Hella stylin’ on all y’all

July 2, 2009

The multitalented Lore Sjoberg has a very funny post on the ideal response to people like me.

Of course, Lore saves the best for last. Though there are some good, intelligent arguments that invoke subjectivity, “it’s my style” is by and large the exclusive refrain of art criminals and the people who defend them. Think Least I Could Do is bad? Guess lowbrow humor just isn’t your thing! Think Michael Bay’s Transformers films are lame, disposable pap? Obviously you just hate action movies and would be more at home with some girly frou-frou drama.

You say I can't draw?  Well, they said the same thing about Picasso!  Ever hear of a little picture called <i>Guernica</i>?  HEH!  Showed you buddy!

You say I can't draw? Well, they said the same thing about Picasso! Ever hear of a little picture called Guernica? HEH! Showed you buddy!

Indeed, there is no good or bad in art, no right or wrong, merely differing tastes, and all works float as equals within a relativistic vacuum. Rules of composition? Art school? What do those ivory-tower fops know? Why, they paid Andy Warhol ten gazillion dollars for an empty soup can! Hah!

…that’s pretty much the theory, to the best of my understanding.

Of course, the empty can rattles the loudest, and it is the most artistically bankrupt who will proclaim the shrillest that their detractors just can’t appreciate their snowflake-special brand of genius. This is no coincidence; there are two kinds of artists–those who address their shortcomings and improve, and those who spin excuses for their shortcomings and stay shitty forever.

Which is not to discount subjectivity out of hand. The value of many an artist’s work has been recognized too late–and the artist who challenges no boundaries is merely another Kinkade. A subjective eye toward art is indispensable to the survival of the craft.

History will redeem me

History will redeem me

Now here’s why none of that applies to what I do. Recall what I said last time about Schultz and Disney; there is no style without fundamentals to stylize. A five-year-old’s crayon doodles are not in the “abstract style”–theirs is the absence of style. Similarly, memes, strawmen, recycled art and ZOMBIE HITLER do not constitute stylistic innovations–they are stratagems for circumventing the creative process altogether. The types of webcomics you will see reviewed here are barely art and if they can be said to have a style, it is no style of artistic merit.

The Gutter Snipe, in its response to my post, noted that “aesthetics are not laws”–rather, aesthetic standards are now, as ever, in flux. That much is true. But I fear for the future in which our aesthetic standards reward laziness, accept pettiness and hold sacrosanct the lowest common denominator. You are no Cezanne, so don’t make subjectivity into your personal aegis.


Dialogue Post

May 7, 2009

Patrick Alexander of Raymondo Person has an excellent post on the inimitable Achewood and the difference that natural, vibrant dialogue can make.

I agree wholeheartedly with most of Alexander’s claims, particularly what creatively dishonest writing can reveal about its author. However, I think blaming such writing on “women’s thoughts and feelings, coming out of a man’s mouth” is a slight misstatement. I would never accuse Least I Could Do‘s Ryan Sohmer, for instance, of listening too closely to women!

No, the problem is bigger than men feminizing their ideas; it’s bigger than XKCD, Questionable Content and all the other romantic dramas that dress up their drama in nerd culture and pedestrian quips. The problem is that people simply do not expect–from others or from themselves–better than artificial writing.

Based on a true story!  Except I left out the part where I paused, hit Back, sighed heavily and put my head in my hands.

Based on a true story! Except I left out the part where I paused, hit Back, sighed heavily and put my head in my hands.

Children are taught from an early age not to write like they talk. Then you have an online culture that glorifies mindless repetition and–paradoxically–lets one circumvent any meaningful contact with different people and perspectives. The result is that too many young writers cannot project a distinct voice–another’s or their own. (And having worked as a teacher’s aide and an editor, I can tell you this is by no means limited to comic writing.)

Small surprise, then, that unrealistic dialogue is almost de rigeur for webcomics. Webcartoonists are not chasing the great novel, they are chasing the mediocre sitcom–for where else would you ever hear an exchange like this?

Which is not to say that dialogue must always be perfectly realistic. Homer Simpson would lose his larger-than-life appeal if he talked and behaved like an ordinary late-thirtysomething. Yet for all his absurdities, he has weaknesses and goals and an internally consistent worldview in which his actions make sense; he’s not stupid for the sake of being stupid. In short, he is human, and humanity is what separates naturally unfolding character humor from a soulless delivery of a canned punchline.

