Review: On the Rocks
Just one of the many misadventures from On the Rocks.
Sometimes all you need for a good comic is simplicity. Over the years, the medium of webcomics has evolved over the years into sort of a haven for those artists who want to balance gag-a-day humor with long-form storytelling. This combination is a feat that has really only been reproduced outside of the web with one other comic strip: For Better or For Worse. It's really neat to watch how different webcomics perform the balancing act. Each strip needs to execute by itself: setup, delivery, punchline, possible counter-punchline. It needs to be funny in its own accord. But then you also need to weave the strip into the overarching continuity, and whatever individual storyline may be going on. So you've got to introduce daily humor without losing the overall flow of the storyline, and that's a very difficult thing to do. Seeing people do it successfully is one of the joys of webcomics.
But it doesn't have to be that way. Some webcomickers have thrown out the notion of needing each piece to stand alone. Inverloch does this, as does Dominic Deegan, on occasion. And, of course, many comics go the other way and take the more traditional approach of simply having no continuity and just doing daily gags. There are a myriad of these that I could list. On the Rocks is one of them.
On the Rocks is almost archetypal in its formula: You have two friends, a polar bear named Wally and a penguin named Osbourne. They live in Antarctica. They have humorous adventures. There's no large continuity, any storylines that do pop up tend to be variations on a theme and not longer than a week (with one distinct exception I can think of), and in general it reads like most newspaper comics: "Let's crack open the website and see what ole Wally and Osbourne are up to today."
Now remember, it does not take originality of concept for a webcomic to be good. Having a very original concept can help distinguish a certain comic from the pack initially (take, for example, The Pet Professional), but ultimately it's quality and it's resulting popularity and success will rest in it's execution. Execution beats concept every time, and it becomes even more important when using a tried-and-true concept if you want to distinguish yourself from the pack. So the question is, does On the Rocks execute well?
And the answer is: "Sure, I guess." Here's the things that struck me about On the Rocks, as I was reading it: It has good, clean artwork that perfectly suits the tone of the strip both in linework and in colors. It has pretty decent jokes, on the whole. A few of them made me laugh out loud (I particularily liked the one I linked above). The website design is great, with easy navigation and a color scheme which perfectly suits the comic.
But the strip does suffer from some deficiencies, the most crippling of which is the relative dullness of the characters. Wally is "the dumb guy" and Osbourne is "the normal guy". They're really not developed beyond that. Now, don't get me wrong. Flat characters are fine by me. In fact, one-dimensional characters are usually some of the absolute funniest and can carry a comic (for example, Sam in Freefall). But there's a difference between flat and dull. If you have essentially one-dimensional characters but you don't fully develop that one-dimension, then your characters become boring very quickly, and without interesting characters you can't have interesting interplay, and you very quickly expend your supply of quippy jokes and run out of steam. I see On the Rocks being in danger of that.
But for the moment, it's a pretty good read. No real commitment level to speak of, and a high degree of "chuckle-factor" make it a strip to keep on your radar, at least. I'm going to keep reading it and hope that Wally and Osbourne start to come into their own and really begin generating their own comedy, as opposed to right now when it seems as if their following scripts.