The Webcomicker

Who watches the watchmen?

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

It's kinda like listening to yourself on a tape recorder.

A funny quote by, well, me! From Mousewax

You know how whenever someone records your voice and then plays it back for you, you're always like "Man, I sound funny"?

I got that exact same feeling reading Mousewax today. You see, in today's comic he actually, word for word transcribed a quote of mine from my review of The Big Three-Oh. Look about halfway down. I guess I was kind of waxing eloquent when I wrote that statement about Mousewax, but man, it sounded a lot less funny when I was writing it than it comes out when Brandon is quoting it. I mean, "heavily distanced in many cases from anything that could be considered remotely close to his life"? I must have been really tired when I was writing that. I tend to get verbose and prosaic when I'm tired.

And then Brandon Lewis follows it up with a great gag in the last panel which lets us all know that if he really did write about what goes on in his life, it'd probably be pretty boring. And man, this comic had me laughing for a long time today. In fact, I'm still laughing every time I read it.

Obviously I'm biased since he quoted me, and the fanboy part of me is saying "OMG I got a quote in a webcomic! *squeal!*" But I still think it's pretty funny.

That's two beers I owe you now, Brandon. I hope you're a heavy drinker!

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Friggin' awesome.

A hilarious Dinosaur Comics mixup from Dadasaurus Rex.

So, what happens when your webcomic consists of the exact same artwork, every day?


What does this mean? It means you can do clever things with the comic using a little bit of scripting and stylesheet magic. Dinosaur Comics is the ultimate example of being able to do COOL THINGS with a webcomic because its form is so rigid. Since you've always got the exact same panels to work with, you can easily mess around with them "on the fly" by replacing or changing certain things that you know will appear in certain places.

Here's some of the neat exploitations using Dinosaur Comics:

  1. The Dinosaur Comics Puppy Machine takes advantage of the fact that the dinosaurs always appear in exactly the same place in every comic. So what it does is whenever a comic is loaded it simply uses a script to overwrite the dinosaurs with some other images. For example, what if it were Dinosaur Comics starring Penny Arcade? Some of the templates still need a bit of modifying to display the text correctly every time, and some of them don't work in Internet Explorer (thanks to IE's poor handling of PNGs), but it's still pretty awesome. Now they just need to open up the project so that anyone could make their own version with their own characters. I honestly don't think it'd be that hard. You'd just need a form asking the people to submit 12 images to replace the dinosaurs and the various objects in the comic. That would be beyond friggin' awesome, it would be frigtacularly awesome. And you can quote me on that.
  2. NewsRex takes advantage of the fact that the text must always appear in the same general locations (as the dinosaurs never move) to allow the dinosaurs to deliver the news to you. The NewsRex script scrapes off short news stories from the Reuters newsfeed and then formats them as a dinosaur comic by breaking them into properly sized chunks for each dinosaur in each panel. The neatest thing about this is that it really tries to keep to the Dinosaur Comics style by having the headline broken up into the first two panels with the classis T-rex ellipsis (...) between them, and with the ubiquitous additions of exclamation points. It actually flows like a dinosaur comic as you read the news. Awesome!
  3. This one's my personal favorite. Dadasaurus Rex takes advantage of the fact that Dinosaur Comics uses the exact same six panels every day to create absolutely hilarious mixups by choosing each of the six panels from a different random Dinosaur Comic. This is the only one of the three deviations that I'm not sure how it works. My guess is that the script chooses six random comics, cuts out the appropriate panel from each, and then stitches them together into a new image. Both Perl and PHP have image processing scripts which could easily perform a task like this. And since a new image is created on the server side every minute as opposed to every time a visitor refreshes the page, it greatly decreases the load on the server. Pretty clever. But what I really love about the Dadasaurus is how consistently hilarious the resulting mixups are. The one I put at the top of this post isn't anywhere near the most funny one I've seen today, it just happened to be the one that was up when I started writing, and it's still pretty darn funny.

These three deviations are awesome examples of the potential both of webcomics and of the fixed form. Using a combination of artistic talent, technological ingenuity, and all around web-savvy, a couple of people were able to take a webcomic and do some darned clever things with it. And I bet there's some even more clever things that could be done. For instance, using a combination of OhNoRobot transcriptions and some language software, it would be an easy task to present Dinosaur Comics in practically any language imaginable, generating each comic completely on the fly! Or you could do a Google search and have the results be given to you in Dinosaur Comics form! Or Dinosaur Comics versions of Wikipedia pages, or Dictionary definitions!

Oh yes, that is totally friggin' awesome.

The Daily Grind gets some action

No, not that kind of action... sickos.

For the first time literally in months, the number of contestants still in The Daily Grind has gone down. Now, this wouldn't be terribly exciting news except for two facts:

  1. The Daily Grind lost not one, but TWO people in a single day.
  2. One of the people lost was the man that many (including Scott Kurtz, I believe) picked to win the whole thing: Chris Crosby.

Crosby was deep sixed by snowstorms and power outages (which ultimately proved that he doesn't work with a buffer, or at least doesn't upload any buffer strips he may have ahead of time), missing an update for what some people would claim to be the first time in seven years. The other guy, according to the message boards, just plum forgot (I guess Thanksgiving malaise could be called to blame).

So what are the ramifications of Crosby dropping? In my opinion, it will result in more frequent drops in the weeks ahead. I think a lot of people will be satisfied just to say "At least I beat Crosby, and he was the favorite!" and this attitude, coupled with the added stress that the holidays always bring on, should result in a fair number of drops between now and about January 7th (I expect at least one person to screw up after New Years. I mean, come on.). There's 33 contestants left in the Grind, and I would not be surprised to see it drop to 25 by mid-January, and then things will be getting interesting.

Of course, there is also the "I just want to beat D.J. Coffman" attitude that is prevalant in the Grind right now as well, since he's been bad mouthing so much basically since the beginning. So I think that if he ever drops out then we'll see a much larger exodus than what we could potentially see from the combination of the Crosby factor and the holidays. But then, there's no sign that he'll be dropping anytime soon, so I guess we'll just have to wait on that one.

Monday, November 28, 2005

Review: The Big Three-Oh!

Biological clock discussion from The Big Three-Oh

I wanted to think of a catchier name for this post, but you know how things go. Much like "The Big Three-Oh" was just the name that Philippe Gaboury came up for his comic on a short time schedule, so the name of this post was just me trying to save some time so I can actually finish writing this thing before midnight and get it to show up on Sunday. I find myself pushing the midnight deadline for getting a post on a certain date on many occasions and sometimes I feel the need to fudge the actual posting time a bit, sometimes I don't.

But I digress.

The Big Three-Oh is a relatively new webcomic, one of many that was birthed from The Daily Grind Iron Man Challenge (which no one talks about anymore, probably because it's gotten boring with no one dropping out since September. Hopefully the holiday season will shake things up a bit). Also like many of the Daily Grind inspired comics, it mostly follows the events of Gaboury's personal life. I think a lot of "grinders" took this approach because they figured their life was full of lots of hilarious antics and would provide continuous fodder for their comic, which would prevent them from having to actually sit around and think of things to draw about. It's a good idea in concept, until you realize that your life is actually pretty boring to people on the outside looking into it, it's only really funny and interesting from your perspective.

