Friday, March 26, 2010

Newspaper Comics #3

When I got the idea to do these articles, a few comics in particular stood out as needing to be described.  Peanuts and Garfield were obviously first, and I've got a couple others that are probably more influential on webcomics than even those two.  But today I'm going to cover a comic whose influence is probably greater than either Peanuts or Garfield, probably because it influenced those comics and the entire industry itself.  I'm talking about Blondie.

Wait, what?  How's that influential?  There's nothing special about it, just a sitcom type comic seems to be in every paper.  Of course, the reason it becomes a subject is a little fact about it most people don't know:

It was started in 1930.

1930.  That's 80 YEARS ago.  Peanuts didn't start until the 50's, and Blondie was already 20 some years old.  It's likely Schultz grew up reading Blondie.  Perhaps the greatest comic of all time might have been influenced by Blondie.

1930.  The age of flappers and prohibition.  In fact, Blondie herself started life as a flapper.  Dagwood's laziness and eating habits were formed when he grew up in a family of wealthy industrialists.  Who then promptly disowned him for marrying Blondie (wonder if they've ever thought about healing those wounds, it has been 80 YEARS).  The company he now works for is a CONSTRUCTION company?  Who knew that?  I sure as hell didn't.  I had to look it up on the wiki page.

1930.  A daily comic, printed everyday, including Sunday, for 80 years.  I complain when there's a couple thousand strips in a webcomic archive.  Blondie has over 29,000 strips.  AND a movie series AND a radio drama series.  There was also a sandwich shop chain, but I think it went under.

1930.  The original artist is dead, of course.  And the comic didn't stop aging until the 60's, but even then there have been changes.  Blondie started her own business at one point.  Family Circus (a comic I'll cover another time) had exactly one major change since it's debut in 1960:  They changed the mom's hair style.

1930, wow.  Oh, there are older comics (Gasoline Alley has been around since 1919), but I doubt any of them has held the sheer popularity and ubiquitousness of Blondie. And the best part?  Blondie's still pretty good.  Oh, it's not great, few of the "legacy" comics are, but it's reasonably funny and worth my time to read.

There isn't a single comic on the internet that can compare to the sheer scope of Blondie, and I seriously doubt any will ever even match it.  I'd lay odds that Blondie will eventually become a webcomic itself, produced past the theoretical end of newspapers (I don't think they're going away anytime soon) and lasting 150+ years at this rate.  And it's influence?  Blondie has probably created the modern daily comic, becoming what newspapers expect out of their comics and that is probably enough.  It's not the greatest comic, but it is THE comic, leaving others to pick up the pieces.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wild Webcomic Reviews 81 - 85

Wow, this week has been odd.  I lost my temp job, but interviewed for another, and I likely won't be returning to my full time job and, well, I've hit a bit of writers block on webcomic articles.  I mean, I can do a lot of Newspaper and Touching Base ones, but more generic articles are escaping me.  So for the moment, I'll stick to a weekly schedule until I get a second wind.  With that said, let's go through another batch of old reviews.

September 26, 2006

81. Zebra Girl - This is a story of a young woman who turns into a demon. Which wouldn't be so bad, I suppose, except she looks like a zebra (hence the name) and sweats acid. The flying, pyrokinesis, and demonic strength are all positives as far as I'm concerned. This comic is about how she deals with it and the misadventures she has because of it. This also means that it's a fairly dramatic comic, where it starts as a rather humorous comic. I kind of miss the humor, which isn't completely gone but fairly subdued, but the comic is good otherwise.

TODAY -  Still pretty dramatic, but updating is slow as mud.  And despite that, probably one of the best comics on the internet.  Oh, there are still a few out there that can and do beat it, but it remains a favorite read of mine.

 82. Count Your Sheep - This comic has a level of sweetness that could rot your teeth if you're not careful. It's also blue, for the most part, with a few dashes of purple. If you'll read it, you'll get it. It actually does something different in that it puts a bit of a twist on the old childhood imaginary friend shtick. Be aware that the early part of the archives are a bit of a mess. Oh, you'll get through them okay, but you won't always get just the strips for the comic. Incidentally, this is by the same guy who did No Room For Magic, but this one is superior to it in everyway, including updates.

TODAY -  Continues to be sweet and fun, and I anticipate it's updates everyday, though I don't often get them.  One of the better daily strips (when it is daily) out there and worth the time to read.

83. Gunnerkrigg Court - I wish I went to a school like this, simply for the chance to run into some of the weird things the comic's heroine does. The fact that she does so in such a calm way is, well, weird. No screaming fits, no panic, hardly even a sarcastic quip. It's not normal for webcomics, which probably gives this one something that you won't find elsewhere. It is worth reading if only for that.

