I'm going to start this off simply - The Thinking Ape Blues isn't for everyone. It's an intellectual and opinionated sarcasm, a sometimes brutally honest view through the eyes of a pragmatic realist fraught with iconic references and philosophical ravings. Then again, it's not all collegiate fodder... while one strip may contain references to the Dali Lama, Hunter S. Thompson, Cher, Paul Stanley, the Keebler Elves, and Ronnie James Dio, another may be nothing more than an elaborate poop joke.
The creator, Mark Poutenis, originally published The Thinking Ape Blues solely in print; gracing the pages of no less than nine publication including The Boston Weekly Dig and the New York Waste where it can still be found. While initially challenged by the differences between print and web publication, Mark has clearly hit a more comfortable stride; evidenced by both a prolific marketing campaign and a new series of single panel voting incentives. A nearly complete archive, picturesque navigation, a brilliant About Page, and a product line that includes the ability to place any archived comic on a T-shirt testifies to his professionalism almost as much as his artwork.
Speaking of his artwork, my only real criticism is that he frequently seems to dislike it. Reading the blog posts often leaves me wondering just who's comic he's commenting on. Mind you, I believe the self-depreciation is genuine, it simply isn't deserved. Almost exclusively drawn in black and white, the artwork is consistent, detailed, creative, and expressive. Any cultural icons appearing in the strip are accurately and stylistically portrayed, allowing for both easy recognition and comedic effect. The backgrounds are supportive, interesting, and drawn with distinct attention to accurate perspective. The character's body postures and facial expressions easily convey both tone and mood without script competition. There is quite literally nothing to complain about here, it's just damn good.
The writing is equally impressive, delivering necessary complexity without being overly verbose. Though occasionally crossing the boundary from thoughtful sarcasm into sardonic ranting, the overall feel of the comic is strangely and pleasantly neutral, neither inciting nor depressing. It should be noted, however, that it appears Mark and I fall on roughly the same end of the political, religious, and philosophical spectrum and that may be why he has failed to draw my ire.
The character concept is clever and well constructed, especially considering it's a main cast of only three. The Progress Brothers - Abe, Ben, and Carl seem to represent three aspects of our very humanity. If Ben is described as "being stuck between the heavens and a hole in the ground", Carl must be heaven and Abe must be the hole. Perhaps meant to symbolize the three divisions of the Freudian psyche, the stages between primal urge and profound logic, or some other philosophical or psychological classifications I'm simply not intelligent enough to pontificate on, the characters are engaging and complete. This seemingly simply set up allows for a nearly casual introspection on any number of topics. I especially admire his ability to discuss difficult, emotionally charged subjects with both honesty and compassion.
Ape Shit, the creator's single panel comic which serves as the weekly voting incentive, allows for more gag oriented expression, but they're equally subject to cultural examination and are certainly worth the vote.
Mark Poutenis is the Samuel Clemens of webcomics. To be both poignant and witty is a rare gift indeed. The Thinking Ape Blues updates every Tuesday, and compilations are available here. (These are coffee table companions if I've ever seen 'em. They're practically guaranteed to spark discussion.) Ape Shit is made available every Friday, and past panels are available in their own archive.