So just how much realism is enough? I can’t draw a bright line, but I can make a comparison with the art side of cartooning. The first thing a cartoon artist learns (and, if he does not, is forcefully reminded by his peers) is that he must know realism; he must, like Walt Disney and Charles Schulz, have a good idea of how shapes, lights, shadows work in reality before he tries his own take on these fundamentals.
It is much the same in writing dialogue. By all means, stylize–punch up those words and make them your own–but never lose your grounding in reality.


News post

March 23, 2009

Two quick updates that you probably already knew about:

First, the New England Webcomics Weekend was a great success. The turnout by both creators and supporters was fantastic; in attendance were dozens of artists whom I respect a great deal… and then there was Least I Could Do‘s Ryan Sohmer. Sohmer’s utter contempt for other cartoonists is very well documented; what his behavior at Webcomics Weekend confirmed was his contempt for his fans. Sohmer was as self-important in panel discussions as he was evasive on the convention floor; he spent all of Sunday morning nipping at a Red Bull and leaving his artist and a couple hangers-on to man the table–which I suppose he considers better than trying to engage potential readers.

I will never for the life of me understand how Ryan Sohmer got a single sale out of Webcomics Weekend. His comic–minus the sex, the Batman and Star Wars, the ugly egomaniac wish-fulfillment fantasy–is mediocre through and through, the kind of strip you’d see in a particularly misogynistic daily newspaper. Sohmer’s work reflects his disdain for comics and his attitude his disdain for people who read them; why not respond in kind? He is a charlatan who, in a just world, would be selling unsuccessful pickup-artist programs on 3 a.m. infomercials.

Speaking of charlatans, Hapajap of Electronic Tigers is back in action–oh, did you forget who he was? Here’s an unabridged nugget from his archives:

Again, I did not edit this strip in any way.

Again, I did not edit this strip in any way.

Anyway, gone is any mention of his co-writer El Gato Negro, and indeed the site’s focus has shifted entirely to his Right Left Center series of political strips.
Of course, Hapajap hasn’t quite healed enough from his ‘negotiations’ with Dubli’s collections department to actually, you know, draw anything new. But hey, he’s still your man for impotent rage and strawman arguments so far removed from reality they could’ve been penned by Jovian robots sent to Earth to investigate the mysterious phenomena of love, M&Ms and liberalism.

In fairness, I should mention that his blog has gained more substance than ‘here’s the comic, it’s so videogames‘ or ‘OH GOD MONEY PLZ I HAVE A FAMILY ps fuck the poor.’ …That is, when he’s not cribbing from blowhards slightly less stupid than he is. Anyway, now he posts shrill rants that make his comic look concise and almost sane.
(If you don’t feel like reading that link, and I don’t blame you, I’m just gonna say that the first paragraph is composed entirely of whining about how the word ‘gay’ means ‘homosexual’ now. I propose we ‘skewer’ [is 'skew' the word you're looking for, Hapajap, or are you just unable to contemplate anything without an element of violence?] the English language to redefine ‘Hapajap’ as ‘crappy little bullshit man.’)

…Well, at least people have stopped Googling ‘what happened to electronic tigers.’

P.S. Hapajap supports the secession of Texas from the Union.


Bland Comics Megapost

January 6, 2009

Hello, happy new year and glad to be back. First things first–for those of you who got here from Google trying to find out what happened to Comic Strip Club / Electronic Tigers, I’d like to direct your attention to the following newspost:

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good-bye.

For now, for the near future, Comic Strip Club will be on hiatus. I can’t find the time to dedicate to delivering new strips regularly, so there’s not much point in trying. Apologies to you all, and special thanks to everyone who has donated to try to keep me afloat these past few months. I hope to be back soon, but I’ve got a mountain of debt to undig myself from, and taking hours out of my day each day to come up with this stuff is really just not helping.

Love to you all, even those I disagree with! :)

And a happy new year for us all!
-Hapa

Summary: Hapajap is too busy sinking the thousands he bilked from you into Internet Ponzi schemes to paste old drawings and Fox News talking points into his pirate copy of MangaStudio.

