The Webcomic Overlook #168: Looking For Group

(The following review comes from guest reviewer David Herbert. Thank you, David!)

You can tell a lot about a writer’s strengths and weaknesses when you take a look at their forays into different types of storytelling. In today’s case, we’re going to look at a comic strip writer’s attempt at writing an ongoing story with a layered plot.

Many of you will know of Ryan Sohmer from his webcomic Least I Could Do, or maybe The Gutters, which was reviewed on this site a while back. Looking For Group is different in that it attempts to have a complex story modelled after the epic fantasy genre, along the lines of Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or A Song of Fire and Ice, while also parodying the branch of fiction.

How is it? Well, notice that I used the word attempt when referencing the story.

In the first page we are introduced to Cale’Anon, our hero who is the typical pure do-gooder type of protagonist, and Richard, who is the anti-thesis of this character and serves as the source of most of the comedy. The introduction is done well, establishing the characters and their motivations. Cale wants to help the world because it’s the right thing to do, Richard wants to destroy it because he’d find it funny. As the pages go on, we get more of an exploration of their relationship until Richard kills Cale and they need to find a healer. This leads to us being introduced to the other two main characters, Benn’Joon and Krunch Bloodrage, as well as the plot to find the Sword of Truth.

The comic is divided up into 28 page chapters (32 for the first one) which are collected into four chapter volumes. Volume one does a good job of being both light-hearted and yet a gripping story, with chapter three being the best by far as it allows Cale to grow out of his naivety. The second volume then realises the joke is done and that for LFG to continue, it has to become more serious. It does this well, introducing us to a war between the northern tribes of Legarion, the home world, and Legara, an empire in the land who act as the antagonists, while also exploring the characters more and giving them some depth. The ending is shocking and well done, although the final page may leave a bad taste in your mouth since it’s Richard being Richard.

“But David,” you may be asking, “It sounded like this wasn’t a good webcomic”… and you’re right, I only have praise for these first two volumes. Sadly, chapter nine is when the whole thing starts spiralling into the ground.

In the aftermath of chapter eight, Cale and friends must find out what happened to Krunch, following the army to interrogate soldiers in regards to his whereabouts. It does well to continue the story, until we meet Maikos. We then spend six pages doing what could have been done in one or two. Richard has to leave the group to save Maikos’ village from the enemy, since Richard is the lord of said village. Cale has some bad ass moments and we get some awesome lead up to an epic battle between Legara soldiers and Richard’s undead soldiers.

Is the battle as awesome as it sounds? We don’t know. The comic cuts back to Cale for a page and when we return, Richard’s army has won and is set to pack up and leave. Why don’t we get a battle? Because Ryan Sohmer spent the whole chapter filling up the book. And it gets worse from there.

While I am a big fan of this comic, it seems that as time goes on Sohmer’s writing is getting lazier and lazier, unnecessarily stretching out scenes in order to get to the 28 pages he needs to make the whole chapter. And it’s not just the filler, the characters have gotten lazy as well.

In chapter ten, the dwarves, who are evil in the universe except for main character Pella, are sieging the gnomes, who are barely holding off the attacks. Their leader refuses to leave, but it’s discovered that if a particular tower falls, they will. Pella kills the guards and the gnomes flee to safety. However, this is treated as the ultimate evil by Cale, who declares Pella untrustworthy and reasons they could have cleared the dwarves out with strategical assaults until they were all dead.

Okay, but it was made very clear the dwarves were very close to succeeding in winning the siege and Pella hates the idea of them dying, as the dwarves are the descendants of her family (She’s from the distant past). But Pella just makes a weak argument and that’s it, we’re supposed to think she’s wrong and Cale’s right. She even calls out Cale’s willingness to overlook Richard’s murders and he justifies it in that Richard hides the evidence.

Yes people, as long as you hide the evidence, you’re a good person, which makes me wonder how Cale even found out about Pella’s actions since he was asleep the whole time.

Sadly, it doesn’t end there. The next page, Benny comes to him and they start making out. She is then demoted to love interest. Does it sound like I’m being too vague and not giving enough detail? Well that’s all we’re given. She just out of nowhere falls in love with Cale and stops participating in the fights.

