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Friday, March 31, 2006

More Than Cute. But still pretty dang cute.

Shocking conclusion! (or is it?) From Count Your Sheep.

So, I was actually planning to put up a post here about yesterday's Count Your Sheep, but since Adis has already got something up for today, and it's a pretty interesting strip, it would be silly of me to just ignore it.

First of all, let me remind everyone that Count Your Sheep is to me what Narbonic is to Mr. Burns. It's one of my most beloved strips, the strip I tend to champion to my friends as the "you need to read this" strip. That doesn't mean I absolutely love everything Adrian Ramos does (I'm not a drooling fanboy, although I shamelessly act like one at cons sometimes. But that's a horse of a different color, as they say.), but it does mean I love most of it. And it means I watch with quite a bit of anticipation whenever he seems to be changing up the formula, both because I look forward to how it's probably going to improve the strip and I dread how it might screw the whole thing up. I've been watching very carefully since Adis started the "More than Cute" campaign to see exactly where he was planning to go with it. And while we have seen a little change in tone on a few strips, for the most part it's pretty much been cute.

Not that I can really blame Adis. He's got such an incredibly adorable character in Katie that it's really hard to have her do anything without it ending up cute. Take this joke for example. It's a pretty lowbrow joke about snoring, and apparently farting in your sleep as well. But with Katie as the character, it comes off cute! The girl can't not be cute.

But then, about two weeks ago we suddenly had something new. Here was a strip with no Katie at all, and no Laurie either, really. Certainly outside the usual formula. It's just Ship on the phone. And who's he talking to? Laurie's sister (Karla). Interesting. And it appears that Ship and Karla have a history. Apparently she can't actually hear him herself, but she knows he exists, and acknowledges that fact. And that was interesting enough in itself.

Then, we get a couple of strips of Laurie on the phone with her sister. And for basically the first time in the history of Count Your Sheep we see Laurie interacting with someone other than Katie or Ship. And, surprise surprise, it reveals a side of Laurie we've never really seen before.

See, when Laurie is around Katie and Ship, she's pretty much sucked into the "cute zone". She's interacting with characters who are engaged in cute activities, and as a result we only see Laurie as the patient, loving, and struggling single mother who reacts to the cuteness around her. Presumably when she steps out of the house and goes to work or to the store she acts differently, but we never see this. Until now (ok, we saw a little of it in the Beatles storyline. But that was really focused on Laurie's struggles and not her character).

On the phone we see Laurie actually interacting with another adult. And not just any adult, but an adult with whom she shares a very close bond: her sister. And we see a completely different side of her. We see her yakking it up, cracking jokes, and ultimately ending up somewhat jealous of her sister's footloose ways. And it's all pretty funny, but it's not cute.

In and of itself that set of three strips would be eventful in my mind as the first time Adis successfully broke the cute mold. But he wasn't content to let it stand at that. Oh no. All of a sudden we got a week of "Laurie as a kid strips" focusing on her relationship with Ship. And most of us pretty much forgot about the phone conversation of the previous week and thought it was back to business as usual. But we missed the secondary focus of these strips. They weren't just about Laurie and Ship, they were about the nature of Ship's existence. Is he just an imaginary friend that comes alive when there are people to imagine it (ala Hobbes) or is he a real creature who can only be seen by those who believe (ala Skull the Troll)? If we had remembered the dual nature of Karla's relationship with Ship (she knows he really exists but she can't actually interact with him directly), we might have seen yesterday's strip coming.

...Or at least, we would have seen the first half of yesterday's strip coming. We never could have imagined this shocker:

Ship. In love. With Laurie's older sister. Laurie's older sister who is willing to believe whatever it is Laurie believes, even if she can't see it herself. Laurie's older sister who still, in the present, believes what Laurie believes, even though she STILL can't see it.

That just knocked me out of my chair. Now we understand the nature of Ship and Karla's relationship. She can't see him because she doesn't believe in him, but she can accept his existence because she believes in what Laurie believes. And what about Ship? He thinks he's found a love interest. He can't be a love interest for Laurie or Katie because he's their imaginary friend, not their imaginary boyfriend. To attempt any sort of relationship beyond a friendship would be to attempt to change the underlying foundation of his existence in their world, and that simply CANNOT be done. But he's not Karla's imaginary friend. To Karla he could be anything. There's no boundaries, and here's a college-aged girl showing interest by calling him cute (and let's not get into the ramifications of Karla calling him "cute" in a storyline obviously intended to bring the comic to a level "more than cute". The levels of irony in there are way thicker than I'd care to ply). For someone who's been stuck in a role of "friend and only friend" with no real way out of it, simply the sheer enticement of a potential romantic relationship would be more than enough to make more Ship instantly smitten.

And then, in today's comic we see Ship realize that Karla cannot see him, and only believes in him de jure Laurie. And we can only imagine the crushing blow this must have dealt to Ship as we watch him symbolically peel away the hearts from his eyes. Just like the rest of us, Ship wants to at least have the chance at something deeper than just a friendship, and now he realizes that this simply may not be possible. And now when you go back to the first strip, with Ship unable to even communicate a single word to Karla over the phone, it's practically heart-ripping. This is depth to Ship's character that I never even imagined, and it just makes him so much more real, as we learn just how imaginary his life is.

In a word, awesome. In two short weeks we've seen both Laurie and Ship evolve beyond cute to much, much more. Now we've seen glimpses of the people behind the cute and we know so much more about them. I doubt we'll see anything similar happen with Katie. Katie is supposed to be cute. She's not supposed to be anything more than cute. She's supposed to be the very picture of the innocence of youth, and if that ever changes then that means the whole strip is undergoing some SERIOUS changes. But now we have Katie providing the cute and Ship and Laurie not only supplementing the cute, but really for the first time adding charateristics of their own personalities beyond the cute. Once again Adis has me begging for more.

Now go to bed! (I'm saying that to myself, here. It's frickin 4:30 AM. I hope this post makes sense when I read it in the morning)

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Quick Note

I want to talk about Count Your Sheep today. I mean, I really want to talk about Count Your Sheep today. But there's no time. Maybe around midnight tonight I'll have enough free time. Maybe.

Also, after about a month and a half's worth of reading I've finally finished the Goats archive. All I've got to say is... wow. I'm pretty sure that my fragile mind has been rent to shreds now. Goats is one bad mofo of a comic. Don't expect a review, I don't even know if it's possible to review Goats.

Lastly, I took about fifteen minutes of my day and picked up a new strip: Banished. It's done by Ryan Smith of Funny Farm fame, and Jamie Anderson, who I'd never heard of but apparently does a webcomic called The Destructive Tendencies of Us. It's a short archive, and it looks like it's got potential. Review upcoming.

Still on my reading list for the moment: Everything Jake, Pilli Adventure, and Silent Kimbly. I'll get to them as I have time.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

That's more like it.

Random killing. As it should be. From The Pet Professional

So, I've decided that I'm just not going to apologize for not posting in like a week and a half any more. I'm in grad school, I think people understand. Theoretically I'll be able to post more once I get out of this school and on to a normal job. I can only hope.

So let's talk about the Pet Professional. Pet Pro, as we all know, is a strip that started out with a lot of fanfare and certainly didn't disappoint, and then unfortunately had to change artists midway through. And that's always a trying time for any webcomic.

But to make things worse, Pet Pro actually underwent the artist switch in the middle of a storyline, which in my opinion was about the worst thing that could happen for all people involved. For the author it's trying to adapt the story to a new artist who probably has a new vision on the flow of the panels. For the artist it's like trying to jump on a moving bicycle and keep it pedaling forward without any loss of momentum. And for the fans it's this sudden jarring change in the look and feel of the strip while they're trying to keep track of some continuity in the story, which really doesn't hold together well. All in all, to put it kindly would eb to say that it's rough.

And Jason Salsbury tried earnestly to hold it together for awhile, and then realized that this just flat-out wasn't gonna fly, which resulted in this strip. And quite frankly, I would have been a lot happier if that strip had come immediately before the artist switch, as a last hurrah from the old guy, or at least as the first strip from the new guy. Really give a sense of closure to the previous era of strips and say "now we're going to move forward with new stuff." The vain attempt to hold together continuity only made the artist switch that much more jarring, etching into our minds at every step that the strip had changed and openly inviting comparisons between the old artist (who, in most cases is favored simply because we're more familiar with him) and the new artist. And that can only hurt the development of the strip with the new artist.

So I was pretty happy when Salsbury decided to just kill the story before it got too bad and go back to the random killings. We need to see random killings from the new artist. We need proof that Matt Kaufenberg can do the random killings before he and Salsbury get into longer storylines. So I was happy to see today's strip, and the random killings in it. It's actually the first strip I've seen with the new artist that really makes me say "looks like Pet Pro is going to be allright."

So, there's another piece of advice to keep in mind, folks. If you need to switch artists, try your hardest to do it at a natural breakpoint in the story, and if that's just not possible, invent a breakpoint. No matter how contrived it may be, it'll just work better that way.

