URL: tminus.smackjeeves.com
Creator/s: Patrick Lippert
Run: 5/11-current
Schedule: About twice a month

Website: Searching for "template made by whistleonwild" in Google brings up "about 374,000 results," and they're all the same exact black-white-gray-teal layout I've already seen plenty of times. For a medium that's so heavily focused on being creative and unique, it's disappointing to me that so many webcartoonists find it acceptable to have their site look just like everybody else's.

There are a couple pieces of bonus material, which are a good start, but I think a webcomic that's been updating for more than a year should have more extras on the site by now.

Updates are averaging about two a month so far for 2012, which isn't very good for a comic with such minimalistic artwork. Posting a new strip once a week would be more reasonable, I think, with getting up to two or three a week possibly being a goal the creator could work towards.

Writing: T-Minus is a deceptively complex comic, appearing as a simple space-based gag comic but also having a darker, more sophisticated side to it. Central to the concept is a loss of innocence and an abandonment of faith in humanity, expressed well in this strip. Evident in Major's obvious pessimism that he'll be rescued, then, is an underlying ironic tone in the comic -- that Major accomplishes mankind's ultimate achievement of setting foot on the Moon, and yet nobody cares. In fact, far from getting any respect, his only source of interaction -- the talking robot -- constantly belittles Major by arguing how inferior humans are to robots. And back on Earth, even a fellow astronaut shows no concern for Major's plight, completely ignoring the only person who expresses an interest in his well-being. The situation is pretty dismal for Major, and at one point he even begins to internalize it, suggesting the Moon might be "some personal Hell for some sin I committed."

Major, with his oversized head, has the appearance of a child, and he represents a sense of childish wonder at the world, such as when he remarks in this strip, "When I was a kid, I remember poring through sci-fi novels. Exploring new worlds, discovering new life; that's why I wanted to be an astronaut." However, the Moon is constantly portrayed as a huge disappointment to Major, and the creator seemingly tries to depict the landscape there as being as bland and uninteresting as possible. An imaginative person, Major deals with his reality by dreaming up new identities to idealize, like a chef and a professor, still seeking out another world (this time Earth) as a place where he can find contentment. I think the scenes focused on Major's idealism are the strongest parts of the comics, and I'd be supportive of the creator spending more time exploring T-Minus' philosophical angle.

The comic's humor revolves around the talking robot, which seems intended as a parody of the insubordinate robots from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I, Robot, and Portal, as some examples. While the robot constantly boasts of his physical and mental superiority to Major, at one point even referring to himself as "a demigod," it's actually completely incompetent, and is frequently bested by Major showing a little bit of creativity and stubbornness. I imagine Major might end up disabling or destroying the robot at some point if he wasn't completely dependent upon it for social interaction. However, while I like the idea of the rebellious robot, the creator seems to dumb it down too much to accommodate the comic's newspaper-style format. That is, I think the robot's arrogance and cynicism could be presented in a much more clever and intellectual way, but instead the creator merely milks the robot for pithy gags, all of which are tepid and predictable. I started getting tired of the robot's gags by the earliest strips, and by the latest ones its "I'm better than you" spiel is just repetitive, tedious, and overplayed. It's unclear to me how the creator expects to continue to do an entire strip based on a setup that's already quickly been creatively exhausted. I think a more ideal version of T-Minus would distance itself from the style of newspaper comics, instead going for a more intuitive and robust approach.

Lastly, the scenes taking place at the NASA buildings are clumsily written, and are notably inferior to the rest of the comic. Whether their intended purpose is to convey familiarity, add social commentary, or elaborate on the plot isn't clear, but none of these options sufficiently justify these awkward diversions to me. It also doesn't make sense to me why the creator goes out of his way so much to flesh out NASA's involvement in the story, while the more significant Moon situation is so plotless and abstract. Plot-heavy and plot-light are both okay as long as the comic's consistent about it, but I think strictly focusing on Major's point of view would be the superior choice here, especially since it forces the gnawing uncertainty about Major's fate, as well as reinforcing his detachment and isolation.

Art: The minimalistic style works pretty well for the comic, as a lot of the context concerns how boring and uneventful Major's experience on the Moon is. I'd prefer to see more detail in the backgrounds, though, as while being simple makes sense here, using just a fill or gradient doesn't cut it to me. It's also not an accurate portrayal of the Moon's landscape, as any close-up photograph of the moon's surface shows plenty of rocks, grooves, craters, and other miscellaneous features. T-Minus has such an unusual setting that it seems like a wasted opportunity not to show it properly.

The creator clearly has a lot of difficulty drawing people, so it's fortunate that the main characters are a robot and a guy in a space suit. The creator isn't always successful at hiding his inadequacies, though, such as in this strip, where Major's arms are drawn as having drastically different lengths in each panel. The worst is the first panel here, as Major's arms suddenly get super-long in order to reach above his huge head -- these oversized arms would easily touch the ground if he had them hanging at his sides. And here's another instance of long arms, where Major's torso's so small in the third panel that his arms would also touch the ground there if they were at his sides. In another weak strip, the helmet's visor sticks way out in the second and third panels, and doesn't match the round shape in the first panel and the rest of the comic. The creator should try to do a better job of drawing Major consistently, as well as practice drawing people more in general, especially if he plans to include more Earth scenes in the future.

Line-width variation's a problem in T-Minus, and the illustrations have a poor sense of depth as a result. For example, the characters and objects in the foreground of this strip should have thicker lines than the horizon in the background. There are some instances where the inking's done better (like this page), but I think the comic would look significantly better if the creator paid more attention to this aspect of the artwork.

Lastly, the creator's been experimenting with using different fonts lately, like in this page and this page. These new fonts are harder to read, and I don't see anything wrong with the font that was used in the first 32 strips.

Overall: T-Minus is an okay webcomic, and while I wouldn't consider anything about it to be impressive, I think it has some potential, especially if the creator takes advantage of his opportunities for artistic growth. While the concept of a gag comic about a guy stuck on the Moon's a fairly creative idea, the execution from a storytelling perspective's very conventional, and the creator really needs to step it up and figure out a better way of presenting his characters. The artwork's also very amateurish, and while there's a fine line between "minimalistic" and "bad," I think the creator needs to start taking his illustrations more seriously if he intends to be a successful webcartoonist someday. There are some great sci-fi and philosophical elements here waiting to be properly developed, though, once the comic's creative possibilities are fully realized.


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