Of course, this shouldn’t surprise me. Sohmer did make his career on sexist jokes, but Benny and Pella were different as they were strong characters who could hold their own in a fight. Hell, Benny is introduced kicking ass in a bar room brawl. And now they’ve gone from main cast to side characters. To put it into perspective, go back to The Gutters review and scroll down until you see the Zatanna page. A strong and powerful woman in her own right, yet all she is to Sohmer and DeSouza is T&A.

The worst part of the comic is that we do get glimpses of interesting plots that could have filled in the pages Sohmer needs, but he ignores them. In issue twelve, Richard’s head gets severed from his body and the body is revealed to have its own free will. How is this resolved? They capture the body off panel and then have a filler page where they put the head on Richard’s ass and then chop it off with a sword. There’s also the end, where Cale and Richard go through a portal and discover a world where they are haunted by images from their past. It lasts all of five pages before volume three ends.

Okay, now everything I’ve bitched about comes from volume three, but the comic has volume four finished and is going through #5 now, so it obviously must have realised its faults and corrected them by now, right? No.

While there was an interesting look into Cale’s past before the comic at the start of chapter thirteen, most of the volume is set about preparing for Legara’s invasion of their new home city, which Cale rules as king. We spend two chapters in a cave dealing with giant worms and imps within them, before Legara shows up. Chapter sixteen is almost nothing but filler.

But that isn’t the worst part. In chapter fifteen, Richard is knocked out and Cale looks under his hood to see if he’s okay. Richard shoves him away, telling Cale he saw nothing, when Cale reveals a big plot twist: Richard isn’t dead. This doesn’t even begin to make sense. The guy gets a hole through his torso, repeatedly shot by arrows and had his head cut off… and yet is still alive? Okay, I’ll admit I’m not an expert on the fantasy genre, I just enjoy it, but there’s Suspension of Disbelief and then there’s impossible even by the rules you’ve set up.

Does it look like this comic is going to shape up any time soon? Sadly no. Chapter seventeen has begun the fight against Legara, but we’re breezing through it so quickly that it feels like Sohmer has another filler arc planned to stretch out his thin plot. And the comedy moments with Richard are now feeling pointless and aren’t even funny anymore. They just detract from the larger story.

Art wise, Lar DeSouza does a good job of bringing the world of Legarion to life and the addition of Ed Ryzowski as colourist adds some beautiful depth, although it can be a little jarring for those of us used to DeSouza’s pallet. But as All Star Batman and Robin has taught us, great art cannot save a poor story.

While the comic does have elements of an entertaining story, and if you’re tolerant as I am, you may hold out hope that it will pick up and become as good as it once was, I wouldn’t recommend it to any one as it is now.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)


Posted on June 1, 2011, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. Yea, I agree with this review completely. I had forgotten completely that this was about finding the sword of truth, or that it actually had a story at one point.
    I guess I’ll stop reading it and come back to it at a later date, maybe it makes more sense then.

  2. “She even calls out Cale’s willingness to overlook Richard’s murders and he justifies it in that Richard hides the evidence.”

    She didn’t bring up Richard in the conversation. It was Cale that talked about Richard.

    I dislike fantasy comics because most of them parody D&D mechanics and storytelling. The alignment system makes pretty bad one dimensional characters. It is like being evil is just a lifestyle decision that is just misunderstood or to be tolerated. Also the vague, generic, medieval, fantasy setting is done to death.

    • “Also the vague, generic, medieval, fantasy setting is done to death.”

      Wholeheartedly agreed. But there aren’t a lot of things I’ve seen that did it right. The only one that springs to mind right now is Morrowind, and that’s a video game. But the world, and the alien culture of the land you found yourself in were developed in a way that’s lightyears ahead of anything else I’ve seen in the genre.

      But the reason people keep using the generic fantasy setting is probably accessability. All fantasy is like that, so you can’t go wrong with your target audience, because that’s exactly what they like. Do something different, and you risk losing them. And even people new to fantasy will be familiar with all the typical rules (Dwarves love axes, Orcs are dumb bruisers and women need only protect their genitalia).

      • It’s my own bias against fantasy. It even steered me away from good fantasy works. From my experience, the fantasy genre has the tendency to create unrelatetable characters while the Science Fiction genre has the tendency to create uninteresting characters. Needless to say, this is still dependent on the skill of the writer.

