way, it still feels right.

That's what a Cerebus Syndrome feels like when it's pulled off. And that's why so many people try to pull it off.

Sacred hamburger: the role of our heroes in the decline of the newspaper comics page

I'm in a bad mood today. I have a bad headache, I've been fighting technology and politics and idiocy at work, the weather is miserable and icy (it's never fun to plunge to the ground), there are money issues and Christmas issues and technology issues and people calling me to troubleshoot things they bought themselves, didn't jury through our department, and now can't get to work because they're wrong and somehow this is my fault.

Bad. Mood. Everyone got that? Good.

So, it's the right mood to finally write about something that's been bugging me for as long as I've been following syndicated comic strips with some degree of understanding.

We all know the syndicates. King Features. Universal Press. The Washington Post Writer's Group. Et cetera ad nauseam. And we know the continual cry about them. "They're hidebound! They're too conservative! They restrict artistic freedom! They shaft the artists they're working for! They want to make art into nothing more than a commodity! They exalt the bland and restrain the daring! They won't fucking cancel Cathy and Garfield, and they aren't funny!"

All that is true, and all that is a lie.

I'm not a fan of the syndication system. I think it's a relic of a different era, and I think that era has ended. I think we're moving into a new era, not just in newspapers but in all media, where art can flourish and grow and extend without needing the gatekeepers we once did. Distribution is getting too simple. Print on demand is getting increasingly economic. Micropayments are getting closer to reality. The world is changing, and the syndicates are trying to change while holding onto their turf, and that's causing trouble.

But quite honestly, I don't blame the syndicates for what's happening to the newspaper page. I don't blame them at all. I think that, when you consider they're a business making business decisions, the situation we've found ourselves in was inevitable. And I know one of the major reasons it happened, and I know the people responsible.

And their names are Breathed, Watterson, and Larson.

Let's pause for a moment, and give people a chance to blink, reread that, and begin to get mad. While we do that, let's also puncture a myth. It's felt by many -- especially cartoonists who have been rejected by the syndicates -- that the funny pages have no room for controversy, for violence, for sex, or for honest humor in today's world. To those people, it's all Garfield, Beetle Bailey, The Wizard of Id, Peanuts reruns, Nancy and fucking Cathy. The damn Syndicates won't let any real humor or art or controversy on the page any more.

Bullshit.

There are strips with rampant gunplay and death, violence, terrorism, buckets of sex, racism, sexism, gays and lesbians, political and cultural commentary and bellylaughs, all to be found. There's Mister Boffo and The Fusco Brothers and Doonesbury and The Boondocks and Zippy the Pinhead and motherfucking Annie and Dick Tracy and Non Sequitur and Overboard and all the rest. The Syndicates aren't afraid of quality, or humor, or controversy. That's not what this is about. That's not what the problem is.

Comic strips, since at least the twenties, have been chock full of iconic creators. Segar. George Herriman. Chester Gould. Alex Raymond. Chic Young. Al Capp. Charles Schultz. Walt Kelly. Garry Trudeau. And many, many others. These were giants. Their strips were adored. Their presence or absence could make or break a newspaper as competing papers fought for the fickle public.

And the syndicates made a lot of money off of them. They merchandised and published collections and licensed the strips to Hell and back. There were Popeye lamps. There were Blondie movies (I used to watch them afternoons on WLBZ back in Maine -- they weren't bad, for 50's fluff). There were enough pieces of crap with Schmoos on them to fill a collector's basement to the door. And, while the cartoonists weren't particularly happy with the arrangement (I remember an Al Capp penned "Li'l Abner" where a cartoonist has a Syndicate head break his door down in the middle of the night, and demand immediate changes before the next morning, regardless of the public's desire or the cartoonist's desire. "Yessir," the cartoonist said, terrified. "After all, you own the strip. I just created it and have drawn it all my life."

But even that didn't capture the true heart of the problem -- that mythical syndicate head wanted changes in Fearless Fosdick because he didn't like the content, even though the public did. And while that's certainly not unknown in Comic Strip History, it's always been more about the comic strip as product that's driven syndicate decisions. It's not that controversy would offend the editors and publishers -- it's that the public might stop buying newspapers, or newspapers might stop running the strip. It was a business decision.

And honestly, it didn't lead to the collapse of the art form. Peanuts, Pogo, Li'l Abner, Doonesbury and all the rest were still great. There are ways they may even have been better -- unrestrained creativity is unedited creativity, and unedited creativity leads to self indulgence. We all know the pain of seeing some writer or artist we love become "too big to edit" or "too big to direct." It's not that they become bad -- it's that they could be better and they're not.

And so, we get to the eighties. And ultimately, we get to the latest three comic strip superstars. Berkeley Breathed, Bill Watterson, and Gary Larson. And they launched just slightly after a couple of other cartoonists you may have heard of: Jim Davis and Cathy Guisewite. Remember those names -- we will be coming back to them.

Bloom County and The Far Side first appeared in 1980. Calvin and Hobbes first appeared in 1985. It's pretty safe to say these three strips would be the most popular strips of their time. Certainly, they're the three strips mentioned again and again and again by current cartoonists and webcartoonists as seminal influences -- only Peanuts gets as many mentions by the current generation, with a few students of history to round things out.

That wasn't the only thing the three strips had in common, however. Not only were they of an age... they were written and drawn by a pack of troublemakers. Breathed and Watterson were champions of creator control for opposite reasons (Breathed enthusiastically played the merchandising game, and wanted to guide those efforts, while Watterson endlessly fought to keep Calvin and Hobbes from being merchandised in any way) but with similar goals -- both were vocal opponents of shrinking art space for comic strips, and both eventually were able to make demands in that area. Larson was less contentious but the most likely to be censored, according to the published anthologies. (Breathed had more than a few brushes with his editors in that regard, of course.) Larson was clearly most interested in drawing what he wanted to draw -- though he was happy enough to be merchandised. Both Larson and Watterson took long sabbaticals during their strips' runs. Breathed, on the other hand, reached a point where his disputes with his syndicate and with the grind of six strips and a sunday were too much and jumped from the Washington Post Writer's Group to Universal Press Syndicate, a mostly new cast of characters and Sundays only with Outland. (Of course, as WPWG's contracts with Breathed ran out, his characters sidled over from Bloom County to Outland along with.) Watterson demanded and got a concession for more room on Sundays -- half the page would be his, no compromises, if Calvin and Hobbes ran -- and began bringing Herrimanesque layouts and imagination to the page.

Now, let's look at the list of the ways our heroes caused trouble: they demanded rights over their creation and its merchandising. They demanded space and creative control. They demanded their own forms of artistic creativity and integrity. If you think I'm coming out against any of these things, you're nuts. They took a stand and they held firm, and they were popular enough that they got their own way. Sure, the syndicates might not have made all the money they wanted (especially from Calvin and Hobbes), but they were still making more money from these properties than from their others, and they wanted that to continue.

