Category Archives: political webcomic
Nearly two years ago, I posted a link here to a critique of a comic called Roswell, Texas. In my mind, it was an innocent gesture. I like posting reviews to other webcomics in an attempt to further the cause of webcomic reviewing. It’s partially for selfish reasons. One of these days, when this blog ceases to update, I want to have a clear conscience, knowing that somewhere out there someone is still writing reviews of Ctrl+Alt+Del.
This particular post, though, caught some flack. One of the co-creators, Scott Bieser, took particular offense at the reviewer: Leonard Pierce, was a disgraced AV Club reviewer who lost his job after posting a review of a comic that hadn’t actually seen print yet. I believe in second chances (which I think Pierce was reaching for in his new blog), but there is still the lingering question of credibility.
More to the point, though: why wasn’t this stuff being addressed at Leonard Pierce’s blog? Why was all the stuff being brought up at this site? I felt like that one friend who’s stuck in the middle of a squabbling couple, and I’m stuck repeating lines like, “Well, she told me to tell you that if you’d just taken out the trash like she told you three days ago, none of this would’ve happened. Her words, not mine.”
With the link to Mr. Pierce’s article being dead, I figured that today’s the day to rectify the situation: The Webcomic Overlook is reviewing Roswell, Texas! Created by L. Neil Smith, Scott Bieser, and Rex F. May, the comic ran from 2006 to 2009 and is now available in print.
All vitriol, please direct it to this write-up now. Thank you.
I’m going out of town — actually, this country —- this weekend on vacation. I’ve been doing a lot of travel planning this week, trying to find the best deals, plotting out the best places to check out, etc. Long story short: I really hadn’t planned on writing a review this week. I didn’t have time to read any webcomics, let alone write a review about ’em.
However, after posting a recent press release, I came to the creeping realization that, man, I have read a hell of a lot of Stephanie McMillan’s Minimum Security. This absolutely discombobulated me. Of all the things in the world to embed itself like a termite in the soft, spongy recesses of my skull, why this particular comic?
Fortunately, Minimum Security is concluding a self-contained story arc this week. Next week, it’s embarking on a completely different tangent. Something about proletariat theory. Does this mean we will be soon reading The Communist Manifesto as illustrated through panels of interpretive dance? Will the world of Minimum Security be consumed by an apocalyptic event where society reverts to an agrarian system, a la NBC’s Revolution? Will every comic panel just be a paragraph long dissertation with a tiny doodle in the corner so that, yes, officially this is a comic and not a logorrhoeaic blog post? Who knows? As Alice Morse Earle once said, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
Now is as good a time as any to look back at the smiles and the tears from the last two years. So grab yourself some organic brown rice sandwiches, slip on some locally grown hemp slippers, put on the soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi by Phillip Glass, ’cause we’re gonna take a trip down Self-Sustainability Lane and we just won’t stop until Capitalism is destroyed!
Nestled among the sands of the American Southwest lies a city where fortunes are lost under a kaleidoscope of gaudy lights: Las Vegas. There, last week, old men and some old women gathered at the Green Valley Resort to hand out awards named after a quick-witted man who spent his time drawing impossible machines. It’s tradition that dated back to 1946, when a group of cartoonists banded together to entertain the troops. They were here at the resort to hold a black-tie banquet evening to recognize excellence in cartooning. The past honorees are legend: Milton Caniff, Al Capp, Alex Raymond, Charles Schulz, Chester Gould, and Hal Foster, to name a few.
This year, however, an award would be given, for a the first time, to a comic that had been published entirely online. Two of the nominees had readerships in the millions: Penny Arcade, founded by two smartasses from Seattle who had parlayed their success into a larger media empire; and The Oatmeal, created by another Seattle cartoonist who successfully made a profit through poster reprints.
The third was by a guy from New York who had toiled in the webcomic world but had not met the same amount of success. He’d put together two webcomics previous to this one: one that was semi-autobiographical, and another with the unpronounceable name of megaGAMERZ 3133T. This one probably had the oddest concept: a series of small vignettes with few recurring characters set across different settings, which were located in separate universes.
