Thursday, 29 June 2006

One black heart broken in two: Stuff sucks

Stuff sucks has 'it', this fantastical Amsterdam inhabited by English speaking ex pats is a weird place. The 'it' is the whole sluttish mix of different characters. If the artwork somewhat resembles Return to Sender, then the narrative is a free-flowing haze of emotion and japery. (Though Zemi is like a skankalicious version of Colette) I like the looseness here and the willingness to explore sub-plots. It's also what the strip doesn't do that makes it stand out. Liz Greenfield could have added in the goldfish as a talking mascot goldfish but she didn't, she showed restraint.

this strip has the emo kid, Adam, twisting the whole Emo vibe around. He should be a recurring character.Usually the Emo kid gets a bad rap, Nothing nice to say uses the usual stereotype.I mean, I hate Emo kids, All American Rejects makes me want to hit frogs with a hammer, Dashboard Confessional makes me want to bring public crucifixions back as a spectacle. But I think the Emo kid is good in this strip, Liz Greenfield didn't go down the obvious route and that's always a good thing.

Monday, 26 June 2006

Discoveries: Edwitch

I first found out about Edwitch via Scarygoround as Josh Rosen did a strip for Scarygoround idol.I like the sketchiness of the artwork, it gives the strip a looseness that is quite welcome. There's a sense of childhood moving onto twenties and thus it's a charming read because I usually am converted to a strip based upon its evocation of a fantastic world, it's mis-en-scene as well as character interation. Gaming comics don't usually provide this, instead it's usually in-jokes and bumble-fucked misogyny. I prefer the liminal spaces between normalacy and the fantastic and Edwitch easily provides that.

The gothic is also a preoccupation of mine and Edwitch would not look out of place on the Slave Labor Graphics roster. It's the gothic crossed with slice of life humour. Usually gothic visuals are accompanied by varied lush backgrounds. Here, the minimal backgrounds gives the strip a sense of space and lets the characters perform as themselves, I like that.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Changes in the scenery: Webcomics vs. Print comics

So, I was skulking around my local comic store, Minotaur ,on Thursday and I picked up a trade paperback copy of the first volume of Stray Bullets and the trade paperback copy of Next Exit. Minotaur is a large pop-culture/comic store in central Melbourne. As I was going through them, I was luxuriating in the finality of a collected work. 

I’d already collected all the single issues of Next Exit and as I read the first volume I could see the master plan emerge. The first six issues were always intended as a thematic whole as a graphic novel instead of disparate parts. I could now put the story together it is a whole. Yet when I look online all I usually see are gag strips and even the longer narratives are disconnected and formulated around jokes.
I think the medium of the internet is against the webcomic functioning as the equivalent of a graphic novel. A single issue comic that is collated later into a graphic novel has a length that allows a thematic unity; in opposition to this the webcomic is usually punctuated by the necessity of daily or weekly updates. In order to get to the stage of a graphic novel, it’d a slow trawl through the story and thus ‘slice of life’ comics prevail because the webcomic is if nothing else an immediate artform. 

Even longer narratives such as Something Positive are usually constructed around a joke at the end of each strip. The medium that supports the webcomic makes it far harder to create graphic novels. Webcomic viewers want instant gratification; each strip has to make sense on its own. If you don’t like it you can just skip to the next webcomic, hurry, hurry along. So, a webcomic doesn’t have the luxury of a continuous narrative that is encapsulated even in a single issue print comic. The demands of an online audience creates narratives broken up into updates or snippets of narration. 

Thus, a comic like Fell wouldn’t work online because of its slow-burning narrative. Things can build up where a webcomic usually is required to possess a thematic whole with each strip, it can’t afford not to be. This retards overall narration. Stray Bullets online would result in outraged noobs on the forum asking for the punch line, it’s an interrelated narrative and that works better in printed collected work, not in an archive of disconnected strips in a webcomic. 

If you do try and buck the trend you get accused of overextending yourself, the clearest culprit in webcomic critical circles is Megatokyo. Perhaps Megatokyo isn’t a good example because as the Webcomic examiner stated in their roundtable on the history of webcomics, it’s a print comic that’s found itself online. The complaints that ensued when Rodney Caston was edged out were indicative of an audience that preferred gaming gags to long term continuity.
Even a webcomic stalwart such as Sluggy Freelance is lop-sided because of the continual need for jokes to keep the audience reeled in. Abrams only attempts emotional complexity in the adventure sequences such as Fire and Rain and more recently in the technically brilliant Wayang Kulit storyline. It seems outside of fantasy sub-plots, characters in SF are not allowed to fully express their emotions. This makes reading through the archives a distorted reading experience as normalcy comes back after what should be moving forward.

