A Farewell to Paws
Okay, I was going to get into this big thing about the point of this column, and politely explain that how it's just great that all webcomics creators are supportive and friendly and sloppy kisses all around but that the medium's ability to self-criticize is completely eroded by everyone's reluctance to piss anyone else off…but screw it.
But that would take an awful long time, so here's the deal:
Webcomics can, on occasion, be a good read.
Most of the time, though, reading webcomics is like being locked in a coffin with a rabid, amphetamine-crazed monkey in possession of (a) a taser and (b) the total and unerring knowledge that your groin is responsible for every ill that has ever befallen any member of the monkey nation. Ever.
So I'm going to try to lay out why this is, as clearly as I know how. Why? Because you need this. Because the world needs this. Webcomics are a bold new medium, and it is rapidly becoming a black hole where talent is sucked in and never escapes again. Bandwidth is so choked with bad comics that they have become the kudzu that strangles those with a modicum of talent until their gray and lifeless bodies are found dangling colorless in the vine.
Lesson one: write your comic premise down on a piece of paper. Thirty words or less. Let's take a popular comic as an example. Oh, I don't know, PVP:
The lives of the staff of a gaming magazine: the owner, the graphic designer, his girlfriend, a fifteen year-old-boy and a troll named Skull.
Got that? Good! Give it a shot. Just get a pen and paper…
…that stick-like thing in your desk. Check the drawers. Yeah, that thing that makes marks when you push it against the stuff that comes out of your printer. Excellent. Okay, now go for it.
Now read it back slowly. As you do so, watch for the words "And their talking _________." If those words, or any close variant, appear in that summary, I want you to take a six-inch railroad spike, place it in your right ear and, using a rubber mallet, tap it until it is a four-inch railroad spike.
Then repeat the exercise above. Eventually you will run out of spike, consciousness, or suddenly come to the realization that just because something talks, that don't make it funny. Just because Jon Davis found himself sitting on a firecracker with that side-splitting Garfield doesn't mean you're morally bound to emulate him. Or even that you should.
Still with me? Don't mind that throbbing. It's just the spike.
I don't care.
The fact of the matter is, Sluggy and Goats would be funny without the talking animals. And Pete Abrams and Jon Rosenberg were here so long before you, it's not funny. As of about 1998, it's been done. And you know what? The talking animals are far from what make those strips good. Bun-Bun hasn't done anything in Sluggy in years, and you may have noticed that Diablo and Toothgnip have been relegated to bizarre comic relief over in the Goats pub.
That's because as these creators got older and, god forbid, better, they realized that saying "It's funny because it's a chicken! That talks! And it's got a badass personality!" is the sort of crutch that should be reserved for six-year-olds being trotted out on stage in a goddamn sheep costume to sing "Mary Had A Little Lamb." It's goddamn cute because it's a goddamn toddler dressed like a goddamn sheep. That doesn't mean it's any good. It sort of means the opposite.
In celebration of this revelation, I give you Wemble's Rules for Animals in Comics:
1. Don't let them talk. Hell, don't let them think. If you can't draw an animal well enough to give it some sort of indicative body language or facial expressions, you shouldn't be drawing it in the first place.
2. If you feel somehow obliged to include a talking _______ in your strip, ask yourself why you're so weak on the idea side that you need to inject artificial wackiness to try to do something funny. If you can't write funny people, writing funny desks and funny wombats shouldn't be attempted. If you're so creatively bankrupt that the only way you can bring the funny is to say "hey, it's a kangaroo with syphilis! And it talks!" you… well, get the spike and we'll talk later.
3. Actually, just don't use animals in comics. God knows humans have screwed them up enough already.
Oh, and the monkey mentioned at the beginning of this article?
It talks. It says two words over and over and over.
Bet you'll never guess what they are.
Dalton Wemble is a guest contributor for the Comixpedia. As he explains it, he is a 60-year veteran of the webcomics world and has been commenting on the webcomics "scene" since his 1971 publication "the decline of the phosphorescent pixel."