That comic would be the eventual winner of the first Reuben Award for an Online Strip: Jon Rosenberg’s Scenes From A Multiverse. (Gary Tyrell, a judge at the Reubens, posted a first-hand account of the events here.)
It was a boon to Mr. Rosenberg. I looked at the Project Wonderful stats right after a win, and pageviews were up from a typical 24K to a very respectable 120K. To be fair, though, a lot of that new readership arrived from a gracious link posted at Penny Arcade, where Mike Krahulik praised Mr. Rosenberg for being “a great guy and talented cartoonist.”
I think it deservedly won, a point on which I’ll elaborate later.
There’s something about editorial cartoons that can be incredibly dangerous. Offend the wrong groups, for example, and you might find yourself running for your life. With televised, audio, or print media, you can build up or soften your argument by surrounding it with empirical evidence. There is rarely such a safety net for one-panel editorial cartoons. They are immediate an powerful in their brevity. The concise format strips the opinion to the stark naked core.
Josh Neufeld’s Eisner nominated webcomic, Bahrain: Lines In Ink, Lines In The Sand, follows the struggles of two editorial cartoonists living in Bahrain, a country caught in a politicl turmoil that, as of this writing, is still making news at the Bahrain Grand Prix. Neufeld has previously reported the personal stories of people caught up in Hurricane Katrina with AD: After the Deluge. Now he uses the same techniques, applied on a smaller scale, to take at look at the Arab Spring. It’s fairly short at 17 pages, but perhaps that’s as long as it needs to be.
Iran is a terribly tricky country to talk about. On the one hand, we all know that it’s a potentially frightening country from a political standpoint. There’s concerns about government corruption and their nuclear capabilities. We know about the official stance of Antisemitism and the Green Revolution protests. That’s serious stuff.
On the other hand, a lot of news that comes out of that country is completely ridiculous. Not too long ago the Iranian government threatens to threats to boycott the 2012 London Olympics because they claim that the logo spells “Zion”. And remember Boobquake? Remember when Hojatoleslam Kazem Seddiqi claimed that immodestly dressed women were the cause of earthquakes? This somehow spurred the really silly “Boobquake,” a viral tongue-in-cheek internet movement set to discredit Seddiqi by proving that naked boobs do not cause earthquakes. (I’m a little frightened, by the way, to see if Seddiqi has been using the recent worldwide tragedies in Japan and New Zealand to somehow prove that Boobquake was, indeed, to blame.)
So Iran is both a known threat and a punchline. Egypt, Libya, Syria, and Yemen … we can understand. Iran remains a country most people just can’t figure out.
Amir and Khalil attempt to convey the problems in Iran with Zahra’s Paradise. The comic deals with one man’s attempt to find clues as to the whereabouts of his missing brother, Medhi. The story and characters are fictional. Several real life events, however, make their way into Zahra’s Paradise to give the reader a full picture of the oppression that people in Iran face every day.
The one sci-fi book that left the deepest impression on me is quite possibly Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Some hardcore sci-fi readers might probably sneer at this endorsement, dismissing the book and the “trilogy” it spawned as “Monty Python In Space.” Which it is, by the way. The greatest aspect of Hitchhiker’s Guide is that it’s very funny.
I like to think that there’s something more than just the humor that keeps the Hitchhiker’s Guide fandom strong, though. At the core of all the silliness about Vogons and towels and Marvin the Paranoid Android and the Restaurant at the End of the Universe, there’s a kernel of utter existential despair. The characters spend all their time looking for an answer to the meaning of their existence. When they find it, they realize that the answer is ultimately useless. Furthermore, they pretty much already know the answer anyway: there is no answer, and even if you did find something that claimed to have the answer, it would be utterly useless. This despair ultimately got the best of Mr. Adams. His last two books, So Long and Thanks for the Fish and Mostly Harmless, get so dark and joyless that there’s a strong cadre of fans who like to pretend that they don’t exist. Adams’ widow had to approach Eion Colfer to write a coda (And Another Thing…) that wasn’t so damn depressing.
