Guest Post: Gaming Web Comics – A Short List

It’s Alana today, because Nick is under the weather. If it hasn’t been made clear before, I am not a gamer. Some might say that makes me dangerously under qualified to write for this blog. I say it gives the blog a different perspective (that of somebody not interested in it’s subject matter).

I will admit that rarely playing games made after 1992 that don’t involve pocket monsters makes it difficult to come up with post topics. What I am interested in, though, is comics. I read an unmanageable about of webcomics. Several of those are gaming-themed, because if there are two areas that have a lot of overlap, it’s video game geekery and love of web comics. Thus, today’s topic is gaming web comics. I hope the title adequately explains the theme.

Penny Arcade: one of the first (but not THE first) web comics, PA has been bringing the internet comic-related humour since the 90’s. It around two roommates and their gaming habits. Written by Jerry Holkins and drawn by Mike Krahulik, PA reflects video game culture and provides a running commentary on current events in gaming. Sometimes satirical, sometimes surreal,  there is no real continuity. It’s an anything-can-happen strip.

They make a good point.

Pros: can cut to the core of what’s wrong with any given game, reflects the inherent absurdity of gaming, is genuinely funny, and you can read it’s gigantic archive and see Krahulik become a better and better artist.

Cons: recent changes to the art style are somewhat frustrating (this is a personal bias of mine), can be very inside-baseball (by which I mean it is not accessible to people unfamiliar with gaming culture). Neither of those needs to be a con, but for me, that’s where they stand. It is also sometimes criticized for being sanctimonious.

Player VS. Player: also one of the internet’s oldest ongoing comics, PVP updates five days a week and is written by Scott Kurtz. The central premise is a gaming magazine run by the cast. PVP is a slice of life comic, with ongoing story lines and continuity. While it is largely grounded in reality, there are fantastical elements: a talking, super intelligent cat, a mythical being in the main cast, and a super hero that speaks only in memes, for example. Magic is sometimes shown to be possible.

The best part of the worst Star Trek

Pros: I enjoy the ongoing stories and the character relationships, and a lot of strips are funny on their own, as well. The slice of life style allows greater emotional impact when Kurtz wants it, such as a surprise pregnancy story arc that took place a few years ago.

Cons: although PVP is a (fictional) gaming magazine, the strip itself has moved away from topical gaming references. Many would question it’s inclusion on a list of gaming-related strips. The characters themselves are geeks, but currently this is shown in references to Star Trek and DnD. These are noble pursuits, but video games, they ain’t. This does not bother me in the least, because the writing and the art are very strong, but it deserves a mention.

Megatokyo: I debating including Megatokyo, because it isn’t strictly about video games (but then, neither is PVP, at this point). It’s set in a fictional version of Tokyo, has a character who loves video games, and parodies gaming (along with anime and manga). Originally written by Fred Gallagher and Rodney Caston, it is now written by Gallagher alone, due to creative differences. The changeover led to a more and more complex plot and character development.

Yeah, I don’t know.

Pros: if you like a complex plot and character development, and also speculative fiction, and Japanese influences, Megatokyo has a lot going on.

Cons: the update schedule is erratic, and Gallagher often neglects to update for long periods of time. This is due to the illness of his wife, which is understandable, but is also daunting to new readers. Personally, I am aware of Megatokyo, and have read it, but I’ve never given it much time because of this.

8bit Theater: no longer running, 8bit Theatre was a sprite comic that parodied Final Fantasy. It was written by Brian Clevinger, and the art was taken from some of the Final Fantasy games, some public art, some clip art, etc. It’s like found-art. The epilogue was hand drawn. I haven’t read much of it, for reasons that will soon become clear.

That art would have been soooo hard to recreate

Pros: well, it was popular. It had an ongoing story, and that story was completed and given an epilogue, so there is no risk of getting invested and then not getting a resolution, as I fear will happen to fans of Megatokyo.

Cons: it’s a goddamn sprite comic. I am very anti-sprite comic. Do your own art, or don’t be a comic strip! Using other people’s images is theft, and, from a commercial point of view, means you can never produce merchandise or publish your work in print, as many webcomics try to do, because of copyright laws. The public art is one thing, but those stills of Final Fantasy III are not in the public domain. I definitely look down on comics that don’t have original art, but 8bit Theatre is not the worst offender. That’s coming up.

Ctrl-Alt-Del: written by Tim Buckley, CAD is somehow extremely popular and extremely reviled at the same time. Like Penny Arcade, it focuses on two friends (maybe roommates? I can’t remember) and their observations on current video games. Like Penny Arcade, one character is over the top insane, and the other more subdued. It can be compared to Penny Arcade in a lot of ways. In fact, the creators of Penny Arcade consider it to be outright plagiarism. Penny Arcade references Buckley through a character called Jonathon Franzibald, who frustrates PA character Tycho by profiting off his ideas.

This is after the big art change, btw

Pros: I find CAD to be occasionally funny, though it never really breaks out and becomes memorable. The art eventually gets better. Some people obviously find it hilarious, since it has been recognized by some publications as one of the best web comics out there, and Buckley is able to make money from it.

Cons: well, the plagiarism allegations. The characters don’t really do “redeeming features”. Occasional attempts at emotional impact by Buckley fall flat. The strip famously featured a character miscarrying a pregnancy, an arc that has become synonymous with failure. A better writer might have pulled it off. It’s also very wordy. Text blocks are common. For years the art was created by copy and pasting pre-drawn elements and dropping them onto the page (which Mike Krahulik once called a “crime against art”). Buckley eventually switched to hand-drawing his characters.

And there – the gaming webcomics I am familiar with. Are there more? Yes, approximately 8 billion. Are any of them worth reading? Probably. Am I going to seek them out? Hell no. I have enough comics to keep track of already. Geez.

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