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The Webcomic Overlook #97: HijiNKS Ensue

WCO-big-review

From time to time, one of you lovely and well-intentioned readers inadvertently asks, “El Santo, why don’t do make your own webcomic, you vitriolic nincompoop?”

And I respond, quite politely, “Because. That’s why.”

Earlier this year, though, my wife and I got sucked into the Lost TV show. It started innocently enough: we say Naveen Andrews on The English Patient and we wanted to see what he was up to these days. Two months later, we were buying up DVDs to finish Lost Season 4 and downloading episodes from iTunes to catch up to the telecast. We now have a pair of sweet Dharma t-shirts and are contemplating buying a VW Van to convert it into our Dharmamobile. I also have the full Michael Giacchino soundtrack of Lost on my iPod as well as “recap rock” from the comedy band who call themselves (quite cleverly, I think) Previously On Lost.

This is Lost sickness, and we love it.

Around that time, I thought to myself, “You know what? If I ever do a webcomic, I’m totally doing Lost jokes. There’s a got to be a ton of humor to be mined from that show, right?”

Well, it’s a good think I didn’t follow up, because, as it turns out, there’s at least one webcomic out there that tried to squeeze humor out of that show. The creatively capitalized HijiNKS Ensue, a webcomic written and illustration by Joel Watson, is proof-positive that while Lost humor might be a good idea in theory, it suffers a little in execution. In the end we’re all going to fall back to “Hurley’s so fat” jokes.

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HijiNKS Ensue, subtitled “A Geek Comic,” represents Joel Watson’s willd experiment over whether or not he can make a full-time living from his webcomic. From his site:

I decided to change the way I was living, take a risk and [cliche]“follow my lifelong dream”[/cliche] of being a full time artist so that when my daughter was old enough to ask me what I did for a living, I wouldn’t be ashamed of the answer. I didn’t want her to grow up with a father who was too afraid to take a chance at real happiness. Sappy, right?

Watson’s account on the origins of his webcomic is a fascinating (though somewhat long) read on how he came to the decision to quit his job and do HijiNKS Ensue full time. It’s a nice testimonial on the values of following your dreams and leaving a legacy. Watson doesn’t hide the fears he has of failure. I appreciate the sometimes uncomfortable honesty of a man who’s willing to risk it all on a crazy dream.

Thus, it pains me to say that I didn’t like his comic all that much, and I feel kinda bad for the prickly review below.

The comic stars three friends, one based on Joel and the other two based on Joel’s friends. Joel is the skinny one with the beard and fliptop hairstyle. And then there are his pals, Josh and Eli. One of them is the bald one and the other looks like Kevin Smith. I have a hard time keeping track. It doesn’t matter: all three characters are completely interchangeable. I think one of them is a gay bacon fan, but honestly I forget that by the time I click over to the next strip.

When they get together, they do what any three guys do and talk about whether or not Tony Romo will keep his game together without T.O.

Ha. Just kidding. This is webcomics!

I’m not saying that Josh and gang never talk about football in real life. It’s just that the only webcomic creators who ever broach the subject of sports are insufferable Boston fans. (This is because Boston residents suffer from an inability to verbalize unless they insert a comment about their sports teams every five sentences. It’s sad, really.) No, since we’re talking about a typical garden-variety, ship-of-the-line, straight-from-the-oven-like-grandma-used-to-make-’em webcomic, the subjects du jour of HijiNKS Ensue is geek culture.

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Incredibly, this almost always boils down to the same well-trod bouillabaisse of 80’s pop culture, movies, TV shows, and video games (though Watson emphasizes that HijinNKS Ensue is not a video game webcomic). It’s the same subject matter covered by Penny Arcade, Shortpacked! (reviewed here), and Let’s Be Friends Again (reviewed here). Each establishes their own stake in the geek-niche — in HijiNKS Ensues‘ case, it’s pro-Whedon, pro-Apple, anti-Michael Bay, and anti-emo. Which, come to think of it, are the parameters ascribed to pretty much every geek webcomic and fansite ever.

Several themes among these webcomics are bound to overlap. However, it doesn’t matter if you’re telling that well-worn “Aquaman is lame” chestnut as long as you’re inviting the reader to see the joke through a new perspective with humor that’s fresh, snappy, and insightful.

Which HijiNKS Ensues is not.

Oh, sure, he comic can be funny from time to time. I happen to be quite fond of his strips about hillbillies trying to figure out them new-fangled hi-tech devices. In most cases, though, HijiNKS Ensues tends to rely on the same tired jokes that we’ve heard a thousand times before and are likely to hear a thousand times again.

