The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Saturday, August 27, 2005

It's like a belated birthday card, only better!

A rather explosive name change from Starshift Crisis- er... StarSLIP Crisis.
I meant to comment on this particular episode from Starslip Crisis awhile ago (i.e. when it actually happened) but internet troubles kept me from really being able to post, and honestly I didn't really want to talk about Starslip Crisis AGAIN after just having posted about it so recently. I mean, come on, what kind of blog would this be if I talked about the same thing twice within like a month's period? Pfffft...
However a clever plot twist such as this one deserves recognition not only for its novelty but also for unique aspect of webcomics that it highlights: The ability to seamlessly go back and change already published work. Kristopher Straub needed to change the name of his webcomic. In his own words: "A name change and possible trademark conflict in the future was why this storyline was necessary, and luckily I got to play with the idea within the context of the strip." So he wrote a storyline explaining that transportation throughout the universe instantaneously is accomplished by means of finding an alternate universe version of yourself which already exists at your destination and simply swapping places with it. And this allowed Straub to destroy the StarSHIFT Crisis Fuseli and its crew and replace it with the StarSLIP Crisis Fuseli from an alternate universe, then continue unabated.
It you check out the Starslip Crisis website now (I've updated my link on the sidebar), you'll notice by clicking through the archives that everywhere in which the word "starshift" was used, it has been replaced by "starslip". So, by simply buying a new domain name, changing the text in a few images, and changing the wording on a couple of pages, Straub has successfully changed the name of his strip not only for the future, but also in the past. Think you could do that in traditional comics format? Ha! Sure, if Straub had been producing independent comics he probably could have changed the name, and made enough publicity of it that pretty much all of his fans would catch the change. I mean, the difference in names is not HUGE. But he still would have had the backlog of issues under the old name as a lingering memory and something of a stumbling block for new readers looking to get into the comic. Not so on the web. He's simply erased any and all trace of Starshift Crisis from the comic, and I imagine eventually the old domain will vanish as well, leaving Starslip Crisis as the only memory people have.
And that, my friends, is the advantage of publishing on the internet.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

And you just know the cute one with the heart on his chest is the most powerful of them all.

A clever plot twist from Dandy & Company
Ugh, so many things to write about, and so little internet connection to do it with. Moving sucks. Hopefully I'll have the internet running in my apartment within the next few days and then I'll be able to actually do some consistent writing for this site. But anyways...
The thing that's always amazed me about Dandy & Company is the sheer amount of artwork which Derrick Fish manages to cram into each strip. The first part of this amazement has to do with the fact that Mr. Fish does a strip every day, Monday through Friday, and it's not even his full-time job, so you'd expect a certain degree of simplicity to the strip or even some short cuts via reusing backgrounds, character poses, etc, but it's pretty clear even after reading the strip for only a few days that he doesn't do this. I don't know how he keeps up his schedule without having his hand fall off.
The second part of my amazement is how Fish actually manages to CRAM that much artwork into such a limited size. Clearly he's trying to make a "newspaper format" strip, the type of strip that if it ever did hit it big could be very easily be printed in a daily newspaper with little to no reformatting needed. But at the same time he fills each individual strip with an amount of line art more suited for a comic book or graphic novel. Sometimes I just wish he'd ditch the "strip" format entirely and make full use of the freedom which can come from using a full page, because I can just visualize how beautiful of a comic Dandy and Company could become. But hey, it's his comic, so it's his choice.
And that brings us to today's comic, which is as much an artistic tour de force as it is a novel development in the storyline. As everyone knows from Beanie Quest II, Dandy is immune to harm when Bernard is wearing the Cosmic Beanie. And, as it turns out, it doesn't matter which Bernard (good or evil) is wearing it, the effect is the same. Well, now in Beanie Quest III we have the Evil Bernard in control of the Cosmic Beanie and basically wreaking havoc however he sees fit with the heroes unable to stop him using brute force. So, what do you do if brute force isn't working? The same thing the U.S. government always does... GET MORE BRUTE FORCE. If one indestructible dog isn't going to stop the bad guys, why not get a million indestructible dogs?
To me, this plot twist is vaguely reminscent of the old LucasArts game "Day of the Tentacle", in which Purple Tentacle takes over the world by using a time machine to retrieve thousands of copies of himself from different instances of history, but I know Derrick Fish is a big fan of traditional superhero comics, so most likely he got the idea from a parallel universe storyline in one of them (I seem to recall a Spider-man story arc in which ten or so Spider-men from alternate universes get together and fight together against Venom or someone...). Still, it's hardly a cliche plot device and I think Fish pulls it off quite well here by not merely having a bunch of copies of the same Dandy, but actually having different Dandys (Dandies?) popping into the scene. We've got the Care Bears Dandy, Muppets Dandy, a couple of Old School Dandys, a Sprite Dandy, Anime-style Dandy, and of course, to top it all off the super-mega-mecha-fighting-robot Dandy. And of course, the original Dandy makes an off the cuff wisecrack remark, reminding us all once again just why he's the star of the strip and everyone else is just "& Company".
The Beanie Quests have always been the highlights of Dandy and Company, and Derrick Fish knows it, so who can blame him for going over the top as much as possible with each one? Not I. I'm loving it. I just look forward to next week, when all the Dandys make their attack. I'm sure Evil Bernard will not go down easily, so it'll be a fight to write home about.
Gold star for Derrick Fish! Yay!

