Category Archives: Full reviews

Ladies and gentlemen, every mediocre webcomic cliche in one comic, minus the geeky ones!

sgrthumb(From Scary Go Round. Click for full-sized goodbye.)

There is one reason and one reason only I am reviewing Scary Go Round, and that’s because it just ended, and as such I review it right now or not at all. By putting this out this late in the week, nearly a week after the last strip, I’m technically violating my “don’t review ended comics” rule; I was actually considering putting it out Monday. As such this will be very different from my other reviews in more ways than one. I’m going in knowing absolutely nothing about the story, and I’m reviewing it almost entirely from an archive binge perspective.

Here’s my description of the first chapter: A comedy horror mystery.

Yes, Scary Go Round, like a lot of webcomics, got off to a slow start with a story about Rachel, reassigned to resurrect the school newspaper, stumbling on the paper’s former staff stuffed into a cupboard, which turns out to have been carried out by a sentient gas that was a former member of a science club. While Rachel, the whole time, makes wisecracks to her more straight-laced friend Tessa, and while the characters appear to be paper cut-outs that barely open their mouths. It’s head-slappingly stupid enough I braced for the worst from the rest of the strip.

As it turns out, after two stories of this sort of Scooby Doo-like antics, the strip shifted focus to the characters of Tim, Ryan, Shelley, and Amy, almost junking Rachel and Tessa from the strip entirely; there’s only one more Scooby Doo-like story after that. Shelley, killed off in the second story, gets resurrected as a zombie in the third, and then seemingly for good in the fourth, and the strip at this point could best be described as Sluggy Freelance meets Questionable Content, maybe even with a little Gunnerkrigg Court and Something Positive mixed in. (QC‘s Jeph Jacques even did a guest strip for SGR.) Fundamentally it’s a slice-of-life story where the characters seem to take the fact that every day of their lives they’re surrounded by wacky stuff (like portals to alternate dimensions and weird black diminutive monsters that want to eat people) in stride, simply firing off wisecracks at it all. The story evolves in focus eventually to Shelley and Amy in particular as Tim and Ryan retreat for different reasons in late 2003, and pretty much stays there for the rest of the strip.

A note on characterization. I’m trying to get away from the notion of this space as a resource for Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere as opposed to simply a review site, but I have to say a few words about how the characters were portrayed in early SGR. I understand that you write what you know and you put a little of yourself into each character, and you want to give your comic a defining attitude, but it’s generally a bad sign when all your major characters share an attribute, like wisecracks and snark as in the early SGR, and it is in fact their defining attribute to the extent when you strip it away the characters become two-dimensional cyphers. There are differences between the characters, but they don’t shine through very well. Allison, to his credit, took more steps to separate his characters as time went on, particularly making Shelley downright sassy (if the final strip is any indication), but is it just me, or is the Shelley who’s constantly looking for adventure in the post-reboot SGR more consistent with the Amy of the first quarter of the strip than the Shelley she got drunk at least twice to drag along on wacky adventures? The later Amy seems rather demure for someone with tattoos all over her body.

There were several points in this early portion of the archive where I thought that, like Dresden Codak, John Allison was hiding some part of the archive from me as an old shame. Apparently that’s because most of these characters were part of a previous, less wacky strip dating back to 1998, but there’s almost no evidence of this on the site itself – the archive dates back to 2002 and outside the blog, there’s no mention of this earlier strip, only a “since 1998” note on the about page. The first place I learned about the existence of this earlier strip, in fact, was none other than TV Tropes. If I had to guess, the reason the existence of this strip is hidden is because of the 2007 reboot of the strip to be more new-reader-friendly, but that doesn’t explain why “first” still takes you to 2002 with the only direct mention of the reboot being the about page, and after reading the first quarter of the strips, I find Scary Go Round remarkably new-reader friendly considering its wackiness, as the status quo doesn’t really change much.

That is, until Shelley diesagain.

