Lemme Tell You About Webcomics – Part 4

1. Rice Boy Comics

Rice Boy isn’t the best webcomic out there. It’s probably not even the best webcomic on this list. It is, however, the comic you most need to read.

Technically speaking, “Rice Boy” is actually three comics, all by Evan Dahm and set in the world of Overside: the eponymous Rice Boy, Order of Tales, and Vattu (there are also a few short comics not part of any one story, though still set in Overside). Together, these three mark an impressive feat of fantasy world building.

Rice Boy was the first comic, and gave its name to the franchise as a whole. It’s a disjointed, confusing mess, full of half-baked ideas and pretense–

And it’s amazing. While Rice Boy is, indeed, a confusing read, it’s at least partially on purpose. In Rice Boy, Dahm is seeking to create a truly unique fantasy world. He largely succeeds in this, in no small part due to the sheer weirdness of it all. It gives the impression of a fever dream, full of strange creatures and half-explained myths. Though it is a term that is far overused, Rice Boy cannot be adequately described without using the word “surreal”. For someone like me, who has always loved the feeling of mystery and exploration in fantasy, of learning just enough about some exotic place or strange people, it’s exactly the kind of fantasy setting I like.

If the story is weak, then it can be forgiven for the story’s delightful plethora of visually stunning characters and mysterious lore; still, though, the story is weak, which brings us to Dahm’s second major undertaking in the world of Overside:

Order of Tales. If Rice Boy reads like Tolkien on LSD, then Order of Tales is a lot more like a folk tale. On the whole, it is a mature undertaking than Rice Boy. The story is better, by far, and Dahm has traded in some of the weirdness for a bit of coherency. There’s still plenty of the strange, but this time it’s more of the type that one finds in folk stories and myths, rather than of the surreal variety (for example, one of the characters is an enchanted glass bottle full of a some magical solution. She’s named Bottle Woman).

Mostly, I like Order of Tales because, as the name suggests, it’s about stories themselves. Tales play an integral part in the plot and in the comic’s art. The result is a kind of ouroboros: a story that is mechanically reminiscent of a folktale is, itself, about folktales. The only downside Order of Tales holds compared to Rice Boy (unless you really like surrealism) is the fact that it is done in black and white, whereas Rice Boy is in full, feverish color.

Also, it’s a prequel, and one of my favorite characters from Rice Boy makes an appearance.

Rice Boy and Order of Tales are complete. The third comic of Overside, Vattu, is still in progress, but already I can tell that it will be the best of the three when it’s finally finished. It steps beyond the metafictional narrative of Rice Boy and Order of Tales – Rice Boy, with its very conscious usage of the “Hero’s Journey”, and Order of Tales with its examination of story telling in general – to tell a story that could be real. By that, I mean that while Rice Boy and Order of Tales are very consciously stories, Vattu tells a story complicated enough that it could be about real life.

Vattu is about cultural exchange, and the problems and opportunities that goes along with it. It finally abandons the hero’s journey motif utilized by Rice Boy and, to a lesser extent, Order of Tales, in favor of a sprawling tapestry of politics, culture, and worldview.

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Lemme Tell You About Webcomics – Part 3

5. Dinosaur Comics

From the fertile imagination of Ryan North comes Dinosaur Comics, a webcomic about dinosaurs (surprise!) composed of the same six frames of clip art. For over a thousand strips and 12 years, Dinosaur Comics has used the same format (with a few exceptions), with only the dialogue ever changing.

And what dialogue it is. The comic itself follows the life and musings of T-Rex and his friends Dromiceiomimus and Utahraptor. More than that, though, it covers topics from the profound to the idiotic (often over the course of a single strip), all while written in an eternally hyperbolic style. Seriously, though, I really dig his writing. It’s hilarious.

4. The Perry Bible Fellowship

Holy moly is Perry Bible Fellowship dark. I looked at it again to write this post, and it is way way way more inappropriate than I remembered. So, definitely proceed at your own caution. If you have a problem with cartoon death or nudity, you probably want to just skip this one altogether.

However, if that doesn’t deter you, then PBF has a world of comedy for you. Dark, twisted comedy, though always wrapped up in a fun little bow. The artistic range expressed here is one of PBF’s most impressive strengths. Frequently, the dissonance between the art style and what actually occurs in the comic is, if not the actual joke, then a large part of it. This subversion of the reader’s expectations is the core of what makes Perry Bible Fellowship Perry Bible Fellowship.