This is the main problem with most blogs, actually. The amusing little things that happen to you in your life tend to be really only amusing to you and your friends. Anyone else who happens to read your blog just kind of says "ok, that's great..." and moves on. Because the people reading your blog are detached from your life, they miss the context, the subtleties, and basically everything which made something that happened to you interesting, and it becomes just another bit of stale and trite writing. And I think a lot of grinders had this problem with their quasi-diary comics, and had to adjust them to make them more whimsical and less grounded in reality and therefore more self-contained and digestible to the average reader.

Now, I don't know how close to his actual life Gaboury keeps the comic. Certainly he hasn't gone the direction of Brandon Lewis, who's taken Mousewax to the completely absurd level and heavily distanced it in many cases from anything that could be considered remotely close to his life. The Big Three-Oh tends to deal with stuff that seems more plausible, and in many cases is obviously based on actual occurences in Gaboury's life. But I doubt he actually spent a few days just standing and staring at his new iMac (although that would be cool).

So, the point I'm trying to make? The Big Three-Oh is a comic loosely based on Philippe Gaboury's real life. The strip follows the adventures of him and his girlfriend Catherine as they go through basically average life, with his various friends and acquaintances making appearances from time to time. Philippe both in real life and in the strip have just turned thirty years old (hence the name), and he's dealing with the troubles most people have as they get older, such as wondering if he should have kids and trying to stay in shape, as well as the routine events of everyday life, such as the current storyline of going to the store. The comic deals with surprisingly mundane issues, stuff that most people actually go through from day to day and the majority of the humor comes from Philippe and Catherine's reactions to the everyday silly situations that arise around them.

I don't think I've ever read a comic strip which embodies the phrase "slice of life" better than The Big Three-Oh. Philippe and Catherine don't seem to be so much like charicatures of their real life personas as they seem to be accurate reflections of them. The events they undergo seem much less like contrived storylines with cleverly written dialogue than they seem like everyday events with accurately transcribed conversations. There are no wacky adventures. There are no super powers or mythical creatures or giant robots. The closest we ever got was an artificially intelligent Xbox game, which at this point is video game history isn't even much of a stretch of the imagination.

And because it deals with the mundane, the comic tends to be somewhat mundane. That's just the way it goes. It's not consistently "laugh out loud" jokes like Dinosaur Comics or overhyped drama like Megatokyo. In fact, the punchline of the comic up on the site right now is that Philippe fell asleep in line. Fell asleep in line. Not too funny, not too dramatic, totally something you could see happening in real life. In a lot of ways, Philippe Gaboury's style is very similar to that of Dave Barry. Both of them make their trade off of finding the funny bits in everyday life. Obviously Gaboury is in nowhere near the same league of funniness as Barry, but who is?

So if you're looking for a comic with outrageous stories and wild humor, or for intense drama and heartfelt emotion, you should probably give The Big Three-Oh a pass. But if you're looking for a comic that finds the little bits of humor in the foibles of life, expands upon them, and shows the character's reacting to them with good humor, then The Big Three-Oh is for you.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

I'm back

Hey all, I just got back from New Orleans. And this is all I have to say about it: when we were down there we talked to an engineer working on the clean-up and he told us that every day 2000 semi-truck loads of debris go out of the city, and if they keep up this pace all the debris will be cleared in eight years. EIGHT YEARS.

You can't even begin to comprehend the destruction until you've visited it. I spent the whole week cleaning out houses and I can still barely begin to grasp it.

That's all I have to say. I'll talk about webcomics tomorrow.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

A brief hiatus

Hey, just thought I'd let you all know that next week (by which I mean Saturday to Saturday) I'm going to be down in New Orleans helping to clean up all the debris that's still there from the hurricanes. I have the week off school anyways and there was a team going down so I figured it would be a good use of my time.

Anyways, this means I'm not going to be within striking distance of a computer all next week, so I won't be able to make Webcomicker posts. Sorry Philippe, I'm going to have to leave you in suspense for a week before I'll be able to write a review of your comic.

Anyways, catch you all on the flip side!

Friday, November 18, 2005

Webcomickry: Website Design (Part 2: Archiving)

Ok, never has a post taken me so long to write. Two days in a row I sat down to hammer this thing out and fell asleep in my chair, so either I need more sleep or I'm a more boring writer than I thought!

So let's talk archives. Archives are a necessary trapping for any sort of content which is released in a serialized format, and webcomics are no exception. Nobody, and I mean nobody, is going to follow your webcomic if you don't have an archive. I think everyone knows that. So there's no need for dicussion in that regard. What we need to discuss is the structure of your archives and methods of navigation.

Structure is fairly simple. Without getting too technical, there's basically two ways to structure your archive: storing your comics by the date they were posted and storing them by comic number. In my opinion, storing by comic number is a much better way to go. While it is of some interest to people to see the dates on the last few comics you've posted (generally to check if they've missed anything), beyond that no one really cares when you posted your comic. Sure, you can still include the date as it's pretty easy information to include, but I think the majority of readers derive far more pleasure from numbers on the strips, which gives them a better feel for how the comic is progressing. For instance, if you click into an archive and see "Comic for 8/5/2004" you really have no sense of context beyond that the comic went up about a year and three months ago. But if you see "Comic #326" then you get a good idea of how much development in the life of the comic has lead up to this strip. This also prevents confusion on the off chance that you post two comics in one day. Fact of the matter: comic numbers are a good thing, and should be used.

Now, for the more interesting discussion of navigation. The most important thing to remember when designing your navigation is that a person may be linked to your site at any random point in your archives. There's no guarantee they'll get to your site from the front page, or even from the beginning of a storyline. So you want it to be easy for a person to get around from any point in your archives. The second most important thing to remember is that continuing readers will occasionally need to check and see if they've missed anything, and you want to be sure that there is some easy way for them to tell.

Now, there is by no means any consensus among the community as to what an ideal navigation schema is, but there are several different navigation elements which commonly appear on webcomic sites. Each of these elements adds certain methods of navigating an archive and each has it's own advantages and disadvantages, so let's look at them in turn.

