Thursday, September 4, 2008

Webcomics: Free entertainment at your own pace

Growing up, I loved reading the comics in the Sunday newspapers. They were great reading material over breakfast, each comic took all of ten seconds to read, and they made me laugh. Often times I found cartoons that I could relate to, whose characters became as interesting to me as the characters in any given book or movie.

Webcomics are essentially the same kinds of cartoons you'd find in the funny papers, but in an electronic format. The nice thing about webcomics is that, in most cases, they're free, are updated at least somewhat regularly, and require only as much of a time commitment as you're willing to give them.

You don't need to put aside an hour every Tuesday night; you don't need to spend $50 on a season of the cartoon; you can show up to work two minutes early, waste those two minutes reading webcomics, and start your day with a smile on your face.

There are too many webcomics out there for me to even begin to list, but there are webcomics about things ranging from college roommates to mathematics to the awkward years of Jesus Christ. Webcomic visuals vary from black-and-white sketches to detailed Japanese-style animation to video game sprites.

Given that webcomics don't really need to conform to any standards, the length, format, and content of a webcomic can really be whatever the creator(s) wants. Needless to say, there are several profane and graphic webcomics out there, so never assume that a webcomic will be as "safe" as the comics in the funny papers.

All that being said, I'm confident that there's at least one webcomic out there for everyone. Whether you get hooked and read through the entire comics archive in a day or just pop in for twenty seconds at the beginning of your morning, it's worthwhile to find a webcomic you like for a dose of humor or an interesting story.

Here's a sampling of my favorites, in alphabetical order (click the titles to view them); be warned that certain comics may contain objectionable content, but I'll try to give you a heads-up about that:

8-Bit Theater roughly follows the story of the original Final Fantasy, using sprites from the game. Most of the humor comes from the dialogue between the characters, but you don't need to know anything about Final Fantasy to enjoy the comic (though it's way funnier if you do). It's the character interactions and the characters themselves that fuel the humor, along with plenty of geek references.

8-Bit Theater charactersThe comics typically take a little while longer to read because of all the dialogue, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of comics in the archive, so this is a good one to keep you busy.

There's scattered profanity, blood, and discussions about various potentially objectionable and/or disgusting things. Probably a PG-13 comic.

Married to the Sea is a comic that I often wonder why I read at all, until a comic comes along that makes me laugh harder than I've laughed all week. Like its sister sites, Toothpaste for Dinner and Natalie Dee, each comic is a single image, normally with a caption or captions.

Married to the Sea - I will never reveal the Wu-Tang secretMarried to the Sea is amusing because it uses old-timey drawings that often feel intentionally out of place to joke about anything and everything. Updated daily and with several years' worth of comics, this is a great way to waste time.

Nothing is sacred for any of these three sites. There's little or no violence, but the cartoonists tend to say or show whatever they want, no matter how bizarre or tasteless; comics fluctuate wildly between G-rated and R-rated.

Order of the Stick is a heavily story-driven comic set in a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. OOTS parodies countelss aspects of D&D and roleplaying in general while still telling a well-planned and satisfying story... with glorified stick figures.

Order of the Stick charactersThe more informed you are about roleplaying games, the more you'll enjoy the comics, but those who laugh at the comics laugh hard. Each comic is fairly long, and there are currently close to 600 comics in the archive, so this is another one that'll keep you busy.

G or PG most of the time; mostly-bloodless fantasy violence and occasional light profanity.

Penny Arcade is one of the most popular video game webcomics around, and I started reading it after I got tired of people asking me if I had "seen that Penny Arcade comic where..." Penny Arcade parodies video games and the people who make and play them.

Penny arcade charactersMore than any other webcomic I've listed here, you need to know exactly what they're talking about to enjoy the comics most of the time. Considering that the oldest comics are from 1998, you have to be pretty informed to appreciate everything, and you need a special sense of humor, as well. Fortunately, the comics are very short, so if you don't get one you can quickly move on to the next one.

Heavy profanity, mature themes, violence. Definitely R material.

Sluggy Freelance has got to be one of the oldest and longest-running webcomics in existence (since 1997), so I don't need to tell you what'll happen if you get hooked. Sluggy Freelance is, at least in format, exactly the kind of comic you'd see in the papers: four-panel black-and-white daily comics, and full-page color comics once a week.

Sluggy Freelance charactersSluggy Freelance follows the adventures of two guys, Torg and Riff, and their friends/acquaintances/psychotic pet. The comics parody a slew of fandoms and genres from all across the board, but you don't need to recognize everything to enjoy the story.

Light profanity and violence, but the whole thing is pretty PG or PG-13. It's mostly the content that might draw some objections: sexual innuendo, demons, zombies, Harry Potter, etc.

VGCats is a series of (usually) unrelated parodies of (most of the time) popular video games, starring two anthropomorphic cats and a small cast of other characters. The comics are short and often rely on the visuals just as much as the dialogue for the humor.

VG Cats charactersBecause there's no greater storyline tying the comics together, you absolutely need to be familiar with the games and situations being parodied to get what's going on; even knowledgeable video gamers might be at a loss from time to time. If you know anything about the Pokémon video games, you might also want to check out another of the artist's webcomics, Super Effective.

Anywhere from PG to R; some violence, some profanity, but mostly things that could be gross, disturbing, and/or absolutely hilarious, depending on the person.

No comments: