Have I mentioned that I love roundtables? See, all you need to do is think of four or five good questions and ask them to some of the foremost talents in webcomics today, many of whom are surprisingly willing to share their wisdom. Then just sit back and let the intellectual capital flood in. Itâ€™s a great racket.
This roundtable, incidentally, is about humor.
Question one for the participantsâ€¦
What makes you laugh?
John Troutman: Left-field humor. Which is to say, jokes that you just don't see coming. When a comic leads you in one direction and wildly careens into a different one in the fourth panel.
Randy Milholland: Generally, I laugh at physical comedy the most. I don't know why. I just enjoy a good pratfall or old cartoonish wild takes. After that, good sarcasm is always a winner.
Maritza Campos: Absurdity. I love surreality. Irony and sarcasm also make me laugh, but when you see me chuckling privately at myself, I'm usually thinking of something at the same time strange and silly. My sense of humor can be dark and dry and sometimes cruel, but at core, I'm all for the nonsense.
Ryan North: Puny mortals! Ho ho, I also like to laugh at comedic situations. I think this is hard to pin down. "I like humour that is new" is the best way I can put it. I also like my humour like I like my women: sharp and pointed! And – aged 18 years?
What's influenced your sense of humor?
Maritza Campos: Funny movies, mostly. I enjoy greatly Mel Brooksâ€™ movies, the absurdity and silliness of movies like Hot Shots! and the Naked Gun series. I discovered Woody Allen late in life, but I think my taste changed since I did. Something has to be said for very old Mexican comedy classic movies, mostly the ones with GermÃ¡n ValdÃ©sâ€™ "Tin TÃ¡n." They almost always showcase mischievous characters that live through their wits, lies and tricks (and now you know where Mike comes from). In cartoons, Ren & Stimpy and more recently, Invader Zim. As for comics, I'd have to say Bloom County. Peanuts is funny, but in a really quiet way. Wild, crazy, WEIRD stuff is more my style.
David Wright: Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes are most directly responsible for how Todd and Penguin has turned out. My darker stuff is influenced by politics, vapid celebration of celebrity, and a general anger at stupid people that we all have to deal with. Bloom County was a great example of a comic that could combine gentle character driven humor with topical pop culture references with equal skill. I would love to do something along those lines, but it's hard to have it both ways.
Ryan North: I would say primarily my friends, because if they're not laughing at your jokes, you're either going to get new friends, share a lot of awkward moments, or adapt, making your jokes stronger and BETTER. I also really like people like Kurt Vonnegut and shows like Futurama, so I'd imagine they're an influence too.
Brad Guigar: Good stand-up comedy (Lenny Bruce, George Carlin, Lewis Black). Great comics (Bloom County, Calvin, Doonesbury, Far Side). And a family that truly values a good laugh — even at one's own expense
Randy Milholland: Probably my parents. They're both rather venom-tongued. Having spent two weeks visiting them, I'm relearning this. Phil Foglio was a big influence in my teen years.
John Troutman: Far, FAR too much television.
What do you think was your funniest strip?
Maritza Campos: This one comes to mind. Roger always has a lot of funny lines, and strips where he appears compete with each other too closely. I like this particular strip for many reasons: first, because it showcases Mike and Dave's relationship perfectly: Mike's abusive dominance and Dave's hostile resistance. It also has a bit of physical comedy, which is a rarity; it has a Mike puzzled by his own twisted logic, which is an even more delicious rarity. Finally, there's a bit of cruel irony: Dave always gets pain, except when he wants it.
I also mention this one, because although it's not one I think about as a favorite, it gets mentioned a LOT by the fans as the funniest. The trigger here is of course, Dave's last shocking line, delivered with perfect naÃ¯vetÃ© and innocence.
Brad Guigar: Usually, when I'm asked this question, I have a standard answer: "today's."
