Monday, January 11, 2010

Your Friendly Neighborhood Webcomics

Okay that wasn't even remotely clever, but I have a deficit of talent for naming things.

So probably no one who reads this knows that one of the first webcomics I ever read regularly, Dar!, ended recently. Not in a sad way, the author was just ready to move on, which is the proper time to end things as far as I'm concerned. But it got me to thinking about how many comics I used to buy and read every week from my local comic book store, how I haven't read any of them in years, and how many webcomics I still read and enjoy. So, in light of the fact that I should probably be doing something else with my time tonight, I'm going to give a brief rundown of my favorite online comics.

Dar! , by Erika Moen. Erika and I have been vaguely aware of each other online for probably close to a decade now, I think, which is probably why I've been as aware of her comic as I have been for so long. It's just an autobiographical comic about her everyday life, starting with her as a sophomore in college and ending with her life as of December 2009. It's pretty frank most of the time, which I admire, since a lot of people feel the need to 'pretty' themselves up for autobiographical work, but Erika seems to revel in her warts. It's often NSFW (that's Not Safe For Work, in case anyone doesn't know), and spends some time traveling down some dark corners as Erika goes through the upheavals of depression, wrestling with her sexual identity, finding love, breaking up, graduating, working, finding love again, wrestling with her sexual identity again, and the general ordeals of life. That makes it sound less funny than it was, and it was funny. Most of the NSFW content comes from the humor, with loads of "dick and fart jokes", as Erika puts it. And yet, it's even more interesting because she's so candid about her sex life and her bodily functions. It never felt like she was trying to shove it in anyone's face to make herself feel edgy, it's just how she shared what she found interesting or entertaining from her life.

Girl Genius written by Kaja and Phil Foglio, and drawn by Phil Foglio. I was aware of Phil Foglio's art long before I knew about this strip, since I spent a great deal of my adolescence reading Robert Asprin's "Myth" book series, some of which he illustrated. His style is very distinct and it might take some people-- more used to regular comics or manga-- a little while to adjust to it, but I think it's well worth the time investing in it. The series has been running for a number of years now, so there's a lot of story to catch up on, but it tends to go pretty fast once you get started. It's a gaslamp adventure series centering on a young woman named Agatha with a mysterious locket that gets stolen early on in the story. This seems to be a very bad thing, not because it held precious memories for her or was of particular monetary value, but because it seems that there is something inside Agatha that the locket repressed that may or may not be good to unleash. As the webpage touts, it's full of action, adventure, romance, and mad science, and it is chock full of all of them. But in a good way. It's a really fun series if you like gaslamp, or slowly unraveling mysteries, or fun inventions, some irreverent humor, large casts of characters, complex political schemes, and some good, old-fashioned Victorian melodrama. It's a lot of fun to watch Agatha go from a timid, unsure young woman into a strong, confident, take-charge young woman over the course of the story. And I love seeing the almost fugue states of creativity the Sparks (geniuses) in the story go into when they're really getting into their work. I've had days where I can relate to that feeling. (This also just won a Hugo award the the last year, which is pretty cool.)

Platinum Grit, written by Danny Murphy and Trudy Cooper, drawn by Trudy Cooper. It's hard to describe what this comic is about beyond the characters. There is a plot in the form of a slowly unraveling supernatural mystery involving a Scottish castle (relocated to Australia-- I think. it might be in Scotland) and some sort of family curse. The one whose family is cursed is one Jeremy MacConner, a talented physicist who's hopeless at talking to girls or having many friends. His cousin, Dugan, seems to be an homage to the Highlander series, as he's immortal, violent, and rather a bit of a prick towards poor Jeremy. Early on he and Jeremy duel for inheritance of the family castle, and has since randomly popped up in Jeremy's nightmares, but nothing else so far. Aside from nearly being killed by homicidal family members, Jeremy spends his time being abducted by aliens, being abused by his friend Nils, reading books on physics, being comatose, being assaulted by supernatural forces, and generally trying to stay alive. He also likes playing with his pet pig, Arthur.

Jeremy's friend Nils is the second in the trio of main characters, and she seems to spend most of her time either teasing him mercilessly (abusing him emotionally, more like), having one-night stands with random guys she meets out, being rather wacky and outrageous, and sometimes extremely drunk. Of course Jeremy has a crush on her, despite all the abuse she heaps on him, because she's just the sort of girl who can get away with doing that and he's the sort of guy who'll take it. She doesn't seem to be phased by any of the weird things that happen in Jeremy's life, she just takes them in stride and tends to get violent and weird right back at them.

