The Golden Rule of Humor

First of all, I have to give a shout-out to The Webcomic Overlook, which is updating again after a two-year hiatus. As I've mentioned in the past, I have a lot of respect for El Santo's work, especially his ability to be entertaining and relatable. The webcomic review scene's in a rough state, and it's important to have experienced reviewers like him around to share their perspectives and help people find new webcomics to read. I also hope he uses his comeback as an opportunity to further improve his critiquing and writing skills.

Next, on the topic of comebacks, I'm aware that it's been a while since I posted a review. My eagerness to read and write about webcomics hasn't decreased at all, though, and it's not that I've just been working at a snail's pace on this post. What's going on is that I'm vulnerable to being overwhelmed with negativity and self-criticism in a way that kills my ability to be productive. It's taken a lot of self-reflection, but I hope I'm making progress in this area since I'm not comfortable with my lack of output. I plan on going back to doing normal, single-comic reviews again next year, so I'll at least be able to post more frequently even if it means that the posts will be shorter. Fortunately, doing these themed group reviews (or whatever you want to call them) over the past year has taught me how to write critiques more efficiently. So, the next step forward for me could be to try to write shorter reviews, like in the 500- to 800-word range, that would let me update the blog regularly without compromising my standards too much.

Now, on to the post. Humor's probably my least favorite genre in webcomics since creators really tend to miss the point of it. Humor's supposed to be funny, even if it's some sort of dark comedy, but too often humor comics are filled with topics of frustration and negativity to the point where they seem sort of cathartic for the creators but not too enjoyable for the audience. It's not that I insist on comics being bland or anything, but this kind of angsty writing doesn't work with cutesy visuals and the pacing of setup-to-punchline gag comics. It could hypothetically be done well as a sort of clever, ironic contrast, but most webcartoonists aren't skilled enough to succeed at something that advanced. So, on the bright side for the webcomics I'm about to review, my expectations are pretty low. I just want to read humor comics that actually try to funny and not, you know, focus on how the creator's a depressed loser who wants to kill himself.

Webcomic: Bohemian Nights
Creator: Eric Clements
Run: 7/13-current
Section: pages 282-384

This is a weird choice for me to start out with since I'm not sure Bohemian Nights should be considered a humor comic. There are occasionally punchlines, one-off gags, and jokes about underemployed millennials, but most of the comic is a dramatic slice-of-life story. The reason I'm including it in this post is that I'm accusing the creator of screwing up and making the comic much more serious than it should be.

The ambitious, 54-page New Year's Eve storyline is way too long and tedious, and the pacing and timing constraints get ignored as the creator forces the narrative on the readers. There's too much dialogue, too many relationships going on, and just too much angst and melodrama, and there isn't enough entertainment value. If the story was about 20 pages long or less, focused on just one or two relationships, and had some comedic beats to help keep the mood lighter, it'd be a clever, sitcom-style situation that would appeal to audiences a lot more. The overall webcomic would flow better as well, as the plot wouldn't get stuck as much on this one particular night, and there wouldn't be a December holiday story still going in July. Assuming that the creator intended the story to be more like this but got carried away explains why it's not a well-put-together segment.

Another huge flaw in Bohemian Nights is that the character Emrys sucks. He's a pathetic, scrawny, glasses-wearing loner who got bullied in school and doesn't know how to talk to women, and the creator couldn't have made a more boring cliché if he'd tried. Cutting him from the story would've been a major improvement, and that's got to be at least 15 or 20 pages either eliminated or spent on better characters. And if this is supposed to lead up to an eventual "nerdy guy gets the girl" outcome, then that's even more pages wasted on a walking stereotype. I don't really expect the creator to cut Emrys out completely since he seems to be one of the main characters, but he should at least have a more effective role in the comic. There isn't a right way to write a geeky character, but seeing as how this comic should be funnier, Emrys could at least have a more well-rounded personality so that there's some material to work with.

