Friday, February 24, 2012

Telling Time

Earlier this week, Errant Story released the time line for the universe.  It's an interesting read, and it got me thinking about time and how it works in webcomics.   General time travel comes up in comics often enough that I won't go through and highlight these, but it's the use of time in comics that is more fascinating that it probably should be.

Which is to say in most cases, it doesn't work at all.  The majority of comics are "frozen" in time.  Character personalties may evolve over time, but their physical structure really doesn't.  Let's take Sluggy Freelance, my go to, for example.  Torg, Riff, Zoe and the rest have changed over the years since the comic started, the way they think and act this stands out particularly well.  Physically, though, they really haven't.  Aside from the art getting better (which I'm not counting), their general physical appearance really hasn't changed.  Though it's not outright stated, given the various time skips that have occurred, I suspect that the same amount of time the comic has been around has passed for the characters.  That's 15 years.  That means they're all in their mid 30's by this point, if not older, but they still look like the 20 somethings that started the comic.

A lot of newspaper comics do that, of course.  Blondie has existed for 80 years, and the couple aren't more than 40, if that, since their kids hit the teens.  Garfield has a birthday every June, meaning he's 33 now, but cats don't live that long.  Curse of a popular comic, I suppose, the characters really can never age, no matter how many years, both in comic and without, pass.

Then of course there's the oddly compressed.  College Roomies from Hell is about college students.  That means 4 - 6 years, max can pass.  How many years have actually passed?  13.  Now I haven't read it in a while, but somehow I doubt they've gone through more than 3 years at this point (unless there was a time skip I missed, could happen).  So much has happened in that comic that it would fill a lifetime, even more than Sluggy has managed, let alone 3 years.  Nothing is wrong with that, of course, lots of comics do that too, but it still seems odd.

Just Another Escape took advantage of the weird way time can be made to work in comics by bouncing between the past, present and future with the goal of having it all come together and make sense.  Didn't quite make the goal, but the idea is quite creative.  It covered past events which would normally have been done with flash backs or exposition while keeping it clear when things were happening.  I don't know of ANY comics that did exactly what JAE did, but then, I haven't read all of the comics.

Then there's City of Reality.  First there was the use of flash to let the reader play out events differently, using a special device to reset time and try again.  Still one of the most innovative use of flash in a comic I've seen, and a lot of fun to boot.  This is topped later by a time travel plot outright erasing an entire chapter and replacing it with another one (yes, they both start out the same).  Confused me when I read it, kept thinking "didn't we already cover this?,' then things went completely nuts and it was really awesome.

There's more about time, like time dilation stuff like in Too Late To Run where one of the main characters starts out frozen in a room separated from time.  Schlock Mercenary played with time travel and time related clones when Kev went back in time to prevent Tagon's death (and make a killing on the stock market).

Time is fun to play with, and can make an interesting, if confusing if abused.  Best to keep track using flow charts when it gets overly complex, just don't expect people to understand it.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Touching Base #9

Time to touch base with a lot of comics and figure out what's coming.

First of all, a lot of updates are coming to my read list.  Sea of Insanity is, once again, being dropped and sent to the dead pile.  It's been over a year since the last update, and I have a feeling the artist really wasn't into it with it's return anyway.  Sorry to see it go, again, but it's time to move on.

I'm also dropping, much to my regret, Count Your Sheep from the read list.  I am really, REALLY sad about this, but the comic's updates have been few and far between, and if it were a more complicated comic, like Sea of Insanity, I could let it go, but it's a 3 panel, daily joke comic strip.  A 3 month delay between strips is unacceptable.  I still recommend the archives, but I won't be reading this as part of my run any more.

Exiern is going to be moved from weekly to T-Th.  Not sure why I kept it in weekly for so long.

Gypsy! has vanished, not sure what's up with that.  Hope it comes back.

Hark a Vagrant! artist Kate Beaton is considering doing what no webcomic artist has done before:  retire from it.  Oh, a lot of people have QUIT their webcomics, but none have retired.  That's, um, something I didn't expect to see.  Will it happen?  Probably.  She's making much more money off of print nowadays, and keeping her website going is actually an obstacle to making more.  If she does I wish her the best.  Until she does, I'll be checking the website.

Blip has slowed down updating due to injury.  The same injury, I think, that sunk Metrophor and has sidelined Emergency Exit.  Still, recovery is going slow, so hopefully Blip and Emergency Exit will start updating again on a regular basis.

