Top Four: Webcomics

Order of the StickThe Top Four series looks at certain aspects of the comic book world from two perspectives: Rob’s, as a relative newcomer to mainstream comics, and Kristine’s, as an older hand in the world.  Each installment evaluates the top four choices from both Rob and Kristine and why they chose their picks.



By Robert J. Baden and Kristine Chester

 

 

 

While not actually a part of the traditional comic book world, webcomics have had a profound impact on readership and the comic industry for nearly 3 decades. Tomorrow, May 5th, is Webcomics Appreciation Day, and we felt that this would be the best time to pay tribute to our fondness for them. Both of us have read a lot of webcomics over the years, Kristine co-wrote and colored a webcomic for a college project, and Rob has had some experience writing for a few in his day (though nothing that anyone has likely heard of).


There is an extensive list of webcomics available to people—most are free to read, some have paid viewerships; some are comedies, some are dramas, some are fantasy, some are slice-of-life, some are gag-a-day, while others are ongoing serials. There are few that have popular followings and make enough money to support the creator(s), but most just do it for fun and expression. Some webcomics you’ve probably heard of, such as Sluggy Freelance or Schlock Mercenary, while others have only garnered a small following, such as Fanboy Otaku Gamers Club or Mory’s Education. The ones below, however, are the webcomics we enjoy the most.

 

SPOILERS BELOW

 



Rob’s Picks


#4: Queen of Wands (www.queenofwands.net)


Background:


QoW
focuses on the life of one person, Kestrel, as she deals with various aspects of her life. She lives with one of her ex-boyfriends and his wife, who also happen to be her two best friends. It’s based very loosely on the creator’s life and has a great cast of characters with much hilarity involved. The humor can be a little adult themed (I don’t mean dirty, and there’s no nudity, just adult situations.), so it’s not intended for all audiences.


Pros:


The characters and situations presented in QoW are superb and make the enjoyment of the comic easier to achieve. Several of the situations, and the personalities shown, are just how I can imagine some of my friends behaving. (And, isn’t that a scary thought?) For me the greatest aspect is Kestrel’s attitude toward others, and how she won’t take crap from anyone, even if it’s a child; she stands up for herself and puts social convention on its head.


Cons:


This comic no longer updates, and it had a relatively short lifespan (4 years) when compared to others I consider to be my favorites. The characters have moved on to either other comics (Kestrel is now a recurring character on Something Positive and Angela is the center-star of her own, Punch an’ Pie) or faded into the background noise that is the Internet. About the only other downside I can think of concerning this strip was that, at times, it got drama-heavy; I don’t mind drama, it can be enjoyable, but I don’t want it all the time, and much prefer the funnier aspects of the comic.


 

#3: Blue Milk Special (www.bluemilkspecial.com)


Background:


BMS
is a parody of the Star Wars licensed properties, starting with the first film (in terms of production time) and working its way through. It follows the basic plot as put forth in the films and Expanded Universe, but there are subtle additions and differences that make it hilarious to read: Leia chain-smokes, Chewie can talk and be understood by all, and Darth Vader has a great fondness for Star Trek. Even if you’ve never seen the films (which in and of itself is a crime), you’ll enjoy reading the comic.


Pros:


The comic looks at Star Wars in a way that is usually only explored in social commentary by the fans: there are several “what ifs” involved, although, it’s more along the lines of “what if we just didn’t care about keeping it strictly a space opera?” The additions and differences make it quite enjoyable to read, as I’m never quite sure exactly what’s going to happen despite knowing the general plot.


Cons:


There’s no set update schedule. It normally updates at least once a week, but the day isn’t fixed, and sometimes there’s more than one. It tries to update on Mondays, but there have been several gaps when it’s been on a Sunday, or a Wednesday. If you’re a casual webcomic reader who only looks at them about once a week or less, then you’ll have to look at the calendar archives to make sure you haven’t missed an update.