At that point, Scary Go Round went through its own version of PVP/Goats Syndrome, or trying to put your strip’s ridiculous elements through Cerebus Syndrome and succeeding only in making them even more ridiculous. SGR was never gag-a-day, never really tried to get rid of its humor, and never really deconstructed its ridiculous elements to my knowledge, but at this point it did start to become necessary to keep a scorecard to keep track of everything, and it sure as hell became more and more ridiculous. Here’s all you need to know about SGR from this point forward: the cast page has a fish-man (apparently as a regular part of the cast), a “nautical inventor”, a goblin infestation in Tackleford, a space owl, devil bears, Shelley’s sister Erin, who “Grew to her (comparatively) enormous size after drinking something her sister stole”, and Rachel, who was killed and subsequently sold her soul to the devil. Oh, and according to TV Tropes Shelley makes this “death” thing a bit of a habit of hers. The first storyline after the relaunch (or at least the link to the relaunch on the About page) involves Shelley, the mayor, and Shelley’s reporting partner Mike going insane, and a giant green bee stalking the British equivalent of the county fair, and generally makes very little sense.

Quite frankly, I think SGR was better in 2003, its first full calendar year, and early 2004 than it was as it went along and got wackier and wackier, even though I haven’t read most of that. For what it’s trying to do, early SGR is rather servicable; later SGR is too wacky to take seriously, and as the cast page appears to be frozen at a point in time before the reboot, it seems to me that the final story is as continuity-choked as what SGR had pre-reboot. In fact, I can’t even follow some conversations or even make out the meaning of some lines, especially in later strips. Just as Bobbins begat Scary Go Round, so Allison is planning to make SGR beget another new comic. If he ever decides to go the wacky hijinks path SGR embraced – and I’m not sure he should – I hope he looks back at what he had in 2003, and tries to recapture the magic he had there, and not find himself showing Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere everything you need to know on what not to do.

OOTS 672: Not a montage, but the next best thing.

oots672thumb(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized metaplanets. Despite the title, this is part of the “monthly” OOTS post series.)

I already had only a vague idea where OOTS would go entering the next book.

The one thing that seemed certain was that the OOTS was headed for its next showdown with Team Evil at Girard’s Gate, and the OOTS is certainly headed there. Team Evil is busy at the moment tracking down Xykon’s phylactery, and opinions are divided as to whether it’s to hasten their departure (as suggested by Xykon’s “as soon as we find it we’re leaving!” rhetoric), or delay it (as suggested by the fact that from Team Evil’s perspective, the phylactery could be “who the hell knows where!”). I’m in the “hasten” camp (though I don’t have that many allies on the forums), especially since the OOTS is already ahead of Team Evil on the road to Girard’s Gate by a good margin, and would only get further ahead by any delays to Team Evil. For Team Evil to need to be delayed, we’d need the OOTS to be delayed as well.

If anything delays the OOTS it’s dramatic considerations: it makes the most sense for the showdown for Girard’s Gate to be the big climactic showdown at the end of the book. That means any other adventures the OOTS might have on the Western continent – presumably, ones performed en route to Girard’s Gate – must in any case occur before reaching the gate (unless getting off the Western continent in the book after next is an issue… more on that later). Clearly something is likely to happen to delay the OOTS, and even if they spend some siesta time in Sandsedge (and Books 2 and 3 have both opened with slow periods in towns, and Book 4 opened with a slow period in Heaven) that’s not likely to actually be very long in in-comic time. That means one of two things: something happens to them in the desert that delays them, probably substantially, like more bandits, or something happens to sidetrack them entirely, something that at least seems more important than outracing Team Evil to Girard’s Gate.

What would be more important than making it to Girard’s Gate as fast as possible? A visit to the Western continent means a potential trek through Elven lands, so Vaarsuvius might want to catch back up with his people, but there is no evidence that V wants to return there, that she’d be accepted there, or that the plot would have any reason for her to return there. (Unless Pompey is waiting there…) If anything of that sort happens, it might be during the march off the continent in the next book.

