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Stickler and Hat-Trick review Dana Kelly's Residence Life

Stickler and Hat-trick, in association with Comixpedia present:  Stickler and Hat-trick at the Keyboard

RESIDENCE LIFE, created by Dana Kelly

(Tonight's show is sponsored by a mysterious wealthy benefactor who only identifies himself as "La Patate Grande")

STICKER: Hi, and welcome to yet another edition of Stickler and Hat-Trick at the Keyboard!
HAT-TRICK: ...the back-to-school edition!
S: Indeed.
HT: I hope everyone is ready for a pop quiz. It's been a long summer.

S: Luckily, there are some great webcomics out there that carry on the educational institution theme throughout the year. This month's comic, Dana Kelly's Residence Life, is one of them.
HT: Residence Life is a full-color, mostly-four-panel strip, posted (in theory) Monday through Friday.

S: Right off the bat, this strip screams college life. Anyone who's been to college, whether or not they actually finished, can relate to this strip. The storylines are very college-life centered, focusing on everything from surviving finals and tormenting RAs to road trips and bad campus food.
HT: And drinking.
S: Yes. Lots of drinking. There are a few storylines that involve throwing a party of some kind.
HT: The two main characters, Dave and Skeet, are your typical middle America college kids. They stay up late, drink too much beer or soda, cram for their tests, barely live off their part time jobs, and love to pull pranks on their RA, Charles.

S: Dave is a bit more of the everyman. The character that the readers can identify with most readily. Dave is usually more grounded in his choices, and we experience his trials with him. Skeet, is one step lower. He's a bit more crass, awkward with girls, sarcastic, a party animal.
HT: There's also Dave's girlfriend, Michelle. She's an art major, and tends to be a little more sophisticated than Dave. To make matters more interesting, Michelle is Charles's sister. Which can work for and against Dave sometimes.

S: I liked Charles. His character was pretty one-dimensional, but Kelly doesn't always just make him the antagonist for Dave and Skeet. Sometimes, he's an unlikely partner in their adventures, while at other times he just wants to fit in.
HT: The last character to mention is Beer, a squirrel that has made his home in Dave and Skeet's room. He fits in nicely with the guys, drinks beer, makes his share of the mess, loves to eat, and hates Charles. Beer's cute design and perky nonverbal reactions to situations make him a very lovable character.
S: Or a blatant mascot.
HT: Well, wouldn't *you* love a little Beer plush doll?

S: Anyway, the writing is pretty solid, involving simple gags and storylines that are not too momentous. Anyone can jump in and get caught up quickly. While most of the storylines are based around college events or the jobs the guys have, Kelly also plays a bit with the meta-comic elements. The characters are aware that they are in a comic, and often hold conversations with the cartoonist.
HT: There's a great bit where they go on strike after having to do a strip at 4:30 AM. And in a later storyline, Dave suggests using a quick wipe to cut out lots of travel time. Even though that's technically a jump cut, we get the idea. Sometimes Dana Kelly himself makes an appearance.

S: Because Dave and Skeet realize they are part of a "college" comic strip they do things like present reader mail, suggest plot ideas, and point out when their look changes artistically.
HT: That's true.
S: That was my subtle segue into talking about art...
HT: Okay... go for it.
S: *sigh* The art is very clean, in full color, and amazingly consistent in design. While this is not a strip where you might see a character drawn differently in every shot, you will see a lot of good composition and effort into backgrounds that set the environment.
HT: I think the full-color thing is great, and it's amazing that early on Dana Kelly was doing a Monday thru Saturday strip.

S: But you can tell there are tricks that are used here to help with that. Those backgrounds I mentioned are predrawn and used in multiple strips and often the characters don't move their positions.
HT: The other thing about the backgrounds is in later strips, Kelly starts to use photos and distorts them with a Photoshop filter. I think this looks pretty cool and it creates a nice blurry atmosphere.
S: I can't help thinking that's cheating though. I mean, this artist can clearly draft things in perspective. It only takes a few more minutes to whip up a drawn landscape or building. It also clashes with the hand-drawn art sometimes.
HT: The character design has been changed a few times, and I think for the better. Kelly is one of those webcomic artists that seems to not be completely satisfied with the character design, and has altered it several times.
S: The most recent incarnation, where the containing lines are a complementing color rather than black, I think works the best. It resembles a children's cartoon style, where the characters are on their own animation cell. The noses inside the face is also a much better look.

HT: So you'd say that Residence Life is looking better and better?
S: When it's posted, yes. Not surprisingly, it's also a strip that posts on a semi-irregular schedule (which has gone down to Monday through Friday). It's impressive that someone in college would have time to keep up a full-color daily strip, and Kelly still aims to do that. I wouldn't be averse to seeing a regular schedule of MWF instead of missing days. Other than the schedule, I like what the strip has done for itself - it makes for some fun college stories.

HT: I agree, although I think there are still a lot of college story elements to tackle. Much of what Residence Life has tackled deals with the white, middle class American college crowd. It would be nice to see some diversity in both the characters, and the stuff they deal with. After all, college is the place where you meet ALL kinds of people. The jokes found in the strip now are great, it just seems like it's limiting itself a bit with subject matter.
S: But, it is hard to represent every single aspect of college life all over the country. This is college experience as the creator sees fit to tell it, and those that can identify will enjoy it all the more. There's nothing wrong with that.

HT: I can do a keg stand, you know.
S: I did not know that.

Stickler and Hat-Trick are regular contributors to the Comixpedia. If you're ever around, they're always up for a pick-up game.