Thursday, January 8, 2009

Sequential Art Variety

The interesting comments that followed my xkcd post offer opportunities for exploration I want to pursue. But first a bit more about stickman art.

I didn't come out and say it, arousing suspicion among some observers that I am hostile to xkcd, but I think Stickman art is a valid way to cartoon. Here's why:

In junior high, I was friends with a freckle-faced thug from Texas who drew poorly but enjoyed doing comics and loved to laugh.

When I was with him, I copied his stickman style, and we were occasionally bounced out of class for giggling and inattention.

We drew stickman comics, about 20 panels per page, and discovered what worked in the format: stickmen being crushed by rolling boulders, flying out of ferris wheels, and tumbling off cliffs. The simple, iconic forms of boulders and cliffs match stickman design.

Comics are hard to do well. They require multiple talents, especially if you are managing a webcomic site. To Comicdom's credit, I don't see people harassing sequential art that uses oddball forms. We've got comics using action figures, Legos, 3D graphics, My Little Ponies, photographs, static art, instant messaging exchanges, vintage ephemera, Star Wars toys and many more. Some of them are sitting ducks -- literally -- for the little Hitlers trying to gain attention by denouncing "bad" comics, but they somehow avoid attack.

We're all in touch with the sequential art concept, and we see the ignorance of people who shout, "Those aren't comics!" Maybe to that person they're not, but when you start defining people as non-participants, it diminishes us all. One place where there has been solidarity in what we pass off as a community is in our tolerant admissions policy.

Besides, some of those comics are good. Setting aside xkcd, on which I have an unsettled opinion, I've gotten big laughs from Irregular Webcomic, Cyanide and Happiness and Married to the Sea. Those are larger titles, and I wish I could say I've recently read an entertaining little Play-Doh comic, but to date, I have not explored that deeply. My reading list is huge, and I am always behind, and yes, I do feel bad.

Irregular Webcomic, by David Morgan-Mar

Discussing the quality of an untraditional sequential art comic, we can compare it to other types of comics as long as we remember those forms have restrictions that are different from pen-and-ink. Stickmen don't inflate well, which is why I am critical of the head shots in xkcd. The format doesn't move that way, and they puncture the suspension of disbelief. I get cross when my disbelief won't suspend.

One of my favorite comics, Ugly Girl , is about teenagers whose names and faces reflect their social status. It started out very stickman, but as the artist, Nanda, found her way, the characters fleshed out (intended meaning of that tired phrase) and got colorful wardrobes. I don't think the stickman form could have carried the story that evolved. It is, to me, a beautiful strip, without pretension, but you can still see stickman genetics in the heads and faces. This is not to slight the potential of the stickman form, which is currently serving some titles quite well. It's just, how do you draw a stickman called "Fatty?"

Some of the workarounds in more conventional styles are so well known as to be unremarkable. Consider the overhead floating light bulb, signifying a brainstorm (or, *ahem*, this blog), or icicles on a word balloon indicating a frosty tone. To master our styles, we must be ready with workarounds if we push the limits, or the effectiveness of the comic is degraded. I hope occasionally posting and critiquing specimens is a way for us all to detect those limits, trade ideas and invent solutions.

My apologies that I couldn't squeeze in more unorthodox comics. I know you are often neglected in webcomic media, and I look forward to revisiting this topic.

And now is as good a time as any. Just as I was going to post, I discovered a new static art comic, and I'm absolutely bursting because I figured out it was static from only reading one episode. Can you guess why? It's Chocolate Shoes , and if you don't know the term, Dinosaur Comics is static art -- it never changes from episode to episode.

Testers wanted

Meanwhile, may I remind readers that we have a product demo for you to try out on last Friday's post, the Kidjutsu Comic Reader . Brian from Kidjutsu , the free webcomic site for kids, agrees with me that we have some good minds passing through here (on their way to the free buffet), and he'd be grateful for as many honest comments and opinions as he can get. Only takes a minute or two, unless you become absorbed in the Scratchin Post cartoon loaded on the reader (it's a Kidjutsu participating title) or you have a lot to say. Thanks for supporting some comic site R & D. (See the comments for heaps more detail.)