Friday, June 29, 2012

Retrospective: Starslip

The end of Starslip, or Starslip Crisis as I always called it, came as a bit of a shock to me.  I wasn't exactly expecting it until it was, well, there.  I will say at least it was an ending, unlike Road Waffles, but still was kind of surprising.

I'm going to say this right now, Starslip was not a great comic.  Not a bad comic by any stretch, mind you, just not great.  A decently good comic that was entertaining, fun, funny, and had some neat story bits.  The idea behind it was turning a ship refitted to be a flying museum, with artwork therein, into a warship commanded by a curator.  Wild antics ensue.

Funny came from the fact that Memnon was not cut out to be any kind of military commander, and yet, somehow, managed it with the help of his fellow crewmembers and friends.  Initially he held them all at arms length, figuring they were beneath him in some way (he was a curator of a museum after all), but as time and adventures wore on, eventually he changed and grew.  A bit.

In fact, the three major cast members really didn't change that much through the course of the comic, which is not a bad thing, mind you.  Jinx remained subservient to a fault, though was far more competent than even he suspected many times, and Cutter was always a retired pirate.  He even got a peg leg near the end.

The art of the comic changed dramatically between the "Starslip Crisis" and "Starslip" phase of the comic, and for the better.  Characters became more than heads put on copy and paste shoulders.  They felt far more real than in the early strips.  Oh, they were still cartoon characters, but more real ones.  As the art style got better, it got more grand and some of the best moments in the later comic were helped by the amazing art.

The storylines were loose and, possibly a bit confusing.  Typically it involved time and universe travel, which creates lots of weird paradoxes and other things.  The finale actually featured an old version of Memnon, his future son, the villain and HIS clone/son fighting agents from the future who could predict actions because they could see time.  Yeah, that finale was wild.

And again, kind of surprising.  It wasn't that the ending wasn't well done, it was, it tied up the major loose ends very nicely.  No, the issue was that there were a lot of smaller plot lines that were left behind.  Nothing major, of course, but enough to leave a nagging taste in my mouth.  The entire Jovia letter arc was incomplete and could have gone on much longer.  In the move to end, I guess, it was necessary, but I still would have liked to see it.

Why did it end though?  Kris Straub has a recording of a live stream regarding it, but never actually answers the question.  I get the impression that he wanted to simply work on something else, and wanted to wrap it up.  That's a fair answer, and one that some artists need to admit too.  At least he gave us an ending, unlike a lot of other artists.

Again, it wasn't a great comic, but I did like it and read it all the way until the end.  The last three comics of my daily read is Station V3, Starslip and Sluggy Freelance in that order, and now there is a bit of a hole in that lineup.  I'll miss the comic, but it sounds as if Straub is planning another story comic, and I intend to follow it.

I'll probably won't have anything next week as I've got a 10 day work week ahead of me.  I'll try to post something saying I'm posting nothing at least.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nothing, again

Not enough hours in the day to work on this and everything else this week.  I'll have something next week, since another comic ended.  Yeah, didn't expect this one either.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Retrospective: Road Waffles

Writing this is going to be a rough go for a couple of reasons.  The first is that I don't trust that in 2 years, Eight won't start updating it again.  Calling this the "end of Road Waffles" is like saying "the end is nigh."  It might be true, but it might not be.  Another reason is that, because of the four year gap in the comic's updates, I don't remember a lot of it (and have been rereading it for this post).  The final reason is that, well, Road Waffles is not one comic, it's more like four of them.

That said, the themes of the comic are pretty consistent, as is the art, so I can talk about all four at once when it comes to those.  As to the specific stories of each comic, well, that's another story, so to speak.  We'll get to that.

Artwise, the comic has, for the most part, been a black and white shaded strips.  All the characters are distinct, which is good since there are a lot of them and they come in and out of the strip fast and furious, but they all follow a simple model:  Thin, big headed, and kind of crazy.  There's a sketchy feel to the entire strip, yet it's all very deliberate, even the earliest strips have this feeling, when the comic is more cartoony.  I really like the art, and find it fits the spastic nature of the comic better than could generally be hoped for.

The major theme of the comic is travel, typically through the desert regions of the American southwest.  Mostly it seems around Reno and Las Vegas, which means the deserts of Nevada.  This makes the landscapes quite empty and stark.  And usually involve cars of some sort.  They serve the story well, creating a sense of isolation through the strip as there are rarely many people around, and when they are, they usually end up dead.

