Posts Tagged random

Review: Less than Three

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m something of a prude, at least by the Internet’s standards. Granted, I was still a bit more prone to ribald jokes and unkind comments than the average student at my alma mater. The campus newspaper, The Daily Universe, was notorious for featuring letters to the editor whose writers were “shocked and appalled” at various things that got published and apparently shouldn’t have been. Some days I was amazed that the entire population of campus wasn’t stumbling around in a dazed pallor.

This stands in contrast to The Towerlight, student newspaper for Towson University, subject of recent controversy over an explicit sex column and publisher of the comic I’ll be reviewing this week. While that may seem to be an unfair introduction to Less Than Three (submitted for review by Steven Baird, who writes and draws the comic), it’s a bit more relevant than you’d think. Like the last self-submitted comic, <3 does its best to make NSFW seem like such an inadequate tag.

Originally intended to be a World of Warcraft comic, <3 shortly found itself in print and didn’t seem to know what to do from there. There were a few editorial cartoons and cracks in the fourth wall before the comic settled into a sporadic regimen of poop jokes, sex jokes, poop sex jokes, celebrity smear gags, more sex jokes, and loud left-wing politics.*

Some of the time, Baird’s comics rely on pop-culture references for their jokes. (As the saying goes, “Steal from the best.”) This includes sources as diverse as Peanuts, The Wizard of Oz, VG Cats, The Silence of the Lambs, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Resident Evil, Star Trek, Batman, and (perhaps most baffling) The Newlywed Game. His comic titles have also referenced Rudyard Kipling, Lewis Carroll, and Terry Pratchett (who is himself referencing Alan Moore). Of course, it’s somewhat depressing to see an allusion to Robert Burns tacked onto a comic about a mentally retarded ice cream cake.

Oh, well. At least he loves his mother.

Comic Rating: Two evil Snuggies.

* Political humor has its merits, chief of which being that as long as you express a popular opinion, people will laugh at your jokes no matter how tasteless or cruel they would otherwise be. The problem, however, is that it’s rarely done well enough to get people on the other side of the aisle to laugh. And once you start regularly expressing your political opinions in the middle of an otherwise neutral comic, BAM—there goes half your audience.

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Review: Rob and Elliot

Have you ever had a friend who’s just a bit random and unpredictable? The sort of person who always cracks the weirdest jokes at the most inopportune times, keeps trying to do relatively dumb things just ’cause, and seems to live off of defying everyone else’s expectations, whether or not this is actually a good thing? As you can probably tell, I’ve had several. After a while, you start to notice something: for all the weird things the person does, you can actually see a pattern to it. Sure, it’s not what you’d normally expect from other people, but it’s just as easy to figure out what the person would do in any given situation.

I say all of this because it’s a similar condition to that of Rob and Elliot, a comic produced by Clay and Hampton Yount and part of the lineup at Boxcarcomics. The comic not only stars a character like that, but is itself like that. Nearly every comic makes one of four jokes: cheese-monkey randomness (sometimes with a literal monkey), inverted expectations (occasionally two of them in a row), labored puns, or Rob being flat-out bizarre.

The art itself is really quite pleasing. The lines are smooth, the characters are easy on the eyes, and the backgrounds can be quite nicely detailed depending on the needs of the joke. Sometimes, the one-panel comics are things of beauty, hilarious to behold in their conciseness. Unfortunately, the good art is used as the setting for jokes about a guy making claims that would embarrass an eight-year-old.

This brings me to another example of the patterns that Rob and Elliot falls into: the four-man band that becomes integral to most webcomics. Rob is the wacky guy, existing pretty much entirely to be the person I described in the first paragraph of this review. Elliot, as Rob’s roommate, is obligated to be the straight man, ineffectually disapproving of Rob’s shenanigans time and again (unless, of course, the joke requires him not to be). Noel is the female, although she at least breaks the mold by being attracted to Elliot more than to Rob . . . and to her old boyfriend, Clint, even more so. And then there’s the iMonkey, who is the obligatory weird cute-ish thing.

The rest of the cast of characters exist to be even more freakishly bizarre, like the extras in an Adam Sandler movie. If you think I’m kidding, then take a gander at the story arc where Elliot finds out that somehow Rob is more normal than every other person in the apartment building, except for the guy who’s too heavily drugged to care. Satan makes regular appearances in the comic, and Jesus shows up once, too. Most of the other one-shot characters are little more than BLAMs.

I can’t say that the writing is naturally terrible. The Younts obviously know their pop culture well enough to make some very clever references, not to mention some truly obscure ones. But clever writing and insightful humor don’t get nearly as much screen time as poop jokes, especially if you factor in the numerous guest strips that are nowhere near safe for work.

So I can’t really call Rob and Elliot bad per se . . . just . . . disappointing. I can tell that the Younts really do have great artistic skill and a flair for witty writing, but it gets buried under so much puerile, predictable humor that I have to sigh dramatically for the ignored potential.

Comic Rating: Four *pie in the face!* Bet you didn’t see that one coming, huh?