But that’s not the point of today’s post. Now, much has been made of webcomics and the greater possibilities they enjoy over their syndicated brethren in the newspaper. Unhindered by editors, fixed deadlines or space constraints, observers crow, webcomics promise a reprieve from the yawning grey void of corporate-mandated blandness.

Unfortunately, as the following three comics show, the alternative is wholly voluntary blandness.

GU Comics

This is how I feel about everything you've ever drawn, Woody

This is how I feel about everything you've ever drawn, Woody

Woody Hearn’s GU Comics addresses topics ranging from gaming to politics to whatever the hell the author feels like soapboxing about today, but it is never funny. You would think that eight years on a M-F schedule would produce at least one fluke (and the Law of Averages would corroborate you,) but when it’s not laughably outdated references, when it’s not touching drama taken one uniform panel a day, it’s the most banal crap imaginable.

You see, Woody has a talent. While lesser comics need up to four panels to run an already weak gag into the ground, Woody can do it in one. He also has a bizarre aversion to profanity, and on that note he delights in reusing art–when he deigns to draw at all.

This is only an improvement.

This is only an improvement.

Speaking of Woody’s art, it comes as no surprise that he needs to label his caricatures. Despite the 13 years of illustration experience he claims in his FAQ, he only knows how to draw a head from 3/4 perspective, and his shading style suggests a world composed wholly of Jolly Ranchers. The terminator is as foreign a concept to him as a matte surface. I don’t even need to elaborate on his eternally blurred backgrounds.

But enough of Woody Hearn and his sarcastic, shellacked talking heads. Let’s look at another inexplicably long-lived comic.

Nukees

Nukees author Darren Bleuel, as co-founder of Keenspot, has done much for webcomics. He is also a fellow alum of my alma mater. It is thus with great regret that I say his comic strip has all the humor of a man emptying an assault rifle into a group of puppies, with none of the appeal to furry snuff fetishists.

Comedy gold

Comedy gold

When Nukees is not trying to be the next XKCD (despite preceding it by a number of years,) it chronicles the terribly boring adventures of a gaggle of renfair freaks, unmedicated neurotics and–of course–socially stunted manchildren. It vacillates between dreary attempts at whimsy and equally dreary drama. That said drama calls upon the reader to remember events from five years prior should give you an idea of how often things happen in Nukees.

Rape is a welcome storyline topic, however, compared to this recent storyline about a movement to ban atheist marriage. I watched The Celluloid Closet, I take offense to the casual use of the word “fag,” I have participated in pro-gay-marriage demonstrations, but Darren’s insufferable self-righteousness makes me want to kick a gay man in the shins.

Now, his art–well, what can I say? His figures are as flat, his faces as amorphous as the worst faux-anime DeviantART can muster, minus the attempted cute. His anatomical sense entails dislocation and decapitation. Oh, and he hasn’t improved in eight years.

So much for Nukees. Now let’s get back to the fecund fields of gaming comics.

EXTRALIFE

Scott Johnson does not actually know what any of these terms means

Scott Johnson does not actually know what any of these terms means

Scott Johnson’s EXTRALIFE (caps his) specializes in terrible gaming jokes, terrible superhero jokes and ripoffs of superior comics. Ever the optimist, Scott treats every vaguely amusing idea that crosses his mind as something new, exciting and worthy–no, needing to be shared with the world. Ooh, Aquaman can talk to fish. Yes, and? He talks to fish! Isn’t that hilarious?

Of course, it wouldn’t be a gaming comic without obnoxious soapboxing, Jack Thompson, and schadenfreude that reads like a low-rent Perry Bible Fellowship. Without these old standbys, Scott often finds himself unsure what he’s trying to prove. Where the intended joke is not nonexistent, it is incomprehensible. It’s clear that Scott has more fun skipping all pretense of a punchline and going straight for the nonsensical.

Okay.

Okay, guys, guys, I got one... Prison Break jumped the shark. Pffthahaha!

Regarding his art, there’s not much to say besides that he can only draw two expressions, heavy-lidded ennui and deer-in-headlights emptiness. Oh, and he can’t draw women.

In conclusion, people get paid for these. Thank you and good night.


