Posts Tagged I. T.

Review: Doomed to Obscurity

The term “evangelist” has shifted dramatically in use and meaning since it was first coined. Once used to describe a messenger with good news*, the term is used almost as an insult nowadays, conjuring up mental images of things like Chick tracts or the sleazier breed of TV pastors. Or in my case, the devoted Linux fanboys back at school who took every opportunity to remind people how awesome their operating system was, compared to those of us unenlightened savages who still plodded along on our Windows paperweights. (You may think I’m exaggerating here, but tact and personal skills were never a high priority for the I.T. students.)

And this, admittedly, is the sort of vibe I get from Doomed to Obscurity, a comic about a Linux programmer, created by “Penguin Pete” Trbovich. If the blazon at the bottom of every final panel in the comic is any indication, DtO is intended to be something of a mascot for what open-source software is capable of. Trbovich’s enthusiasm, however, could use a bit of finesse to match.

The first bit of roughness (and the most minor) is the page design. Things look great, until you get past the first screen of any given page—at which point the reader is treated to the entire archive list in a table that goes for screens upon screens. This would be best tucked away in a dropdown menu or on a separate archive page. The snowbound landscape also seems like an odd choice for background images; while it ties in with the “penguin” theme of the rest of the site, it’s somewhat baffling by itself.

The second rough patch is in the writing. Niche comics serve their purpose (after all, writing to a niche is what catapulted Scott Adams to where he is today), so the obscure puns and inside jokes get a bit of a pass. Strawman caricatures, preaching to the choir, and zany girls with impossible power are a little trickier to deal with. (Also note that this character must have undergone some intensive therapy by this strip.)

And then there’s the matter of the art. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve seen some absolutely beautiful art done with programs like OpenCanvas. So it’s a little bit of a let-down to see blockish people with greatly varying head sizes. Attractive females go from smuggling books up their skirts to . . . this.

Open-source programs are a good thing. Both of my own comic series were done primarily using the GIMP for coloring and resizing, and I’ve known several Ubuntu users who would talk to me about things other than the supremacy of their operating systems. And I think that DtO has the potential to be a good face for the open-source community—but there’s a lot of effort that Trbovich might want to put into it first.

Comic Rating: Four corners on the unfortunate Time Cube.

* In the original Greek, evangelion means (depending on the translation) either “good tidings,” “please give me eight million dollars,” or “post-modern deconstruction of the giant mecha anime genre.” As you can see, the Greeks were well-versed in the art of nuance.

, , ,

1 Comment

Review: Cortland

When it comes to comics and storylines, there’s generally a pretty strong divide between the serious action/drama comics and the fun little gag-a-day comics, and this divide is best expressed in the art style. The action comics are often closer to a realistic style (with the ever-present exception of anime), whereas the gag-a-days are done in a much more free-form, “cartoony” style (such as the chibi  or super-deformed style). And then there’s Cortland, which is about the most adorable drama you will ever see.

Cortland is the product of one Matt Johnson, a graphic designer and generally all-around great guy with the horrible misfortune of being located in the middle of nowhere. It is also the central kernal around which Cornstalker Comics was formed. That, of course, was a terribly corny pun. Dear heavens, it just got worse. Shoot me now.

… where was I? Ah, yes, the comic: From the start, Cortland sets itself up as a mock-epic, or perhaps a comedy of non-sequitur pratfalls. The main villain, I. T., is introduced pretty quickly, and by the second page we’ve also met the main character, Terry Cortland. Having met Johnson in person, I can tell you pretty quickly that yes, Cortland is a self-insert character, and he bears all the markings of a Mary Sue, including being much smarter than his superiors and always being right. It really doesn’t help when he starts to metamorphose into Neo the next day. And then we’re treated to a Dilbert-style lambasting of corporate hypocrisy.

But the pendulum swings toward the mock-epic again, including a bullet-time joke, another Matrix reference, complete with the usual strawmen that get used against PC users, and the inevitable anticlimax. But then it swings back to Dilbertitis. And back to Matrix.  (Note the cameo of Cortland/Johnson’s younger brother.) The Mac, of course, turns out to be the savior of the world, shortly before the strip swings back to Dilbertland again. Are you getting the pattern yet?

The problem is, the adorable three-heads-tall art style pretty much fails to do justice to either style of plot.  You end up having enough trouble believing that the cute little folks are actually old enough to work anywhere without breaking child labor laws (the effect becomes much more disturbing in such comics as Love Is, in which the naked child-like figures are supposedly married adults), but the effect grows that much more disturbing when he tries to depict anything approaching dramatic. Was the disintegrating cyborg supposed to be frightening? Full of pathos? Comedic? You really don’t know.

It occurs to me that I’ve written quite a bit and only looked over less than 1/16 of the current comic.

So we go back to the Dilbertisms again. And hey, there goes the fourth wall. Johnson wisely decides to stay with the Dilbert-style jokes for a while. I say “wisely” as a matter of my own opinion, considering that the art style fits the “comedy of the absurd” moments much better than it does when it eventually returns to the “serious” storylines.

Let’s not forget to put in a plug for our other favorite comics. I point this out knowing full well that I’ve done this repeatedly in my own comics, but good grief that doesn’t make it right in this case. Or anywhere close to deft. Likewise, allow me to point out that nudity is also best left avoided as an adult topic in a cartoonish strip format.

I’m curious as to who the two people in the lower-left corner of the inaccurately named Strip 100 are, as I don’t think we’ve seen them before in the comic.

And lo and behold, he swings back to the mock-epic.  I think you get the pattern that this comic will have for the ollowing 700-odd pages. Like any adventure/superhero comic, the bosses continue to escalate and grow more absurd, while the hero continues to pull random powers out of various orifices. Not to mention there are so many deaths and resurrections and returns-from-the-brink that I really don’t feel like linking them. Maybe I should take a dinner break.

*sounds of eating ensue*

And now we find out that the main villain is actually Steve Jobs and that Cortland is actually a super-programmer and . . .

. . . and I’m off my dinner. I can’t tell if the comic is taking itself seriously at this point. I haven’t even gotten to the part where I get a cameo, the random asides into what online forums are really like, or any of that. But the plot only gets thicker, more characters get introduced, personal lives get thrown in, and the comic still can’t figure out which way it wants to go.

And if you try to please everyone, you’ll please no one in the end. And as awesome a guy as Matt Johnson is, his comic could use some ironing out as to which direction it wants to go . . . except it’s actually stopped going. The comic reached about as happy an ending as it can (Terry Cortland died for your cyber-sins), and good luck to the author in whatever else he wants to do.

Comic Rating: Nine hours to drive across Nebraska on a good day.

, , ,

No Comments