Wednesday, July 25, 2007

The Nineteenth Century Industrialist

The Nineteenth Century Industrialist is... different. Half story comic, half gag-a-day, the strip seems to relish defying both convention and definition. The premise is simple enough, factory owner Hiram Thorpe is in the wrong century - but rather than conforming to the times, he continues to live as though he were still in his own. A century not exactly known for it's human rights and environmental championing.

Don't mistake the premise for a story line though - it's more of a launching point, a stage prop even. The comic itself is pointless... but pointless by design. It's not as though the creator set out to write a cohesive story and simply failed, the chaos is clearly intentional and actually well done. Each of the characters has a fairly straight forward and easily discerned personality and that offers enough consistency to tie each individual strip to the others.

The humor isn't exactly dry... it's sort of laced with an inherent sadness. A sense of entitlement that clashes with our current cultural norms in such a way that a humorous skin is formed. I do realize how unflattering that sounds, but I do enjoy the comic. It's not a laugh out loud frolic, but it's general mood alone makes it worth reading.

The artwork is a zany simplicity. Stylistically sketchy, the line work lends an added dimension to the anatomy bending physiology of the character designs and the sparse yet appropriate backgrounds. Slave Labor Graphics fans are likely to notice what seems to be the creator's primary influence as quickly as I did, in fact, I'd be shocked to learn my initial impressions were incorrect.

The comic is hosted on Comic Genesis and utilizes OhNoRobot for easy archive searching. The web design is sparse, but easy to navigate and devoid of distraction. I would be appreciate a bit of information in the form of an About page, but I suppose I can live with the mystery for now. The Nineteenth Century Industrialist updates Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Jump on in, the century is fine.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Questionable Content

In a recent interview I was asked what webcomics I read and how they influenced me. In my answer I included my webcomic trinity, the first three slice-of-life webcomics that I really related to - Devil's Panties, Something Positive, and today's comic Questionable Content. Does that make me biased? Hell yes, but it's my damn review and I'll do with it as I please.

Before I get into the meat of the review I just want to say this - kudos for improvement. Granted, most webcomics that run for more than 900 strips show marked improvement, but QC has shown improvement in all categories from character design to writing and that at least deserves a mention. Early strips were hardly Paint induced scribbles, of course, but a quick glance at the first strip followed by a glance at the latest strip should serve as encouragement to even the most amateur of webcomic creators.

QC is, at it's most basic, a 20 something's slice-of-life. Dramatic story lines and personal growth certainly have their place, but this isn't a drama - soap opera or otherwise. Liberal outpourings of sarcasm and good natured self-depreciation clearly identify this as a comedy, and those that insist on forcing it into another genre do both themselves and the comic a disservice. No it's not slapstick nonsense, it's that day to day humor that we all appreciate in our friends and family. It's a humor that endears you to the characters - you're laughing with them, not at them, and that's a damn good thing. I relate to these characters, I recognize their reflections in people I know, and hear their lines in familiar voices. As such, I'd probably be defensive and pissy if they were simply puppets to laugh at.

This minor revelation brings me to a little factoid that absolutely tickles me - according to Jeph Jacques, the creator, none of his characters are based on real people. This just tells me that I'd find a day in Jacques' head absolutely entertaining. His easy writing style combined with only a handful of panels each strip lend themselves so well to the "snapshots in time" method that his characters are absolutely believable. You're definitely given the impression that when you're not watching the gang is pretty damn boring. Oddly enough, I mean that in a good way. Characters that feel as though their always on a stage become pat, their reality constantly stifled by a laugh track. It's important to note, however, that Jacques hasn't allowed this writing style to hurry the pacing with longer story lines, and has allowed it to provide occasional relief from slower plot advancements.

The artwork is done in a casually detailed black outline style with minimal line variation. Filled color with layered shading and highlights round out the look providing depth. Slightly over sized eyes, especially on the women folk, give the characters a bit of Manga feel but it isn't over done. Body postures range from slouchy to awkward, providing more support for personality than biology, and I very much appreciate the way one can tell how the character feels merely by looking at them. Delving into finer details, look for subtle clues that extend beyond the droop of a shoulder - the slight forward tilt of the head, for example, that signifies Faye's general disgust or the lines under Hannalore's eyes that deepen along with her mania.

