Friday, January 6, 2012

The Good, Bad and Ugly of Webcomics:

It may only have been a few days since the New Year began, but it still hasn’t been very long since Christmas. Chances are, your kids are already bored with the presents that they begged for and now want more shit. Oh well, it’s in human nature to be that way; you crave something, and then you grow bored with it for whatever reason. The internet is like that: It was once this strange, mystical place where only the rich and the intellectual seemed to dwell, a new frontier. Now look at what it’s become! When the internet was developed, I’m pretty sure that never in their wildest dreams did the developers guess that it would one day be the haven of My Little Pony porn and fat midgets doing the Urkel dance. I’m also positive that they didn’t foresee the rise of webcomics either.
 So here are the ones that, for better or worse, you need to see. I’m not going to include stuff as infamously crazy as Law for Kids (which is just depressing), XKCD (which is actually fine if you’re a math buff) or CTR+ALT-DEL (which is really more mediocre than anything, and I doubt it’s hated even for that, more just because of the author’s ego). I’m not even going to get started on Jack Chick. I could also do a whole post singing the praises of Kate Beaton’s Hark! A Vagrant!, but not now.
The Good:
Cyanide & Happiness:
It never fails to anger me that most newspapers don’t run adventure comics any more, the logic being that people can’t afford to follow continued narratives. Why in the hell then, do most “funny” newspaper comics have continuing storylines? Beats me. Even as lowest common denominator cheap jokes, the “best” of today’s newspaper strips fall flat (with the exception of Lio). Something has gone really wrong in society when you can’t find a good source for cheap, mindless entertainment on the goddamn funny paper.
 The internet’s Cyanide and Happiness, however, easily will give anyone looking for a good daily laugh their fix. C&H is, put simply, just a comic with a bunch of stick figures making insufferable puns and behaving like complete sociopaths, and it’s hilarious! The jokes range from so awful they’re funny, to ingeniously well-structured, to a form of humor that I have come to dub the “non-joke”. While there are some continuing characters like Charles the douchebag and his girlfriend, Obese Maurice and (most infamously) the Purple-shirted Eye-Stabber, none of the humor really requires any continuity or features anything you won’t figure out within a few seconds.
 It’s definitely not for the easily offended, but it’s definitely for those who love a good, cheap laugh. I give it 5/5.
A typical scene

 Tons of awful wannabe comics artists on the internet (and tons of immature people who are fans of wannabe artists who sadly have gotten published) have talked about how they could outdraw or equal any “classic” comics artist like Kirby, Eisner, Cole, etc. if they went back in time. Well, if there are any webcomic artists and writers out there who actually could pull this off; it would likely be the creators of Axe-Cop. Aficionados of classic comics, even those who frown on greats like Eisner and only go for stuff like Krazy Kat and Little Nemo, will have to admit that part of the appeal of classic comics is the rambling, making-it-up-as-you-go-along inventiveness on display, as if a crazed child came up with it. Axe-Cop has that feel down pat, because it actually IS written by a child, and drawn by his adult brother. As a result, we get well-drawn comics with bizarre, random ass plots and weirdness at every corner.
Winsor McKay, eat your heart out.

 Truly must be seen to be believed. 5/5.

Now we come to the darker regions of the webcomic universe....

The Bad:
Electric Retard:
 Much like Cyanide and Happiness, Retard is a gag comic with few continuing characters and tons of cheap laughs. However, the similarity ends there; throw all good taste out the window, because ER makes C & H look like Sesame Street. Cyanide and Happiness offers cheap laughs, Electric Retard redefines “Shock value” and “absurdist humor”. The very first comic involved the bodies of Holocaust victims being dumped on a school, and it’s gotten more offensive from thereon. At this point, you either: a) wonder how something could be worse than that and demand to see more, or b) you simply turn away in disgust. Rape, necrophilia, pedophilia, racism, gore, you name it, it’s included, all in some of the most surprisingly well-composed MS paint art you’ll ever see.
Say what you will, but that's damn good composition and coloring.

 Author Eric goes out of his way to make sure that there are no redeeming qualities about the strip, calling his fans “fags”, boasting about the numbers of times his comic has been banned, and doing his best to make himself out to be as deranged in his real life as any of the characters in his comic. Eric rarely has spoken about the comic, but he definitely makes it clear that he’s the whole show.