  1. First-back-forward-current buttons: The "fbfc", as I like to call them, are essential to the navigation scheme of any webcomic. No webcomic should be without them, as they define by far the most common navigational functions that a person visiting your site would like to undertake: to go back to the first comic and read from the beginning, to read the immediately previous comic than the one they are currently looking at (this one is generally if they're checking if they missed something or if they get linked in at a random strip), to read the comic immediately following the one they are looking at (generally if they are reading straight through your archives), and to skip ahead to the latest comic (also generally if they were linked in to a random spot in the archive). There's really no reason any webcomic shouldn't have these buttons, so just include them. How you decide to depict them is up to you, but they should be there.
  2. Jump menu: The jump menu is basically a drop down box with a list of all your comics, with a very short description of title for each comic. This allows you to quickly jump to any specific comic. I'm a big fan of the jump menu myself as it allows you to quickly find a comic anywhere in an archive and it doesn't take up a lot of space. Besides, both Megatokyo and Penny Arcade use jump menus, and who am I to argue with them? The disadvantage of a jump menu is that there is a practical limitation on how much description you can provide for each strip, as otherwise the menu box will get way too wide and impossible to really navigate around in. You can really only put in a couple of words of description, and that's not very much. While I do like jump menus, I've had no end of frustration trying to find a specific comic using them, because it can be quite difficult to figure out which one is the one you're looking for from a couple of words.
  3. Calendar: This seems to be a very popular feature, but it's possible that's just because Keenspot and Keenspace have an automatic function for creating them, so many people don't have to do any work to get them. Basically the calendar is a box showing the current month with links on every day in which a strip was released. In full archive format, it's a bunch of calendars showing every month since you started your strip to today, with links on every day a new strip was released. The only real advantage I can see to this system is if someone stops reading your comic, or is away from their computer for a month or something, they can say "Ok, I stopped reading in November of 2004" and can then go find November 2004 and start reading from there. And that's not such a bad thing. It won't help you get new readers, but it can help bring back readers that have gone away. Also, if you are going to use a calendar, I recommend trying the timeline display format used by Applegeeks. It gives more of a feeling of progression than the box shaped calendars.
  4. The "page with a big-ass list of links": This is perhaps the simplest method of keeping an archive, to have a link to an "archive" page which lists every strip you've ever done in a big list. There are advantages to this method. It's similar to the jump menu except it allows you to enter in more text describing what's going on in each strip, so it's easier for someone to find the strip they're looking for. Of course, the downside to this method is that once your comic gets to a significant length this page becomes HUGE, and a real hassle for someone to scroll through. One solution to this is to break up these lists by year, and that's not such a bad idea. However, I think in general this sort of archive navigation has been obsoleted by the next one.
  5. Search: You've heard of OhNoRobot, right? It allows you to transcribe your comics so that they will all be entirely keyword searchable. I think every webcomic artist should go transcribe their entire archives and then make a habit of transcribing every comic they post afterwards. Then you can put a link up on your page (hopefully in the future they'll come up with some way you can search from your actual website, like Google site search, but you can still create your own view of the search engine, so that's not bad.) and all your readers can easily go search for "that one comic where the goat says 'I'm not your mother'." Sure, they do have a script set up that allows you to have your readers transcribe your comics, but do you really trust your readers that much? I don't. I want my archives put in flawlessly. This is an extremely nice navigation function and I think every webcomic ought to sign up.
  6. List with preview thumbnails: Generally this will not be a list of ALL your comics as that would require loading way too many thumbnails and take a huge amount of time. Usually it's a navigatable list of like 20 thumbnails at a time. This method works great for some comics, and absolutely will not work for others. Generally it will work for a comic with full color art that changes it's look quite a bit from strip to strip, like Copper. But if you find that once you shrink your comic down to thumbnail size, every strip looks pretty much indistinguishable, then this is obviously not a feature for you. If it will work for you, I say go for it, because it's probably the best way for someone to find "that one strip", because they can actually see a preview of it, and they'll recognize it.
  7. Storyline navigation: This consists of either a jump menu or a list of links which do not lead to individual strips, but rather to the beginning of storylines in your comic. Obviously, this is another one that will only work for certain comics. If your comic is purely "gag-a-day" with no continuity, then there's really no way to jump to a storyline because there aren't any. But for those comics that frequently have long story arcs, this can be a wonderful method of navigation, especially if the story arcs tend to be fairly self-contained. It allows a new reader to start with whatever storyline sounds most interesting to them. It allows a returning reader to say "oh yeah, they were doing such and such when I left" and to go back and read from where they left off while at the same time being able to easily refresh their memories on what had happened in that story up to the point where they had left off. It also allows continuing readers who get lost in the middle of a storyline to go back and easily read the storyline from it's beginning and remind themselves of what's happened. This is probably much more useful for a storyline based comic than the "big-ass page of links" and possibly even the normal jump menu.
  8. Jump to random comic: This isn't really so much a navigation scheme as a frill, but I have seen a fair number of comics include a "random" link. In my opinion, this is really only a useful option for a gag-a-day strip. Maybe it allows new users to get a feel for your comic by giving them a few random samplings. Maybe it allows current users to go back and relive some good times without going through the whole archive. But it won't work for comics with continuity because the chances are you'll land in the middle of something and just be confused as opposed to amused. The best execution of this function has to be Dinosaur Comics, which actually displays the title of the random comic you'll go to in the link, which entices you to go check it out.

I think that pretty much covers all the main navigation functions. I'm sure there are some wacky ones out there that I missed, but that list covers mostly everything. The trick to getting your archive navigation just right is to have the right mix of those functions without confusing your audience by having too many ways of navigating cluttering up your page. Remember that you have a limited amount of real-estate available on your page for displaying stuff without making your readers do too much scrolling, so you've got to lay things out just right.

So those are my thoughts on archiving. But that's just based on what I've seen when reading and what I like personally. Does anyone else have different ideas?

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Not a task for mortal men

So, I realize that my last post may have ended up sounding a bit commercial. But I assure you, I'm not getting any kickbacks from any webcomics artists or anything, and please ignore the recent deposit in my Paypal account by Kristopher Straub for an unrelated business transaction. *cough*

Anyways, this is a thinly veiled "Updates" post before I go to work, but I'm hoping to get a more lengthy post on archiving up later tonight. But I must at least say something of great importance. Let this line of wisdom forever stand as a monument to those of future generations who may become interested in this phenomenon that we have come to term "webcomics": Tackling the Daily Dinosaur Comics archives is not a task meant for mortal men.

I mean, seriously. When I first decided to read through the archives, I took a look at what strip number he was on (thank the heavens for people who number their comics. I'll go into that more either tonight or tomorrow) and it was around 650. Not a short archive by any means, but I've read through much longer ones. Heck, I was just coming off HOUSD, which is sitting at just over 900. So I said to myself "This'll take me a week, maybe a week and a half."

And here I sit, maybe a month and countless hours of reading later, and I'm still not quite done (Darn close though. I hope to finish tonight. But there's still a good couple of hours of reading left). See, what I forgot to account for was the amount of time it takes to read each individual strip. With something like HOUSD, or an even longer archive such as PvP, I can typically read one strip every 15 seconds (I've got a cable modem, if you're curious on download times). That means that a 900 strip archive at 15 seconds per strip will take a good 3 hours and 45 minutes of solid reading time. I generally break that up into half hour chunks to prevent "super-saturation", which is my term for if I read through a huge amount of strips and then remember basically nothing from them a week later.

However, the average Daily Dinosaur comic takes me about 1-2 minutes to read, because there's usually a lot of text to go through. And often I find myself having to look up things he's referencing in the comic in either the dictionary or the Wikipedia in order to get the joke, and that takes a lot longer. So on average each comic probably takes 2 minutes to read. That means reading the whole archive of 650 will take a little less than 22 HOURS. And that's why I've been on it for so long.

Which isn't to say I haven't enjoyed it. I've laughed out loud more times than I can count. I've shared a lot of the comics with my friends, which is something I rarely do with my non-webcomic obsessed friends. Callipygian has become a daily part of my speech. And I'm definitely going to keep reading. It's just taking me forever to get all caught up.

So yeah, Daily Dinosaur Comics is going to get added to my "Webcomics I Read" list when I finally finish the archive, possibly this evening. And this super-long archive reading experience has had at least one positive side-effect. It's given me the opportunity to build up a nice stock in my "To Be Read" list. For those of you keeping score, here's what's coming up on my "To Be Read" list, in no particular order:

I think I'll start with The Big Three-Oh, since it looks like Philippe Gaboury's got a pretty short archive and each strip is short, so I should be able to get up to speed quickly. Which is good, because I'm jonesing for a quick read after Daily Dinosaur. From there, we'll just see how things play out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Collected volumes! Woot!