The site design is simple and easy to navigate. Jacques ability to keep up with his cast page is a skill I deeply covet, and his QC Tutorial of Doom is very nicely done. The About, FAQ, and Contact pages are succinct but effective and the Music Picks page reads like an indie lovers wet dream. Also on board is a fairly active Forum, which even includes a thread to pimp your own comic - assuming you have one to pimp. QC updates 5 days a week, Monday through Friday and is certainly worth the daily read.

(Apologies all around for the lateness of this review - I gathered some sort of crud at the office and spent the last two days either sleeping or in a "gods I wish I was still asleep" coma-like haze. My only real hope is that this thing actually makes sense and I didn't do a huge injustice to a comic I really do love. *oi*)

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

A Pessimistic Sense of Inadequacy

I'm tempted to say that anyone familiar with younger webcomics is familiar with today's artist - Fesworks, and his webcomic A Pessimistic Sense of Inadequacy. A solid year old this month, P.S.I. has not only been a consistently well written comic, it has also served as a springboard for some very enjoyable crossover efforts; and it's those efforts that so often have Fesworks in the spotlight.

The artwork fluctuates between penciled black and white to simpler black outlined block colors, and while the change ups may be a bit unusual each style has it's positive attributes - the thinner line work of the penciled style offer more detail, while the block colored strips offer more definition and a more eye catching appeal. In recent months a few animated strips have appeared as well, each one enhancing the writing by moving the plot forward without ruining the pacing. Aside from advancing the plot, the animated panels are a nice surprise for readers; especially as they're so nicely done.

The writing has had it's own evolutions, growing from something akin to a slice-of-life comic to more fantasy based plot lines. Of course, slice-of-life may have been a stretch to begin with as one of the two main characters is a large talking rat. Yes, this is an antrho comic - but a very well thought out anthro comic. The characters do notice their differences, and the subject of food has been nicely dealt with. Also tucked aside as a non-issue is the comics frequent tendency to break the fourth wall - Fes and Ernst are described as "webcomic aware". They understand that they are characters collaborating with their creator, and they also understand not all characters are similarly aware. This has created some interesting scenarios in the current crossover plot line - one I'm certainly curious to see concluded.

I think it's important to note that working your way through the P.S.I. archive will not only introduce you to Fesworks' well written and entertaining characters, it will also introduce you to a number of other webcomics. What's impressive about this is that the writing is so easily able to support this influx of new characters and situations. The plot moves along at a decent pace, and what little knowledge of other comic characters is needed to keep up is effortlessly provided along the way. The archive may not be terribly pretty, but it's nicely sectioned and functional so I'm not going to complain. The website itself is easy to navigate and contains a number of can't miss features including an audio webcomic review titled 2 Cents in 60 Seconds.

Congratulations Fes - here's to another year.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

World's Worst Webcomic

There's one glaring problem with The World's Worst Webcomic - it isn't. Okay, the artwork is as amateur as possible without losing all cohesive and recognizable qualities, but the writing... the writing is fucking hilarious.

In all honesty, the comic is a bit like an auto accident. You want to look away, but something compels you to turn your head and gawk, even knowing there's a possibility you may see something horrible... and deep inside knowing you may want to see something horrible. The World's Worst Webcomic is horrible. The plot lines are very basic, though not as basic as the artwork, and occasionally amble about like a drunken zombie. Sometimes the plot stumbles, falls face first, and lies there a while before finally getting to it's feet and starting off in a new direction. Other times it never gets up, and while you're staring at it's lifeless corpse a new plot ambles in from the distance, groaning.

Strange thing is... that doesn't matter. I still read it, and I still laugh.

One thing I absolutely adore is the archive system. There's the typical list of comics, a respectable 200 as of today, arranged by date and title - but some are also listed by plot, and that's where the genius comes in. The comics are typically done in strip format, and when you choose to go through the archive by plot you're given all of the comics in that plot line on a single page, saving you the trouble of clicking "next" every 40 seconds as you finish each comic. There's also the Airlock Series, which simply has to be viewed as a whole because the whole damn thing is animated weirdness. Don't get too excited though - you really should go through the archive one comic at a time because there are single shots in there that range from social commentary to complete idiocy.

Oddly enough, it's entirely possible that the best way to judge the comic's humor as a new comer is to skip reading the archive until you've read the rest of the site. Check out the FAQ first, then wander over to the About section. If you're mildly amused, head over the archives and read through a few. Think of it like being inoculated before heading into a pandemic zone.

The World's Worst Webcomic updates five days a week, though should you require notification, it's worth noting that The World's Worst RSS Feed is 13,003% larger than the competition. Yeah... there's just nothing else I can say about this... I need a brain wash.