        Anyway, I believe that there a lot of amateur writers that misinterpret D&D alignment system and poor characters that seem “deep.” Making a character with neutral alignment or chaotic alignment doesn’t automatically make him deep. There is no balance of good and evil because balance implies that idea condition is a zero net value. I know a lot of these are parodies, but it is old and stupid.

        P.S.: This webcomic sucks.

      • I don’t know about the whole target audience thing. I am fantasy’s target, but my tastes and expectations as a reader develop with time and experience. I can’t stand a fantasy story without a good sense of social understanding.

        I think the generic setting is targeted to the younger fantasy readers. The age group stays the same, but the individuals grow away from it.

  3. Richard is one of the most tiresome, overplayed, desperately unfunny characters in webcomics.

    And that is a pretty fucking high fence to jump.

  4. While I do agree with some of your assessments, and am willing to admit that the comic is undeniably flawed, I still find myself drawn to its story/characters/art, and probably would’ve given it a higher score. But hey, that’s just personal preference speaking, and good on you for not making this review a lengthy diatribe about how much Sohmer and DeSouza suck. I definitely have problems with some of the things the two do, but not enough to say that they are incapable of doing some things well, and that they deserve to, say, be plagiarized without any sort of action being taken in their favor.

  5. guest review?
    That means that we wont get the official webcomic overlook review in the future?

    I have the first single issue the first pages had a lot going on, too many words and panels, kinda hard to read as a print comic (in the screen is a different matter) but as the series progress it has a better panel layout and its easier to read

    • I think that David wrote a pretty official review, which is why I included it in my regular rotation. I’m pretty open to submittals, actually. David just happened to be the first to write one. I don’t know if I’ll write an LFG review myself, but I’m pretty flexible about how the reviews go. Who knows? Maybe they will be a second opinion down the line.

      Besides, I’m still in serious training to tackle the whole Least I Could Do thing. Adding LFG, I fear, would likely have given me a fatal Sohmer overload.

  6. I know that Cale is talking in those panels but does his mouth always have to open in Tim Buckley style?

  7. I stopped reading as soon as Ben and Cale hooked up.

    Just. wtf.

  8. some typos in the second paragraph:
    “Looking For Group is different in that it attempts to have a complex story modelled after the epic fantasy genre, along the lines of Lord of the Rings, The Wheel of Time or A Song of Fire and Ice, while also parodying the branch of fiction.”

    “Looking For Group is different in that it attempts to have a complex story modelled after World of Warcraft, along the lines of World of Warcraft, WoW or World of Warcraft, while also parodying World of Warcraft.”

  9. You’re being about one star too generous, this is a Ryan Sohmer comic after all, a man so feeble minded he almost makes Scott Ramsoomair look like the model of quiet dignity.

    I never understood how this comic got popular. The panels are cluttered and poorly spaced out, the plot is non-existent, nothing ever made any sense outside of the first two chapters, only two of the four main characters were ever used for anything, Cale has absolutely no reason to be so nice and naive, and Richard is so completely unlikeable that it’s impossible to take anything that happens around him seriously, which wouldn’t have been too much of a problem before the comic slipped into maudlin drama.

    Then again, I never understood how any Ryan Sohmer comic got popular, yet he has three hit webcomics, and presumably, unlike Tim Buckley, actual fans who aren’t just messageboard trolls from Something Awful. What the fuck?

    • If El Santo started giving out scores based on how much he likes the authors, instead of the comics, this site would be pretty damn useless.

  10. Didn’t this comic start out as a World of Warcraft parody? Now it has its own world, people, cultures, and history. How did it evolve into something so completely different? Can you even do that?

    • It happens a lot in the comics world, and there’s even a name for it: Cerebus Syndrome. Cerebus started out as a parody of Conan the Barbarian, and had a warrior aardvark as the title character. But as it went on it became increasingly high-brow and philosophical. Even by the second volume (which is as far as I ever read) the comic had become something totally different.

      Cerebus Syndrome is sometimes a good thing, and sometimes a bad thing. In the case of Looking for Group, it seems like a bad thing.