The comic's strengths lie in its attempts to be intimate and personal, and while I complained about there being too much dialogue, it's at least coherent and well-written. All of the characters are extremely focused on relationships, though, and it'd be a struggle for me to describe any of them outside of the context of who they're dating, are interested in, or have broken up with. I mean, as negative as I'm being, the pieces are there for this to be a quality webcomic, but the pervasive relationship drama drowns out anything that could be considered noteworthy. Maybe there's a cynical message behind showing everyone chasing fickle relationships and trying to get laid, but it doesn't make for great storytelling. The best part of the comic might be the nudity and sex scenes, as they come across as bold and intense moments that stand out against the story's monotony, but it's unfortunate that there aren't any warnings like "18+," "for mature audiences," or "not safe for work" on the website.

The art's a mixed bag. It looks excellent when the creator puts in his full effort, but the problem's that the comic usually updates twice a week with detailed coloring and backgrounds, and the figures are being rushed too much to keep up with this output. There's not much consistency from panel to panel, and the characters have awkward-looking faces and proportions a lot of the time, as if the creator didn't get the drawing right but didn't have time to fix it or start over. The issue's the most noticeable with the character Shannon, as while the other characters compliment her appearance and treat her as being particularly attractive, she often looks average or worse because her features are poorly drawn. If it weren't for the praise she gets, I wouldn't be able to tell visually that she's supposed to be a hot chick, and there's some weird cognitive dissonance required where the dialogue and drawings are in conflict. One page a week instead of two would be more reasonable, as I think the comic would look great if the creator spent more time on getting the characters right.

Webcomic: Commander Princess Maisie
Creator: Abbie Bacilla
Run: 4/15-10/15

This part's going to be short since Commander Princess Maisie is a webcomic that only had one chapter finished. It starts off with a pretty good prologue involving a flamboyantly gay prince hitting on one of his guards, and the comic quickly goes downhill after the prince immediately dies from accidentally drinking poison. The prince is by far the comic's funniest and most memorable character, and while his death sets up the rest of the plot, killing him off is a massively wasted opportunity. I'd even say that if the creator had forgotten about Princess Maisie and made this a goofy story about a gay prince, then it would've been a much better webcomic.

The comic's second downfall is when it starts getting plot-heavy. It's a mediocre comedy with a boring protagonist, and it really needs the humor to pick up and hook the audience before getting into the exposition and plot so soon. I'd suggest maybe even sticking with unimportant but funny situations for the entire first chapter in order to set the tone so that the plot doesn't kill the pacing too much. Unfortunately, the comic ends up trying to be some sort of epic fantasy story, with the princess getting a tragic backstory and using her newly-discovered superpowers to fight off an invasion or whatever, and it's way too extreme of a shift from the wacky humor in the first pages. Not everything has to be epic, and if the creator really wants to go there, then it should be saved for a climax near the end of the story arc.

The art's basic, but it works kind of okay for such a goofy story. It's just very bland and repetitive, with a lot of close-ups and wacky facial expressions. A big part of the problem is that the environments look awful, and instead of doing a better job with them, the creator tries to use her figures as a distraction. The backgrounds don't even match the rest of the comic, as it looks to me like they were made in a computer graphics program while the characters were drawn on a tablet. This issue gets a lot worse when the comic switches to being an epic fantasy story, as the battle scenes look extremely simple and generic. I definitely get the impression from this comic that the creator's much more focused on making pages quickly than on challenging herself, getting better at drawing, and making a quality webcomic. She tweeted last month about the improvements she's made in her newer work, so hopefully she's already headed in the right direction.

Webcomic: Trixie Slaughteraxe for President
Creator: Øyvind Thorsby
Run: 10/15-current

I was originally going to review one of the creator's other webcomics, Transdimensional Brain Chip, but since it ended, I decided to read this new one called Trixie Slaughteraxe for President instead. I was surprised at how fun this webcomic is to read, as while the characters and plot are pretty basic, it's a funny, unpretentious story with solid pacing and timing that's a lot more original than most fantasy webcomics.