I've gotta say, I love collected volumes of webcomics. Maybe it's because I'm from that demographic that has a fair amount of disposable income and nothing better to spend it on (since I don't play video games or go to movies or buy movies much, which tends to be the biggest money drain for people my age). Maybe it's because the feel of a book in your hands lends a concrete sense of legitimacy to a webcomic. Maybe it's because I really like to read in the bathroom (I've spent probably upwards of two hours in one sitting in the bathroom reading Melonpool. Bugs my roommate to no end.). Maybe it's because I like the giddy thrill of the "extra content" which all the freeloaders online aren't getting. Whatever the reason, I love collected volumes. And we all owe an eternal debt of gratitiude to these small-time/self publishers like GoManga and LuLu. They're the biggest blessing to webcomics since the banner ad.

So far my collection isn't terribly big. I've got all the collected volumes of PvP (the Image store seems to be down right now, otherwise I'd link it). I've got all the collected volumes of Melonpool (get 'em while they're cheap). I've got the first two volumes of Megatokyo (I'll get the third one eventually. Ironically it takes me longer to buy something when I know I can just pick it up at the bookstore). I've got the only collected volume of RPG World (I wish he'd hurry up and finish the comic so I could buy volume 2!). I've also got the Hurricane Relief Telethon book.

And, as of yesterday, I have the first collected volume of Starslip Crisis. I was actually surprised to see it arrive today because I ordered it roughly a week ago at "slowest mail possible" shipping. I'm guessing the post office has geared up for the holiday season already but the mailings haven't really started yet. Either way, I was stoked to see it rubber banded to my doorknob. My first impression upon opening the package was that the book was kind of small. Not in length, mind you, but in size it was smaller than I expected. Not the smallest book I have, mind you, RPG World and the Megatokyos are much smaller, but still, "A Terrifying Breach of Protocol" was more compact than I had imagined. Well, that's fine by me. Makes it easier to fit in the bathroom book basket. And upon cracking the book open, I was really happy to see that Kris Straub doesn't fail to deliver on the extra content. Not only are there nice cast pictures and bios, and a lot of interesting subtext and technical info, he's taken all that content and woven it into the book so that it appears next to the relevant comics. For instance, the bios come next to the comic in which their referenced character is introduced. The technical info on the Starslip Drive comes when Vanderbeam recklessly engages it and destroys the ship (in one universe). In a word: awesome.

There are still a few collected volumes I'm defunct on, including HOUSD, Dandy and Company, and Real Life (I'm thinking Christmas gifts). There are also some real kickers coming soon, including the first Penny Arcade collected volume (poor guys, they've been mired for YEARS in a sticky legal issue over that one), and a full color volume of Inverloch, which I'm totally stoked about (also announced in the release of Inverloch are volumes of Chugworth Academy and Earthsong, if you're into those).

Ah, it's a great time to be alive.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Webcomickry: Website Design (Part 1: Introduction)

Allow me to get technical for a moment.

It seems like a good time to talk about website design in relation to webcomics, as there seems to be a fair amount going on in that regard lately. Penny Arcade, Ctrl-Alt-Del, and Inverloch have just undergone major website redesigns, and Kris Straub just called some people to the table for being behind the times. Also, I feel I am somewhat qualified to talk about web design as I am a graduate student in electrical engineering by profession and a web programmer by trade. Note that I say web programmer and not web designer as my job is much more concerned with writing the scripts which control and provide functionality to web pages rather than making them terribly aesthetic. For instance, I've programmed pretty much this entire site FROM SCRATCH (including the calendars, resource management, various projects, etc etc etc. I did have help from one other guy, but it's just been the two of us), but I'd never be capable of anything on the level of the CSS Zen Garden in terms of sheer beauty. However, even as a web programmer I've learned a great deal about the design aspects that go into creating a good looking website, so I can comment on that as well.

So let's talk specifically about website design for webcomics. There's quite a bit to discuss and various conflicting views on the subject, so it's going to stretch for more than one post but it's an extremely important thing to talk about. Why? Because for a webcomic artist the web is your delivery medium and your website is both the mechanism of the delivery and the location in which it is displayed. So you've got to be a good artist and a good engineer. Good artists take into account the location in which their art is going to be displayed. If you're making a sculpture for a marble and limestone building with greco-roman architecture (large columns, vaulted ceilings and the like), you'd damn well better not make your sculpture out of rusted steel. The art should match the location, and the location should match the art. Good engineers make their machines as efficient, streamlined, and reliable on the inside as possible and as user-friendly as possible on the outside, so that not only will it be useful to people, but people will be able to use it. You could have the greatest piece of software ever written, but if it's prohibitively difficult to learn how to use, people will go for something easier (see: Unix vs Windows).

So when it comes to webcomic website design, you're looking at an intersection of good engineering principles with good artistic principles. You've got to have both to have a good website. Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that you can't have a successful webcomic with an austere website. But what I am saying is that you will have a more successful webcomic if you have a good website design.

Now, this is not going to be a primer on how to write good HTML or make clever tricks with CSS and Javascript, or even how to program an archiving system in PHP. If you're interested in those sorts of things, you're going to have to look elsewhere. What this is going to be is a discussion of general principles of web design, and how they apply to webcomics. And keep in mind throughout this that these are just my opinions based on my experience and my own personal sense of aesthetics. I'll be pulling on a lot of sites, some of which I think are good designs, some of which I think have good elements and bad elements, and some of which I think are just downright lame. You may disagree with me on certain points. But that's essentially the nature of critical commentary. You raise your own opinions and people can feel free to disagree with them. So there you go.

I'll dive into the nitty gritty of this topic in a later post. Let's begin instead with a discussion of webcomic web design philosophies. There are several different ones, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. And they generally revolve around the question "Where do I put my comic?" and "Where do I put my news posts?" Some people don't really put up newsposts, so in that case just say "non-comic material".

What you must understand here is that the real question you want to ask yourself is: "What do I want visitors to see when they come to my site?" For you see, the average visitor to a webpage (note the use of the word webPAGE, not webSITE, meaning a single page on your site) will only spend a scant few seconds there before deciding if they want to hang around or click off somewhere else in the ether. This means that you absolutely, positively, MUST make whatever you think is the biggest hook into your site the first thing that a visitor sees. This is called "designing above the fold", which is a term borrowed from newpapers which means that if a user doesn't see something they like in their first screenful of your site, they're not going to scroll around to find it. You should also keep in mind that the most likely entry point to your website is from your index page (i.e. main page), so this is the page in which this principle most comes into play.

There are two schools of thought on the issue. The first is to put your newsposts on your main page and the comic on a separate page (usually linked from the newposts, though). Popular comics with this model are Penny Arcade, Ctrl-Alt-Del, VGCats, and Inverloch. The other school of thought is to put your comic on your main page, at the top, with newsposts or nothing beneath it. This is a much more popular design for webcomics, and is used by such heavy hitters as PvP, Sluggy Freelance, User Friendly, Megatokyo, and so on ad infinitum. Oh, there is one more school of thought, the blog method of presentation, where your comics appear along with your newsposts in a blog listing format. Comics using this method include Yirmumah, Panda Xpress, and Overcompensating, in addition to many of the Daily Grinders, who use LiveJournal. But I don't recommend this method. It causes inconsistency in your site's appearance from day to day, can make it difficult for people to follow the comic if they miss a few days, and make it near impossible for anyone to navigate your archives unless you set up an alternate archiving method (which actually most of the sites I mentioned have). But if you have an alternate archiving method then there is inconsistency between the look and feel of your archive and the look of following the comic on a day to day basis, which can cause more confusion. So don't use the "blog method". It's just not a good way to deliver comics.

