Friday, July 26, 2013

Politics and Webcomics, Round 2

A couple weeks ago now, there was a trial in Florida.  A white man shot a black teen and claimed self defense.  The white man was found not guilty of murder.  As I type, there are protests against this ruling.

I'm not going to talk about any of that.  Well, not in detail, because for the most part, I really don't care about this particular incident.  Racism in the United States is a topic that will be with us for a long time, whether real or perceived, and the day we finally settle it, will be the day humanity as a whole has become better than anyone could ever have imagined.

Back in the early days of this blog, I wrote an article about Politics and Webcomics.  The message at the end was quite clear:  Don't do it.  Back then, it was about doing it through the length of the comic, a tedious process that caused me to lose the plot of a comic on at least one occasion and still tickles around other times.  It just wasn't worth it to alienate other readers.

Then this trial happened and a few have dipped into that well.  Making one's opinion known on a particular subject is something that should be taken with great care.  The reactions to making a statement can be very nasty in some circles.  It can lead to ridicule, and if the artist isn't prepared to take on that ridicule, it could be destructive.  It also colors past work, sometimes in a very bad way.

Let's take Orson Scott Card, for example.  If you don't know the issues around him, know only that he's not very well loved by even the slightly liberal of society.  His book, Ender's Game, is, however, still considered a science fiction classic, it's even getting a film (betting it'll bomb, seems to be a year for bombs).  I'm not saying one has to like the artist to like the work, I won't say that because it's bull, but it does make exploring further work of that artist a little more difficult.

For a webcomic artist, the issue is more dire.  A book need only be written once and sell many copies, both before and after a political statement is made, and even if not another work of the author sells, at least the author can make money off the previous work.  A webcomic must CONSTANTLY resell itself.  A major slip up in such a financial environment could be outright devastating, and destroy incomes almost completely.  It's why, I think, most of the major comics and their artists have stayed away from making statements regarding this trial:  It's not worth risking their livelihoods.

At the same time, it can rip a fanbase apart, and destroy a large, healthy community.  I've seen it happen over lesser things, and greater things.  Friendships can be destroyed with a few words, communities shattered, and, again, it can lead to financial failure.

Webcomics, however, are a form of self expression.  If the feeling is strong enough that an artist must make a statement, then I won't stand in the way.  Just be aware of the baggage that comes with it.  Whether it be abortion, universal health care, gay marriage, gun control and, of course, racism, making a statement WILL bring the heat on, it is the internet after all.  Be ready for it, pick your battles and accept the anger and hate that will come.

I still stand by my original statement however.  Don't do politics, it's not worth the effort.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Brainstorming B

Eddie's Seefood Restaurant - There's a large canal that runs down the middle of the city.  Along it's edges are walkways and dozens of buildings.  One of them has a worn out sign that read's "Eddie's Seafood Restaurant" with the 'a' crudely painted over with an 'e.'  Inside, Tessa, the manager, waitress and chef of the restaurant spends her time painting and selling plates because on one is going to be eating off them any time soon.  In the basement is Eddie, the owner and once great chef, spends his days caring for his fish.  Some time ago there was an accident and Eddie lost a great amount of his mental faculties.  Since that day, the fish he once kept live and fresh in the basement became his pets and obsessions, and the restaurant fell on dark times.  Then, after a flash flood, Eddie found an angel fish apparently dead along the shores of the canal.  He took it home and put it into one of his tanks, where it seemed to come back to life.  That's when strange things started happening. . .

Lots of odd dreams of late.  This one featured fish coming back from the dead.  Last time I built a serious, science fantasy piece involving a bizarre mystery.  This time, I see a fantasy with a less than serious bent.  Not "ha ha" funny, but more "well that's amusing" type funny.  Particularly how the restaurant makes money by selling plates.  Not of food, but the plates themselves.

As for where it's going, the idea is that the restaurant becomes, well, viable again.  Whether as a restaurant or not is another story, but people come and so does money.  After that, maybe wacky adventures, I suppose.  The eventual goal is determining what, or perhaps who, the angel fish is and what it really means.  I'm thinking that it really isn't about the restaurant per se, but the neighborhood and city around it.  The history of the place, what really happened to Eddie perhaps is part of it, and the future of this place.

This is a very rough idea, but it's an idea that a decent artist and writer could play with for a long term comic with no solid ending to speak of.

BTW, if you're an artist looking to use these ideas, just tell me and give me credit and you can go wild.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The Standard: Conclusion

So after 2 months and seven parts, we're at the end.  This ended up a lot longer than I thought.  In fact, it almost feels like an ultra deep review of Sluggy Freelance, but I guess that's a given.  The point of this was to explain why it's my standard.

Being a standard is an odd role for anything.  It's what I measure every comic by, and compare it to.  Is it as good as Sluggy?  Did it have the same mistakes or avoid them?  Will I remember it as well?  These questions aren't ever explicitly asked, but they do haunt around the back of my mind.

I hope that this series has shown the sheer breadth Sluggy Freelance has covered, both good and bad.  It's sheer age makes other comics quake in fear, but it also has seen itself toppled on more than one occasion.  Making comparisons to it is valid then, because there's always something to pick out.  Want to wipe out a bunch of extra characters?  Look to Kitten.  Want to sow the seeds of a long term mystery?  Anything with Oasis is valid.  Want to see how to completely derail a successful comic despite not being awful?  Oceans Unmoving ahoy.

