The Webcomicker

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A preliminary lexicon (because not everybody needs to rip off Eric Burns)

Ok, I've finally managed to get myself to the point where I enjoy webcomic criticism. People have interesting things to say, they highlight portions of a strip which I personally would never have noticed, they show me the good points in strips which I generally consider to be universally bad. Reading criticism gives me a better understanding of the medium as a whole and enables me to make more informed decisions when choosing what to read (although ultimately in the end it comes down to: Do I enjoy reading it?), and can really create some great discussion when people build on each other's posts.

That being said, if I see one more webcomic critic use the word "snark" on his site, I'm gonna puke. I'm literally going to disembibe stomach acid on my keyboard. The same goes for "Cerebus Syndrome" and "First and Ten". I'm ok with it when Burns uses them, because they're his terms. But seriously? Show a little creativity. I know most of us were inspired by Burns. Heck even I openly admit that the sole reason I started The Webcomicker was because he demonstrated to me that the concept of webcomic criticism was cool. But I've never once stolen any of his terms. Outside of this post, I've used the word "snark" once, and that was when I was specifically referencing Burns in my very first post. And I've never used "First and Ten" or "Cerebus Syndrome".

That being said, it is useful to have some shorthand terms for referring to common events or circumstances in your field of criticism. Where would art criticism be if they had to explain the concept of "avante garde" every time they wanted to reference it? And as I've made posts on this blog, I've come up with some useful lexical terms that would be helpful to make known to the readers, so I don't have to explain them again in the future.

So this is the kind of post that will probably get a permanent link (although perhaps a version of it without all the ranting at the beginning, to save face), and get periodically updated as I think of spiffy new terms. Feel free to use these terms if you like (I think they're pretty good), but keep in mind that overuse of the terms will make them cliched, much like Burn's stuff has become.

(Note: as of this writing only one of the terms defined here has actually been used in a post: sidequesting. The other ones are terms I've had kicking around in my head and look forward to using sometime in the future.)

Sidequesting: In the world of RPGs, a sidequest is an adventure that is completely tangential to the main storyline, and is typically used as an element to length the playtime as a game. Sidequests are usually performed to make one's characters stronger or purely for the enjoyment value. In webcomics, sidequesting refers to the situation when a webcomic that is primarily storyline driven has the characters engage in some kind of side adventure or mini-storyline which is tangential to the plot as a whole. This occurs to some degree in almost every storyline driven webcomic, and sidequests vary wildly in frequency, length, and quality.

Techno-Bill: Techno-Bill is a minor character from the Dilbert comic. He only appeared in two strips, but was hugely popular with the Dilbert fanbase, and his moniker is still widely used on the internet today. So the lexical term refers to exactly what Techno-Bill is: a hugely popular bit player in a webcomic. Techno-Bills are pretty rare in webcomics because when readers latch on to a character, they tend to bug the creators to reuse them so much that the creators cave and make the character more regular (because fanservice is much more necessary in webcomics than other mediums). Some examples of characters which began their careers as Techno-Bills but ultimately joined the rotation are Chef Brian from Ctrl+Alt+Del, and the infamous Homsar. A good example of a real Techno-Bill is Pizza Girl from Questionable Content, who to date has appeared in two strips.

Respawning: Ok, this one's got a history to it. Obviously the term respawning originally came from the world of first person shooter games, where after you die your character magically comes back to life back at your base (or some other location). Beyond that I have nothing concrete to say about the etymology of the word. In the world of webcomics, respawning refers to when a strip fundamentally changes its premise. Note that this is not the same thing as retconning. In a retcon much of the history of a strip may change, but the premise is typically the same. The need for this term arose from a recent post of mine where I wanted to describe how the premise of Ctrl+Alt+Del had changed. I used the term "jump the shark", but later was made to understand that jumping the shark contains the implicit implication that things have turned for the worse. And while jumping the shark typically includes a shift in the premise, this shift does not necessarily indicate a downturn in the strip. Note also the difference between respawning and the ever popular "Cerebus Syndrome". Cerebus Syndrome specifically entails that a gag-a-day strip has become more serious, has taken on some dramatic elements or at least a running storyline with consequences. None of this is required for a respawn, just a change in the premise. Examples of strips that have respawned are Ctrl+Alt+Del (as mentioned in the post linked above) and Real Life.

Now, for those of you curious types, here's how I ultimately chose the term respawning. I was looking for a good term after the aforementioned Ctrl+Alt+Del post, and lacking inspiration, I tried to think of strips that had undergone similar changes and hoped I could find some good term from their discussion of it. So I went searching. And what I ultimately found was this strip at Megatokyo. If you scroll down the page a bit, you'll see that this was when Fred Gallagher (Piro) first announced that Rodney Caston (Largo) had left the project. This signalled a fundamental shift in the premise of the strip, from random adventures with zombies and robots to more serious relationship drama. And what was the title of the strip when this announcement was made? "Respawning tactics." I knew I had my term the moment I read it.