Sometimes, the comics are just depressing; sometimes, they’re strangely cheery; and sometimes, they’re just plain strange.

3. Hark! A Vagrant

Hark! A Vagrant is a history and literature webcomic by Canadian Kate Beaton. Before you all start yawning, let me hasten to tell you that Beaton’s irreverent take on various historical and literary figures is really funny. A lot of the references go over my head, but the beauty of Beaton’s writing is that they’re usually funny anyway – while usually being at least a little bit educational.

Other times, they’re just silly. But still really funny. Other other times, they’re about ponies.

Hark! A Vagrant is witty, occasionally educational (especially if you want to learn about that most fascinating of subjects, Canadian history), and always a good time.

2. Broodhollow is a cosmic horror webcomic about an encyclopedia salesman, and it is very very good.

The art ranges from a simple cartoony style used to depict day-day events to beautifully detailed depictions of every horror in all of its creepy glory. The contrast between the “normal” art, which is masterfully executed in its simplicity, and the highly-detailed monster illustrations very effectively emphasizes their creepiness.

Beyond the art, Broodhollow tells a rippin’ good story. Set in the 1930s, the comic is about Wadsworth Zane, an anxious encyclopedia salesman, who travels to the town of Broodhollow to take over his recently-deceased second grand half-uncle’s antique store. However, creepy goings-on seem to follow Wadsworth around, and something about Broodhollow just doesn’t seem quite right…

And even if it weren’t so good, it would nearly earn a spot on this list just for its wonderful feature of allowing the reader to save and then later load their spot in the story.

Broodhollow is a well-paced, frequently eerie (and sometimes heartwarming) story with interesting and likable characters. Go read it.

Join me next week for the thrilling conclusion!

Lemme Tell You About Webcomics – Part 2

10. Whomp!

Whomp! is the pseudo-autobiographical story of Ronnie Filyaw, an obese, anime-loving webcomic artist with some self-esteem issues. Whomp! draws much of its strength from Filyaw’s self-deprecating humor, though it’s important not to confuse Ronnie with real-life Ronnie. A particular trend is Ronnie making fun of his own weight. He’s pretty socially awkward, but he tries his best to overcome it. Overall, Ronnie manages to keep a positive attitude in the face of misery, loneliness, shame, and all sorts of other delightful parts of the human condition. Also, his father is Santa Claus.

9. The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

Dr. McNinja is an Irish-American medical doctor specializing in unusual diseases. He’s also a ninja. The Adventures of Dr. McNinja follow his, well, adventures, in all their glorious,  action-packed, explosive, high-octane adventurousness. This includes the time he made a kite from a dead dinosaur, as well as the time he killed the ghost of an astronaut while singing the Ghostbuster’s theme to channel his power.

In short, the world of Dr. McNinja is crazy, over-the-top, and completely fantastic.

8. The Order of the Stick

The Order of the Stick began as a silly, gag-filled parody of Dungeons & Dragons, but over time (and over a 1000 updates), it has developed into an engaging story filled with likable characters and actual emotional depth. It earned its spot on this list thanks to its many gags (which don’t always require a knowledge of D&D to get), but also through the twist-filled story it tells.

It is limited, though, in that it might not be entertaining if you don’t play role-playing games, or at least like fantasy.

7. Nedroid Picture Diary

Nedroid is the absolute sweetest. It tells the story of Beartato (half bear, half potato) and his friends Reginald (a narcissistic bird) and Harrison (some sort of, uh, shark person?). It’s about friendship and silly, silly gags. Nedroid earned its spot on this list because its jokes are just so delightfully silly, and because it’s developed strong characters that are just so fun to watch. It’s simple, but it’s sweet.

It’s also made by the guy who inks Dr. McNinja, funnily enough.

6. Poorly Drawn Lines

It’s hard to describe why Poorly Drawn Lines is so hilarious. I guess I’ll try anyway.

Poorly Drawn Lines is an at times non-sensical comic full of deadpan humor and twist punchlines (OK, maybe it’s not that hard). It earns its spot on the list with a dry delivery that never fails to crack me up.

This one’s got some salty language, if that’s something that bothers you.

Join us next week for cosmic horror, dinosaurs, and more!

Lemme Tell You About Webcomics – Part 1

Welcome! Come inside, my friend. It sure is cold out tonight, isn’t it? Here, let me take your coat. Would you like something hot to drink? Settle in over here, by the fire.

Milk and sugar, right? OK, here you go.

