Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest, reviewed by Smuga

Here’s an innovative strategy to break into the newspaper comic biz: Start a webcomic. Publish daily to prove your reliability, solidify your art style, and iron out any kinks in writing or presentation. Not only does your online presence build a fanbase, it can serve as an up-to-date portfolio.

Why, then, has Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest – an immaculately inked, laugh-out-loud funny strip comic that’s been published seven days a week for the past four years on Keenspot – garnered 11 rejections from the syndicates? Could it be the blatantly offensive parody strips, like this one that portrays well know comic strip characters as porn stars? Perhaps the syndicates object to the potential blasphemy of God mocking the Devil with hand puppets? Or maybe the chronic use of the wordspimp, sex, ho, suck, and less mentionable vocabulary makes it unsuitable for the entertainment section of a newspaper?

As Ishida must know, as long as Sinfest makes The Boondocks look like Family Circus, it won’t be appearing in any newspaper’s funnies section. Which is their loss, because, frankly speaking, Sinfest is clearly better drawn, better executed, and better thought out than 90% of what appears in your local newspaper.

More than every other black and white webcomic out there,Sinfest looks professional. Ishida’s ink work is masterful, employing everything from classic comic feathering to manga speedlines to stylized heavy inks. His character designs, while slightly rough in early strips,, are consistent, polished and charming. And if that weren’t enough to induce jealousy in any comic artist, he hand-letters his strips – that’s every bit of dialog, not just the fancy calligraphy and kanji.

As for what those words are saying . . .

If Sinfest were a movie, it would rate a PG-13, if not an R, for language. However, unlike email spam, Ishida’s language is poetic with a natural cadence and timing that makes even Slick’s misogynistic musings more tongue-in-cheek than offensive.

Most importantly, the words and the artwork come together to carry the joke of the strip, whether it be dialogue between cast characters, a spoof on current pop culture, or those jokes that are uniquely Tatsuya Ishida: The "You had to be there" and his twist on the familiar Mad Magazine-inspired "Madlibs" humor, which invites the reader to provide the innuendo. And Ishida can take a mundane, four-word sentence and have the joke rest on the shared sentiment of the otherwise dissimilar characters voicing it.

The characters of Sinfest are never short on opinions. Even the television sports a philosophy. The only mystery is what Ishida himself believes. He’s for peace and Earth Day, but beyond that it really depends on the strip. God may be a righteous bastard, but he’s still the creator no matter what people think. ‘Lil Evil is a so cute you just want to pat him on the head, and even the devil seems like a nice enough guy, but in the end we are responsible for our actions. Even on the matter of sex, is it naughty or nice? Is it spontaneous, whatever works for the current joke, or is it a careful interpretation of reality, messy and nuanced?

Perhaps Ishida really is that deep, and years from now English majors will get PhDs based on dissection of his comics, his "Notes from the Resistance", and his bylines. Or, even more unlikely, a syndicate may decide that the quality of the strip outweighs the controversy it generates, and Tatsuya Ishida will become a household name. In the meantime, you can get your daily dose of this provocative, yet oh so funny comic on the virtual newspaper that is the Internet.