At 10:58 AM, Blogger Tangent said...

Heh. That's why I use "tangenting" to describe writing one of my reviews, rather than a "snark".

Of course, "snark" is actually a literary term, so people are partly using it to describe the general tone of what they're talking about.

Anyway, I definitely applaud your intent. We don't need a dozen Websnark Clones out there. One is more than enough. Having your own lexicon is a useful step in that process.

Rob H.

At 11:32 AM, Blogger Andrew Araki said...

that's why I don't call mine anything.

I avoid imitating Websnark because I know I'll fail if I try to emulate Eric Burns. Websnark is only one of many ways to write about comics. It's not the only way

At 3:41 PM, Blogger Brad said...

I don't get why Burns or anyone else uses "First and Ten" as an example of a concept that started off funny and then sank into its own self-importance and lost its humor. "M*A*S*H" is a much better-known example.

From here on out, let's use that. As in, "Strip X has Mashed itself."

At 4:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Seems I have a Techno-Bill in my strip:

This unnamed character has been labeled as "Magic Ted" by the fandom and I get constantly asked when he's gonna make a comeback, or even join the regular cast. Why, I have no idea. So far it's only been twice in the whole 7 year run of the strip.


At 6:56 PM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

Heh... Mashed. That works on so many levels. I may have to steal that one.

And yes, those fans can be quite trying at times, demanding the return of their Techno-Bills. I for one have been unhealthily obsessing over Pizza Girl for quite some time now. I even have a sketch of her by Jeph Jaques on my wall.

At 11:40 PM, Blogger Tangent said...

Why Magic Ted, Maritza? Because April deserves better than what Blacknarwhal calls a man-ho! (Paying said male prostitute at that. I mean, plenty of college students out there who'd gladly chase after April. Trust me, I've been to colleges, I know how students react to cute buxom blondes...) But Ted... he was the first to notice her. ;)

Rob H.

At 1:05 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why Magic Ted, yes, and not that other guy, you know? The one that asked her to marry him?

Besides, April pays Paul because she doesn't have to get attached to him. It eases her lonely without it having to be a relationship.


At 12:58 PM, Blogger Mr K said...

I dunno if it's necessarily wrong to use lexicon words from websnark. I mean we're hardly a huge community as they go.

At 10:07 AM, Anonymous Abby L said...

That's already happened to me a couple of times, a bunch of people started loving a character I expected no one to love, but I had already had some plans to bring one of them back, and the other one happened to fit in my storyline. I'm a shameless panderer I guess.

On the main topic, I think that it's necessary to make your mark, but I don't think it's necessary to create new words for the same thing. Most people already understand the existing terms. If you want to start saying Mash so you don't have to explain what First and Ten means, then that makes sense. If you want to call your posts something other than snarks, that makes perfect sense as well. But if the words that are already being used work just fine, then why fix what aint broken?

At 5:36 PM, Blogger E. Burns said...

I don't get why Burns or anyone else uses "First and Ten" as an example of a concept that started off funny and then sank into its own self-importance and lost its humor. "M*A*S*H" is a much better-known example.

Well, that's not what First and Ten is.

First and Ten is "ran out of funny, so went melodramatic, and failed miserably."

I can understand if you don't care for M*A*S*H -- lots of people agree with you ;) -- but given that the final episode of M*A*S*H has the world record for largest audience and audience share for any television program in history -- a record it's unlikely to ever lose, since there's so much choice these days -- I don't think we can call it a failure. ;)

At 5:40 PM, Anonymous weds said...

So, if only Eric can use his lexicon, does that mean I have to write and maintain a separate one? Shouldn't that be covered under community property?

At 5:46 PM, Blogger E. Burns said...

Oh, and for the record -- I'm perfectly fine with folks using the terminology, or not using the terminology. It's all good. Everything's good, man.

At 5:48 PM, Blogger E. Burns said...

Shouldn't that be covered under community property?

Man, think of what that pre-nup would look like....

At 2:41 PM, Blogger Gilead Pellaeon said...

Ok, ok, so I was probably unnecessarily harsh in criticizing people for re-using Websnark terms. If there is a term out there in common usage and you don't have to waste time defining a new one, that's a good thing.

But what I dislike is the overuse of Websnark terms, trying to apply them whenever possible, and in many cases erroneously. If I were to call my post on The Webcomicker "snarks", in general that would be untrue since I very rarely take a "snarky" sort of attitude in my posting.

You should notice that all the terms I defined in this post are not intended as replacements for Websnark terms, nor do they even describe similar situations in general.

So I apologize if I ruffled anyone's feathers unnecessarily. But I do encourage you to continue to develop new terms to describe different situations, rather than trying to fit a situation into an old term.

At 12:50 AM, Blogger Peter C. Hayward said...

I figured I'd point you towards my rebuttal, if you haven't seen it. I thought that the "trackback" system would pick it up automatically, but nope. Seems I have to type it all in manually.


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