The Webcomicker

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Monday, December 26, 2005

Personally, I think toy insurance is a pretty good idea. (Review of Shortpacked)


Batman proves he's the best at everything in Shortpacked.

One thing I want to mention before writing this review is that many, MANY webcomics include a superfluous "!" at the end of their titles. In general I don't consider these to be legitimate inclusions and therefore don't use them when referencing the comic. Shortpacked is one of these comics. Thank you.

When I read Shortpacked, I always have a nagging feeling in the back of my mind which just refuses to go away that's telling me I'm missing something. That I'm an outsider to the strip and to the world of David Willis, and I'm missing a lot of the "inside jokes". And to a certain extent, that's true. I'm vaguely acquainted with It's Walky and Joyce and Walky, but I've never read them. I'm pretty sure that a couple of the characters in Shortpacked were inherited from It's Walky, but I couldn't say anything definitively on the subject. I'm guessing there's some backstory to the characters, or David Willis' humor, that would make certain elements more funny.

But you know what? I don't care. Because Shortpacked is pretty dang good just on it's own. You don't need any additional inside jokes because it's not about the inside jokes. It contains many, many "public domain" type jokes, by which I mean jokes the general public can enjoy without being intimately acquainted with the strip. Many webcomics suffer from insider humor. If you've been following the strip, today's installment is the funniest thing you've ever read. But if you're just reading today's installment, without the context of the rest of the series, you're just left saying "what the hell?" In Shortpacked, David Willis seems to have found the perfect balance where if you're just picking it up on any given day you'll probably find the strip to be pretty funny, but if you keep up with it, it becomes more funny. And that's about the best thing anyone could ask for. Not only a great hook but also an enticement to keep reading.

So, with an introduction like that, maybe I ought to tell you something about the strip itself, eh? Shortpacked is the story of a bunch of workers in a toy store. Only, this ain't no Toys R' Us, people. It's definitely an independent store, and they seem to try to cater more to collectors than little kids. Also, it's staffed by a group of people which could only be described as a "cadre". From Galasso, the evil store manager who makes most of his money by demanding that his employees sell insurance on all the toys they sell, to Robin, the ridiculously excitable "6 year old girl in an adult's body", to Mike, who is really interested in nothing more than making everyone's life miserable, and even encompassing the more "normal" characters like Ethan, the toy obsessed, hard working geek, and Amber, who swears that her online boyfriend really loves her despite his seeming reluctance to meet in real life. It's a pretty interesting bunch, and they haven't disappointed yet in their antics, whether it be Robin harboring perverse sexual lust for Greg Killmaster or Galasso hiring someone to stir up controversy about action figures.

But while the characters are great, and it's been fun to follow their wacky adventures, they aren't what really carries the strip. What carries the strip are the jokes like the one displayed at the top of this post, with Batman training to become the best at Dance Dance Revolution. Or a joke about Transformers. Or today's entry, which not only does a decent job poking fun at Superbook, but also manages to include just about every modern character that's taken a trip to visit the birth of Christ. It must have been pretty crowded in that little Bethlehem stable (you know, the sad thing is, I think I've seen the original of every one of the references in that last panel, except for Flying House. I think I'm oversaturated). These little random jokes, thrown in the middle of storylines seemingly at whim, keep the comic fresh and "funny at the moment", and prevent the strip from getting too bogged down in character development and plot. And most of them fit in perfectly with the toy store theme because they deal with topics that most toy fanatics would be well-acquainted with: namely comic books, television, and movies which are likely to spawn toys.

I suppose the one problem with Shortpacked is that it is somewhat pop culture humor heavy. I know that I find the VGCats strips which parody some extremely obscure game to be insufferable, since they just make no sense if you haven't played the game, and I imagine that today's strip would envoke a similar response in someone who's never watched Superbook or any of those other Christian cartoons. And maybe you've never really watched Batman, or Transformers. I don't think David Willis dips into the obscure too much, but if you've never been into pop culture you'll probably miss a fair amount of the one-shot jokes. I think you can still appreciate the strip as a whole since it has a great deal of quirky relationship and hijinks humor, but there will definitely be a level you're missing. Just like I think I'm missing a level from not having read It's Walky (although I think that level is much deeper and much less important. After all, I still love Shortpacked without having any background knowledge). So if you're not big into pop culture you might want to give this one a pass.

But if you like relationship humor (and I think most people do... I mean, look at the popularity of frickin Friends), and you've watched at least SOME cartoons in the past twenty years, chances are you'll be a big fan of Shortpacked.

And I'll even sell you some insurance on that.

2 Comments:

At 10:40 AM, Blogger Kneefers said...

Good essay, dude. That pretty much sums up what I liked about Shortpacked. It was funny all by itself, though I did notice that I got some of the jokes more after I had read through It's Walky.
Solid stuff, as usual. Keep it up.

 
At 9:11 PM, Anonymous Minivet said...

Maybe it's because I trawled IW rather than following it in real time, but I don't think your Shortpacked experience is much diminished from not having read it. You haven't missed much character development, for example; Robin isn't as one-dimensional as Mike, but she's still relatively static. Maybe you'd know Robin is telling the truth about her job experience, but does that enhance the comedy? Not much.

 

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