Story Town

Creator/s: Jason Albin Thomas
Run: ?-current
Schedule: ?

Writing: Story Town's what I would consider a mission webcomic, in that its creator's more concerned with promoting a certain agenda than entertaining readers or telling a coherent story. Sinfest, Single Asian Female, and The Easy Breather are some infamous examples of this approach. These mission webcomics are typically really condescending to their readers, presenting overly simplistic viewpoints while Mary-Sue protagonists battle strawman antagonists, and they completely fail at being persuasive. Unfortunately, Story Town follows this trend, and it's an embarrassing mess that shouldn't really even be on the Internet.

The main idea behind Story Town is to promote positive thinking through the use of cute, anthropomorphic characters and colorful visuals. While it's explicitly "not written for children," its content's mostly on about the same level as Barney & Friends. The keyword there is mostly, as the rest of the time, it's probably one of the most macabre and violent comics I've read since Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Every story revolves around characters either dying or getting critically injured, and not only does it seem inappropriate for the context, but it's just redundant to keep using it as theme. And the violence is often excessive, like when Gluebeard gets mauled by a shark and is shown covered in blood, or when one of the characters' deaths is both described and shown when it could've just been implied. There's also a scene where the protagonist is basically responsible for killing an innocent person, and it's an unnecessary inclusion that seems intended as some sort of twisted joke. But it's not the severity of the violence that's a problem as much as the deceptiveness of it. The webcomic goes through dozens of pages at a time of these adorable, cartoony scenes that are about being cheerful and optimistic, so when it ambushes readers with some gruesome moment with barely any context, it seems sneaky and even trollish. So, instead of the webcomic leaving an impression of positivity, it just annoys readers by not properly being presented as what it really is. Also, throwing in random violence like that doesn't automatically make the stories more complex or mature.

Another problem is that the stories are really unfocused and constantly stray from the messages they're trying to promote. If you think of any classic fable, they're all really short and quickly get to the point, but with Story Town, they're these pretty elaborate stories with walls of text about jokes, minor characters, and just all sorts of commentary the creator throws in, and it gets really tedious to read. The longest one's "To Lumber Home," which is ninety-three pages, and it's a really basic story about a bear who becomes friends with a cat that probably could've been done in fifteen pages or less and with a lot less text. And then you get these "interactive" pages where readers are told to leave comments or suggestions in order for the story to progress. These pages are distracting and only serve to make the stories less coherent. Like, "Something in the Woods" stops the story twice so readers can pick what weapons the characters use, and you just get these pointless pages where they're holding a carrot and a gardening fork. A "choose your own adventure" style like in Cup of Olea or Homestuck is better since it lets readers have a real impact on the outcome of the story. There are also a bunch of pages that ask readers to share the webcomic on Facebook, and it's a tacky self-promotion technique that only makes these long and incoherent stories even longer and less coherent.

Finally, there's barely any sense of consistency in these stories, and that's part of why it's stuck in this awkward gray area between being a kid's story and something for adults. You get these screwy situations where animals are people in some contexts and animals in others, or are treated as people sometimes while treated as animals other times. Some animals can read and speak English, and others can't. One of the weirdest examples of this is when the bear pretends to be a human wearing a bear suit so that he can go to a job interview. Even the goofiest, trippiest kids' stories make more sense. There's also a story with lesbian protagonists that's awkwardly progressive for something that's written like it's a bedtime story for preschoolers. By comparison, called it "groundbreaking" when the Disney Channel put a lesbian couple in an episode of Good Luck Charlie two years ago, and that's a show aimed at teenagers.

Art: This is a lot like Bittersweet Candy Bowl, where it's technically competent but totally wrong for the subject matter. Everything about the art's kiddy-style, including it being a rare example of a picture-book webcomic, and it needs to reflect some of the writing's seriousness. Jhonen Vasquez wrote a much better picture book titled "Everything Can Be Beaten" that has dark coloring and gritty artwork to go along with its violent story, so you know right away that it's not just a regular kids' book. Readers associate cutesy, simplistic artwork with a specific kind of storytelling style, and that association really needs to be respected, or at least handled delicately.

Overall: Creators have a responsibility to filter themselves and not post garbage, and if they did that, then I wouldn't be writing these really negative reviews. The creator of Story Town might deserve some credit for wanting to inspire people, but if his goal's to be helpful, then he'd probably do more good by volunteering at an animal shelter or something instead of spending his time making messed-up kids' books.

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