But it didn't continue, did it?

Let's stop and consider the giant comic strips. Peanuts went on decades. As did L'il Abner. Annie and Dick Tracy and Popeye have been in newspapers since the 20's through the 40's. And even second tier strips (comparatively) like Blondie and Beetle Bailey and Hi and Lois and Nancy and all the rest bring in money over a very, very long term -- owned by the syndicates, with new people coming it to replace retirees, they represent investments with tremendous return. The merchandising might not be the bonanza Bloom County or the Far Side represented, but it's there and bringing in money. In short, these strips are all good for business, and more to the point they're good for business over a very, very long time.

Bloom County, Calvin and Hobbes and The Far Side, on the other hand, were excellent for business... but honestly didn't last that long. Especially when one remembers the sabbaticals (where reruns took place -- and Larson's syndicate actually took criticism because they charged the same price for the reruns of the Far Side as they did for new strips) and the jumping from one syndicate to another. By the mid-nineties, they'd all ended. The shift from Bloom County to Outland had slowed the Breathed property merchandising up a lot, so there wasn't much left to continue. The Far Side kept merchandising for a long time, though when they put out their Last Ever Desk Calendar a couple of years back, I remember seeing it and thinking "they're still making those?" instead of being sad. And of course, Calvin and Hobbes doesn't bring in any kind of money except for print collections, and hasn't since the last, memorable strip.

Now, if our three troublemakers -- pushing boundaries, advocating for creative and artistic rights, demanding space and time to recharge, creatively -- had stuck the course... some real positive things could have happened. They could have demanded change across the board, not just for themselves but for all creators. They could have used their clout with the papers for the art form as a whole. Or, at the very least, they could have continued to advocate and draw in readers and inspire new generations of artist. But they didn't. Bloom County went nine years, Outland went five more. Calvin and Hobbes went ten years if we ignore the sabbaticals. The Far Side went the longest at sixteen. Which frankly is nothing compared to most of the strips on the comics page. The old school ethic was if your strip remained popular, you kept doing it. And for that matter, when you retired or died, someone else picked it up for you. (Even Peanuts, which ended when Schultz retired -- though as it worked out he died the day of the last strip's publication -- was a situation where the syndicate announced their decision to run reruns after Schultz's death instead of having someone else pick it up. And if you look at their web site, the copyright notice isn't for Schultz's estate. Instead, it's: PEANUTS © 2004, United Feature Syndicate, Inc.)

So. You have three very very popular but troublesome creators, who captured the public's imagination... but made a lot of demands, and then left comparatively quickly.

Now, let's look at Garfield and Cathy.

Garfield is inoffensive. It's designed to be. Jim Davis didn't develop it out of a sense of art or humor... he developed it as a marketing plan, finding an underrepresented pet -- cats -- on the comics page and developing a strip that would be highly accessible, unchallenging, and appealing to a broad demographic. Which is more or less how he presented it to United Features Syndicate in 1978, and they agreed. He managed to secure an early deal with the syndicate over merchandising, which was very friendly to both Davis (and his "Paws, Inc.") and United Features. And he designed it, very calculatingly, to have broad appeal -- no topical humor, no country or regional based humor, a simple, clean art style, and simple, easily grasped characters. And they have never strayed from this. Garfield is lazy and likes to eat. Jon is unlucky in love and is a dork. Odie drools and is stupid. Nermal is cute and annoying. Also, lasagna.

They have sold millions of copies of dozens of different books -- getting on the New York Times best sellers list several times. They have sold posters and signs and car suction cup things. They got a (pretty damn good) cartoon series and a (no idea if good or bad) movie made. Hell, when I walk down the hall past one of the Foreign Language classrooms, there's a Garfield on the door with his hands extended wide and "I love you thiiiiis much" written under it in Spanish. In fact, Bloom County's Bill the Cat was wholly created to be a parody of Garfield's merchandising and commercial intent. That Bill went on to make Breathed and his syndicate buttloads of merchandising dollars has been lost on no one.

No one who has a webcomic claims to have been inspired by Garfield. But we've all read it. People who've never heard of the Boondocks or even For Better or For Worse know Garfield. And Garfield continues to rake in oodles of cash. It's been successful enough that Davis started a second strip -- U.S. Acres -- and successfully merchandised it, though it wasn't as universal and faded out. And later, he was contracted to do Mister Potatohead for the good people at Hasbro.

Which underscores just what kind of operation Garfield is. It fits perfectly in the syndicate model, because drawn or not, funny or not, it's a commodity. It's content, and it never causes controversy and Davis never demands more space or time off (in fact, he doesn't draw the strip any more). It's a brand. And it sells. Well. And it's not going anywhere.

Move over to Cathy. Who's actually the longest running strip of the five we're profiling here -- it started in 1976. Cathy isn't the marketing bonanza that Garfield is but it's solid in that arena (and has an Emmy award winning cartoon in its past). Now, Cathy Guisewite isn't trying to create a marketing machine, the way Jim Davis was. She truly wanted to be a cartoonist, to draw her semiautobiographical comic strip about the overweight insecure woman and her travails.

(Note to the people who followed the snarks over the last few days. I mentioned wanting to see a female protagonist who wasn't a size six? Hi, this is Cathy. Have you met her? She's insecure about being seen in a bathing suit. No, she's not who I had in mind either when I said that, but if we ignore her, we're doing a disservice to ourselves, to the art form and to our argument.)

Most of all... Cathy has been consistent. Guisewite doesn't cause controversy. She doesn't make waves. She doesn't cause outrage. She just produces, day in and day out. And she's recognizable, instantly. She's a brand. And papers run her happily. She's safe, she's a known quantity, and there's a sense that if they dropped her, there would be letters. They're right, too. I don't know who'd write them, but there would be letters.

Now, there's something that needs to be said here. Jim Davis is, from all reports, a very nice man. Well spoken, cheerful, unashamed, and downright pleasant. And Cathy Guisewite loves cartooning. It's her life. I saw her once on the Tonight Show -- she was clearly nervous, but cheerful... and everything she was asked she related back to the comic strip. She's not ashamed of it. She doesn't think it's mediocre. She's proud of Cathy. She's proud of what she's managed to do as a female cartoonist. She's proud of the inroads she's made and her place in cartoonist history. And who the fuck are we to say she shouldn't be.

But in terms of the art form... almost all webcartoonists, cartoonists and creators of our generation look back to the three rebels -- Larson, Watterson and Breathed -- and want to be like them. They want to take up their causes. They want to make a difference and emancipate the comics page.

But look at this from the syndicates and their point of view. What do you want in your syndicate? The three monster huge strips, two of which had merchandising bonanzas, but with cantankerous creators who punched out after ten or fifteen years... or the solid, dependable strips that don't cause trouble and that keep moving along 25-30 years later, bringing in fees and merchandising dollars all the while?

