If you’re like most of the people online these days, you’ve probably had a job in one of the service industries, be it fast food, customer service, retail, or taking tickets at the local movie theater. And if you’re like most service employees, you probably agree that work would be so much better if it weren’t for the customers. You likely have a horror story or two about the Guest from Hell who used the wrong entrance, stood around in the wrong line for a good ten minutes, managed to get all the fliers out of order, and then went off on a five-minute rant when you politely let them know how many rules they were breaking, followed by a demand to see your supervisor. You know the type.
That’s about half of the content of Phil Likes Tacos, a very-long-running comic that spends part of its time commiserating about troubles at work, part of its time making odd-ball video game jokes, part of its time making gags about bachelor apartments, and nearly all of its time being worth a good chuckle. While it lacks the polish and shiny coloring of other comics out there, it’s enjoyable, dependable, and just plain fun.
The author, one Andrew Bilitz, just moved the comic from its previous home on ComicGenesis, and the coding is still a bit wonky on a few things (for one, the forward arrow actually takes you to the previous comic and vice versa), but that sort of thing gets taken care of in time. With an archive as big as his (a comic a day since May of 2002), any change to the coding of the site is going to take a long time to implement.
The comic is set up like a newspaper comic, wider than it is tall and generally told in three panels. It does, admittedly, start with the dreaded “Welcome to the comic” strip that’s been a convention since at least Garfield’s time, and then immediately sets up the main character Phil as the straight man to the antics of his roommate, the hyperactive gamer Doug. Phil works at a taco shop (hence the name of the comic), while Doug … plays video games, makes pop culture references, and generally seems to live in a world that only shares some borders with the one the other characters live in.
As the strip goes along, you meet other people in Phil and Doug’s world. There’s Phil’s nominal girlfriend, who doesn’t even get a name until much later; Mel, the literally demonic manager at Happy Tacos; Norvell, the mooch of a co-worker whose continued employment is a mystery; and Zoug, Doug’s evil arch-nemesis from the underworld and creator of his other arch-nemesis, Mecha-Doug, among many others.
I will be the first to admit that, as an aspiring editor and general nitpicker, the frequent simple spelling errors get on my nerves. And sometimes I’m not sure whether things are errors because Bilitz’s handwriting can end up very tiny.
Bilitz has apparently worked a long time in the fast food industry, based on his depiction of the customers who make Phil’s job difficult as deformed cretins . . . with three exceptions, the Taco Regular Cuties (as they’re called on his old cast page). Delores, Millicent, and Vivian hold a special place as regular characters, and Millie even goes so far as to become Phil’s new girlfriend when the previous one turns out to be merely a good friend.
The art is rather simplistic to start with–see the first comic, linked above–but as time passes, Bilitz figures out ways to stylize his stick figures in a way that makes them look better than most. (Better even than some attempts at fleshed-out drawings by other online cartoonists, but I’m not about to name names.) His colored-pencil Sunday comics are interesting, and I’m particularly fond of this strip. And I’ll admit that the hidden jokes in the background signs are just fun.
The plot is comparable to various sit-coms; while continuity is rather flexible and the status quo tends to be maintained, earlier plotlines do have their impact and are occasionally referenced later. And occasionally old characters will make new appearances.
In all, I’d say the comic is worth a read–but do it when you’ve got a lot of time to spare. With somewhere around 3000 pages in the archives, PLT is a long, hard, often hilarious slog.
Comic Rating: Five number-7 combos and a Slushee. Your total comes to $39.47, next window please.
Post script: this one makes me giggle every time I read it.