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Yesterday, love was such an easy game to play.

Unwanted realization of past sins from Megatokyo
It's funny how as you get older you mature without even realizing it. Life throws issues at you and you deal with them the best you can, then move on. You undergo so much change in your life and you don't even realize it because it happens little by little, day by day, in a continuous building rather than by leaps and bounds. Eventually, you wind up as a completely different person without even realizing it. But then, every once in awhile, one of those moments comes up which makes you realize just how far you've come from the person you used to be. I get that feeling whenever I go back to the "frat" house I lived in during my undergraduate years of college (it's not actually a fraternity, but that's the closest descriptive word I can think of). I see all the guys there acting like typical freshman and sophomores in college: goofing off, running off to go play frisbee at the drop of a hat, planning pranks on the girls' house next door, and I realize how far removed my life is from those days, even though it wasn't that many years ago that I lived there.
Piro is having on of those "maturation realization" moments in this strip. He's talking to his old buddy Tsubasa, who fans of the strip will remember from the old "four-panel" days as the Japanese student who let Piro and Largo bum around his apartment as they tried to scrounge up the money needed to get back home. In fact, when Tsubasa left is right about the time that Fred Gallagher switched from the four panel layout to manga style, and when the focus of the strip changed from random violence to a much more relationship driven, drama comic. I would guess this is about the time Rodney Caston left as well, but that's a Pandora's Box I'm not going to open today. That strip was drawn way back in June 2001 (ancient history, by web standards), and a lot has happened in Megatokyo since then. A LOT. I mean, even Largo has changed from the one-dimensional destruction machine into a man with real feelings which can be hurt and can be manipulated.
And now we have this strip, in which Piro, finally having a free moment and a computer to spend it with, manages to get in contact with his old buddy Tsubasa. And it only takes him a few moments of talking to Tsubasa to realize how much his life has really changed. Tsubasa still is what Piro used to be. He's the obsessive otaku fan who spends all his time on message boards talking about famous voice actors and actresses, being fanatical over every little detail, and in general just doing the things a fanboy does. Piro, on the other hand, is literally living out a fanboy's dream, and to him it's become everyday life. Of course it comes as a bit of a shock to him when someone he considers a friend is looking at an upskirt shot of his love interest, but the even more shocking realization which Piro is having at the end this strip, even if it's only just in his subconscious, is that this is exactly the sort of behavior that he himself engorged himself in not so long ago.
Through the lens of Tsubasa, Piro is able see just what kind of person he was before getting stuck in Tokyo, and he realizes how distasteful it was. Now, he's seen what the voice actresses have to go through as a result of all the crazy fans. He's seen the emotional trauma in both Nanasawa and Erika's lives resulting from their fame. He sees how it distances them from other people, and makes it a chore even to do something so simple as going shopping. He's come a long way and gained a lot of understanding. Then here comes Tsubasa, with information he knows the old Piro would have been interested in, including pictures uploaded to the "normal place". And the realization that you were once a part of the problem rather than a part of the solution, and that you still have possibly many friends who are still part of the problem, has got to come as a bit of a slap in the face to poor Piro here.
Megatokyo is at the beginning of a new chapter (in the mundane sense of the word. Like it's no longer chapter 6, it's now chapter 7), and in a comic such as this, where the development and progression of the characters is everything, I look forward to seeing what changes Fred Gallagher has in store for his crew in the coming months. I'm sure they will be interesting.