 If you want to see the “magic” for yourself though, go and look for it quick (I sure as hell am not providing any links, reading the thing probably has gotten me on some government watch list), as this comic’s controversial content actually has gotten it banned several times, sometimes disappearing for years, and it’s only a matter of time before it disappears again. Whether ER crosses the line into genuine unpleasantness or is too absurd for any sane person to be offended by, ER is a gleefully tasteless exercise in envelope-pushing that should be seen at least once. John Waters would be proud. 4/5.

The Ugly:

 When internet memes go public, those that last tend to be the ‘’cute’’ ones like LOLcats, or the silly ones, like “All your base are belong to us” and Chuck Norris facts. Few of them ever get considered worthy of sociological study, and certainly not the darker or more mean-spirited memes, such as Pedobear and “Stop calling me a Homo” kid. One meme that, if it ever goes fully public (and even more so if it’s fully understood), is sure to end up inspiring more than one doctoral thesis, is the phenomenon surrounding Christian Weston Chandler and his (now virtually abandoned) webcomic Sonichu.
 Sonichu is an abysmally drawn comic whose titular character is a poorly drawn hybrid of Sonic the Hedgehog and Pokemon’s Pikachu. What separates it from other dumb Sonic fan works (which are practically an online cottage industry) is not that it is drawn by a child or teenager, but is drawn by a man who is just shy of thirty and looks way older. Sonichu isn’t really a fan fiction about Sonic and Pokemon (from what I gather, Chandler’s own knowledge of Sonic and Pokemon is sorely lacking despite both being lifelong obsessions of his) so much as it is a disturbing glimpse into his own neuroses. Sonichu functions as a diary of Chandler’s life, only where he takes revenge on his real-life enemies; be they mall security, women who were disgusted by his advances, internet trolls, or the Dean of his former college (ironically, a local comic shop owner who actually does qualify as Chandler’s real-life archenemy has never appeared in these comics). He also uses it to express his sexual fantasies, in graphic detail at times. Yet, amazingly enough, Chandler considers it not only an appropriate comic for children, but actually beneficial!
 From Chandler’s obsession with video games, bizarre pop-culture references in otherwise serious moments, to attempting to retcon his real life, along with the much-debated possibility that he actually considers his Sonichu characters to be real, the comic is a chilling glimpse into the mind of a man who has completely retreated into his childhood away from reality. The violence and sex contrasted with the childish artwork is truly frightening at times, and due to the fact that the comic rarely bothers to explain why we should cheer on Chandler’s self-insert character (who makes Sonichu himself irrelevant) as he bludgeons “villains” (most of whom come off as people minding their own business who just look like witches, etc.), the comic sometimes seems to be chronicling the adventures of a vile mass-murderer and approving of them.
 It is also a genuinely fascinating look at the results of what happens when a comic is created by a person who has positively no knowledge of or interest in sequential art (or art period). What Chandler actually seems to be going for is a TV show, but since he lacks the appropriate resources, was forced to make a comic, not because he was a fan of comics, but because he defaults to what we all did as children; doodle in notebooks. Everyone did that as a kid, but never considered it a comic, we just did that as kids because it would be funny to pass around in class and still convey information without making a sound (through dialogue balloons, etc.). If you were to go around picking up old notebook doodles and then bound them together, you’d probably have something close to Sonichu.
Possibly the greatest ever failure at sequential art

 Whether Chandler himself is a tragic figure (he suffers from autism and has been bullied and shut in almost his whole life) or fully deserving of his status as a figure of ridicule due to his racism, homophobia (despite recently becoming a budding cross dresser) and genuine nastiness is up for debate, but as a warped exercise in self-expression/wish-fulfillment, his Sonichu comics are up there with the best of Crumb and Pekar for sheer bile fascination as we watch a man bear his soul, warts and all, to us. 0/5 aesthetically, 5/5 as outsider “art”.

