Friday, May 28, 2010

Newspaper Comics #5

There are two terms you hear when people talk about newspaper comics:  Legacy comics and zombie comics.  Don't let anyone fool you, these terms mean almost exactly the same thing.  They refer to comics that have gone on long past their prime and whose original creators are dead, yet new strips continue to be made.

The difference is how people perceive them. Legacy comics are viewed with respect for their years of entertaining people while zombie comics are declared "not funny" or worse "never funny."  And what is funny for one person is not for someone else.  I, for example, think of Blondie as a legacy comic, while BC is a zombie.

And then there's Family Circus.

It's not a legacy comic, I don't enjoy it.  It's not a zombie comic, it's not not funny.  No, it's worse.  Let me get back to that.

Family Circus started in 1960, on a leap day.  Does that hold any significance?  No, it just means the comic just SEEMS to have lasted forever.  Really, the comic is about one joke:  Kids say the darnedest things.  Well, that was the joke, now it's "kids say the cutest things."  There is a difference.

It's possibly the largest circulating comic on Earth.  Why?  Well, I think it's because it aims at a very specific and vocal audience:  Grandmothers.  They read the paper (because they can't get the computer to work) and they write letters to newspapers.  And finally, they get this tickle from reading kids saying the cutest things.

They'd never accept the darnedest things, though, because those imply real human things, like the fact that raising kids is really hard, that parents struggle to make ends meet, and that they have ways to "get away" from it all via *gasp* drugs and sex!  How horrible.  Grandmothers can't stand that stuff because, well, they never had sex until they were married, and only to have children, and they certainly never used drugs.

Grandmothers are also horrible liars.  Meaning they don't lie very well at all.

Family Circus was once a better comic, but as the years went by it was molded to the grandmother demographic, which stripped it of what little edge it had and whitewashed the rest.  The result is a comic so soft and unoffensive that it actually turned the corner and became a horrible comic.  It's not not funny, that would imply that the jokes merely missed their marks.  No, the comic is what is referred to as "unfunny."  A funny black hole in newspapers that sucks humor out of nearby comics.

The comic is the COMPLETE opposite of every webcomic I've read, even the bad ones!  It's static in a way that can not be easily set into words.  When the biggest change to your comic in 40 years is one of the characters getting a slightly different haircut, you're in trouble.  It plays to a demographic that is CONSTANTLY dying (but never quite gets there) and has all but rejected anything that could be called modern.

No comic should EVER be like Family Circus.  If it is, then it and the artist should be put out of our misery.  While dozens of really GOOD comics come and go, Family Circus not only stays, but is everywhere.  An ever present icon of blandness and terribleness that the world can not get rid of because grandmothers can't get enough of it for some bloody reason.

The only good thing to ever come out of Family Circus is a web parody that you'll have to search for on your own.  Find the "Dysfunctional Family Circus."  The archives I'm sure are still floating around the web somewhere, and read them.  It's very satisfying and pallet cleaning, but you'll never, EVER be able to read Family Circus again, mostly because you'll know how horrible it truly is.

Next time, I think I'll do a comic I love, if only to wash this taste from my mouth.  Later kiddies.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Wither the Superhero?

I never got into comic books.  I've got this stack of random Marvel comics for one Christmas when I was like 12, and that was about as deep as I got.  The only comic I really ever got into was Groo the Wanderer, but even then it was rather sporadic.  Strangely, I do watch Atop the Fourth Wall regularly, but reading comics is something I'm not into.

Then I got to thinking about it, and I couldn't think of many "superhero" type comics I have EVER actually read, either in book or, especially, webcomic form.  Now by "superhero" I mean the cliched version:  Capes, masks, super powers, super villains and all that stuff.  So I went looking and guess how many of the my 200 plus reads have been "superhero" comics?


Out of 200+ comics, I've read five that could be considered superhero comics.  Weird, isn't it?  I mean, shouldn't there be more?  Even the ones I have read, three of them are only JUST superhero comics.