 

#2: Real Life (www.reallifecomics.com)


Background:


Greg Dean started this comic in the 1990s, originally in black & white with no real plot except to mimic his real life (hence the name) as much as he could and still make it interesting to read. Throughout the years he’s adjusted the comic to his real world circumstances, while still allowing for some pretty outrageous adventures (time travel, anyone?) and has kept the strip pretty entertaining.


Pros:


Real Life
is one of the first webcomics I came upon, and it’s stuck with me for more than a decade because of how interesting it is. Greg keeps the material fresh—although familiar—and explores a lot of different areas and still does a good job of making it seem “real.” One of the best aspects is that he pokes fun at himself through the comic, and there’s a constant breaking of the fourth wall, so that it’s become something of a plot device—but in a funny way.


Cons:


The creator misses a lot of regular updates on his intended schedule due to his busy life (he’s married, he has a daughter, he has a job, etc.). I’m not especially upset, but a lot of times these unintended skipped updates come when there’s a storyline that I’m just dying to find out more about, and it can be frustrating. Another problem is that he tries a bit too hard to make it be like his real life at times (writing about moving, about going to culinary school, etc.), and sometimes real life just isn’t that funny.


 

#1: Questionable Content (www.questionablecontent.net)


Background:


QC
focuses on a group of individuals in a relatively small New England city (not super-large, but also not super-small) and their daily lives in how they relate to one another. There are the inevitable romantic feelings between some characters, as well as some animosity and conflict—it is a slice of life comic, after all—but it doesn’t create such a drama-filled environment that makes it sad to read. This is, by far, my favorite webcomic of all time.


Pros:


The panel and writing style is wonderful, and the artwork has certainly improved over the years (in a very obvious comparison, if you view them side-by-side). The characterization is absolutely great, and the two most outrageous characters—Hannelore and Marigold—make the best interactions of the group. (And, on a personal note, my fiancée went to school with the creator; that is completely awesome in my opinion.)


Cons:


While I don’t fault the fact that he needs to take a break every now and then, the Yelling Bird filler strips get a bit annoying for me. It has no plot aspect whatsoever, it’s mostly just static images copy/pasted for four panels, and usually there’s a week full of them during the creator’s break. Typically, I just skip over these when they pop up, but that also deprives me of my all-time favorite webcomic for a few days.


 

Kristine’s Picks


#4: Manly Guys Doing Manly Things (www.thepunchlineismachismo.com)


Background:


A couple of years ago Questionable Content or Schlock Mercenary may have made my list, but I have been vastly entertained for the past couple of years by Kelly Turnbull's tale of a temp agency for macho heroes from video games and comic books run by a space marine named Commander Bada-- (referred to as “Commander” most of the time) and his intern, Jared, the worst Pokemon trainer ever.


Pros:


The comic has largely been about lampshading particular jokes or situations from video games and comic books or Internet memes, poking fun at the likes of macho men by placing them in absurd situations such as Sten from Dragon Age: Origins and his cookie obsession, Kratos from God of War and King Leonidas from 300 playing gay chicken, the various Lantern Corps. hosting an important energy summit, and many more. Manly Guys is filled with plenty of absurdly awesome moments such as Jared's backstory where he beat other Pokemon by swinging his Magikarp, named Mr. Fish, like a club.


Cons:


Manly Guys
only updates once a week due to Turnbull's busy schedule. This is only really a problem when in the middle of a story arc, such as currently, since it takes months to resolve and the jokes turn stale when stuck in the same theme for that amount of time.


 

#3: Penny Arcade (www.penny-arcade.com)


Background:


Jerry “Tycho” Holkins and Mike “Gabe” Krahulik started a webcomic about video games back in 1998 and are still sharing their opinions on video games, D&D, technology, and really all things in a simple 3-panel format.


