PREviews: Three Topical Webcomics Reviewed By Xaviar Xerexes
There's a lot of smarty-pants webcomics out there happy to tell you what they think about the world. Here's a quick look at three that are not just opinionated, but pretty funny. Obviously, your funny mileage may vary depending on your view of the world and your tolerance for opposing points of view. Read on for reviews of (Th)ink, Big Fat Whale, and The Boiling Point.
(Th)ink by Keith Knight
Keith Knight may be better known for his weekly comic, The K Chronicles, but he also creates the weekly comic (Th)ink, which updates every week at the Africana website. (Th)ink is a single panel look at politics which Knight himself describes as "tackling the political and social issues impacting communities of color." This is a better than average strip and it works when Knight really uses the single panel structure to nail an image or joke or just some bit of insightful commentary on an event. It doesn't work when Knight falls into the trap of simply representing some controversy or event without adding much original to it.
It is, of course, political, as recent strips have teased Colin Powell, linked homelessness with the military's many recent "draft-like" actions, mocked Attorney General John Ashcroft, and tweaked the the Bush/Cheney campaign strategy.
Further back, he has nailed some major events and controversies in memorable ways, including this one with a "new" Dennys sign, this Wheel of Fortune game and this Matrix parody. But it can also be fairly silly, using stereotypes and human foibles to poke fun at situations. A few examples include the white phone, the lost Keeny G episode of the "Jazz" miniseries, the recent results of the USA Olympic Basketball team at the Athens Olympics, and a really bad pun on rapper Sean Combs' stage name.
Sometimes, Knight is just preachy. Preachy without funny doesn't work that well for Knight. For example, this one called McTasteless is true, but not particularly much of anything else. There's no insightful humor, or inventive image to drive Knight's point home. The same with this take on Bill Cosby's recent conservative-styled speeches about issues in the African-American community. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of humor or commentary in Knight's take on it.
In (Th)ink, Knight definitely brings his own perspective to the world and often manages to work humor and "a-ha" kind of moments into it as well. Many of the installments are clearly of a liberal bent, but many others are sufficiently distant from the back and forth of politics that they have the potential to appeal to anyone.
One last note: the archives at Africana.com for Knight's comic are horrible. They are not in chronological order and don't even appear to include many of this year's installments. However, you can read all of them in order by going to the image directory and manually changing the URL. I wish I didn't have to do that (or directly link to those images) but until Africana.com treats Knight's archives a bit better it might be the only way to read the whole series.
Big Fat Whale by Brian McFadden.
Brian McFadden is heavily influenced by Reuben Bolling's Tom the Dancing Bug. Which, if you're going to slavishly imitate something, isn't a bad comic to grab ahold of. Like TTDB, BFW, is heavy on conceptual ideas and full of quirky takes on current events. Some of it is directly political and partisan like the "White House of Horrors", or this one that compares Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little to President Bush, or this one that reveals how Fox News hires liberal pundits. Others are politically-oriented but less one-sided like the "Least Influential Special Interest Groups, this one about potentially important swing voter groups or this one about undecided voters.
McFadden likes to zing cultural and geographical stereotypes as well, like in this one about Hollywood or this one about New England. A few other funny parodies include What's New on Broadway and Salty Eye for the Landlubber Guy. McFadden also keeps up an interesting blog.
All in all, this is a strip that tries very hard, often cramming in several jokes in each installment. It comes off as smart than actually funny most of the time, but it does hit the humor zone often enough to enjoy it.
The Boiling Point by Mikhaela Blake Reid
Mikhaela Blake Reid is only loosely in the webcomic camp as she is clearly putting her energy into putting her strip The Boiling Point into weekly alternative papers. Still she has most of her archived comics up on her website and she is actively keeping up a blog as well. Reid is a relative newcomer (she's 24 years old) and has been praised by several prominent cartoonists such as Ted Rall, Scott Bateman and Alison Bechdel.
Her comics are four or six panel efforts squarely in the tradition of someone like Ted Rall and generally pull no punches. If you're squeamish about liberal politics, Reid is going to make you sick. If you're in agreement with her or can take reading something you disagree with than there's a lot of good material to check out. Reid mocks Log Cabin Republicans, Iraqi sovereignty, the War on Terror, and Senator Rick Santorum. Reid also did a War Time ABCs that is a pretty effective summary of her thoughts on the Iraq war.
Reid has devoted a lot of energy to covering recent controversies over gay marriage, the legality of sodomy and other issues related to bi- and homosexuality. Some of that may be due to her experience living in Massachusetts which has been at the center of much of the gay wedding debate. I think Reid has done better with these comics than the series overall. I thought this one on Practical Uses for Sodomy Laws was clever and caught a giddy mood that prevailed for many after the recent United States Supreme Court decision striking down anti-sodomy laws. This one on gay marriage isn't breaking any ground a number of other comics have, but it's effective in its way.
Reid has a strong line and brings a lot to the artistic side of the comic ledger. She generally isn't going for humor or convincing insight a great deal of the time. Many of her comics feel like markers of events and ideas, simple recordings of her views without deep insight or a novel visual idea. Still she is a strong voice and clearly has tremendous potential.
Xaviar Xerexes is a very busy man.