So. You want to know my life story. How I became who I am, eh? You want to hear of the crooked path of ill-made decisions and forlorn tragedies that have led to my weather-beaten door? Well, stormy nights always were the best for stories.

Do you smoke? No, of course not. I hope you don’t mind if I do; I’ve always found a solid corn-cob pipe good for my thinking.

Lean in close. It all began with my first love – before Annie, may her soul rest in peace; before women; before the sea, even – my first and one true love . . .

. . . webcomics.

13. xkcd

No list of webcomics can be complete without xkcd. Self described as “A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” Randall Munroe’s decade-running stick-figure-based comic has garnered a massive following. Following a gag-a-day format, xkcd offers things like: a visualized map of the internet, a discussion on real map projections, a concerningly large number of comics about velociraptors, and sad comics about loss and longing. Perhaps most significantly, xkcd has this enormous gem of exploratory whimsy.

Truth be told, I don’t like xkcd all that much; while it has its high points, on the whole I find a lot of its emotion forced, and some of the nerdier humor simply goes over my head. Still, it’s a big deal, and so deserves a spot on this list.

12. The Last Halloween

The Last Halloween is a horror webcomic about the end of the world as we know it. Through gorgeous black and white art, it tells the story of a world in which humanity teeters on the edge of extinction following the death of its only protector against the monsters that dwell in the shadows. It’s earned its spot on the list thanks to its beautiful art and creature design, interesting world building, and because I really really like Halloween and spooky things.

If you have a low tolerance for creepy stuff, I’d recommend skipping this one.

11. Bouletcorp

Boulet (the pen name for Gilles Roussel) is a French artist and comic writer, and Bouletcorp is his site: half webcomic, half visual blog. Here, Boulet offers stunningly rendered and poignant musings on the beauty of the universe, nostalgia, and roommates. Even if his English is shaky at times (it’s not his first language), Boulet’s beautiful art in comics such as this earn his spot on the list.

Boulet is French, though, so be aware that there’s some adult material here.

Join us next week for beartatos, chicken nuggets, and Irish-American ninjas, in Part 2.

Be Known

I’m in my third week of my senior year of college, and I’ve realized in my time a few things about George Fox – that, namely, it possess a systemically supported culture that appeals to a very specific type of person.

And I am not that kind of person.

Who am I, then? I’m a bit of a nerd. I’m Christian, though of a variety old-fashioned and reserved. I’m an introvert. I like indie music, and especially folk music. I like board games, I like video games, I don’t enjoy sports in any capacity, and I like books, though not as much as I sometimes wish I did. I’m unenthusiastic about things as a rule.

That’s who I am, more or less, but it’s not who I sometimes feel George Fox is for. When I think of the “standard” George Fox student, who all the events and speakers videos are aimed at, I think of someone very different.

This person is fairly sporty, but not too sporty. They play something coolly unusual, like lacrosse or tennis or spike ball. They go rock climbing. They hike, and post about it on Instagram. They lift their arms in church. They like dances. They seem to like everything, actually, although they’re not too nice, of course. They have one, maybe two tattoos. They like indie music (my only similarity). They’re white.

If this description sounds familiar, please believe I’m not complaining about you. I’m actually pretty good friends with a few people who fit this description. There’s a reason, I think, George Fox has oriented itself towards this type of person – they tend to be likable. My only problem is the fact that I feel like the culture, and as an extension, things like ASC activities, are aimed at people such as these – those who are outgoing, religious, attractive, trendy. There’s little room for anyone else.

And I’m saying all this as a white, straight, Christian male. I actually cannot imagine what it must be like to attend George Fox as a minority student. In fact, I would appreciate it if people let me know in the comments.

Am I stereotyping? Of course. At its heart, this is nothing much more than an unfair rant. It’s not really George Fox’s fault that I’m an introvert or that I don’t like going to dances.

And yet, I can’t believe that I’m the only one who feels left out.

Getting the Story

Earlier this week, I played through “Her Story,” a video game that consists of watching videos of a woman talking. It was one of the best games I’ve ever played.

Before I explain how this could possibly be, let me give you a bit of backstory on video games in general. They’ve come a long way since the days of shooting two dimensional aliens in arcades – now, gamers can shoot three dimensional aliens from the comfort of their own home! In all seriousness, though, while the technology of video games have progressed exponentially since their early days, the mainstream of the industry is still caught in a groove of gory games about killing foreigners, recreations of historical conflicts, fantasy romps full of large-breasted women, and infinitely reproduced variations of sports games. Some of these games can actually be quite fun, but it’s still nice when something comes along that varies from the norm.