As for the two main schools of thought, here are the differing philosophies which accompany them. For the "news posts first, then comic" designs, there are typically three motivations behind these. The first is if you want to emphasize that there is more content to your site than simply the webcomic. This is the case with Penny Arcade and Ctrl-Alt-Del. Both of them want to be legitimate video game commentary sites in addition to being a popular webcomic. The Penny Arcade guys have gotten there, Tim Buckley's still working on it. The second is if your webcomic updates on a relatively infrequent basis but your newsposts update more often and tend to have interesting content. This is the case with VGCats and Bolt City. The third is if your webcomic tends to update in multi-page spurts. This is the case with Inverloch, and with numerous manga style webcomics which I don't feel terribly inclined to look up right now. In the first two cases the underlying idea is that you'll get more hits on your site from people checking to see if you've said anything new than if you have a new comic up. In the third case it just prevent confusion from people trying to figure out where they left off and what page they should start reading from, and it prevents potential "spoilers" if you put the most recent page on the home page but people having seen the past couple of pages leading up to it.

Now, as for the "comic first, news later" school of thought, the motivations are somewhat polar opposite: You want the comic to be the main focus of your site. You don't put up news posts terribly frequently, if at all. You post single pages of comics on a consistent basis. Many webcomickers, even those that make a fair number of news posts, feel that the main reason that people come to the site is to read the comic, and a fair number of their readers probably just ignore whatever inane comments they might have to say. So to put the focus on the comic, you make the comic the focus. Simple enough.

Which style is better for your webcomic? That's for you to decide. But keep in mind the motivations, and ask yourself, "which of these two sets of motivations more closely fits where I want my comic to go?" Then go from there. But don't be afraid to change. Experiment, see what seems to be giving you more readers, and more consistent readers. The Pet Professional just changed from "news first" to "comic first" and I think it's an improvement (I still wish they'd update more often, but they're still young so I cut them slack).

Here's a couple of sites which I think should change their ordering because it's bad for their site, to serve as a word of caution:

  • Dork Tower: While John Kovalic is not terribly consistent in his online comics OR his newsposts, he is more frequent with his newsposts, and the newsposts tend to say A LOT, and have pictures and stuff which totally screw up the layout of his site since he only gave himself that narrow little strip. Plus his newsposts are generally interesting since they talk about stuff he's doing offline, which is where the majority of Dork Tower stuff goes on. He needs to change to "news first, comic second."
  • Tweep: Ben probably thinks he's doing the right thing by putting his news first, since he updates his news more often than his comic and his newsposts actually do contain interesting content. HOWEVER, his comic is in strip format and is small enough that he could put it on the main page and still have two or three newsposts appear "above the fold". Also, his newsposts are so short and so "link to another site" intensive that it would only make sense to show the last five posts or so on the main page rather than just the most recent. As it is, his site looks glaringly empty, and he could add a lot more to make it look interesting before it would even begin to reach the realm of crowded. Consolidation so that people don't have to click around as much is often a good thing.

So there's some overarching design principles to consider. In future posts I'll discuss more in-depth things such as colors, navigation, and even delve into some more technical issues, so be prepared!

So, what does everyone think about the two schools of thought on webcomic website design? Did I miss anything? Got anything else to add? This sort of topic benefits greatly from discussion.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

And then my head exploded.

Ok, this is not a webcomics post, but I absolutely had to mention this somewhere. I am a huge fan of the Wikipedia and am often known to spend several hours a day browsing through articles via that blasted linking they do (invariably, in every article I read I find at least one link to another fascinating article, and there goes my evening)

Anyways, tonight I was reading about the study of history, and came across the article on Histiography. What is histiography? It's the study of the history of history. That is, the study of how history has been interpreted differently in various time periods.

That seems obtuse enough, but it popped into my mind that this article basically gives a history of the study of histiography. Meaning this article details the history of the study of the history of history.

And then I realized that I could click on a link at the top of the page to see this history of this article, which would be the history of the article on the history of the study of the history of history.

And then my head exploded.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Retconning, Rebooting, and Melonpool.

Confusion, consternation, and retro-active continuity from Melonpool.

So, this post is going up much later than I expected, thanks to the joys of dicey internet connections and busy days. Also, it should be noted that a full understanding of the terms laid out in this Wikipedia article could be considered prerequisite knowledge required to fully understand this post. Those pieces of administration out of the way, let's dive in.

For anyone out there that reads Melonpool, you already know that Steve Troop decided to retcon his comic. For those of you that don't read Melonpool, there's never been a better time for you to start (except maybe 1996), because it's a whole new ballgame. Steve Troop has actually gone for the most drastic of all retcons, the reboot. That's right, he's decided to start over from scratch. In fact, he's so gung-ho for this reboot that he's even taken down NINE YEARS worth of archives and restarted them fresh from this Monday. This is especially interesting as he actually went through the trouble to explain the reboot in the strip, ala Crisis on Infinite Earths, then he eliminated the strips which contained this explanation (because, thanks to the reboot, those events never took place. It's kind of a confusing thing. It involved lots of time travel and alternate universes).

What's most interesting about Steve Troops retcon of Melonpool is that it entirely a personal decision. It wasn't that he needed to correct some inconsistencies between storylines, or pare down the number of characters. The archives were getting somewhat bloated, but you really didn't need to read all the archives to understand the strip. It helped, but it wasn't essential. My guess is that he was influenced by the Blank Label Comics folk somewhat, as most of the Blank Label folk used the move over to Blank Label as an excuse to start a brand new strip: Kris Straub with Starslip Crisis, Paul Southworth will Ugly Hill, Brad Guigar with Courting Disaster (sort of), David Willis with Shortpacked (sort of). Troop probably saw the success these new comics were having thanks to the collective model of Blank Label and decided that this would be a great opportunity to draw in some new readers by presenting them with a short archive and not alienating his old readers by keeping the strip Melonpool. That's my theory anyway.

The point is that Steve Troop retconned because he wanted to, not because he had to. And this is a gutsy move. Retconning always risks leaving fans unhappy because the strip's not "what it used to be". But then, there are always fans complaining that something is not "what it used to be", so it's probably not really worth listening to them anyway. Still, if the retcon goes off badly enough, you can lose a large chunk of your existing fanbase without successfully securing a new fanbase, so it IS a risk. If you're going to retcon, you've got to be sure it's good.

And I think Troop is pulling it off. Although the actual transition was a bit choppy and confusing (if you're really desperate to see it, you'll find the last ten strips here), everything since the reboot has been gold. Troop used the opportunity to change the artistic style (full color and comic book pages rather than strips, hearkening back to the glory days of the Melonpool Chronicles), and it's definitely a change for the better. The full pages allow for much more freedom than a four panel strip can give you, And Troop has already taken full advantage of that with some beautiful page layouts. We're still waiting to see how the story progresses, but if it's anywhere near as good as it has been in the past, combined with the new layout, I think Steve Troop could find himself with a lot more readers and really have some great success with this.