The characters don't have much depth, and they basically represent four classic archetypes: the diplomat, the bookworm, the follow-the-rules guy, and the action hero. Most of the scenes involve putting two or more of the characters in a bizarre situation and seeing how their natures clash or work together. I think the main reason it works so well is that the simplicity lets Trixie Slaughteraxe be a fast-paced and visual webcomic. There are no pauses in the narrative to explain the characters' backstories or provide a wall of text about minor details, and it lets the creator completely focus on setting up these goofy situations. I mean, I know saying that makes me sound illiterate, but creators can get self-indulgent with their writing, and nothing's more irritating for me as a reviewer than reading a bad webcomic that has way too much dialogue. I think it's worth a brief mention too that the setting actually has minorities (including the title character), and it makes the comic seem more lifelike. After all, there's no rule that says every fantasy world has to resemble medieval Europe.

The art's tough to evaluate because it's deliberately crude, sort of like the Beavis and Butt-Head cartoon but more basic. It's original, at least, and I think the style fits the humor pretty well, but it doesn't seem like the creator can draw much better anyways. One glaring issue is that attempts at perspective aren't even close to being correct, and it suggests that he hasn't practiced his drawing fundamentals enough. As an example, there's a new cartoon on Comedy Central called Legends of Chamberlain Heights that looks extremely crude, but you can tell that the artists can do much more realistic work if they tried to, and the characters have some variety in their poses and expressions. Also, a huge percentage of the comic is copy-pasted, and while the update schedule's very consistent, it doesn't give the creator an opportunity to improve his drawing abilities. In fact, the comic's up to 125 pages now, and the figures are still being copy-pasted from their appearances in the beginning. I wouldn't say that the comic looks bad, though, as the creator has some skill, the monsters are really cool, and there's clearly some effort put into designing the characters. It's just lazy and static in general.

Webcomic: Woohooligan!
Creator: Sam Dealey
Run: 4/06-current
Section: strips 235-285

The last webcomic I'll be reviewing in this post, Woohooligan! deserves credit for actually setting up punchlines and trying to be funny. However, it's plagued by a variety of flaws, a big one being that it isn't funny. Going back to what I wrote above about self-indulgent writing, this comic is jam-packed with dialogue, and the comedic timing's thrown off because of it. Yeah, it's true that gags should be fluid as opposed to a newspaper-style payoff, but it seems like the creator's trying too hard and overlooking the fundamentals as a consequence. There's too much going on in the pages, primarily a story arc about the characters sleeping around that's a complete waste of time. Tripp, which I reviewed a few years ago, had a very similar problem with its humor-story balance, where it tried to have a lot of both and ended up with a crappy story that wasn't funny. Oglaf probably handles it better than any other webcomic I've read, as the story's basically just a backdrop for the jokes to take place in front of, and it's a hilarious comic with great pacing as a result. Another issue with the amount of dialogue is that there are at least a couple dozen pages of the characters hanging around chatting at a bar in Hell, and it makes the comic really monotonous, at least on a visual level. I mean, with such a weird setting like that, I'd expect to see a little more creativity.

Another flaw is that a lot of the humor's based on pop culture references, and it's a strategy that could work well but typically comes across as lazy and uncreative. What makes it especially bad in Woohooligan! is that the references are really old and outdated. The comic's most prominent references are to Ayn Rand, Hitler, Jimi Hendrix, the original Star Wars trilogy, and even Bible stories, and it seems like a lot of these jokes could've been written in the '70s. I intend to tread carefully here and not bash the creator personally, but the photo on his website shows that he's an older guy with a college-age kid, and it seems clear to me that he's out of touch with contemporary pop culture. There's a shift in some of the most recent strips to try to be more topical, with gags about Pokémon Go, the Batman vs. Superman movie, and the 2016 presidential election, but these jokes suck, and they come across as an awkward attempt to latch onto trendy topics. I know I'm making it sound like a lose-lose situation, but it'd be best for the creator to tone down the referential humor altogether.