More likely would be Haley’s quest to free her father, floating in the background of her character since we first learned of his capture (134?) This book has seen confirmation of the fact that Ian Starshine’s captor is indeed on the Western continent, and while the greedy side of Haley’s character had already been weakened by her Resistance experience, Celia’s “deal” with the Thieves Guild would completely ruin any hope she might normally have of collecting enough money to free her father. What’s more, Haley just told Elan the whole story. Plots for one book are usually well-laid-down in the background of the previous book; even in Book 3, which mostly tied up most of the plots from all the previous books, there was still plenty of foreshadowing of the Kubota subplot, if not for its larger irrelevance. Haley terminated Celia’s deal on her way out of the Thieves Guild HQ, but as it had paid off absolutely zilch at that point, if you don’t think it’s coming back to haunt her later you haven’t been reading stories very long (or at least you don’t visit TV Tropes). A likely scenario would involve the Thieves Guild tracking down Haley in the desert and battling the OOTS, which could leave Haley with a problem only she and Elan can solve.

That problem, though, could really stress-test their relationship (and not just their joint one with the OOTS). It’s almost taken as given on the OOTS forums that “Lord Tyrinar”, the man holding Haley’s father captive, is in fact himself the tyrannical father of Elan and Nale (watch that crest!). What sorts of hilarity might ensue from the complex interplay between Haley, Ian, Tyrinar, Elan, and Nale? One suggestion comes in this comic, which seems to imply that Elan did not exactly tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth about Therkla to Haley. We do know Haley knows that there was a “ninja chick who had a crush on him, then died”, but it’s clear that Elan didn’t entirely hold to his commitment to honesty he gives in flashback in the same strip. Did Haley not quite succeed in making sure Elan didn’t “hate” her for her secret backstory (parts of which are, it’s clear to me, being hidden from us for a reason), or had Elan already decided to go ahead and set up future “entertaining dramatic conflict”, only in a sneaky way? (These two are perfect for each other!)

(It’s only on later re-reading that I realize Elan could have just as easily been referring to Crystal, not Therkla. That could STILL lead to dramatic tension later, though, as it’s not clear exactly how relevant Haley found the personal aspect of her rivalry with Crystal, meaning it could be Elan’s turn to learn an incomplete version for dramatic purposes.)

Team Evil is more likely to be delayed by Hinjo’s elven allies than by Xykon’s phylactery. Xykon and Redcloak are under attack seemingly on all fronts: there’s the unified Resistance Haley left behind, there’s the elves that are meeting with them, and there’s the prisoners O-Chul inspired. Between that and Xykon’s demand to leave the instant his phylactery is recovered, Redcloak’s planned goblin state is teetering on the edge of the abyss. And yet there’s also plenty of potential for conflict between these various groups and with the Sapphire Guard once they make their return. In the absence of Team Evil there may only be a power vacuum and civil war in Azure City. And what if Xykon, kept in town by the phylactery, is forced to leave prematurely by the forces allied against him, meaning the elves made the situation worse instead of better?

Which brings us to what will happen at the gate itself. Roy is doing a lot of on-panel plotting here of exactly how the battle is going to go, and anyone with an understanding of dramatic conventions must realize those plans are almost bound to get thrown out the window the instant the battle begins. Xykon will already be at the gate, or something else will happen to muck up the waterworks in a way that renders Roy’s planning almost null and void. Not that we won’t see his disrupting attack he learned from his grandfather, but we probably won’t even see much of an opportunity for pre-battle preparations, and Belkar’s much-prophesied demise will happen in a much different way than Roy envisions.

The most likely candidate for that to happen would come from the IFCC, and their various designs on the gate. Although it’s intentionally vague, the IFCC seem to be setting the Linear Guild in position ahead of everyone else at the gate itself, beating both the OOTS and Team Evil there in the process. That seems to jive with Nale’s original plan, but that would mean Nale would miss out on the whole Tyrinar business, implying maybe there’s not a familial relation involved there after all. Unless the Tyrinar business comes after the battle for Girard’s Gate, in the sixth book before the OOTS leaves the Western continent… But the IFCC also want “conflict. Destructive unnecessary conflict”, and they could decide that “moving their pawns into position” means creating conflict that prevents the OOTS from reaching Girard’s Gate too soon, and that could mean an alliance with Nale’s father. Besides, the IFCC’s real focal point for their plotting as far as the gate is concerned, it’s fairly heavily implied, centers on V, and the 45 minutes of V’s soul they have.

