Creator/s: Brooks M. Williams
Section/s: Strips 388-417; "Status Updates" 30-34
Website: For a story-based webcomic with hundreds of strips, the archive's surprisingly disorganized. With no clear indication of where to jump in, I just went back 30 strips, which ended up being right in the middle of a scene. The latest chapter actually starts with Strip No. 401, but there's no way to know that just by looking at the site.
The site presents itself as a webcomics hub, under the banner of "Pow Pow! Comics," but this strategy seems premature to me. One of the webcomics, titled MindCrush, is billed as a "weekly" comic, but has only posted one page since it started in June, and another, titled Some Webcomic, is more of a doodle comic than anything serious. That leaves Facebrooks: Status Updates, which seems more like comic-related "extras" to me than a separate webcomic.
The resulting comic-style banner at the top's also a little busy, considering it's less than 100 pixels above the actual comic. It'd be nice if it was mapped so that each comic image featured on the banner was its own link, but I guess that isn't possible with the WordPress framework.
It's great that the comic updates daily, and also has a lot of commentary from the creator. It's always nice for readers to be able to learn about the creator's thought process behind the comics. The creator also does a good job of utilizing social media to help promote the comic. (This is a relief to me, as for a comic called Facebrooks, I'd be kinda shocked if it didn't have a Facebook page.)
While the site's black, white, and gray colors go with the comic's black-and-white artwork, it seems too plain to me, and could probably stand to be prettied up a bit. There also isn't any bonus content aside from the "hub" webcomics, so adding something like wallpapers or concept art would help to make the website be a little more substantial.
Writing: Autobiography's tricky because it's difficult to see one's personal experiences through the lens of a a reader. Even fictional concepts can pose problems for less skilled writers, as the elaborate settings and backstories can be vibrant in their imaginations, yet never properly make the transition onto the actual pages. However, with fiction, huge portions of the characters' lives are deliberately left blank, whereas when writing about yourself, you have an entire lifetime of memories to deal with.
The creator describes his webcomic as "definitely not new reader friendly in the least bit," explaining that it "has two different threads rolling along in it, plus a whole bunch of extra history in the margins as well." Then, after stating he doesn't blame new readers for not being able to understand the strips, he politely reminds them, with a smiley face, that "you can definitely start from the beginning and work your way up" -- "the beginning" being, in this case, more than 400 strips into the archive.
The reason these comments stand out to me's that, while reading through the section, I had the pervasive impression that this was an esoteric work meant not for my own pleasure, but rather for the enjoyment of others -- the established readership. Characters abruptly enter and exit scenes with no real explanation of who they are or why they're treated with such importance; sexual themes are brought to the forefront with no clear connection between their occurrences; and the author's self-insertion's portrayed with a heavy weight of history in a way that seems to assume the reader's already intimately familiar with his persona. Chapter 3 begins to show promise with its grounded and compelling depictions of Schaumburg, Ill., but that cohesion's quickly lost in the tangled web of the the title character's personal relationships.
This creator's writing ability's clearly well above average, as demonstrated by his strong dialogue, keen pacing, and humble portrayal of himself. Because of this, I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, and presume that if Facebrooks was read in the intended manner -- that is, from the beginning -- that it'd be an engaging and worthwhile experience. However, it's just not realistic to expect more than a fringe minority of potential readers to invest the time needed in order to go through hundreds of strips. Instead, readers tend to approach webcomics in a much more casual fashion. Many online commentators have lamented the demise of attention spans in the era of Twitter and YouTube, but nevertheless, this is the environment that webcomic creators must work within and master.
It's fairly often that my reviews are criticized for merely analyzing a section of a webcomic as opposed to its entire archive. The argument, in its essence, is that it's unfair to accuse a comic of lacking context when it isn't being read in the way the creator intended. By now, I've managed to refine my rebuttal to two main points. The first is that there's a whole spectrum of ways that readers will approach and evaluate webcomics, many of which lie outside of the creator's primary intention, and an effort should be made to accommodate a variety of preferences. One example of this, which is particularly relevant in this case, is how webcomics can satisfy their current fan base, while also appealing to new readers. The second is that reviews should being aligned with the perspectives of regular readers. It's true that reading a webcomic's full archive gives a more complete understanding of it, but that doesn't seem particularly relevant to me when readers are far more likely to be introduced to a comic by reading a limited portion of it. Mainstream print comics have adapted to this problem by including a flashy cover illustration, a plot synopsis, and an action sequence in every issue, enticing new readers to jump in at any point of the ongoing story.
As "an easy jumping-off point," the site offers a spin-off series called Facebrooks: Status Updates. This is a gag-style strip that features characters from Facebrooks, while not having anything to do with the storyline. These strips don't follow the setup-to-punchline formula of gag comics, though, instead offering a glimpse into the lives of Facebrooks' weird characters. I read a few of these strips, and I didn't find them to be at all funny or interesting, although I suppose they'd be more appealing if I was more familiar with the characters involved. However, this assertion seems counterintuitive to the spin-off's stated purpose of being a "jumping-off point."
Art: The comic's bizarre designs are a major draw, as it continually strings along a series of surreal-looking and highly unique characters. I associate this style of illustration more with cartoons than with comics, and the creator seems to confirm this when he mentions he's pursuing a career in animation. These exaggerated appearances also make it easy to tell the characters apart, which is helpful since this section includes a lot of them.
Facebrooks excels at every technical aspect, including consistent anatomy, varied perspectives, quality hatching, detailed backgrounds, good line-width variation, expressive body postures, solid panel composition, firm line control, and clear and attractive hand-lettering. I think the creator's reached a professional level of illustration, which is very important for the comic, as having high-quality artwork's probably the No. 1 way to draw in new readers. (Whether or not they stick around, of course, is another matter.)
While I definitely consider the characters' strange appearances to be a positive element, I'm still somewhat surprised at just how strange they are. The title character, for example, with his long ears, pointy hat, and disproportionate body looks more like an alien or goblin than a human. Other characters look more like robots or animals than people. It's possible that the creator's using this fantastic imagery to ironically emphasize how mundane the comic's real-life situations are, and if that's the case, then I consider it to be an effective strategy.
Overall: This is a creator who's obviously very talented, but he hasn't yet figured out how to properly utilize that talent for a webcomic format. In his own words, he "can instantly see a whole bunch of newbies faces caving in at trying to comprehend this," and I think this lack of accessibility is as big of a problem as more obvious hurdles, like low-quality art or writing, would be. Once the creator gets better at presenting his ideas, though, and comes up with a more appealing website, I can see Facebrooks becoming a very popular webcomic. I'd actually be pretty surprised if a creator of this caliber doesn't at some point end up working on a professional level, whether it's in comics or animation.