TODAY - If Zebra Girl is one of the best comics, Gunnerkrigg Court is damn near the absolute best.  This comic is everything a good webcomic can and should be and deserves to be read.  WHY AREN'T YOU READING IT ALREADY?!

84. The Wotch - That's not a misspelling, it's actually spelled Wotch. This comic, well, appeals more to a certain mindset than others. Yes, it is funny, it has interesting stories, is well written, well drawn, and I actually enjoyed it, but it is aimed at a certain group. You'll get it pretty quickly, even if you just read the most current strip. It doesn't make it bad, nor is it as creepy as Jack was, but you'll notice it. If you can look past it, it's a damn good strip.

TODAY -  The Wotch ran out of a lot of steam recently, the stories toned down and seemed to lose their punch.  So much so that even the artist took a break from the comic, running a guest story that just wrapped up last week.  Hopefully this signals that the comic has gotten it's second wind and is ready for more wacky adventures.

85. Girly - Speaking of "certain mindsets," Girly fits in an oblong way. Lots of talk of sex in this strip kids. Not really for the younger crowd, and they don't really say the word, only lots of implying it by dancing through the fields (I'm not kidding). The point is that it's a fun, silly comic about the relationship of two people and those they've come across. Oh, and they're lesbians. Gee, I bet you're not reading this any more. I suppose I should have saved this strip for last. Oh well.

TODAY - This was originally a 6 comic update, that's why the last line sounds odd.  Girly is still one of those strips I enjoy reading, the story is reasonably original and manages to keep me hooked.  I think it might be winding down to a grand end, but it's hard to say for sure with this comic.  Ask me again in a couple months.

Well what do you know, all five not only still update, but I still read them too!  I like these updates, makes me feel good about my choices.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Newspaper Comics #2

Well, I'm back again for another edition of Newspaper Comics.  Last time, I covered Peanuts, one of my all time favorites and probably one of the most popular comics ever produced.  So what shall I cover next?  How about one of the few comics that ever directly challenged Peanuts for the top spot of all time:  Garfield.

There was a time, not all that long ago, that I was a massive Garfield fan.  Of course, I also lived overseas at the time and there wasn't much else to read, but still, I had Garfield and I enjoyed the hell out of it.  I've got several books, editions of the Garfield Magazine and at least one poster on my wall featuring the fat orange cat.  I still read the comic, though I'm not nearly as much into it as I once was.

The differences between Peanuts and Garfield are pretty obvious.  Garfield went for the gut laughs, sarcasm of the funniest kind and eating lots and lots of food, while Peanuts was frequently more subdued.  So in a way, they really never competed with each other.  Still, Peanuts gets the accolades, and what does Garfield get?

Merchandising!  The amount of stuff with Garfield's name and face on it is insane and grows all the time.  Peanuts, despite it's long life and high popularity, never even covered a fraction of the territory the cat has.  While Peanuts will always get the accolades, Garfield will have to make do with the money.

Jim Davis is one of the other great newspaper comic artists, and at one time I think there were at least 3 comics in papers with his name:  Garfield, US Acres and some Mr. Potato head comic that I never read.  I think US Acres died off a long time ago (could be wrong), and to be honest, Garfield nearly did too.  For a bit there in the late 90's and early 00's, the comic was abysmal.  At least one paper actually stopped printing it.  For a comic built on mass consumption, this was a bad sign.

So what happened?  A change in direction that utterly backfired.  Through most of the 80's Garfield grew a substantial cast of characters, nearly all of which were pushed into the merchandising market.  None surpassed Garfield himself, except maybe Odie (but Odie had been the first), but none did particularly well either.  The change was apparent quickly:  The characters vanished.  When was the last time you saw Nermal in the comic?  It's been so long I don't remember it, and the bulk of the rest of the cast was dumped and the focus was drawn back to mostly Garfield and his owner Jon.

It failed.  The comic became dull and lifeless.  Weird when you think about it, since this was what made Garfield popular in the first place, right?  Well, yes and no.  Yes, the interactions between cat and owner were the core of the comic, but it built up from there, because honestly, you can only do so much with it.  Breaking up the monotony by throwing in a cute rival for Garfield keep the jokes "fresh," as did the many other characters that dotted the comic.  Change was good, and when the change ceased to be, the comic became worse than even the most terrible zombie comic in the paper today.

Many webcomics fall into the same trap, changing what shouldn't be changed because they missed the point.  The absolute best example is Sluggy Freelance's Ocean's Unmoving story, which removed all but one normal character and tried to tell a different story.  As a stand alone, Ocean's Unmoving worked, as a Sluggy Freelance story, it bombed.  Garfield's change was just as dramatic, cutting away the ability to spread out the bachelor jokes so they didn't become stale and uninteresting.