If you look at the 90's instead of the 80's, there's really only one cartoonist who hit that same "iconic" status as Breathed, Watterson and Larson: Scott Adams. And let's be blunt -- Dilbert owes a Hell of a lot to Garfield. It found a receptive niche -- the disgruntled workplace -- and it leveraged and merchandised the Hell out of that niche. It's settled in for the long haul. It gathers strips from its readers (which is a convenient way to avoid needing those sabbaticals to recharge, isn't it?) and it's allowed the almost surreal, whimsical and anarchic humor of its early days -- Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light; Bob the Dinosaur -- to be wholly replaced with "gosh, managers are stupid boobs, aren't they? Boy, aren't human resources directors evil?" jokes.

Go to the Dilbert website. Check out the bottom: Dilbert © 2004, United Feature Syndicate, Inc. Look familiar?

One of the few people to really challenge the Syndicates from within since the Rebel Heroes left was Frank Cho. And he ultimately left, too constrained by editors and structures. For the most part, whether some of the strips are wild and controversial or not, the comics page is now made up of sound, long term investments. Investments the syndicates are pretty sure will be here thirty years from now. And strips that have already been here for thirty years. Strips where the creators don't cause too much trouble -- they might fight for a plotline, or to reach their own niche. The Boondocks isn't out there to pander, and For Better and For Worse wasn't afraid to out a long standing character as gay or kill the family dog. But Johnston and McGruder aren't exactly demanding half a sunday page to themselves, are they?

No, the Syndicates have learned their lesson. When Scott Kurtz was approached by a syndicate, he wanted to retain rights -- merchandising, online distribution, the comic book deal with Image -- but the syndicate said "no." This was a proven quantity that would work on the funny pages. The syndicate knew it -- this was low risk stuff for them. But they learned their lesson: either they wanted the whole enchilada, or they'd go somewhere else for Mexican. They learned that from Larson, Watterson and Breathed.

So yeah. I give full respect to Calvin and Hobbes, The Far Side and Bloom County. Hell, I fucking revere those strips. I love what they managed to do. I love the artistry of them. I love the humor of them. I think they're signs of brilliance. And I think we're reaping the artistic benefit of their inspiration today. I really do.

But when you look at the newspaper page, and feel like something's missing... remember those fantastic strips that blew into town, made a lot of demands, caused a lot of trouble, and then blew back out of town. This is part of their legacy too. And the sooner we all recognize that, the better our efforts to retake newspaper comics from the safe and marketable will be.

I told you I was in a bad mood.

December 08, 2004

This is the funniest fucking thing I've read in two weeks.

(From Something Positive. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Festival of Lights.)

Chanukkah is one of those interesting traditions in American culture. A relatively minor festival in Jewish Lore, its proximity to Christmas have inflated its importance in popular culture (which is probably for the best -- I think perhaps Yom Kippur greeting cards and Rosh Hashana holiday movies starring Jim Carrey and a nearly nude J-Lo might possibly bring the Messiah down on us. And the Jewish Messiah isn't known for being forgiving). And yet, so many non-Jewish Americans just don't understand the Festival of Lights at all. They don't know what it commemorates, or the miracle of the oil and how it burned for eight days and nights after the Jews rededicated the Temple previously defiled by the Greeks.

Fortunately, Randy Milholland is here to enlighten us, as well as reveal that one of the most popular characters in Something Positive is Jewish! So. Take a moment, click the thumbnail, and steep yourself in the rituals and traditions of all that is Chanukkah. And then come back.

Okay. Are you back?

Milholland's totally getting a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit. I laughed so hard my sinuses almost ruptured.

This is an experiment. And it is for a good cause. Good cause + experiment = some fun!

I have an exultant mantra that my friends have heard me say before. It's my touchstone against the darkness. It's the way I manage to keep some sense of self going in this wild world.

It is this: I'm a writer. I write. For money.

Not a lot of money, mind. But still. Every now and again, I get a piece of paper with my name, and an autograph from a publisher, and the phrase "Pay to the order of" on it. It's incredible. It's validation that can often buy you a Happy Meal. And it means a lot to me.

Well, Websnark isn't paid work, and that's okay with me. I like doing Websnark. I like writing about things. Just because I do write for money doesn't mean I have to write for money. For Websnark, money just doesn't enter into it.

Until now.

You see... I've been thinking a lot about Child's Play. You know, the charity founded by Gabe and Tycho over at Penny Arcade. Now, I've donated to it. I donated last year, and I donated this year. I'm all about giving nice things to sick kids. That's just cool. And I've been looking at some of the art that webcartoonists are donating and auctioning and the like, and feeling pretty flush and good about it all. And I wish I could get in on that... only I don't draw. I write.

And then it hit me. I write. Well enough that sometimes, I get paid for it. And I have a website that's developed a measure of popularity, specifically for my writing. And sometimes, I have people beg me to snark a given webcomic, or write about a given topic, or just say they like what words I put together for these things.

All right then. Let's do a little experiment. And maybe... just maybe... help some kids while doing it.

As of 8 AM Eastern Standard Time this morning, I have started an auction on eBay. The opening bid is five bucks. The closing bid? We'll see in five days. And the winner of this auction gets to set the topic of a snark here on Websnark.

That's right. Anything you like. You want me to snark a webcomic you like? You got it. You want me to write a short story about Ants? Fine. Harry Potter Fan Fiction? Sure thing. A poem? Okay! A discussion of the Fugitive Poets and how their philosophy relates to the evolution of critical thought? Bring it on.

Oh, I've put a restriction that it has to be moderately safe for work (I would have a certain cognitive disconnect with writing explicit gay porn for a children's charity, for example). And I've put in a requirement that while you set the topic, the opinions are going to be mine -- so I can't promise I'll love the webcomic you ask me to write about. But I do promise to give it a fair shake.

Is all of this arrogant? Probably. I'm putting out into the world that someone out there likes this well enough to want to drop a few bucks on it. But why not be arrogant if it's for a good cause? Every penny from this goes out of my Paypal account and into Child's Play. Every last penny. (I'll cover the Paypal fees myself.) So you're helping out an exceptionally worthy cause by doing this.

(I'd offer another one of these to Gabe and Tycho for their live auction on the 9th, but I'm afraid they'd respond by saying "Websnwhat? Never heard of it." Ah, fear.)

So. Check it out. Bid if you'd like. If no one at all bids, I'll drop the 5 buck opening bid on Child's Play myself, in addition to my other donation. And, well, I'll be humbled, which might not be a bad thing. But it'd be nice to have more. So please! Check it out, think it over, and if you want -- bid on!

Oh, and if you find this whole thing ridiculous... go to Child's Play directly and donate, anyway. Even if my little thing seems silly, the cause is good.