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Review: Hark! A Vagrant

One of the marvels of webcomics is that you can find a comic to suit your tastes, almost no matter what your tastes might be. Certainly the results are skewed toward video game wackiness, college wackiness, furry wackiness, and postmodern pretensions disguised as wackiness, but a variety of other comics will show up to cater to whatever interests might randomly come up. As an example of this, I present Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton, a comic that’s mostly about history, literature, and other things that people study in college without hoping to do anything with them.

I first found out about Kate Beaton via The Comics Curmudgeon, which linked to a parody she’d done of For Better or For Worse and how the characters were being railroaded into a happy ending. I can’t for the life of me find this comic anymore (and I don’t know if that’s because of any C&D from Lynn Johnston or simply because Beaton doesn’t use terribly intuitive titles for her comics), but it caught my attention enough that I’d go back and read her other comics occasionally. And since then, she’s picked up her own website and put the comics in a more navigable format, which is always a plus.

The art style varies between something resembling FBorFW and something vaguely 70s-ish, for lack of a better way of putting it. By the looks of it, Beaton pretty much freehands the entire comic, giving it a very light feel. Naturally, the rules of anatomy take a backseat to the joke. That’s not such a bad thing in this case, since the people are still recognizable as people.

Her hand-lettering is also legible, which I can tell you is no easy task–though I’m often left scratching my head and wondering where all the periods went. This is a stylistic choice that gets at me because of the whole editing minor thing. It shows up in Garfield, presumably as a way to show that the main character’s just too lazy for end punctuation, but it also shows up in AWKWARD ZOMBIE as shorthand for a character being particularly angry or ignorant. Of course, given the way Beaton depicts some of the historical figures, this just might be intentional.

The writing in the comic is as idiosyncratic as the art. The premise is generally to take historical and literary figures and humanize them by having them speak and act like modern people. Sometimes the result is hilarious, and other times the joke sorta falls flat. Be warned: with the blinders off, you get a lot of bawdy jokes and salty language from people you really don’t expect it from. This isn’t the most work-safe of comics.

The other side-effect of a comic based on random historical figures is that you’ll have to spend a good chunk of time on Wikipedia figuring out who the heck these people are. She also references Canadian politics a lot, but hey–she lives in Canada. She knows what she’s joking about . . . but because the comments section under each comic only gives the comment on the most recent one, her pearls of wisdom are sadly lost.

To add to the randomness, Kate’s younger self occasionally shows up, as does a Shetland pony. And there’s a stretch of some forty comics done in MSPaint for no apparent reason.

So there are things that could be improved code-wise, and perhaps Beaton could stand to focus on either the history jokes or the other random gags, but in all, Hark! A Vagrant is an enjoyable read that never stops finding a left field to come out of.

Comic Rating: Six happy wanderers.

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Review: Three Panel Soul

Way back in 2002, I was first introduced to webcomics by my amazing friend Diana, who showed me Megatokyo, by Fred Gallagher. I read through a good deal of it before finding a guest comic by Ian McConville and Matt Boyd, the respective artist and author of Mac Hall, a comic about a bunch of guys living together in a dorm during their college days. But the college days must come to a close sooner or later, and what do you do then?

If you’re McConville and Boyd, you bring the college comic to an end and start up one about the rigors of adult life. Enter Three Panel Soul. As the name suggests, each comic is limited (or stretched) to three panels; this even extends to the sketch pages put up when there isn’t a comic. And where Mac Hall’s comics focused almost entirely on the sorts of raunchy humor that goes on in and around college, 3PS is just as likely to go down the pensive route. I’d call it “soulful,” but that would just accentuate the pun. Except I just did, so the point is moot.

McConville uses an intentionally sketchy art style for the comic. (If you doubt it’s deliberate, take a look at the animation in this page‘s rant box.) That’s not to say that some of the shiny, colorful styles developed in Mac Hall don’t make the occasional comeback, usually for comics set in MMORPGs. Sometimes the super-deformed style makes a comeback as well. In retrospect, the art style changes as frequently as does the mood of the comic. But the sketchy, semi-realistic style is something of a baseline, certainly the most frequent. In statistics terms, it would be called the “mode.” And it’s relatively easy on the eyes, in all its pseudomonotone splendor.

Having but three panels per comic to work with, 3PS doesn’t generally do much in the way of plot. There’s a small story arc revolving around the way Matt reacts to the death of his grandfather, but for the most part, the comic follows the whims of the duo, devoting equal time to mocking commercials, making obscure pop-culture puns, referencing older Mac Hall jokes, turning sentimental moments into introspective comedy, and letting loose with the positively bizarre.

This, of course, is split around the basic slice-of-life material that the comic gravitates toward. Hey, if you want to write a journal, you might as well enjoy it. I personally can relate to this comic far too well, although other comics can really only come from his point of view. And sometimes a certain amount of the surreal peeks through. The jokes are crude sometimes, but sometimes it feels like that’s to be expected from an online comic. Sad, but there you go.

In the end, 3PS is an entertaining comic with a variety of jokes and observations. And a couple of prancing death knights. And a cat named Schrodinger. I mean, how cool is that?

Comic Rating: Three panels.

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