The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

A Look Around The World Of Web Comics: Part 1

Written by: Sal Crivelli, Special to CC2K

ImageThe Sunday Funnies are for dinosaurs! The internet is teeming with web comics that you've probably never even heard of before. But just because they're not famous, doesn't mean they're not worth checking out.

Well, it's CC2K to the rescue! Read on to learn about the first of several web comics you have to know about. Now.

(Warning, silly putty destroys monitor screens, so don't start getting nostalgic.)

Questionable Content

One of my best friends reads the following comic with surprising regularity. I think it stems from a penchant he holds for friend-induced melodrama, but Questionable Content's soft artistic style and Kevin Smith-esque lengthy dialog give the comic some unexpected charm.

The story centers on a cast of about fifteen vaguely similar characters, including an anthropomorphic PC and iPod. The main focus of the strip is on Marten, a twenty-something who likes "white guy rock" and behaves like a time traveler who only traveled about three years early. He knows exactly what to say in order to progress his life, appear clever, and immediately diffuse any situation that could arise from his involvement. His awkward, star-crossed roommate Faye is also one of the main focuses of the strip, though really, everyone is at some point or another.

The rest of the characters have their own motivations and interests, but their voices seem a tad uniform. Nevertheless, the characters do lure you in with a "fly on the wall" feel the comic exudes, forcing you to give in to your inherent desire to know what's happening in the daily comings and joins of people you know (or know pretty well).

In addition to the five-day weekly updates, Jacques gives us a variety of options and features on his site. Among them, a popular forum with a consistently large amount of traffic. Further along in the "fan-content" area is a Music Blog which reviews albums and songs, with entire contributions made by fans of the comic. His daily blog-type news posts, interestingly, are to the extreme right of the comic itself. This runs counter to most webcomic artists out there, who typically position their blogs directly beneath the comic. I think it's a neat aesthetic choice, because it gives the visual impression of a running commentary down the strip (even if most news posts aren't typically about the comic of the day).

Now for the negative. For as popular as this comic is, the characters are seemingly interchangeable. Any development the characters really experience is done through verbal expression, rather than an experience one could identify as "life-altering." A prime example of this is done through a story-arc, in which Faye flat-out asks Marten if he has amorous feelings for her (one of the ever-present elements of the strip). He cautiously admits he does, and she launches into a ten part, one-sided conversation in which Faye gives us the unbelievably melodramatic details of her childhood relationship with her father, explaining that this is why they couldn't be together (for now). It comes unsolicited and without warning, and is done (from as near as I can tell) for the sole purpose of giving Faye a back-story that makes her "tragic." However, while reading the side commentary for the story (dubbed "The Talk"), I gained a newfound appreciation for his motivation for writing it, and he has a rather mature commentary about suicide which is very responsible of him. Still, the story seems to exemplify what I find wrong with the comic.

The art is ever-changing, and Jacques fully admits that. Still, he has some issues with consistent staging, stagnant positioning, and interchangeable templates of his character models.

For what it's worth, Questionable Content is something that gave Mr. Jacques an opportunity few internet artists can boast. He is enjoying popularity and monetary success as a result of his work. Questionable Content provides a fictional universe of neurotic contemporary hipster friends; to satisfy that odd attraction we all feel (some, perhaps more than others) for melodrama.


Girls with Slingshots

Image Just a few weeks ago, I came across the popular web comic: Girls with Slingshots. After a few days, I completely ingested the archives and have added it to the regular rotation of daily routine comic-checking, further occupying an otherwise busy daily regiment.

Besides its elusive yet adorable moniker, GWS is one of several brainchildren of Danielle Corsetto, including a published comic in the infamous Weekly World News entitled: The New Adventures of Bat Boy.

Girls with Slingshots traverses the delicate balance of soap-opera/sex comedy, while still remaining tasteful, poignant, and just plain warm and fuzzy. The primary characters in this ongoing tale of young feminine adulthood are Hazel and Jamie, two strong-willed hipster chicks with clear and distinctly different (yet complimentary) personalities/vices.

Hazel's vice seems to be a fairly consistent climb inside a bottle, while Jamie's is her Jedi-like faith in the power of her breasts. Another fairly regular character happens to coincide with Hazel's on-again/off-again alcoholism: McPedro, an energetic, talkative Celtic-Mexican cactus with a penchant for spider plants.

The rest of the strip's cast appears on a more-than-regular basis, including porn shop cashier Clarice, 'net nerd Maureen, heartbreaker Jameson, and… you get the idea. Let's go over some of the specifics.

The site itself is a fairly standard interface, with the daily comic as the main focus, followed by bloggish news updates underneath. Curiously (and refreshingly), there are seemingly no message boards or forums anywhere near the site. While some may argue the site lacks "fan input," I think nearly all of the current crop of web comic sites may have a tad too much. There is also a constantly-updated box on the side (thanks to which updates fans on the momentary happenings of Ms Corsetto's life. While I would personally not find much use for one, she has managed to utilize it in an effective, entertaining way.

One of the more recent developments on GWS is a donation bar that helps Ms Corsetto keep updating the comic consistently, and remain gainfully employed. This obviously has the ability to turn off potential readers, but she manages to accomplish it with class and humor. I think it's actually kind of admirable how she makes the donation request clear, but not obtrusive. She's humble about her work, but unafraid of asking dedicated visitors for a little extra. If you have a problem with giving straight donations, GWS has its own "non-ghetto" store, where you can pick up collected volumes, buttons, and various forms of art.

GWS has just started a regular update schedule of five days a week, and thank God for that. The comic and characters are supremely addictive. GWS certainly fills that slot for the hopeless romantic.

My only real criticism comes from a desire to see the site layout design a little sleeker. Right now it's nice and simple (similar to PvP's current layout, actually), with everything one might need placed right before the reader. It's not detrimental; just a matter of aesthetic preference.