Part of the problem is the same thing that plagues Family Guy: the idea that just throwing a reference out there — preferably somewhat obscure but recognizable enough so that the viewer feels like he’s being accepted into an exclusive club of funnymakers — makes it instantaneously funny. The biggest difference: from time to time, Family Guy makes me laugh. That’s because Seth MacFarlane and crew usually add that slightest touch of absurdity to elevate the joke beyond just being a reference. And that touch is what HijiNKS Ensue lacks. The comic may have come up with the lamest gag about the Disney/Marvel acquisition I have ever seen: a lazy re-envisioning the X-Men as High School Musical cast members. Eh heh… heh… yeah.

Or, on a similiar front, realizing that Hugh Jackman is hosting the Academy Awards and is ALSO Wolverine from those X-Men movies! Wouldn’t it be hysterical if WOLVERINE was the host and he was disemboweling actors because he thought they were X-Men villains?

Not really.

By the time we get to see the balloon house in Up wandering into a no-fly zone, you start to wonder if someone should go out and skim the algae off the manatee pool.

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Some of the strips look like they were plucked straight out of some protracted nerd BS sessions between Watson and his friends. There’s a good reason why the “normies” don’t want to hear geeks ramble on and on about their geek hobbies. As anyone who’s ever had to suffer through discussions about Joel vs. Mike or Babylon 5 vs. ST:DS9, these discussions can get really old, really fast. Futhermore, geeks can be very, very petty. (Exhibit A: this blog.)

Despite being a geek (I’m running a webcomic review site, people… what do you expect?), I get pretty tired with geek rants myself. My skin tends to crawl, for example, whenever any nerd begins to rail against Fox Network in a Joss Whedon-fueled righteous indignation. Which is why when I see these rants repeated ad nauseum in this webcomic, I roll my eyes and snap, “God! Get over it already!” Seriously, Whedonites: enough. I’m starting to think that you guys like having a persecution complex.

Watson also has the unfortunate habit of running the flimsiest jokes into the ground. HijiNKS Ensue is where jokes die, alone and forgotten. There might have been a gag somewhere about video game ads being aired at a Dethklok concert could’ve been funny at some point. You wouldn’t know by this strip, which goes the long way around to basically say, “Look! Musicians are inserting ads in their song! It’s really hilarious! Moreso when you hear about it a third and fourth time!”

At times, the jokes get stretched out to the point of parody. When the punchline contains the phrase “1-800-EYE-RAPED-BY-HD-BAT-NIPPLES,” you come to the sad realization that you’ve crossed the previously unapproachable humor threshold of Batman & Robin jokes. As someone who ritually reads and enjoys both Nathan Rabin’s pun-laden My Year of Flops entry and the Agony Booth’s marathon recap, this is one threshold that I thought could never be crossed. But there it is, an unfunny joke about Batman & Robin. Incidentally, all you ever really need to say about that movie was said by MST3K’s Mike Nelson: “Batman & Robin is not the worst movie ever. No, indeed. It’s the worst thing ever. Yes, it’s the single worst thing that we as human beings have ever produced in recorded history.”

Short. Sweet. Simple. Was it so hard?

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Finally, HijiNKS Ensue succumbs to one of webcomicdom’s greatest banes: when all else fails, punch up the end the comic with a “surprise” random outburst of violence. Because nothing’s as unexpected as random violence right? … Well, except when you go to that punchline all the time.

Not too long ago, HijiNKS Ensue got on the Ctrl+Alt+Del bashing bandwagon. (Let’s ignore for a moment that the comic got posted something like a year after everyone else got in their licks.) The irony here is that HijiNKS Ensue, minus the ill-advised turn to miscarriage-based melodrama, is basically the Ctrl+Alt+Del of the geek culture crowd. Both are sometimes funny, but overall flat. Both boast an artistic style straight from the “How to Draw Comics the Penny Arcade Way” handbook. Both boast such a singular point of view about pop culture that you suspect every character is really viewing the world through the eyes of one person. And both are trying way too hard to be funny.

If you’re wondering, by the way, CAD is still much, much worse.

However, I still wish the best for Mr. Watson. A recent visit to Compete.com places HijiNKS Ensue fairly close to PvP in terms of audience strength … so perhaps his experiment at being an independent publisher may yet be a success. At least he’s succeeding from the standpoint of finding self-fulfillment:

I have nearly NO income to support my wife, child, mortgage and bills, we don’t have health insurance, our savings are quickly depleting and the future is completely uncertain. There is NO guarantee this will work. I may be slinging coffee in 2 months i have no idea. Regardless, this is the happiest I have ever been in my entire life.

So while I wish Joel Watson the best on his quixotic quest toward raking in that phat webcomic loot, I cannot personally recommend this comic.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)

Posted in 2 Stars, comedy webcomic, pop culture caricatures, spoof, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics Tagged: HijiNKS Ensue