The Good, the Bad, and the Horrifying – Web Comics

May 18, 2009


Someone, I can’t remember who, but it was probably some morally repugnant Frenchman, once said “90% of everything is crap.”  I would submit to you of that 90%, a good 35% or so actually reaches into the territory of the appallingly shitty.  With this in mind, I’d like to introduce YET ANOTHER FUCKING RECURRING SERIES OF POSTS, this time dedicated to showcasing good, bad, and mindbendingly atrocious examples from the author’s field of choice.  I’m leaving this general, because I’d like other authors on here to try their hand at it in their respective fields of interest.  Because I am what doctors refer to as “dead inside”, I have chosen for my maiden voyage the topic of Web Comics.

Web Comics, as a medium, get a bad rap.  This might be due to the fact that they are almost categorically unreadable, made by the second lowest dregs of society in order to entertain the first lowest, employing the most intellectually bankrupt artistic methods available, more or less entirely for the purposes of T-shirt sales.  They represent the worst of the democratization of culture brought on by the internet: without the trial-by-fire of professional critique and with the addition of ease-of-access from legions of sycophantic readers, web comic artists are able to churn out mediocre-to-terrible product after mediocre-to-terrible product, all while assuming that they are either somehow pioneers of their craft or heirs to the throne of ironically-equally-shitty-newspaper comics.  Except that some of them are kind of okay.  I’ll tell you what sets the wheat apart from the rest of the rancid, offensive chaff!

able was i, ere i saw d'awwwwwwwww

The Good: Hark! A Vagrant

By: Kate Beaton

Premise: ~*~ History Jokes ~*~ with some semi-autobiographical interludes.

Why is it good?: Kate Beaton provides perhaps the best example of what a good web comic can be.  Her primary gimmick is that many of her jokes are based on little vignettes from history or take on the eccentricities of certain historical figures.  Her art is simple, while not simplistic, but doesn’t lose the ability to convey emotion or give decent likenesses (without delving into exaggerated caricature).  The comic is charming, original, and doesn’t even tread on the self-referential, making each individual comic essentially standalone — all you really need to know for each comic is the fact that Beaton is a girl who likes history, and she is sort of awkward.

In fact, there’s almost a specific benefit to not being familiar with the comic or the historical event it references beforehand.  Beaton takes a certain delight in taking inspiration from less-discussed historical figures, such as John Monash, The Australian Man That Was Involved in World War I Somehow.  I’ve been prompted to look things up after reading a few strips (including the Joyce Letters).  Beaton’s enjoyment of history is earnest and generous, in contrast to the whiny and entitled tones of the innumerable video-game based web comics.  It doesn’t update nearly often enough, but perhaps that’s a good thing, too.  If she were trying to fill in a cartoon every day, it would likely seriously impact the quality of her product.  It’s good because it genuinely seems to come from her, rather than from some persona she’s cultivating in order to maintain a fanbase.

Other Good Things In This Vein: KC Green, Achewood, and the Abominable Charles Christopher.

DEAL. WITH. IT.The Bad: Least I Could Do

By: Ryan Sohmer and Lar DeSouza

Premise: Asshole fratboy does a bunch of asshole fratboy things and is all smug about it and everyone likes him for some reason and flrgghhghgh

Why is it bad?: Least I Could Do represents about every awful thing that can be awful in a web comic.  The main character is pretty transparently a Mary-Sue self-insert by the author, who uses him to say a bunch of stupid “edgy” bullshit that very conveniently sides more on the lines of wackiness than offensiveness, all the while saying literally nothing about anything.  Rayne, the previously-mentioned main character, is some sort of wish fulfillment fountainhead: he’s inexplicably vastly wealthy, he’s constantly picking up women with cartoonish ease, he’s drunk and naked all the time (because he is wacky!), and always manages to be incredibly correct about everything to blowhard strawmen who just don’t get it.  He’s like Ray from Achewood if Ray were meant to be the strip’s moral and intellectual core – he’s what Ray is making fun of.

Everything about Least I Could Do is the opposite of what makes Kate Beaton enjoyable.  The website chugs like an old Model A under the strain of its Gen-X advertising and X-TREME layout, the art style is a jarring mix of hypercolor and copypasted facial expressions (Rayne has the same fucking smug-assed smile in every fucking panel he appears in), and the storylines are hackneyed and predictable and limited by the fact that it so very clearly wants to be in a newspaper.  Rather than using its difference in medium to its advantage, Least I Could Do ties itself to the limitations of traditional cartooning, either through some feeling of non-syndicated inadequacy, or just plain old non-creativity.  This, in combination with its wretched characters and misguided need for obnoxious shock-humor, make it a Bad Thing.

hmm, yes, i see.

The Horrifying: Dungeon Warden

By: George Ward

Premise: ???

Why is it horrifying?: Try as I might, I can’t actually figure out what Dungeon Warden is.  I, at first, assumed it was a poorly drawn fantasy webcomic about some doey-eyed women wandering around and fighting shit, but there’s a grimmer reality to everything.  Dungeon Warden is actually the pseudonym of the comic’s author, the most terrifying human being imaginable, who is the producer of several webcomics, all having to do with fantasy-ish, often half-animal women doing mystifyingly creepy things for no reason.  Seriously, in order to write this, I’ve gone to the archives of his different series and just clicked random links.  They are all equally terrifying and perplexing.

The sad part is that there are easily hundreds of web comics, let alone just web sites, that are just as if not more disturbing than Dungeon Warden, that have puzzlingly large audiences of faithful readers who give them money.  To produce things like this. Least I Could Do represents everything that’s wrong with web comics, but Dungeon Warden (or Dungeon Legacy, or Alternate Reality Worlds, or whatever other terribly laid-out website that looks like something from the mind of the Insanity God in Oblivion this guy wants to feverishly produce) represents everything that is wrong with humanity.

There, I said it.  The root of all human suffering can be traced to vaguely erotic web comics about horse people making hula hoops out of paper and fighting shark people.



  1. […] Beaton, one of my favorite web comic people, did some hourlies.  Hourlies are a very common thing for web comic artists to do, they basically […]

  2. That was a very good review. I don’t know about the other two comics but you nailed LICD on the head. That PoS doesn’t deserve the popularity it has, and the sad thing is that Ryan Sohmer makes money off his shitty writing while at the same time probably purring as his ego is stroked by his fanbase. (Which probably likes LICD because they imagine themselves being Rayne as a form of escapism).

    It is abundantly clear that the author (Ryan) is a complete douchebag. As he has been known to troll dissenters of his comic through Wikipedia.

  3. […] specifically what I like about certain webcomics and why all other webcomics are awful in a well-ordered format.  So, I’ve decided t turn this proclivity of mine into a regular feature, where I’ll […]

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