Saturday, March 18, 2006


Classic. Just classic. From PvP

Ok, I know Scott Kurtz isn't a big fan of when people over-analyze his stuff, so I'm going to try not to delve to deeply into this particular strip aside from the fact that it was absolutely hilarious. When I read this strip, I'm pretty sure I laughed harder than I've laughed at PvP, like, ever.

The thing that makes it so great is that it works on so many levels. First off you have the concept of Brent and Skull body-swapped, which is a goldmine of humor right there, and since the audience knows this they're coming in primed for some funny jokes.

Then there's the idea that when Brent tells Skull to act like him the only thing he can think to do is make lewd references about sexual escapades with Jade. Since Skull's pretty much panicking at this point, that means he's just saying the first thing that comes to mind (as Skull is wont to do when he panics), and that means the first thing he thinks of when thinking of Brent is that Brent is some kind of sex-crazed maniac who likes to talk about his adventures. And that's pretty funny.

Then there's the fact that Cole actually falls for it, which implies that at least to a certain degree Skull's knee jerk impersonation was at least reasonably close to how Brent really acts.

Then there's the final cherry-on-top punchline: "Boobs. It's what's for dinner."

The pacing in this comic is great, ramping up the humor to a new level in each panel until on the last panel you're just falling out of your chair. Well done, Kurtz. Well done indeed.

I owe you a beer.

Friday, March 17, 2006

It's kinda like Toasty Oats: Review of Press Start to Play

A classic send-up of those tedious tasks in video games we all hate, from Press Start to Play.

Remember when you were a kid, and every grocery store had it's own generic knockoff brand for practically every food product in the store? And sometimes your parents would decide to buy the knockoff brand, and it just didn't quite taste the same?

I remember when I was a little kid our grocery store had a Cheerios knockoff called "Toasty Oats", and while it certainly wasn't the goodness of Cheerios, it did have a certain charm to it. I remember it was a little more tangy than Cheerios, as if the generic-cereal-making people had left the dough out in the sun and it had sourdoughized a bit. It was really a unique experience.

Of course, then Apple Cinnamon Cheerios came out and all bets were off. But I digress.

Press Start to Play is a Penny Arcade clone. It's two guys, hanging around, making riffs about video games. No storyline, no continuity, a real sense that in any strip, anything could happen. It has the same sort of pacing in the jokes as Penny Arcade. It's pretty clear that Press Start to Play is not trying to be a knock off of Ctrl+Alt+Del or VGCats, because those strips both have a pretty clearly defined sense of style and pacing which differs greatly from Penny Arcade. Heck, the guys even list Penny Arcade as their main influence. From the FAQs: Penny Arcade are the father of webcomics, and we'll always try to listen to the advice they give, and try and hit in on whatever they're using to be so damn funny. I'd like to think our humor isn't too far off that of Penny Arcade.

But you know what? I don't care. Press Start to Play is the Toasty Oats to Penny Arcade's Cheerios. It's basically trying to copy off the success of another product, but at the same time it's got its own unique flavor. Maybe not quite as good, but certainly not bad. Here's the important thing to understand: Press Start to Play is not stealing Penny Arcade's jokes. They're copying their style. This is an important distinction to make. The jokes in Press Start to Play are fresh, they're unique, they cover a different range of video games than Penny Arcade covers. Sure, they look and sound a lot like Penny Arcade comics, but they're not.

So if you like Penny Arcade, be sure to check out Press Start to Play. You may find that if you add it to your list it'll be like having a double-shot of Penny Arcade every week. And that ain't bad.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Well, I suppose something written by a guy named "Fire" should move pretty quickly...

Bipartisan romance! From Winger.

So I'm sitting here waiting for my part-of-speech tagger to finish marking up some text for my research (intriguing, eh?) and I find that I've got some free time as a result. So what to do?

Get some serious writing off my chest!

It kills me that I've been neglecting The Webcomicker. You guys probably don't realize how frustrating it has been for me to go through my daily reading and keep seeing things I want to talk about, but just plain not having enough time to put them into cohesive words. Ugh.

So anyways. Winger. Winger is a comic I absolutely fell in love with when it first began, probably mostly because I'm a conservative and the vast majority of webcomic creators seem to be fairly liberal. Now, this is not to say I'm some kind of ultra-conservative "Bush is God" type, but I just tend to fall on the conservative side of most issues. But this isn't about me. I think Winger was a legitimately good and funny strip outside of being a political strip that tends to cater toward conservatives. I thought Dab being forced to flame internet trolls was pretty funny, and this strip made me laugh for a good long time.