I’ve seen and purchased the print editions of Megatokyo at Minotaur, I’ve also seen print versions Penny Arcade and Sinfest there. The move of the more successful webcomics to print versions was perhaps inevitable. PVP and Megatokyo are the most popular, there are smaller variants of this, Sam and Fuzzy has printed up some of its strips but only on pre-order and not in a more thematic whole in the way ScaryGoRound presents its archives.
I’m pretty sure most print versions of webcomics are peripheral to the main enterprise, usually purchased by the converted as an add-on. Print versions of webcomics, with the exception of Megatokyo, aren’t graphic novels, they are collections of individual strips, as already stated, they could hardly be otherwise given the internet’s ferociously fast attention span. They are a way of adding physical form to what you love and are far easier to read that to trawl through years of archives. 

Yeah, okay, nothing beats the thrill of looking for comics online but I think the printed versions are usually a luxury reserved for the more successful webcomics and will continue as such, there might be a crossover into print comics but nobody I know in the comic stores even knows about webcomics. That’s not to say they’re inferior, I wouldn’t be reading webcomics and writing this blog if they were, webcomics have weaknesses compared to print comics but the strengths outweigh them. 

Webcomics are more fluid and energetic than the majority of print comics. The top of the field in print comics is supposedly Marvel and DC’s superhero wankery; the top of the field within webcomics is far more exciting artistically and supports far more interesting work. 

Quality usually prevails because in order to survive or move up to being funded by your artwork you have to attract more people. There’s no company funding you, it’s fully freelance. The biosphere in webcomics is far more complex and forums force together a sense of community that you rarely see in print. The webcomic creator talks to (rants at) you via messages each update, (e.g. Sore Thumbs and Questionable Content). Yeah, I get a thrill from both print and webcomics but only webcomics gives me that rush as I check each day for a new update.

Friday, 9 June 2006

Reconversion: Goats

I'd drifted away from Goats around 2001, my first analysis was that it was merely another Slice of Life strip with some vaguely 'quirky' fantastical touches. It has...uh...changed since I'd last visited. At first glance its been transformed into a Sluggified series of Multiverses. Rosenberg has called this a 'reboot', he's also provided the reader with a copious series of cast pages and narrative guides. The comic has changed genres and I think that's a brave move. The previous version depended a continuity behind all the surrealism, the bar always existed, the same snide fratboy humour spurted out on cue after all the distractions from the outside world.

So, originally Goats was slice of life with surreal on top, now the parameters have changed. The craziness has become implicit within the strip, not just as a stop-over. The format of the comic looks more shmik as well, more streamlined. It's a good form of evolution and I'm happily surprised.

Part of my slow deconversion from Sluggy Freelance was the underpining normalacy that caused all the adventuring into a sidenote, the underlying characters remained. The serious 'F + R' version of Oasis jarred with the structure of the rest of SF. Goats has avoided this malaise by plunging into the instability of an alternate universe. I'm glad I rediscovered Goats and I'm glad someone is taking risks.

Thursday, 1 June 2006

Changes in the scenery

Joe Zabel has recently written an examination of the perceived 'webcomic community' in the Webcomic examiner. It’s interesting and lucid and five years ago it could not have been written. I think it’s an example of the current cultural validity of webcomics.
I think however that the perceived webcomics community never was a concrete entity. I think the main change is a consistent critical analysis of webcomics. When Sluggy Freelance and Penny Arcade began the vast web of webcomic criticism wasn't present. The super-structure of webcomic criticism that has emerged can tend to canonize webcomics, sometimes deservedly so. This stabilization has created order and online webcomic communities have become contact points to cross fertilise each other.

If the more popular multi-authored webcomic blogs such as Fleen and Websnark are slightly gossipy, then the content peripherals such as webcomic collectives have taken on more importance. With the advent of new boutique webcomic collectives such as Boxcar and Blank Label, Keenspot seems to have lost its direction. Aside from Sore Thumbs and Sinfest, I can't think of a first rate webcomic on the Keenspot roster that bucks its genre specifications, the emphasis is broad, there's no real brand identity to the community, no real sizeable crossovers.

The increase in webcomics has forced together a form of unofficial quality control. Consistency in output is preferable, Road Waffles is on its third vague disconnected storyline, Niego opted out and Shaw island went half-arsed serious.

Still, I prefer convoluted narratives that span a number of years, so weekly updates is fine with me. So to me, Megatokyo doesn’t look like some half-arsed Manga-ka project in training, it looks like a viable webcomic. It’s also an example of the shift towards the print format that a major webcomic such as ScaryGoRound has also followed. This isn't a betrayal, it's moving on.