My last complaint with the writing is about a scene where Trayvon Martin goes to Hell, which implies that he was an evil person. It's hard for me to understand why the creator included a scene about this sensitive subject, as it isn't funny or tasteful, and there isn't a coherent message behind it. Trayvon makes a comment in one of the pages that he'd rather be dead in Hell than alive in prison, and that could be read as a criticism of the U.S. justice system, but the scene seems more like a failed attempt at edgy humor than a political statement. Even if the gag was handled a little better, it's generally not a good idea to joke about racism, and if someone's committed to trying to do it, then it should be done with more delicacy and finesse. I know that someone might respond to this post saying they're not offended, but there are an infinite number of topics out there for the creator to joke about instead that would probably be a lot funnier anyways.

Like in Bohemian Nights, the art has its ups and downs. The creator's been drawing comics for 10 years, and his skill and experience shows when he puts in his full effort. He also has a knack for drawing comedy, with the effective compositions, expressive figures, and smart color choices indicating someone who's used his time well in learning the ins and outs of the genre. The strips that stand out are the one-off gags, though, and they make the main storyline seem dull and mediocre by comparison. As I mentioned a few paragraphs ago, there are a lots of dialogue-heavy strips with the pink-haired protagonist talking to various people at a bar in Hell, and they're really underwhelming. The characters aren't doing anything, the shots are repetitive, and the backgrounds are the same brick wall and silhouettes over and over. I have to imagine the webcomic would've been better if it stuck to one-shots.

Overall: Trixie Slaughteraxe for President passes the test, but the rest of the webcomics in this post fail to entertain their audiences. Readers expect humor to be funny, and these three comics are too distracted by trying to be complicated, epic, or melodramatic to fulfill their end of the bargain. Mixing humor with other genres can work well if it's done properly, but the focus always has to be on the flow and timing of the jokes.

Scores (out of 5)
Bohemian Nights
  • Writing:
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  • Overall:
Commander Princess
  • Writing:
  • Art:
  • Overall:
Trixie Slaughteraxe for President
  • Writing:
  • Art:
  • Overall:
  • Writing:
  • Story Art:
  • Gag Art:
  • Overall:


  1. I like this sort of review, a bunch of smaller ones with a similar theme, very well done.

    I totally agree with the Woohooligan review. As someone who draws webcomics, it's easy to just fill a page with words and cluttering everything to get out what you're trying to say. I'm not defending those who do it, I'm just saying, it's probably a good idea to sit back and see if you can say what you're trying to say, only shorter, with less words.

    1. Thanks for your feedback. The problem with combining reviews is that it isn't very blog-like. This post could've easily been chopped up into four parts without losing the theme. I'm glad that I used this year to experiment, though, and I'm going to continue to experiment and try to get better in 2017.

      As for word quantity, the main problem with having too much dialogue is that it isn't visual enough. Cutting down on speech bubbles means there's more room in panels for the artwork and for visual storytelling.

  2. Hey, Cabbage, thanks for the review. I appreciate the critique.

    I suspect you skimmed rather than actually reading, and yes, I know some of my pages are wordy and that your time is valuable to you, so I don't fault you for speeding through. Having said that, your commentary about the Trayvon Martin subplot reads like someone who saw that scene all by itself with no context. On the one hand, it caught your attention as you were zipping through, which could be considered a positive. On the other hand I can't imagine someone reading (not skimming) from the beginning and still saying that subplot implies that Trayvon was an "evil person". (And I said in no uncertain terms in the comments on those pages that I think Trayvon was a good kid.)

