Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Webcomics Worth Wreading, Entry 47: Hijinks Ensue

I’d like to thank you for reading my words right now. Through the same device that you’re using to view this blog, you could be watching hit TV shows or listening to the hottest new tunes or grinding for xp or even reading stories about all your favorite characters from Harry Potter kissing each other. We are awash in pop culture, and with so much media so readily available, I do appreciate any time that a consumer finds fit to spend on my own writing.

Though pop culture surrounds us, many people treat it with little awareness, hardly giving a thought to the works that they watch and hear and buy. Of those who do pay careful attention, many decry media and attempt to avoid it inasmuch as they are able. But then there are those who recognize the value in pop culture, who appreciate and love the stories that make up our modern mythology, to the extent that they will discuss, analyze, and deconstruct media during the course of a typical conversation. Out of that love and dedication to pop culture, and out of respect for its impact of our lives, come comics like Hijinks Ensue.

This comic will seem so dated in four years. Also, do you remember the rally to restore sanity? Oh dear, maybe this comic is already dated.

Hijinks Ensue is a gag-based comic wherein geeks pontificate about the media that makes them who they are. At least, that’s what you’ll find for the majority of the archive: Praise of pop culture, complaints about pop culture, amusing combinations of two disparate pop culture elements, and so forth. Closer to the current time frame, the style of the comic noticeably changes. Characters converse about things not directly related to pop culture or current events, such as their own actions and relationships to one another. Events develop continuity that carries over between installments, some of which carry real emotional weight. For the most part each installment of Hijinks Ensue stands on its own, funny or touching or pleasantly bewildering regardless of whether you’ve read what comes before. But after a certain point in the archive, those individual installments follow upon one another, and the dedicated reader will gain a greater appreciation and understanding of each event for having seen the ones that preceded it.

There is such a noticeable shift in the way Hijinks Ensue reads that it feels like two different comics… and, in fact, there basically are two different comics called Hijinks Ensue. If you click on the “First” button from the Hijinks Ensue homepage, it doesn’t take you to the very first comic that was uploaded to the website; it takes you to the first installment in the current, continuity-embracing version of Hijinks Ensue. To get to the first first comic, you need to get to the Hijinks Ensue Classic archive.

Reading every single Hijinks Ensue installment is by no means necessary to enjoy the comic. Feel free to ignore the Classic archive, or to ignore the fact that archives exist at all and only read the current comic, or two just hit the “Random” button a few times and see what you get. What continuity there is rarely interferes with a newcomer’s ability to understand what’s going on, and if you do get confused, going back a few pages usually clears things up.

Don’t worry about spoilers; Hijinks Ensue is not big on plot arcs or unexpected revelations, and much of it is loosely based either on the author’s own life or on current events. Actually, some installments might be confusing if you don’t remember the particular news story or media event being lampooned, but there are usually helpful blog posts accompanying the comic that provide context. Hijinks Ensue has basically fulfilled the role of a news service for me at times, because I learned about all sorts of news stories through this comic that I probably never would have found otherwise.

While the news of the day doesn’t always make great reading for the future, I still really enjoy many of those old Hijinks Ensue installments about whatever was going on at the time. I don’t even have to remember the event in question in order to love the comics it inspired.

I'm sure this is a spoof of a specific commercial that I've totally forgotten seeing but that doesn't make "This Facebook is teeth" any less funny.

One cool thing about reading through the whole archive is that you get to see the author grow, not just in terms of artistic ability but in terms of crafting jokes and developing characters. Early installments in the Hijinks Ensue Classic archive often lean on shock value. There are casual mentions of things like sexual violence and suicide that can come off as pretty tasteless. (While those jokes bother me now, I remember having no problem with them when I first started reading Hijinks Ensue, which I guess indicates that I’ve grown and changed as well.)

The reliance on shock value has faded along with the reliance on pop culture references. Neither one is inherently detrimental to a comic, but both require tact and substance to make them work, and both are best used in service of a well-planned and executed joke, rather than in place of a well-planned and executed joke. Pop culture references have not disappeared from Hijinks Ensue, but these days the jokes in the comic don’t often require the reader to have any familiarity with specific outside sources, which I feel is overall to its benefit.

I may be coming down pretty hard on pop culture references here, but I’d be misleading you if I didn’t mention that those are what drew me to Hijinks Ensue in the first place. So I’ll share with you probably my favorite pop-culture based Hijinks Ensue installment ever, to demonstrate that something can be focused entirely on a preexisting external work and still carry power and weight and originality. That kind of thing is difficult to pull off, but when someone manages it I definitely think it’s worth my attention.

