Webcomics have wasted no time in taking advantage of the unfiltered, uncensored, and plain uncontrollable nature of the Internet. Webtoonists have also in their own small way acted out like smaller-scale rock stars, now and again trashing a virtual hotel room. In the spirit of celebrating the abuse or stretching of good taste, artistic boundaries, and/or common sense, we present our somewhat brief and arbitrary list of 17 notorious cartoonists. Some get the nod for a one-time act of notoriety while others continue working on their lifetime achievement awards even as we go to press.
1. Gabe and Tycho, Penny Arcade. Penny Arcade is no stranger to controversy with its authors taking strong stands on gaming consoles, micropayments, and really too many other pop culture moments and social phenomenon to count.
But perhaps its most controversial webcomic was a parody strip called “Strawberry Shortcake by American McGee” featuring a lacy-clad Strawberry Shortcake paddling another formerly innocent cartoon character, Plum Pudding. The parody being based on the idea that American McGee might make a game about Strawberry Shortcake in the same manner as his previous work on American McGee’s Alice in Wonderland which presented a particularly violent and sexy take on the traditional “Alice” character. American Greetings, which owns the rights to the Strawberry Shortcake character quickly fired off cease-and-desist letters to Gabe and Tycho, which led to the removal of the comic from their archives. (It was replaced with an image telling readers to email a lawyer at American Greetings.) It also led to a funny follow-up webcomic about their subsequent interaction with American Greetings.
This controversy quickly spread across the web, assisted in large part by a posting at Slashdot. Also worth checking out is a post at John Scalzi’s blog “Whatever” which contains a copy of the original image. Although Gabe and Tycho choose not to enter into a legal fight over whether their webcomic was a protected form of parody or not, the controversy did raise a lot of debate over parody, free speech, and general corporate cluelessness. It may have also raised your spirits, depending on how much paddled Plum Pudding appealed to you.
2. Scott Kurtz, Player Versus Player. The creator of PVP also gets his name on this list for overall controversy creation including publishing photos of naked babies and verbal brawling with Chris Crosby. But two other incidents in particular are worth mentioning. The first is his online tweaking of “alternative comics” in message board postings and in PVP itself when one of its characters, Skull, creates an intentionally crappy comic entitled “Graphamaximo” that leads to comics fame and fortune. In the real world, Kurtz actually sold copies of “Graphamaximo” at conventions, and the entire controversy led to significant coverage by the comics press.
Next, reaching back a little further, Kurtz took several hard shots at webcomic colleagues in an alleged “guest week” at PVP. Although Kurtz had led readers to believe that his “guest week” would be a week of PVP by guest artists it turned out that it was a week of comics where Kurtz aped the styles of several other webcomics popular at the time. Each comic was arguably a shot at those other webcomics. In an interview on Comixpedia, Kurtz explained why he created his “fake guest week.”
I’ve only created a storyline for the express purpose of pissing someone off ONCE. And that was the strip where I did the fake guest week. I did a series of strips where I drew PvP in the style of other webcartoonists who in the past have annoyed me or said things about me that I thought were unfair. And I let ’em have it. I really tried to sock it to them and get them mad. And hey, guess what? They got mad. So, mission accomplished. In retrospect, it was stupid. My readers aren’t looking for that. And I might not have realized at the time just how strong I was when I started that wrestling match. And feelings got really hurt. So all in all, bad idea.
3. Ric Pryor, Superstar Car Wash. Pryor’s strip not only put naughty words into the mouths of C-List celebrities, but its clip-art approach to visuals was actually fairly original at the time. Sadly it’s not clear if his strip is mirrored anywhere anymore (a few are still up at online magazine Getting It). His longtime domain at modernhair.net was recently grabbed by one of those useless companies that throw up a lame search page on expired URLs they’ve swooped in on.
Pryor was also notable (and grabbed fifteen seconds of fame on the Internet) for a contest he ran with his friend about which of the two of them would get laid first. They kept a running log on his website, where essentially nothing of a sexual nature happened to either of them. It’s not even certain whether or not either one of them won their “contest.”
4. Adam Thrasher (a.k.a. Mustafa Al-Habib), Space Moose. Space Moose is a close call â€“ not because there was any question of its controversial nature (it was extremely controversial) â€“ but because it is arguably not a webcomic. It was originally created and published in The Gateway, the University of Alberta’s college newspaper in Edmonton, Canada. It was, however, published on the Internet as early as 1998 at Spacemoose.com (a URL now apparently abandoned by Thrasher).
Being one of the earliest comics posted on the web, Space Moose attracted a great deal of attention because of its aggressively raunchy and satirical sense of humor. You can still read about those Space Moose comics that attracted the most hate mail from students at the University of Alberta on this mirror site hosting the archives of Space Moose.
Thrasher never seemed particularly interested in his Internet-generated fame and has made no effort to continue work on comics since he stopped.
5. Scott and Amanda Kuehner, Look What I Brought Home. The Kuehners may be the Farrelly brothers of webcomics. Except that they’re husband and wife, and not making millions of dollars. In an interview with Comixpedia, Scott Kuehner explained the range of topics in LWIBH:
There’ve been a lot of really nasty topics touched on over the years, but I’ve never really tried to say something until this past year. The theme of 2002 was that people change. Having changed a lot myself in the past year or so, I used the comic to reflect my own life and experiences for really the first time ever. Believe it or not, I’ve led a pretty normal life free of incest and trips to skanky bars and the like.