Which brings us to the absolute bombshell towards the end of this strip that pretty much completely destroys any ideas the people on the forum had regarding the future course of the entire rest of the strip. It turns out that no one – not Redcloak, not Xykon, not the IFCC, not the Linear Guild, not the OOTS, not the Sapphire Guard – may have any idea what the gates are really protecting, that there are some things that the gods may have held back even from the Order of the Scribble (or, alternately, that they held back), things that, at this point, only Vaarsuvius knows. Once again, I preface this by saying I haven’t read the prequel books and whatever implications they may have on all this, but it’s possible that, if the whole notion of the Snarl is so completely different from what we have been led to believe, Redcloak’s plan is horribly flawed at its core (and it’s entirely possible for it to be a complete success as far as what he and the Dark One need to do, and still totally backfire) and virtually the entirety of the main plot of OOTS is, as the IFCC would put it, “destructive unnecessary conflict”, this time semi-unintentionally engineered by the gods. And what is this planet within the planet, anyway? Please don’t spring a Planet of the Apes ending on us and tell us “it’s our earth!”

(It’s doubtful the Order of the Scribble didn’t know this, incidentally, because they would have had at least as much contact with the rifts as Blackwing did, and at the very least, if they never did know it leaves open the question of what exactly happened to Mijung. In fact this could be fodder for another entire OOTS post in itself, reinterpreting the Crayons of Time series and pretty much everything I wrote in my post on the non-interference clause, which may have been adopted for very different reasons than we’d been led to believe. And suddenly the “MitD is an aspect of the Snarl” theory becomes a lot more plausible… because it doesn’t become incompatible with any other theories. Also note that I’ve only offered one theory; others include the notion that the Snarl has somehow “de-snarled”, that the Snarl didn’t destroy everything it touched as suggested but instead incorporated it into this new world, that the gates actually changed the Snarl’s nature, and even that the world Blackwing saw was the OOTS world itself. Considering the popularity of these, not even V may fully grasp the implications, but what will it mean when the IFCC cashes in?)

Congratulations, Rich Burlew. You’ve done what, when it came to your strip, might have seemed impossible. You’ve rendered us totally clueless. We may need this three-week break between books as much as you do. And given how many other groups are in different situations at the end of this book, it’s either telling of how tight-lipped you’re getting about future plot turns, or just surprising, that you didn’t end this book with a full-scale montage like the others.

I finally get to pick a fight with an established webcomicker! Because slamming Dresden Codak wasn’t as fun.

(From 8-Bit Theater. Click for full-sized inevitable hopelessness. Which is a good way of describing 8BT itself, actually.)

So, it’s been long enough. After a brief stint with doing actual webcomic reviews, I got bogged down in all sorts of other stuff, and so I haven’t been doing actual webcomic posts for a while. And it’s high time I sat down and got back into the thick of things. Especially given how close I’ve been coming to putting something off to the point of eternal regret.

Because I never got around to reviewing 8-Bit Theater.

That may well be my eternal shame as a webcomics reviewer. In all my posting about identity crises and sports ratings and April Fool’s jokes and global warming series and missing sports graphics and stressful classes and personal neuroses and complaints about Draft Image Upload (very very close to becoming irrelevant by the way) and overload of side projects and other obsessions, I never got around to reviewing 8-Bit Theater.

I don’t mean to say it’s the greatest webcomic in the history of the universe. I don’t even like 8-Bit Theater. But after I used Komix to subscribe to 8BT with an eye towards eventually writing a review early this year, and seeing it move to a new system and something vaguely resembling an actual RSS feed while Komix’ proprietor was on vacation, and putting off writing the review for one distraction after another, I’m not going to let 8-Bit Theater, which ranks high among the ranks of the Tier 1 comics, pass into oblivion without my having reviewed it.