Magic Girls (which I haven't reviewed yet) has changed artists as the original artist A) is already doing 2 other comics (Menage a 2 and Eerie Cuties) and B) got a job offer that couldn't be refused.  I'm actually not surprised at the change, and kind of glad of it.  It's already a spin off of Eerie Cuties, and crosses over with it still, but can lead to several confusing moments.  The change will probably be for the best in the long run as it'll give more time for the other two comics, and hey, paid work is good.

Errant Story's final chapter is slated to start.  I figure it'll still be a couple months before it's done, and I'll enjoy the ending while it comes.  The last few months of the comic have been very rough on the artist as his wife has had major medical problems and is only just now recovering.  The fact that he's managed to keep the comic going is a feat in and of itself.  The spin off, Errant Tales, is currently on hold while this recovery goes on, but Does Not Play Well With Others is still updating, and I will be following it.  It's funny.

This is more a selfish part, as I've been having problems with a few comics.  Devil's Panties, Templar, Arizona, Bug and Waspi Square don't like loading for me.  Not sure if it's my browser (Opera is funny sometimes) or something on the site itself.  Anyone else having problems?

Well, that's it for this week.  Not sure what's next week, but we'll see.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Newspaper Comics #8

Okay, so it's been over a year since the last time I dealt with newspaper comics, but I need an article and I haven't read enough comics for another batch of reviews.

Now I've covered a lot of old newspaper comics, like Blondie (82 years) and Peanuts (50+ not counting reruns), so let's cover a relative newcomer at a mere 12 years, Get Fuzzy.

Get Fuzzy appeared in the funny pages right as Garfield was hitting it's low point, and provided a nice breath of fresh air.  In a sense, it's Garfield 2.0, with the same basic 3 characters, an owner, a cat and a dog.  Bucky and Satchel are similar in personality to Garfield and Odie, but are also quite different.  It also makes the owner role (Rob here) far less of an dope than Jon.  It felt fresh and new, and I liked it.

The comic is far more political than one might think.  Bucky is often portrayed as a right wingnut, with Rob being very left, and poor Satchel caught in between.  This often leads to the comic being very, VERY wordy, typically when Bucky goes on some rather insane rant.  These are not the best the comic has to offer, and often seem to drag out and make Bucky seem far more insane than he was ever intended to be.

Outside of the political slant, the comic has some genuinely funny moments, often built around Bucky trying and failing to do something that is, well, kind of crazy.  From attempting to buy a monkey (so he can eat it) to his completely one sided war against the ferret neighbor (he lost, just hasn't admitted yet), the various jokes at his expense are quite funny.  At the same time, he often gets the short end of the stick far too often for my taste and it does get a little old after a while.

When it isn't focusing on Bucky, it does dip into a massive cast of secondary and one note characters.  Like Beetle Baily, most of these characters have little beyond their name and base personality, but are switched up often enough as to not get stale, at least for now.  The fact that the main cast is strong enough without these extras around helps, and gives the comic less of a repetitive feel.

The average joke, though, is hard to pin down.  Usually it's about Bucky saying something quite mad, but perfectly logical to him.  This requires a LOT of reading to get the joke, and often enough the joke utterly falls flat and misses.  I think Darby Conley (artist) invests too much in his jokes, not given them room to breath, and tries to fill the panels with far too many words for the joke.  Of course, if it cuts down too much, it'll end up little better than the strips it's running against, so there's something to be said for wordiness.

Compared to a lot of comics, Get Fuzzy feels more like a webcomic than the older strips.  Perhaps it's because it is so much younger, but it has a lot more edge to it than other comics.  That edge, though, seems wasted on jokes that are quasi-poltical in nature and over wordy.  I would say it represents a kind of middle ground between the funny pages and the internet, and I suspect that a comic like Sinfest might have ended up very similar if it had ended up in newspapers.

I do still read Get Fuzzy, but often find myself scanning through the longer diatribes to hopefully get to the joke.  There are much worse comics out there, so I'll tolerate it once in a while.