 The Uglier:
Billy the Heretic:
 Most people would simply dismiss this comic because it’s anti-Semitic propaganda drawn by an admitted white supremacist (He describes the comic as “The Dilbert of White Nationalists”), as well as for its truly terrible artwork which lacks even the insane “charm” of Sonichu. What makes it fascinatingly terrible is how much it fails even as propaganda. The comic is about a white kid named Billy adopted by a Jewish family named the Rothsteins, which supposedly mirrors the author’s life story (not unbelievable, I was adopted by a Jewish family myself). Thus, one would think this would be a rage-filled fountain of hate even without the anti-Semitic angle, with the author harping about every single bad memory of his upbringing that he could force himself to remember. You’d also think he would make himself out to be a sweet little defenseless angel and his parents out to be abusive monsters. And you know what? The author clearly believes he’s succeeded at doing that.
 The problem is that he hasn’t.
 The Rothsteins admittedly are portrayed as fitting every single negative Jewish stereotype imaginable, big noses, greed, you name it. However, due to some truly bad writing, the Rothsteins don’t really come off as all that villainous. Oh, sure we see them rigging elections, crying anti-Semitism to get their way and committing acts of vandalism, but it’s all so over-the-top (apparently they invented AIDS and caused the Civil Rights movement for insurance purposes) that you never really hate them, it comes off as what TV Tropes calls “Comedic Sociopathy” at worst. Honestly, tone down the more stereotypical aspects of their appearances, and this could run as a newspaper strip (albeit a shitty one, though it’s not like that would make any difference). I hate self-righteous liberals and people who cry racism as much as the next guy, but considering how the Rothstein’s are so often the butt of the jokes themselves in these strips, or seem well-intentioned in a warped way, they come off as loveable villain protagonists in the vein of the Addams Family or Eric Cartman from South Park. To be fair, there are a few early strips depicting the Rothsteins as being racist against black people, but considering how the author himself portrays black people in the comic, he sure as hell isn’t one to point the finger.
 Also, for people we are supposed to see as terrible and abusive foster parents, the worst we ever really see them do is scold Billy in one strip. You can’t even say they’re setting a bad example for the kid by making him help them vandalize things, as Billy bitches at them every step of the way and “exposes’ how they’re wrong. They even blow millions of dollars on him for his birthday.
 Billy himself, however (who the author clearly intends for the reader to sympathize with), comes off as a petulant, ungrateful, mean-spirited little shit. He constantly verbally abuses everyone in the family, bullies other children who attempt to be his friend, calls his sister a “rat with glasses” and is just generally unpleasant in the extreme. Other than being white (which is what is supposed to endear him by default to the target audience for this strip), we’re never given any reason to like him. Also, due to his design (where he looks like some weird cross between Mickey Mouse and the most stereotypical “dorky” white kid imaginable) he looks uglier than any other character in the strip. Seriously, is this how the author wants his obvious self-insert character (and mouthpiece for his cause) to appear to people? Post some of these strips out of context and/or slightly re-worked, and you’d think that Billy was supposed to be the villain of the strip. Also, the art sucks.
This art is so bad at conveying expressions that you can't tell if the Trick-or-Treaters are supposed to be frightened or just acting scared because it's Halloween.

You know, I’d understand all of this if the author was trying to be subtle and go for some ambiguity by giving both sides negative traits, but really, when he does a strip saying Jews are indistinguishable from vampires (one of the few attempts at vilifying the Rothsteins that actually comes close to succeeding), do you really think he’s going for subtlety? I mean, the point of one-sided propaganda is to make people sympathize with your cause and to vilify and dehumanize your opponent, not the other way around. C’mon, if you want to make the Rothsteins look bad, show them doing something really evil, like blood libel or some other stereotypical crap, or hell, just have them abuse Billy. I’d almost think the author was a troll who was trying to make white supremacists look bad by claiming to be one, if it wasn’t for the fact that he gets help and went artist-hunting over at Stormfront.
 Speaking of Stormfront, the website that hosts Billy has a link to that wretched place, or at least, it does now, originally it directed to some Pokemon site (Man, what the hell is it with awful webcomics and Pokemon?). Why? My guess is either that the author, since he believes himself to be of the “master race”, thinks that anyone offended by his site (read=Non-whites) and who would be going over to troll Stormfront by following his link wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. Either that, or the author really is just that stupid. 0/5 on all accounts.

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