Interestingly enough, I've been working with my artist this past week on rebooting the Gideon D. Ragon, Private Eye comic. Neither of us were happy with how it was progressing, and we've learned a lot since the time we started both about writing and drawing a comic, so we thought a fresh start would be the best way to go. The entire strip is going to change, stylistically, pacing-wise, and even plot-wise. Even the name may change. And this is going to be an old school reboot. We're taking down everything that's on the site and starting from scratch, with no mention of the old stuff again. No explanation of why we reboot, or even that we have rebooted. No attempt to work the reboot into the plot of the strip. We're just going to treat the old stuff like it never existed. This is a much different thing than Steve Troop is doing, as we don't have to worry about keeping a fanbase or staying true to the "spirit" of the work. We're just formatting the hard drive and fresh install. Hopefully it goes well.

So what do you think? Should Steve Troop have retconned? Is it going to help him out, or will it hurt him? Is retconning a good idea in general, or is it best to just "tough it out" and try to clear out the old dust without taking such drastic measures?

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

A quick shout-out

The funny. From Mousewax.

I'm going to have a more interesting post up later tonight concerning Melonpool and the pros and cons of rebooting a comic, but I've got to get some work done before I can write it.

So until then, enjoy today's joke from Mousewax. Brandon Lewis claimed on his site that the joke was "too subtle", but it sure made me laugh.

I love the pacing of this strip. The setup is perfectly timed, and the joke in the fourth panel completely floors you because you're already chuckling from the joke in panel three, then Brandon "turns the amp up to 11", so to speak, by flipping it on its head.

Jesus calls Ann Coulter an enemy by using a quote from Rush Limbaugh. No matter which way you slice it, that's just funny. Well done, Brandon Lewis, well done.

I owe you a beer.

Webcomickry: The Importance of Keeping Your Word

I haven't talked about webcomickry lately (by which I mean the actual work of making webcomics, and all the various challenges and joys that come with it), and I suppose now's as good a time as any to pick it up again, since this particular aspect has been brought up in several locations and seems to be on people's minds.

What am I talking about? Consistent updates, or as I like to call it: keeping your word. And pretty much every professional in the webcomics community save one (Mr. Fred Gallagher) agrees that this is one of the single most important steps that a creator must take for their comic to be popular. Why? Because people don't like being lied to. I honestly think that's the truth behind the story. If people visit your site and they see a little tagline either in the site's title or somewhere on the main page that says "Updated every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday" and then they come and visit your site on one of the days and don't see an update, they're going to be a little perturbed. If it happens more than a few times, they'll just give up on you altogether, not because your comic is bad, but because you haven't kept your promise of new content. They'll feel somehow slighted by the fact that you told them you'd have a new comic up and you didn't deliver.

In a Blank Label Comics podcast, Eric Burns said that to be successful you need to have some sort of new content on your site every day, whether it be a comic or an insightful newspost or a sketch, just SOMETHING. I'm not sure I entirely agree with that, there are any number of very successful comics that update on a MWF, TuTh, or even once a week schedule. VGCats and Nodwick are good examples of once-a-weekers. So while providing new content on a daily basis is one way to drive more traffic to your site, providing very high quality content once a week can be successful as well. Sticking to your update schedule is much more important than the frequency of the updates.

This is what The Daily Grind is all about. It's not so much about updating every day as it is giving people added incentive to be rock-solid consistent in their updates because hey, there's 1100 dollars on the line here. The ultimate achievement of The Daily Grind is not going to be the glorification and subsequent enrichment of a single winner, it's going to be the production of 40 or so webcartoonists who know how to put up a comic every weekday, rain or shine. In the long run, that's a much better result.

Jeph Jaques made mention of this in a LiveJournal post which has been circulating the internet about how to be successful in webcomics. In it he says, as his number 2 recommendation:

Find a reasonable update schedule and stick with it. Updating
on time, every time is the single most important part of getting people to
read your comic. Start out on a schedule that you know for 100% certain you
can maintain with no problems. If it feels too "easy", try doing a few extra
comics each update cycle for a couple weeks/months. I started out at 2x per
week, then moved to 3x, and now that it's my full time job I have time to do
5 strips a week.

And I guess I really can't sum it up any better than that. It's not important what your update schedule is, it's important that you stick to it. If you're not going to be consistent in your updates, DON'T ANNOUNCE ANY SORT OF SCHEDULE. EVER. It's really tempting to be optimistic and put up a schedule of when you hope to get comics up, but people will be much more willing to deal with sporadic updates if you say "I'll put up a new comic as I have time" than if you say "I'll have a new comic up every MWF" because they won't feel lied to. You probably won't be as popular updating sporadically as you will consistently, but you can maintain a readership that way. For instance, my goal here on The Webcomicker is to provide an interesting and content-rich post related to webcomics every day. But I can't always do that because I read a limited number of comics and their are days in which nothing terribly interesting is going on in any of them. Also, I am a graduate student and I do have some terribly busy days (Thursdays are typically murder). And I absolutely refuse to put up filler posts. The closest I'll come to a filler post is one of my "Updates!" posts, and even in those I try to provide at least some commentary on the stuff I've been reading, even if it may be brief. but the point is that I can't get something decent up every day. So I don't advertise any sort of schedule anywhere on this site. Nowhere on this site will you see anything saying "New reviews and commentary every day!" or "Get your daily dose of webcomics criticism" or even "Salient articles every MWF". I don't announce a schedule because I know I can't keep to it.

This is not to say that I'm a model in any regard. For instance, my main project, Gideon D. Ragon, Private Eye, has been lying fallow for a couple months now, but for a long time on the site it still said "New pages every Sunday and Thursday!" Which was an out-and-out lie because we NEVER got a page up on a Sunday and a Thursday in any week.

But now, I'm going to try to put my money where my mouth is. As of this week, I'm officially announcing that my "other" webcomic (which has actually been my main project of late), MiSTEam, is going from its shady "once a week, when I have time" schedule to a rock-solid "every Wednesday and Friday" schedule. I've been inspired by all the successful creators encouraging me (not me personally, but the collective "me") to have a consistent schedule, and I'm going to go for it. I don't have any classes on Wednesdays or Fridays, so they are good days to get a comic done, and I worked hard last week and got myself a one strip buffer, so I'm comfortable now announcing an official WF schedule. Now let's just see how long I can keep it up.

And yes, I do understand how ironic it is that I'm announcing this in the middle of a monumental failure to be consistent on NaNoWriMo. But I can deal with a little inconsistency in my life.

By the way, if anyone wants to do a MiSTEam guest strip, just let me know. Guest strips are a great way to build up a buffer without taking a lot of your own time. :-)

Monday, November 07, 2005

The "You Kinda Had Me and Then I Got Bored with You" List

So, apparently I'm pretty boring. Or at least, so I must conclude from the lack of comments on most of my posts, despite the fact that I know there are some people out there reading me. If people are reading me and no one is leaving a comment, I've pretty much got to conclude that I'm just not saying anything people feel is worth commenting on (i.e. it's somewhat mundane, so there's no need to really try to add any discussion to it).

But that's ok. In a way I'm kind of glad. I'm a big fan of Red vs Blue, but I absolutely cannot stand the users over there who leave the most inane comments for all the videos, stuff like "awesome video, thanks!" and the ever popular "I'm downloading it right now, can't wait to watch it!" ARGH! If you don't have anything to say, don't say anything, and freaking DON'T POST A COMMENT ABOUT SOMETHING YOU HAVEN'T EVEN WATCHED YET!!! I just want to grab people like that between my jaws and shake them until they stop moving. Seriously. So I am happy that I don't have the kind of people frequenting my site that don't just post "Wow, good review" or "Thanks for posting something today" or "Awesome, new post, I look forward to reading it!" (That person would be sooooooo banned). At least the people that read this site only post when they feel there is something to be said.

