Sad Sacks

Creator/s: James Wallace, Johnny Larocque
Run: 1/15-7/15
Schedule: M-W-F

Writing: I'm gonna just get right into it and say that this a terrible, one-donut webcomic, and it's so bad that I feel like I'm basically having to force myself to review it. (Its creator requested a review on Twitter, by the way, so it's not just some random webcomic.) It's made me think about how I've handled doing one-donut reviews over the past several years, and while I won't claim to have gotten better or more mature about reviewing awful webcomics, my attitude about it has definitely changed. While my reviews have always been brutal, I considered it important when I was starting out to be as polite as I could and to show that I'm a reasonable person who wasn't just doing this because I got a kick out of hurting people's feelings, or because it was a cheap way to get attention. A lot of the time, I'd be irritated and write some pretty harsh stuff, and then I'd edit the review before I posted it to say things in a less negative way. And it bothered me when people dismissed my reviews by saying stuff like that I'm a jerk, that I'm stupid, that I'm unqualified to talk about webcomics, or that I'm just pretending to dislike stuff in order to troll people. I felt like I was being treated unfairly for just being honest and having a challenging and thankless hobby. But whether it's because I've gotten a little older or because I'm desensitized to it, I just don't care about that stuff anymore. All I'm concerned about is trying to post something every other week or so, and while I like arguing about stuff, I'd rather spend my time working on a review.

So, getting on to Sad Sacks, I'm guessing that it's supposed be a comedy, but it's a relentlessly dark webcomic that doesn't have any jokes in it. I'm not gonna get all John Solomon on it, but I'm surprised the creators think these strips are good enough to even bother uploading them. The comic stars the writer's self-insert, also named James, and while he's described as a "nerd" who's a "mild mannered programmer," it's much more accurate to describe him as someone who's severely mentally disabled. It's explained really vaguely, but it seems like James used to be a normal person before a radioactive spider bit him (like Spider-Man) and gave him permanent brain damage, causing him to cry constantly and be unable to take care of himself or socialize with people. He's also plagued by bizarre hallucinations, one of which is a lunch sack that follows him around and insults him. The lunch sack's snarky comments are the reason why the webcomic seems like it's intended as a comedy, but there's really no humor in seeing a disabled person being bullied, and it's probably the worst concept the creators could've come up with.

The creators eventually kinda move away from that idea, as the lunch sack mellows out a bit and becomes more like the main character's imaginary friend. However, it's not really an improvement, as the webcomic instead focuses on pop-culture references, randomness, visual gags, wordplay, and James' lack of social skills, and there's still nothing resembling an actual joke (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7). A lot of the strips focus on people using expressions or phrases in a very specific or unnatural way, like when a female co-worker offers James "baked goods," and he gets in trouble for responding, "I can't wait to get your buns in my mouth!" Not only is this not how people actually talk, but it doesn't make sense for the woman to react that way since she's familiar with him and should know he's mentally handicapped. Every interaction he has is negative, though, either being an unpleasant experience for James or for the person he's talking to. It reminds me a lot of Wayward Nonsense, which is another terrible webcomic about a misanthropic shut-in. A strip like this that stands out is one where James keeps trying to date a pizza-delivery chick even though she makes it clear she isn't interested, and it comes off as kinda creepy and uncomfortable, not that much unlike a similar scene in Tales of Pizza where the sexes are reversed.

There's also a lot of "cartoon logic," like when the lunch sack burns down James' house but it's magically back to normal in the next strip, and there's not really a coherent context. Like, you never know if something's cartoonishness, a hallucination, a superpower, or just pure randomness, and it seems more like a pile of half-assed ideas than a display of cleverness of creativity. There are plenty of strips about James sitting around all day eating junk food and various stuff he finds (including mouse turds, packing peanuts, and scabs), but he's only slightly overweight and is never shown being sick. It's also shown that his bathroom's completely disgusting, and I assume the rest of his house is disgusting too since there aren't really any backgrounds. So, the comic focuses on how gross and unhealthy James is, but due to "cartoon logic," his lifestyle doesn't have any consequences even though he clearly needs some kinda help. And another problem is how he gets accused of sexual harassment more than once, sleeps at his desk while he's on the clock, and is shown to be antisocial, incompetent, and mentally challenged, and yet he never gets fired from his job. The comic never explains if it's "cartoon logic," or if he has some kinda exception for being disabled, or if he's related to one of the higher-ups, or something, but it isn't funny, so the creators might at least try to have James' life at least make a little bit of sense.

