What You’re Missing: Webcomics
Header via Kris Straub
That’s going to be the crux of this article, but I figured I’d get the point out of the way. “There are comics on the web?” you inquire. Well, besides the curiosity that people still call this “the web,” yes, there are plenty of comics inhabiting the internet, and so many of them are wonderful in differing ways.
I’m not talking about your standard superhero panel collection, though you can read your favorite _______Man comics at comiXology. No, I’m referring to sequential art that originated on the internet before ever hitting print. Some resemble the aforementioned superhero novels while some would fit in the funnies. Garfield Minus Garfield actually utilizes the one of the latter to existential comedic effect.
I’ve been poking for many years through the rise and decline, beginnings and ends, planned hiatuses and spontaneous disappearances, and many other events through a multitude of online comics- from gag-a-day to extensive narratives- and today’s discussion will focus on five of my current bookmarked batch.
MAKE SURE YOU CLICK TO ENLARGE EACH COMIC
- Author: Dave Kellett (@davekellett)
- Schedule: Monday-Friday
- Format: Gag-a-day, occasional brief storyline
I remember bumping into a Sheldon ad long ago when I first came down the path of internet addiction, and I originally strayed from it because the banner seemed to portray it as a newspaper comic. For some reason, I had a loyalty fix regarding print funnies; if they didn’t show up next to the crossword puzzle, then I wouldn’t touch them online.
You can comprehend what I mean by a “newspaper comic” appearance by the above: the layout would sidle up next to your usual Sunday enhanced editions. Even the main characters- a billionaire child, his down-to-earth-when-not-coffee-fueled grandfather, and a vain, talking duck- seem both family-friendly and right off the black-and-white. But Sheldon’s home address is prefaced by www.
Expect plenty of nerdy references, stingers for punchlines, and the occasional heart-string tug.
Strength: The combination of childlike whimsy with worldly insight. Kellett avoids smarmy morals and anvilicious messages despite having a setup that lends itself to such traps. Sheldon isn’t quite a modern-day Calvin & Hobbes, but it definitely offers a similar look at the world through a youngster’s bespectacled eyes. Less deeply philosophical and more focused on everyday curiosities, Sheldon will teach you to see the forest for the trees and go “daaaaaaaang.”
Weakness: Flaco. Though apparently a fan favorite, Flaco the Lizard is not my bag. I’ve enjoyed characters that have been introduced after him (Lil’ Butter is shades of delightful), but Flaco never really struck me as important. He’s not quite a Marty Stu, but he’s the closest you’ll get to in this comic. You might love or hate him, but I would prefer the reptile in smaller doses.
- Author: Tyson Hesse (@boxerhockey)
- Schedule: Sporadic
- Format: Alternating yet related story arcs
- Sometimes NSFW (language, semi-violence)
Tyson Hesse is a major Sonicphile; that’s how I was introduced to his work when used to hop from sprite comic to sprite comic (cartoons that utilized video game sprites or pixel art) and stumbled into his original art of Sonic. Though he still ruins your childhood view of the blue hedgehog (NSFW YouTube adaptation here), he focuses his ever-growing talents on Boxer Hockey, Diesel, and freelance work.
But we’re here for Boxer Hockey, a comic whose title refers to a fictional game of boxer underwear, blunt weapons, frog launching, and PETA nightmares. The main story surrounds dimwitted Rittz, conniving Skip, bullish Billy, and ambiguous Chuck- four talents boxer hockey players coached by not-Magnum PI. While the comic seemed like it was going to make a home in the “gamers on a couch” territory, Boxer Hockey sidestepped that bullet to focus on an often-ridiculous but semi-serious arc. Considering some of the ne’er-do-wells in nonfictional sports these days, some of these issues might reach those who would normally avoid webcomics.
Expect disdain for certain characters, wonderment as to how you can start your own boxer hockey league, and the occasional gay joke. It’s the internet, after all.
