Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Ask Erik: Episode Seven

Here at Ask Erik, we want to tackle the important issues that weigh on your mind.  That's why we take your questions, and our crack staff of researchers toil away, searching through archives, libraries, and the deepest holes of the internet to provide the intelligent and sophisticated answers your questions deserve.

And when that fails, we rely on animated gifs.

To Erik:  What did you think of Bob and George?

I knew I'd have to address politics one day.

Okay, the year is 1987.  Bob Dole announces his candidacy for president to a huge cheering crowd.  soundly defeats then-Vice President Bush in the Iowa caucus to attempt to determine who will run for the republican party in the upcoming election.  However, he is soundly defeated in the New Hampshire primary, thus paving the way for Bush to begin his ascent as- what?

...oh, the comic strip Bob and George?

...oh, well, um, hm.  Okay, I'm not really prepared, but let's see what I can do here.

Okay.  Bob and George is an online web comic that I used to read wayyyyy back in the early days of webcomics, when Keenspot rose supreme and sprite comics were all doing their best to be the next 8-Bit Theater.

And most of them were doing a terrible job of it.

And of those sprite comics, one of them was Bob and George.

See, the ongoing joke in those days was that if you could think of some jokes (they didn't have to be funny) but couldn't draw, then sprite comics were your ultimate outlet.  You could just grab sprites from video games, tweak them in Photoshop, and pose them in panels and bang out a few words to make people laugh, usually focused around either the jokes children made towards video games or making random pop culture references.

To their credit, Bob and George managed to avoid most of this during the time I read it (back when I had 40 webcomics I was keeping up on), but my interest waned when I realized there was no clear-cut end goal in the future.  I dropped most of the webcomics I followed sometime in the mid-2000s and the numbers really never got back up to where the used to be.

I will give them credit, they did manage to fill in some big plot holes that happened between the Mega Man games, and while I was almost always bored with the actual stuff involving Bob and/or George, many of the side characters were given some interesting depth and backstory.

Bob and George is probably one of the better sprite comics that existed, considering how many usually made five strips before the jokes about "Tails has two tails, so he has two buttholes" dried up and the creators gave up.

Looking towards the end of the archive, it appears the plot got pretty complex before ending up with the original characters being the only ones really mattering to the plot.  While I might, at some point in the future, be willing to scroll through eight years (!) of strips, that time is not now.

So, in the interest of filling space, why don't I discuss some of the other webcomics I've read through the ages?

Now, I've already mentioned Girl Genius,. and if you aren't reading this yet then I'm afraid science proves that you're bad and I don't like you and you aren't invited to my birthday.  You have one of the deepest plotlines I've read in a comic book much less a webcomic, one of the most interesting alternative history worlds I've ever seen, and characters who are both complex and three dimensional while still being able to be sources of major drama or humor.

Seriously, you have no excuse not to read it.  Go now.  ...wait, read the rest of this first, then go.

Okay, so how about some others?

How about a comic full of debauchery, sin, and some really straight-forward social commentary about equal treatment for women, politics, and finance reform?  A comic willing to poke fun at atheists and christians and zen bhuddists?  A comic that has Satan running a major corporation to tempt everyone to evil while Jesus kung-fu kicks things into good?  A comic where a perpetually horny young man, his almost constantly stoned pig friend, and a woman determined to not let society hold her back can have conversations with God himself (usually in hand puppet form)?

Sinfest (which last I heard was proud of its seven failed attempts to become a syndicated comic strip) is a black and white daily strip (with glorious color Sundays!) that tackles every topic you can possibly think of.  Sexism in Hollywood, where freedom begins and liberties end, bullying, an addiction to technology, the high and low points of religious beliefs, and many more are regularly
lampooned by the strip, but done so in a way that has you laugh and then pause and think about it.

It's definitely not for children, though.  The language and topics covered might not only be inappropriate for children to handle, but also difficult for them to understand in context.

One major theme in the comic is that things in the world just aren't "good" right now.  But despite the major flaws, there's an undercurrent of hope, faith, and even love that keeps the "darker" forces from completely winning.  Whether it's a "devil girl" realizing what it means to be human because one person is always kind to her, or an all-girl group on bicycles and tricycles fighting the "patriarchy," or even just the fact that Satan can never beat God, you get this overall sense that "things will work out.  Just relax.  ...y'know, unless we're telling you to panic about something, but even then, things aren't all bad."'s a complex message.

So, instead of that, how about a comic about stick figures?

Okay, so xkcd won't win any awards for artwork (although some of his early strips show signs of a keen artistic eye), but what it lacks in colors, 3-D artwork, and panels, it tends to make up for with some of the most intelligent jokes I've ever read.  The comic is a true nerd humor nirvana, where you can find humor about the Higgs-Bosun, Star Trek, early programming languages, or even dinosaur origins.  There's also a ridiculous amount of math and science through the series, but don't let that scare you, non-nerds!  There's also comic strips that simply comment on people and pop culture in general, like the following:


So, how about something with a bit more artistry, perhaps a few more panels, but possibly even less color?

Ah, Basic Instructions.  Another of my favorites, Scott Meyer has been able to milk a simple idea take a concept and turn it into a brilliant series that makes me laugh every time I read it.  His use of language distracts you from what might be an obvious joke that anybody else would tell and have it blindside you from an entirely new direction.  The artwork tends to be the same basic character designs every time, but since those old-timey postcards with phrases that make me seriously wonder what people aspire to anymore, I don't think it hurts the series any. 

Others I tend to read on a regular basis are Penny Arcade, Kevin and Kell, and Full Frontal Nerdity, and there are a few series I keep meaning to get back into, but those might be for another article.

And hey, maybe, one day, after a few too many drinks, I'll tell about the time I cameoed in a webcomic that was so popular, it had its own printed comic miniseries.  Wiigii.

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