Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 24: Oglaf

I’m putting this week’s entry behind a cut, because the comic under discussion contains a great deal of adult content, and some adult content is excerpted in this post. If you are over 18 and comfortable viewing explicit drawings of sex, then click through. If you are not both of those things, then come back next week, when this blog will be dealing with a comic that is far less likely to offend delicate sensibilities.

Take a very dark comedy, put it in a fantasy setting, throw in lots of sex, and you get Oglaf.

The world of Oglaf is cruel, even malicious. Characters tend to be cynical and self-serving, probably because that’s what’s required to survive. They are surrounded by magic and adventure, nearly all of which is deadly. Kindness and compassion just… seem not to be selected for, in this particular setting, and looking on the bright side of things is almost never an appropriate response.

Note: Oglaf is comedy-driven, and many installments stand on their own, but there are some ongoing storylines, as well as just characters who will show up every now and again. I’ll avoid spoilers for the stories that do last a while, but for the most part spoilers are not really a concern with this comic.

It’s hard to find a clear moral compass in Oglaf. There’s so much trickery and double-crossing that it usually doesn’t make any sense to try to figure out which character in a particular conflict is in the right. One character may react to another character’s preemptive defense against the very action that the first character took and probably the only answer that makes any sense is that they’re all jerks. And maybe the reader is the worst of all, because we just sit back and allow all of these characters to suffer for our personal enjoyment.

Nearly everything in this setting is sexualized. The atmosphere of sexuality is as pervasive as the atmosphere of malevolence. It’s a world where everything’s out to get you, and the things that aren’t out to get you are out to have sex with you. (There are, of course, some things that are out to do both.)

That atmosphere of malevolence pervades sex in Oglaf as well. This isn’t a dark, cruel world where sex is the one refuge people have… It’s a dark, cruel world where sex is just one more thing that can be dark and cruel. Characters who are self-serving, conniving, and/or narcissistic always have those qualities, regardless of what they’re doing or who they’re with.

The comedy in Oglaf is, as mentioned above, very dark. The punchline (or the setup!) often consists of a character’s death, or some other violent or terrible act. It’s the kind of humor that, in A Softer World, can make you feel bad for laughing at it. However, while the actual events in Oglaf are terrible, the overall tone feels far more lighthearted. While A Softer World could be likened to ordinary events described by an unremittingly depressed friend, Oglaf could be similarly likened to dreadful events described by a relentlessly cheerful friend. If we have to live with these terrible things, the least we can do is get a laugh out of them.

Once you embrace the horror inherent to Oglaf’s setting, you can even start to see the sweetness that shines through. To be sure, kindness and altruism are hard to come by in a world inhabited by flatbears and bog beasts, but there are moments, here and there, that can be heartwarming. All it takes is readjusting your sensibilities until your concept of heartwarming fits in with this off-kilter and menacing world.

Characters sometimes manage to find their own sweet, heartwarming moments, though their own sensibilities are so skewed from ours that we might agree with them about what exactly constitutes sweet or heartwarming. All we, as readers, can do, is sit back and feel happy for them, just as we sit back and laugh at them when their lives go terribly wrong.

What Oglaf does well is take fantasy elements and spin them in refreshingly uncomfortable ways. If you’ve ever wondered about the negative applications of magic spells, or the practical issues that arise when caring for monsters, then Oglaf is for you. Tired of fantasy realms where everything always seems to work out for the best? Try a fantasy realm where things frequently work out in the most terrible way possible.

Oglaf updates on Sundays. Updates often consist of one page, but sometimes contain multiple pages. As you’re reading through, be sure to keep an eye out for Epilogues; sometimes there’s an extra page to a story that you’ll miss if you just keep clicking “Next Page.” And keep an eye out for mouseover text.

According to the Oglaf Wiki, Oglaf is created by Doug Bayne and Trudy Cooper. There’s no information about the authors at the Oglaf website itself, as far as I can tell, so that’s the information I’m going on.

I recommend Oglaf to people who like fantasy, but get annoyed with stories where things always work out for the best even though they really shouldn’t.

Edit: I meant to say when I first posted this, but I forgot: Look out for mouseover text! There are also occasional epilogues that you might miss if you just keep clicking "next page" and don't notice the "Epilogue" option where it exists. And bear in mind that the updates on Sundays occasionally include more than one page.

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  1. What do you mean, epilogue button? There's next story, previous story, and next page.

    1. A very few number of comics (such as this one) also show an epilogue button. I didn't notice it until I'd been a reader for quite a while!

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  3. You forgot to mention the source code funnies that go with the mouse over text. Right click on the boarder and view source code, then look for the mouse over text. The line above it usually compliments. Just another little extra I found while reading Oglaf.

    1. Not so much "forgot to mention" as "had no idea it was there." Thanks for pointing it out!