Fare well?

An unsatisfying ending from Poppycock Circus
I hate it when this happens. And I mean HATE IT. To me there is no greater tragedy in this world than an unfinished story. I'm one of those people who hates those movies where the ending is just a cliff-hanger or leading to a sequel that doesn't get made. I have trouble picking up new TV shows because of a deep-seated fear that the network will decide to cancel the show mid-season or something and leave everything COMPLETELY hanging in mid-air. My current version of the end of the world is that the collective weight of untold stories from cancelled television shows clogging the transcendental ether will cause the universe to come crashing down around NBC studios in a comsic inverse of the Big Bang. but I digress...
Poppycock Circus was never one of my favorite webcomics, but it was a comic which I enjoyed and followed on a consistent basis. Mike Poppycock himself was always my favorite character, the wheeler-dealer trying desperately to keep a sinking ship from going belly-up (way too many hackneyed sayings in that last sentence, but in a way, that fits Mike as well). Behind the humor, I always got a melancholy feel from reading Poppycock Circus. I mean, who does go to circuses anymore? It used to be when the circus came to town it was a major event, with posters and fliers and announcements in the paper. Now I never hear about it anymore, and while I assume that circuses must still exist, I haven't seen nor heard of one near me for almost a decade. There's just no way that a rag-tag cadre of performers, freaks, and unusual animals can compete with all the hip new forms of entertainment available on the market these days. And this sort of fading was communicated quite well by Steve Carey in Poppycock Circus. Sure, the gang had a lot of wacky adventures and crazy cahoots, but did you ever actually see a legitimate audience in any of the strips? It was always one or two people either being led around the place or sitting and watching, but never a crowd.
So, in a way, this is a somewhat fitting end to the strip. It just sort of... ends... No fanfare, no official finishing storyline, no last strip with the characters waving goodbye. Just like society has broken away from circuses, it feels almost as if the strip is simply breaking away from the story of Poppycock Circus. The characters are still the same, performing the same tricks, having the same interactions, doing what they always do, but the strip simply isn't going to follow them anymore. It's finished.
But that doesn't make it any less frustrating for me. I need closure!!!
Ah, well. Goodbye, Poppycock Circus, and good luck on any future endeavors, Steve Carey.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

A Slight Administrative Question

Ok, I know I promised in the statement of purpose to never talk about anything but webcomics in this blog and here I am not even in double-digit posts and already breaking the rule, but seriously, this is bugging the crap out of me. Can anyone tell me an easy way to make Blogger keep the spaces between your paragraphs when you make a post? Because I always have everything all nice and spaced out in the text entry screen and then when I post it it all gets crushed together, and I have to go back into the html code and manually add spaces, which is hella annoying. So if anybody's got a trick they'd like to share with me, I'd be much obliged. Thanks.

So true. So very, very true.