That is the biggest theme throughout the comic, death, pointless, senseless death.  The very name of the comic, Road Waffles, refers to the pattern tires make on road kill.  One of the early jokes of the comic was that the main characters were "unkillable."  This ended up not being true (for the most part) and killing characters, new, old, whatever, became common place.  Typically through getting shot in some odd way.  Or being time traveled to death.  Or being randomly hit by a car.  Or decapitated by a knife wielding lunatic that likes to eat freshly killed pigs.  Or simply drowning.

Which is to say, it's random as hell.  Saying there is an "overall plot," even divided up into the four books, as it were, is stretching a a series of thin premises a bit too far.  The first book is very much this, bouncing from one oddball encounter to another.  First it starts with a hold up of a convenience store (another common theme, convenience stores), then goes into a bit with zombies, random killings, battling zombie hoards, time travel, randomly kidnapping Green Day members, more zombies, and then a multi-universe war, which ends about as fast as it began.  And that's not even counting the chipmunk encounters that are sprinkled along the way.  It's a random, chaotic mess, but a fun ride as a whole.  If the first book was all there was of Road Waffles, it would certainly be memorable, but not necessarily great.

Then the second book starts with a homage to Hunter S. Thompson.  It then gets very philosophical, but it's not anything really all that advanced, not that I've ever taken more than a rudimentary philosophy course.  The entire cast is replaced for the bulk of the story, and versions of the book one characters appear late in the story.  It even comes back to cover the events of the great multi-universe war, which is a solid connecting piece between the two, and I think a bridge throughout the entire series.  The art drastically improves, but the story telling itself remains kind of random.  Some plot lines are started, then stopped, then get going again in time for this section to end.  Seemingly minor characters suddenly become important, then focused, then the entire cast is dumped in favor of the book one ones, and then back again for the finale.

The third book is the most different of all, probably has the least amount of violence, and perhaps had the strongest initial direction.  It still hits on the theme of travel, but skips the desert and car for trains and wings.  I find the third book, up until a certain point, to be the best of the four, and the one I enjoyed most.  Which is why I'm kind of annoyed that, unlike the first two, there was no proper resolution.  There was a lot going for it, and I think it could have supported a proper ending.  Honestly, I forgot the comic continued for some time after the main characters of the book are removed, as that, despite being depressing, felt at least like an ending.  Sadly, at least 3 separate plot threads are started at this point, and never even saw a proper conclusion.  Most potential, but never finished.

The last book is similar to the first, with a lot of the real strangeness squeezed down and condensed, making a much more followable story.  It's still random, it's in a desert, it starts with a hold up of a convenience store, and follows people in cars until something happens with the multi-verse.  It does feel like an abbreviated version of the first book, in some ways, but in others it stands alone.  It is, however really good, less random than the early stuff, and with a stronger direction than even the third book.  I like the third one better, but only because of the characters and how it can stand on it's own more.  Book four needs the rest of the comic to make sense, and in a way, it wraps up the entire comic rather nicely.

I think the real problem with this comic is that, well, Eight always had an idea for a comic, and hints of a story, but never a serious script.  He WANTS to tell a story, that might or might not be important to him, but he can't get it out there.  That's not a bad thing, after all, since the bulk of the comic is built on these half thought out ideas and I enjoy them immensely.  The problem comes when it is time for him to tell a story, at which point, the comic falls completely apart.  At the very end, he sets up an interesting tale about how a musician lost two of her fingers, and the comic looks set to tell this tale, and then, one strip into this story, the comic is ended.  Why?  I think he didn't feel he could do it justice.

And yet, and YET, he did manage a story.  A confused tale, sure, with bumps and curves that, somehow, manages to still link together.  I wouldn't call it well thought out, not in the least, but it all does seem to come together in the "end" of the comic.  Even book three, the most independent of the four, has connections to the others.

This is why I'm not so sure it's over for good.  The randomness, the sudden return of book four, the wild ride, it can't really be over this time, can it?  Maybe it is, and if so, I hope Eight is proud of what he's done, because I do love this comic.  There are comics with better, more coherent stories, with better art, funnier jokes, and all that, but it has a charm that I can't shake.  Road Waffles, whatever the future may hold, whether it be a return someday or never again, is and will remain one of my all time favorites.

Next week looks to be pretty packed for me, so I'll try to get something up, something shorter than this.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Volatile Artists

Start with the bad news on this, Road Waffles has ended, again.  I love Road Waffles, always have, but my biggest complaint is the hardest one to vocalize because it will cause the problem to surface:  Eight.  The artist, not the number.

Since I've started reading webcomics, I've had a lot of comics die due to the artist having to stop for some reason.  To be fair, most of them have a good reason.  The guys doing Parking Lot is Full moved on to other projects (distance didn't help either).  Emergency Exit and Metrophor went down to injury.  The Meek and Superhero Girl have paid jobs that take priority.  I get that, I get ALL of that, and I'm fine with it.

