As part of our duties in investigating and prosecuting webcomic authors, we've been closely following the webcomic community Smack Jeeves, a hosting site that boasts “providing free, quality webcomic hosting services to thousands of webcomic authors.” While on an undercover investigation, one of our officers started fiddling with the site url and found that by modifying the php id in the address to lower numbers, older comics could be pulled up. However, several of the comics have since been deleted and the Internet Archive fails to pull up any copies of what was in those profiles. Luckily, not all of them have been, leaving a record of some of the oldest comics on Smack Jeeves:
#10: Admin's Comic
Surprisingly, the administrator does not have the oldest comic on the site. One would think that the first page would be some proof of concept “Hello World,” page. The profile says that the administrator has “absolutely no artistic talent, and an even worse sense of humor, so don't expect much,” and it certainly lives up to the description. There's a couple photo comics of bands and their lyrics. Majority of the comic is mainly used for status reports on the site and possible T-Shirt designs submitted by users. There are a couple of actual drawings here too, which are nice.
#9: Dragonball: The Lost Sagas
There's a pervading stereotype that Smack Jeeves consists mostly of yaoi and Sonic sprite comics. Well, that's completely untrue, because one of the oldest comics on the site happens to be a Dragonball Z sprite comic. The comic itself is awful, with Comic Sans dialogue, eye searing colored gradients and hand done backgrounds that clash with the sprites, and “jokes” that are pop culture references at best and non-jokes at worst. Interestingly, the administrator comments on the comic pages, offering some praise and criticism, giving us an idea of what the standards were for sprite comics in 2005 compared to now.
#8: Pure Caffeine
This one is a gaming/slice of life photo comic, and the longest running of the whole set, with almost 200 strips. It's also one of the worst. The photo quality is spotty, the effects are awful, there wasn't a single funny strip in the whole series, and there's some nonsensical arc about Papa John and a cardboard cutout of NASCAR driver Ricky Craven being rapist kidnappers or something. I got through about ¾ of the way through it before giving up. I doubt that it got any better afterwards.
It's hard to say anything about this one because majority of the comics won't load. Either there's a problem with the servers or he uploaded the comics on an image loading service (to circumvent filesize restrictions) and he either deleted the page or his account was terminated, explaining the massive gaps. What little still exists makes it clear we're not missing much. The characters are stiff and never change position and humor isn't enough to justify it. Based on the ratings and the comments, it wasn't well-received by the community at the time.
It's another sprite comic, this time from Zelda. More bitmixing, with Link's sprites clashing with Sonic and Mario backgrounds. The jokes aren't any more inspired than Dragonball: The Lost Sagas, with a Star Wars “I am your father,” reference but with Link and Ganon, and more than one joke about how Navi is annoying (though that joke might not have been driven into the ground in 2005). I'll admit that this joke was pretty funny though.
A and B are two floating heads in a void. They wish they had more parts than just heads, then those parts start appearing mysteriously. The comic ends with the author and a huge block of text explaining the last three comics as some sort of experimental introductory method and what the future of the comic will bring, provided that the author has more time to work on it (he doesn't). The lineart and coloring are sleek, and his self portrait isn't bad, albeit cross-eyed. The humor is just random things happening and the characters freaking out over it, so nothing particularly interesting about them besides that.
It's a comic about pie, the wackiest of all the dessert names. The pie comes alive, people try to eat it, and it runs off. Flash back to a Sith Lord baking a pie, and a hippo breaks through the wall and steals it. The Sith Lord tries to zap the hippo but hits the pie, bringing it to life. Cut to a turtle and a dog with a man head eating pie when the Grim Reaper chases the animated pie. The art varies in quality from purely digital to poorly scanned pages edited in MS Paint. Despite the varying quality, there's something enjoyably surreal about it. “Did you drug these,” the man-headed dog asks the smoking turtle? Drugs were probably involved somewhere along the line. We'll pass this on to the DEA for further investigation.
“A comic about two gamers.” Never seen that before. The first (and only) page is a joke about one of them watching the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess trailer one too many times. It's drawn on notebook paper and the dialogue is Comic Sans added with MS Paint. Will Jeff ever get over his fear of turning into a wolf? Or did he turn into a wolf, migrate over to another comic drawn on lined paper, and join in on the sexual exploits of three polyamorous foxes? And what's the girl's name? Guess we'll never find out.
That's not an insult, that's seriously what the comic is called. And it just so happens to be a Sonic sprite comic. Looks like the stereotypes are true. Just looking at the title makes it clear this wasn't going to be any good. The first page features GBA sprites on a Genesis background, which is looked down upon now in spriting communities. The first page features randumb humor, a yo mamma joke that was tired even for 2005, and isn't remotely funny at all. The rest of the comic consists of self-contained fight scenes and internet slang. To be fair though, the comments on the last page seem to indicate this comic was bad even then, with one commenter offering constructive criticism. And just as old as the sprite comic itself, somebody deriding the entire medium based on one bad example for “suck[ing] mega buffulo [sic] balls.”
Shiznit is a noir-fantasy comic about a bounty hunting agency. The first case involved a former colleague who was thought to be dead but actually was alive and working for a gang. The second and uncompleted story was about a joker creature looking for his father and going to the agency to look for him. The comic has some of the best art of the whole list, drawn in pen and ink and using hatching to give a sense of value to otherwise flat drawings. The artist either can't or won't draw fight scenes though, leading to instances where the narration has to cover for off-panel action. The stories are also very plot-driven with little attention for characters. Johnny apparently wants Shiznit dead and joins a gang. Why? I don't know. He got an immortality stone and lodged it in his chest before he died. When? Why? Doesn't matter. However, this one feels like it had the most potential of all of them, and it would be interesting to see if he produced anything post-Smack Jeeves.
Is there anything to take away from this experience? Mainly, the changes in the site's quality and community from then to now. The art and stories being currently posted seem to be much better than the ones made in 2005, and while majority of the comics remaining from 2005 are mainly humor or based around gaming, the variety of genres has also expanded in eight years time. However, what it gained in quality and variety it has lost in a close-knit community. The commenters in these comics show up again and again, offering both praise and criticism. Even the administrator shows up from time to time. Now, authors have to request reviews in a section of the forum because the only people who comment are people who already like the comic and think it's perfect the way it is, making it difficult to find things to improve on.
This is to be expected when a community expands from a small pool of comics to over 10,000. It becomes impossible to read through every comic, and makes more sense to briefly look at the banner, the latest page, and move on if it isn't appealing. Not to say there's anything wrong with that approach, it makes the site far more reader-centric and authors with good comics can quickly gain a readership. But for others who aren't there yet, they may leave discouraged by a lack of fans and a lack of support. This is why we're needed. To bring the worst offenders to justice and reeducate the others before they become a threat.
We have control. We keep you safe. We are your hope.