The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!

Creator/s: Jim Cleaveland
Run: 5/06-current
Schedule: Tu/Sa
Section/s: "Love and Space"

Website: The site's clearly in need of a major makeover, starting with updating the font and background to give the layout some personality. The banner needs to not be touching the ad, the tables should have their borders removed, the pages need to be redesigned to be more compact and appealing, the ad should be center-aligned on all the pages, the text in the Cast page should be larger, and the broken image links in the Cast page need to be fixed. The site basically looks like a Geocities page from the '90s right now, which is a weak impression to make on new readers.

The Links page includes a lot of links to mainstream print comics, such as Peanuts and The Amazing Spider-Man, and this undermines the whole point of having a Links page, which is to send traffic to noteworthy webcomics. There are a lot of webcomics on there as well, but their banners are competing for attention with the likes of Blondie, Krazy Kat, and Popeye.

For the early parts of the story, the creator oddly includes an image file of white space beneath the pages to try to align his commentary text. The issue's fixed later on with HTML, but these earlier pages were never updated with the improved coding.

Lastly, the various filler comics and miscellaneous stuff (e.g., the animation video) should be moved out of the comic's archives to a separate part of the site.

Writing: At 19 months of twice-a-week updates, "Love and Space" is significantly longer and more ambitious than the webcomic's other stories. Its elaborate nature's appropriate for epic storytelling; however, due to a variety of factors, reading through it all was a tedious experience, and it felt like the story kept going on and on and on. I think it was around the start of the party scene that I really noticed my patience getting strained, and that's only about one-fourth of the way through. The story could've been cut down by a lot, as some of the scenes are stretched out too much, and a lot of the pages are mainly of the characters goofing around.

A big part of why the story's kind of a drag to get through's that the characters aren't very interesting. Bob and Jean are basically generic humans, Golly, Jolly, and Molly are childish superhumans, and Voluptua's just a hot chick. And that's not counting a myriad of minor characters who are even less interesting. The villain, Fructose, is as bland as possible, spouting lame Evil Overlord lines like, "I'll unleash my robot army and see all your children's heads on pikes! Nyah-ha-ha-hah!!" "I only wish this bucket of bolts were sentient, so it could have felt pain when I ripped out its power leads!" and "Quiet, minion!" (1, 2, 3). The creator seems like he had a difficult time figuring out what to do with his characters, so for most of the story they're just there, making quips and pop culture references while they take up space on the pages. The only real exceptions to this are Fructose, who -- surprise -- tries to conquer the universe, and Bob in the second half of the story, who inexplicably changes from passive Everyman to daring action hero.

The comic's also not that funny. Most of its jokes are just pop culture references or references to the space opera genre, and it's only a little less tepid than what you'd expect to find in mainstream newspapers. It gives me the impression of something from webcomics' early days, like the late '90s, when expectations were low because the very idea of "comics on the Internet" was still considered new and exciting. The comic started out in a college magazine in the mid-90s, and it seems to still heavily rely on an outdated '90s mentality. Webcomics have matured a ton as a medium over the past 15 years, and it takes a lot more cleverness and skill to be relevant nowadays. One scene did stand out as being more creative than the rest, though, which is the backstory of the dragons. Goofy theories of how the dinosaurs really died out are always sort of fun, and there's a good one here, with an advanced prehistoric civilization nuking itself into ruin, and then being transported by aliens to another planet.

Still, the dialogue in the comic's better than average, and, for the most part, it's natural, complex, and varied. What stands out the most is the dragons' and Jolly's pseudo-medieval dialect, which adds a layer of charm to all of their lines. It also seems fitting that the creator uses made-up alien words for curses, as it allows the characters to properly vent their frustrations while keeping the comic kid-friendly and not straying too far from the story's silly nature. There's also a lot of wordplay, slang, and colloquialisms in general, and I don't recall seeing a single spelling or grammatical mistake anywhere. The creator clearly pays a lot of attention to getting his dialogue just right.