    The entire story about Amy/Amity begins on the first page (comic #235) by saying that eating bacon damns you to hell, though it hardly makes you evil. Page after page of the story reinforce the idea that being in hell doesn't mean anything other than that you were mildly interesting before you died. (And for those reading along, there's a long-term story here that I don't want to give away.) If you ate bacon (gluttony), if you even thought about having sex (lust), if you wore makeup or were famous (pride), if you enjoyed owning a car instead of riding the bus (greed), if you gave your niece a stuffed animal gift (idolatry), all of those things are cited as reasons for being damned to hell, though obviously none of them make a person evil. This is a story about a world in which, as the author, I personally would be in hell for a wide variety of reasons, though I hardly consider myself evil. You can't understand what the Trayvon Martin subplot implies if it's taken entirely out of context.

    So my only real complaint here is that if you're going to mention a sensitive subplot that's likely to bias readers, it would be nice of you to give that segment the kind of "delicacy and finesse" in the review that you say is missing in the pages, as opposed to simply skimming it and hollering to your readers, "hey everybody, racism!" Maybe read my commentaries on those pages, which should make it pretty clear that I have strong opinions about our justice system (and yes, that line was partly about pointing out that problem and also about establishing the Trayvon character's optimistic, "make the best of" personality). Or maybe see this comic titled Black History Month that I published three months earlier and addresses my feelings about the American racial divide more directly, and that you seem not to have noticed? (There's a lengthy commentary underneath this comic as well.)

    And who calls bible jokes dated? Or Hitler jokes? Are we going to start calling Christmas and Santa Clause jokes dated? They've been around for a good long while too, surely any new joke about egg nog will also be dated, yeah? I mean, it's not like anyone still drinks it right? Surely the stores have stopped carrying it by now. :P

  3. Sorry, that story begins with comic #214, not #235, so you apparently didn't read the beginning of the story... and #235 is a pretty weird place to enter that story -- you completely missed a bunch of pages of Amy in heaven before she dyed her hair and changed her name.

    1. Your focus should be on creating a better experience for your readers rather than on whatever it is you're trying to do with this response. For the story arcs, you can organize the Archives page better. For the characters and setting, you can make a Cast page, expand the FAQ section, and/or create a New Readers page.

      As for Trayvon Martin and your version of Hell, they aren't funny, they don't add anything to the comic, and they don't make the comic more appealing to readers, and it's disappointing that you're overlooking these critical points. I'm not saying the comic's racist, but it doesn't handle this topic well, and it's better to avoid joking about sensitive topics in most situations. (Note that I'll be elaborating on this subject in an upcoming article.) If you have to explain a joke in the comments section for readers to get it, it means it isn't funny.

      Referential humor is usually lazy and unappealing, but it can work okay when it's done as social commentary. Bible stuff doesn't generally count as social commentary, and it's not something I'd expect your target audience to be interested in. I mean, I've reviewed Christian webcomics, and they're all squeaky-clean, PG-rated stuff. I think the comics based on pop culture, like the Ghostbusters reboot and Pokemon Go ones, would work the best if they were funnier.

    2. Okay, first, in just that first paragraph you offered more useful critique than in the entire review. Why didn't you mention any of that in the review?

      Second, I never said the jokes were explained in the comments. What I said was that you would understand the inclusion of Trayvon Martin if you'd read some of the comments. He's included for the story, not for a joke. The jokes in those several pages were added to keep the pace of the story, to show Trayvon in a positive light, and to keep the pages from being too heavy. I spent days and days researching for those few pages -- it's the most researched thing I've ever created, including commentaries about the challenge of being a decent person in the face of social pressures and media distortions that are me bleeding my soul out onto the page. So that constitutes being lazy and indelicate? How about the way you handled it? I spent days and days on that passage -- you probably spent about five minutes and reduced it to "oh, here's some stupid racist crap." But apparently I'm just being lazy and desperately trying to be "edgy" apparently. What I'm saying is if you're going to complain about someone being careless with sensitive subjects, then you should probably work on not being careless with sensitive subjects like you were here.

