The Webcomic Overlook #36: Fanboys
Earlier this week, when I reviewed VG Cats, I received plenty of responses. Some folks agreed with my review. Others were fans of the series and didn’t agree with me at all. One of the most interesting responses, though, was posted at the Scienteers blog. The writer agreed with my review, but felt that I was taking some cheap shots against gamers with some of my comments.
Now, I’m a bit of a gamer myself (though I’ve been playing only Madden and Sly Cooper lately). Most of those comments were actually a bit of self-deprecation. However, I didn’t mean to suggest that gamers were completely ignorant of politics. The dig was more about how passionate gamers can get over something as silly as which console they preferred to play on. Why not focus their energy on something more useful, like politics? And when they do look at politics, why pick on someone as ineffectual as Jack Thompson?
But, yeah, it was a generalization. So if you were offended: my bad. Drinks are on me.
So today, I bring you yet another review of a gaming webcomic … this time, one that all about the console wars! Yes, today The Webcomic Overlook takes a crack at Scott DeWitt’s Fanboys. Officially, by the way, the webcomic is titled F@nb0y$, but there’s no way in hell I’m typing that unholy combination of letters and symbols several times over.
By the way, if you just let out a big groan because you’ve been coming to this site regularly for non-gaming comics, I’ll get onto one next week. I’m also half-way done writing my Comixtalk review for March… non-gamer comic, too. But, as you gamers know, once you’re on a roll, it’s just impossible to stop.
Fanboys starts with a most tantalizing prospect: console war! We meet Lemmy, a total Nintendo fanboy who’s a little dim-witted and a bit hyperactive. We also meet his roommate, Paul, a sarcastic, chain-smoking bruiser who wears a shirt bearing the PlayStation button configuration. Two roommates who like to play video games a lot. Man, this is totally original and not at all like Penny Arcade!
Yes, of course I’m being sarcastic. What makes this comic a little bit unique is that Scott DeWitt himself knows that he’s just following the same gamer comic template himself. By the second strip, he adds a girl named Sylvia to the cast, and — surprise! — she’s a hardcore gamer girl (an X-Box addict this time) who seems to be PMSing full-time. He inserts Jesus in an obvious tongue-in-cheek gag. And he does the obligatory Mario gag.
But it’s all self-aware, so that makes it OK, right? Not really. While I did chuckle a lot at several of the gags — hey, my heart isn’t made of ice, you know — DeWitt makes several unfortunate mistakes. First of all, there are the Jack Thompson jokes. I didn’t like it in VG Cats, and I don’t like it here. I have never found Jack Thompson jokes to be very funny. I understand that the guy is the bane of the gaming community in the same way William Gaines is a villain in the comics community. However, webcomic writers seem to get some serious jollies by drawing Jack Thompson in the most degrading ways possible. Perhaps readers who are more familiar with the issue get a lot of more laughs out of this that I would. However, I have major problems with comics that portray anyone that disagrees with your point of view as an uncontrollable raving lunatic, while portraying anyone on you side as a calm, reasonable fellow. That’s just bush league.
Second of all, when you’ve got two guys and one girl living under one roof, the inevitable happens: two of the are going to hook up. Usually, it’s not the two guys. In the case of Fanboys, Lemmy and Sylvia end up in the shower after Paul discovers that they have been secretly playing with each other’s game consoles. (In the literal sense, people. Keep your head in the game.) When you’re both wet and fully-clothed, what’s there to do but, you know, make out? As a gag, I get it. But from this point on, DeWitt started taking the relationship seriously. We are soon treated to “tender” scenes where Sylvia cuddles up to Lemmy, and Lemmy is buying Sylvia presents. And all I can do is slap my forehead and channel Vlad from Achewood by screaming: “VIEWER! ATTENTION! What you are seeink is LIE! A lady is needink up to ten minutes of make-outs before the miracle! I SPIT ON YOUR MONEY.”
There literally WAS nothing between Sylvia and Lemmy before she jumped him in the shower. And now we’re supposed to believe they’re sweet for each other? No conflict? No staying apart, mulling over the moment for a while, and then getting together for real? It’s just like that?
I suppose I could go on and on about a lot of the things that I didn’t like about Fanboys, like DeWitt’s over-reliance on the (retroactively lame) Snakes On a Plane joke and the petty criticisms and, goddamn, the unbearable sugary sweetness of the Lemmy/Sylvia relationship. Dear… God. And DeWitt just couldn’t resist the siren’s song to make yet another tired 300 joke, could he?
I should also mention that the strip where Paul finds out about Solid Snake’s inclusion on the Smash Brothers Brawl roster was absolutely hilarious, and that Lemmy’s quest to have Sylvia play all the Zelda games was pretty cute. There are, in fact, a lot of humorous moments. There’s a Google gag that’ll make me laugh through Lemmy’s facial expressions alone. DeWitt’s manga criticisms are both cutting, yet humorous even without the context. DeWitt also manages to make his self-insertions rather enjoyable.
