Woe, the eternal struggle, the painful decision that will color a reader’s perception of a given webcomic forever… but a decision that nevertheless must be made: does one start with the cast page or the archives?
The difficulty in making this decision lies with the fact that many webcomic creators give away plot material on the cast page. Sure, some creators assume a reader will review the cast page before jumping into the archive and therefore do not provide context when introducing the setting or characters. Plus, since Drew Weing’s The Journal Comic is in fact a journal comic, and as such is not expected to have a plot, there shouldn’t be any concern, right? Well, you’d be surprised.
Weing’s webcomic reflects moments and events from his real life. Sometimes real life has on-going issues, like the fate of one of Weing’s on-again off-again part-time jobs or whether he’ll ever get the heat back on in his apartment. With some issues (like the job), we never hear the resolution. With other situations (like the heat), we get to see how it all works out. A few events in his life that unfold in the comic are summarized shorthand in the cast page, so if you are the sort who resents "spoilers", then caveat lector. Of course, I read the comic before the cast page and so instead found myself occasionally confused about the location and which characters were house-mates versus which were just friends who visited a lot.
Weing’s art is rendered in a "friendly" cartoonish way– depictions are semi-realistic but slightly simplified and slightly exaggerated. The overall presentation is that of a traditional comic-strip layout with anywhere from one to five panels per installment. On rare occasions, he renders things very realistically seemingly for no reason other than to try out different styles. Other times, the strip gets a little surreal, like when sleep attacks or the bed pounces. In fact, many of Weing’s strips have to do with sleep or the lack thereof.
The lettering is clear and readable. The art is black and white, utilizing thick dark lines and a clean, simple style. Posting can occur daily, but Weing’s had long stretches with no strips. Archives go back just over a year, starting 5 March 2002. The archive is broken down by month, with each strip labeled by date and title. The reader can also navigate smoothly from strip to strip – the navigation bar is always in the same place.
Reading the webcomic from the beginning, a reader notices that Weing initially gives the impression of being nothing more than a slacker on a wacky sleep schedule. But as the comic progresses, Weing refines his technique of picking the right moments of his life and, using various techniques, distills them down into intriguing comics. For instance, one of his best comics builds up the tension by tightening the focus with each panel until it resolves the conflict in the final panel. Another strip, the aptly named "Cabin Fever," uses focus and perspective to convey claustrophobia. And still another riffs on Escher to give the situation depth and a sense of time.
It also seems like Weing is organizing his life to make comics his main priority and The Journal Comic is both a part of that and reflecting that aspect of his world. Between things like the ultimate minicomics-making setup, buying a used drafting table, and getting a bunch of silkscreening equipment, he’s showing the reader a life that revolves around his art.
The end result of Weing’s work is a realistic look at the daily life, both the good and the bad, of a semi-professional cartoonist. While his core audience probably consists of those who make or read comics, the other themes he covers – socializing, dealing with poverty and exhaustion, following a dream, fighting against or surrendering to the urge to slack off, handling modern domesticity, etc. – are universal common experiences for young adults. The small and large dramas of Drew Weing’s life, neatly targeted and illustrated, make for an interesting read.