Also, I don't really ever post on anyone else's site, so why should I expect anyone to post on mine, right?

But I'm way off topic here. The actual intent of this post is to talk about those webcomics which I tried to read but eventually gave up on. Now, let me clarify this point somewhat. I don't officially have what Websnark would call a "You Had Me and You Lost Me" list at the moment because there haven't been any comics which I've followed for a considerable period of time and then stopped reading. There have been a couple which have just mysteriously stopped updating and one that has ended (Poppycock Circus), but none that I've actually quit.

But there have been a number of comics which I've started reading and stopped. And I'm not talking about "I visited the site and clicked through a few of the comics and just said 'this is dumb' and left the site." There have been HUNDREDS of comics which I've given that treatment. There's no way I could possibly hope to remember all these, much less to catalogue them. This short list is of comics in which I read through at least a year's worth of archives (usually much more, and in the case of Wondermark, the entire archive), before finally saying "You know, this comic really isn't interesting me. I think I'll just stop reading." I can't say with any definiteness that this is a complete list, but it's all I can remember, and I think it's a fairly complete list.

Don't expect any really in depth analyzation of why exactly I stopped reading any of these comics like Eric Burns has in his "You Had Me and You Lost Me". If I ever do truly "lose" a comic then I promise I'll write something salient and in-depth about it, but for all of these comics the experience in my head was something only slightly above "Man, this is boring. I think I could be spending my time on something more interesting." So here we go, in no particular order.

Sinfest: Honestly, this is the only one on the list that I can't pinpoint a specific reason for stopping on. I've heard lots of good stuff about Sinfest, and I think it's probably the most popular comic on Keenspot right now with so many others jumping ship, but it just failed to hold my interest. I didn't find the "poetry slam" or whatever strips to be terribly funny, and all the religion jokes just kind of wore thin after awhile. I know people will probably say "Oh you didn't read until it really started getting good," but I did read a solid two years, and it just... got boring.

Casey and Andy: I actually really enjoyed reading Casey and Andy for awhile. I especially liked Quantum Cop. But the strip started to lose energy the further through the archive I went. It was almost as if the strip itself, with so much science in it, were following the laws of physics and succumbing to non-conservative forces which were draining it's energy and grinding it to a halt. The sort of frenetic excitement that it carried at the beginning got lost somewhere along the way and it became just a strip about some mad scientists and their wacky friends. And it just wasn't as good anymore. so I stopped reading.

Wondermark: I already posted a detailed review of this comic here. I don't really have much else to say.

Chopping Block: Ok, listen. There's only so many jokes you can make about serial killers and have it still be funny. Chopping Block has a lot of good things going for it. The art matches the content PERFECTLY, probably more perfectly than any other comic I've ever read. And it's a clever premise. Looking at the human side of a sick and twisted killer as opposed to the monstrous side. And it's funny. But after awhile, I realized that every joke was just a variation on a theme. A rehashing of the joke before. And while you can keep that up for awhile, especially with a topic as unique as Chopping Block's, eventually it gets repetitive and a bit old. I actually think the creator has realized this now as well, which might explain why he's been going on hiatuses so much and might just end the strip altogether soon here.

Arthur, King of Time and Space: I wanted to like this strip. I still want to like this strip. I just don't. I still might try to pick it back up again someday and try to like it again, but for now, it's on the "got bored" list. I could blame the art, since the jaggies are kind of annoying, but I could get over that. I did get over it for the few hundred strips I read. But the strip, as interesting of a concept as it is, just doesn't sit well with me. The individual strips don't seem to be terribly well executed, and the overall plot is really hard to follow thanks to all the constant time traveling. Maybe if I were more of an Arthurian legend buff I'd be able to keep up, but as it is I can't. I can handle a confusing and hard to follow plot if the execution is good, and I can handle subpar execution if the plot is enough to keep me interested, but deficiencies in both areas are enough to make me bored enough to quit.

So there's the list of comics I've eventually abandoned midway through the archives. It's a fairly short list because in almost all cases when I get as deep into the archives as I did with these strips, I'll stick it out until the end, because once you actually finish an archive, even if the strip is not great overall , it's a very small time commitment. So for me to commit some good number of hours to reading an archive and ultimately decide not to finish it is quite a decision for me.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Let drunkenness abound

Ok, so for those of you that are curious, no, the current word tally for Nanowrimo is not out of date, it is accurate. I'm hopelessly behind, and as I mentioned earlier, I'm going to have a solid week where I'm not within striking distance of a computer the third week of November, so things are not looking good. Seems I just enjoy doing other things more than working on my novel.

But I'm not giving up yet. I'm too stubborn. I'll probably have abotu ten thousand words going into the homestretch and then make one last gasp effort. We'll see how it pans out.

But that's not the point of this post. some of you may know and some of you may not know about NaDruWriNi, and adjunct event to NaNoWriMo: National Drunk Writing Night. Basically a chance for those in NaNoWriMo to relax and write something random for a change, or those not in NaNoWriMo to pretend they're in the competition for one night while drunk and just pound at their keyboards.

I did not participate in this event, otherwise you'd probably have seen my post on Liberality get a whole lot more interesting. But Phil Kahn, Eric Burns, and Wednesday White did, and all three of them wrote excellent essays. They say that being drunk brings out who you really are, with no shackles, so perhaps these writings give us a little insight into these three talented writers.

Wednesday's post was surprisingly insightful, incisive, and downright thought-provoking. It seems Wednesday is a scholar in the Greek sense of the word, a deep thinker who pulls apart any situation and analyzes every gooey little bit until the deeper meanings of it are understood and brought to light. The sort of person you want arguing on your side and dread to debate when you're taking the opposite opinion. She doesn't pull any punches in her post, so we've gotten a good look at her character there.

Eric's post was downright heartwarming. The main thing he accomplished is to show us just how much of a big softy he really is. This is a man who cares deeply about relationships, and, through his unique literary skills, has the ability to truly have deep and meaningful relationships even in a medium such as the internet which is a shallow place by design. He's a man who values his friendships and doesn't take things for granted, and has a way of communicating that which makes it seem all the more real. Reading this post, I've gained a lot more insight into the motivations which drive Eric Burns and that will forever color anything I read by him in a softer light.

Phil's post was simply pure hilarity. This is the guy you really want to hang out with when you're getting drunk. A guy who talks about how much he loves Mike & Ikes and how Dots are just pure evil. A guy who begins to randomly complain about experimental films and high art. One of those individuals who's fun to hang out with not because he's always trying to be "on", but because he has a natural humor in his soul which comes out whenever he talks about anything, be it art or candy. This post had me laughing a lot more than I've laughed at something I've read online in a long, long time. This is the guy you want to hunt down at a con and go out for beers with.

I've been reading these three characters posts on webcomics for quite some time, and I respect them as excellent writers and critiquers of the form. They're insightful. They're witty. They're just plain interesting to read. But now, thanks to NaDruWriNi, I've been able to see a little bit into their souls, even across the ether of this great big internet. Even though I've never so much as had a conversation or an online chat, I can feel like I know them, just a little bit, thanks to this night.

Maybe providing a window to your soul is not the point of NaDruWriNi, but it's been the result. And that's an awesome thing. Next time, I'm going to have to be sure to participate.

