Friday, September 26, 2014

Best Overall: Humor

When I was first starting this project, I decided to base it on The Standard, and thus I went in and reread the first year of Schlock Mercenary.  Then I decided to do something else, and yet, that first year still fit.

In many ways the first year of Schlock really encapsulates the humor of the comic since, let's be clear, it needed it.  Art wise, Schlock wasn't much to look at, to the point that the note block (which I'll talk about more in a bit) for the first strip suggests moving to a strip almost ten years later, just because of the art.

At the same time, there also isn't much story to begin with.  It does build up, but the first month of strips or so are basically one off jokes.  The same goes for the characterization.  While Schlock himself has always been kind of one dimensional, and thus fills in quickly and easily, the rest of the cast lack, well, everything.  It takes years for many of these characters to mature to forms that seem familiar to readers of the current strips, so that first year is pretty devoid of these elements.

Thus the comic must rely on humor to bolster itself, and it obviously worked.  The amazing thing is that the nature of the jokes hasn't changed since that day back in 2000.

The jokes are mostly word plays, snarky replies and the occasional physics joke.  The back and forth commentary is sharp as ever as one reply leads to another.  Ennesby is introduced shortly into the comment and he'll eventually be the avatar for this kind of humor.  Not that the rest of the cast was ever slow on the draw, and really it makes up the bulk of the humor not just of the first year, but of the comic as a whole.

That said, my favorite jokes are the physics ones.  These are typically explained in the "note block" at the bottom of the comic which either explain some obscure backstory element that's necessary to understand the joke, or to spell out the numbers.  And my goodness are the numbers entertaining in Schlock.  Howard manages to break down complex equations and actions and use them to describe, well, a joke.  It's the core of much of the humor I enjoy, you know, given the physics degree on I have on my wall.

Just like Sluggy Freelance, I found the first year much quicker than I would have guessed.  Before the year is out, the Toughs have a new ship, Petey is a force to be reckoned with, teraporting is normal for the team (but not open sourced yet), most of the central cast has been introduced and the underlying background plot for the rest of the comic has been initially established.  What originally felt like years went by quickly, but I suspect that if I did a lot of these re-readings of old comics, this would likely be normal.

And yes, the humor is well established.  There will be more polish later on as Howard got better and better at writing the jokes, but for the most part the essence really didn't change much.  I think that first year really lets the humor outshine everything else, and shows how the comic really established itself early, and once the ball got rolling on the other fronts, the readers were set to stay for the long haul.

Next time, Story.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Best Overall: Introduction

Last year, I spent far too long talking about Sluggy Freelance and how it is my Standard.  My goal was to show that for good and ill, the comic represents pretty much everything that makes webcomics, well, webcomics.  But the word "standard" has another meaning.

The phrase "a new standard" is often used to represent something as being "the best," the measuring stick against which all else must be measured.  Sluggy CAN be that at times, but it really isn't, and in fact saying that about any one comic is difficult at best because no one comic can be best at everything.

Three years ago I did a series of "quasi-awards" and gave out awards based on "best."  I created the categories based on what I think of as "best" parts of a comic.  Sometimes it's the art, or the humor, the story or the cast, and the winners of each category best represented, at the time, the best of the webcomics I've read.

Of course, there was a Best Comic category as well, but I kind of picked the winner for that pretty early on, probably before I even wrote the article series.  The description all but settles it:  Nominees must show general excellence in the fields of art, writing and publication over the length of the comic's lifespan.

Schlock Mercenary won Best Comic, and I STILL hold that it is the best overall comic I read.  That means it's good to great basically all the time, almost never dipping below average in any one category for any real length of time.  The worst it's been has been in its art, and that was only really at the very beginning of the comic, a period where most young comics are at their worst, and even then it managed to still be pretty decent.

And that's the point.  While Sluggy can and has achieved better heights, it's lows are really, REALLY low.  Schlock has had pretty good to great moments, it also has never dropped much below average.  The art is pretty damn good, the story is pretty damn good, the humor is pretty damn funny (got you there), and the characters are pretty damn good.  They're not all great, and often not all pretty damn good at the same time, but they don't need to be.

Oh and the comic updates every damn day.  I'll get into that later.

This will be different from The Standard in a few ways, of course.  There isn't a real "bad" story in Schlock, in fact I asked on a web forum I frequent for bad Schlock story suggestions and the few who responded just shrugged since they couldn't think of any either, so my format from the Standard (First year, best, worst, recent) wasn't going to work.

On thinking about it, however, I do have some categories, and so I will go over the four key elements that represent "the best" categories from the Quasi-Awards: Humor, Story, Character and Art.  I will then pick a story that best represent each of these and try to explain why.  Oh and then there will be something about updates.

That all begins next week with the subject of Humor.  Until then kiddies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Stuff: Longer than Eternity

Relevant Story:  The Delphi

Sorry this took so long to get out.  Life got in the way.  And work.  And laziness.  And the fact that this is really hard to write a follow up for.

This is because Quinn Lazerus is in ALL of my stories.  And I don't mean in a "well this is kind of him" way, I mean he's there, somewhere.  He may not even be mentioned, by name or other wise, but somewhere in each universe he's there.  He's also in all of your stories too.  I made Quinn a kind of ultimate meta character, his story is that he lives through every possible incarnation of reality (within a set of rules, which I won't get into).  So he's in every original piece of fiction, fan fiction, childhood dream and everything in between.

Which makes him both very easy and insanely hard to write for.  On one hand, I can just stick him anywhere (he has no locked personality, he lives too long for that) and let him do whatever.  On the other hand, I could do just as well creating a new character, and then have actual backgrounds and such that work.  And the same problems with Deborah come up with Quinn as well, only worse at certain points.  His story is basically too big to write.

