Friday, June 14, 2013

The Standard: The Failure

Last time I talked the high points of Sluggy Freelance, and there are a lot of them.  Now though, we need to talk about the low point.  Not low "points," just one.  The lowest point, the point that nearly broke Sluggy Freelance forever.  Oceans Unmoving.

Failure is probably the best word to sum up Oceans Unmoving.  Followed up by boring and slow.  It's also the key reason why Sluggy remains the standard by which I measure all comics, because it shows how badly things can go wrong, and how even loyal fans can turn against something.  That said, it's not bad.  Hell, it's actually pretty good.  So why is it a failure?

There are a lot of reasons, but I think the first one is that of production, especially in Oceans Unmoving I, the first major part.  Even back before That Which Redeems, Abrams had dropped Saturday as an update day, handing it over to a guest artist.  Okay, that was tolerable, even a pretty good sometimes, but it also makes for a good sign post of weekly production, and it went way, way down during this period.  Filler and guest strips are exceedingly frequent during the full year that Oceans Unmoving dominated, a sign that there was issues either in the script writing, the comic drawing, or possibly personal issues that we, the audience, were not privy to.  Even as Oceans Unmoving II got underway, there was frequent inconsequential filler.  If Sluggy hadn't already had such a long history, I'd almost compare it to the more temperamental artists I've read, as it feels very similar.  I can't say if there were personal issues (there was a period where he had injured his hand, and there was also writers and artists block) as there was never any indication of such, but I wouldn't be surprised if SOMETHING was going on throughout the year.  If there wasn't, then good, glad to hear, but I doubt we'll find out any time soon.

Then there was the exposition problem.  Dr. Viennason's video series isn't a terrible concept, initially, and for the opening introduction to timeless space it worked well enough.  The joke, of course, is that it goes on entirely too long and is boring and technically a form of torture.  Which would be funnier if it wasn't completely true.  The first 3 strips that feature it work to give the basics, but every subsequent inclusion, especially near the end of OU2 is PAINFUL.  The problem here is simple editing.  Much of the later half of OU2 could be cut (especially the framing device) in order to produce a tighter work.  Editing has always been an issue for webcomics of every type, and usually Abrams can do it well enough, but here he had so much information to give out and he seems so stressed on production that the result is a painful coalition between bad framing and Viennason.

When it's tight though, it's damn good.  The first part of Oceans Unmoving II, Real Time, is really good.  I was quite impressed at how engaged I was in this part and how well it flowed.  The jokes were good, the pacing was fine, there was little or no exposition problems and it was just a fun ride.  Overall, the story of Oceans Unmoving is good, I like it.  The universe that Abrams creates for really is a wonderful playground and there could have been many, many adventures taking place there.  So fix the production issues and do some well planned editing and Oceans Unmoving would be damn near great right?

Well, there is one other issue.  With last weeks edition, I covered 3 stories that had a strong impact on the comic, and were very focused on a particular member of the Sluggy cast.  Oceans Unmoving continues the tradition by focusing on Bun Bun.  Those other 3 though, had the featured character exploring their relationships with the OTHER Sluggy cast members, Oceans Unmoving does NOT.  Bun Bun is the only main Sluggy cast member in the entire story (only being a relative term, of course).  It doesn't explore who Bun Bun is, how he views the other cast members or anything like that, it's even barely an origin story.  Worse?  Bun Bun, while he plays a major role in the story, is NOT the main character of his own story.  Two new characters, who are both interesting enough on their own, are the main characters.  Neither is Torg, Riff, Zoe or Gwynn, and that's where the real failure comes from.

On it's own, Oceans Unmoving is pretty good.  As a spin off, a side story, or it's own comic, Oceans Unmoving would likely be well received, even despite the production issues.  As a story of Sluggy Freelance, it just doesn't work.  It doesn't fit well into the overall narrative that's already been established.  Then, when it looked like it was over as Bun Bun exited the stage, it just kept going on and on.  This likely is what soured everyone on the comic, by this point it had been going on at least as long as That Which Redeems, and the drawn out exposition and framing made it feel even LONGER.  In the end, it topped out at 9 months, with a short gap in the middle, so Oceans Unmoving actually encapsulated nearly a full year.  Cut down, it probably could have taken half that time, or been spread out over a longer period, but as it was presented, it felt like a gut check for the fans, and they turned away in droves.

Oceans Unmoving became the poster child for everything that was wrong with Sluggy Freelance.  Many who were on the fence of the comic by that point jumped off and headed for greener pastures.  The dedicated fans stuck with it, but I think few have positive memories about the story.  Which is a shame, the story is pretty good and in a way, I want to see where it went afterwards.  Just not in Sluggy Freelance.

Next time, the post Oceans Unmoving years.  Not days, not months, YEARS.

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