Or, "How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Write One Review I Never Thought I Would Write."
Creator: Michael "Mookie" Terracciano
Run: 2002 - current (Ending soon)
Schedule- Daily/Weekdaily, depending on creator output
I just read the whole Dominic Deegan archive.
I had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I’ve read plenty of other reviews of this comic before, seen comments discussing it on various forums. I was prepared for the stagnant art. I was prepared for the unbalanced writing, the ham-handed character development. I was prepared for the fetishized violence and That Rape Thing.
You know what I wasn’t prepared for?
I wasn’t prepared to actually kinda like the comic. I mean seriously, page-flipping, full-out enjoying myself as I read this decade-plus spanning tome.
However, I think every criticism I have ever read leveled at this comic was fully deserved. In so many ways, it is such a terrible comic. But I figured out why I liked it despite all of its shortcomings.
Let’s ruminate a bit on those shortcomings first, though, shall we?
Now, I’ll start off this part by saying I didn’t go into reading Dominic Deegan with the intent of writing a review, so I’m not going to be able to provide links to examples (the archive presentation is far too huge and unwieldy to make my search for examples any easier than just randomly clicking around the archive, anyway). I know it's been raked over the coals by everyone and their mother, and who knows if I've anything unique to say here. But I’m writing this because I just felt so strongly about this piece of work by the end of it that I feel I need to chronicle this experience. It all began because I was bored and looking for a really long comic to start reading before I went to bed. Something I knew I could really just slog through, but if it was too shitty, I could always just stop reading and turn off the computer.
I was thinking about various comics on my mental To-Read list, and I realized I had read more material ABOUT Dominic Deegan than I had actually read of the source material. So I jumped right into it. Those first few pages are as poor as I had anticipated. I was expecting I’d make it about a chapter or so in and then have to give up. But one chapter became two, two became three, three became thirty six...
Let me say that while I read the full archive, it wasn’t always an easy task. The art style features a level of Same Face Syndrome that is unparalleled as far as I have seen. Almost every character, regardless of race or species, is indistinguishable save for hairstyles and accessories. Even hairstyles look similar for a lot of the cast, so it’s quite lucky for me, the reader, that the characters say each other’s names all the time.
I read the full archive, but that’s not to say I read the full archive. Some pages were so wordy that I just clicked past them. Hey, it was late, and I was getting tired. Dialogue is often bloated and repetitive. Brevity is certainly not one of Mookie’s strong points. Most strips are composed of four or eight even-sized panels, and this combined with the verbosity therein creates a “beer mug” effect in most panels- the art sits at the bottom of the glass, while the dialogue bubbles up to form a thick, foamy head (I provide a random example from the archive in the header to this review). Will Eisner recommended in his book Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative that comic artists avoid using more than 20 words in a given panel, as a general rule of thumb. Breaking this rule on occasion is acceptable, of course, but Mookie breaks it all the time. A stronger artist (and writer) would cut some of the dialogue and let the art tell the story, but Mookie gets caught up in including historical details that, while interesting, don’t contribute to the motion of the plot.
This contributes to a pacing issue. This was more prevalent in early chapters, and has improved somewhat over time, but the pacing of Dominic Deegan feels like a car with a bad transmission. Some conversations drag on for pages and pages, whereas scenes that could use an extra page or two are constricted to a few panels. Things that we want to linger on are rushed, and things we want to breeze past are hammered slowly and deliberately into the narrative.
Some of these pacing issues may just be because I read the comic all in one sitting. Perhaps it was different for those who followed it day by day. The comic has updated either every day of the week or at least Monday through Friday since its inception in 2002. That’s a really impressively large body of work, but I can’t help but think that some of that bulk could have been narrowed down had Mookie been more selective about what details to include in his story. The issue here is that, now that the comic is coming to an end, nearly all readers are going to be reading the comic in the same way I did- in one marathon session spread out over a few days or so. I admire his dedication to updating literally every day, but perhaps fewer pages organized more conscientiously would have told the story better.
