Thursday, May 8, 2008

Comic Fencing Meets We the Robots

Does review by committee lead to a consensus of mediocrity? We're going to find out as Comic Fencing, a new review site, accumulates editions.

This week reviewed  We the Robots, by Chris Harding, which happens to be a strip I like and follow. Chris scored big with a newspaper strip when he was young, and it laid waste to his life until one day he walked away. I'm not sure exactly what he did for the next few years, but it involved serious life questions and decompression.

He appeared on the web fairly recently with the robots strip, and the distinctive art captured my imagination and kept me tuned in. Once in a while a strip goes sentimental or runs out of steam, but his win rate is very high and there are neat little nuances of various newspaper strip cliches worked in from places like Dilbert and Calvin and Hobbes. I was moved enough to write the guy a fan letter, something I haven't done since, perhaps because I got the standard non-reply. Or maybe he was sick. Who knows. It was one letter, and as wonderful a letter as it was, I won't take the issue to my grave except in a Zip-Lock Baggie.

I can see where the challenge is going to be, putting out a periodical like Comic Fencing. Herding all the reviewers together, figuring out which cup is the decaf, getting them to settle on a strip, and then depending on them to get rolling has to be hard work. I would expect some mediocre pieces written on deadline.

The reviews, however, are pretty good, even if their conclusions are not as deep as I'd hope. On a five star system, We the Robots received 2, 3, 3, and 4 stars. I would rate it a 4-star strip with more deviations up than down. Who's right here?

I think I may be the one who is right, because I have read and studied this strip with a critical eye, including the possibility of a review, for months, and because the comments of the reviewers, while more than journeyman, simply did not manage to root out any of the transcendent themes awaiting discovery. For one: how did this guy Harding stroll onto the internet and create a highly distinct and pleasing drawing style? I already mentioned subtle nods to other dailies, but another issue is the emotional complexity of the robots and what it says about us. Some are crumbums, some are cloying, some are pathetic. Are they really robots? Is that what Harding means? Or is he too misanthropic from his past experiences to draw humans? And does it matter? I think it does, because this strip moves me, and my personal roster of life experiences has made me Ignatz-like. And I'm not drawing robots, but animals. Like Harding, there are no humans in my strip.

On a more picky level, sometimes, Harding's panels are wordy and could use compression.

It's going to be fun watching Comic Fencing unfold, and I urge you to bookmark it. 

I also urge thrusters on full toward We the Robots, if only to see what everyone is debating. Start at the beginning.