Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 38: Hey Pais

Journal comics! There are a lot of them out there. When done well, a journal comic can highlight familiar experiences or give expression to something that the reader understands but has never thought to elucidate. The author may find the humor in everyday life, prompting the audience to delight in otherwise mundane tasks, or just to feel a sense of camaraderie, knowing that other people share those experiences, even if few ever voice them.

Another use of journal comics can be to illustrate the experiences of someone who shares little with the audience. Little-understood cultures or professions may be illuminated, helping the world to become more connected through the art of self-expression.

Today we’ll be talking about a journal comic that achieves the latter, by illustrating the experiences of someone who is not even human. Welcome to the world’s only journal comic written and drawn by a real-life cat: Hey Pais.

Hey Pais lets us in on the daily life of an ordinary the prettiest cat, Pais (short for Paisley). She keeps us up to date on the goings-on of her catnip mice, the humans she lives with, and important news of the feline world. It’s a pretty simple premise, but it’s tackled with a level of dedication and sincerity (of a sort) that make it engaging.

Humans who’ve lived with cats before will find some familiarity in these comics. Pais behaves in many ways as other cats do, prompting us humans to shrug and laugh and chalk up the behavior to just more crazy cat antics. By reading Hey Pais, we humans can gain some insight into a cat’s perspective on these antics. Pais understands her own behavior, and she lays it out in such a way that it’s obvious why she behaves the way she does. It’s taken for granted that this behavior makes sense; the assumptions tend to go unstated, but it’s easy to tell what it is we are meant to be assuming.

Sometimes Hey Pais provides cool cat facts! These tidbits are useful for cat owners, and fascinating for those out there who don’t have direct experience with cats. Some of the cat stereotypes you’ve likely heard are incorrect, or self-contradictory. Hey Pais does its part to spread understanding and awareness.

Not all cats are alike. Hey Pais provides one cat’s perspective, and as any cat owner is aware, every single cat is a precious snowflake with notable distinctions separating him or her from every other cat in appearance and personality.

Each author can only truly trust themselves to represent their own perspective. Empathising with others is a useful quality, but it can be difficult to truly put yourself in another person’s mindset, especially if your own life experience is somewhat limited. Pais spends most of her life in the same home, seeing a limited handful of people, and encounters few things that challenge her worldview.

When a second cat moves in, we get a useful shaking-up of the status quo, and get to see first-hand some of the ways that Pais’ experiences of normality do not necessarily extend to all cats.

(The arrival of the boy cat Boo Radley would be a spoiler, but since this is a journal comic depicting things that happened in real life, the application of the concept of spoilers doesn’t make sense.)

If you read Hey Pais, you’ll get to learn more about what it’s like to be a cat, through one individual cat’s perspective on the world around her. There are recognizable behaviors, the kind that spark a feeling of amused familiarity, along with some unique tendencies that are all Pais. It’s a lighthearted and fun way to get a feeling of a completely different perspective to the one you’re used to, i.e., that of a human.

So if you like cats, or you just feel like expanding your narrow personal horizons a little bit by empathizing with a member of a different species, check it out!

Hey Pais is written and drawn by Sara Bauer Paisley Paiserton and updates irregularly. I like to check back every month or so and see if there’s anything new.

You don’t have to read Hey Pais in order, though there are some recurring terms that make more sense if you read the comics where they’re first introduced. For example, above, “loafhacker” is a pun on “lifehacker” (which you probably got) and the term “loafing” for the way that cats lie around the house (which you may not have realized). Plus, the archive is a pretty quick read, so if you’re in the mood to read the whole thing I’d recommend it. Mostly, though, it’s easy to catch on so if you’d rather just jump in with any old comic feel free.

Next Entry: Chainsawsuit

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

A Year In

Today marks one year since the first Webcomics Worth Wreading entry went up. Let's take a look at the first year of this blog's existence.

Featured Webcomics: 37

If I'd kept up with the weekly schedule I started with, that number would've been 52. But real life showed up and I missed a week here and there before switching to a biweekly schedule. I'm using biweekly to mean "every other week" instead of "twice a week." I hope that was clear.

Doing this every other week has been much more manageable, although I did wind up skipping one of the dates when I would have otherwise posted, even by this more lenient schedule. But I used that time well, and even spent some of it reading comics that I hadn't dived into previously. March was an awfully full month for me, and I'm glad some of it was filled with reading. The future of this blog depends on me continuing to expand my reference base.

Books I've been quoted on: 1

Spacetrawler has now concluded, and the third and final volume has been printed. There is a quote from my entry about Spacetrawler on the back of the book. I'm pretty happy about that.

Most popular blog entry: Oglaf (Be warned that that particular entry is NSFW.)