But I hope you do bid. Because bidding would make me feel good, and more to the point would mean Websnark could donate something nice as a whole. And that would rock.

EDIT: At Sean Riley's suggestion, I'll set a minimum word count. For any kind of essay or short story, it'll be at least 1,000 words and could go much much higher (I've been known to do 5,000 word snarks. If it's a poem or the like, we'll cap it at 20 lines minimum, maximum whatever seems right.

But the point is, this will be a meaty snark, not twelve words and a thumbnail.

Bwah ha bah?


(From Suburban Jungle. Click on the thumbnail for full sized negotiation!)

Okay, this one surprised me a little. Okay, a lot. I know the plan up until now has been to force Woody into a situation where he'd let Leona take the Kitten Kaboodle contract and get some airtime. But I didn't expect Athena to actually make a bid for Leona's full contract.

The thing of it is... Woody'd be nuts to say no. He's had nothing but trouble from Leona. Now, that doesn't mean he won't say no. This is a strip with the mantra "Are you crazy? Is that your problem?" after all. But I think it's at least even odds he'll say yes.

Which raises the issue... just what does Athena intend from all this?

Oh, on one level she intends to make a lot of money. Clearly, that's what she does. But there's also a question of dramatic points. And we just saw Tiffany go through her first spark of jealousy over Leona's singing career....

We could be moving into the Kitten Kaboodle phase... but who's to say Leona won't be the bigger star going into it. And if she is... given that Tiffany Tiger is, at least on paper, the star of this comic strip... where are we going next?

Nice moment of evolution. Nice moment of "What the?' Nicely done, Mr. Robey.

December 07, 2004

When did we become the No Fat Chicks club? I think I need to see the bylaws.

So, I was talking about body shapes in one of my snarks, yesterday. Specifically my Questionable Content snark. And it's inspired some lively debate, which I'm good with. Debate means people are thinking about what was said, and there's literally nothing else an essayist can ask for.

But one of the comments threatened to move away from the point of the snark, and into questions of unrealistic body image, sexism... the usual, in other words. And I suggested that particular snark's comments weren't the right place to discuss those issues, because that wasn't the point of that snark.

But, it also occurred to me that it's a good topic of discussion. Because body image and the choices artists make in webcomics, especially in depicting women, is an area strongly worth discussing. And also because the complaint, when ascribed to Questionable Content, actively surprised me.

I read a lot of webcomics. By now, you've figured that out. (Though at least one webcomic creator of note, when discussing Websnark, has indicated he likes the site but wishes my trawl list wasn't so limited. On the other hand, said creator's strip is one of the ones not on said trawl list, so that might have something to do with it. Or it might not.) And one thing I figured out early on in reading webcomics is the women aren't very realistic. They don't act realistically. They don't look realistic. There's lots and lots of bodysuits and bikinis and miniskirts and catholic/japanese schoolgirl outfits. There's breasts that would give Supergirl a backache as far as the eye can see, and they're copiously on display. Female sexuality becomes implicit, in many, many, many webcomics, including some by artists who would vehemently deny it.

The Unsurpassable Wednesday White examined the "Smoking Hot Geek Girl" phenomenon in detail over in her Comixpedia article on the subject. It happens over and over again. Jade and Miranda in PvP (though Marcy is a solid geek girl without the need to be red hot). Ki in GPF. Miranda in User Friendly. The utterly pneumatic Cecania in Sore Thumbs. The seminal, supergenius, supergorgeous Helen, Sweetheart of the Internet.

If we extend the scope of the discussion beyond geek girls in particular, it goes nuts. Josh Lesnick's Wendy (and to a lesser extent, Girly). Any female who was in Exploitation Now (and most of the ones in Errant Story) by Michael Poe. Almost any science fiction babe. (The fact that we can typify them as science fiction babes, for that matter.) And so on and so on and so on and so on. I can name examples pretty much as quickly as I can type. There are acres of gorgeous girlflesh just a-waitin' for you out there.

On the other side of it... there's a significant dearth of plain girls, or of attractive but overweight girls, or of attractive women who are older (and are depicted as older, rather than looking thirty-one with grey hair). But go on the other side of the aisle and you'll find tons of overweight, balding, bearded, misanthropic men. Sometimes dating the gorgeous women, no less.

Which brings me to why the commenter's complaint over Questionable Content surprised me so much. Said complaint was twofold -- the women were unrealistically attractive, and they were uncomfortably sexual. Well, I grant they're both overtly sexual and overtly attractive -- though I think they're far, far, far from most of the women I mentioned above. The former was a little surprising because... well, this is essentially a sex comedy. The central conflict of the series is "will Marten and Faye get together," and it's clearly not to hold hands and discuss poetry. This is a series based on sexual tension. Which is appropriate for young twenty-somethings who're still pretty flush with hormones (when I was that age, I thought about sex pretty much all the time, which my girlfriend of the time could no doubt attest to). In a comedy, you accentuate the points of tension for comedic intent. In a relationship comedy with a core premise of sexual tension, that's what gets accentuated. Further, the men are neither studly nor homely either. There is equality of attractiveness, which sets more of a theme instead of an inequity. This is Romantic (sex) Comedy, not workplace humor where the gorgeous systems administrator is having regular sex with the male hacker who has no sense of hygiene.

But more to the point, the complaint was about their appearance, and that just floored me. Let's set aside one complaint, which was unreasonable height proportion -- it's cartoon art, and cartoon art is... well, cartoony The same way that we accept Charlie Brown's mammoth skull, we accept that Faye and Marten's heads are larger than normal.

So, taking the cartoony nature of the art as a given, the question is are the women particularly unrealistic. And I have to say that not only aren't they, but that Jacques is actually touching on body image issues far more realistically than I've seen almost anywhere. And that's in the charming little ball of neurosis that is Faye.

Faye is very pretty. There's no denying it. Marten and Steve have both remarked on it. But Faye's little sister grabbed Faye's stomach and made disparaging remarks, which Faye deflected. And then Faye began making remarks about her 'squishiness,' and said the same to Ellen, who she didn't even know. Clearly, Faye is sensitive about her weight, even though she clearly doesn't need to be. And she compares herself to the skinny Dora (who's skinny enough that Ellen described her as "boyish" and put her foot in her mouth over it). And which Dora clearly has some (minor, one hopes) issues about herself.

Yeah, they're all pretty... but they don't know that, it seems. And that's ground that rarely if ever gets covered in webcomics.