But then, almost out of the blue, things started getting weird. First there was Dab claiming to be a demon. But I let that slide as just an odd tangent. But then there was the (in my opinion) unnecessary transfer of some old Elf Life characters, And a weird talking cat... But I figured "ok, Carson Fire wants to take things in a little more surrealistic direction, that's cool. It's hard to do straight political humor every day and not come off as just a pundit."

And then came the latest storyline. And Fire's changing things up. Now Minion's gone off to be an Assistant Marketing Director, breaking the wonderful dynamic that we had of Minion and Dab manning the bookstore floor. Which made me sad. I thought that dynamic provided some of the greatest material for the strip. And now Minion and Dab are going out on a date, and as evidenced by the strip I've thumbnailed above, it looks like they're up for some first-basing.

And it all seems kind of sudden to me. I mean, Winger is still a freshman strip. In my opinion, the characters hadn't fully settled into their roles yet, and Fire's already changing those roles. I wanted to see more of Minion and Dab as political enemies slowly becoming friends in spite of their differences of opinion. I wanted the political differences to be a huge stumbling block, as they usually are in relationships. Instead, we see Minion coming over to Dab's side really quickly. Heck, she's even agreed to freaking go to church! It's just unnatural. People don't change that fast. I mean, assuming the Winger strip is following a roughly real-time pacing (and it seems to be), Dab and Minion have only known each other for about three and a half months. And Minion's already gone from book-burning liberal to more of a centrist. We've lost most of the main conflict in the strip, and as we all know, conflict is the essence of humor. So we're losing the biggest goldmine of humor as well. And it makes me sad.

I'm hoping Carson Fire will prove me wrong. I'm hoping this is just a false start and this date between Minion and Dab ends with a huge fight, setting them at odds with each other, politically at least. I'm hoping Minion truly does use her marketing position to advance her liberal agenda, and Dab fights back with conservative means. I hope the push and pull of their relationship continues, with them craving the constant back and forth, as they did in this strip.

Don't let me down, Fire. Don't let me down.

Monday, March 13, 2006


Ok, first off you guys should all know I've got a new article up at Comixpedia for my "Through the Looking Back Glass" series. Props to Xerxes for editing my stuff until it actually sounds more like a legitimate article than an extended blog post.

Secondly, in case you hadn't already noticed, the "Monthly review of what's going on in every webcomic I read" has pretty much gone away (so much for that resolution), because it took me like days to write the dang thing. I'm just going to focus on normal commentary for now.

Thirdly, you'll notice the sidebar has changed once again. First, I changed the description of me to be less self-deprecating. Eric Burns posted some thoughts on running a critical blog, and I thought I pretty much held to all the guidelines he mentioned except I do tend to have sort of the "just a guy with a blog" mentality, so I'm going to start taking things a bit more seriously around here. I really want The Webcomicker to be a place of commentary for people who like webcomics and also useful information for aspiring webcomickers like myself (hence the articles about stuff like web design. I'm still planning a series on Content Management Systems at some point). So anyways, I changed my little "Who am I? Why are you reading me?" tagline to something a bit more informative and confident. Also, In my continuing efforts to group my links in a more meaningful way, I've once again shuffled the links around. Hopefully you can find everything.

Ok, so let's talk about what I've been reading. Obviously, Piled Higher and Deeper has been added to my list of stuff I read. I also added Checkerboard Nightmare, because I just realized that for some reason it never got on the list. Weird. Maybe because I thought it ended (which it did... kinda...). Apparently I forgot to add On the Rocks as well, it's there now. Same with Schlock Mercenary.

I also added My Life in Records, which you will here more about as time goes on. I've read it since it started a few months back, but was hesitant to add it because I didn't know if it would last. Since it looks like it's at least going to be around for awhile, I feel safe in adding it to the list now.

As for stuff I'm reading, I've been slowly working my way through Goats (at slower than snail's pace right now), and my reading list has got a couple of other strips in the backlog that I haven't taken more than a passing glance at (Everything Jake comes to mind). I've just been too bogged down with work to do much reading (keep repeating to myself, "the thesis will be done in August, the thesis will be done in August...").

That being said, I'm looking to add some more manga-style strips to the stuff I read. I'm a huge fan of anime and manga, but I don't read much online because (let's face it) most of the manga stuff online is either crappy or way too inaccessible to the non-hardcore fan. So if anyone knows anything good, let me know!