The majority of traffic this blog gets is from people looking for Oglaf. (Since the entry on this blog regarding that comic is NSFW, it's a fair bet that the comic itself is NSFW also, but I figure I'll state it outright just in case.) The Oglaf entry hasn't quite been viewed more times than every other entry on this blog combined, but it has been viewed an awful lot.

I guess the lesson here is that people on the Internet like porn, which is not actually all that surprising.

Webcomics that have been recommended to me since I started: Loads.

Starting years ago, I started bookmarking webcomics that people had recommended, on Twitter or on their own websites or wherever. Sometimes I would read one of these comics immediately, but sometimes I didn't have the time, or I wasn't in the mood to explore something new, and I would bookmark it. I now have a massive bookmark folder full of recommendations. They've been accumulating for a long time!

Ideally, I would read these comics at some sort of steady rate, but I haven't developed any sort of system to go through them all, so I get around to them haphazardly and unreliably. And after I started doing this blog, people started telling me about lots and lots of different webcomics that they think I should look at.

I don't want to discourage recommendations. I like hearing about new webcomics. I like reading new webcomics. I will cheerfully add new bookmarks to my already-huge folder of webcomics that I haven't yet read but that I want to try. But I might not get around to reading new recommendations for a while.

That reading I did in March? Part of that time was spent digging into that oversized bookmarks folder. I actually made a dent in it. I'm pretty happy about that.

Amount of frustration I've had with Blogger's formatting capabilities: SO MUCH

When I launched Webcomics Worth Wreading I didn't know very much about Blogger. I was learning as I went. One of the things I learned early on is that placing images where I want them to be in blog posts and making sure they're the size I want them to be is somewhat tricky. Even trickier, though, is trying to convince Blogger to insert the correct number of line breaks in my post. I don't know why, but fairly often when I hit preview there are a bunch of extra line breaks. It takes some time to wrangle each post into looking roughly the way I want it to.

Then, there are instances where some paragraphs are clearly single-spaced and others use 1.5 spacing and I can't tell what's different about them that makes the spacing change between paragraphs. It's a mystery to me.

Honestly, there are lots of small formatting adjustments that I would love to make to this blog, but after all the big formatting adjustments I have to do for each post, I never have the energy.

People I have to thank: SO MANY

All of the creators whose comics I have written about. The people who've commented on this blog, or to me on Twitter. Gary Tyrell of Fleen for being an early supporter. Scott McCloud for basically teaching me that comics are a thing and for creating or introducing me to the first webcomics that I read. People who've provided me encouragement in real life.

All of you have helped me to keep this blog going. I've enjoyed writing it for the past year, and I hope you've enjoyed reading it, too.

The future: Bright

There are still lots of webcomics that I'm eager to write about. I should definitely be able to keep this blog going for another year. And, if people keep creating new things and I keep reading them, then theoretically I should be able to keep this blog going indefinitely.

Until such a time as indefinitely comes, I'll be here.

Thanks for letting me talk at you. There'll be a proper entry up next Tuesday.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 37: Axe Cop

Today’s entry is all about fun. It’s a particular kind of fun, too; the kind of fun that involves crazy weapons and ever more creative ways to kill your enemies. The kind of fun where the good guys always win, but there are always more bad guys to fight even though I could swear we’ve killed every bad guy in the world several times now.

It’s the kind of fun you’re in for when you start to read Axe Cop.

You may notice that Flute Cop is holding a recorder, not a flute. You may notice a lot of things. I encourage you to just roll with it.

Axe Cop is a story about a cop who has an axe. He uses his axe to kill bad guys.

It’s a simplistic premise, but things get wicked complicated. Axe Cop’s best friend and partner is Flute Cop, who sometimes turns into Dinosaur Soldier, or Avocado Soldier, or, as seen above, Ghost Cop. A whole host of other characters show up as good guys who ally with Axe Cop or as bad guys who fight him. The world operates according to its own surreal logic that bears little to no connection to reality. (Getting blood on you turns you into the kind of thing that the blood belonged to! I mean, obviously.)

I’ll note here that I’m not going to worry the slightest bit about spoilers for Axe Cop. The joy of reading Axe Cop is in the concepts, the big ideas and the little quirks that make this a piece of entertainment like no other. The plot itself is secondary, and is best enjoyed as it comes rather than dissected and anticipated. We’re not here for intricate plot twists. We’re here to see some good guys using their awesome weapons to fight bad guys.

Axe Cop has lobster antennae at this point in the story. Again, just roll with it.

The origin of Axe Cop in the real world is that a five-year-old kid describes what happens in the story, which is then drawn by his twenty-nine-year-old brother. Axe Cop has been running for a while now, and the kid who generates the ideas is now ten, but it still works the same way, and, importantly, it still has the same feel.