As I mentioned with the “beer mug” analogy earlier, most of the composition of the comic (and the art in general) is monotonous and rather boring. However, every now and then Mookie adds a page that uses a really interesting paneling or composition style. Unfortunately, even the pages that look relatively cool as hell still suffer due to certain artistic shortcomings that Mookie has clung to over the years. There were some pages that looked so, so awesome, but then there’s a face added somewhere in there that just ruins everything. Mookie is clearly a potentially capable artist. He employs a lot of tricks in his art that I found pretty interesting and innovative. However, the Same Face Syndrome and the snout-profiles really do a disservice to whatever good there is art-wise in the comic. It's really hard to become emotionally invested with characters who turn sideways and suddenly look like bad "My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic" fanart.
Some pages randomly are in color. Now, I say this as a person who isn’t really that good at coloring- the coloring in Dominic Deegan does nothing, art-wise, except to tell us readers what hair/skin/clothing color everyone is supposed to have. The coloring is basic, reminding me of the way schoolchildren color. Grass is green. Apples are red. This character has brown hair. Blood is red. Rudimentary shading does little to help out- there is no playing around with warm or cool tones to suggest light, for instance. The coloring is consistently flat, amateur, and disappointing.
There are some occurrences in the comic where the inking style changes seemingly without reason from one page to the next. As far as I could tell, no mood change was being suggested, no onset of a new theme. It just seemed like Mookie only had his felt tip pen with him today, oh well, guess today’s page is going to be inked in this very thick, chiaroscuro style, so what if it looks really weird sitting between a page inked with fine point nibs and another page done with grayscale markers? As a fellow artist of traditional media, I can understand the difficulty that comes with picking a style that a) you have the tools for, b) looks good for the story you are writing and c) is easily malleable to suit that story. Of course stylistic changes are welcome when shifts in tone need to be indicated, but they should probably be avoided if it’s simply among two pages of the same conversation taking place.
This is also ignoring the fact that there has been almost no progression art-wise in all eleven years that the comic has run. People say that by drawing a thing over and over, you should eventually get better at it. And, well, I guess Mookie did that- he kept drawing the same face over and over, got 100% perfect at drawing that face, never saw a need to push further, and just forever uses that face. It’s comfortable to him. It’s fast. He probably draws that whole face in less time than it takes us to THINK about how long it takes him to draw that whole face. And when you’re updating daily, I guess you sacrifice some quality for quantity. Why use your oars to push yourself down the river when the current’s already doing a decent job of getting you there anyway?
It’s disappointing, because you’d expect with a body of work that large that you’d see considerable changes. Sure, the line art isn’t as shaky as it was back in ’02, but it’s like some night in 2004, Mookie receded into a dark cave, went into a trance, churned out about 2000 pages at lightning speed in the course of a few days, and has just been eking them out to the internet ever since. If I went through and plucked three random strips out from, say, 2004, 2007, and 2011, would a non-reader even be able to guess which strip came from which year? I doubt it, because Mookie has this thing down to a damn science, and challenging himself in ways he doesn’t feel like being challenged would only mean he’d have to take longer on each strip.
Then there is the weird moral preachiness of the comic. The views the characters (and seemingly, the creator) hold toward sexuality seem akin to the way 14-year-olds think. It’s like everyone’s stuck in that phase where you know sex is something that is fun and feels good, but if you have TOO much sex, or have sex with the wrong person, that makes you a slut, and sluts are bad, mmkay? People who have casual sex don’t really have feelings, and are just selfish and mean anyway, so it’s okay to kill them off. There’s like, this preoccupation with sex in this comic. I mean, seriously, just cleavage everywhere, people talking about boobs, making a big deal about losing one’s V-card, and it’s usually not really relevant to the actual plot.
It’s not even in like a funny Beavis and Butthead type of way, it’s in a way that’s supposed to be like, cute and endearing to the reader. It’s just so teenager-sounding, it’s hard for me to envision this being written by a (at the time) 20-something year old man. One may take notice of the Madonna-Whore dichotomy applied to just about every female character. This was worse earlier in the comic, so I’d understand if the writer’s views had simply changed over time and he no longer felt a need to make this principle so prevalent in his work.