Which is where “Her Story” comes in. Games are, at their heart, fundamentally conflict-based. Whatever you are trying to do, there is something or someone trying to stop you, and you have to defeat them – whether that involves blowing aliens into clouds of ichor in “Halo” to save Earth or running and kicking your way to victory in the FIFA series of soccer games. “Her Story” is different, though. The conflict – if there even is one – is purely against the game itself, or possibly your own ability to tease together frustratingly small scraps of information.

It’s part of a recent wave of games disparagingly and/or affectionately called “walking around simulators.” These heavily story-driven games are so devoid of conflict that many claim they should not even be called games. I’m not here to perform the pointless task of defending their classification as such, though. What matters for the purpose of this article is that they are a good experience, regardless of whether or not they are technically “games.”

And now it’s time to actually talk about “Her Story” (finally!). While the game tells a great story, what makes it special goes much deeper than that. It is able to fully take advantage of the special feature of video games – interactivity – that sets it apart as a storytelling medium from books, television, and film. In most story games, story and gameplay are separate. Usually, the player does something, is given a piece of the story, and then does something else in a cycle that lasts until the game is finished. This is a bit like reading a book a few pages at a time in between running laps around a track. In “Her Story”, though, story and gameplay are wedded in an absolutely fascinating matter.

“Her Story” is a game about watching short videos of a woman being questioned by police, none of which are longer than a minute. In order to get the full story, information from each clip has to be carefully pieced together. However, in-game, the videos are stored on an archaic police database from the 1990s, and in order to access them, the player has to enter keywords in a search box. The result is a non-chronological telling of a chronological story – a bit like trying to read a book by reading each page at a time from a jumbled pile on the floor.

The final product is an engaging story made all the more intriguing by being only accessible through a tricky puzzle. This game, more than just about anything else I’ve done or played, truly made me feel like I was a detective. Rather than being eye-glazed wasted time, the three hours I spent playing “Her Story” were deeply moving, engrossing, and memorable.

As to the story itself, I can’t say much without spoiling it. I’ll limit myself to this: “Her Story” tells a heartfelt, bizarre, and gripping tale with a heaping serving of unreliable narration.

And it’s only $5.99.

The Family Awakens

Star Wars fans around the world today have rejoiced at what has been dubbed by Disney as “Force Friday.” And by “rejoiced,” I mean, “gone absolutely insane.” On this day, all of the merchandise for the upcoming Star Wars movie has been released, including action figures, toy lightsabers, models, costumes, an RC drone shaped like the Millennium Falcon, and a model of new adorable droid BB-8.

Disney’s new money printing machine

However, I’m not planning on getting anything. I don’t have quite the budget to celebrate this particular consumerist festival. Truth be told, most of the merchandise doesn’t even interest me, as much as I love Star Wars (and I do love Star Wars – I literally cried during the latest trailer).

One release, though, has at least garnered my interest: the X-Wing Miniatures game has put out a new expansion based on the new Star Wars movie.

X-Wing in all its chaotic glory

X-Wing is an extraordinarily fun game. Players play as either the heroic Rebels or the tyrannical Empire (with a new faction, Scum & Villainy, being recently released to represent the various criminals and bounty hunters that infest the worlds of Star Wars). In playing, the game replicates the dogfighting of the Star Wars movies (which in turn was heavily inspired by World War II aerial dogfights). The most interesting detail of the game is the method by which the players move their ships – instead of moving them at will, players first secretly select a maneuver from a dial specific to each type of ship. The puzzle of this mechanic lies in having to move ships using only a set number of different templates.

A couple example dials

As fun as X-Wing is, it’s real significance to me is far greater than that of a mere game. Two Christmases ago, I got X-Wing from my brother. – the starter pack, an X-Wing, an A-Wing, a B-Wing, and a Y-Wing, to be precise. He told me he got it for me so that he would have someone to play it with consistently. Sometimes, though, I wonder if it was part of a greater plan. Now, my brother is 14 years older than me – we are, in fact, similar in a lot of ways, but we’ve never actually been terribly close. This last summer, though, we spent a lot of time playing X-Wing – deliberating over strategy, wondering how best to kill each other, and generally spending the type of quality time that can only be achieved through hairpin-turns and fireballs. Between all the games, though, we would talk – about TV, movies, games, family – all the little things that lives and relationships are made out of.

Ask me why I love Star Wars? Well, in part, Star Wars helped give me something – a relationship with my brother.