The Delphi was kind of an attempt to try some bits of it, and I stopped because, well, lazy.  Still, I had fun because it let me do something about Delphi, who gets less time than Quinn story wise, but is in just as many.  As a character, Delphi is a ship that basically watches EVERYTHING, and it watches more and more as time goes on, until it knows everything all the time, thus why it is the ultimate database, recording and storing it all.

Which makes both Delphi and Quinn boring for writing stories about.  Quinn has done it all and more, and Delphi has seen it all and more.  So even in this story, I had to think of different angle, which is why I did it from the perspective of the cleaning drone 5280.  Persephone is a bit easier to understand compared to the other two, and it was just kind of fun.  The fact that the drone shows up just as much as Quinn and Delphi isn't an issue because, well, we know what she's been doing this whole time:  cleaning, always cleaning.

All in all, there isn't much to stay about the story other than it's not finished, like most of pieces.  Quinn's overarching story plays only a major role in a few of the stories you'll see from now on, his greatest impact is on the Order stuff since, well, he founded it.  Beyond that he's only a major character in his own stories, and I don't write many of those, at all.  There is one other place he shows up that you'll see, but I'll mention that when the time comes.

Next time, I should have the last completed Order story up, then I'll have to think on where to go next.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Touching Base #18

An actual Touching Base this week.

To start, I'm moving Little Guardians to weekly because, well, it's weekly.  That said, Blue Blaster is NOT, it's at least two days a week, so it's going over to T-Th-S.

Station V3 is updating again!  I guess there was some personal and technical issues that ground the comic to a halt, but it's back and going again.  Might take a bit to get back up to full speed, but it's going.

Sluggy Freelance is back to 5 days a week after going 3 days a week after finishing the last major storyline.  And Pete promptly gets sick just in time for it.

Deep Fried finished the second run of Weapon Brown.  What's it to do next?  I don't know.  The creator is still doing a book tour for it, so I suppose it won't be until he's back from that.

Commander Kitty has a kind of update.  Apparently he got an animation job, which is why the comic has fallen to the wayside.  Seems he feels that this start/stop nature is a disservice to his readers and is considering just doing whole printed books.  I would say instead do what City of Reality did early on, and just post whole chapters at a time.  I think that would be a nice compromise, and less risk than printing books.

Menage a 3, Eerie Cuties and Magick Chicks have all kind of stopped dead as they work to fill out Kickstarter rewards.  Once they're done, all 3 should be back to regular updates.

Twilight Lady is stalled out until they can get some more Pateron money to keep the comic going.  I think this is counter productive as you have to have a comic people want to read before they'll pay you for it.  That said, there are other comics on the site, so I guess that counts, but I'm still bummed the comic is all but dead (they're well below the threshold to restart it).  I'll give it a bit and see if it'll come back.  Though it does look like the act of consolidating his various comics into a single site (Corridor Realms) might help speed that along.  Might have to check out where the other comics went in the meantime.

Out at Home is still going through it's reboot phase.  Still waiting to see what comes out.

Short Stories had a need short story that started a bit ago, but suddenly the whole thing but the cover page is gone (it wasn't over yet either).  Not sure what's up with that at all.

Alex Ze Pirate did some updating (I JUST saw this), but it was back in August and then stopped, again.  I'll probably read through it later (freaking work).

Okay, now an update on My Stuff.  Mainly I meant a follow up post to the last story thing, but work, and the priority will ALWAYS be the webcomic stuff because, well, it's a webcomic blog.  I know, I almost forgot a couple times myself.  Anyway, I'll try to get something up in the next couple of weeks.

Next week, however, I should be able to start my next series of articles.  See you then kiddies.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Going Critical: Difference of Opinion

So back on the 23rd of August Doctor Who started up a new season (or series, Brits are weird with that).  I liked it.  Howard Taylor, the artist of Schlock Mercenary, did not.

I'm not going to highlight my disagreements or discuss the episode in particular, but more the point that differences of opinion exist.  Respecting them depends on the reasons they give.

I say that last part because there are a LOT of opinions out there about a LOT of different things, and not all of them are all that well thought out.  I'm not just talking about "that sucks" and "that rules" crowd, but people who don't put any real effort into their opinions.  You could say that about my opinion that I liked the new Doctor Who, and then promptly didn't qualify it.  I don't intend to either since that's not the point.

The point is that many people will simply parrot opinions given by others as their own.  It does take some amount of effort to state why something didn't work for you, as Howard did with that Doctor Who episode.  People are lazy, though, especially on the internet (please no comments about two weeks of lack of site updates), and often are more than happy just to take the previous person's opinion as gospel.  It's often hard to say that something is good or bad based on one review without knowing their history of reviews or seeing it yourself.

Knowing how a person reviews things does help.  Howard has a rather long list of movies he's reviewed (less TV, but some), and of course he's got all of Schlock as his background, so I think I see where he's coming from in his review.  It underwhelmed him, he saw that there were angles that could have been done better, but there were also distractions from the plot, and somethings that were a bit too heavy handed.

On my end, I tend to allow more leeway in design, let things develop over time and look more long term than the immediate plot.  I'm also more willing to overlook distractions and generally don't set my expectations too high right away.  Much of that likely comes from how I review comics, from the beginning, where weaker art, stories and characters are bound to exist and SHOULD get stronger over time.

So while Howard gets turned off by the episode (and the teaser), I'm more curious how they're going to take the ground work I'm seeing and use it in the future.

Never take any review as final, only as a guide.  Even mine are about "did I like, do I think you will" rather than "this is bad, don't touch."  Listen to multiple opinions when possible, and if there's still interest, go see it or read it yourself.

Next time, not sure.  We'll see.  Until then kiddies.