Thursday, June 28, 2007

A (very) Selective Guide to Web Comics

Things I simply don't 'get':

1. Transformers.
2. Anything 'starring' Richard Ayoade. The man is a talent vampire, leeching the ability out of even gifted people he works with.
3. Comics. With the exception of 'Maus' and 'From Hell' they're just nonsense aren't they?

Web comics though are a different thing entirely.

I'd say they were a wondrous new world but truthfully they're mainly not
- a few of them, however, are unmissable. To be exact, the ones below meet the stringent criteria of 'Stuff I look at First Thing in the Morning when I Should be Starting Work'.*

Wapsi Square

Wapsi Square is more of an ongoing serial than the other strips I read daily. Starring Monica Villareal, a short, large chested anthropologist, WS started as a straight-forward semi-humorous drama but quickly evolved into a far odder and less mundane experience.

At times in fact, creator Paul Taylor leaves humour behind entirely, particularly in the early strips featuring the creation of the three drunken parts of the chimera and those strips covering the cast's unhappy formative years. Wapsi Square isn't a strip for belly laughs, but the increasing maturity of the writing is mirrored in the fabulous artwork, which often features intricate and complimentary backgrounds in each panel, fronted by cleanly drawn characters.

I've just ordered the two paperback collections from Highly recommended.

A Softer World

A Softer World is about as far away from Wapsi Square as you can get. Generally made up of three panels and updated only every Friday, ASW is a series of standalone strips which isn't even drawn but is instead created from photographs, with text added on a white background in an old-fashioned typewriter font.

Sometimes it's just one photograph stretching across all three panels, sometimes it's three distinct photos, but the result is usually...bittersweet is the word, I think. Sometimes, in fact, the strip doesn't even seem to make much sense but regardless, many of the comics engender a genuine sense of sadness and of the passing of time. On the other hand, some are just plain funny.

And I'm convinced Steven Moffat has seen this one.

Player vs Player

Player vs Player is a far more traditional comic strip, in the grand tradition of Charles Schulz' Peanuts. Set in the office of a computer gaming magazine, PvP generally appears in three panel form with each strip ending with a humorous pay-off, although the strips are all linked chronologically and tend to follow loose storylines.

Of the comic strips I like, PvP takes the least risks but is probably the most successful, with an animated version now showing on US TV. Traditional it may be, but it's often very, very funny and the fact that creator Scott Kurtz does do the very best PC wallpaper is not something to be taken lightly.


Achewood is genius, no matter how hyperbolic that sounds. Not genius in the sense that people might say 'Lawrence Miles is a genius' or 'Tracey Emin's My Bed is a work of genius' (that is, the sense of 'exaggerating wildly' and 'talking shite' respectively), but genius in the proper 'christ, that made my brain shudder and stall' sense. The adventures of some toy animals and a handful of cats with personality disorders, it may not sound all that promising, but reading the entire archive in one sitting is the equivalent of reading one of the good Faulkner novels or watching a Pinter play. Ignoring for a second the fact that it's frequently coffee spat over monitor funny and that it can switch from that to genuinely sad in the space of a single strip, Achewood's primary strength is creator Chris Onstad's wonderful use of language. Each character has his own individual voice, while characters modify their syntax to create fractured sentences full of meaning in a world in which Heaven and Hell are easily reachable (and where Robert Johnson plays nightly in the latter)

Start at the beginning and read right through or, if you definitely want to waste your time doing something else, then just read the Great Outdoor Fight section, and marvel.

Perry Bible Fellowship

PBF is amongst the more successful web comics, with a weekly spot in The Guardian and a book collection out soon. PBF always goes for the laugh in its unconnected weekly strip, but uniquely in those strips I read it always makes you work to figure out the gag. This strip in which a vulture has slipped in amongst the baby-delivering storks is a relatively straight-forward one, but this one had me scratching my head for half an hour before I got the (excellent) joke, while I had to have this one explained to me by Greg.

The fact that it's usually worth making the effort to understand the entire joke tells you all you need to know, I think.

Other Comics

Other comics which I read every day but which aren't at the very top level include Overcompensating (good but inconsistent), Scary Go Round (British for a change, but 'wry smile' level at best), and xkcd (sometimes hilarious, too often a bit sciencey).

* If Scott is reading this, then that obviously should read 'Stuff I look at First Thing in the Morning Before I Leave for Work'


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Blogger alienvoord said...

You are of course wrong about comics being nonsense, but I love Achewood. I could read it all day. In fact I have.

I hadn't seen A Softer World before. It's really good.

6:35 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Wapsi Square is my current favourite, but only because I've read all of Achewood twice through in the past couple of months.

I'd like to understand the attraction of comics, but I've never been able to (it's like Anime in that respect - I can see that there's something potentially interesting there, but I simply can't connect with it).

6:54 pm  
Blogger Mark Clapham said...

Webcomics you are advised not to read, but which have been reviewed in hilarious fashion:


1:13 pm  
Blogger Scott Liddell said...

Remove the link to Emin immediately. Don't give that mad useless harpie and more than the ZERO web traffic she deserves.

2:06 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Mark: ""

Christ, he doesn't miss, does he?

2:19 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Scott: "Remove the link to Emin immediately"

It's a lik to her Wiki page, nto her own site.

Anyway, she's your girlfriend and you love her.

2:21 pm  
Blogger Scott Liddell said...

I quite like "The Warehouse", has some amusing moments and some childish ones:

7:54 am  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Scott: "I quite like "The Warehouse""

Starts with an original trilogy Star Wars joke - your geekiness is getting more dated by the minute :)

12:25 pm  
Blogger Scott Liddell said...

I just built a PC from scratch, my geekiness is now cemented...

4:40 pm  
Blogger Stuart Douglas said...

Scott: "I just built a PC from scratch, my geekiness is now cemented..."

That's nerdiness, not geekiness, you mad fool.

3:22 pm  

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