Does that make the commenter wrong, in what she (she identified herself as female) said? No, it sodding well doesn't. I might disagree with her opinion, but I understand it. Would I like to see more diversity in feminine archetypes in webcomics? You're damn right I would. Every day, Bruno (the Baldwin version, not the McDonald version) seems lonelier and lonelier out in the webcomics world. Strips like Fans, which takes pains to cover all sides (and shapes) of the SF Fan community, and treat them all as both worthy of attention and attractive in their own right are precious gems, all the more precious because of their sad rarity. And it makes a strip like Lost and Found Investigations, which played with the subjectivity of appearance (Beth gained enough weight that she got dumped by her shallow boyfriend, immediately began seeing herself as much fatter than she really was, but when we saw her from Frank's point of view she was ravishing, because that's how he saw her) intriguing and interesting in the extreme.

But from where I sit, that doesn't mean a strip like Questionable Content (or Scary Go Round, or Diesel Sweeties, or Queen of Wands, or Something Positive, or any other strip that trods the relationship ground) has to fill those gaps. People are going to tell the stories they're going to tell, and there's nothing wrong with using attractive people to do it, if that's what the artists are going to draw.

But at the same time, we need to have an awareness of the issues at hand. And if someone wants to have a sexy, sassy female lead who's also a size 18 instead of a size 6, they'll have a reader in me, at least.

And as for my practicing what I preach? Well, Rhonda, the one female character I drew in Unfettered by Talent, certainly didn't look like the traditional standard of beauty. Of course, that could be because she looked like a sock puppet made by a deranged four year old with a glue gun, but I digress.

It's sort of like Gary Larson collaborated on The Collector.

(From Chopping Block. Click on the thumbnail for full sized X the Owl Tee Shirt!)

Have you ever heard of Delusion of Reference? It's a neurosis that can enter into psychosis, to use outmoded terminology that still means something to me, so what the Hell. Delusion of Reference is the delusion that external events somehow relate to or reflect on you. Say you're walking down the hall, and you see a couple of cute girls quietly talking to each other. If you've got a case of the ol' Delusion of Reference, you naturally assume they're talking about you -- and not very kindly, either. At the far end of the psychosis, you start believing that when the news reporter is saying things, he's saying them to you, but he just can't admit it.

I have this particular condition, in its mildest of forms. I've pretty well intellectualized it out of existence -- mostly by learning not to take myself so seriously. But it can crop up from time to time. (Of course, that could also be called "being insecure, sometimes," which pretty much everyone is.)

Well. I started Websnark.com on August 20 of 2004. On August 23, Chopping Block, by Lee Adam Herold, updated for what seemed like the last time. After the 23rd... nothing.

Naturally, I blamed myself. Damn website, convincing Herold to stop updating Chopping Block.

Well, whatever I did wrong seems to be over now, and Butch the Serial Killer with a heart is back, and that makes me a happy panda. This strip is the absolute epitome of dark humor -- with an emphasis on the humor. Its words are sometimes downright gruesome -- today's strip, not replicated above, casually implies the eating of eyeballs stuffed with deviled ham -- but its images oddly aren't, even with the shadows and darkness and heavy crosshatching and shading.

Old Butch has delusion of reference, of course. And delusion of control, delusion of grandeur, delusion of persecution, auditory hallucinations, erotomanic delusions, a pack of associations, psychalgia, anxiety disorders, and good old antisocial personality disorder (what we used to call being a sociopath or just plain old batshit crazy). He really hits for the cycle. He's clearly got chemical imbalances and environmental factors. And he likes to kill people, have sex with their corpses, and eat them. But if you can set that aside, he's such a sweet guy. And it's very, very, very funny to watch him muddle through as best he can. Especially when you factor in how much of a pain in the neck killing people is.

I'm glad to see him back. I'm glad I've been forgiven. I'm sure everything is fine now, and there won't be any more problems.

And if there are? Well... I've been very patient so far, haven't I? But that will have to end, sooner or later....

On the other side, have you noticed there's a lot of single parenthood in this strip? I'm not saying that's bad. I'm just saying it's true.


(From Ozy and Millie. Click on the thumbnail for full sized zen and the art of single parenting.)

It's traditional, when discussing a comic strip with a certain childlike innocence and pleasantness and great imagination, to compare it to Calvin and Hobbes. Personally, I don't get that at all. Calvin and Hobbes was a triumph on many levels, but part of what made it work so well is Calvin was a perfect child -- selfish, self-centered, with no concept of consequences until it was too late, and largely mindlessly destructive. There's nothing wrong with that. It was funny, and it was accurate (my favorite game to play with my Micronauts was the one where I painstakingly assembled the playsets and vehicles for two hours, then destroyed them all in an orgy of destruction, as the Acroyears and Baron Karza's assault devastated the peaceful home of our heroes, only to be repulsed with a hail of lasersonic fire that also had the effect of hammering the enemy photon sleds and hydrocopters and neon orbiters into shrapnel. Micronaut vehicles were good at shrapnel, because you could so easily disassemble them). A good friend of mine of the time described how he poured gunpowder from his dad's shotgun shells into his Micronauts battle cruiser and literally blew it up -- being lucky he didn't maim himself in the process. That's childhood, in a nutshell, and Calvin and Hobbes captured it perfectly.

Well, the thing about Ozy and Millie is it gets that. Millie is chaotic and destructive and self centered, more than willing to shave all the fur off of Ozy's body for the sake of a good time, then learn a lesson... and then do it again in six months when the lesson has faded. But Ozy and Millie also understands that curious nostalgia that adults feel when thinking about childhood -- that sense of innocence and wonder that people ascribe to Calvin and Hobbes, which is the other side of that chaotic coin.

(And yes, I fully accept that there was a sense of wonder in Calvin and Hobbes. I don't need those angry letters, thanks.)

My point is... with Ozy, Simpson has a character who embodies that sense of inner peace and beauty and wonder. (Senses that also cling to Timulty and perhaps find their perfection in him. On Ozy and Millie's Cast Page, Simpson mentions William Blake and his concept of Primary Innocence in connection with Tim, and that's very apparent.) In other words, he gets both sides of the equation -- he gets both Little Nemo and the Katzenjammer Kids.

I really liked the story of Millie's father, who turned out not only to be a pirate from the dimension found in Llewellyn's sofa, but is aging backwards so that he's around Millie's age now. This is chaotic and whimsical all at once. Well, now we're learning the story of Ozy's mother (there's something about single parents in all of this), who is herself an orderly woman conducting an orderly life. And in today's strip, we learn that Ozy as a baby was already meditating.

I'm enjoying this. And more to the point, I'm enjoying what it represents. And I'm looking forward to what happens next.

And isn't that exactly what Simpson wants? That sense of anticipation, in a story of a single mother ice cream tester and her baby child, who we know eventually gets adopted by a dragon?

December 06, 2004

Also, they're good at banter. But then, they would be, wouldn't they?

(From Questionable Content. Click on the thumbnail for full sized gentrification!)

I want you to have a look at today's Questionable Content.

Then, I want you to click back through the archives for about four days or so.