And it's not bad, at all.  There is a post on the "Bad Webcomic Wiki" that asked if Sluggy should be included, and the agreement was no, it should not.  It's not bad.  Has it fallen back a step from where it was?  Sure, but maintaining such quality is hard in any medium.  But in stepping back from greatness it didn't drop straight into awfulness.  It's not Blade Kitten for god sake!

There is one thing, though, that Sluggy hasn't done, and something I can't yet compare it to other comics for yet.  It hasn't ended.  Yet.  When I started writing these, back in May, Abrams put up a news post where he basically admits that Sluggy is in it's third act.  Being Act Three generally means the last act of a play, and thus the end of Sluggy Freelance is on the horizon.  Which is another way of saying we've probably got about 5 years before we get there.

There have been times when I thought Sluggy should end, I suspect mostly during the lull period after Oceans Unmoving when the comic felt lost and without direction.  Admitting that the comic is in the last act feels liberating.  There won't be any more loose threads created now, just a lot of tying up.  We might even get answers finally to the questions of Oasis and maybe he might call back to Oceans Unmoving (one that might actually be satisfying).

Ending Sluggy would be a massive event, even as the comic's popularity has shrunk a bit.  It's one of the longest lived, actively updated comics on the internet.  It's slowly worked it's way into the culture, even crossing into other mediums.  Don't believe me?  Well, there's a book out there where a giant artillery piece is named "Bun Bun."  Yeah, this exists, and it was published.  It's memorable to the point that even people who have never read Sluggy Freelance KNOW about Sluggy.  They may not know details, but say a character name, and they know it's from Sluggy, or mention Oceans Unmoving and they know where it came from.

When it ends (not if any more, it's when) I will be there and I will be there to compare it to other comics ending.  Sluggy Freelance is my Standard for all webcomics, for good or ill, from beginning to end.  I should probably find some comics to add to the pile now, shouldn't I?

Friday, July 5, 2013

The Standard: Resurgence

In December 2008, the first part of the chapter bROKEN began with a large splash page the significance of which wouldn't be apparent for a while.  This is the beginning of the current storyline and where Sluggy Freelance came back to life.

I know many will argue against this case.  How is it any different than it was before?  Well, I remember it, for one.  The other is that Abrams once again began taking chances.  The previous 3 years had been kind of dry of significance and importance.  There was some information there, but mostly it was silly stories, and an attempt to keep the fans who hadn't left after Oceans Unmoving.  They were still leaving though, slowly trickling away.  Something had to be done, a chance had to be taken, and Abrams did it.

Did it work?  Well, it did for me.  Sluggy is often accused of "Cerberus Syndrome" which is a failing attempt to balance drama with comedy.  It's the prime example of the idea in fact, and the coiner of the term referenced Sluggy directly for it.  That said, I don't think it actually fails at it shifting between the two.  I always view it as the Dramatic Downshift, a term derived from a similar idea from Civilization 2, the Demorcratic Downshift.  The idea is that comedy can get a comic jump started and keep it going for a while, but to last, shifting down into drama is more lucrative and will keep the comic going longer.  After Oceans Unmoving, Abrams shifted completely out of drama and focused solely on comedy.  The result was 3 years of mediocrity.

bROKEN was shifting back into drama.  I think Sluggy always did drama better than comedy, but comedy was usually never forgotten.  The point of the comedy was to contrast with the drama and lighten the blow when necessary, but NEVER when it was unnecessary.  Lame Zoe's death in That Which Redeems was NOT countered by a pithy joke, for example.  Without the drama to counter it, the weakness of the comedy was quite apparent throughout the lull after Oceans Unmoving.

Shifting back to the more dramatic gave Abrams more options with his characters and stories.  Zoe's "death" proved an excellent call back to That Which Redeems, a vision in The Bug, the Witch and the Robot and Fire and Rain all in one shot, a moment of culmination that fans had been waiting for.  A much clear picture of who and what Oasis is was painted for the first time.  And Torg and Riff were physically separated and had to find new roles and solve their own respective mysteries.

Zoe's apparent death and her resurrection was derided, but it was set up (the pieces were provided) and it had to be done.  Balancing the desires of the fans with the demands of the critics is something that is quite difficult, and in the end, as I said in my analysis of the situation, Abrams likes to eat.  Could he have killed her off for good?  Yeah, but I doubt it would have lasted long in one form or another.  At least this way it made sense.

Riff finally got his story rather than being tied to anyone else.  There was a brief bit in Dangerous Days where he got some alone time and development, but his real story was here.  Torg got another chance to show his character growth by being trapped in denial over Zoe's death, and setting up subsequent chapters of the comic.  Minor characters like Sam and Sasha got much stronger roles under his leadership and the comic experienced a bit of a resurgence as Minion Master and 4UCity traded places.

The reunion of the cast began as those two stories ended, and still isn't over as Gwynn is still missing in action and the current story will likely resolve that.  The result is a complete, but slightly different main cast.  It's interesting that they really haven't been wholly united in a long time, and this might end up being the first major thing they've all done together.

I WANT to read Sluggy now.  I want to see where the stories are taking these characters, and how they're going to react.  Abrams isn't going through the motions here as he was before, but actively pushing forward.  There's less filler, more content.  The jokes are a bit snappier and balanced better against the drama then they have been in a long time.  It almost feels like he's having fun again with the comic.

Next week, I wrap this long study of one comic.