The Front (currently MIA) is the earliest, and while it isn't strictly "cape and mask" it has a lot of the elements you would expect to see.  Shadowgirls IS a superhero comic, in all but reality.  The Lovecraftian setting keeps it from being an outright superhero comic.  And Wonderella is, well, a complete parody strip and while it has all the tropes, it plays them for laughs more than anything else.

The remaining two are much, much closer to my idea of what a superhero comic is.  While I haven't officially reviewed Spinnerette (it's part of the Krakow family, so that should tell you something right off the bat), it does play much closer to the theme than any of the others, while still countering a dash of "reality," as it were.  And Aptitude Test does much the same, though it does stray much further into the superhero territory of old than even Spinnerette does.

So why the lack of superhero comics?  Well I have two ideas:

The first, and probably most obvious, is that webcomic artists think of the genre saturated.  I can get behind that idea pretty well, as most artists are looking for "new ground" to explore.  The problem is that most of the new ground they explore is the same old stuff that has filled webcomics for years.  Geek comics, wacky adventure comics, comic epics, etc.  Superhero comics have been fully explored in comic book form, but for webcomics, there is still a lot of wild land out there.

There is another idea I had:  That artists think it's too hard to do.  Yeah, that sounds strange, but it makes a certain amount of sense.  Most superhero comics have MOUNTAINS of backstory to support them, continuities that dwarf even the longest lived webcomic.  Then theres the fact that the majority of superhero comics die within the first year because they can't generate an audience quickly.  And then, there's Watchmen.

Now I've never read the book, or seen the movie, but the general reaction to Watchmen that I've found is that it "changed comics forever" and it also changed how superheroes were viewed.  This view meant superheroes had to now have "depth" which ended up getting translated into "dark and brooding" by a lot of hack writers.  My point is that suddenly superheroes now had to have not just big backstories, but inner stories that trended toward dark and unfun.

No one wants to work on a comic that isn't fun, so most artists skip it.  The dark elements scare off the bright and colorful artists taking their cue from Japanese manga, and the complex character elements that seem to be required by superheroes now scare off everyone else.  It's too hard to make it work.

Which is wrong, of course, but that doesn't mean the perception isn't there.  And that's why I think superhero comics are a rare commodity in the webcomic community.

Or it could just be I just don't look for or read them.  But after 200 strips, you would have thought I'd have run into more than five the buggers.

Well, that's enough for this week.  See you next time kiddies.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Newspaper Comics #4

Finally.  Why did this one take so long?  Well, mostly it was time, because I don't hate this comic or anything, I just needed time to sit down and work on this.

So what comic is it?  For Better or For Worse.

It's so different from, oh, 99% of comics in papers, at least the first run (we'll get to the second one in a bit) that it's hard to believe that it is in newspapers.  You see, it aged, in real time, through the course of some 28 years.  That's something few comics EVER do, and if they do it, they eventually stop.  Nothing lasts like that for 30 years.

Yet FBoFW did.  It's like a family soap opera, but without melodrama (mostly) and puns and jokes every strip.  This makes it stand out verses the static comics like Blondie or Family Circus, who had similar set ups, but not be as bizarre as the true soap opera comics that I mostly skip because, well, I just don't care.

And it also managed to be memorable.  Whether you liked or disliked the choices made by Lynn Johnston over the years, readers could remember them, and the characters grew up before your eyes.  She even killed a few of them off, something none of those other comics would even consider doing in most situations.  The death that stands out for me is the passing of Farley, the family dog.  It was ballsy, but understandable (the dog was 14 years old at that point) and it stands out as one of those comic moments that few strips ever get and it worked.

Of course, Farley was replaced by his own son, so really, the dog didn't "leave" as much as get a make over.  But I'm fine with that.  Other situations and dramas occurred, and while none had the impact of Farley, they still made the comic stand out in a sea of blandness and sameness.

Then the end came.  In August of 2008, For Better or For Worse came to an end.  Kind of.  The main, original storyline that had graced newspapers for 28 years came to a close.  And was immediately followed by a strip reboot that started from the beginning.

