Webcomic Overlook's Top Ten Best Webcomics of the Decade
Submitted by El Santo on November 16, 2009 - 10:00
You want to know what’s really subjective? Top ten lists. No two people will ever agree on what the best ten of anything is as long as people have the ability to think for themselves. Isn’t merely the act of putting together such a list an example of arrogance? Probably.
Still, we love lists like the one I’m compiling below for one big reason: its fun to argue why something made the list, and why things were left off.
So, as we head into the Holiday Season and close out the aughts, here’s my list of what I think are the Ten Best Webcomics of the Decade (2000-2009): The Second Decade of Webcomics.
These aren’t the most influential — otherwise Penny Arcade would be a shoe-in. And since we’re talking about The Decade, longetivity counts — so, sorry Gastrophobia. This is a list of webcomics I enjoyed because they told great stories, opened readers to different sorts of humor, and basically stuck with me for some reason or other.
Each of these are a great credit to the new genre/medium known as “webcomics” and show that, in some cases, the outlaw world of webcomics can produce comics that are heads and shoulders superior to their boring, predictable print counterparts.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge fan of this webcomic. Gunnerkrigg Court’s artwork is beautiful and unique. Tom Siddell tells a mysterious story set in a sprawling Gormenghast-style city that mashes up fantasy with science fiction. While this is the sort of place where fairies and robots coexist, Gunnerkrigg Court feels natural and not at all contrived. The highly likable cast includes Antimony, a wide-eyed girl with destiny written all over her, and Reynardine, a stuffed animal who is more than meets the eye. I loved this comic so much, I reviewed it twice. I’ve said it once, and I’ll say it again: if there is only one webcomic you will read in your entire life, read Gunnerkrigg Court.
Kate Beaton’s comic has achieved the impossible: she’s managed to make Canadian history interesting. Man, I doubt Canadians even find Canadian history interesting. She pokes fun at other events in history as well by showing us that, really, were those bygone figures really different from us? Is it so implausible that the Bronte sisters would be dishing on distasteful men or that, as above, suffragettes would spend just as much time hitting on the dudes as they would protesting? Hark! A Vagrant makes jokes based on a weird, universal truth: human nature is pretty much the same, no matter what era.
Can old school cartooning can be adapted to and be made new for audiences online? Now, Gunshow and its predecessor, Horribleville aren’t for everyone. They’re vulgar and crass; the fart jokes of webcomics. Still, anyone can make a poop joke. What make’s KC Green’s webcomics so special is his unique brand of rubbery and hyperkinetic artwork. KC’s drawings — in some ways reminiscent of Looney Tunes and Spumco — is goddamned hilarious. It’s great to know that in a webcomic world where everything seems to rely on sterile Flash drawings, there’s someone out there who can make you laugh the old-fashioned way: by drawing someone with a smile that’s goofy as hell.
It’s too bad that the last years of Scary Go Round got super bland, because everything John Allison wrote up to “Super Crisis Quests” was bursting with creativity and energy unparalleled by anything else outh there. The world of Scary Go Round, anchored by the fetching Shelley Winters, was one where anything that could happen, did happen. Trips to the undead, zombie resurrections, robot ambassadors, creepy children: it was all there! The art was fantastic, whether it was the clean Adobe Illustrator look or the more elongated and pliant hand-drawn look. And, above all, Scary Go Round was very, very British. Quite the dog’s bollocks, what what!
You wouldn’t think a cat in a thong would make a compelling character, but Chris Onstad will prove you wrong. Achewood proves that there’s a lot of power in using a simplistic and off-putting art style. A portion of the story takes place in an inky black underworld, and it’s unsettling and eerie as get out. The comics’ vulgar jokes are probably the ones that get the most attention. That’s fine, but it’s not why I like Achewood. The best Achewood jokes are often the sneaky ones that reward readers who’ve been paying attention. Onstad’s magnum opus, “The Great Outdoor Fight,” is a strong contender for Best Webcomic Story Arc of the Decade.
Now that it’s on semi-hiatus, it’s easy to forget the influence PBF had on webcomic humor. With PBF, humor went upscale. Sure, Nicolas Gurewitch tended to lean too strongly on the Twilight Zone twist at the end, where happiness and joy is subverted by horror. Still, give Gurewitch credit: the guy told jokes that seemed fresh and new because, really, no one had told them before. And then there’s that art. You’ve got to love all the different art styles Gurewitch juggled. The painterly Euro-style, which PBF became most strongly indentified, is incredibly attractive, and it was something no one had ever really seen in a popular webcomic before. Just because you’re doing a 3-to-4 panel gag comic doesn’t mean it can’t be pretty.
This webcomic beat out Fables, Y: The Last Man, and Serenity for the Hugo Award. You know what’s weird? Phil and Kaja Foglio deserved it. You can easily get sucked into their world of mad science and revisionist European history. In fact, I will go so far as to say that, Girl Genius marks the only time that “steampunk” has provided a backdrop for great storytelling in any medium. It’s got everything you could want in a fantasy epic: romance, action, and lots and lots of fun.
Will the Zuda Comics business model be the future of webcomics? Time will tell. However, you can’t fault the content. David Gallaher and Steve Ellis’ Harvey Award-winning High Moon shows where superhero-style action might headed and the Big Two comic companies transition to the digital format. And yet … where else buton the internet could a high concept mix of Westerns and horror possibly succeed? High Moon’s much better than a lot of its superhero ilk, too, by virtue of its originality and its willingness to subvert reader expectations.
9.) Sexy Losers
This is the only comic on this list I haven’t reviewed, nor will I link to it for fear of running afoul of WordPress’ obsenity rules. Sexy Losers comes with a hard triple X rating. It would be one thing if the comic was simply NSFW but … wow. Ever read a comic where a guy forincates into a headless girl’s throat? Or a woman decides to get it on with a former lover’s ashes? Sexy Losers makes the list for being so audacious that in manages to get past the merely repulsive and reaches a strange (and uncomfortable) level that redefines “dark humor.” Like South Park’s Scott Tenorman episode, he mental scars this webcomic inflicts stay with you long, long after you’re done reading it.
And for the final spot of my Top Ten Best Webcomics of the Decade, something that’s much, much cleaner. Can puns be funny? Yes … as long as you persevere at them. Brian McLachlan proves that he can wear you down until you raise the white flag and admit that, yes, sometimes all you really were in the mood for was a good clean joke and a chipper, adventure-seeking princess in a pink leotard.
Honorable mention: Megatokyo, The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Minus, A Lesson Is Learned But the Damage is Irreversible.