Webcomics are the New Blogs: The First of a Series of at Least One

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There came a time not long ago when I realized that a goodly percentage — not 50, but like, you know, 15 or something — of my media intake consists of webcomics. A quick census of the sites in the toolbar hovering over the browser window in which I write this post would include links to Penny Arcade, Order of the Stick, Achewood, PvP, Flintlocke, Questionable Content, and Control Alt Delete.

I always loved comic strips — that was the sole reason my family ever bought the Boston Globe growing up — but now, freed from the choking confines of the comic strip syndicates and the space crunch and family values guidelines of newsprint, they’ve truly manifested their latent mutant powers and come into their own. They are all, after all, what the Web was built to do: display text and image. Though I guess originally it was supposed to be, like, data and stuff.

My current feverish webcomic obsession is Achewood, a comic about, um, a bunch of cats, and some robots, and stuffed toys, and an otter who’s 5. The alpha and omega of Achewood are Ray Smuckles, a cat who’s incredibly rich and successful at everything he does, but whom you can’t quite hate; and his best friend Roast Beef, who’s a loser and suffers from crippling depression. This is a continuity-heavy strip, so it requires a certain investment to get up to speed — the current arc has to do with Nice Pete, a psychotic killer who lives in a state of uneasy truce with the cats of Achewood. He formed a band called Mister Band — “It is a good, honest name that people can believe in” — which consists of Pete howling about wizards and dwarves over an unadorned bass line. Later he caught Ray and Teodor (I believe Teodor is supposed to be a bear; the artwork is a little crude, though at times also intensely, almost lyrically beautiful) making fun of him, so he tied them up in his room. Nice Pete had invented a USB peripheral that would enable the Internet to murder Ray and Teodor — “They can’t call me guilty! Not with millions of hands on the blade!” — but unfortunately he had driver issues and ended up getting stabbed by his own peripheral….

That pretty much brings us up to the present day. I think the striking thing about Achewood is its enormous emotional range — it’s incredibly funny, but some strips are really achingly sad — check out, for example, the arc where Ray goes to hell (he’s forced to drive a 1982 Subaru Brat there) and meets bluesman Robert Johnson. Or the infamous Cartilage Head sequence.

It kind of expands your understanding of webcomics, the way Maus did with graphic novels. Except this time it’s with cats.