Then there's Under Power.  I'll probably do retrospective on this comic in the future, but the point is that it was pretty good.  And then one day, it just stopped.  Death by Hiatus.  Why the hiatus though?  The answer is along the left side of the main page:  "Vaz's Emotional Tampon Level."  Vaz is the nickname of the artist.  Yeah, when you see something like that, it should be a warning sign.  I know some people, especially artists, are like this, they have their ups and downs, bursts of creativity, and depths of depression.

Other comics, like Nobody Scores! seem not to really have an interest in doing a comic for very long.  The stops and starts between strips have gone for months at a time.  Does he have a paying gig?  No idea.  He's got an art page, but that tells me nothing of what he's been up to.  It's almost as if he doesn't LIKE his own comic.  Just the impression I get.

That's much stronger, of course, with Road Waffles, where Eight seems to be deathly afraid his works sucks in some way I can't pick out.  From my perspective, minor bumps in the road (as it were) of the comic are, well, minor.  But to volatile artists like Eight, a simple misstep in story, or art, or whatever seems to actually cause intense hatred for the entire work.  The frustration comes when I know other artists, like Poe of Errant Story, who have the same issues, but push through it and keep going.  As Poe reposts Errant Story and adds some commentary, he even speaks about how terrible a particular strip is, but it never, EVER stopped him from posting it.

Sadly, there's nothing a reader can do for these artists.  No matter how much support is thrown too them, or how often we check and recheck for an update, they are the ones who have to get over the issues.  Sadly, sometimes they don't.  I was shocked, SHOCKED, that Road Waffles started updating again, even for a brief period.  After a while, the feeling is they gave up on the strip, and the reader kind of does too.  It's what happened to Under Power, it'll probably happen to Nobody Scores!.  I guess the only thing we can hope for is they don't go too crazy and delete everything.  It's happened, and that, my friends, is the saddest thing of all.

Next time, something.  I hope.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Not So Wild Review: The Whiteboard

Several years ago, before I moved to this empty region of New York state, I used to play a bit of Airsoft, which is basically people using pumped up bb guns that look like real weapons.  It's fun, if a touch painful.  Typically, these matches would be played on the same fields as paintball, though I never played paintball itself.  The two are, from what I understand, very similar.  Which might explain the fun I have with. . .


This is a comic built around a paintball shop owned by Doc, a genius who happens to be a polar bear.  The jokes typically around his more wild creations, the comings and going of the people who shop, hang out or work in the shop, and playing paintball.  It's very much a humor comic, with little in terms of story or character development.  That's not a downside, I should note, the comic does just fine.


There isn't much to say about characters, as they are generally pretty one note.  They don't act ENTIRELY as one dimensional characters though, which is good because the jokes would probably get old after a while.  They do fit obvious roles, of course, and most characters can be identified by sight if nothing else.  Reading this comic for characters, though, is doing it wrong.


This is where some people will be turned off, as the comic would be considered "furry."  As in, the main cast is all humanized animals.  Doc is a polar bear, after all.  There are "humans" floating around, but they are little more than complex stick figures, typically in the form of Doc's customers.  The rest, are all animals, and that turns a lot of people off because of some weird internet thing.  I find it funny since Mickey MOUSE and Bugs BUNNY have been around long before the internet, and no one has the problem with them, so yeah.  The art, however, is very nice, clean black and white art that conveys quite a bit of information and is well done.


No point talking about this here too much, but there are story lines, kind of a light adventure comic style.  Nothing too great, of course, aside from the episode where they fought zombies (I don't get it either, actually), but it's there.  Right now there's a short bit dealing with learning to play in a paintball tournament, it's kind of interesting, but also played for a few laughs without being too silly.


The jokes are almost entirely wrapped around paintball, the lingo, and the madness that is Doc's creations.  Which are usually nuclear powered paintball guns.  I should note they don't need nuclear power for paintball games.  Yeah.  Things have gotten to the point of ridiculousness.  The pizza teleporter was at one point the most out there creation, now there is a hidden base, mechs and other wild things.  The rest of the jokes are much smaller jokes based on the idiosyncrasies of the cast.  It's not really anything special in the long run, but it's also good in the the small does (3 or 4 panels) that it works.


The Whiteboard started on just that, a whiteboard, but it's become a good, solid comic over the years.  There's nothing particularly "great" about it, but nothing bad either.  It's funny and entertaining and worth the read.  While other comics are much better, I will continue reading this comic for a long time to come.