This is a child’s imagination game laid out on paper, and it is magnificent. (I guess it’s not so much laid out on paper as rendered on a screen, but that just doesn’t sound as impressive.) The stakes are high, the morality is black and white, the good guys always win, and this comic constantly surprises me. One thing that I’m constantly looking for in media is an idea that I would not have been able to come up with on my own. Axe Cop usually delivers several of them per page.

Sometimes the events in Axe Cop don’t feel like a story I’m reading so much as like a dream I’m having. There’s that free association of ideas that comes when you’re just listening to pure creativity without self-editing. Absurd things happen and then the justification comes later, or there’s no justification at all. It’s freeform storytelling of the kind that can only happen when no one is listening to the rules that usually keep stories in order. In Axe Cop, the rules are flexible. Unless you are a bad guy. If you are a bad guy, Axe Cop will show you no mercy.

As you may expect, with a story written by a child, there is very little artifice, no apparent agenda to the storytelling, and never a hint of a moral. Axe Cop is pure entertainment, unadulterated (such an appropriate word) by any sense of what stories or media should be telling the audience.

The reader gets a very clear sense of Axe Cop’s authorship. This comic is a little boy’s wonderland. There’s fighting and giant robots and zombies and the good guys just want to kill all the bad guys and I’m not really sure what most of the bad guys’ motivations are but that doesn’t really matter because they’re bad guys. Reading Axe Cop is a refreshingly pure experience, taking a step away from all the subtle commentary and allegory that can be found in almost all fiction.

While there’s no obvious intention for this comic to rise up and fight the status quo, we do get to see a child’s perception of the way the world does or should work, and that perception turns out to be slightly different from the cultural expectation. It’s fascinating, and potentially troubling, if you think through the full implications, but it’s definitely a different direction than the one we’ve come from. This is a snapshot of the cultural milieu through the filter of a child’s imagination and I don’t want to read too much into it but if I did want to, I absolutely could.

Figuring out where to begin can be a challenge. Well, I’m here to tell you that if you’ve never read Axe Cop before, the place to start is here. Read the first four pages, and then read this one. And then just keep going.

Of course, once you get into the story, things are further complicated because the main comic runs concurrently with a segment called Ask Axe Cop, which is in a different section of the archive. Stuff that’s established in Ask Axe Cop frequently shows up in the main comic, so it’s a good idea to try to read both of them at the same time, but it can be tricky figuring out when you should read each Ask Axe Cop with reference to where you are in the main archive. I recommend just reading the main story until you reach a footnote directing you to Ask Axe Cop, and then reading a bunch of Ask Axe Cop until you’ve read the one that the footnote was talking about.

There’s a third set of comics, called Axe Cop Presents, which can be read whenever you want because it doesn’t affect the Axe Cop continuity. Axe Cop doesn’t appear in those comics, but they definitely have the same feel to them, so if you enjoy Axe Cop, you should definitely check them out.

There are two Axe Cop stories that have only appeared in print, “Bad Guy Earth” and “President of the World.” Events from those stories are mentioned in the online comic, but remember how I said I wasn’t going to worry about spoilers? The same principle applies here. Feel free to read everything that’s online and any time something comes up that was introduced in a print comic, just roll with it. Accept the new information and move on. Then, someday, when you get a chance to read the print comics, I recommend you do so because they’re great. Just don’t let them hold you back from reading what’s immediately available. Don’t let some minor confusion or even a handful of continuity errors ruin your fun. The way to enjoy Axe Cop is to accept things as they come.

Axe Cop is dressed as a cat here. Roll with it.

I find that Axe Cop is a great comic to read with children, because it’s fascinating and imaginative and probably about as edgy as I would want children’s entertainment to get. Being written by a kid indicates that the content is probably going to be safe for most kids to handle, though that does depend somewhat on parental rules regarding exposure to violent content. That’s a judgement call that each family makes differently, and while I wouldn’t think that the type of violence in Axe Cop would be harmful to a developing psyche, I understand that others may have different attitudes. When I was in preschool I thought Power Rangers was the greatest thing ever created, and one of my friends wasn’t allowed to watch it, and I thought her parents were just insane or horribly cruel, but now I can kind of see where they were coming from, you know?

If you’re an adult, Axe Cop is tremendously fun. If you’re a kid, bug your parents to let you read Axe Cop, which shouldn’t be too hard because if you’re a kid and you’re reading my blog I’m guessing your parents let you read a lot of stuff. If you’re an adult who has kids in your life, introducing them to Axe Cop is a move that I would wholly endorse. This comic is a peculiar kind of wonderful, and everyone should have the opportunity to enjoy it.

Axe Cop is written by Malachai Nicolle and drawn by Ethan Nicolle. Color, in the recent stories, is provided by Kailey Frizzell. The currently-running main story is a guest arc written by Charlotte and Amelia O’Brien and drawn by Tom Martin. Watch for mouseover text starting about here for the main comic and here for Ask Axe Cop.