  11. Hey, long-time lurker here.
    Oh boy. I used to be an avid LFG fan when I was 15 (that’s not too long ago, 3 years now) and showed the comic to pretty much everybody in my WoW-clique.
    The key to enjoying LFG is not analyzing anything. At all. Richard and Cale might’ve been introduced as comical stereotypes (Richard is a Warlock, therefore an asshole, Cale is a Hunter, therefore an intellectually impaired goody two-shoes), yet when the story suddenly becomes dramatic and serious, no one was asking for legitimate characterisation. Rather, their stereotypes were accepted as such. Hell, I’m pretty sure that none of them would’ve really known what proper characterization is.
    Richard was hilarious to many because none of his antics were taken seriously, even if they involved the deaths of thousands of (fictional) people. He’s on a par with violent cartoons. Nobody in my clique actually kept track of the plot, they all just tuned in to watch Richard’s brutal shenanigans.
    Also, if I recall correctly, only one of them read a webcomic other than LFG.
    So much for my, uh .. empirical inquiry. I’m not sure what to make of it, other than “People like cheap, easy entertainment and we’re speaking of a free-of-charge comic”, I guess.

  12. But as All Star Batman and Robin has taught us, great art cannot save a poor story.

    We have very different concepts of what the term “great art” means.

  13. I don’t know if this is a stupid question or not, since I’ve never really paid attention to the comments section of this blog, but is anyone else bothered by how Lar DeSouza draws facial expressions?

    • Someone pretty much said it all in ” The Gutters ” comment section. 🙂 In the animation community i think it could be asociated with the term “Tude” of which a whole lot of webcomics are guilty of overusing.

  14. Thanks for the kind words guys, and also for not flaming me if your opinion differs from mine.

    This was fun to write. If you all liked it, I might do another. I have a few in mind.

    And for those of you who do like this comic, feel free to click the link to my own webcomic and tell me why it sucks (Criticism helps me improve).

  15. I, for one, love Looking for Group. But don’t worry, I’m not going to flame you. There are just a few things I would like to point out.
    Yes, the plot has changed drastically over time. But you have to remember that that was four years ago. For years is a long time to realize a new story. Also, it looks from recent events that the Sword of Truth arc is going to be resolved (granted, this was after this review was written).
    Also, you complained that Richard is too unkillable not to be undead. But it has been made relatively clear that he gets his invulnerability from killing innocents.
    However, I must agree that the comic tends to lag at times. The king was killed weeks ago, and we’ve only JUST LEFT Legarion. I mean, come on.

    • Well, opinions vary on them adding a plot. For some, it was a good thing. For others, like me and a lot of my friends who have been following the comic since early days, it’s a bad thing. In fact, for a couple of my friends who are avid Blizzard fans (myself included), them deciding to not add any obvious reference to WoW (such as names), and riding on Blizz’s shoulders to making money is a pretty damn big slap in the face. Especially since Blizz’s lore (and even games themselves) has far superior art, concepts and storytelling quality. And plot. No, there’s no possible way to argue against this. Changing names and allegiance of races does not count for an original story. Otherwise, we’d all be writing about evil blue cat-people from space and making a fair buck out of it.

      So yes, all in all, I think the two stars are actually too much. The art is stiff, and the improvement everyone sees is pseudo improvement – the anatomy and facial expressions are exactly the same as whatever years ago, they just look slightly better. Hell, I could go on with this forever, really.

      I’ll just stop by saying that to ‘serious’ fantasy fans (think people who read LotR, Dragonlance, Song of Ice and Fire, etc), LFG and other works that try to make a quick fanbase and buck by parodies are the worst thing that can happen. We haven’t yet found a good fantasy comic, because all have the same stereotypes and failures.

      I don’t insult the fans, because like it was said several times, tastes are subjective. But I know that people who respect good fantasy works long ditched any hope in LFG. And we’re all pet peeved about Sohmer’s willingness to shamelessly profit from no original ideas.

      • “We haven’t yet found a good fantasy comic, because all have the same stereotypes and failures.”

        I have! Order of the Stick! XD Started out as just D&D jokes but then evolved into an interesting plot with great characters.

  16. I love LFG one of the best web comics I have ever read in my personal opinion.

  17. Hi to every one, the contents existing at this web
    site are genuinely rsmarkable ffor people knowledge, well,
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