Friday, March 7, 2014

Retrospective: Life of Riley

This is a comic I've been meaning to reread for a long time.  Something like, oh, 7 years, give or take a few months.  So why do it now?  Mostly because I don't have the time to read any other comics (job has stupid hours).

Still, Life of Riley is something I've been missing for a LONG time.  And I mean missing it, as I reread the comic, I get this odd joy, like something has been missing from my life and now it's back, even for a bit.

Life of Riley is one of the comics spawned as a result of the success of the second wave of comics, things like Penny Arcade and Sluggy Freelance.  Amongst it's peers is Exploitation Now!, and it's the 8th webcomic I read.  Yeah, I got nostalgia goggles on for this one, and I'm not even going to hide it.  Still, I tried to be objective going into the archive dive and found that I was being sucked back in very quickly indeed.

So what drew me back?  Well, the art is quite good for one.  Considering how old this comic is (it started in 2000), the art outdoes a lot of comics I read today.  What I like to see is distinctive characters, and this has it in spades.  There's also patterns of looks.  Demon characters are in red, angel/good characters are in blue, hell some of the characters have emoticons on their shirts indicating their alignment.  The action sequences are sensible, easy to interpret, and a lot of emotions can be gotten from the actual faces of the characters, even early on.  The art is better than solid, which is something I can't say about a lot of strips.

The writing is, well, dense.  Rereading it, I'm surprised at how MUCH text there is in this thing.  There are reasons, of course, but wow, is there a lot.  I guess I didn't notice it back in the day because, well, there weren't a lot of comics on my read list at the time, so I didn't notice how annoying it was.  And even now, it still wasn't annoying because I already knew everything and would skip large chunks of text.  For a newcomer, it would get old, but it leads to a lot of strip density.

That's one of the positive thing about the comic, strip density.  Every strip has something important going on, except for the silly "no strip today" strips (which are far more entertaining than my "no post" updates).  Between the text and the art, each regular strip adds a great deal to the comic and the universe of it.

Which is what really draws me in, the universe.  It's not a well planned world, but it grew organically over the years, and it feels, well, right, and interesting, and kind of terrifying if one examines it closely.  It's also not restrictive, allowing enough flexibility to expand and tell other stories within it.  I want to write stories for this universe, or even write fanfiction for the main comic.  I'll get to that later.

That said, the comic isn't perfect, at all.  It is partially a product of it's time.  This is when the initial popularity of comics like Penny Arcade were most keenly felt, so the early strips are very much a gaming comic.  It still maintains a bit of this as the comic goes on, but it does fade away, pretty much once the paintball war against the demons of hell gets going.

Which is where the other problem with the comic is, kind of.  I wrote an article a bit ago about Culmination Events in comics, and Life of Riley has two.  One is incomplete as it is at the end of the comic.  The other, is effectively the 3rd story of the comic.  How does that work?  ClanBoB.  What is ClanBoB?  It was/is a gaming community that the artist and writer belonged to at the time, it was even the name of the website when LoR was still updating.

Life of Riley began life as a community comic, so the paintball war story was the culmination event for the community known as ClanBoB.  There's a strip that features the BoBs arriving for the battle, and as just a reader of the comic, I have NO idea who any of them are.  But the people in that picture know exactly who the others are, probably, it has been over a decade now.  The result of this is that the comic feels backwards as the development of the actual comic characters doesn't really start until AFTER the big culmination event.

Once that begins, the comic finally comes into it's own.  It's not a gaming comic any more, it's not strictly a humor comic (Cerberus raises it's head here), but a fun adventure comic that has some great moments.  My favorite is when the narrator of the comic has enough of with the events of the story and starts ranting about how damn stupid it all is.  It's hilarious, at least to me.

So should it be read?  My nostalgia goggles say yes, do it now.  Realistically, though, it is a very niche project.  First for the old ClanBoB, and later for LoR fans, which I am.  I guess if exploring this era of comics, it fills that role really well, and it represents the work of the artist and writer.  Perhaps that is the biggest reason to read it though, as once the rather abrupt ending, right at the climax point of the story, there is no more.  Dan and Arron (artist and writer respectively), to my knowledge, have done nothing else.

I'm glad this is one of the few comics that while dead, is still available to read, and should be read so the guy running the site keeps it up.

Anyway, until next time kiddies.

1 comment:

  1. Life of Riley is perhaps the comic that I lament the loss of most. The artwork was never elegant, but rich and striking. The characters were cobbled from pop-culture and self-projection, but they managed to clearly define themselves as individuals. Most importantly, the story was really ramping up into something brilliant. Half theological reality-snapper, and half hilarious geek sitcom. By all right that's a combination no one would look as as successful on paper.

    But it was. I was gripped by the story of angels and demons and vampiric forces. I couldn't help sniggering at the hammy lines and devil-may-care attitudes. And I enjoyed the innuendo and subtle romantic subplots that held so much promise. LoR is a comic I read through quite often, and every time I get to the last strip I'm saddened by what may have been, and never was.

    I don't know what became of ClanBoB, or Dan Jaaren and the comic's crew, but I earnestly hope they found lucrative and fulfilling outlets for their talents. And a large part of me hopes keenly that someday, they might pick up that story they were going to tell and dust it off for fun. I'd certainly support it.