Enter Kate. I'll be honest, I didn't really get into the story until she showed up in the sixth book. Of anyone in the story, she's the one I identify with most, and the anchor of sense and reason in a group of loopy characters and unusual happenings. Kate's a journalist, cynical, chainsmoking, sarcastic, witty, and a former roommate of Nils's. She picks Jeremy up on a roadtrip (he was left naked on the side of the road by Nils) and in the process gets dragged into his crazy world. She seems to have developed a bit of a thing for Jeremy and hates the way Nils treats him, though her issues with her go back much further than that, as the two have a prickly relationship from the get-go. She doesn't deal well with the weirdness and tries to ignore or rationalize it at first, which leads to several tantrums and a lot of tension on her part, but she keeps coming back to it because she just can't walk away.

It's fun to watch Cooper's art style evolve over the years and I have to say, she's really fantastic with not only drawing what's happening, but in setting a mood and pacing a story just right. Her 'acting' with the characters is great and they each have their own, very distinct personalities visually. And the mystery of what's happening with Jeremy's family is even more compelling because of the mortal peril he finds himself in so often. No one knows why it's happening or how to stop it, and neither do we, but we're so engaged with the characters that we really want the guy to be okay. Plus it's funny.

The Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew. I haven't done a lot of tabletop gaming, just one stint several years ago as an attempt at bonding with friend who did it. I thought it was fun, for the most part, though I don't pine for it. But even without that brief exposure, I'd probably still find this comic funny. It's another long-running webcomic, but the art itself doesn't really evolve, since the characters have all had the exact same design since the first strip, save for their clothes. But it's interesting to see how the storyline and characters' personalities have evolved from being pretty simple into increasingly complex without becoming overly so. It's a spoof of/homage to tabletop games like Dungeons and Dragons, and it's less like the characters are occasionally self-aware (making references to saving throws and hitpoints) so much as they are the creations of someone playing the game and getting wrapped up in their character but still being aware that they're rolling the dice to see what happens. Or maybe the characters are self-aware, I'm not entirely sure, but it's beside the point. It makes me laugh, it's a fun adventure, and I love all the characters.

Shrub Monkeys, by Katie Shanahan. Sort of like Dar!, this is a (mostly) autobiographical comic, but it's primarily silly humor. Katie, or K.T., as she refers to herself, is an animator in Toronto and creates these strips with the aid of her younger brother "Shagster" and sister Hes. It's mostly humorous strips about KT's struggle with school and later work, hanging out with her siblings, roommate, or boyfriend, and basic, everyday life. Just punched up a bit with exaggeration, extremely silly faces, and a slightly warped sense of humor. She's another one whose work has steadily evolved over the years, and her background in animation is clearly beneficial to her layouts. Fun stuff in this one, I love seeing when she's posted a new one.

Hark, a Vagrant, by Kate Beaton. I'm fairly new to this, but I love odd, dry humor, and this has it in spades. I also love irony and satire. I need to start reading it more regularly.

I think that's about it, off the top of my head. Anyone else out there have webcomics to recommend? I'm always looking for ways to procrastinate.


  1. I absolutely LOVE Platnum Grit. I started reading it years ago and I have a bunch of the comics in print. BIG fan of the art. Trudy also does a hilarious sex comedy comic called ooglaf which I love as well. IT has no reall story line but its hilariously clever and shamelessly dirty.
    Another one to check out is Girls with Slingshots. I thought it was gonig to be your typical situational comic but it has some really endearing characters and some hilarious storylines.

  2. Oooh, didn't know about the sex comic, I'll go check that out. And I think Stac's told me about Girls with Slingshots, and I kept meaning to start it but never did for some reason. Thanks for the suggestions!

  3. You know I already read two of those ;)

  4. Yes, I know. ;) Wasn't sure if you had anything else you'd recommend, though. =)

  5. Kate Beacon is one of my absolute favorites. I swear I am actually wearing one of her t-shirts right this second (to work no less). There's also much less interesting yet fun melodrama one called multiplex. And natalee dee's cartoons just makes me laugh.

  6. I'm reading Multiplex right now and it is fun. I used to work in a movie theater a few years ago, so I can believe that some of these episodes are taken from reality. =) I'll look up Natalee Dee, too.