The Comixpedia End of 2006 Roundtable
For the December issue, we assembled our second annual virtual round table of writers to give us their thoughts on the state of webcomics at the end of 2006. (We did this last year - you can read it here.) Our panel discussion was conducted by email and has been edited for length.
- Eric Millikin is the creator of Fetus-X, editor of Serializer, blogger for The Detroit News and Talk About Comics, and occasional writer for The Comics Journal.
- Daku is the host of Digital Strips, a podcast and blog about webcomics.
- Gilead Pellaeon blogs at The Webcomicker.
- Mike Russell is a writer, critic and cartoonist who has appeared in the The Oregonian and The Boston Globe. He also blogs at Culture Pulp.
- Lewis Powell is the co-creator of the webcomic Terror Island and blogs at Wax Intellectual.
- Alexander Danner is a writer and occasional contributor to Comixpedia. He also maintains Full Story, a directory of completed webcomics.
- Eric Burns is a writer and game designer. He blogs at Websnark.
- Michael Rouse-Deane blogs at Webcomics in Print.
- Johanna Draper Carlson blogs at Comics Worth Reading.
- Gary Tyrrell blogs at FLEEN.
Xerexes: What were your favorite five webcomics for 2006 and why?
Eric Burns: Narbonic, first and foremost. This is Narbonic's last year, and Shaenon Garrity's still bringing her â€œAâ€ game. Questionable Content and Achewood immediately after that, followed by PvP. The fifth favorite webcomic varies from week to week, and on any given week I'll say Starslip Crisis, Shortpacked, Evil Inc., Schlock Mercenary, Superosity, Scary-Go-Round, Count Your Sheep and a bakers' dozen of others. Oh, and Something Positive. Which is in the top five at all times. So, in any given week, my top five has six strips in it, and a good number of them are variable.
Think of my lineup as the 1980's Boston Celtics.
Alexander Danner: Well, there are the perennial favorites, of course. I'm still in love with Dicebox on every level. And Narbonic continues to be my favorite humor strip, though by the time this article reaches an audience, Narbonic will probably have only a few days left in its run. With both of these, I think one of the defining strengths is that Lee and Garrity both know how their stories are going to end - they have a clear sense of direction, which is vital to a narrative comic. So, as sad as I am that Narbonic is ending, I know that I wouldn't have enjoyed it as thoroughly as I did if not for the fact that Garrity was working toward an end all along.
Also, I'm hoping that the end of Narbonic will give Garrity's delightful quasi-superhero series, Smithson, more room to shine.
Gilead Pellaeon: The tough part about picking the five favorite is to determine which five did the best job this year. Some comics are just perennially great, but you want to give props to the strips that may not have been as consistently high quality, but delivered some absolute gut-busters along the way or some particularly special moments.
First off, Penny Arcade. I know it's the "cop out" answer, but for some reason Penny Arcade really hit home with me this year, more so than any year prior. There were so many strips I just had to go back and read over again, ones that had me laughing out loud and quoting for weeks. When a strip that's been so popular and around for so long still continues to improve this much, you've got to give them props. Second, Girl Genius. It covered a lot of good ground this year, starting with a rather interesting twist and building from there. Plus, you gotta love those Jagermonsters.
Third, Penny and Aggie. They tackled some tough issues this year. We saw a lot of character advancement (as we should, highschoolers are building character all the time) and climaxed (ooh, bad pun) with a storyline on teenage sex that gave one of the most accurate, most tasteful, and altogether one of the best treatments I've ever seen. Shortpacked! proved this year that David Willis has learned how to advance a story without resorting to OMG SERIOUS and has consistently pushed both the boundaries of good taste and humor, which gives him a nice thumbs up from me. Those four really stand out in my mind for this year, and all my other 'stories' had their ups and downs, so I'm giving a whopping five-way tie for fifth place to Rob and Elliot, Killer Robots from Space, Mousewax, The Order of the Stick, and Ugly Hill.
Johanna Draper Carlson: I read very few webcomics, mainly due to time and technology -- I have so many print books I try to keep up with that I'm not actively looking for more venues to read comics in, and print is still more portable. That said, the few strips I follow are Questionable Content, Unshelved, Irregular Webcomic (mostly the â€œMythbustersâ€ strips), Wally and Osborne, and Bunny. It is not a coincidence that these strips all have RSS feeds, and most of them publish the actual comic in them. I like entertainment that makes it easy for me to approach it conveniently. And they make me laugh.