Go ahead. I'll wait here. I'm good at waiting. I'm patient and I have Propel Fitness Water to drink while you're away.

Back? Oh good.

Jacques has drawn three girls, all within about ten years of age of one another, with Ellen on the young end and (I assume, from today's comments) Dora on the old end. All three girls are attractive.

To draw these girls... Jacques has chosen 2.5 different hairstyles (Ellen and Faye's hairstyles are similar but not exact), three different hair colors, three different skin colors, and three different body types. While all three are clearly pretty, Dora's a rail, Ellen's a bit lusher up top and on the hips, and Faye's heavier in the hip area (to the point that even though Marten has described Faye's butt as capable of giving God an erection after he sculpted it, Faye has made unhappy comments about her weight). And there are subtle differences in the three faces. Eye color's a gimmie.

In other words... Jacques has drawn three different girls... in three different ways, completely.

And none of them look like Supermodels.

This has to be some kind of record.

He did a Herriman reference. There is a place in Heaven for those who do Herriman references.

I don't want to oversnark Checkerboard Nightmare just because I'm (part of) the subject matter, but while I won't do the whole download-thumbnail-upload thing, have a look at today's strip. Particularly the first panel.

Now, one of the things Straub is really good at is the emulation of artistic styles. Have a look at all the other panels for a highlight of his versatility, and then have a look back at panel one.

I have to assume Straub took some kind of pointy implement, like a coat hanger, and fed it through his ear into his brain, and then moved it back and forth until he heard the happy angels singing to him, in order to degrade his artistic skills to the point that he could actually emulate what we laughably call my artistic style. Needless to say, if you've never had a look at Unfettered by Talent (and for god's sake, why would you?), Straub nailed the style perfectly, right down to the lack of straight lines, the child like face, the football shaped head, and the tea pot sign.

The tea pot sign, in particular, means he actually read the Unfettered by Talent archives. Which might have been sufficient to instill the necessary brain damage to be able to draw like me.

Needless to say, I'm impressed, and I wish him well on his convalescence and neurological therapy.

December 05, 2004

Comixpedia: The Quickening

It's the start of a new week in a new month, and that means a new Comixpedia issue. And it wouldn't be a Comixpedia issue without the latest Feeding Snarky, by me.

Actually... that's a bald faced lie. It would indeed be a new Comixpedia issue without me. I could be hit by a bus tomorrow and Comixpedia would just continue on and on and on and on....

But enough of that. It's a good issue, beginning their Year in Review. My column's... well, it's sort of there. However, two -- count them, two -- new parts to T. Campbell's seminal "The History of Online Comics" are appearing, and they're well worth the read. Part Seven covers the growth of professional webcomics and the movement towards subscription models. Part Eight covers the growth of the post-Keenspot/post-Modern Tales collectives and dropdowns that have grown up. These are incredibly simplified descriptions of complex topics that T. handles excellently, so go read them.

And go read my thingy too. I mean, what the heck. It's right there.

December 04, 2004

"Flood!"

There is something remarkable about Bruce Timm's team on Justice League Unlimited. They understand the depths of the source material they have to work with, and at the same time they made it very clear that their Batman, Superman, and all the rest is in their own universe... that takes nothing away from the full D.C. Universe (or any variation we've seen). This is something different. Something seperate. But it never forgets where it came from.

Tonight's episode, "Ultimatum," embodied this. The source material for what they did came straight out of Keith Giffen's work in the (non-Legion) parts of the D.C. Universe during the late eighties and early nineties, out of the Roger Stern era Superman titles (post-Byrne)... and out of the Super Friends.

And it was glorious. It was entirely consistent, within itself, but it remembered where it came from. Right down to the moralizing at the end of any given Super Friends adventure. ("He's certainly... earnest," Aquaman says. "How about Corny, Superman snaps back. Clearly put out and a little jealous, no less.)

There were tiny touches, in architecture, in echoes of the Legion of Doom, in the names, in throwaway references... and in the final standoff at the end.

It was, to quote X-Play (and many others), a total nerdgasm. And any doubts I had for this repurposing of Justice League are now well and truly gone. These guys know what they're doing.

And how dare they make Aquaman that cool?

December 03, 2004

Say what you like. That is a kickass aping of Meredith Gran's style.

(From Checkerboard Nightmare. Click on the thumbnail for full sized TPing of the yard!)

Submitted without comment.

(Well, except to say that I've been greeting people by saying "Oh no! My shoulder devil!" since I saw this earlier today. Now, I have a very bad cold. My head is stuffed. My eyes are bleary. I have that vacuous look that comes from medication. Why am I at work? Because I'm an idiot! And my voice is currently three octaves lower than normal. So shouting "Oh no! My shoulder devil!" at people currently freaks them the Hell out.)

(Oh, and I should mention that if this actually is a plotline, as opposed to a one-off mention... I'm probably in a lot of trouble. I mean... Straub typically depicts artists as their main characters (or at least in their style of art). Well... my style of art is the incredibly crappily drawn Unfettered by Talent. I own my shame... but this also means I'm probably going to have lots more shame to own, still.)

(On the other hand, he might choose to depict me as Ursula Vernon's 'Snarky.' That would be kickass!)

(He's probably already drawn it, either way. And for that matter, the next strip probably won't have anything to do with me.)

(Still... shoulder devil!)

A Snark about a Snark on Snarkoleptics. Damn, but Recursiveness is a Bitch.

crunchgood.pngFrom Something Positive.

There's a friend of mine who goes by the online sobriquet of EDG. In fact, the character from Gaming Guardians was named after him, rather than vice versa. Webcomics are everywhere in my life. Anyhow, EDG is a regular commenter here on Websnark under his street name, but as he doesn't have said name listed on his Livejournal User Info page, and since I'm making reference to a post he made on Snarkoleptics, I figure I should respect his privacy. He can take a bow in the comments if he wishes.

Anyway, he made mention of the fact that Randy Milholland, over on Something Positive, posted not one, not two, but seven comic strips yesterday... and got within one of being absolutely caught up.

A full week of strips. In one day. With no cut and pasting or dodging or shortcuts. He drew himself a passel o'strips. And included a major revelation about one of his most popular characters among S*P's fans (that being Pepito... a character who I'll be honest I'm not that big on myself -- no pun intended. I've found him absolutely hysterical in the past... his broken spanish non sequiturs, his being eaten by trapdoor crocs, his willingness to harvest kidneys.) And not only did he give Pepito a kickass plot twist and character evolution (making him more interesting, in my opinion), he then moved on to a Monette plot. And I always like Monette plots -- remember, that which does not kill Monette makes her stronger... not brighter, always, but stronger.

But anyway, this is only tangentially a snark about Something Positive. This is instead a Snark about EDG's Snarkoleptics Post about this feat. He was impressed by it, and cheerful, and excited... and suggested at the end that I, Eric, should give M. Milholland a biscuit, of the tasty, tasty variety.