Finally, despite seeming like it's trying to be an "edgy" webcomic, Sad Sacks' pop-culture references aren't even close to recent stuff. They include Clerks, Crocodile Dundee, Hulk Hogan, Sonic the Hedgehog, Transformers, and Mike Tyson's infamous ear-biting incident, and these references make the comic seem overly fixated on the '80s and '90s. There's even a strip where James plays a "new game" using an NES controller despite the modern-day setting. The comic's just flooded with pop-culture references, and it's really rare for anything that's mentioned to be less than fifteen years old. And if James is supposed to be a nerd, then the creators could try to incorporate contemporary nerd culture at least a little bit.

Art: It's in a depressing sepia tone for some unclear reason, and it seems like a completely wrong style for a quirky humor comic. And not only is it bland, but there are these faded lines going over all the artwork, almost like the creators are trying to imitate the look of cardboard. Also, why do the speech bubbles have shadows? There's actually a video on the website showing how the artist makes a normal-looking grayscale illustration and then puts a semi-transparent layer of blemishes, creases, and lines on top of it, and doing this extra step just makes the comic look a lot worse. Some parts of the most recent strips are colored, but it's still way too dark, and the colors are usually ugly-looking shades of blood-red and puke-green.

The drawings also get a lot worse since the beginning even though the strip only started this year. James used to look fairly normal, but he gradually gets blobbier and shorter, his eyebrows, head, and nose get bigger, his arms become more noodley, and he generally becomes more cartoonish. Hands are treated especially poorly, as they're more like spiky blobs than human anatomy, even by cartoon standards. Oddly, the one-shot characters are drawn better and in a more appealing style, showing that the artist has some ability but just chooses not to use it, and that kinda makes things worse on some level. Backgrounds are also very minimalistic, with many strips having no background at all, and some even just having an empty room with a ceiling and walls. And there are so many panels of James sitting at a desk or table that the strips quickly become very repetitive, especially since the lunch sack doesn't move or have facial expressions. The visual gags are better than the rest of the comic, but they come at the sacrifice of not even attempting a joke.

Overall: Sad Sacks kinda pisses me off. It's like the creators are just throwing something together the nights before the strips get posted, and the comic has no reason to exist other than to serve as an example of what not to do. It's even worse than John the Sketch and Wayward Nonsense, as while those are just depressing and incoherent, this comic goes as far as to be creepy, crude, and disgusting, as if the creators aren't even trying to make it appealing to readers. Anyways, there haven't been any new strips in a couple weeks as of the time this review's being posted, and I can't say I'd be disappointed or surprised if the creators don't bother to continue updating the comic.

Scores (out of 5)
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  1. hot dang, this is a seriously thorough and severe whipping.

    totally merited, though. there's something seriously unsettling about a man who looks that age and is constantly bawling. it'd be marginally more acceptable if it was stoic weeping and the comic delved into some psychological drama, but the gag-a-day format just makes the "protagonist" and his crying incredibly shrill, infantile, and obnoxious. it also makes me uncomfortable that he is so intent on pushing this image of himself as a yelling, tantrum-prone manbaby on the internet (his twitter picture, his website avatar, his header image on various sites). i really hope he's not like his cartoon self in real life.

    1. This review's sort of a breakthrough for me since I allowed myself to let loose and get a little nasty. I'll probably be avoiding doing any psychoanalysis, though, since that starts to get away from the actual comics and into the creators' personal lives. I agree, though, that it may have worked better if the protagonist wasn't a self-insert, as, for whatever reason, it's a much more negative portrayal than you'd expect to see in a humor comic.

  2. I went into reading this comic after reading this review, thinking, "oh, it can't be that bad".

    yeah, it's pretty much this and worse, in my opinion.

    1. Most of the webcomics I review are somewhere between below-average and above-average. If a gag comic isn't funny, I'm probably going to treat it as being below-average. But for a webcomic like Sad Sacks to get this kind of thrashing, it has to go beyond that and really get to the point of being aggravating and unpleasant to read.