Lewis Powell: I am almost certain I am forgetting some, but here goes: Killer Robots from Space, Killroy and Tina, Starslip Crisis, Thinkin Lincoln, and Rob and Elliott. I'm excluding Wondermark, which I would otherwise include, but I haven't finished reading the archives yet, and so I cannot really comment on its 2006 performance. These comics basically play really well to my sense of humor, and that's the thing that keeps me coming back for more.
Daku: I use to think this question was so hard, but having read soooo many comics over the past two years there are some that always make me laugh and keep me coming back. The top two have to be Least I Could Do and Questionable Content. The other three are on my list on shear â€œwowâ€ factor for both art and story. There's Dreamland Chronicles, A Lesson is Learned, and Inverloch. All three of these impress me every time I visit.
Eric Millikin: Considering the sweeping changes of the 2006 midterm elections, I think political webcomics deserve a special group hug and a series of high-fives from all of us. One of my favorites is Keyboard Kommando Komics from the Poor Man Institute for Freedom, Democracy and a Pony. It's the type of sphincter-faced, Nancy-Pelosi-on-the-cover-of-Fiend-Folio political comics that really has no place outside of the web. Or on the web, in most people's opinions. I've also greatly enjoyed Johnny Ryan's Klassic Komix Klub -- between that and Keyboard Kommando Komics, 2006 was the best year yet for comics with the KKK acronym. Klassic Komix Klub is a lot like Classics Illustrated except with a lot more jokes about planet Mars taking a galactic death shit and Huckleberry Finn getting punched in the testicles about a million times. I suppose my third favorite comic of 2006 would be Minnie Pauz, which is an absolutely fabulous single panel comic all about menopause. It's totally huge and has been on CNN, PBS and in TIME magazine.
Of course, I spend quite a bit of time reading what's on Serializer. It's hard to pick one highlight, but it's great to see Patrick Farley's return from about a three year retirement to continue his Book of Revelations manga Apocamon: The Final Judgement. It displays some of the best artwork on the web, it's one of the best truly web-specific, you-can't-print-this sound and animation comics, and the writing by St. John the Divine is as strong as you'd expect from a saint.
For my fifth pick I'd like to give a shout out to whatever webcomic artist is thinking about flaming me for leaving their comic off my list. Really, I mean it, my fifth pick was totally going to be you.
Mike Russell: My first pick is Achewood, specifically its "Great Outdoor Fight" storyline -- the most addictive story I've ever read (and re-read) in webcomics. Onstad followed it with Airwolf, "The Badass Games," Pat's coming-out.... Mr.Burns has referred to this strip in musical terms, and that's very much been my experience of Achewood, too: Onstead launched into this totally surprising guitar solo with "The Great Outdoor Fight" that he's been playing for the better part of a year.
My second pick is Scary Go Round. This year, John Allison pulled off two very difficult gear-shifts, and he made both look effortless. He embedded a new, younger generation of characters into the strip without fans feeling like they'd been carpet-bombed with Cousin Olivers. And he walked away from the slick, crowd-pleasing Illustrator style he'd mastered and pioneered. Switching to lo-fi hand-drawings infused SGR with the wonderful, jangly energy of his Scare-o-deleria experiments -- but it took some serious brass.
Michael Rouse-Deane: I've always stood by HOUSD no matter what, because HOUSD was basically the first webcomic that really got me to read more. It's always been my favorite and it is sad that it has ended. Another favorite of mine is Beaver & Steve. I just don't know how James Turner writes that stuff, but it always cheers me up. I also got into boot_error this year, itâ€™s very British and very funny. Since I am addicted to the furry characters, I'm a huge fan of Ninja Bunny. It's good to have a comic that doesn't have much, if any, speech in it, because sometimes actions do speak louder. Finally, my other favorite this year is Multiplex, because I love films so much. Whereas other people have their gamer comics -- which most of the time I don't understand -- this is my kind of comic. I seriously love it and laugh at all the in-jokes about films because I know what they're talking about!
Gary Tyrrell: Achewood started the year with the brilliant "Great Outdoor Fight" storyline, and has only gotten better since then. Scary Go Round has seamlessly shifted between characters and plots, and given John Allison's hand-drawn art an opportunity to shine. Girl Genius has shown that you can do long-form stories in small chunks without losing momentum (or failing to bring a killer punchline with each update). Ursula Vernon continues to do a fabulous job with Digger. For number five there are a bunch of candidates, but I'm going to have to give it to the recently wrapped Concerned, because Christopher Livingston did a terrific job of making me care -- contrary to all my tendencies -- about a complete and utter moron. That's living proof of the transformative power of storytelling.
Xerexes: Were there any comics that debuted on the web in 2006 that really stood out for you?