I responded over there that yes, I was impressed with what Milholland had done, and that he maintained quality through it all. However, biscuits are very specific beasties -- given out to individual strips that exemplify some point I think needs exemplifying. (Said point can be a kickass moment of drama, a technical innovation of startling skill, or a fart joke that has me laughing so hard I wet myself. Whatever. The point is, it's about one strip, not any kind of meta thing.)

EDG's response was that clearly my biscuits are homeopathic biscuits, and that by diluting a single biscuit over seven strips, it would therefore be much more powerful.

David Morgan-Mar has much to answer for.

Endgame: Opening moves

(From Queen of Wands. Click on the thumbnail for full sized soft spot!)

There's a duality in today's Queen of Wands that really strikes me, even as I feel sad. There's a little bit of the earliest days of the strip, with Kestrel speculating to a new mother about the soft spot on her baby's head, and Shannon reflecting on poop and sleep. It's a harkening... it's... dare I say it, the Funny.

And then we have our minds blown. Blown!

All by a haircut.

My friend Sean made a truly excellent point about tonight's strip. To quote from his own snark:

This is where it's beginning to end. The theme of Queen of Wands has been "growth", and part of growth is change. Sometimes that change is gradual. Other times, it's really sudden and dramatic, like today. But the point is that things are changing, and it's soon going to become clear for Kestrel that she can't stay where she used to be, because where she used to be doesn't exist anymore.

Sean's right, of course. We have growth and change. A couple of strips back, Felix called Angela to tell her "he's a Daddy now." Not "the baby was born." Not "Shannon had the baby." Not "Kestrel made an appointment to have her tube tied." "I'm a Daddy now." And that's different. And he's reflecting that difference. At the same time, he's not showing up in a tie and frowning and acting 'serious.' He's still Felix. He's just Felix with short, blond hair. The next step. The next move forward.

At the same time, I'm reminded of the last physical transformation of Felix. That time, Kestrel was the stimulus of Felix's change -- even though Felix himself didn't want to change. He wanted to regress, to go back to the girlfriend and mother of his child who he'd lost. He wanted to go back, and so he couldn't call Kestrel his girlfriend. But in the same way that she caused him to give up eyeliner and goth clothes, she forced him to step into his future... ultimately, to Shannon.

Now, he's taken another step... and he doesn't need Kestrel to say "why exactly is your hair blue, anyway?" to him. He realized while he was out that he wasn't the guy with the blue hair any more. And so he made a change.

This is how the end begins. Oh, the end's been presaged for months now, as Kestrel prepares to move to Boston and the fringes of a different webcomic (perhaps). But this is when it becomes real. Kestrel knew she'd have to leave when Shannon and Felix had a child. She thought it was because she didn't like children... but in the end, it's because Shannon and Felix would evolve into different people with a child, and now we've seen it begin.

I'm going to be sorry to see Queen of Wands go, but this was an excellent... shocking step on that lightning path they all follow. Nicely done. Nicely done indeed.

The question is... did Felix really dye his eyebrows blue all those years, and bleach them now? I mean, ow?

December 02, 2004

God, all I can say is "Meathook!" Meathook meathook meathook!


(From Narbonic Click on the (subscription required) thumbnail for full sized whimsy and wonder!)

Sure, this is a brilliant strip that makes me laugh and hope for the painful death of the overly perky... but I've snarked Narbonic recently so naturally I couldn't snark it again so soon. Pity though. I mean, "meathook."

METAPHORICAL PIGEONS!

(From Digger Click on the thumbnail (subscription required) for full sized God Rats!)

First off, I totally stole this snark from Ping Teo's latest Webcomic Finds Stopover. I mean, I stole it wholesale. Honestly, it's 6:40 and I'm just getting to the "afternoon" trawl now -- it was a busy day.

And Ping is utterly right. And utterly cool. So I'm stealing the snark because she got to it first, damn it, but it still must be proclaimed.

Secondly... I love Ursula Vernon. It's official. Yes yes, I know. She's married. She's adored by thousands. I have no chance in Hell. Whatever, dude. I can have an unhealthy fixation if I want, and anyone who would create Oracular Slugs, Shadows of Ganesh, and now God Rats...


God rats.

I so want one in plush.

Don't forget the water. If it's a normal headache, a glass is fine -- for a bad headache, better go with a liter or two.


(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized medicine of a sort!)

I'm all for home remedies. I'm also all for the power of the body to heal itself with placebos. For example, I know very very well that if I drink a full glass of milk -- not water, milk -- as quickly as possible when I have the hiccups, I will stop having the hiccups. It has always worked. It has never failed. I'm sure my mother told me it would work when I was three, and it did work, and now that I'm in my thirties it works still. I'm also sure there's some minor truth to it (pressure changes in the abdomen causing the diaphragm muscles to relax, or some such).

But mostly, I'm sure it works because I'm convinced it will work, and so it does. Even though intellectually I know it's probably just a placebo, the subconscious is certain.

(Of course, I'm no longer capable of drinking a full eight ounces of milk quickly because of the surgery, so it's academic, but hey -- that's neither here nor there, is it.)

Anyway, David Morgan-Mar brings the power of science and logic to the question of homeopathics today. Now, there's probably some useful bits in homeopathic medicine. The original basis of some remedies are probably perfectly valid. However, there's also some obvious and complete superstition involved... to the point where some homeopathic remedies are one step below sympathetic magic. And he hits on my own personal favorite -- the idea that the more you dilute a remedy, the more effective it is.

That's right. The more you dilute it, the more effective it is.

I swear neither Morgan-Mar nor I made this up.

So, Ophilia has taken this to its logical conclusion today. After all -- we live in a convenience society. Naturally, a pill form of homeopathic medicine would be optimized for convenience.

Don't mess with scientists who have a sense of humor. They will bring the Mock, and they will do it well.

Don't forget the water. If it's a normal headache, a glass is fine -- for a bad headache, better go with a liter or two.


(From Irregular Webcomic. Click on the thumbnail for full sized medicine of a sort!)

I'm all for home remedies. I'm also all for the power of the body to heal itself with placebos. For example, I know very very well that if I drink a full glass of milk -- not water, milk -- as quickly as possible when I have the hiccups, I will stop having the hiccups. It has always worked. It has never failed. I'm sure my mother told me it would work when I was three, and it did work, and now that I'm in my thirties it works still. I'm also sure there's some minor truth to it (pressure changes in the abdomen causing the diaphragm muscles to relax, or some such).

But mostly, I'm sure it works because I'm convinced it will work, and so it does. Even though intellectually I know it's probably just a placebo, the subconscious is certain.

(Of course, I'm no longer capable of drinking a full eight ounces of milk quickly because of the surgery, so it's academic, but hey -- that's neither here nor there, is it.)