Search terms post

October 21, 2008

I haven’t forgotten about this blog, and I’ll have a post about common webcomic blunders sometime in the indeterminate future. Those of you coming here from Electronic Tigers trackbacks, hello and please feel free to pretend I made a Duke Nukem Forever joke there.

For now I’d like to take a page from the inimitable Josh Fruhlinger, as contradictory as that clause is, and take a look at some of the search engine terms through which people have come to my blog. Shameless filler, I know, but it beats the hell out of another TV commercial post.

cecania naked – I imagine this poor fellow was quite disappointed to find no lascivious ersatz-manga action. I imagine he then scrolled down to the Strike Witches review. Another happy customer.

anime witches with rockets on their feet – They’re technically not rockets.

licd sohmer “mary sue” – Smart man.

ray smuckles tail – Oh geez. Looking for Sore Thumbs porn is at least somewhat understandable for a horny 13-year-old with more anime wallscrolls than friends, but this…

obnoxious mazda 10 car dash commercial – Exactly!

editorial cartoon god – Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say, even though I don’t draw editorial cartoons.

subway yum rocket, yum rocket subway, subway commercial yum rocket, subway “yum rocket”, subway yum rockets, 5 dollar yum rocket, yum rocket’s subway, “yum rocket” subway, subway foot long yum rocket, foot long yum rockets., subway yum rockets commercial, subway commercials yum rocket, subway yum rocket commercial, subway yum rocket youtube, yum rocket youtube, subway restaurant yum rocket, subway commercial “yum rocket”, footlong yum rocket subway, subway yum rocket foot long, yum rocket commercial subway, subway sandwich – yum rocket, “yum rocket”, 5 dollar foot long comercial yum rockets, yum rocket subway commercial, 5 dollar foot long yum rocket, five dollar foot long yum yum rocket, subwy yum rockets commercial, footlong yum rocket subway youtube – Should I ever become a bitter survivalist hermit, not only disconnected from modern civilization but openly antagonistic thereto, the blame will fall squarely on our culture’s fixation with the phrase “yum rocket.”

quiznos yum rocket commercial – Uh, Subway? You might want to have a talk with your marketing guys.

EDIT: Add “porn anime with cat ears” to the list. This is what social scientists refer to as a self-perpetuating phenomenon.

EDIT 2: Oh, and “hapajap is retarded”. You people are wonderful.


E-Paper Tigers

September 16, 2008

I couldn’t decide whether to preface this review with this Mallard Fillmore parody or this San Antonio Rock City. Both are not only extremely relevant, but far funnier than the webcomic I’m about to review.

Electronic Tigers, drawn by Hapajap and penned by him and El Gato Negro, is a political gaming manga. Sound familiar? It should, except Electronic Tigers manages to be even worse than Sore Thumbs. Wow, I’m astounded that I just compared Sore Thumbs favorably to something. Savor this moment, boys, because this is one of the very few accolades I’m going to give your comic.

Okay, by “very few,” I meant “two,” and the other one is the art. Hapajap clearly has a solid grasp on anatomy and expression, as well as the all-important ability to distort them for impact. His character designs are distinct and well-realized. He possesses a unique, punchy and delightfully cartoonish style, and he would be right at home doing professional work.

Whew, that's two panels done!  I'm beat, guys!

Whew, that's two panels done! I'm beat, guys!

Well, except for his annoying habit of copying and pasting. Even where it is not unabashedly apparent that he has reused art, it is clear that he has rotated, flipped or otherwise slightly modified existing art for a new panel. It could not be more obvious that Electronic Tigers is fabricated from templates, perhaps a set of 5-10 poses per character.

And Electronic Tigers suffers for Hapajap’s laziness. Characters seldom physically interact with each other (or even move); sometimes they don’t even directly face the characters they’re talking to. And so, no matter how much technical skill Hapajap brings to the table, Electronic Tigers invariably looks stiff, lifeless and dull.

Please, by all means, feel free to fap to me, so long as you feel really bad while you do!

Please, by all means, feel free to fap to me, so long as you feel really bad while you do!