Strength: Art. Hesse has definitely come a long way, and his variety of work showcases that. While cartoonish, his style has a realistic feel to it. Imagine Avatar: The Last Airbender as a comparison: anime touches with an Americanized basis.
Weakness: Schedule. I imagine freelancing is a frantic pace to walk not knowing when the next job will pop up and rushing to beat a deadline. Personally, that’s how I work best, but Hesse has put plenty on his plate with his smooth art style and attention to detail. You never know when the next comic will pop up, so be sure to follow him on the tweeter so you’re updated.
- Author: KC Green (@barfcaptain)
- Schedule: M-W-F
- Format: Gag-a-day, occasional brief story arcs, reoccurring characters
- Sometimes NSFW (language, absurd brutality, Dark Homer)
KC Green has done many-a-comic in his young days, but he seems settled with Gun Show at the moment- a topical title for a comic that’s often anything but. Green’s love song to absurdity, pop culture (he’s on a Frasier kick at the moment), and non sequiturs offers a look into the brain of a man who just likes to draw.
Gun Show will throw together a string of stories every once in a while, but you’ll often find standalone strips. Rarely has a “random” button fit a comic better. Green has established characters in his back pocket, but most of his arcs introduce new beings into the mix. His arguably most popular storyline so far has been the Anime Club. It’s almost exactly like it sounds.
Expect surprisingly touching moments, freakouts, and 90s references. Also, catch Green’s writing for the Regular Show print comic when it comes out.
Strength: Unique takes on common ideas. How morbid does Seinfeld get? How difficult is it to eat a burger with your entire face? Are birds really that big of dicks? Gun Show will be driving you down the road until it takes a left turn and you realize you’re on a hovercraft instead of a car.
Weakness: Accessibility. It’s hard to ignore that Green’s work can occasionally be vulgar, depressing, and shocking. Those that stick with the comic are undoubtedly satisfied, but it may be a difficult task for those not attuned to the recesses of the internet.
- Author: Rich Burlew (@RichBurlew)
- Schedule: Sporadic
- Format: Intertwining storylines
“Ugh,” you spout. “Simple art? Like I’d read something I don’t even want to look at.” Imagine if that was the common mindset. Would xkcd and Dinosaur Comics be as well-received if so? Simplistic art does not equate to a bad comic. If you back your bare bones visuals with fantastic writing, then you’re in business. Burlew does so with Order of the Stick, a Dungeons & Dragons-based story.
The almost-intrepid heroes feature intelligent fighter Roy, blatantly tricksy rogue Haley, pious rock of a cleric Durkon, flighty yet eager bard Elan, androgynous and semi-pompous Vaarsuvius, and envy-of-Chucky ranger/barbarian Belkar. Though the comic appeared superficial at the start, the story quickly developed a solid mythology based in the rules of D&D.
Expect meta tones, twists that will give you whiplash, and the wearing out of your F5 key.
Strength (or STR): Writing. As previously mentioned, you have to offer solid writing if you’re going to display simple art. Though Burlew’s style has evolved, it still doesn’t hit what you’d expect from print comics. Who cares? Puns, references, and the ability to craft living characters does the job. You’ll find yourself laughing at the villain and hating a “lawful good” character in no time.
Weakness: Prerequisite of D&D knowledge. While you really don’t need such a thing to enjoy OotS for what it is, you’re going to realize a lot of jokes will fly right over your head. I know that D&D has a stigma attached, but my love for the tabletop has allowed me to ease into the story of Roy and Pals like a toasty bathtub. Don’t let the d20 scare you away.
There are loads of comics out there worthy of your attention. Don’t think that your tastes are that refined that there’s not one artist out there creating something you’d enjoy. Trust me; there’s something for everyone in the webcomic world. Most authors are connected to other comicsters, so it’s all a matter of looking until you find the right one. Or, in my case, scores of webcomics.
Go archive diving. Make some bookmarks. Hop to it.