Creator/s: Joseph Cappellazzi
Website: The comic experiments with a slideshow-style presentation that displays one panel on the screen for about 15 seconds before automatically moving to the next panel. It's a neat idea, but I found it frustrating when I tried to use it. There's no way to pause the slideshow, so if you stop reading for whatever reason, the comic keeps skipping panels every 15 seconds until you get back to it. And certain panels that are filled with exposition took me longer than 15 seconds to read them and look at the artwork, resulting in a new panel being shown before I was ready for it. It'd be great if there was a way to turn off this automated navigation, as it feels like more of a nuisance than a convenience.
The site's extremely basic, being almost entirely just a black background with the comic on it. Even something simple, like adding a logo, would make the layout more engaging and visual. The only extra feature's a fake news article, and while it's clever, I would've liked for the article to expand on the setting more. Instead, it really just refers to cops pursuing criminals, which is already a fundamental part of the story.
Lastly, it seems like the comic was traced from photographs of actors, but there's no credit given to any of them. It really seems unfair to the actors that they posed for this project and don't even get a shout-out somewhere for helping out. I'd also be interested in learning more about the creative process behind the comic.
Writing: VHS London's a run-of-the-mill cop drama with the added gimmick that drugs are replaced with '90s VHS tapes, and it's unclear how long this goofy switch can sustain an entire webcomic. The opening scene reads like a strange and amusing short comic that would've worked well on its own, and it has a decent surprise ending when the VHS gimmick is revealed. It reminds me of something like one of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal's alternate reality gags, except if instead of it being a one-shot, it was turned into an entire long-form comic. The main part of the story's never as good or as funny as the opening scene, though, and there's a notable lack of creativity that would be necessary to make the concept worthwhile. A lot of it comes down to a reliance on absurd '90s references, like someone trying to get a contraband copy of Space Jam, and it's just an underwhelming formula that lazily gets reused.
It seems natural to compare VHS London with The Webcomic Police, as this site also humorously portrays the concept of illegal media. What separates the two and makes The Webcomic Police superior is that this site's a political satire that addresses issues like police brutality, privacy rights, and the First Amendment. It undermines the reasoning of statism by removing it from its conventional context and placing it in a new, nonsensical one. VHS London fails to make some sort of coherent cultural or political commentary, and there isn't an underlying logic apparent that would make the media aspect substantial. People are shown in a euphoric state when they watch VHS tapes, but there isn't really an explanation for why they like '90s movies so much, or why the government banned them. Not only is this element underdeveloped considering that it's the entire point of the comic, but I think it'd make for some funny and interesting exposition. Instead, the creator focuses too much on the "cops vs. criminals" plot, and it's pretty lame, especially since it's basically a joke anyways.
The concept and its flawed execution's the more tangible aspect, but part of why the comic isn't appealing is just that the creator has a poor sense of humor. The timing's often way off, with lengthy sequences of cop drama interrupted by weak jokes that make this comic seem more like an attempt at comedy than actual comedy. This sort of setup-to-punchline structure generally doesn't work well, as the gag has to be really funny to make the setup panels worthwhile. The comic would be better if it had a looser plot and more jokes, like in Oglaf or the print comic Tank Girl, where there are a series of goofy and random situations tied together by a general sense of continuity and reoccurring characters.
Art: Noir's obviously an unusual style for a humor comic, and there's a pervasive silliness that stems from the juxtaposition of super-serious artwork with dumb movie references. The creator definitely deserves some credit for experimenting with this combination, as it works really well and is more entertaining than the actual jokes. And since each page is just one big panel, there's more emphasis on the art than normal, which makes the absurdity even more noticeable. Most panels have little or no dialogue, making it easy to feel immersed in the surface-level noir setting. In addition, the super-realistic drawings appear to have been traced from photographs, which gives the comic a cinematic feel.
However, the art gets worse as the comic progresses. The earlier pages have gritty alleyways and moody interiors, but later pages are much more minimalistic, with solid black or white backgrounds on most panels. Some panels show full-body shots with no floor, shadows, or walls, as if the characters were floating in a void, and there are too many closer shots with simple backgrounds or no backgrounds. This vagueness ruins the sense of immersion and the appeal of the noir setting, instead giving the impression of a series of work-in-progress panels that were uploaded prematurely. The shots also become increasingly repetitive, as without backgrounds, expository shots become pointless and wide shots become ineffective, leaving the creator with a repertoire of just close and medium shots. There are so many of these latter two shots with basic backgrounds that the illustrations become boring and uncreative despite the characters being highly detailed.
There are also a few panels here and there where the lettering's reversed, as if the creator did a 180-degree flip with the image in Photoshop and forgot to redo the text. It's possible that this was done deliberately, but it seems unlikely, and there's no obvious explanation for why the lettering's backwards. If these instances are mistakes, then this is another example of why creators should read their own comics, as I often find hard-to-miss errors when I review stuff.
Overall: VHS London's creator would need a lot of cartooning experience and a strong sense of humor in order to successfully pull off something as strange as a noir-comedy hybrid, and he lacks both of those necessary ingredients. And while the art's generally appealing, it's still just traced drawings, which aren't a real substitute for original illustrations. It comes down to there being some pretty good concepts going on, but just a pervasive lack of competence that prevents this webcomic from being remarkable and worth reading. Almost every webcomic requires knowing how to draw and write well to be successful, and this comic's no exception.