Finally, and this is a petty thing, perhaps, but take alook at that home page, would you? Does that look like a comic that gets tens of thousands of pageviews a day? It really, really doesn’t. It looks like the sort of comic that gets tens of pageviews on a great day. I can understand the whole minimalist thing he’s going for, but there’s plenty of fun elements to this comic, and it really wouldn’t have hurt to make the website reflect on that.
As it is, it looks like it’s a site for just Mookie, like it’s his own notebook that no one else sees, so it doesn't matter what it looks like. As if he sees the comic as the only important thing there, failing to recognize that the site is the vehicle through which thousands of people see his comic each day. Look at the handwritten navigational buttons and tell me that it doesn’t look like the result of someone who got so pissed off at a hidden coding error when trying to make a fancier design that they deleted their whole source code, scribbled the buttons down on a piece of paper, scanned it in and redesigned the site from scratch in 30 minutes.
So I know what you’re thinking. “Bravo, you dumb fuck. You just wrote three full pages in a Microsoft Word Document about all the things you could "quickly" summarize that are wrong with this comic. Why the fuck do you like it?”
And, well, it was kind of a strange revelation for me. The shallow characterization. The “What the fuck” moments in the writing. The times where you read and go, “This is creepy in a way the author did not intend it to be.” The sheer massiveness of the body of work.
Mookie is the Stephen King of webcomics.
Here’s the truth- I love Stephen King. Part of this is out of cosmic obligation because we have the same birthday, but part of it is that there’s obviously something in his writing that he’s very good at, despite his various shortcomings as a writer. I don’t read a Stephen King novel because I want to read about characters I’m going to fall in love with and be sad to say goodbye to. I don’t read a Stephen King novel because I want a cozy, cuddly-up story that will make me smile as I fall asleep. I read a Stephen King novel because I want something that will hold my interest and give me something to read for a few nights at least, just a big bathtub of a story I can immerse myself in and ignore the world for a little while.
I enjoyed Dominic Deegan for the same reasons I enjoy Stephen King stories. For all its faults, Dominic Deegan is quite good (in my opinion) at two things- being interesting, and suggesting a setting. Despite the weakness of the art, you can actually get a fairly decent idea of what it’s like wherever the characters are- there are enough details and your mind just naturally fills in the rest. And despite the stupid moments in the writing, you never quite know which random character from the past 10 years is suddenly going to spring back into action. You never know if Character Y is really dead this time or if someone’s going to conjure up some magic and save them just like they did the last six times. It’s predictably unpredictable. It’s, I mean, it’s fun.
On a lesser note, there is something so adorably nostalgic about Dominic Deegan. In so many ways, it never did really grow out of the early 2000’s. I read through it and one thing I kept thinking was “God damn, I would have eaten this shit up if I read it when I was 14 years old.” Many of the earlier story arcs especially sound like something I would have written at that age. I suppose many people criticising it now were those teenage readers who grew up with the comic as it unfolded, slowly revealing its flaws until those readers couldn’t bear it anymore, until that one day they reread the archive just to double check that yup, this isn’t that good, and stopped considering themselves fans of Dominic Deegan.
So that’s it. That’s why Dominic Deegan is the best bad webcomic there is. The art is so stagnant it’s practically utilitarian, the writing so word-heavy it might as well have been a radio drama, the website displays no fun or creativity whatsoever. But you read this thing, you read this IT of webcomics, and you tell me that Mookie wasn’t having the time of his life working on all these pages. That joy comes through. You can tell when you read someone’s comic whether they love creating their art or not. Mookie hasn’t improved, but he doesn’t just like his art the way it is, he loves it, he loves this story he’s telling, and god dammit if he’s not going to see it through right to the end. It’s his, it’s all his, and if you’re willing to let the crappy aspects of the comic wash over you and don’t take the comic too seriously—maybe even grab a beer or three before you sit down—you might find it’s a pretty enjoyable read. If you still aren’t sold on reading it, just wait around- I hear they’re getting Tim Curry to play Dominic in the film adaptation.