Still, I think it’s that kernel of despair — alongside with the satire, the goofy footnotes, and the nutty characters — that makes Hitchhhiker’s Guide so loved by many. Fans might also notice that the same eccentric mix can also be found in the webcomic I’m reviewing today: Kit Roebuck’s Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life … which, frankly, has a title that makes it sound like some indie film Oscar bait. Also, no word yet on why we’re still counting Pluto.
The slow, painful deaths of local papers has created some very interesting reactions within people in the webcomic community. Some webcomic creators seem to take a sadistic glee with how things are going. But where’s the democratic response? Ryan Pagelow is the creator of the Pressed webcomic. He’s also a newspaper photographer, a writer, and a print cartoonist. He has a few things to say about the newspaper business as it struggles to stay relevant in the digital age.
My fellow Americans, our long national election is over. Now that we’re a week past Election Day, it’s time to spend some time reflecting on the past year and ask the hard questions. Such as: Why is the Washington Redskins game before the election (win: Republicans take office; lose: Democrats) the best political predictor ever, boasting a 94% success rate? Who are these people who still display “Kuninich for President” and “Ron Paul ’08” bumper stickers? And, most importantly, was there any point in the Obama and McCain campaigns where things would devolve to the point where the next present would be decided by three rounds in the steel Octagon?
I mean, take a look a one of the most brutal elections of all time, the 1828 election pitting incumbent John Quincy Adams against war hero Andrew Jackson. You had the Jackson camp claim that Adams struck a corrupt deal in the first election, turned the White House into a casino, and was pimping out women to foreign dignitaries. The Adams camp shot back that Jackson was a brutal, bloodthirsty killer who went beyond his duties on the battlefield and portrayed Jackson’s wife as a bigamist. Given Jackson’s love for shooting and Adams’ love for skinny-dipping, it’s not too unreasonable to believe that if that election were to last just a wee bit longer, we would be reading in our history books about the first election decided by naked underwater dueling. (Which, incidentally, would make an awesome T-shirt for fratboys.)
Sad to say, when you look back at Election 2008, you might notice that Obama and McCain were highly cordial toward each other. Those dudes were all smiles and respect and preemptively shutting down unfair critics in public forums. Seriously, that episode where the two were Ocean’s 11-like thieves working together to steal the Hope Diamond? Not that implausible. Maybe it’s because the two senators are, in essence, coworkers. I’m guessing they work out a lot of their personal issues over a game of Parcheesi during lunch breaks at the Senate cafeteria.
But another big part of it is that both candidates seem to have outsourced all of the controversial negativity to the internet. Why spend millions of dollars and a strategy that could potentially backfire when you can just sit back and let an army of bloggers do the dirty work?
Since this site is about webcomics, though, protocol sorta demands that I tie this in somehow. Unfortunately, I can’t. There are several politically-themed webcomics online, but I can’t say that any of them are what you would call “influential.” No, not even you, Stephanie MacMillan. Which is sad, because political cartoons are far from being irrelevant. Remember the furor that broke out when the cartoon of Obama as a terrorist graced the cover of the New Yorker? Imagine the awesomeness if that controversy had broke online! Unfortunately, nastiness is par for the course on the internet, and a particularly scathing cartoon is just one among many.
The subject of today’s Webcomic Overlook, Sore Thumbs, is one such political webcomic. This is arguably the flagship title of the formidable Keenspot group. Sore Thumbs merges the political comic with two already familiar webcomic standards: the gaming comic and the roommate comic. Can this odd amalgam repair false comic divisions, like the incoming administration promises to heal the partisan agendas that are dividing our country? (Incidentally, if staring at the computer screen causes you uncomfortable neck strain, Sore Thumbs is also available in print … though only one volume seems to be available on Amazon at this time.)