I just stumbled across my notes from an Incomparable episode we recorded way back in 2014. I thought I’d pull them together and flesh them out to make a series of blog posts because web comics are cool goshdarnit! And know there are more out there than these. (The other comics we talked about in The Incomparable #220 are just the tip of the iceberg, I’m sure!) Let me know what your favorites are in the comments!
I go through webcomic cycles. I’ll read some religiously for a couple years, and then something lifey happens. I lose track of them for a year (or a few). Eventually I remember to catch up on what I’ve missed and stay current for a year or two. Lather, rinse, repeat.
The last time I was heavy into web comics was about five years ago. I was reading about six strips regularly, which for some of them meant every day. Then I got a new job and the losing-track-of-them phase started up again. I spent the few weeks leading up to the Incomparable ep reading about 5 years’ worth of a couple of my favorites, which was really fun! Sadly, I haven’t read any since that binge. The lost-track phase crept up on me once again. Maybe these posts will prompt me to get back into the swing of things.
You never forget your first web comic love, and Sluggy Freelance was that for me. I’ve read most of it twice (and some of it more than that). Pete Abrams started this daily strip in August of 1997, so that’s a lot of comics. I mean, a LOT of comics. Sluggy is also the comic I’ve cycled through the most times. It follows the adventures of nerdy, cheerful web-developer Torg, emotionally unavailable super-scientist Riff, and their not-quite-pet Bun Bun, who is a switchblade-and-Glock-toting mini-lop rabbit with a taste for violence. A BIG taste for violence. Happily, Pete soon adds female characters to the mix: Zoe (the most well-balanced and realistic character in the strip) and Gwynn (sometimes a witch) as well as an adorable-but-dumb ferret named Kiki. And then there’s a shape-shifting alien named Aylee. Yep. It’s that kind of a strip. Just the kind of weird I like.
It’s hard to describe a comic that’s been running since some of my readers were in diapers, but the heart of it for me is that it’s almost always a lot of fun. And when it’s not exactly “fun”, it’s because of one of a number of heavy arc-based storylines that pull sharply at my heart-strings. Pete tends to alternate between silly, light stories and epic arcs. The light stories are are often parodies of other properties like “Torg Potter and the Sorcerer’s Nuts” or “Muffin the Vampire Baker”. The epic plots, on the other hand, are truly epic. And holy continuity! Pete blows my mind with how he keeps track of things and pulls together threads (threads that’ve been running well over a decade). He even includes reference links after each comic, so you can easily check out the origin of whatever you might have forgotten because it happened when Bill Clinton was president!
The storytelling is elegant. Lots of cross-cutting between locales while different parts of the plot happen in “real time”. Characters develop over the years and grow—but not so much you lose the fun and bonds that brought (and keep) these folks together.
My only complaints are relatively minor.* The female characters are almost always perfect and pretty. There are next to no normal body types in this world. Maybe that’s just a drawing-style thing, but the girls do tend to dress skimpily, so it feels male-gaze-ey enough to be distracting occasionally. And the women do sometimes feel 2-dimensional (no pun intended). To be fair, the guys aren’t much deeper, but they do feel more real. There’s more than a dollop of emotional angst in this series, and Torg’s/Riff’s always resonate with me more than anyone else’s. Come to think of it, my favorite storyline (4U-City) sees Zoe, my favorite character, super-blatantly fridged for 100% of the story. So yeah. It’s effective, but troublesome.
And then there are the broadly-drawn racial stereotypes that make me cringe. I have to mentally edit a lot of that out to make it palatable. Plus there are grammar errors. LOTS of them. (Plenty of your/you’re mistakes and the like.) There are so many I wonder if Pete Abrams is purposely trolling grammar nerds like me. If nothing else, Sluggy Freelance has helped me relax a little about grammar. Not that I’m going to start making mistakes myself, mind you, but after the 10th in the space of a couple hour’s reading, I started to get numb to them. Overall, that’s probably a good thing for my mental health.
So, the comic isn’t perfect, but what is? And I do think it’s gotten better on all counts (except the grammar) over the years, so hooray for improvement!
Pete Abrams is reputedly the first person to make a living at publishing web comics. I, for one, am thrilled he’s successful, because I want to know what happens next!
If you’re interested in Sluggy Freelance, but the huge amount of in-world history is daunting, I suggest you start with July 14th, 2014. It takes place immediately after a huge arc, and he re-introduces the characters and recaps enough to get you on board. If you read through to the present and want to dip back further, there are multiple places to start. The archives are arranged into “Books” and “Chapters”. Just pick the beginning of one of those and run with it. If your tastes are anything like mine, you’ll be glad you did!
*Well, they’re minor to me. It’s always up to the consumer of media to determine how egregious something must be in order to interfere with one’s enjoyment. For me, the delight I take from the vast bulk of Sluggy Freelance outweighs the few issues I have with it.