Occasionally the comic takes on relatively serious scenes, and I think it handles them fairly well, as there's always silly banter going on to help keep the tone light. A few things didn't make much sense to me, though. The creator makes some effort to convey why Voluptua's attracted to Bob, as she explains, "Bob is... honest and kind... and brave, unselfish, modest... and competent, and unambitious, and content. Those qualities sound so simple... but I haven't known anyone..."; even after reading the page several times, though, it still seems like the comic's putting this "Helen of Troy" aura on Bob just for the sake of forcing angst and relationship drama into the story. Then there's the bizarre flashback scene with young Fructose, where it doesn't make sense that Fructose's dad would so willingly put his life in the hands of a kid, especially without making any attempt to explain to Fructose how to use the complicated equipment. After all, if he's competent enough to make it to the emperor's bedroom undetected, then he can't be a complete idiot. Then, when the flashback's over, it turns out that Fructose was describing the events out loud to himself for no reason, even though he's clearly embarrassed about the ordeal, shouting at Bob, "That was not meant for your ears!" It's not like he's become mentally unhinged, as he's back to being his usual self right afterwards, so it just seems like a clumsy way of having Bob learning about the backstory.

Lastly, Molly's "less than a year old" according to the Cast page, so it seems weird that her childhood references are so dated. Here, Bob mentions buying Molly a "VHS tape" of Voltron; here, she runs a futuristic robot off of "the CPU from your ColecoVision"; here, she imitates "how Shaggy talks on Scooby-Doo"; and here, she's worried that "McGruff the Crime Dog will hate me." All of Molly's references are from the '80s, and it seems like the creator's trying to present his own childhood rather than one that makes sense for a modern-day child. It's plausible that the comic's set in the '80s, or that Molly has a strange fascination with '80s pop culture, but neither of these possibilities are addressed in the story, and, as I mentioned earlier, the comic relies on pop culture references too much anyways.

Art: It has a loose, energetic feel to it that immediately draws in the reader, and it sort of reminds me of the classic illustrations from the Dr. Seuss books. The creator's excellent inking and hand-lettering are particularly important for achieving this look, as the dynamic line-width variation helps the artwork seem natural and organic while also being fun and cartoonish.

The creator tends to do a solid job of portraying science-fiction imagery, but I was continuously disappointed with how minimalistic most of the more mundane backgrounds are, especially the ones on Earth. Take a look at this page, for example, where Bob's implausibly shown sitting in a chair in the middle of an empty room. Other elements of his house go mysteriously missing: The window's absent from the first two panels here; the house floats in white space here, with Bob's car missing from the driveway but suddenly appearing two pages later; and the details of Bob's house vanish amidst a series of blank backgrounds. The creator also has a habit of lazily using triangle-mountain landscapes (1, 2, 3) for many of the comic's backgrounds; this starts out as being a feature of the planet Butane, but then, at the end of the story, Bob's neighborhood's shown as being surrounded by triangle-mountains as well. I think the creator wasted an opportunity to convey the unusual topography of an alien world.

Bob's rendered fairly consistently, and the monsters and aliens are all creatively designed and drawn with a good amount of detail. I was constantly perplexed over Jean's appearance, though, as she seems to get warped over the course of the story. Using her concept art as a basis, it's apparent that, aside from her cartoony head, thin waist, and long arms, she's supposed to be fairly realistically proportioned. During the story, though, her waist gets thinner, her chest and butt get bigger, her neck and limbs get longer, her face gets boxier, and her hands become more claw-like. Some particularly misshapen instances can be seen during the party scene, such as here, here, and here. In the last page I linked, she even has a weird manga expression, which doesn't appear anywhere else in the story, and her hands turn into spiky blobs. It's unclear why the creator has so much trouble drawing Jean, but it's a big concern since she appears so prominently in the comic. I suggest updating all of the female characters, though, and giving them thicker waists, as well as making their chests look less boxy when they have clothes on.

Overall: The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob!'s a forgettable webcomic. It endlessly references movies and TV shows that are clever and original, but there's not enough cleverness and originality in "Love and Space" to make the story worth reading. It might be disappointing for the creator that his comic isn't further along considering that he started it nearly 20 years ago, but the reality's that his webcomic's going to be compared to the work of inspired younger creators, some of which are making cutting-edge comics and are on the verge of professionalism. There's a big audience out there for a webcomic like this, but it takes a lot more than just being wacky to impress people these days.


1 comment :

  1. I really enjoyed the comic. I have faithfully been following it for years. I find it not too busy and relaxing. It has to be my favourite web comic.

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