So, you know, there’s the good, there’s the bad, and all in all, despite being a sarcastic Penny Arcade clone, Fanboys was a pretty average webcomic that was well on its way to a Webcomic Overlook 3-star rating.
But, as of strip #174, everything changed.
Now, if you are a budding webcomic writer, I don’t suggest that you capitulate to the whims of your fans. I especially don’t suggest that you bow to the goons at SomethingAwful.com. While there are plenty of intelligent posters on those boards (and truly, the webcomic thread does boast some of the most intelligent webcomic discussions I’ve seen anywhere), the site also boasts a fair share of idiots. However, I respect DeWitt a lot for re-evaluting himself, taking the criticisms to heart, and making an honest assessment: “My comic, despite my efforts, was still to generic, too cliche and too much like Penny Arcade.” It takes a man to admit his shortcomings. But change is not always necessarily for the better.
Will Scott’s revamped save Fanboys … or destroy it?
Post-revamp, De-Witt debuts a new art style. The characters look more rounded, three-dimensional, and organic. Paul, who has until now looked like a hipster douchebag, now looks like a tough-as-nails gearhead who may be a softie at heart. And, hot damn, he sure does look cool smoking that cigarette. Sylvia gets a nifty new wardrobe and a mellower attitude. The new art style gives DeWitt the freedom to experiment with rubbery, cartoony expressions he couldn’t illustrate before … sometimes crossing into KC Green’s spastic territory.
Coincidentally, KC Green provides guest art on one of the strips. Katie Tiedrich of Awkward Zombie draws a strip, too. I almost never comment on guest strips, but it was really heartening to find two of my favorite webcomic artists on a strip so soon after a significant reboot.
DeWitt begins to focus on story-driven plotlines. A risky move, considering the gag-heavy focus on earlier strips. However, Fanboys keeps the stories light-hearted. The first major story takes place at the beach. Paul battles Sylvia’s friend, Kirstin, in a DDR contest, while Sylvia and Lemmy run from a demonic crab. The second major story arc is a semi-touching, semi-ridiculous tale of how everyone fell in love with their first consoles.
These low-key stories, both very enjoyable, could not have existed in the earlier incarnation of Fanboys.
DeWitt remedies several elements that I didn’t like in the earlier strips. The vendetta with Jack Thompson has disappeared. The Lemmy/Sylvia relationship isn’t as mushy. In fact, is not only more tolerable, but more believable. I’m not sure why, but I suspect a large part of it is because Sylvia stopped acting like a screaming harpy and more like a normal human being.
And, crap, I’m starting to feel like a total fangirl shipper because I really do want to see Paul and Kirstin get together.
The crazy non-sequitur gags, prevalent in the earliest Fanboy strips, are still there, but they’ve expanded beyond the scope of videogames. While the pace of the rebooted Fanboys is not quite as frenetic, DeWitt, is able to make me laugh even when it’s quiet and esoteric. And, you know, if it’s violent humor you want, you can always count on DeWitt’s unmitigated adoration toward a certain Samuel L. Jackson. When he shows up, you know it’s on!
At this point, some of you are probably saying to yourselves: “El Santo, you totally suck! I was totally enjoying all the earlier Fanboys stuff! Those strips were off the hook hilarious, you know what I’m saying? But these new strips, with their Sweet Valley Twin romance novel stories and everything … they’re so boring! It’s all about relationships now! If I wanted that, I’d read Penny and Aggie, not a gamer comic where everyone started off as a cliche anyway! Are you saying that if I wanted to write a webcomic that joked about videogames, I’d have to create a bunch of soap opera characters? I just want to draw naked Mario!”
You know what … you’ve got a point. All video game webcomics shouldn’t have to be plot-driven. However, DeWitt clearly didn’t want to write a webcomic that was only just a gamer comic. He wanted his characters to be more than just props. If he wanted to write a light-hearted romance between Sylvia and Lemmy, then he had to change. It just wasn’t working beforehand.
Finally, here’s a thought I wanted to post during the debate on VG Cats but is certainly applicable here: sometimes, it really is all about your age. Young people will find certain gags funny, while older people with find other things funny. Here’s a passage from the A. V. Club’s interview with Rolling Stones writer Carl Wilson that I felt was applicable here:
Adolescence has its own brand of sentimentality that’s set apart from a more adult, domestic sentimentality. Getting past that age makes it easier to think that these everyday domestic emotions are actually valid, and they need to be documented in some way, and spoken to in culture. I still have a knee-jerk reaction to a lot of that subject matter, just because it’s part of an aesthetic conversation that’s been going on since modernism. It’s in that same category as “prettiness,” as things that everyone decided needed to be stomped out in favor of a more challenging, radical approach. I think I’m still deprogramming from that.
Perhaps, when it comes down to VG Cats vs. Fanboys, I prefer the latter simply because I’m older and of the more “domestic sensiblity.” And perhaps younger people do prefer VG Cats because they see it as “challenging” and “radical.”
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Posted on March 7, 2008, in 4 Stars, comedy webcomic, romance webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, video game webcomic, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged F@nb0y$, Fanboys. Bookmark the permalink. 13 Comments.