I understand why she did it, after all, you can't make money on a strip that isn't published any more, and she had a staff of people who helped with the comic at the end.  Still, why couldn't it have just ended and be gone?  I suppose I can't say much, I don't mind Peanuts still being in papers, but that strip is timeless and classic, while FBoFW had a single story, and that story was over.  Should it really be told again, from the beginning?

I do still read it though, but it's more like a habit than anything else.  Still, I remember the comic for doing what so few (meaning none) newspaper comics do, tell a long term story.

Webcomics can learn a lot from For Better or For Worse, especially in long term story telling.  No comic is as long lived as Johnston's strip, but a few are getting on in years now.  Characters in webcomics can grow and change because they aren't limited by the comic syndicates or the demands of daily publishing, and the fact that a strip like theirs can succeed should stand out.  It also should show that sometimes being bold with character development can pay off.

And it should serve as a warning that sometimes it's best to just let it go and not create yet another zombie comic to dominate the papers.

Next time, a comic that is nearly as universal as For Better or For Worse, but is the complete opposite of it in every significant way.  And I wish it would die.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wild Webcomic Reviews 91 - 95

Okay, so I don't have time and energy to get the Newspaper article written at the moment, so I'll do some old reviews instead.  Hopefully I'll get the Newspaper article done for NEXT week.


October 3, 2006

91. A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible - Probably the longest comic title I've ever had. I've actually tried to read this strip a couple times, but could never get into it. Even after reading it, I still really can't. You would think I would enjoy it, it's full of weird things happening, its very artsy in presentation and all that, but it just doesn't click with me. Maybe you'll have better luck. It's in hiatus now, so don't expect updates for a while.

TODAY:  I honestly don't remember much about this comic.  I think it started up again, but it's on hiatus now, I think.  I don't know.  Don't really care.

October 29, 2006

92.  SMILE (A Dental Drama) - Thought I was kidding, didn't you? I'm not. There are lots of comics that claim to be about real life, but this is about the only one I've ever seen actually do it. Well, I'm pretty sure it's real. In any case, this girl is a pro, as in she actually gets paid to draw comics, so this comic is probably just fun and games for her. There's nothing flashy about it (the artwork is very comicky, if you know what I mean), and the story is actually pretty interesting. And painful. Hell, it's about teeth and all the hell she had to put up with. It rings true, so I read it.

TODAY:  It ended a bit ago, and apparently it has been now published.  Congrats.

93. Totally KotOR - That's KotOR as in Knights of the Old Republic, the game. It makes fun of the game and Star Wars, so it's kind of fun that way. There, of course, needs to be more HK-47, but then doesn't there always need to be more HK-47? Otherwise, a fun little comic that doesn't take itself very seriously.

TODAY:  It went on hiatus for a bit, and now it's back and covering more of KotOR II.  Still fun, though the flash interface for it is a bit annoying and pointless.

94. This Comic Sucks - Surprisingly, it doesn't. There are two reasons. First, it's funny, which is more than I can say for Penny Arcade which it seems modeled after. And secondly, they attack Gabe (or is it Tyco, could never tell the difference) and punch Piro in the face in the comic. This makes me happy. Other than that, just a goofy comic about people doing stupid things. They tried a plot line at one point, but it had zero effect on the comic. How novel!

TODAY:  MIA for the most part.  Replaced by a blog that doesn't seem to be doing much.  Ah well.

95.  Pixel - How many jokes can one man tell about color pixels? Quite a few apparently, as this is what Pixel does. It's a simple comic, sort of like Panel One and Death to the Extremist, only more complex in it's design. Yeah, I know, that doesn't make sense, yet it does. There are rules to how the universe behaves, and while weird things happen, they aren't that weird for the most part. That makes it an interesting read, but not one that I would keep up with.

TODAY:  I think it might have ended.  Bummer, I remember liking it enough anyway.

Well, that's it.  Only one comic I still read, but alright.  See you next week kiddies.