The Webcomicker

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Friday, May 12, 2006

Maybe this will get him to start updating again: Review of Killer Robots from Space

Two robots angering each other over at Killer Robots from Space.

Man, it's been a while since I've posted a full-out review here... ...and that's all the incidental commentary I have to give out right now.

Killer Robots from Space is a strip I found when it got linked from Dinosaur Comics. Now, let me say that while I tend to check out most of the strips that Ryan North links, the vast majority of them don't make my reading list because most of them I honestly can't make heads or tails of. I don't know if they're engaged in many-layered subtextual ironic humor or what, but they lose me pretty quickly.

Killer Robots from Space, on the other hand, caught my attention and never let go. Killer Robots from Space is basically a webcomic about what robots do when they're not destroying humanity, or battling aliens, or whatever. And as it turns out, they're doing what most humans do when they're "on break". They stand around shooting the breeze. The comic has a very dry sense of humor, which is right up my alley, and the format suits the subject perfectly, but more on that later.

The first thing that I noticed about Killer Robots was the robots themselves, obviously. Each robot is clearly a duplicate of all the others, with just it's colors changed. While this may seem like laziness on the part of the artist (and I'm sure that played at least partly into the decision), to me it comes off as genius. You see, each strip has an entirely different cast of robots. There's no "characters" in the comic, so to speak, just an endlessly shuffling array of robots without names, distinguishable only by the colors on their chassis. On the surface level, you can say it's only natural that all the robots would look the same because presumably they're all produced at the same factory from the same set of parts, why should they be any different? But it you ply a level deeper, you realize that by making all the robots on the same model, what Adam Greengard has done is created a sense of continuity in the strip, a sense of identification and familiarity in the readers without having any specific characters. People don't identify with any particular robot, but they will identify with the "killer robots" in general. It's not unlike the familiarity that Gary Larson was able to create in The Far Side. There were never any specific characters, but when you saw a Far Side cow, you knew it was a Far Side cow.

The second thing I noticed about the strip was its infinite canvas format. People, this strip is a hallmark example of how infinite canvas should be used. It might be fun to create crazy twisting and twirling non-linear comics, but it's really not valuable to anyone beyond the level of "hey, that's neat." It'll take you about a billion hours to work it all out, and you'll post it and a bunch of people will visit your site once, and that'll be the end of it. Killer Robots from Space demonstrates an understanding of the true value of infinite canvas: it allows you to create a continuous line of storytelling, as long as you like, with no breaks in it. In short: with infinite canvas you never have to turn a page. Greengard allows each Killer Robots strip to run as long as it needs to run. He never worries about trying to set up a joke in three or four panels, he never has to be concerned with "fitting something in". In many ways, Killer Robots is the exact opposite of Dinosaur Comics in terms of form (maybe that's why Ryan North likes it so much). Whereas Ryan North has to somehow wrap his writing style around the six panels he has given himself, Adam Greengard gets to wrap his panels around however he wants his conversations to proceed.

On a side note, another neat application of infinite canvas in Killer Robots from Space is its ability to turn space into time. Greengard creates long pauses in the conversation with long black portions between the panels, which is illustrated perfectly by the strip I thumbnailed a portion of above. Click it!

Killer Robots from Space is a great example of a creator constructing the artistic style of his strip to perfectly match the content. the cookie-cutter robots perfectly suit the mundanity of it's tone, and the no-panel-limit approach perfectly mimics the rambling pace the most conversations take. The humor is pretty dry, but if that's what you like (and I certainly do), then Killer Robots from Space is the strip for you.


At 9:56 PM, Blogger nevadagirl13 said...

Awesome. I think that was a fantastic review of one of my favorite comics. Thank you.

At 1:14 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you should also see if you can track down his old comic, "No Outlet" which also has some good dry humor in it. I e-mailed him about it and he sent me a zip file of the archives.

At 9:14 AM, Blogger Paul said...

The one problem with horizontal infinite canvas is that I read the first twenty-or-so strips without realising that the horizontal scrollbar was there, thinking it was only a four-panel comic.

I therefore thought that the comic was a complete exercise in surrealism.

Admittedly this is more my fault than the author's, but it does tell you why I prefer vertical IC strips...

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