Only a fool believes that a good fantasy story can be told only using fantastically detailed artwork, and Rich Burlewâ€™s The Order of the Stick is an excellent example of one that puts the story before the artwork.
The Order of the Stick revolves around a group of adventures in their quest for gold, fame and a good time. Rich Burlew has obviously put a fair amount of time into role-playing games and the comic is heavily based off of them, to the point where the characters freely discuss things like experience points, putting points into various skill sets, and looking forward to the next random encounter.
This is one area that makes The Order of the Stick unique. The characters within the comic know very well that they are in a world controlled by random dice rolls and notations on paper somewhere beyond their control. They occasionally break the fourth wall in order to comment to the presumed watchers/controllers of their lives, but otherwise they continue to function as any normal person would.
They also freely use this knowledge of the world to their advantage, bypassing the laws of physics and time in order to get what they want done at a faster rate. For example, instead of waiting hours for nightfall to arrive so that they can rescue their companion, they do the following:
Though the strip relies fairly heavily on the readerâ€™s knowledge of gaming and role-playing, it is generic enough that a casual reader will still understand the vast majority of what is being discussed in the comic. Humor also plays a large part, even during heavy storyline activity, making this a comic that both serial webcomic addicts and gag-a-day webcomic readers would enjoy.
The artwork found within The Order of the Stick is as unique as the comic itself. Though it is stick figure artwork, it is perhaps the most detailed stick figure artwork you can find anywhere on or offline. The characters have easily recognized and detailed emotions. Each character is distinct (which is often a big problem with stick figure comics) and the colors and details are very easy on the eye.
Donâ€™t be fooled into thinking that Burlew canâ€™t draw; it takes quite a talent to be able to make stick figures look this darn good. In his on-site FAQ, Burlew addresses the question of his artwork style as being what he felt fit the base and feel of the webcomic itself. Heâ€™s right; if one were to take the characters and plotline from The Order of the Stick and have the comic drawn in a highly detailed setting, it would not work nearly as well as it does now. The artwork enhances the plot and the characters nicely; changing it to something more complex would only hurt it.
The website also is very nicely designed and Burlew has a lot to offer within his easily-navigated site. The color combinations of his site are muted and quiet, and do not detract anything from the pages within (something a lot of places have difficulty with). A selection of his personal writing, his forums and store, and even a lengthy section for enhancing your own personal role-playing games can all be found within his site. This is a very nice addition, honestly; too many comics only provide the comic and give you nothing about its creator and his/her interests.
If you donâ€™t believe the words of a simple webcomic reviewer, in 2005 The Order of the Stick was nominated for two different categories in The Web Cartoonistâ€™s Choice Awards for Outstanding Comedic Comic and Outstanding Fantasy Comic, tying for the award for Outstanding Fantasy Comic with Inverloch.
If you wonâ€™t believe a single webcomic reviewer, perhaps youâ€™ll believe the gathered assembly of webcomic creators that all voted for The Order of the Stick. After all, one person might find something good that another hates, but could all those people all be wrong? Doubtful.
Matt 'netpoet' Summers lives with his wife and son in rustic eastern Virginia, and is the writer for Tales of the Traveling Gnome, a fantasy webcomic that updates biweekly.