Rouse-Deane: There's only one that really stood out this year for me personally and that is Grumps by Chris Jones. I was quite shocked at the level of artistry (and also nudity!). Who would have thought that a webcomic about an old folk's home would be so funny and, in my mind, successful. Sure there's a lot of things I wish I wouldn't see and I'm sure reading it will make you go blind sooner or later, but it's stood out for me because it's so fresh and new.
Burns: I'm going to open with Cheshire Crossing. This both represents Andy Weir moving on to something different and interesting, and a new model -- one that others have triedÂ where an entire 'comic book' gets produced and then released to the web, rather than daily or weekly regular updates of strips and pages. I like the artwork and the story and the pacing, and that's a good set of things to like. I'm also seriously grooving on Girl/Robot -- Petie's really hit his stride, and while I'm a little curious if he can keep up with it -- it's a formula that could become repetitive after a while -- so far it's been heaps of fun.
Danner: I'm a little fuzzy on the dates, so correct me if I'm misremembering, but I'm pretty sure Family Man, I Am a Rocket Builder, and Templar, Arizona all debuted in 2006. I always love to see people playing with non-linear structure, so B. Shur's four interconnected stories are a treat, especially when combined with his quirky artwork, and the playful experiments in â€œThe Pocket Witchâ€ storyline. And Spike's completely absurd setting and over-the-top personalities are a consistent treat in Templar, Arizona.
But more than anything else, it's Family Man that has me completely hooked, and nothing has really even happened yet. I'm just loving the subtle family dynamics. As much as I enjoyed Bite Me!, it just never quite drove home for me how talented Meconis really is. Clever, yes. Bite Me! oozed cleverness. But in Family Man, I suspect Meconis is going to display an emotional depth to match her wit. And somehow, she's going to revolve it all around werewolves.
Powell: I'll echo Alexander Danner listing Templar, Arizona which has me constantly wanting more updates, and also add Justin Pierce's Non-Adventures of Wonderella, which is new, but has already become one of my favorites. Pierce has a good fix on where exactly the funny is, and he has made himself a home there.
Pellaeon: Actually Templar, Arizona debuted in May of 2005. It's still good though. Definitely in agreement on Non-Adventures of Wonderella. I love the idea of a self-centered, snotty, spoiled super-heroine. Classic. I'll agree with Mike Rouse-Dean at least that Grumps made me want to claw my eyes out. The horror...
Another new comic that should certainly not be overlooked is Kawaii Not, which is devilishly cute and fiendishly clever. Iâ€™ll also mention Banished, which doesn't get nearly the props it deserves for being a consistently funny four-panel story strip, which is tough to do. Lastly, let's not forget the new Platinum Studios comics launched on Drunk Duck: Cowboys and Aliens and Hero By Night. All jabbering about creative rights and reimbursement aside, these are both really good comics.
Daku: There is one which I've only come across recently. As a judge for the Bomb Shelter Webcomic Idol contest I was finally exposed to What Birds Know and it's simply a jewel waiting for a cult following. With so many reviews under my belt I was starting to think I'd seen everything, but leave it to webcomics to prove that's impossible.
Millikin: Married to the Sea was a good debut by Natalie Dee and Drew. It sort of makes me wonder what webcomics or holographic genital implant comics or whatever we'll have a couple centuries from now will look like when all of today's artwork passes into the public domain. Maybe we ought to just give in to the inevitability that today's artists are all just making clip art for our great-great-great grand children to cut up and make fart jokes out of. Meanwhile, on the other side of the planet is another nice debut, A Six Feet Girl. It's published by the Mainichi Daily News, which I expect gives it a huge readership. It's also got a cool roll-over translation from Japanese to English.
Also, Johnny Ryan's Klassic Komix Klub that I talked about earlier started in 2006, as did the ACT-I-VATE group, featuring some amazing artists like Dean Haspiel, Nick Bertozzi, Dan Goldman, and Jason Little. ACT-I-VATE is by far the best new web based anthology or collective. Nick Bertozzi and Heidi MacDonald's Battle Fart alone gets them that title. It was great to watch ACT-I-VATE inspire almost immediately the creation of like-minded, high-quality efforts like DE-ACT-I-VATE and The Chemistry Set. Good show, people.
Russell: Lackadaisy. My stepdaughter turned me on to this recently, and it dropped my jaw. If you haven't seen it, Lackadaisy is this gorgeously researched, sepia-toned comic by computer-game artist Tracy J. Butler. It's about a St. Louis speakeasy in 1927 populated by Disney-style cartoon cats -- and it's one of the most charmingly rendered webcomics I've seen, with joyful pacing and Warner Bros. action. It just leaps off the screen. I mean my God, just check out the character sketch gallery.