You’d think they’d have more in common, really. They both want to make people laugh, and they both want to do it through drawings, and they’re both aimed at the mainstream.
Yet animation and comic strips are very different creatures.
That’s is odd, considering that almost every animated film starts out as nothing more than an extended comic strip — even such action-packed films as The Incredibles began as a bunch of panels tacked to the wall, with writers pointing to each panel in turn as they pitch the action.
But comic strips, at least ever since they settled down into a comfortably syndicated rhythm in the 1950s with the advent of Peanuts, have almost always been oddly static. Each panel lacks the dynamic vibrancy of motion that you get from the roughs you see of animated films, the sense that the characters are about to leap off the page.
That’s partially a time thing, of course.
Drawing, writing, and inking four panels a day is a lot amount of work, especially when you don’t get any days off. Thus, you start moving towards the classic time-saving tricks of reusing character poses, putting them in similar situations that are easily drawn.
Then there’s the issue of comic strips themselves, which have been compressed by the needs of newspapers into a strict three- or four-panel layout. It’s hard to tell an epic, sweeping visual story in four panels, especially when you have to recap the story for new readers in the first panel and end on some minor cliffhanger in the last panel.
Thus, most comic strips have gravitated towards the written word. Dialogue can always tell you where you are — and besides, it’s a more consistent funny. It’s easier to fall back on some hoary pun than it is to devise some new and funny facial expression for an old character.
So webcomics, which have evolved from newspaper strips, tend to be similarly static and text-heavy. There’s no shame in it, of course — it’s a tried-and-true formula. But what you get are characters standing in rooms, walking slowly from place to place, and only occasionally tripping over something or getting into a quickly-handled fight.
It wasn’t until I saw Yet Another Fantasy Gaming Comic that I realized how little I had come to settle for.
Because YAFGC is alive in ways that other strips aren’t; that’s partially because it’s drawn in pencil and has the raw energy of a sketch, but also because Rich Morris has the talent of a classic Disney animator; he manages, with a few quick strokes of his pencil, to bring people to life so that the way they stand, hips cocked, tells you more about them than the dialogue ever would.
The character designs are astounding in the way they both manage to be simple and yet ever-changing, because Rich almost never draws someone the same way twice. YAFGC feels like a storyboard for some strange and wonderful animated movie, because the characters feel like they’re always in motion.
And then, of course… There’s the plot. It has one.
I wouldn’t advise starting with today’s strip, which is the climax to a long and storied arc. Start at the beginning, where Bob the Beholder (a floating eye with classic D&D-style powers, morphed into a cartoonish set of ever-changing quadruple-eyeball expressions) falls in love with Gren Razortooth, a female goblin. Bob’s Beholder parents are horrified, and so they have to elope into the deep caverns to find happiness.
There are many people in the deep caverns. There’s Arachne, the kinky-yet-thoroughly-evil Drow. There’s Mrs. Bloodhand, the orcish widow. There’s Lewie the Lich, an undead king with great ambitions and puny, puny skeletons to help him carry them out.
And, unfortunately for Bob and Gren, there’s a whole cavern of bare-breasted harpies nearby, all cute and wonderful and full of sexy. And Bob, unbeknownst to anyone, has a set of wandering eyes….
The plot is effortlessly organic, traipsing from place to place without ever feeling strained. Things just happen, and they’re funny and yet somehow getting realer by the day as the story grows in scope and complexity without ever getting near angst.
Everyone’s happy. Even if they’re sad, they’re only sorta-sad. You know they’ll be happy again soon.
It’s also pleasantly naughty. The harpies are bare-breasted, because, well, Rich loves boobs. And who doesn’t? But the nakedness and the kissing and the sex is handled with that teenaged Japanese “Whee! It’s all fun!” and despite the occasional naked characters it still feels oddly PG. You never see anything more explicit than the occasional nipple, and nobody really swears. It’s harmless naked, the hints at sex rolled into the gags.
But The Funny is always there. It’s got sight gags (and how — wait until you meet the Chimera), and good solid talky-gags, and just gags a-plenty. It feels like a storyboard for a Disney movie in an alternate universe, one where sex was just as accepted as bonks on the head with a mallet.
Within a week, it’s become one of my favorite comics. And thus, I can only advise you to go check it out.
(And as always, if you have an underappreciated webcomic you think I should review, leave a comment and I’ll take a look at it. Reviews will be only for strips with less or equal traffic to my own strip, Home on the Strange, in order to highlight smaller comics; as such, the reviews will always be at least mostly positive. If you note any traffic I’ve sent your way and feel the urge to shower me with gratitude, feel free to plug HotS in your own comic. Danke.)
(NOTE TO YOU FINE YAFGW READERS: Home on the Strange, my webcomic, is currently on a brief hiatus after our first year, but if you're looking for a place to start, you might try this storyline about gaming: Gotterdammerűng.)
(Also to the also, thanks muchly to djs_specs for pointing me in YAFGC’s direction. I’m always open to looking, for sometimes I discover wondrous things.)