Coffee love from Count Your Sheep
Before I say anything about this strip, I'd like to make it known that I'm not a huge fan of coffee. I am, however, a big, big fan of caffeine. Mountain Dew is my drug of choice, as I've always preferred cold drinks to hot ones (I'm avoiding Frappucinnos like the plague because I know if I ever have one it's going to be the end of my life). So I can appreciate how Laurie feels in this particular strip.
The thing I've always loved about Count Your Sheep is its "slice-of-life" feel, the idea that it really is just following around your average everyday struggling single mother and rambunctious young child. Lot's of people would like to draw parallels between Adrian Ramos work and the Calvin and Hobbes, but it seems like EVERYTHING gets compared to Calvin and Hobbes these days, and it's just not fair. Katie is not Calvin. She's sweet and innocent, if somewhat over-zealous at times. She's a real kid, which Calvin never was. And Laurie is not Calvin's parents. She can actually relate to her daughter as a person, and really has a much more healthy relationship with her child than Calvin's parents ever did. And finally, Ship is NOT HOBBES. I don't EVER want to hear Ship compared to Hobbes. Yes they are both imaginary friends. Yes, they are both animals. But Ship is companion to both Katie and Laurie. He tries to keep Katie innocent. He tries to keep Laurie sane. He's the calm amid the storm rather than the instigator and foil which was Hobbes.
But enough ranting. What I really want to say is that this particular strip is a work of art. It perfectly captures the spirit which embodies all caffiene addicts, which is their love of the drink. to us, the drink is pure, the drink is stability. It gets us through our day. And this love of the drink is summed up perfectly in Laurie's words. And then there's the artwork. Ramos mentioned that he could have extended the steam up even higher (a la infinite canvas), and I kind of wish that he had. The swirling and curling in a fantastical and almost whimisical manner fits not only the text of the strip, but the entire mood of Count Your Sheep as a whole (don't get me started on those blue backgrounds. Love 'em!).
This is one strip that's getting added to my permanent collection. Way to go, Adrian! *sticks gold star to forehead*

Saturday, August 06, 2005

The Daily Grind: Apparently, it's pretty easy.

Ok, I've resisted saying anything for quite some time now, but I feel like I've become so distended from holding it in that if I don't make my comments known to the general public, I'm going to literally explode and prove once and for all that human spontaneous combustion is a reality, not a myth.

What am I talking about? Why, The Daily Grind, of course. For those of you that don't know, the Daily Grind is the currently most well-known "Iron Man" competition for webcomics. The basic idea was that, for a twenty dollar buy-in, you tried to post a comic a day, every weekday. As long as you post at least two new panels of artwork every weekday, you're still in. But miss a single day and you're out. Last man standing gets the pot.

Sounds simple enough, doesn't it? Well, anyone who's been following the message board will be able to tell you that those simple rules have ballooned into a ridiculous amount of drama over the past few months, with arguments about people that should be out or should not be out, questions pertaining to particulars of the rules (such as the infamous "one sketch every ten days" rule), and the various general macho posturing that naturally comes out in any contest.

I myself have not posted anything in the message board because, as I mentioned in my Statement of Purpose, I like to avoid adding anything to the static of the internet which is blogs and forums, and I also feel it is better to leave the forums for the artists to express themselves rather than filled with uneducated commentary by the general public.

So, that of course begs the question of why I've now decided to write this post in the Webcomicker. Truly I know nothing of the work which must be involved in keeping up in a competition such as this, after all, my own webcomics are very rarely updated and one of them I don't even draw! So this is an outsider's opinion. But sometimes an outsider can provide a fresh look at the subject, so let's start from the top.

The main complaint from competitors dating back all the way to the first week of the contest and which will probably persist until such a time as the competition is over is this: A lack of accounting for quality. What do I mean? I mean that as long as you slap together two panels of work a day, you get to stay in the Grind. What does that mean? It means a great advantage to those members that have a very simple comic, artistically. Let's face it, it doesn't matter how good your comic is, if your style is basically inked outlines with no shading, it's going to take you a lot less time to do your comic than someone who does a full color work. And if you go straight by the two panel minimum, it'll take you half the time to do your strip than someone who's strip's pacing needs a full four panels to work itself out. Obviously it's going to be frustrating if you consistently do a four panel strip every day and you see one of the other guys clearly abusing the rules by splitting up what is essentially a four panel strip into two days of two panel strips.

