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I Hate You All by Dalton Wemble

A Farewell to Paws

Okay, I was going to get into this big thing about the point of this column, and politely explain that how it's just great that all webcomics creators are supportive and friendly and sloppy kisses all around but that the medium's ability to self-criticize is completely eroded by everyone's reluctance to piss anyone else off...but screw it.
But that would take an awful long time, so here's the deal:

Webcomics can, on occasion, be a good read.

Most of the time, though, reading webcomics is like being locked in a coffin with a rabid, amphetamine-crazed monkey in possession of (a) a taser and (b) the total and unerring knowledge that your groin is responsible for every ill that has ever befallen any member of the monkey nation. Ever.

So I'm going to try to lay out why this is, as clearly as I know how. Why? Because you need this. Because the world needs this. Webcomics are a bold new medium, and it is rapidly becoming a black hole where talent is sucked in and never escapes again. Bandwidth is so choked with bad comics that they have become the kudzu that strangles those with a modicum of talent until their gray and lifeless bodies are found dangling colorless in the vine.

Lesson one: write your comic premise down on a piece of paper. Thirty words or less. Let's take a popular comic as an example. Oh, I don't know, PVP:

The lives of the staff of a gaming magazine: the owner, the graphic designer, his girlfriend, a fifteen year-old-boy and a troll named Skull.

Got that? Good! Give it a shot. Just get a pen and paper...

...that stick-like thing in your desk. Check the drawers. Yeah, that thing that makes marks when you push it against the stuff that comes out of your printer. Excellent. Okay, now go for it.

Now read it back slowly. As you do so, watch for the words "And their talking _________." If those words, or any close variant, appear in that summary, I want you to take a six-inch railroad spike, place it in your right ear and, using a rubber mallet, tap it until it is a four-inch railroad spike.

Then repeat the exercise above. Eventually you will run out of spike, consciousness, or suddenly come to the realization that just because something talks, that don't make it funny. Just because Jon Davis found himself sitting on a firecracker with that side-splitting Garfield doesn't mean you're morally bound to emulate him. Or even that you should.

Still with me? Don't mind that throbbing. It's just the spike.

"Oh," you cry, "but what about Sluggy Freelance? And what of Goats? They have talking animals! And many people like those strips, therefore they must be funny!"

I don't care.

The fact of the matter is, Sluggy and Goats would be funny without the talking animals. And Pete Abrams and Jon Rosenberg were here so long before you, it's not funny. As of about 1998, it's been done. And you know what? The talking animals are far from what make those strips good. Bun-Bun hasn't done anything in Sluggy in years, and you may have noticed that Diablo and Toothgnip have been relegated to bizarre comic relief over in the Goats pub.

That's because as these creators got older and, god forbid, better, they realized that saying "It's funny because it's a chicken! That talks! And it's got a badass personality!" is the sort of crutch that should be reserved for six-year-olds being trotted out on stage in a goddamn sheep costume to sing "Mary Had A Little Lamb." It's goddamn cute because it's a goddamn toddler dressed like a goddamn sheep. That doesn't mean it's any good. It sort of means the opposite.

In celebration of this revelation, I give you Wemble's Rules for Animals in Comics:

1. Don't let them talk. Hell, don't let them think. If you can't draw an animal well enough to give it some sort of indicative body language or facial expressions, you shouldn't be drawing it in the first place.

2. If you feel somehow obliged to include a talking _______ in your strip, ask yourself why you're so weak on the idea side that you need to inject artificial wackiness to try to do something funny. If you can't write funny people, writing funny desks and funny wombats shouldn't be attempted. If you're so creatively bankrupt that the only way you can bring the funny is to say "hey, it's a kangaroo with syphilis! And it talks!" you... well, get the spike and we'll talk later.

3. Actually, just don't use animals in comics. God knows humans have screwed them up enough already.

Oh, and the monkey mentioned at the beginning of this article?

It talks. It says two words over and over and over.

Bet you'll never guess what they are.

Dalton Wemble is a guest contributor for the Comixpedia. As he explains it, he is a 60-year veteran of the webcomics world and has been commenting on the webcomics "scene" since his 1971 publication "the decline of the phosphorescent pixel."

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

Dalton is a rather hirsuit (furry?) individual. I think that explains his antipathy to animals.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

kjc's picture

Ok, granted, this article was harshly funny to make a point and I can understand you taking umbrage with its tone.

But seriously - do you think there should be no criticism? Your note implies that, rather than pointing out cliches and problems, we should ignore them.

Of course visiting web sites is not required. But legitimate criticism of any medium has its place in the world. I'm talking about non-vindictive, constructive (this works, this doesn't), intelligent criticism that can actually make the work better.

Criticism that creates dialogue like the one we're having now helps us understand issues of quality and craftsmanship. I think it's a good thing.

