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
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
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
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.
Creator: Sam Dealey
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)|
|Trixie Slaughteraxe for President|