I recommend Axe Cop to anyone who has ever enjoyed an action movie, or to anyone who think that maybe they would enjoy action movies if they weren’t all so darn serious. If you have any sense of fun at all, you really should give Axe Cop a try. It’s one of the most fun things I’ve ever encountered on the Internet, and there isn’t anything else quite like it. Go forth, and read about Earth-shattering events never encountered anywhere before or since.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Webcomic Worth Wreading, Entry 36: Nimona

Friendship can be a fragile thing. Like all relationships, friendship requires trust. The problem with trust is that it can take a long time to build it up, but it can be destroyed much more quickly. Once trust is lost, it may never be gained again. Because trust isn’t something that everyone gets to have by default. It doesn’t just naturally build up over time. Trust has to be earned, and sometimes the task of earning it is so difficult as to seem impossible.

To witness some people struggle with the difficulties of trusting and being trusted, trying their hardest to work through friendships, look no farther than Nimona.

Nimona is a science fiction/fantasy hybrid wherein great plots and terrible villainy are the means by which a handful of people work out their feelings about each other. There’s some concern about the greater good, too, but their deep motivations tend to run more personal than that.

Note: Nimona is a narrative-based comic and must be read in order from the beginning. I’ll avoid major spoilers in this post but it will be impossible to discuss the comic without giving some things away. If you like going into a reading experience with a completely fresh perspective, I’d advise you to proceed with caution.

Lord Blackheart and Sir Goldenloin are former friends, current nemeses. There are implications that they were closer even than friends, but the precise nature of their past relationship will likely remain one that must be speculated upon. What’s clear is that Goldenloin still cares very deeply for Blackheart, and Blackheart is unlikely to ever again feel that Goldenloin is worthy of his trust. They’ve settled into a comfortable animosity, which is only interrupted by the introduction of a third element: Nimona.

Nimona, the eponymous character, is a shapeshifter who becomes Blackheart’s sidekick in villainy. She doesn’t respect the status quo that Blackheart and Goldenloin have established, and she wastes no time in changing everything. Blackheart’s moral code, and the equilibrium that has been established for years, go out the window. Everything is new and different, and for those who were comfortable with the way things were before, this change is decidedly unsettling.

It takes time and a lot of effort and compromises for Nimona to start to earn Blackheart’s trust, and it’s clear that Nimona doesn’t really trust Blackheart, either. Their friendship is tenuous; they worry about each other and develop a clear affection, but Nimona seems to have trouble trusting anyone, and she probably has good reason. Her interactions with the world take the form of teasing and sarcasm, presumably as a defensive mechanism. She’s definitely been hurt in the past, and caring about people is likely to get her hurt again.

Still, she seeks Blackheart out and deliberately forms a bond with him. A friendship is there, even if it has to be hidden beneath jokes and affectations of disinterest.

While Nimona really is all about the character relationships, one of my favorite aspects of this comic is the setting. It’s a medieval fantasy where technology is far more advanced than our current level. There are floaty computer screens and ray guns and there are dragons and some of the dragons are genetically engineered and people dress in suits of armor and stuff. It’s a bizarre mix of historical and futuristic visual themes, and it’s beautiful. I’ve never seen another world quite like the one in Nimona, and I find that the setting is compelling on its own, without the aid of character drama. These people live in a weird place, and I love learning more about how their world works.

One compelling aspect of this world is the coexistence of magic and science. The ray guns I mentioned? Those aren’t techno-magical weapons; they’re pure technology. For the most part, science exists on its own and has advanced independently from magical knowledge. This seems to be less because scientists are not interested in studying magic (because clearly at least some of them are) than because it’s very difficult to find magical phenomenon and subject them to study. Take, for instance, Nimona’s reaction when Blackheart suggests they run some tests on her shapeshifting abilities.

Did I mention that Blackheart has a bionic arm? Blackheart totally has a bionic arm and I love it.

That above panel probably also has to do with Nimona’s general lack of trust in other people.

Above all, this comic is all about what it means to be a friend, to earn someone’s trust, and to lose their trust. The character dynamics here are strained; clearly people are trying the best they can, but they come from difficult circumstances and the right choices aren’t always clear. In a way, this is the ultimate example of what happens when people who should by all rights trust and care for one another dearly simply can’t afford to.

Sometimes I read this comic and it’s just heartbreaking.

But, you know, in a fun way.

Nimona is written and drawn by Noelle Stevenson, and updates on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The story looks to be nearing its conclusion, so read it now before it’s too late!

(Just kidding! I imagine you will still be able to read the story after the whole thing’s been posted. But seriously, you should go check it out now just because it’s there and you can.)