      Thirdly, who said anything about my comic being "Christian"? It's not at all a Christian comic, but you can't live in our culture and not be affected by Christian influence, and my bible references are actually social commentary, which you've just now said you were looking for. As to my target audience, I'm not real sure what you think that is. There are other people doing quite well with this same kind of satire. I received a link to this video in a comment on one of these bible comics, saying my comic reminded me of it -- this is bible-based social commentary. The youtube creator who made this has 658,000 subscribers and is making $4k/mo on Patreon. But yeah, sure, the only way to have an audience interested in bible commentary is to do a squeaky-clean, PG, Christian comic. Yeah.

    3. I don't critique websites anymore because I think doing it makes my reviews too long. However, Woohooligan!'s fundamentally flawed in a way that isn't going to be fixed just by changing the website. The big problem is the quality of the humor, which is the central issue I focused on throughout my post.

      Your paragraph doesn't seem to have a point other than to show that you have poor time-management skills. For example, you could've spent that time on improving the art and writing for your Hell pages, which, as I mentioned in my review, are significantly lower in quality than your gag pages. Secondly, it's perfectly reasonable to spend about five minutes reading just a few pages, and I'd expect anyone who reads this webcomic to do the same thing. The difference between me and your typical webcomic reader is that I write about my reading experiences, whereas the vast majority of readers will just close their browser tabs and read better webcomics instead. And they're not wrong -- readers have zero obligation to care about your work or the amount of time you put into it. It's your responsibility as a creator to make them happy, not the other way around. Thirdly, I already said in my previous comment that I don't think the comic's racist, and fourthly, I'm not going to respond to your comments about the quality of my review.

      I was making a comparison between Woohooligan! and some of the webcomics I've read, including Furry Experience, Insert Image, and others, that focus on their protagonists' relationships with their faiths. I think the target audience of this comic is 18- to 29-year-old men due to its art style, edgy/lewd jokes, and pop culture references. And I'm glad to hear that your webcomic got a positive comment.

    4. It takes a real class act to respond to someone saying "I bore my soul" with "well then, you have poor time-management skills". You still haven't actually addressed the only point I really was trying to make in the first place, even though I've said it twice now: if you're going to complain about people being careless with sensitive subjects like racism, then you should probably take a moment to avoid being careless about them yourself -- as you seem to continue to be doing now. That kind of carelessness in your own work isn't likely to inspire your readers to value your opinion when you're flippant while complaining about flippancy.

      I'm pretty sure that target audience you described is overly specific. I've got loads of female readers, and seem to do quite well with European readers in particular. And assuming the "I'm glad you got a positive comment" isn't a thinly veiled deliberate insult, you missed the point of my mentioning the comment about the Samson and Delilah comic. It's a refutation of your claim that my bible content couldn't possibly work because it's not right for a target audience I'm not even trying to court. The fact is I personally know of other creators with thousands of subscribers publishing very similar content, so that audience you basically said doesn't exist, well it does.

      And, getting back to "time management", truth be told, I've had numerous readers tell me explicitly and without prompting that they enjoy my lengthy (usually satirical) commentary that accompanies my pages. So if you think listening to your audience's feedback is a waste of time, then yeah, I'm guilty of "wasting time" giving people what they've said they enjoy.

    5. Again, it's not clear to me what the purpose of your defensive comments is, and I don't see this as being a constructive and worthwhile discussion. I'm sure a lot of people like Woohooligan!, but there's always the potential to grow your audience and impress your current readers even further. I hope you choose to take advantage of the opportunities you have to improve your webcomic.

    6. Again, it's not clear to me why you don't understand my saying that casually race-baiting your readers while complaining about casual race-baiting in a comic you're reviewing is hypocritical. It doesn't strike me as constructive for you to put forth so much effort defending yourself, and willfully ignoring the correction that casual race-baiting didn't actually occur in that comic (potentially leading to unwarranted damage to the person you're reviewing), rather than accepting that criticism (and possibly amending your review with said correction). I hope you choose to take advantage of the opportunities you have to improve your reviews.