Friday, March 18, 2016

Entry 81: Bobbins

Today, I am engaging in shameless self-indulgence. There are a few guidelines I bear in mind when deciding which comics to write about, and I’m bending a few of them because I really really want to. I’m writing about a comic that I’ve touched on before, and one that kind of doesn’t have enough installments to form a coherent picture of what the comic looks like as a whole. (I say kind of because it does if you include something that I’m deliberately excluding from this discussion.) Essentially, I am letting nostalgia write this post for me. To put it another way, 16-year-old me is jumping up and down inside my mind and threatening to strangle me if I don’t bend my own blogging guidelines just enough to let me do a post all about Bobbins.

Long ago, I did a post about Bad Machinery, another comic by the same creator as Bobbins. Of course, I’ve done multiple posts about different comics by the same creators before, so on the surface that wouldn’t disqualify Bobbins from earning its own entry on this blog. The comics set in Tackleford get a little tricky, though, because they share so many characters and even though they can certainly feel very distinct, there’s also a sense that they belong together, part of a set.

I feel a little bit like a restaurant critic, who normally writes only about restaurants I’ve never written about before, even though some of them may have been started by the same chef. Suddenly I feel this burning need to revisit a restaurant I’ve written about thoroughly before, because they brought back their brunch special and I just can’t resist telling everyone about it.

So what I’m saying is, it’s difficult to talk about why I would recommend Bobbins specifically without also talking about why I would recommend most of John Allison’s comics in general.

Another difficulty would be in talking about Bobbins without getting bogged down in webcomics history. Not just the history of Bobbins itself, or John Allison’s history as a creator, but also my own personal history as a webcomics reader.

You see, the current Bobbins run is a reboot of sorts. The original Bobbins ran years ago, and had already ended by the time I first came across it as a bright-eyed, impressionable youngster. Still, I absolutely devoured it, and I count Bobbins as among my first webcomic obsessions.

John Allison’s body of work is large and prodigious, and it all starts with Bobbins. In fact, though he’s done many comics with various titles, some of which feel extremely self-contained, for the most part they all share a canon. They tend to be set in the village of Tackleford, and often characters originate in one comic before migrating to a different one.

Many of the characters from Bobbins later populated Scary Go Round. Several characters from Scary Go Round, including some of those who’d been around since the days of Bobbins, wound up in Bad Machinery. And then there are all the other comics John Allison has made in the intervening years, brief stories that would go up on the website between Bad Machinery chapters, and the traditionally-published Giant Days, all of which manage to inhabit the same universe.

As someone who’s been reading John Allison’s comics for years, I’m delighted to keep getting to explore his characters in greater depth, to follow them on all sorts of journeys and watch the world he’s constructed grow ever more intricate.

However, as a person who has, admittedly, a limited store of mental resources to keeping all the details of these characters and their histories straight, I understand that it can all feel a little unwieldy.

I’m left in a situation where I know how wonderful these comics are, but when I recommend them to people I often just don’t know where to tell a new reader to start. For a while, Bad Machinery was the obvious choice, as it was fairly new and there wasn’t much in the way of a big, scary archive to wade through. However, at this point, Bad Machinery has been running for a good while, and it can’t really be described as a quick read. Someone looking to catch up has quite a long way to go.

And, if someone is to go back to the beginning of Bad Machinery… why not go back even further? There are characters in Bad Machinery whose stories stretch back to the days of Scary Go Round, or even further, to the first Bobbins run. Personally, I like to find the earliest point I can when I start reading something unfamiliar. But then you’re adding additional years’ worth of comics, enough to daunt almost anybody.

Now, I could point new readers to Mordawwa, Allison’s most recent endeavor. It’s pretty fast and not too intimidating. The tone and style are markedly different than much of his other work, though. Not different in a bad way, just in a way that means it’s not necessarily representative of his comics overall. I wouldn’t hold up Mordawwa as a fitting example of John Allison’s work in the same way that I wouldn’t hold up “Once More, With Feeling” as a fitting example of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I love it dearly, but it gives one a very poor idea of what to expect from the rest of the oeuvre.

Plus, Mordawwa itself arises from a markedly complicated continuity. A reader needn’t be aware of any of that to enjoy Mordawwa, of course. It’s just hardly a clean start. Clean starts are extraordinarily hard to find in these comics.

Future Queen of Hell wishes she was still a little baby

The current Bobbins run is about as close to a clean start as it gets.

None of the previously established Tackleford continuity applies here. Certain events in the new Bobbins contradict things that happened in other comics, even some in the original Bobbins. Basically, this Bobbins is a sort of alternate universe, where the same characters are in the same setting, but everything is happening just a little bit differently.

For an old reader like me, that means I get to see all sorts of lovely new stories about my favorite characters in a familiar setting that I remember fondly. It means exploring character dynamics more deeply, taking a fresh look into the ways that all of these people connect and clash. In fewer than 30 installments, the new Bobbins has already significantly changed the way I view some of the most definitive relationships between Tackleford characters.

But then, I’m not really writing this post for the benefit of old readers. I’m writing it because I want to reach out to those of you who may not have given Allison’s work a try before. Or those who may have seen a little of his comics, gotten lost, and given up. For those readers, Bobbins presents an opportunity to bypass the challenges of getting into a comic with years of continuity behind it. You don’t have to worry about anything that happened before. All you have to do is start reading.

The original Bobbins will forever hold an exalted place in my heart, but I admit that it doesn’t represent the best of John Allison’s work. Like creators do, Allison has grown as a writer and artist over the years he’s spent making comics. Reading Bobbins now is a little bit like reading the debut novel of a beloved author. The book isn’t at all likely to be bad, but if you’ve read any of the later works, then that first one is unlikely to live up to them.

If you do fall in love with the new Bobbins, you are of course welcome to read the original run as well, in all of its low-res glory. At one point you’ll reach a crossover with Goats, which is the reason I originally read Bobbins at all. However, at this point in time the Goats installments that correspond to the crossover are no longer archived online. You can buy eBooks of them… but I’m getting off topic. Suffice to say, when you explore parts of the Internet from more than a few years ago, there are some things that just aren’t going to work like they did when they first went up.

And that’s one reason why the world needs brand-new Bobbins.

Bobbins doesn’t have a regular update schedule at present. New installments have been going up on weekends, but according to the text post at the bottom of the newest page, the next new Bobbins is going to go up on March 28th. Of course, if you’re reading this sometime after March of 2016, that information is no longer relevant to you.

Maybe, just maybe, there’s some frustrated 16-year-old out there who will find Bobbins and fall in love like I once did. Or maybe that’s asking too much, but hey, I can dream. For now, I’ll just point anyone reading this in a particular direction, and let you know just how important these comics are to me. I’m not saying it’s necessarily going to happen, but there’s always a chance they could become important to some of you as well.

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