Webcomic Reviews

I like comics. I like the internet. So it seems only natural that I would like webcomics. Well, I do. Everything is right with the world. Seriously though, I think webcomics are distinct enough from traditional paper comics to constitute a true subgenre. In general, I've found that comics available primarily on the internet tend to be quirkier and more daring than those in newspapers. I can only assume this is because the creators of webcomics are freed from the comercial constraints of syndication, but it may also be a matter of internet culture. Regardless of the reason, some of my favorite comics are found on the internet, and so I decided to make a review category centered around them.

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Review Criteria

Well, what can I say, I like funny comics. The funnier the comic, the higher the score. That's simple enough. "Serious" comics will not receive a humor score, nor will they be penalized for not being funny, but if I decide to make an exemption for this category, you can be sure that plot will be heavily weighted in the overall category.
A high rating in this category means the various episodes of the comic relate well to each other. If there's an ongoing storyline, this rating also reflects how compelling or interesting that storyline is. Every comic will have a plot rating. Those that consist of disconected episodes (a la The Far Side) will be rated on ephemeral characteristics like "mood" and "theme," which should be distinct enough to give the comic a recognisable character.
This category isn't necessarily about how good the drawings are (though an otherwise ordinary comic with fanatastic drawing will receive a high rating here). Rather, it's about how well the art fits in with mood and theme of the comic. Comics that regularly use sight, rather than pure dialog, to elicit a response (whether humorous or otherwise) will receive a high rating.
This is the category that brings it all together. It's not based on any sort of numerical relationship between the above categories, but is rather a holistic synthesis, a measure of the all-around enjoyment I got from the comic, and a reflection of how likely I am to follow it in the future.

The Reviews

The Parking Lot is Full
Life of Riley
8-bit Theater
Real Life

The Parking Lot is Full

Synopsis: The Parking Lot is Full was a weekly single-panel comic featuring dark humor, and a pessimistic and nihilistic attitude. It ran from 1993 to 2002, and while there are no new strips, the archives can be found at the plif website.

Like it or not, this is a funny comic. There have been several times where I've been ashamed to laugh. If your idea of humor is fuzzy pink bunnies, you'll hate The Parking Lot is Full. If your idea of humor is fuzzy pink bunnies getting brutally murdered, this might be the comic for you. Not recomended for the faint of heart (click on this link to see what I mean).

In a comic where no one strip is connected to the other, the plot rating is based on the character and atmosphere of a comic. The Parking Lot is Full definitely has attitude to spare. Back when it was running, I lived to see what they would come up with next.

The drawings are all black and white, but some are truly disturbing. Rarely has a comic been so evokative. Disgust, pathos, horror, and shock are all part of the PLIF experience. Mixed with the comic's sense of humor, it makes for a heady combination.

The Parking Lot is Full is not for everyone, but for those that get it, it's an experience not to be missed.
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Life of Riley

Synopsis:The Life of Riley follows the exploits of a house full of colorful roomates. The regular characters include Aaron, a kilt-clad techie; Dan a right-brained artist who occasionally morphs into Dan Stage 2, the ultimate in technical support (greatly deforming all of reality in the process), Gore, the vampire bastard son of the former Vice President, and Jone, a sexy half-demon who's into S&M and has the hots for Gore. Other characters include angels, goddesses, a mentat, and lots of BOBs.

Humor: 7/10
Rating this category involved some interesting choices for me. Life of Riley is a comic driven as much by plot as by humor, and there are some strips that serve to advance the storyline that aren't funny at all. On the other hand, those strips that are funny can often be quite hilarious. I particularly enjoyed the fact that the humor is often tied closely to the storyline, background, and characters. One caveat: a great deal of the humor in Life of Riley revolves around computers or video games (I really liked the Vampire: the Masquerade references in some of Gore's strips). There are some out there who won't get it (though I doubt anyone like that would be reading this review, well, maybe my Mom.)

Plot: 9/10
Life of Riley has, over the years, featured many interesting story arcs, all of which I've been eager to follow. My particular favorite so far has been the feud between good and evil Dan, which culminated in a lethal video game dance contest (Death-Death revolution). In general, the storylines are all well done, and those strips that are not related to the main arc do not detract from the atmosphere of the comic.

Art: 9/10
The drawing of this comic is very well done, though if you don't care for anime style character designs, it may turn you off a little. I, for one, love the anime style, and hence gave this category a high rating. Another thing to mention is that this comic is more action-oriented than most, and sometimes a comic will contain little dialogue. These strips are also well done, conveying a good sense of movement. The only downside is that conflict in such strips almost always needs to be resolved in a future comic. Still, the suspense of seeing a character in danger and having to wait two days before finding out whether he's safe is really quite thrilling at times.

Overall: 9/10
Great art, great storyline, and a liberal dose of humor - the only reason to not like this comic is if you hate anime or geeks.
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8-bit Theater

Synopsis: 8-bit theater loosely follows the plot of the original Final Fantasy for the NES. Characters are named for their archetypes, i.e. Red Mage, the powergamer, Black Mage, the sarcastic master of the dark arts, and Fighter, the idiot sword monkey.

Humor: 9/10
This comic contains some truly classic lines, my favorite being: "I will die as I have lived - completely surrounded by morons." Some of the jokes might go over the heads of those who are not familiar with role-playing games (both pen-and-paper and video game), but as likely as not there is something in the strip to apeal to anyone.

Plot: 9/10
The characters in 8-bit Theater are charicatures, but they're well done charicatures. If you read the strip enough, you'll learn to identify the speaker by the tone and content of his lines, which speaks well for the individuality of the characters. In general, the plot itself is kind of lightweight, but that's to be expected in a comedy, and the strips flow into each other well enough that you'll always wonder what sort of zany trouble the 8-bit crew will land in next.

Art: 7/10
I understand that it's supposed to look retro, and personally, I don't have a problem with it, but while the art may be effective in conveying the humor and action of the comic, it's certainly not a feast for the eyes.

Overall: 9/10
Okay, so I gave three nines in a row. That's only because I chose to start my reviewing career with comics I was already familiar with, and liked (it saves on the research). 8-bit Theater is a near-perfect odd-ball comedy. Highly recommended to anyone who likes to laugh (and honestly, who doesn't).
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Real Life

Synopsis: Following the "real life" adventures of the comic's creator, Greg Dean, Real Life is a comic about life as a nerd obsessed with video games and the trials and travails of creating a web comic. Real Life also has something of a whimsical side, with several strips involving time travel, parallel universes, and conqurering the world (One strip even features an Eva).

Humor: 8/10
I generally look forward to future installments of the comic, but I don't know. Real Life is pretty tame compared to some of the other comics I've read and enjoyed. The humor is effective, but it doesn't draw blood. Still, it has hit big on a couple of occassions, most notably when Greg and Tony traveled to the future to buy yet to be released games at discount prices. That story arc bordered on being an insightful jab at the way gamers allow their hobbies rule their lives, though even this high point of the strip lacked the teeth necessary for all great humor.

Plot: 6/10
Real Life presents generally sympathetic characters, but I feel it could really benefit from a distinct narrative voice. Some of the earlier strips showed promise, but as the comic progressed more realistic plots began to dominate. I feel it's losing the elements that made it special and unique.

Art: 7/10
Average. It will neither offend the eyes nor blow you away. Visual elements are occasionally used to enhance the humor, but most of the time the jokes come from the characters' words.

I like Real Life, I read it every day, but I wouldn't rank it among the comics that I truly love. I would recommend giving it a try. It makes for an interesting diversion, if nothing else.
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