David Wright: I'm not sure why, but this one still makes me laugh. It's not the typical TAP, and I like that 'Mr. Bear' would confuse the terminology. I like where it is implied that Penguin and Mr. Bear talk. Everyone talked to their stuffed animals. It's hard to show that without being compared to Calvin and Hobbes, but I like the friendship between Penguin and Mr. Bear. Mr. Bear has a weird, dark sense of humor that belies his cute looks.
Randy Milholland: The one I actually thought was funniest was my July 15, 2003 comic, "Q&A." It was fun to break the fourth wall for once. A lot of people tell me the first comic ("Enter Davan and PeeJee," December 19, 2001) was the perfect embodiment of the strip' s humor. I'm never sure how to react to that.
Ryan North: Oh gosh. I'm quite pleased with how this 'teen magazeen' comic turned out, but mostly because it's recent and I love the idea of a magazine mentioning that friends with benefits is pretty hot.
What's another comic on the Web you admire for its humor?
Maritza Campos: I like Narbonic for its consistency, Bob the Angry Flower for the surreality, Sluggy Freelance for its immortal silliness, and Penny Arcade for a combination of everything. It's hard to put my finger on why PA is so funny, but the truth is, the loudest laughs I have had this last year I've had them reading PA.
David Wright: Many, but if I had to pick just one I would say Soap on a Rope which is my favorite. Soap on a Rope, though bigger than my comic, seems like it should be HUGE! I can't think of anyone more consistently bringing the funny (to use a Websnark term) than Soap on a Rope. Bob Roberds is a genius!
Ryan North: I'm going to say The Perry Bible Fellowship, and not just because I share a forum with Nicholas, who incidentally is an awesome dude. This comic puts us all to shame, I think. Everyone should read it right away!
Randy Milholland: Joycelin Yik's All New Adventures of Bobbin always cracks me up. She's got great delivery and her characters are a lot of fun.
John Troutman: Checkboard Nightmare. Kris' comics are so funny that they make me SEETHE with envy.
Finally, what makes a good joke?
Maritza Campos: The missing piece.
Humor comes, mostly, from presenting disjointed information. Something in reality that doesn't match up. There's this piece of missing information, and you never show it: the reader discovers it, and that's when they laugh. But you NEVER show it: to do it is to explain the joke, and then it ceases to be funny.
Randy Milholland: … that's a really hard question. For me, it's all delivery. Set-up is good and characterization is important – but things have to be delivered just right. That could be the face a character makes when they're saying the punchline, a hand gesture, or just how the author wrote the line – his/her choice of words. Is this answer delightfully vague enough?
Ryan North: A snappy punchline that follows an overly long buildup! Come on, everyone, you know it's true. I have this joke about a duck going into a pharmacy to get lip gloss that can be extended as long as you want (with as much backstory and motivation for the duck as possible), just to get to the punchline "put it on my bill", and oh man, I'm sorry, but even if nobody else laughs, that's a good joke.
John Troutman: Timing. It makes or breaks a joke. (Or, as my good friend Frank might say, alcohol! But for those of you under 21, timing works too.)
David Wright: Depends on the strip. If it is gag-a-day, it's finding something topical, some common thing to use, twist, or satirize. If it is a character-driven strip (my favorites) the ideal strip uses your expectations of the characters to propel the joke, or to imply jokes, or to use your expectations against you to make the joke really work. Todd and Penguin is a gentler comic, not using fall-down funny jokes, but gentle jabs. One thing I like to do and see in comics is when an author uses an existing story or thing and reference in some way in later strips as a bonus inside joke that rewards a reader's knowledge of a strip.
Brad Guigar: Cruelty.
Seriously. Nice isn't funny.
I heard it explained best like this: We don't laugh at a man slipping on a banana peel. We laugh because *we* didn't slip on that banana peel.
You can take almost every joke you hear and find suffering under the laughter. We laugh because it's not *our* suffering.
A man comes home and says, "Pack your bags! I just won the lottery!"
His wife says, "What shall I pack for? The mountains? The beach? A cruise?"
"Who cares?" says the husband, "Just get the hell OUT!"
See… I think that's funny as all get-out because *my* wife has never kicked me out of the house.