Webcomic: Jesus 2016
Creator: Dale Rawlings
Having Jesus run for president is definitely one of the most original webcomic concepts I've seen, and the creator comes up with some clever ways to express his cynicism regarding American culture and politics. For example, one of the pages shows a Republican strategist referring to Jesus as "a brand name" and "our cash cow" as he ships thousands of orders for signed Bibles. Donald Trump's attacks on Jesus' background and beliefs are another highlight, as some of Trump's actual comments are twisted to fit the webcomic's narrative. Still, Jesus 2016 would be a lot better if Jesus wasn't just a vehicle for the creator to express his own political views. The webcomic promotes Bernie Sanders' campaign while relentlessly bashing Republicans, and to a large extent it seems more like a partisan hit piece than social commentary.
The comic has somewhat of a plot going on involving Jesus and the Pope, but it mainly just seems like a series of rants about Republicans' hypocrisy and stupidity. While there are some good points, there's way too much dialogue for a visual medium, and it's really tedious going through page after page of endless walls of text. It's possible that a blog would be a better outlet for the creator's ideas if he wants to express them this thoroughly. He's a pretty good illustrator, but, unfortunately, there's so much text that there's usually only room for repetitive close-ups on photographed backgrounds, and it makes for a really underwhelming reading experience. Also, with the exception of Trump, the creator doesn't draw the candidates that accurately, and it's a missed opportunity to help make up for the awful composition.
Creators: Micah Wright, Jay Lender, Jok, Cristian Mallea, Jorge Blanco, Cameron Harris
It's supposed to be a webcomic about a Rosie the Riveter-type character in the '40s, but the creators go so above and beyond to demonize the Nazi antagonists that the story just seems like a waste of time. Everyone already knows that scary-looking guys wearing swastikas are villains, so showing them cackling evilly while they shoot corpses for fun and try to rape schoolgirls adds nothing to the comic. The Hellboy comics are an example of this being done much better, as the Nazis there only spend, like, one or two pages cackling before the story cuts to something more interesting, and that's really all that readers need. And despite all the page space the Nazis get in this comic, they're still just shown as generic thugs anyways.
As for the protagonists, the comic tries too hard to be super-progressive. The main character's a woman with the masculine name Jo who has no personality other than being independent and tough, and the creators couldn't have a made a more boring and uninspired hero if they tried to. The first chapter introduces a diverse group of people who support Jo's feminist ideals, including a disabled black deputy, a white woman who's secretly dating the black deputy, a black farmer, Jo's two Hispanic employees, and Jo's dad, who cooks and takes care of the house, and it's like the comic needs to make extra-sure readers get that the conservative white townspeople are bigoted jerks while Jo's progressive posse are the good guys. There's also a scene in the beginning where Jo whups a ridiculous strawman misogynist, and it's clear the comic's focused more on delivering a really simplistic political message than on telling a good story.
Unlike in Jesus 2016, though, the artwork's large and detailed, and there's a lot of focus not only in showing the scenery of a rural town in the '40s, but also in trying to make things look kind of like a Silver Age print comic. It's not as retro as I Was Kidnapped By Lesbian Pirates From Outer Space!!!, but the muted coloring and fluid linework give the art an unusual old-school feel, and the narration-style captions invoke older comics as well. I haven't seen a lot of historical webcomics, so these features help the comic stand out from the crowd despite the bland writing.
Webcomic: Conspiracy Friends!
Creator: Matt Youngmark
The wacky tinfoil-hat-wearing conspiracy theorist is a classic character archetype, and it seems like every iteration of it has been done already. This webcomic tries to be original by having a whole group of these wacky characters, and it's got to be one of the dumbest webcomics I've read. Like the evil strawmen in these other comics, the characters are just walking stereotypes, including a Fox Mulder "The truth is out there" type, a paranoid neurotic, an edgy character who's there to be part of a counterculture, and a social character who just wants to hang out. There's also a snarky black woman whose role is to be a reasonable person who points out how wacky the other characters are, and the villain's just a homicidal psychopath. While I didn't read a lot of strips, it's supposed to be pretty easy to get a sense of characters' personalities, and there isn't a cast page to help new readers out.
Conspiracy Friends! has the same problem as Jesus 2016, where there's so much dialogue in every panel that there's barely enough room left to fit in the characters' heads. There's a big difference, though, in that while Jesus 2016 has these neverending political and religious rants, Conspiracy Friends! just has a ton of wacky back-and-forth dialogue that isn't funny, and it would be better if it was more topical and more in tune with the conspiracy concept. Like, the jokes about this leprechaun the group finds are basically St. Patrick's Day filler strips, but in November. The art's also much worse here, as while Jesus 2016 at least has detailed color illustrations, the drawings in Conspiracy Friends! are in grayscale and are barely more than stick figures, there aren't any backgrounds, and it's so repetitive that at first I thought a lot of the panels were copy-pasted. It would probably help if the layouts were larger, as the strips are only about 615 x 280, not including margins, while a standard three-panel gag strip like Penny Arcade is shown at about 1020 x 485.
Webcomic: The Black Wall
Creators: John Kratky, Michelle Lodge, J CHILL
I trashed this guy's fantasy webcomic last year, and this one also opens with an overly pretentious prologue. Unlike the other comics in this post, though, The Black Wall actually tries to humanize the bad guys. While a page early on shows a Liberty Caucus congressman on TV protesting a loss of civil liberties, later pages offer a rebuttal, where a White House spokesman mentions "the terror attacks on 9-11" and "those dark days of 2001," and a reporter cites critics who call the Liberty Caucus treasonous and un-American for "weakening the defense of the American people." Also, a contractor at a corporation that makes surveillance cameras explains how enhancements to the Freedom of Information Act and the Patriot Act provide for "the better securitization of America" and make sure "all will be safe." This balanced approach shows the setting's political climate in a more realistic way than the good-or-evil dynamic in the other comics. Some of the background details, like posters referencing the 9/11 attacks with the message "Never Forget" (1, 2, 3), help show how reasonable people like the protagonist can support, or at least tolerate, an erosion of civil liberties.
The art focuses a lot on the busyness of urban life, and it establishes a contrast between the grittiness of the run-down areas and the energy and excitement of the casinos. These environmental details and the noir style highlight the characters' economic struggles and at least partly show why the protagonist and others seem to have bigger things to worry about than civil liberties issues. The realism also helps to make the setting seem immersive and relatable, although there are issues with the characters' faces being cartoonish and inconsistent. In particular, the protagonist's face often looks mushy and has weird proportions, and a few times I was kinda reminded of Stu Pickles from the Rugrats cartoon. Still, the anatomy and poses are spot on, and the illustrations look great whenever faces aren't a main focus.
Overall: The Internet has a strong relation to politics in terms of alternative media, blogging, and forums, and there's a long history of political cartoons in print, so it's disappointing that webcomics haven't contributed more in this area. The Black Wall's a pretty good webcomic that handles contemporary issues in a mature way, but the rest of the comics in this post are dumbed down, have terrible pacing, and completely fail at being interesting or even entertaining. Readers are more sophisticated than they sometimes get credit for, and having shallow characters take on strawmen villains isn't at the higher level of political commentary that people are already used to. While it's true that a lot of webcomics readers are on the younger side and might not be that interested in politics, there's definitely potential for political comics like The Black Wall to use webcomics as an independent medium as an alternative to blogging.
|Scores (out of 5)|
|The Black Wall|