One of the biggest complainers on the Daily Grind boards is D.J. Coffman, and when you go and look at all the strips, can you really blame him? He produces a full color work every day, four panels or more. That's gotta take serious time. Then he clicks on over to Brian Fukushima's site and sees what basically amounts to nothing more than a cleaned up and inked sketch. Is Brian's comic worse than D.J.s? No. Did it take less time to make? DEFINITELY. So D.J. feels slighted, and rightly so. But Brian argues that he's well within the rules, and so he can't be kicked out just because he's chosen to make a faster product. Like it or not, that's his style for his strip. And thus begins the arguing.

This example highlights what is essentially the problem with the Daily Grind: It is an unlevel playing field. When you compete in a triatholon, all the contestants run the same ground, swim in the same water, ride the same bikes. Their bodies may be built differently, their style of running or swimming or biking a bit off, but the grounds on which the competition takes place are equal. This is not true of The Daily Grind. Everything in the production of a comic strip is variable. Pencil or ink, color or black and white, shading or outlining, drawing by hand or using the computer, each one of these factors heavily into the amount of time it takes to produce a strip each day. And none of these factors is accounted for in the current incarnation of the Daily Grind rules. D.J. Coffman could quit the contest right now in disgust, and still have invested a greater number of hours into creating his comics thus far than the eventual winner might spend in total over the entire contest. Does that make the winner the Iron Man? NO! It makes him the smarter man for learning best how to use the rules to his advantage, but not the Iron Man who put in more hours toward winning the competition than anyone else.

So what's the solution? Some have suggested using an "American Idol" style voting system where people vote for which comics they like best and the lower rated ones get kicked off every week. Of course, the problem with this idea is that the established, popular strips, would get massive amounts of ballot box stuffing from their fan base and all the lesser known strips would be gone in a few weeks. And anyone who thinks that the more popular strips wouldn't be so cruel as to leverage their fan base against the smaller guys doesn't know Scott Kurtz very well.

Another (more popular) suggestion has been to use a "Survivor" style voting system in which the contestants themselves vote for who goes and who gets to stay. While this seems like it would be an interesting idea for a contest, as we all know from watching Survivor this would turn the challenge into a political contest rather than a true test of will and fortitude, which was of course the original intention of the Grind. Alliances would be formed and broken, back-stabbing and double-crossing would occur, all-in-all it would actually be a great show and probably draw some nice publicity, but it wouldn't be a Grind, it would be a circus.

So what is the solution? Well, speaking as an outsider, it seems to me that the original intent of the Grind was a good idea. Basically the goal was to determine who had the most devotion to producing their comic on a consistent basis. However, the plan hit a snag due to differences in the level of devotion necessary to produce any given comic. So what needs to be done is to develop some means of ensuring that all contestants must spend roughly the same amount of time producing work each week, and that means accounting for all the factors mentioned a few paragraphs ago. Here's the general idea: rather than simply requiring two panels of work every weekday, the contest should require of the contestants to earn a certain number of "points" each week. Different types of work would be assigned different point values to account for the disparity in total amount of time needed to produce such work. I think this can best be illustrated by an example. These points values would probably need to be adjusted for an actual contest, but it gives you an idea of what I'm talking about:

Each contestant must "bank" 60 points worth of work over the course of each week. No more than 20 points may be banked on any given day.
1 panel of pencil work = 1 point
1 panel of inked work = 2 points
1 panel of full color work, done on the computer = 3 points
1 panel of full color work, drawn and inked then scanned into the computer for coloring = 4 points

So you see that by this scale, someone like D.J. Coffman would have to produce roughly 15 panels of work for a week, whereas someone like Bela Whigimill would need to do close to 60. Now, as I mentioned before the proportions of points given in this example are probably off, but you get the idea. This would level the playing field in terms of time spent making comics each week for each contestant, and would ensure that in the end the ultimate winner would be the person who dedicated the most time to their comic.