However, I do fear what I would have said concerning Liberality if I'd written that post while drunk. That would have been perhaps a VERY interesting little piece.

Liberality for All!

Preview cover from Liberality

Technically not a webcomic, but they do have a five page preview up on the web right now, so I think that's close enough.

I don't care what your political views are, this looks like a great comic. I'm absolutely tickled by the concept: In the year 2021, liberals have completely taken over the U.S. government and handed over complete authority to the U.N. And as a result Ambassador Usama bin Laden's plan to nuke New York City is about to come to fruition. The only ones who can stop it are a crack team of former conservative radio talk show hosts turned superheroes, led by Sean Hannity, G. Gordon Liddy, and Oliver North.

Come on. You've gotta love that. I mean, even just the concept of Sean Hannity with a bionic arm continuing to transmit his radio show by hacking bandwidths using a military van is enough to get me to buy a copy, not to mention 75 year-old G. Gordon Liddy as a motorcycle riding, gun-toting vigilante (actually, he's 75 years old NOW, meaning that in the comic he'd be 91! Looking pretty good for a 91 year old there. I guess government sponsored health care isn't the answer after all!).

If you're a Democrat, you can buy the comic just to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it. If you're a Republican, you can... buy the comic just to laugh at the sheer absurdity of it. Let's not make a big deal out of this. This comic is pretty far off the deep end. I'm pretty sure it's not trying to make any sort of real political statement if it's got Sean Hannity dressed up like Snake Plissken. The whole thing is tongue in cheek, and it should be treated as such. Buy it, laugh at it, and be thankful that no one really thinks that way.

Well, maybe Michael Savage...

Saturday, November 05, 2005

HOUSD Review

A typical example of THE RANDOM at HOUSD

If there's one thing I can say about HOUSD, it's that I've never seen a comic take some many completely random twists and turns in my entire life. Now, I've heard rumors that the folk over at Goats are infamous for bizarre plot twists, but never having read Goats myself, I'm not really able to compare the two. All I can say is this: HOUSD is random. And really, that's the genius of this strip. One of the characters in the strip is the creator of the comic, Ali Graham, and another character in the strip is a monkey, Mr. Chimpy, who supposed writes the comic. So this gives the strip a somewhat self-referential feel without technically breaking the fourth wall, as the creators are not seen as outside forces that come in on occasion to comment on the work, but more as the directors of a play who also end up acting in the play at the same time. There's layers of cyclical meta-humor that can be analyzed from this, but that's not my point.

My point is, it's entirely plausible to believe that the strip is in all reality written by Mr. Chimpy. I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the real Ali Graham keeps a wise-cracking monkey in his house who bangs furiously at his monkey keyboard with his little monkey fingers. Take for example this recent storyline:

  1. Jess and Craig receive a letter inviting them to a school reunion...
  2. Which leads to an imagined flashback which turns out to be just their house burning down...
  3. Which leads us to discover that the house was actually burned down by Donnie Darko and his demonic bunny rabbit friend...
  4. Which leads to Craig accidentally killing Superman while attempting to exact revenge on Donnie Darko...
  5. Which leads to Craig and Cubert chasing Donnie Darko and Frank the demon rabbit after they flee to Mexico, where they both get revenge on each other through tequila...
  6. While meanwhile, Jess finds Superman in a dumpster with no memory and starts dating him...
  7. Which leads Craig to believe that Superman has come back as a zombie to exact revenge on Craig for killing him, forcing him to cause Superman to regain his memory...
  8. Which results in Jess going into a psychopathic rage, because now she has no date for the reunion.

Like I said, random. I mean, over the course of the archives we've seen Harley Quinn team up with Samuel L. Jackson, Moby Dick fight a T-rex, and the quest to find a Slogan for Cheesios, the breakfast cereal made entirely of cheese. I honestly don't see how anyone could believe that this comic ISN'T written by a monkey, pounding away at random keys.

The thing is... I'm loving it. Quite frankly these completely off the wall twists and turns are the best thing that HOUSD has going for it. Overall, the comic is not terribly spectacular. The art's not bad, but it's certainly nothing to write home about. And many times the punchlines in the individual comics fall short or the mark. Cubert the penguin is supposed to be a show stealer on many occasions, but overall he comes of as... well... kinda boring. Mr. Chimpy is always good for a laugh, but some of that is because he's an anthropomorphic monkey and hey, monkeys are just plain funny. In fact, I'd wager to say it's pretty hard to make a monkey NOT funny.

So in terms of style and execution, HOUSD certainly does not rank among the best. But its stars shine in the storytelling. While it does maintain a connected storyline, the progression is far from linear. The audience is thrown from one tangent to the next in such a jarring fashion that it's a wonder people don't break their teeth on the dashboard at each change. The feeling you get when you're reading through the archives is akin to one of those new rollercoasters. Not the old ones that take you up and down through gritty uphill climbs and stomach churning drops, but one of those new steel rollercoasters which whips you to and fro, up and down, round and round, and basically has its way with you until at least you are released from your restraints and leaves you completely fershnickered. That's what it feels like to read the HOUSD archive. It's a rush.

So give it a look. Maybe it's up your alley, maybe it's not. Maybe you prefer webcomics whose storylines flow more like a well crafted marble sculpture than like a splatter paint drawing. Maybe you prefer completely self-contained randomness ala Penny Arcade instead of a comic which definitely follows a plotline, but a plotline that seems like it was generated from hitting the "random page" button on the Wikipedia about ten times and trying to connect these ten pages together into a coherent storyline.

Then again, maybe you'll enjoy HOUSD.

Thursday, November 03, 2005


Kind of a cop out post, but I'm feeling sick right now (you know how your mom always said to eat your vegetables to be strong? She was LYING. I'm on an all fruits and vegetables diet this week, I feel lousy. No, don't ask why I'm on an all fruits and vegetables diet. It's complicated.), and also Nanowimo owns me at the moment, so I don't really have the wherewithal to say anything salient.

Anyways, I have added a few more comics to my list. Here they are, in no particular order:
PandaXpress (which was eloquently reviewed by Willliam G)
No Room For Magic (a new comic by Adrian Ramos! Glee!)
Bolt City (home of Copper)

I've also added William G's Honest Webcomic Reviews to the webcomic related stuff. I like reading William G not necessarily because I agree with him, but because he's very critical. He's one of those old-school critics who really picks apart works in order to find fault with them rather than to trying to polish rocks into gemstones. It's really a fresh perspective, and makes you really want to examine things yourself. For instance, when I first read PandaXpress I was pretty much like "oooh, pretty drawings," and "haha English people are funny," and "laugh out loud at skater ninja." But his review on PandaXpress did raise quite a few issues with the comic that I had glossed over in my reading, and made me reconsider the work as a whole. And that's a good thing.

I'm sure I'll be talking about No Room For Magic at some future point, because Adrian Ramos is a GENIUS. He just rebooted the story, so nows a good time to start reading, kiddos.

Copper needs no review. Just go read it. Seriously... just go read it.

HOUSD will be getting a full out review from me soon, because it deserves it. Also because I've actually got what I feel to be some interesting things to say about it. So be on the lookout.

As for my other reads, I'm still working through Daily Dinosaur Comics and Dominic Deegan - Oracle for Hire. I put aside Arthur, King of Time and Space because it was really failing to hold my interest. I may never pick it up again. Someday I'll write up a list of comics that I started to read and stopped and post it up here, but that list will actually take some compilation time because there are a fair number.