Anyway, David Morgan-Mar brings the power of science and logic to the question of homeopathics today. Now, there's probably some useful bits in homeopathic medicine. The original basis of some remedies are probably perfectly valid. However, there's also some obvious and complete superstition involved... to the point where some homeopathic remedies are one step below sympathetic magic. And he hits on my own personal favorite -- the idea that the more you dilute a remedy, the more effective it is.

That's right. The more you dilute it, the more effective it is.

I swear neither Morgan-Mar nor I made this up.

So, Ophilia has taken this to its logical conclusion today. After all -- we live in a convenience society. Naturally, a pill form of homeopathic medicine would be optimized for convenience.

Don't mess with scientists who have a sense of humor. They will bring the Mock, and they will do it well.

December 01, 2004

A simple ground rule and a simple boundary from me, to a very small number of you

Hey all -- it's your pal Eric, with a fast clarification just to make sure everyone knows the ground rules.

This thing you're reading? This is my blog. It's where I go to blather about things that catch my attention, and then move on.

I'm not being paid by anyone for it. Heck, I dropped my Google ads (the day before I got a high profile link that caused a spike in my readership. No one said I didn't have a fine sense of timing). In fact, I'm paying for it, each month. It's here because I like doing it, and people seem to like it.

I only bring this up because I've been getting a (very small) number of e-mails that have been getting increasingly angry because I haven't snarked a couple of strips. Strips which might well be worthy, mind. There are many, many, many worthy strips on the internet. Many of which I've never mentioned.

So, let me be perfectly clear about something, just in case there's some confusion.

I don't need to snark a given strip, just because some of my readers happen to like it.

In fact, I don't need to snark a given strip even if I happen to like it. There's comic strips on my trawls you've never heard me say anything other than the trawl blurb about. There's comic strips on my to-date-unwritten-up "Sporadically Checked" list I've never mentioned on Websnark. It's not because they're unworthy. It's because I haven't been struck by something I wanted to say about them yet.

And there's no rule that says I ever have to.

Now, there's a simple solution, if you happen to want to see critical commentary written about your favorite strip and I'm too much of a blind asshole to provide it for you: you can write it yourself. We could use a lot more sites doing the kind of thing I do, or that Ping Teo does, or that Comixpedia and the Webcomics Examiner do, for that matter. I heartily encourage others to get into the act.

If, on the other hand, you don't want to do that... well, go post it on Snarkoleptics. It might be based on Websnark's fan community, but it's not "my" community -- it belongs to its members (Hell, I'm not even the Mod or owner. I just hang there like everyone else does). Post what excites you about your favorite webcomic. Post what you think is an exciting trend. Post whatever you like, so long as you're not being mean. I not only won't try to stop you, I'll read the post and, if I have a comment, I'll comment.

But don't think for one minute I "owe" a Snark over here to anyone. If I don't get struck with the snarkish impulse when I look at a strip, I don't write about it. That way, you guys know that whatever I do write on here, I actually mean.

Those are the rules. Those are the boundaries.

Thanks, all. Have a lovely cup of chai and enjoy the show.

You know... I'd kind of like a girl to GLOM me during a snowstorm. How does one sign up for that?


(From Kiagi Swordscat. Click on the thumbnail for full sized GLOM!)

There's a couple of things going on in this strip that really appeal to me. On one level, the color palette is very soft, and Priscilla looks almost winsome in panel three... (I know, I know, insert "sad girl in snow" reference here. I don't read Megatokyo, guys).

And then the kiss. The "jarring" of the panel borders. The dynamic motion.

And the sound effect.

The sound effect.

Guys? GLOM!

You don't need backstory, you don't need understanding. You can intuit emotions and momentum and the sense of dynamic tension undergoing an almost glorious release.

Aric Hooley gets himself a biscuit. A tasty, tasty biscuit.

A brief IM log about Annie.

Eric Burns 12:46: I'm in and out today. (Seminar. Pray for me.) How you?

Pip 12:46: Good, good. Took to reading some more of Annie. Watching Daddy Warbucks toss around the Satanist is just... weird. Daddy Warbucks, Action Hero. Duuuude.

Eric Burns 12:47: Hey -- he's got the power of the American Capitalistic System in those guns, pal!

Alton Brown likes to use Goodness in stews, but recommends liberal kosher salt.

(From Sluggy Freelance. Click on the thumbnail for full sized baggies!)

First off... you know you're in trouble at your day long seminar when there's a series of attractively placed manuals, multi-pack CD books on tape and videos sitting both on the front counter and on a table in the back.

Secondly... you know you're in a lot of trouble when every new section of the seminar topic involves references to three or four of these products, with a lot of smiling and at least one use of the word "affordable."

I'm on lunch. In 40 minutes, I will be back in there until at least 4.

Pray for Bobo, friends. Pray for Bobo.

But anyway -- Sluggy. The real Sluggy, this time, and not the "meanwhiles." I'm still liking this plotline -- the Dimension of Pain spent years being built up (in fact, one of my complaints about "Meanwhile... in the Dimension of Pain" is that it made the DoP too common. It worked better as an autumnal event with occasional Squeekyboboball matches and dragon boinking storylines. There is a serious sense that we're moving towards endgame and wrapping it up -- right up to the demons rebelling and moving permanently to their new blandiverse home. And today got me chuckling (hey, I'm all about potty humor)....

...but it also kind of disappointed me. For one thing, I can't tell if the bag of goodness is supposed to be... well, full or empty. I also can't tell what effect it's supposed to have. (Once again, "Meanwhile..." caused some damage by running a whole plotline where angels showed up and made all of the Dimension of Pain nice. We've seen a form of goodness spread over everything already. And we sure as Hell don't need another six months of Barney jokes.)

I don't know. Today didn't feel like a cliffhanger so much as a disappointment. But I'll be back tomorrow.

(And if they ever decide to publish a deck of Rather Nice Tarot Cards, I will so buy them.)

Yeah, but if Batman showed up and you were both wearing the same cape, you'd feel even funnier.


(From The Adventures of Sporkman. Click on the thumbnail for full sized faux pas in the making!)

As I hoped would happen, Sporkman has become both a regular strip and is being added to the KeenSyndicate. Today was the first day of new Sporkman strips on the Sporkman site. So, I wanted to draw your attention to Sporkman.

I admit it. It's just fun to type "Sporkman." But today's strip underscore's the strip's strengths in the newspaper arena. Yes, it sets up a continuity, but it brings a very specific funny to the table that doesn't need any kind of backstory. It's a balancing act, but Troutman seems capable of it.

In other news, I have a seminar down in Portsmouth today. So, more in depth posts will either have to wait until it's over so I can shlep out to Panera Bread or else wait to see if there's wireless access in the room and if the topic is so boring I'm willing to blow it off for this.

Later!