Kelly J.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Chris Crosby's picture

There are too many talking white people in comics. Talking white people suck.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Leah Fitzgerald's picture

Except on top.
Which is where it really counts.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

David Wright's picture

Sure, talking animals in and of themselves is not what's funny about the comics. That would be relying on a single gag or gimmick, and cannot be funny for a prolonged period of time. Comedy comes from the relation between characters, and those characters can be human or animal, if the writing is bad it will be bad no matter what the dynamics of the comic are. However if someone is a good writer, then they can make the relation work between any set of characters. The problem with many webcomics is that we as a group for the most part are still learning our craft, and at different stages of talent and skill, so there is likely to be more bad comics than good, because so many people are just starting out, and haven't gotten to that level yet.

To say as a rule that any strip should avoid talking animals is an interesting position. Using your *rule*, of disqualifying any comic with a talking animal, the following comics are unfunny. Peanuts, Calvin and Hobbes, Bloom County, and Get Fuzzy. Interesting.

~dave
www.toddandpenguin.com

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Oh, c'mon, this guy can't be serious. "60 years"? "1971"? Not unless his webcomics were emailed to him in ASCII or EBCDIC. (Now, I _am_ that old, I remember EBCDIC screen animation on 3270s!) Mr. Wemble's opinions are just that, not based in fact or observation to any length or degree. Perhaps the "talking" animal is overused, certainly there are only rare examples of it having been done well. (Steve Troop's Melonpool comes to mind, as does Thomas K. Dye's Newshounds.) But Dalton's style is overly-abrasive, as far as I am concerned.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Lesson one: write the premise for your article down on a piece of paper. If it resembles "____(genre/device/style) is stupid and you should never use it," crumple it up and chew it until you get paper cuts on your tongue.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

actually, you might be surprised at "re-interpretations". Sure, they have the disadvantage to having an unoriginal feel to them because of their origins, but that doesn't mean that an it can't be new and innovative.

The point is that people should be allowed to do whatever they want to. And who knows, just because you can't think of a new and interesting way to re-interpret "Garfield" doesn't mean that someone else can't... but we'll never know if that person is discouraged by critics and cynics.

-FD

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

David Wright's picture

The distinction is never made wether Hobbes is *REAL* or not, as Watterson himself has said repeatedly. Regardless, figment or not, it is a talking Tiger. The other examples, Peanuts and Bloom County, Opus appeared early in the strip's history. I don't know the exact timeframe, but I believe it was within the first 6 months of the comic's life. One might even argue that Bloom County without Opus and Bill the Cat might not of enjoyed the fame it achieved with them as integral parts of the cast. If you take Peanuts as a whole, then Snoopy was introduced early in it's life. Regardless, the author of the column made no distinction as to when the talking animal appeared.

As for "Get Fuzzy" I think it is a very funny strip, but tyhat is simply a difference in our tastes, which is not a matter of debate.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

geez, if I ever hear another person complain about the web being over-run by crap, it'll be too soon (and I'm tempted to lock them up in a coffin with above mentioned monkey).

When will people get it through their heads that visiting web sites is not required of anyone. If you don't like reading comics with non-human things that talk or whatever, then don't read them. It's not like said monkey is going to torture you if you click the back button.

If someone really wants to create a comic with a talking sofa or whatever in it, then so what? Oh, so you're not going to read it... so what!?! Who are you, me or anyone else for that matter, to say what someone can or cannot put on the web? As far as I know, the only thing that can dictate something like that is law, and the last time I checked, there wasn't anything against "things that people think suck".

And BTW, The creator of Garfield is "Jim" Davis... not "Jon".

-FD

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

I never said that there shouldn't be criticism. If I did, I would be a hypocrite by criticizing the article.

However, the criticism offered in the rant above is not constructive. I don't know about everyone else, but the one "rule" I've found when it comes to art is that the are no concrete rules. For every "rule" that I've heard in the artistic field, I've seen someone sucessfully break it. Telling a beginning creator that he can or can't do something is an atrocity. Instead of encouraging new ways of thinking, it becomes a mental block.

This is the web. Let people experiment. heck, if a 10 year old wants to "reinterpret" an existing work like "garfield" or "peanuts" then let them! Everyone has to start somewhere.

-FD

Re: funny people

granted, this 'bit of writing', was, well, angry to say the least, but afterall, it was a person who wrote for a section of comix pedia entitled "OPEN SOAP BOX"....lets see...em, SOAP BOX!!!
AKA: opinionated points of views!!!!!
stop attempting to be angry moral people...give what this person wrote some thought, then yell with some sense, dont get all defensive...

so the original writer is allowed to post his opinionated views and the rest of us aren't?