The fix Sluggy was simply to go back to where the main characters were.  For Garfield, it was giving Jon a girlfriend.  Wow, Garfield is such a different comic than it was only a couple years ago because of that.  It's more interesting, funnier and overall better.  Is it as good as it was?  Oh hell no, but it's not nearly as BAD as it was, and I'll take that any day.

I would have to say that the webcomic that most wants to be, and probably is the closest to the goal of being Garfield is Penny Arcade (still no link).  I don't like the comic, I really don't, but it's ubiquity, the money that simply pours into it, the fact that they have a boxed, published GAME, probably says more about the cash generating powers it has that only Garfield itself can easily outdo (with at least one terrible NES game, several movies and countless TV specials).

More intriguing is the string of comics that are edits of original Garfield strips.  Garfield minus Garfield, Silent Garfield and the Random Garfield Generator.  Davis himself was so amazed at Garfield minus Garfield that he published it!  That's a hell of an effect.

I still like Garfield.  The poster on my wall has followed me to college and every place I've lived since I got it.  It's Garfield's version of "Foot prints on the sands of time."  Of course, it says pawprints and has a picture of the fat orange cat himself.  Garfield will likely have those paw prints in the newspapers as long as they exist, and all the way out into the web itself.  I don't think I mind that so much.

Alright, next time I'll see about posting an actual webcomic article.  Or it'll be old reviews.  Whichever comes first.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wild Webcomic Reviews 76 - 80

Hey, hope you didn't forget I was going to a once a week schedule.  I know I didn't, though it would be better if I actually returned to my full time job.  If I don't start back there by April, I'll go back to 2 times a week.  In the meantime, I've got 5 more old reviews to post.  Are you ready?  Here we go!

August 24, 2006

76. Parallel Dementia - Another dark and terrible comic that's far more epic in nature than you would expect. Expect violence, because there will be quite a bit. Don't let it turn you off, it's too good for that.

TODAY - Wow, has this comic come a long, LONG way.  Comparing the first pages to the more recent ones is like comparing two different comics.  It's still epic, and it's still dark, but it's probably one of the better comics I read.  He's currently on a hiatus as the most recent cross over with Emergency Exit has just wrapped up, but when he gets back, I expect more awesome things.  GO READ IT!

77. Porridge Cooling Darkly - He's on a mission. A mission for a perfect bowl of porridge. And his hat. It looks serious, but after a bit you'll come to understand that the seriousness is merely a mask. It's fun in that way.

TODAY - The date of this review is August 24, 2006.  The last update for this comic is August 13, 2006.  Can I pick dead comics or what?  Yeah, it's dead as a doornail, and that makes me sad as it was kind of interesting and fun.  Ah well.

78. Resident Dysentery - It's a Resident Evil parody. Not a half bad one either. Its fun, light, references a lot of things that I don't quite get (never played any of the games), but has all the standard zombie cliches. There's only one problem with it: the artist doesn't like Resident Evil 4. Yeah, he's one of those. Doesn't hurt the comic, honestly, and he may have changed his opinion after he did the strip, but it does make you think. Make sure you watch the flash intro films he did, those are fun.

TODAY - As I said in my previous Touching Base article, this comic is gone, vanished without a trace.  Initially I thought they just forgot to pay their bills, but now the site is completely MIA.  While the comic had the update frequency of a Presidential election in a Central American dictatorship, when it did update it was a fun read.  Of course, you probably won't ever know that because the comic is gone, long gone.

79. Strange Case - The description at the top of the page may be accurate, at some point in the future. So far, it isn't. Which isn't to say that's a bad thing. It's still good, interesting and, well, a touch violent. Even has a warning you'll see when you click the link. If it updated with any regularity (last update in June), I would say this is one to watch, but I don't even know if it'll be updated. If you hadn't noticed, I was in a dark, horror mood with this update, and this comic fills that role well.

TODAY - Another one that died RIGHT before I reviewed it, though this one was closer to a month earlier.  Yeah, it's dead, 27 strips in and it died.  Disappointing.

80. Zombie Commandos from Hell - Yet another comic about zombies, but not nearly as cute as Kristy Vs the Zombie Army, but potentially more bloody. I say potentially because, like most of the others, it's a very young comic. It's also very odd in that it needs flash to work, and is actually part of a proper comic book, shown one small strip a day. The news page does suggest he'll post a page a day, possibly, if people are interested, but he just put that up today, so I don't know when it'll happen. Is it good? Well, it is interesting looking, but so far there aren't any real characters. I'll keep you updated.

TODAY - This comic taught me that flash comic interfaces SUCK.  It also showed if you're going to do full page comics, POST THE FULL PAGE IN ONE GO!  I grew tired of it pretty quickly, and though I don't know for sure, I have a feeling it hasn't updated in a couple of years.

Well, that's pretty depressing, 4 dead/MIA comics.  At least there's Parallel Dementia.
Next week, Newspaper Comics #2.  See you then kiddies.