Next time, probably a Touching Base as I do some cleaning up of links and such.  Got a comic I have to pull from the read list and put in the "probably dead" one.  Makes me sad.  Later kiddies.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Not So Wild Review: Schlock Mercenary

Time for yet another not so wild review, and this time I cover a comic I keep calling the best overall webcomic on the internet today:


I spoken before on why I think it's the best overall, but I'll say it again.  "Overall" means it does every element of a comic more than well enough to compete with comics that are on the top of their field.  Oh, it's art isn't as good as Dresden Codak, few comics are that good.  It's humor isn't laugh out loud funny as Nobody Scores! can be.  The story isn't nearly as well built as Gunnerkrigg Court or Errant Story.  Yet these comics cannot easily be compared to each other without one looking vastly superior in their personal category.  Schlock can run with all of them and, more importantly, Schlock updates everyday of the week, without fail.  To my knowledge, Schlock has NEVER missed an update.  There are maybe a handful of comics that can lay claim to that title, and to do it as well as Schlock has done is hard to find and pinpoint.

So what makes this comic run with the big boys?  Let's find out.


Schlock Mercenary has perhaps one of the largest casts of any comic I read.  And I don't mean just a lot of secondary characters, nearly every one of these characters is nearly a main character and the main characters, especially Schlock himself, are often regulated to secondary roles.

This creates an interesting dynamic as you know who the main characters are (Schlock, Tagon, Kev etc) but they aren't always the focus.  They are usually involved, at least one of them is basically in every story, but the story isn't necessarily about them.  If anything, the comic is more about the cast rather than any small group of main characters.  "Secondary" characters get a lot of panel time, development and backstory, more than many comics even give main cast members.

Even more important though, is that characters die, a lot.  The number of cast members who have shuffled off this mortal coil is difficult to keep track of, though the one that sticks out the most is Tagon himself (he got better after time travel shenanigans).  Still, Tagon is one of the main characters so it's no surprise he came back, but most of the rest have not been so lucky.


What helps keep investment in this rather massive cast of characters is the art.  Each character is different in design, from augmented humans, to the giant elephant men, to Schlock's more unique design.  And I don't just mean the different aliens look different, ALL the characters look different.  They have different profiles which helps pick them out in a crowd.  Being able to figure out who is who, not just from uniforms but from the total package, draws the reader in and allows them to be more invested in the characters.

The backgrounds and other art are just as good.  The Sunday strips, in particular, are usually given far more attention and highlight the skill of the artist.  The designs are also consistent. with ships showing off their "annie" plants almost regardless of type, this is something that a sci fi fan, like myself, notices.  Yet while distinctive and often very good, it is relatively simple.  I suppose this helps production times (again, it's never missed an update) but it isn't going to do more than surpass all by the most well crafted strips.  It's not high art, is what I'm getting at, but it's more than serviceable, and actually very nice.


The stories in Schlock are all focused on Tagon's Toughs, the mercenary group Schlock belongs to and their adventures.  These scale quite a bit from relatively small contract missions, to galaxy spanning and changing wars.  The focus, though, is almost always on the Toughs, or events that relate directly to them.  The shifting scale of the stories means that you never quite know what's coming next and even when it gets there, it might go somewhere else you didn't expect.

The comic does follow the rule of funny:  If it's funny, absurd, goofy or just plain punny, it happens.  The stories themselves may not necessarily be funny, but nearly every strip has a joke, and if it doesn't, it might just be a set up for one a couple comics later.  From a character left crying in a hallway, unable to move, to awhile later, subverting a small warship to her charms and whims.  It's fun to read, and it keeps you engrossed in what comes next as much as anything.

The comic manages to balance the humor off with more dramatic moments a bit better than, say, Sluggy Freelance has done as of late.  Much of that comes because I don't think Schlock takes itself nearly as seriously, and when the main character is a sentient pile of poo, seriousness is already a distant dream.  The rest comes from knowing when to shift the gear over.  Sluggy is good at it, but I think Schlock is probably better.


Didn't I already say I think it's the best overall comic?  I think I did.  Whenever I think of a great comic, this is amongst the first ones I pick out.  It hits a nice balance of all the things that make a webcomic, from very good art, to very good story telling, and very good characters.  Nothing is excellent, except one thing:  It ALWAYS updates.  With my history of finding comics who die from hiatus or update once a month if not more, I find that a comic I can rely on to update not just when it's scheduled but every single day to be something of a rare and precious flower.  Any short comings the comic has, and it has very few, are made up almost entirely by it's continuous production.  I said early there are maybe a handful that pull it off, and that's just being cautious, I can't actually think of one.  The closest I think is Bob the Angry Flower, and even then there will be double posts if a missed week happens or is planned, and it's history is beyond the recent is spotty at best.  Schlock Mercenary may stand alone in this arena of being not only a very good comic, but one you know will be there the next day, even if you're not.

Well that's enough of that kiddies, next week, I think I'll get back to some newspaper comics.  Until then.