KEENSPOT AND KEENSPACEKeenspot is a huge collective of online comics to which I belong (through their hosting service, KeenSpace). On the whole there are a great many high-quality strips, and I'm discoving more each day. Here are the comics I read regularly, with reviews. Obviously I think most of these are pretty good, or I wouldn't read 'em, though I don't have as much to say about some of them, and there are a few things I have to complain about... ("*" indicates a Pogo Stick collaborator.)
Bruno the Bandit, by Ian McDonald--OK, so it's another wacky parody of fantasy comics. But it's a FUNNY parody of fantasy comics. It follows the travails of Bruno Bunkelyutz, master thief, who's sort of a cross between Douglas Fairbanks and Conan the Barbarian. Musclebound and muscleheaded, Brunos' got an ego as big as all outdoors, despite the fact that he still lives with his parents and generally fails to successfully steal anything. Bruno's "better half" is the Micro-Dragon Fiona, who's about twice as smart as Bruno (which means she's still dumb enough to take orders from him). What makes this strip work is that it's completely accessible; Ian isn't so wrapped up in fantasy and RPG cliches he forgets to make the strip funny to the layperson, and the jokes are usually based on real life, with the fantasy world providing a satirical filter. One of the more amusing conceits is that, despite being a typical medieval-style fantasy world, Bruno's home of "Rothland" has cellphones, TV, "The People's Court", tabloid journalism, fast food restaurants, and so on--and yet this is rarely the source of a joke, merely a background touch that takes the comedy to a new level. Of course, not everything Ian does is that subtle...occasionally the point is pounded home like a bag of hammers (a recent parody of Rush Limbaugh being a key example) but for the most part, this is a refreshing antidote to the painfully inbred fan fiction a lot of fantasy strips turn into.
Wendy, Cutewendy, and Girly, by Josh Lesnick-- Josh does a series of comics in an "anime" style about zany girls who are prone to getting naked and making out with each other. Though theoretically these are all different strips, they're hard to distinguish from each other: each features a lot of gratuitous female nudity and some hilarious over-the-top silliness. All of these strips are absolutely sex-obsessed, which is, needless to say, a selling point for most. It's all handled in such a cheerfully over-the-top, unapologetically gratuitous manner that it doesn't come off as sleazy (though it *is* pretty juvenile). However, at times, it's also bust-out-laughing hilarious. Actually, perusing the archives was one of the funniest experiences I've had while reading a webcomic. And needless to say, Josh knows where is strengths lie. This one may not be for all tastes, but if you're not uptight about webcomics, you should find this to be a hoot.
Extremely Interesting Webcomics, by Sylvan Migdal*--Slyvan offers a wide variety of comics on his site, from the clever fantasy parody "A God's Life" to the hysterical one-panel "Carface" (which I wanted more of, dammit!). His latest, "Mnemesis", concerns the life and times of a city occupied entirely by the dead, and it's now available on Graphic Smash. I like Sylvan's simple, unadorned style and his use of colour (when his strips are in colour) and shape. All his stuff can be very funny and is usually intricately plotted.
Mac Hall, by Ian McConville & Matt Boyd--Love the art. 'Tis also funny.
Nukees, by Darren "Gav" Bleuel--Go science!
1/0, by Mason "Tailsteak" Williams*--Another strip with a cult following, and rightfully so. What seems at first to be a self-indulgent "hey look, we're characters in a webcomic, making jokes about the fact we're in a webcomic" type of strip turns fairly quickly into something a LOT more interesting. For one thing, it's constatnly evolving--it starts out, literally, as nothing, and actual environments, points of reference, technology and (later) laws and social structures have to be added by the characters. Not to mention the characters themselves, or the strips' own bizarre and cartoony laws of physics. More importantly, the characters are self-aware and can converse with their creator, leading to some genuinely profound questions about the nature of self-awareness, the universe, and death. I don't want you to think that this is grim or pretentious, though. It's not about belly laughs, but there are plenty of funny moments in the strip, and the whole enterprise takes its own premise so far that it gets quite deliriously imaginative at times. My main complaint (besides the simple artwork, which isn't really a complaint) is that it can get a bit preachy--there's one character who doesn't believe in the existance of the cartoonist, leading to some one-sided moralizing about the evils of atheism. But on the whole even this goes down easy, since the strip is such a refreshing (and addictive) piece of brain candy.