Worse still is when Hapajap writes. He likes to make his strong political bent quite clear to the reader. This is a bad thing because political cartoons, like Christian rock, tend to be repugnant to anyone outside the target group, as well as many people inside it. Hapajap helps little by expending so much space on his hamfisted political manifestos that no room is left for a punchline. Too preachy to be funny and too crude to be convincing, Electronic Tigers’s political strips read more like GOP Ideology For Frances than an editorial spot in the New Yorker–or Hustler for that matter.

Its other offerings mostly deal with the nerdy male protagonists’ passes at the token female mascot–stop me if you’ve heard this before–who’s as geeky as they are, good at video games, and head-explodingly hot (literally). But make no mistake, this is no Mary Sue we’re dealing with. After all, she’s fallible (only with regard to politics, of course.) And it’s not like she’s just there to pander to lonely nerds; she’s got morals! Which is why she features prominently in all of Electronic Tigers’s advertising.

When Electronic Tigers isn’t touting good Judeo-Christian morality, it’s being hip, edgy and politically incorrect. Unfortunately, “politically incorrect” is up there with “lol random” as one of those things that writers think will make them instantly funny. They’re wrong. Drawing racist pictures does not automatically make you funny; drawing racist pictures just because you can might say some other things about you, though.

Of course, by their own admission, the writers aren’t actually that good at being offensive in the first place. Such baseless fronting is the cornerstone of Electronic Tigers’s M.O. as a whole–it parrots racial stereotypes and claims to understand them; it pokes fun at other gaming comics and then runs day after day of played-out nerd jokes. Electronic Tigers throws up a paper-thin veneer of fresh irreverence to mask its lack of originality, character or even humor. It wants to be Lisa Lampanelli, but it isn’t even Carrot Top.

You have no idea how right you are, Hapajap

You have no idea how right you are, Hapajap

And conveniently enough, if you don’t find Electronic Tigers funny, you’re just too thin-skinned. Nobody could possibly dislike the comic on its own merits (or lack thereof)–it’s just the evil oppressive PC regime trying to keep it down! Brainwashed, controversy-fearing drones should seek their laughs elsewhere. Like, you know, a comic that’s actually good.

(As an aside, if you only click one link in this post, click the one in the previous paragraph. The irony is glorious.)

Well, Hapajap, there’s the ‘succinct’ review you wanted–hope it’s not too thin-skinned for you. I’ll leave all of you following along at home with a fun activity.

Fun for the whole nuclear family unit

Fun for the whole nuclear family unit

EDIT: Hapajap is fiscally irresponsible and he pimps his characters out like a black stereotype written by himself, news at 11.

EDIT 2: Whoops, I misspelled ‘succinct’!  Also, clarification on the ‘jokes.’


On referential humor

August 26, 2008

What I hate most about Internet humor, after ‘random’ punchlines and speeches posing as jokes, is so-called ‘referential humor.’ I use the term not to refer to parodies and wink-nods, which can work in skilled hands, but to the kind of joke where the punchline consists wholly of the reference. These jokes are easily distinguished by a total lack of coherence to a reader unfamiliar with the referenced work, and I can think of few lazier things a writer can do. No thought is put in, no value added, only the hope that readers will see something they recognize and grin dumbly in a twisted pseudo-Pavlovian response. The only thing that infuriates me more than this practice is when it works.

Which is why I was unpleasantly surprised to see that this Dudley’s Dungeon strip had any positive votes at all. The XKCD strip referenced here (referencing another webcomic is a new low, but that’s a whole nother post) draws its humor from an absurd situation. Like most jokes, it’s funny because it presents something unexpected–both the bobcat in the package and the recipient’s understated response. But for the same reason, referencing it utterly destroys its appeal. A reference inherently involves recognition, something wholly contrary to the surprise upon which good absurdist humor relies. Take away the surprise, and you take away what made the joke entertaining in the first place.

Put another way, have you ever had a friend who liked to repeat a catchphrase he heard on TV? Did you appreciate it? Didn’t think so.

Writers, you have more important things to do than remind yourself that your readers like the same things you do. (If they didn’t, they probably wouldn’t bother with your work.) Readers, quit eating this shit up. The Internet is too big a place for you to settle for people who can’t come up with their own jokes. In conclusion, to rather hypocritically quote a Nameless Fairy, “Good comics make memes. Bad comics repeat them.”


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