Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 25: Bob the Angry Flower

If you’d rather not read a short diatribe about terminology in regards to media forms, then you can skip the next two paragraphs and go right ahead to the first comic excerpt.

I was a little hesitant about this week’s entry, because I’m unsure whether Bob the Angry Flower counts as a webcomic. As far as I understand, it started in a print publication and has been in print publications for most if not all of its run. However, I encountered it first online, the entire archive is available online, and a reader can keep up with it without ever encountering the comic in print. My entire experience with Bob the Angry Flower has been as a webcomic.

Then again, the term “webcomic” is questionable. There are many who feel that specifying a comic as a “webcomic” is limiting in terms of audience outreach and that it creates a false barrier between old and new media. Obviously I am comfortable with the term, as I have used it in the title of this blog. Most of the comics I keep up with are webcomics, by which I mean “comics whose primary means of distribution is through the Internet.” I consider “webcomic” to be a useful category, though I can understand the objections I’ve heard. The purpose of this blog, though, is to celebrate webcomics, not to get bogged down in what makes a webcomic a webcomic. Therefore, I will continue as planned.

Bob the Angry Flower is a gag-based comic that relies primarily on absurdity and exaggeration. There is little or no continuity for the most part… Bob may die in one installment and show up as if nothing has happened in the next. While there are occasional references to things that happened in the past, some recurring characters and even the occasional multi-page story, one can usually read any given installment of Bob the Angry Flower without losing anything by not having read others.

As the title suggests, the comic focuses on Bob, a flower who is angry. Sometimes he’s angered by completely sensible things like political ineptitude or grave injustice. Sometimes he’s angry about silly things, minor inconveniences and such. Sometimes he’s angry about things that are entirely unreasonable, like how his plan to take over the world has been hampered because his robot army is insufficiently bloodthirsty.

Bob’s characterization is not necessarily consistent. At times he can be seen as a direct analogue for the author, reflecting his creator’s struggles and personal beliefs. However, he is often portrayed as monstrous, espousing viewpoints that no sensible person would ever take seriously and embracing values that are plainly abhorrent. He is rarely portrayed sympathetically.

Still, I find it hard not to love Bob, in the way that you love a great villain or a magnificent bastard. He’s emotionally volatile, violent, and abusive toward his friends. Bob is a horrible person, but I love him anyway. I love him the way I love Rimmer from Red Dwarf; his negative qualities somehow turn him into someone so much more compelling than admirable qualities could make him.

One could even argue that his inconsistencies are part of a larger thematic element, that Bob is fickle in thought and intention, so that he may be capable of perfect reason one day and behave entirely irrationally the next. He has been shown to make capricious and abrupt about-faces in his attitudes, so it’s conceivable that he lacks a strong self-identity and makes up for it by madly embracing whatever seems important or desirable at any given time.

Thus, Bob can serve as a metaphorical stand-in for either side of a conflict. He may be the hero or the villain, depending on the moment and the demands of the joke. He may speak with a sense of complete logic, or express the opposite of whatever a reasonable person would think. You never know quite which Bob you’re going to get.

Occasionally the comic will do something interesting with the format. The title is almost always presented in a novel way, and the characters will express awareness of their medium and interact with the page elements from time to time. I’m particularly this one, which is a simple enough time-travel sort of joke but which calls into question all sorts of things about determinism and the nature of a comic as a fixed image and the relationship between that image and the flow of time and I just love it.

Sometimes the comic will contain suggestions that I find compelling, though they are presented as jokes and there is no real implication that any of them should be implemented. These ideas include eliminating apostrophes from our language entirely, since people can’t seem to use them correctly. My favorite of these is the idea that we should say “advanced” as an insult instead of “retarded.” I actually really hope that this one will catch on one day.

The setting of Bob the Angry Flower is versatile and bound by few rules. Just about anything can happen. Expect to have your expectations subverted, though whether by sudden robot attacks or by a seemingly deadly situation turning into a dull and uneventful afternoon at home, it’s hard to predict.

Things can get pretty weird, but then, the baseline in this comic is “talking flower getting worked up about stuff,” so weirdness should be expected. Science fiction and fantasy elements show up frequently, and so do things that are just surreal, or things that could happen in the real world but don’t just because no one would ever do that.

The versatility of the setting, combined with the absurd nature of the humor and the lack of continuity, allow for some brilliant non-sequiturs. When anything and everything could happen, sometimes the thing that does happen is so bizarre it makes a kind of poetry.

When you read Bob the Angry Flower, you’ll see unexpected images, some of them beautifully grotesque, and many of them unadulteratedly amusing. There’s love, loss, rage, power, war, acceptance, philosophy, and a deep appreciation for scientific advancement. One of Bob’s few constants is that he places himself firmly in the intellectual elite, so depending on your outlook, there are times when you may identify with him ( such as when he rails against incorrect apostrophes) or think he’s being comically overreactive (such as when he rails against incorrect apostrophes).

Whether you can identify with Bob or not, though, one will always understand his nature, and his nature is that of an asshole.

If you read through the archive, (again, you don’t have to in order to understand the comic, but it’s there and it’s full of this comic that I love and will gladly read over and over) you’ll probably notice that the resolution on a lot of the early comics is fairly poor. They are legible but it can take some time to work out the writing. There’s also an annotation section on the website, which gives some pretty fun insight into a lot of the earlier comics.

Aside from the home page, the archive, and the annotations, most of the website is pretty out of date. Luckily, that’s not stuff you need in order to read and enjoy the comic, so don’t worry about it. I did find a few broken links in the archive, so again, if you come across those, don’t worry and just skip on to the next comic. Try not to think about what you’re missing out on.

Bob the Angry Flower is written and drawn by Stephen Notley and updates on Fridays. I recommend it for people who can get a little worked up over silly issues, and who are comfortable recognizing this part of themselves and laughing at it.


  1. Yes, I remember Bob from his run in one of the Los Angeles "Alt-Papers" and was delighted to recently see he was still alive and spreading his angry pollen all over the web. BUT I'm surprised you featured him without highlighting his most recent (and most topical) entry http://www.angryflower.com/default.html which could have been inspired by my comment in another forum responding to the query "Where is Occupy right now?" by writing "Seeing the Tea Party on the verge of destroying America's financial system and thinking 'hmm, maybe they aren't such bad guys after all'." Or maybe Mr. Notley is just as smart as I am and much more snarky. I did just notice "Angryflower.com generously hosted by Brunching Shuttlecocks.com" which was co-founded by Lore Sjoberg, a web-based genius who has himself created a couple short-lived but "Worth Wreading" comics, archived on an almost-impossible-to-get-around site, most notably his self-portrait-y Lore Brand Comics that start in the archives here... http://badgods.com/view/aboutdrinking/

    1. I'd hesitate to underestimate Mr. Notley's ability to make those sorts of connections, though if you can reasonably claim credit for the idea then more power to you! I'm reluctant to highlight topical things in the blog too often, because I worry about taking things that are related to the ephemeral zeitgeist of the time and putting them in a permanent context where they might be viewed outside of their cultural position of temporal relevance blah blah but yes, that one is pretty impressive and worth highlighting.

      I wasn't previously familiar with Lore Sjoberg's work, but now I'm interested in checking it out. Thanks!