I'm still annoyed that I haven't written anything commentary-wise in awhile, and there's really stuff I want to talk about (Winger in particular), but things aren't looking promising for this week.

Friday, March 10, 2006

There are things which need a-writin'

...But the writin's not being done. I've reached the point in grad school where your life is consumed by trying to get your thesis done and finding a job for when you're done. So things may be a little sparse here for a little while.

I'm thinking of maybe adding another writer on to The Webcomicker to keep up the critical discourse up while I'm on the DL, but haven't quite decided if that's what I want to do yet or not.

Hopefully I'll get some stuff squared away over Spring Break (one week from now) and have some more free time for writing. Hopefully.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

An evening with Jorge Cham

An image promoting the lecture series by Jorge Cham, creator of Piled Higher and Deeper.

So, I had the opportunity earlier this evening to attend a lecture by Jorge Cham (now you can go check out his website and match the date of this post to find out what school I go to!). This was the sort of thing that I wasn't going to pass up on, since I'm kind of out in the middle of nowhere here and I don't really get the opportunity to go to many conventions. So if a webcomicker is coming to my town, I'm not going to miss out no matter who it is.

So let me preface this post by saying that prior to the talk I'd never really read PhD. I'd heard of it before, and when I saw the flyers going up around campus I checked it out briefly to see what it was about, but I didn't really even give it enough of a perusal to, say, learn who the main characters were. So I went in cold for the most part.

And I've got to say, I was pretty impressed. The first thing that struck me was that the lecture hall was PACKED. The official capacity for the room is listed online at 263, but there were so many people standing on the fringes and sitting in the aisles that I'd wager we had closer to 300 people in the room. The second thing that struck me was that when he asked how many of the people in the room were grad students, 99% of the people in the room raised their hands. There were like 4 undergrads and 3 "miscellaneous", with everyone else in the room being grad students. PhD, of course, is a comic about grad students, so apparently Jorge has his target audience nailed. So this gave me a good impression right off the bat.

As for the lecture itself, it was brilliant. He had the audience cracking up the entire time, and really demonstrated that he has a deep understanding of the trials and rigors of being a grad student. He has felt our pain, and he wants to help. That's why his talk is called "The Power of Procrastination". Underneath all the humor and satire, Jorge really communicated that it's important for us all to get away from our work, to step back and really enjoy life as opposed to constantly being under the gun. I think a lot of people could benefit from taking his words to heart (Not me personally, of course. I already know the fine art of procrastination. It's one of the few things that keeps this blog running.).

After the talk I stuck around and bought both of his books, then stood in line for him to sign them. He stayed and signed books for a good hour after his talk was over, and even though I was like the second to last guy in line he still took the time to talk to me and try to get to know me a little. I had him sign my books to Gilead Pellaeon, but he didn't recognize the name, so apparently I'm not that cool yet, but that's ok. Now I intend to devour the books in the next few days and then catch up in the online archive and add it to the reading list.

You really should go check out the speaking tour page at PhD, and if Jorge Cham is going to be anywhere near you I highly recommend you go check it out. It will be time well spent.

Yet more congratulations

A celebration image from the Daily Grind Message Board.

Well, The Daily Grind turned a year old today (or yesterday, depending on how you count your time). In that time we've seen it get huge amounts of recognition (including a link from no less than Slashdot, which is really saying something.), and really spark a lot of community, commentary, and general interest in the webcomic community. If not for the Hurricane Relief Telethon, I'd say it was the biggest event in webcomics all year.

Over the course of one year's time we've seen just a shade over half the contestants drop from the contest, leaving 27 cartoonists still in the running. There's been drama, there's been arguments over the rules and who should be out, there's been excitement as some of the early favorites have dropped and some of the dark horses have managed The Grind with ease.

But most importantly, what we've seen is a lot of cartoonists develop their craft. They've gone from sketchy, half-finished characters to full color works. We've seen a huge improvement in the actual quality of the story or the humor in practically every comic in The Grind. We've seen a lot of contestants gain a bunch of readers and really become much more successful with their comics. We've gained around 20 new cartoonists who know how to get a comic up every day, rain or shine, no matter what the circumstances, and that's the kind of dedication it takes to really drive the webcomic community to more noteriety and monetary success.

I wholeheartedly believe that The Daily Grind is going to have lasting, lingering effects that will ripple through the webcomic community for years to come, and we'll be better for it. So congratulations, webcomickers, not only for making it this far but also for making the world of webcomics a better place in general.

I tip my hat to you.