At one point, one of you said that the art world has no rules.
I tend to disagree.
Why do we go to an art gallery, see art there, expect it to be good, and then see graffiti and automatically decide its bad?!

your example has nothing to do with rules. What does being in a gallery or not being in a gallery have anything to do with how art should be produced? If anything, it's just a measure of popular opinion. Just because a work has been showcased in a gallery doesn't necessarily mean it's "good". Likewise, just because a work hasn't been showcased in a gallery doesn't mean that it's "bad".

When you pass an area down town and see graffiti, you dont think that this is art and people should pay money to see it.

It's funny that you actually point out graffiti, because that has been studied as an art form. In fact, there is a very large art culture around the graffiti medium. It also has been featured in museum exhibits (see http://www.artandculture.com/arts/movement?movementId=1018)

What you cite as "rules" really aren't rules as much as guidlines that are really not required to be adhered to. Sure, you'll hear stuff about composition theory and whatnot, but I don't think any of them can be thought of as a hard and fast rule.

Why do you call one form "abstract" and another "realist"?...Maybe because they are differentiated due to some RULES that qualify them so.

again, those are not "rules" for art, they are classifications and guidlines. Metrics used to analyse a piece after its completed are not the same as rules that a artist must follow while producing the work.

-FD

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

What I believe Mr. Wemble is trying to say is, "Don't rip off Sluggy Freelance".

Because I find it hard to believe anyone would seriously suggest you shouldn't use a talking animal in a cartoon, in any capacity, just because it's been done before.

Unless Mr. Wemble's next column is about how we should all stop using colour in comics, because it's been done before.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Well, while I think criticism is needed in the world of webcomics, and that there's a lot of crap out there (a lot of people think that about what I do), and there is a lot of ideas repeated to boredom, noone must tell you what you can include in your comic and what you can't, as you can always get new (and innovative) ideas from even overused concepts. Hell! When Waterson started Calvin & Hobbes, there were lots of talking animals already (although only in print :) ), but look what he did!

Also, I don't consider talking furniture overused :)

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Look at places like Keenspace. If there's a good comic in there, I've yet to find it. If there's a good comic in there, it's a gold coin buried in a pile of decomposing muskrats. If there's a good comic in there, nobody's ever going to find it.

Freedom from editors allows new, interesting, and edgy ideas to grow and flourish. It also allows pure crapola to stink up the house. Guess which situation represents the majority of webcomics?

Re: funny people

I think that was the point. Mr Wemble wasn't stating a hard and fast rule that should always be unwaveringly abided. He was stating his opinion about a basic guidline, that, when you get right down to it, is common sense.

actually, if his rant was taking this stance, I wouldn't have a problem with it. but when he makes statements like "If those words, or any close variant, appear in that summary, I want you to take a six-inch railroad spike, place it in your right ear and, using a rubber mallet, tap it until it is a four-inch railroad spike. " it doesn't really suggest any kind of flexibility.

I agree with you totally, galen_of_avalon. The "rules" mentioned by Mr. Wemble should (at best) be take as loose guidlines. However, from reading the original rant, that does not seem to be the intention of the author at all... which is why I take issue with it.

-FD

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

I actually think Dalton has a point, a talking whatever is not funny by default.
However, he's clearly dismissing every strip that comes along that has a talking furry animal right off the bat, and we all know how wrong it is to judge something (or someone) without getting to know it, right?
I have a webcomic (this is the part where I shamelessly promote myself: http://sheep123.keenspace.com) and yes, I *do* have a talking animal. In my case, however, he seems to be the most well-adjusted character of the bunch, and I didn't create him to be the token "funny" character. And well, he's imaginary anyway...
In any case, the talking animal itself is not what makes or breaks any given strip, it's the writing, the art, and the craftmanship as a whole.

Re: funny people

What you cite as "rules" really aren't rules as much as guidlines that are really not required to be adhered to. Sure, you'll hear stuff about composition theory and whatnot, but I don't think any of them can be thought of as a hard and fast rule.

I think that was the point. Mr Wemble wasn't stating a hard and fast rule that should always be unwaveringly abided. He was stating his opinion about a basic guidline, that, when you get right down to it, is common sense. Is the talking animal the only thing that makes your comic funny? Is the comic supposed to be funny? If the answers are "yes" and "yes", then why are you doing the comic? If your comic is supposed to be funny and will still be funny without the introduction of (my apologies to Pete Abrams) a homicidal bunny or a sugarred-up ferret that talk to you, then congratulations, you feel confidant enough in your own abilities to not fall back on a gimmick to make your comic funny. Likewise, if you can do something new and different with that talking animal, or make it an animal that talks in a fashion that is believable, ie, in a child's playtime reality, or in a series of hash marks that seem only to be understandable by other animals, then you're probably okay there, too. I think the message was mostly a matter of "don't do it because someone else did it and you can't come up with anything unique".

