Brian Slesinsky's Weblog

Sunday, 30 Mar 2008

Capsule reviews of a few web comics I like

Maybe it's just that I haven't found the right web site yet, but discovering good web comics online seems a little harder than it ought to be. I went looking for new comics the other day, and found that lots of people make lists of their favorite comics but provide too little information: who wants to follow a blind link from a long list created by someone they don't know? On the other hand, there are a few websites that publish fairly serious critical articles about comics, but that's too much information when you're just looking for a new comic to read. And then there are the websites that review online and offline comics together, so you have to wade through stuff you can't read right now to get to the good stuff.

How is it possible that in the year 2008, a really good web comic review site hasn't spontaneously appeared out of the sea of obsession that is the Internet? It's a clear-cut case of market failure (or maybe just laziness on my part) that I could remain unaware of Girl Genius for several years after it started.

Until someone does start that website, I'll post a few reviews here and leave it to Google to get them to people who might find them useful:

Comics that I've actually subscribed to:

Girl Genius - a young woman discovers that her destiny is to become a mad scientist in this homage to old-fashioned pulp adventure stories, which takes place in an alternate universe where mad scientists rule Victorian-era Europe and fight each other with giant robots and other steampunk devices. Both plot and characters can be a little bit more pulpy than I'd like but that's also what makes it great. The artwork is professional-level from the beginning (though in black and white for volume one), and it's nice to have a comic book heroine who doesn't look like Laura Croft.

Also, be sure to check out the Twitter feed of Othar Tryggvassen (Gentleman Adventure) for an amusing spinoff storyline told entirely in gem-like snippets of pulp plot. Here's one:

Found a stream and was bathing (cleanliness is important) when I discovered a tattoo upon my abdomen. "Believe Green Eyes". My handwriting.

Dum da dum! Recommended highly to anyone who ever laughed like a mad scientist.

Megatokyo is about two American guys, one obsessed with video games and the other with manga and anime, who go to Japan and somehow end up staying there and eventually getting into romances with voice actresses in the anime industry. It starts out very wild and haphazard (much destruction of Tokyo) and ends up wallowing in angst. The artist seems to be trying to say something profound about the relationship between obsessive fans and celebrities, but takes a very long time to say it. Recommended? Not so much. I read every episode as soon as it appears but I'm not really sure why.

Opus - Berkeley Breathed is back, doing what he does in a weekly strip.

Questionable Content - Some 20-something kids spend a lot of time in a coffee shop making witty remarks, talking about indy bands you never heard of, and getting into not-very-serious relationship trouble. This is a comic that takes its characters and main storyline seriously, but then throws in pet robots and bizarre subplots just for fun. The characters are more likely to make fun of easy plot clichés than fall for them, which probably makes it a lot harder to write. Like many web comics, the artwork in the first strips started out a little rough, but it gets better fast.

XKCD - I assume everyone with any nerdly tendencies at all already reads it. If not, you are required to read this and this and this now.

Some other good comics that I read occasionally:

Copper - A sweet and amazingly well-drawn series about a boy and his dog and their fantastic adventures. Reason for not subscribing: there's no feed!

Diesel Sweeties - Snarky girls, lame guys, robots, and indy bands! Reason for not subscribing: a bit more abrasive than I like.

Girly - A wonderously surreal comic about two lesbian women in Cute Town. Reason for not subscribing: uh, not really in the target demographic.

Penny Arcade - Two dudes talk about video games. It's well-drawn and they're pretty funny. Reason for not subscribing: I don't play enough modern video games to get half their jokes.

PVP - A daily strip about some friends who work together at a gamer magazine. It alternates between storylines and gags. The characters started out as stereotypes but have evolved over the years. Reason for not subscribing: it's a daily strip and for some reason I'd rather catch up now and then.

Sinfest - a daily comic of blasphemy and youth culture. The four-panel comic seems like an odd choice for something that no mainstream newspaper will ever run, but the artist is a master of the form and makes it seem effortless. Reason for not subscribing: somewhat repetitive; if you've read a hundred of them, you've read them all.