It was the dawn of the Litigious Age when the sprite comics began to fall. It began with Capcom, and their massive swipe at any and all unauthorized Mega Man and Chun Li sprites. Other companies would follow: Square and Sega, Namco and Tecmo. Finally, Nintendo did it as well, though they would claim they were first, and did it the best.
One by one, the sprite comics vanished from the web, leaving behind only shattered shards of their former glory. But there was still hope — for among the brightest and sharpest of these shards was Kid Radd.
First things first: Dan Miller’s Kid Radd only exists in its own universe, so don’t look for it on Google. Presumably popular during the mid-late 1980’s "NES" era, Kid Radd was a side-scrolling platformer. Kid Radd himself had Mega Man’s firepower, Mario’s charm and Sonic’s attitude.
Kid Radd’s universe is not unlike that of the television show Reboot, where an entire biosphere is contained in digital hardware. Radd was on top of the world when the Player (an unseen, godlike figure) brought him into action, but spent his time in maddening solitude when the game was turned off.
This is all background information, however, as the real story begins in the present day. Like any other 8-bit game, Kid Radd was tossed aside in the 90s. He sat in solitary confinement, only to return during the resurgence of retro-gaming via computer ROMs — console games translated into computer data, then swapped on the Internet.
The fantasy element is that ROMs have nothing to do with computer programmers and everything to do with "The Moderators", a sort of video game liberation force. Suddenly Kid Radd, a character used to complacent control by the Player in his tiny game, is given the entire Internet, and the (often terrifying) responsibilities of his own freedom.
The most unique part of Kid Radd is the fictional nature of the game. It isn’t a sprite comic in the normal sense, wherein characters from pre-existing games are copied and pasted into comics to avoid hand-drawing. Kid Radd is meticulously drawn to appear as if you were seeing an authentic, now-defunct 80’s video game. There is the occasional animated sequence that appeases the "think outside the comic panel" folks, sometimes more impressive than the original games at which it pokes fun… and it certainly does poke fun at those original games.
Despite its epic premise, Kid Radd doesn’t skimp on the gags, most of which stem from the logical quirks of other video games. Sheena, for instance, is Kid Radd‘s version of Princess Toadstool. Never content to wait idly for some cocky jerk to rescue her, Sheena takes an active role after her release from the game. Since she has no lifebar or health to deplete, Sheena can act as the Moderators’ liaison to various games without fear of being hurt or killed. Another character, the Kid Radd random "goomba" named Bogey, is happy for his newfound freedom, but still must avoid being accidentally stomped, or killing anyone he bumps into. Miller even uses these quirks as major plot points in stories – tiptoeing along epic fantasy without sacrificing the comic’s cheeky humor.
If there’s one complaint about Kid Radd, it’s that the website heavily favors aesthetics over functionality. The comic is framed within some sort of pseudo-emulator device, which, while innovative, is rife with navigational glitches and makes it difficult to backtrack or link to specific comics. The webpage itself is easy enough to navigate, but the animated background images will ensure that you receive your daily migraine and/or seizure if you are even slightly prone to either.
Despite its appearance, I’m still hesitant to consider Kid Radd a "sprite comic". I’d call it a "sprite comic parody", but it ignores all other sprite comics and paves its own way. Perhaps when the Litigious Age finally arrives (and it is indeed a matter of when, not if), more sprite comics will try to emulate Kid Radd, the greatest 8-bit game that never was.