Pros:


Penny Arcade
is willing to say the things others won't, or at least says them louder than most. Despite the site turning into a much larger business with the likes of the Penny Arcade Expos (PAX), their TV series, and blog hosting, Mike and Jerry say what they want to say and deal with any fallout that comes their way. It's this blunt honesty that makes the comic and its creators really great to follow. If you read the comic and ignore Tycho's posts on the front page, you're really missing out. I find the comics are infinitely better when placed into a larger context. If you ever wondered what the creative process of a comic team was like, the Penny Arcade 4th Panels are entertaining as Tycho and Gabe start with nothing and create a comic by seeing which ideas make them laugh.


Cons:


Penny Arcade's
humor is not for everyone. I couldn't get into it for years thanks to their crudeness, and if you're not really aware of video games and geek culture, then the comic is not going to be relevant to you.


 

#2: Khaos Komix (www.khaoskomix.com)


Background:


Khaos Komix
follows eight characters: Steve, Mark, Amber, Nay, Tom, Alex, Charlie, and Jamie, as they attend the same college and learn about their own LGBT identities and those around them.


Pros:


Khaos Komix
is damn good storytelling. It’s easy to become attached to the main characters and feel for their struggles (a statement I've heard straight cisgender friends say, as well), and the stories prove to be an educational lesson on what it's like to grow up gay, lesbian, or trans. Each of the stories intersects with the others, and since it's told by a different narrator each time, you can see as many as 8 different opinions on the same event, getting another piece each time and coming closer to filling in the larger picture of everything that's happening.


Cons:


For people uncomfortable with the LGBT community, this is a clear comic to stay away from. Otherwise, I'd say the weakness is the story's tendency to skip around. While the snapshots of the characters' lives are great to helping to understand who they are, these same snapshots become a weakness as they try to cover 20 or so years, leading to a lot of gaps. Admitted by the writer, Tab, some of the situations are not as realistic as they could be. The transgender characters, Tom and Charlie, both pass easily as male and female, respectively, without the aid of hormones or other assistance that most transgender people have to rely on.

 

#1: The Order of the Stick (www.giantitp.com/comics/oots.html)


Background:

Starting as a D&D comic, The Order of the Stick is a combination gamer/fantasy humor and ongoing story strip following an adventuring team trying to save the world. The actual name of the comic derives from its creator’s stick-figure art style that's just detailed enough to know what's going on but not so detailed as to get away from the cartoony feel.


Pros:


The gamer/geek humor is easily its strong suit. For fans of video game and tabletop RPGs alike, there are a lot of in jokes regarding the genre, and the same can be said for traditional high fantasy stories. The characters are all terribly flawed but lovable, including not just the Order itself but the huge cast of side characters and even the villains! What, perhaps, makes OOTS my favorite webcomic is that it combines gamer and character humor with a rich ongoing story, making it easy to lose yourself in the archives reading 20, 50, or even hundreds of strips in a single sitting.


Cons:


The archive goes very quickly, but Rich Burlew is slow to update the comic and waiting weeks or months during a slow-moving story arc is frustrating, so if you're up to date you're probably better off letting the archive build up for a while. The first 100 strips or so focus heavily on Dungeons & Dragons humor, so those unfamiliar with the 3rd and 3.5 editions of the tabletop RPG are going to have a lot of jokes go right by them. If you can get past the beginning, the humor becomes a little more general to the point that anyone familiar with RPGs or gaming on a level can appreciate all of the jokes.

 

 

The best—and worst—thing about webcomics is that anyone can make them, given the right circumstances. Unlike print comics, though, if readership or “sales” don’t measure up to projected aspects, the creator(s) don’t always stop production. So, if there’s a webcomic out there that has been struggling to get people’s attention, and it’s one that you like, pass the word around—after all, how do you think people like David Willis or Scott Kurtz got to be so popular?

 

 

 

Last modified on Monday, 31 December 2018 23:38

Kristine Chester, Fanbase Press Senior Contributor

Favorite Comic Book SeriesAtomic Robo
Favorite D&D Class:  Wizard
Favorite Ice Cream Flavor:  Cookies N' Cream

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