Webcomic Wtuesdays – MSPA, Sluggy Freelance, Boston and ShaunFebruary 23, 2010
If there’s anything I like better than complaining about things, it’s complaining about webcomics, and if there’s anything I like better than that it’s also describing specifically what I like about certain webcomics and why all other webcomics are awful in a well-ordered format. So, I’ve decided to turn this proclivity of mine into a regular feature, where I’ll introduce you to the horrible world of mediocrity and psychosis I face every day on my computer screen, as well as the few brilliant gems that shine through and make it all worth it.
Every week, I’ll be focusing on one excellent webcomic, one banal and awful (though more often than not vexingly popular) webcomic, and one just batshit insane brain abortion of a webcomic, just like how I did the first time. This week, we’ll be focusing on MS Paint Adventures by Andrew Hussie, Sluggy Freelance by Pete Abrams, and Boston and Shaun by Shaun Reveal.
The slight common theme among these series, if there is one, is that one can’t go about reading one or two comics to really get an understanding of their appeal, or even know what the hell is going on. I’ll try to do my best to explain them without going into the whole “you should just read all of them and then it is okay to judge them!”. Mainly because I haven’t read all of them, or really any of one of them.
MS PAINT ADVENTURES
Let me start by saying this: MS Paint Adventures barely counts as a webcomic. Sure, it has a regular online update schedule of isolated graphical items that, when viewed one-by-one in succession, convey a narrative, but it’s also so much more than that. The idea behind MSPA is to recreate the feel of old text-based adventure games. Hussie starts by providing the reader with a bit of information and a character that they are allowed to interact in their world in. By taking suggestions from the audience as to what the character should do, he allows a gigantic, often overwhelming world and story to unfold complete with clever twists and turns based on the unconventional realities of his characters.
The scope of MSPA is much, much grander than any normal webcomic’s, even though he usually uses fewer characters than some of the more complex series out there. The amount of detail that goes into every frame is staggering, not just in the art (which is fantastic), but also in the writing. There are characters who never utter a single word who have more depth in them than the entire cast of, say, PVP. On top of everything, Hussie’s been recently going into integrating gigantic, elaborate flash sequences to bookend the more important events within the storyline — not unlike the montages at the end of seasons of The Wire. Just look at one of these. That doesn’t just put anything done by Jeph Jacques to shame, it puts anything I’ve ever done to shame. Andrew Hussie is the Ozymandias of our time, when it comes to comics on the internet.
Or whatever it is MSPA is. Whatever it is, it’s the best. I’m being very serious. I love complaining about things, and the only thing I could possibly ever complain about MSPA is that sometimes Hussie uses some of the more “wacky” and timewasting suggestions rather than getting to the story, but that is half a complaint if it is anything. Read one of these right now. I don’t care if you don’t have the 12 hours it takes to read one of these 600+ page stories, just do it. You’ll be better off, I swear.
Final Verdict: Stop reading this and read MSPA right now.
Sluggy Freelance is a sort of catch-all parody of the SciFi genre that pokes fun at the major franchises’ odd mix of idealism and dark pessimism, while mixing in a few healthy doses of pathos for its characters. At least, that’s what I’m assuming it’s about, because I’m going to be damned if I’m going to read it. Look at it. Look at all the words that are there, on that single comic, to express a single joke that I am never going to read. It’s also not just that I don’t want to invest the time it takes to understand the giant continuous plotline, it’s that I actually can’t read it. My eyes gloss over every page like the images are made of optical teflon, my brain refusing to process the unremarkableness of it all into anything other than a boring pattern of two people sitting at a table and taking turns saying things to one another.
In addition to this, against all logical obstacles, the strip has been running for thirteen years — longer, mind you, than many human beings who can now read and write and do algebra have been alive — making getting into the series at all a kind of war of attrition. Even if I wanted, or was physically able, to start becoming a Sluggy regular, I would have to go through thirteen years of material to understand why “Torg” (an actual character’s name) or the other guy (I think his name is not Sluggy despite my brain’s automatic assumption to that effect) are in the particular pickle that they’re in this week, probably some stupid rehash of The Trouble with Tribbles or something.
Is anyone even actually a fan of Sluggy Freelance? I’m not explicitly trying to be mean, and I’m not trying to hurt Mr Abrams feelings (he is probably personally an okay guy and everything), I just don’t understand what the appeal is other than the boilerplate “it’s something that can be read and someone makes it, so I read it because it is made” kind of answer I get from people who like to read Diesel Sweeties. If anyone could help me out, I would never mind I’m incapable of caring about this anymore.
Final Verdict: My mind has already replaced every fleeting memory I had gained of Sluggy Freelance in order to write this with something more important.
Boston and Shaun
I shouldn’t even write about Boston and Shaun, seeing as how SomethingAwful did such a good job of it so long ago, but it is so completely bizarre that if I’m going to mention crazy, fever dream webcomics, I’d be doing the craft a disservice by not mentioning it. Boston and Shaun labels itself as a “modern storybook” and “modern fantasy”, but there’s nothing here that has the innocence or imagination that one might interpret from either of those descriptors. It appears to have started out as a kind of Calvin and Hobbes-esque buddy comic about a boy and his pet dragon and the scrapes they get into, but it quickly descended into transformation and inflation fetish territory and then never looked back.
Maybe the best way to describe it is like this: imagine you’re reading a novel with a completely normal setup. It’s a guy going back to his home town to bury his dead father, say. But in the middle of the story, it becomes clear that the author started researching something, like agribusiness, and then the whole rest of the story becomes about corn subsidies, and the entire arc about the guy going back to his hometown is completely dropped. That’s what Boston and Shaun is like, except replace agribusiness with pouches, fat, and turning into an enormously fat kangaroo forever, and now instead of the adventures of youth, every strip ends with a joke about how full they are, or how they can’t fit through doors, or how they have pouches, and I think it’s actually supposed to be arousing but I’m not sure.
The icing on this cake is the schizophrenic pace (or lack thereof) with which Reveal updates the website. One look at his archives shows how farther and farther apart the updates get, until there are actual years in between new strips being put up. The best part? No explanation at all. He’ll put a comic up after eight months of apparent media blackout without so much as a “whoops! sorry I forgot to update!” note on the news page. In fact, there isn’t any news page I can find. It’s like a terrifying experiment, where the viewer is subjected to sporadic and randomly intervaled stimuli with no directions. It’s working, too. I want to know what Reveal wants from me. What is it!? What is wrong with you? Why have you made this awful comic? Why won’t you talk about it!!?!? JUST TELL ME WHAT TO DO WITH THIS INFORMATION, SHAUN REVEAL, I’LL DO WHATEVER YOU WANT
Final Verdict: AAahhh! AAAAAHHHH!!! AAAAAAAAAAHHH!!!!!