In addition to creating a webcomic with maximum gross-out humor, Scott Kuehner maintains the List of Potentially Offensive Webcomics which provides a guide to webcomics chock full of shock value. With separate categories for violence, sex and “the rest” this webcomic directory narrows down the need for Google searches when you’re looking for cheap webcomic thrills. Although LOPOW has not been updating as of late, it is still a useful resource.
6. Eight, Road Waffles. Road Waffles and other webcomics by Eight have pushed the edge of webcomics in terms of violent material, but he makes the list as much for his online pranks as for his webcomics. In an interview with Comixpedia, Eight commented on his past practical jokes:
Another time, when Blood Lark was running, I had a newsbox (Keenspot promotional thing) which said “click heer 4 topless elves” which brought you to a little flash game in which you tried to outwit Satan in order to expose Zayrie for your viewing pleasure. Should you ‘win’, your computer would quickly be overrun with various sound clips of laughter and your explorer would open up windows to your hard drives to make you all paranoid that something bad was happening.
7. Dave Kelly, Purple Pussy. For so many reasons really. It’s almost impossible to keep up with all of the webcomics created by Dave Kelly. His most well-known work is probably the now completed Living in Greytown, but the work for which he merits a mention on the NC17 list can be found in webcomics such as Smut, Bunny War and Bunny Lust, and Big Ones. Actually there are links to most of Kelly’s webcomics here. You’ll find sex, violence, drug use, and all kinds of variations on the three in the world of Dave Kelly.
8. J. Grant, Flem. Flem shows no respect for any boundaries. If you haven’t been offended at least once by Flem, you are probably a vegetable or a moron. Actually J. Grant told us to say that. Okay he didn’t, but he probably would have said something like that had we asked him.
Recent installments of Flem will give you a sense of J.Grant’s shotgun-and-hammer approach to webcomics: commenting on the beheading of American Nick Berg and proposing a novel solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine.
9. Josh Lesnick, Girly. In addition to creating titillating webcomics such as Wendy, Cute Wendy and Girly, Lesnick has started a subscription website for adult comics called Slipshine. Incidentally, we reviewed this adult website just last week.
10. Richard Katellis, Kit N Kay Boodle. Furry anthromorphic characters cheerfully doing it. The closest thing you’ll see to hard-core Disney action outside of the underground.
11. Stephen Crowley, Loxie and Zoot. Crowley isn’t that controversial because Loxie and Zoot is actually such a sweet-natured webcomic that it almost might be G-rated, except, almost everyone in it is naked all of the time. In a puritanical world such as ours, a webcomic almost entirely about nudists deserves at least a little nod for controversy.
12. Lee Adam Herold, Chopping Block. Actually I doubt Herold and his webcomic, Chopping Block is really that controversial amongst readers of webcomics. But try telling your mother about this hilarious webcomic about the humorous antics of a serial killer. Or imagine it running daily in your local newspaper.
13. Patrick Farley, Apocamon. Farley has taken two previously separate tales (Pokemon and The Book of Revelations), each important in their own ways, and made something greater than the sum of its parts. Is it a respectful attempt to present the end of days to the youngsters or a devilish parody of its parts? Farley himself answered that question in a moderated Comixpedia chat session:
[S]peaking of kids… do you know i keep getting CHURCHES asking to download Apocamon to share with their children? [W]hat kind of a FLAG do you have to wave to let people know you’re doing SATIRE?
In the end, how can you not love a webcomic about judgment day? (Read Comixpedia’s review of Apocamon)
14. Spigot, Rands, Deuce and Pants, Jerkcity. Actually it’s not completely clear who makes Jerkcity, but apparently the four main characters in the webcomic represent four friends who have a hand in its creation. Jerkcity has been published since 1998 and may be the only webcomic today that relies on Comic Chat (also known as Microsoft Chat) to create the webcomic.
Jerkcity is mainly nonsensical in approach, but it never goes more than one or two webcomics without somehow mentioning something offensive to someone. If for no other reason than averaging more references to male genitalia per episode than any other webcomic of such duration, Jerkcity gets a lifetime achievement nod. For a fuller appreciation of Jerkcity, check out this interview with some of its creators at Pigdog.
15. Hard, Sexy Losers. Not only does Hard cross every line ever drawn, but he has been doing it for years. As mentioned in Comixpedia’s recent review of Sexy Losers, it covers necrophilia, coprophagy, incest, bondage, golden showers, bestiality, constant masturbation, bukkake and plenty of other weird shit.
16. Ghastly, Ghastly’s Ghastly Comic. Ghastly’s webcomic also crosses too many lines to list, but in contrast to Hard’s all-purpose assault, Ghastly has made a specialty of the “tentacle monster” genre. Ghastly, however, makes this list in part because a recent webcomic he published so offended Keenspace’s advertisers that although Ghastly’s webcomic is hosted by Keenspace it no longer runs the standard adverts. (Here’s the comic that offended Keenspace’s advertisers, the Burst network.) On his website, Ghastly expressed his surprise that this particular comic of all his work was so offensive:
Did you guys notice something a little odd about my website this past week? Notice how fast it loaded? Notice how there was no ad banner at the top of my site? Yep, it’s like the comic says, I lost my sponsor last week over the strip where Aryan Jesus has missionary position sex with his wife for the purpose of procreation. Hard to believe, eh? For three years they’ve put up with all the sick and twisted stuff I’ve done in this strip but missionary position sex is apparently when I’m crossing the line.