But wait! There’s more! The Hijinks Ensue archive has far more categories than just regular Hijinks Ensue and Hijinks Ensue Classic. Sometimes when the author gets home from a convention or other event he assembles photographs into comics depicting events that presumably are slightly more true to reality than the comics that are made out of drawings. Those can be found in the archive category “Fancy Photo Comics.” (I’m not usually so fond of the photo comics, partly because my brain has trouble telling human faces apart.) (Geez, I sound like an alien trying to integrate into human society. And I’m fine with that.)

Another thing the author does at conventions is draw sketches for paying customers. You can see some of these sketches by heading to the “Fancy Convention Sketches” section of the archive. These consist mostly of pop culture mashups and references and the like. By their nature, the sketches are simplistic, drawn quickly and later put into a sort of collage with other sketches so that they may be enjoyed by an Internet audience as well as by whomever was at the convention. I find them to be pretty quick and fun to read through.

The “Faneurysm” archive category is where most of the current pop culture centered stuff on Hijinks Ensue can be found. It’s visually distinct from the other comics and it’s the place for jokes that make more or less sense depending on how familiar the reader is with external works of fiction. The sensibility is pretty similar to that of the convention sketches, but Faneurysm pages are a little more thought out and developed.

The one remaining archive category (not counting guest comics, which are outside the purview of this blog) is “Lo-Fijinks,” wherein the dialog is akin to what one might find in the regular Hijinks Ensue archive, but the art style is simplified to allow quicker and easier comic production under constrained circumstances.

This is how I felt about The Office.

If that all sounds complicated and like a lot of fuss, don’t sweat it. You can read as much or as little of the Hijinks Ensue archive as you like and still enjoy the comic. In fact, if you’re looking for a good place to jump in, I’d recommend here. You’ll be introduced to the characters and their circumstances in fairly short order, and it’s around that time that I feel Hijinks Ensue cemented into its current form.

The author’s daughter has been included in Hijinks Ensue only as a fairly recent development, but one that I think is significantly to the comic’s advantage. I don’t know if it’s because the real-life kid is just disarmingly witty and precocious or if it’s an effect of the way her father sees her and represents her, but I adore her character. The more focus she gets, the better I see Hijinks Ensue becoming.

Obligatory reminder that correlation does not imply causation and Hijinks Ensue could be getting better just coincidentally at the same time Gracie starts appearing more, but let’s not get bogged down by facts, okay? That kid is awesome.

If you love media so much that you want to be a part of it, if you self-identify as a geek, if you think of yourself as having sophisticated tastes but you can’t resist a dick joke now and then, Hijinks Ensue should have something for you. There’s humor and there’s heart and there’s a deep love for the consumption and creation of fiction.

I look forward to seeing Hijinks Ensue continue to change and evolve. I’ve enjoyed it in pretty much every form it’s taken, but I’ve definitely seen it coalesce into something deeper and more coherent in the last couple of years. The cast of characters have begun to feel like fleshed-out individuals with rich inner lives, and though the day-to-day humor is still there, it’s complemented by the continuous story that ties every day together.

Self-mockery like you find in the comic below (featuring a conversation between the Hijinks Ensue other and fellow webcartoonist David Willis), therefore, seems only partially apropos. I think that the qualities being sought are already present in Hijinks Ensue. They’ve been emerging for a while now. And I’m pretty sure things are only going to get better from here on in.

Hijinks Ensue is written and drawn by Joel Watson. Watch out for mouseover text starting roundabout here.

If you choose to read through the Hijinks Ensue archive, you may get slightly mixed up when you reach this page. Clicking “Next” brings you to this page, which is in the Fanuerysm category. A few more clicks brings you to the last Faneurysm page, and there’s no easy way to get from there back to the main Hijinks Ensue archive to pick up where you left off. Never you fear, though, intrepid reader, for this is the page you seek, following directly from whence the conversation broke off. EDIT: This has been fixed! Now off with ye, and may fortune favor you on your reading voyages!

Previous Entry: Quantum Vibe
Next Entry: Chester 5000 XYV (Warning: NSFW!)


  1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful words. Just a note that you seem to have discovered a miscategorized FANEURYSM comic, which explains the archive confusion in your last paragraph. I've fixed it now. Thanks again!

    1. Thank *you* for making this comic for all these years! I've updated this post to reflect the fixed archive problem. I'm glad my words have meant something to you.

  2. I've followed, and when times were good, donated to this comic for years. I find myself longing to know what is going on with the characters when I've been away, on vacation or when I pawn the computer for food monies. I even got kicked out of the library catching up on it. Good times and great work.

    1. I'm glad to hear from members of Hijinks Ensue's supportive fanbase! Best be careful in those libraries, though.