Ok, I feel like I've vented enough of the running commentary in my brain to allow myself to go to sleep tonight. Hopefully I'll never let a build-up like this fester in their this long again, because that is just plain painful.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Something to fill the hole in my heart: Starshift Crisis

Weird alien nomenclature from Starshift Crisis
Earlier this year, something happened in the world of pop-culture that hasn't happened in 18 years. A Star Trek series aired its final episode, and there was no new Star Trek series to replace it. Now, of course we don't know if this means the ultimate end of Star Trek (the cast of Next Generation has already stated that they won't be making any more movies, and none of the other shows has been popular enough to warrant a trip to the big screen), or if there's another series already in the works to attempt to reboot the popular franchise yet again. For most people, the void began at the end of May with the airing of the final episode. For me, it came earlier tonight. You see, I don't have TV in my apartment (I have a TV set, but no cable and no antenna), so I get my ever-loving Trekker parents to tape the shows for me and then send me the tapes en masse every half season. I got a little behind this summer and only got around to watching the second half of this season of Enterprise this week, and finished it up tonight. There were some highs (The initial alliance and battle against the Romulon remotely-controlled ship) and some lows (The unnecessary and overly-preachy "alternate world" two-parter), but overall I enjoyed it as much as I have the other series. While the final episode could never match the ending of The Next Generation for sheer perfection, it wasn't bad.
But I disgress. The point of this post is that with the absence of Star Trek, there's something of a hole in my heart. A desire for more sci-fi entertainment, be it serious or humorous (Star Trek could be both). And so I turned to my latest obsession, webcomics, and found Starshift Crisis.
For those of you that don't know, Starshift Crisis is actually the second webcomic made by the talented Kristopher Straub, of Checkerboard Nightmare fame. It began when Blank Label Comics began, and whether that was Straub using Blank Label as an excuse to start a new comic or Straub using a new comic to help start up Blank Label I can't say, but what I can say is that it is pretty darn hilarious. It follows the adventures of Memnon Vanderbeam, curator of the first intergalactic art museum, a converted luxury battleship which flies around the spreading high art to all the species of the universe. For his crew he has a lazy ex-pirate and an insect named Jinx with an anatomy that defies description.
Now obviously, it would be easy to draw parallels between this strip and Freefall, which I mentioned only one post below, but that would be doing a disservice to both strips. Trying to compare the two would be roughly the equivalent of comparing an Isaac Asimov novel with a transcript of "The Best of Both Worlds" Parts 1 and 2. Both are works of science fiction. Both are among the greatest work for their particular area (if you don't think "The Best of Both Worlds" is the greatest Star Trek episode ever, you are DUMB). But both are completely incomparable to each other. So let's just look at Starshift Crisis as it stands alone.
Here we have a strip that pokes humor in all possible ways using both subtlety and oversity. I love that Memnon wears the equivalent of a Star Trek captain's uniform with a tie. I love that Cutter parodies the space-rogue archetype ranging from Han Solo to Korben Dallas. I love the obvious similarities between Jinx and the beloved Zorak on Space Ghost. But I also love such gags as when the Fuseli is being destroyed by space pirates and Memnon considers playing it off as an avante-garde exhibit. Straub is able to not only poke fun at various sci-fi cliches, he also pokes fun at the high-class, snooty world of art and art critics, and somehow he's managed to seamlessly weave this disparate themes into a single strip and it ALL MAKES SENSE!
I'll miss Star Trek, but as long as I've got a strip like Starshift Crisis updating on a daily basis, I won't miss it too much. And as for you, you know you're going to want to read this strip some day, so you may as well start today while the archives are short and you can get through them in about a half-hour. It's only logical.