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

The main problem is that people expect too much from the web. If anyone with no experience in creating comics can post it on the web, then obviously most of it is junk. There just needs to be more advertising for professional webcomics, and not just the same old same old stuff that everyone already knows about. At least in that way, there's a better seperation between amateur and professional content.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Yet if you want "new ways of thinking," the last thing you want is someone re-interpreting "Garfield."

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

In the examples of "talking animals" cartoons you cite, in "Calvin and Hobbes," the "talking animal" is an imaginary figment. In both "Peanuts" and "Bloom County," the talking animals came along LONG after the strips were established.

But you're right: "Get Fuzzy" is most assuredly NOT funny.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

I have seen good re-interpretations. The "League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" comic, for example. However, "Garfield" barely deserves its current incarnation, let alone someone coming along with another attempt at a comic with a fat, sarcastic cat.

As for your person being "discouraged by cynics and critics," if aping someone else's creation is the best they can do, they DESERVE criticism, especially if they're talented. They should be doing something original that they came up with on their own rather than spending time as a hack.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

Ironically, I just launched a fairly new webcomic over at Graphic Smash--"Digger"--the heroine of which is actually a talking wombat.

Cracked me up completely to see that line, although I'm guessing it's not intended as a jab, (and I'd be surprised if Mr. Wemble even knew about it!) but because the word "wombat" is inherently funny.

That was why I used it, myself, anyhow...

Peace!

UrsulaV

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

In most of these though, the animals main appeal is that it tends to be considered a figment of a child's imagination and does very cute and/or absurd things(and looks very cute and/or wacky) that if a normal person or kid did, it wouldn't be as funny and cute.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

I do agree that creators that are new to this should avoid the easy pitfalls... talking animals, breaking the fourth wall, wow-i-suck jokes... etc etc.

However I do think that a person talented enough can make ANYTHING work.

I also think that, as Pete Abrams and Jon Rosenberg, everybody should have the same opportunity to live and learn. Many of the best creators of the web today started as total amateurs, making horrible mistakes. But they learned and it's because of that that we can enjoy their craft today.

And I disagree that the good comics are buried because there are too many bad comics. If people stopped making bad comics, good comics would STILL be buried among the bad websites of other nature. What we need to do is to talk to other people about the good comics, and they will rise to the top.

However, you do raise a good point about talking animals. This is exactly why I don't have a talking animal. I had the perfect excuse to have one and I chose to make him silent. But, I recognize this (and my reluctance to break the fourth wall) as my own personal pet peeve.

Maritza
CRFH.net

funny people

hello you funny people.
have any of you noticed that by calling this Mr. Wemble person "closed minded" (for that IS what most of you are doing) you are actually "close minding" yourselves?
granted, this 'bit of writing', was, well, angry to say the least, but afterall, it was a person who wrote for a section of comix pedia entitled "OPEN SOAP BOX"....lets see...em, SOAP BOX!!!
AKA: opinionated points of views!!!!!
stop attempting to be angry moral people...give what this person wrote some thought, then yell with some sense, dont get all defensive...

At one point, one of you said that the art world has no rules.
I tend to disagree.
Why do we go to an art gallery, see art there, expect it to be good, and then see graffiti and automatically decide its bad?!
ok, I can see your brains churning..."I dont think such things!!" Shush. You do.
When you pass an area down town and see graffiti, you dont think that this is art and people should pay money to see it.
Art does have rules. Believe me. Lots.
Why do you call one form "abstract" and another "realist"?...Maybe because they are differentiated due to some RULES that qualify them so.

Back to furry animals that talk.
Maybe Mr. Wemble hates talking comic book animals.
Maybe he went too far when giving his "rules"...
No one even mentioned his kind of horrible blurb on "brain sticks" as I would like to call them...

Have any of you noticed though, that when stating fervent opinions, you tend to be slightly one sided and overall hot headed?!
note your own replies...
note mine.

Re: Open Soapbox by Dalton Wemble

People!? Why can't we all just get along?...

But seriously, I for one don't agree witth some of the things that Mr. Wemble has had to say, but I do tend to agree that it's important to be wary of the cheap laughs. There are plenty of strips that use talking animals and they are legitimately funny. Just don't let it be the premise of your strip.

At the same time, there are some people who use talking animals for entirely different reasons (Maus for instance). So long as there is a purpose (even if the creator is the only one who fully understands it) then I think there is an argument to be made in favor of it.

I think the real issue here is one of the fundamentals of all fiction: If you don't have a good reason to throw it in there don't throw it in there.

I notice that a few people have tossed around names like Calvin and Hobbes and Bloom County. What those strips have in common (besides talking animals) is incredible character development. The characters, whether they are animals or not, have been thought through, and they possess a personality all their own.

If your strip has a talking cow in it just because talking cows are ridiculous, then you have a problem. Characters are what make most comic strips worth reading every day, be they fur or fowl, four-footed, or finned.