Men in Hats, by Aaron Farber--By the creator of the hilariously random "Pentasmal" comes a new strip which, if not as dementedly imaginative as his previous work, is still incredbily funny and features a slick look...plus it's easy to recognize the characters and their personalities, since they're all...uh...wearing hats. Aaron is brilliant at coming up with hilarious throwaway lines ("The fire is justice") and this strip digs a little deeper, satirically, than his previous stuff. Very much recommended.
Roger & Dominic, by T. D. Eachern*--Another of the "insane non sequitur logic" type of strips, second only to Pentasmal for my money. (Well, and maybe tied with Superosity.) This one's easy to get into; it's bright and colourful and features a lot of over-the-top SF plotlines which actually make sense and are consistant (albeit in a really silly way). Roger is an affable manchild in the Homer Simpson mode, Dominic is his smooth-talking roommate who's actually an alien bent on taking over Earth. The strip also features a three-eyed mutant grown from a donut, an ambulatory mass of lard, and "LL Cool Whip", a name which pretty much speaks for itself. My favourite running gag has Roger haunted by the ghost of Brad Anderson and forced to draw "Marmaduke" (SATIRE!!!) and the revelation that the doctor he's terrified of seeing ("Doctor Lollipops") is actually a horrible monster. Great absurdist humour, read the archives and laugh yourself silly.
Schlock Mercenary, by Howard Taylor--In the earlier incarnation of this page, I said that this was probably my favourite online strip. Well, I hate picking favourites, but this would still be on my top ten. Well-thought-out, SCIENCE-oriented SF is pretty rare these days outside of books, so here's a rare opportunity to enjoy it in comic strip form. Of course, it's also a humourous strip, and one with a lot of well-done evolving plotlines (although sometimes they taper off a bit unsatisfactorily). What's more, Howard really knows his science, so there's a lot of genuine "hard" SF. But of course all this is nothing without memorable characters (check) good jokes (check) and great artwork (well...it's pretty crude, but in an ambitious way. And it's colourful!) Sergeant Schlock himself (a shapeshifting "A-morph" on a crew full of lovably violent space mercenaries) has been marginalized somewhat in recent weeks, but the supporting cast is so strong that it's not really a complaint (my favourites include the cranially-endowed ex-stripper Dr. Bunnigus and her laid back boyfriend, the ship's chaplain--no, really). And yes, there's galaxy-spanning space battles, triumphs of macrotechnology (Wait'll you find out what a "Buuthandi" is) and an extremely amusing sound effect.
Sinfest, by Tatsuya Ishida--Numbers are still hard to come by, but this may in fact be the single most popular comic strip on the net. And though that's resulted in a widespread backlash, its popularity is for the most part warranted. It's got a hard edge (and more profanity) than anything you'd read in the paper, but otherwise it's much closer in format to print comics, being a sort of mix of Calvin & Hobbes, anime, Bloom County and a theological philosophy text. Oh yeah, and thoroughly immersed in hip-hop culture. I's interesting that Tat (who's Japanese) has a better handle on how to use the English language than most American online strips; he combines slang, idiom and speech patterns in ways that are often downright brilliant. The main character is the goofy (and extremely short) wannabe-playa Slick, his strumpet of a would-be girlfriend Monique, and their friends...who include God and the Devil. God is a giant hand in the clouds who puts on puppet shows for all the other characters, and the Devil is a vaguely cute Grinch-style sourpuss. Yeah, it's crazy. The art is among the most appealling and distinctive on the net, blending influences into a quite masterful handling of black & white linework. It's not always (or even often) laugh-out-loud funny, which is the source for a lot of the complaints, but it is engaging, and with a refreshing restraint--after all this time, I still don't quite know Tat's own opinions on religion. Whatever they are, they can't be all that reverent.
Superosity, by Chris Crosby--Demented nuttiness for fans of the non sequitur. It's getting hard to find ways to describe all these "zany" strips so that they don't all sound the same, but really they aren't. Superosity has it's own thing going on, where the humour is mostly verbal. But the main characters are all either insane or completely angry and unreasonable at all times. It's about the idiot man-child Chris and his always angry and unreasonable brother Bobby (who appear to be caricatures of the author and his own brother?) They dress like superheroes, but don't do anything to justify the costumes. Oh yes, and their best friend is a sentient talking surfboard who always acts appalled at their insane schemes but goes along with them anyway. A fun fun strip.
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