What’s more, because I’m catching it as it makes its big finish towards the end, I may be getting an unrepresentative sample. One thing that struck me as I was reading it day-by-day originally is that it seems to leave off one plot thread and start up a new story so fast you’re wondering how we got from there to here. When Black Mage says in a recent strip that “this whole goddamn adventure has been nothing but pointless build ups to pay offs that never happen“, most people can’t help but think there’s an element of truth to it. But as I start to re-read it I can’t help but wonder if this is actually cross-cutting between different groups and plotlines that makes sense in context. Still, it can come off as complete nonsense to the uninitiated. Even within a plot, there’s a lot of hopping around back and forth between different stati quibus, and keeping track of what’s going on can be especially difficult when reading it one page at a time.

So, what else? Well, um, 8BT is interesting in how it structures its updates. It uses the one-page-at-a-time approach of Girl Genius and Gunnerkrigg Court and doesn’t really ever stretch it out like Order of the Stick, yet it’s better than the first two at making each update stand out in its own right.

And.

Um.

Yeah.

8BT reminds me of xkcd in a way in that there’s not much I can say about it. Reviewing the updates I originally followed “live” in an archive binge leaves me without much to say either. In fact 8BT leaves me questioning my own ability to go on with my webcomic reviews, just because I’m having trouble properly analyzing it, and that may say a lot about 8BT in and of itself. The characters almost seem to be interchangable cyphers for the most part, without much in the way of distinguishing them or making us care much about what’s going on, which makes it all the worse that it can be a little hard to keep track of what’s going on even when you read it all at once. (With the possible exception of Black Mage, and I swear and hope to God I’m not just saying this to echo what Robert A. Howard said recently, which I just read as I write most of this.)

Oddly, 8BT may have actually been a bit funnier in its very early strips, and maybe a bit more distinguished in its characterizations. Some of its jokes are actually funny, and the strip managed to balance a gag-a-day format with a continuing story, though it did have a habit of making the sort of joke way too endemic of sprite comics: “Look! I can’t draw and sprites have limitations so here’s an explanatory caption to show what this is supposed to be!” And everything tended to be all over the page with side jokes all over. As for characters, Black Mage was the evil one, Fighter the dumb one, Red Mage the munchkin, and Thief… well, here’s where the trouble began, probably. Thief was basically a storehouse of all the jerk-y traits the other three didn’t have. He’s supposed to be greedy and hoarding gold, but that doesn’t really tell you much. They were all fairly one-dimensional (as characters and visually).

It’s easy to see why Red Mage and Thief got mixed up, since they were basically “someone who wants more stuff” and “someone who wants more gold”; Fighter out-and-out decayed, becoming less and less of a complete buffoonish dumb idiot and starting to show slightly more intelligence whenever Brian Clevinger needed a line that didn’t make sense for the other three to say for whatever reason. Then occasionally trying to run too far the other way to compensate. So they all became, basically, “we’re jerks and Black Mage is pure evil”. Even Fighter became too consumed by his stupidity to be an effective counterpoint to the others’ jerkness, and leaned more towards the other Light Warriors than, say, White Mage in those instances when he snapped out of it. One wonders if Clevinger made him “he’s really a good guy – but he’s friends with pure evil because he’s too stupid to realize otherwise! Get it? It’s funny!” in a last-ditch effort to maintain the distinctions, the same reason Red Mage developed an odd cross-dressing fetish (which just made Thief look even more generic).

In fact, let’s save you the trouble of actually having to read 8BT yourself, as here’s a pretty good summary of the strip:

8btparody

I guarantee you that strip is more funny than almost all of 8-Bit Theater, and probably a lot better as well.

In my full-fledged Darths and Droids review I said it was no insult to call 8-Bit Theater a poor man’s Order of the Stick. I see now I was wayyyy too kind. 8BT isn’t even as good or compelling as Bob and George, which may be partly the result of having characters that should by all rights be the villains as the protagonists to the extent that you hate them more than rooting for them. Not even Ethan from Ctrl+Alt+Del is as bad as these guys! OOTS‘ Belkar is, but you root for him more than you root for even Fighter! Of course, maybe the real problem is that the former has Lucas and Lilah while the latter has the rest of the OOTS to balance them out, while the closest thing to balance the Light Warriors have, White Mage, hates them as much as anyone else and only pops in and out. Another possibility: Belkar is funny when he’s doing evil things while the Light Warriors are funny when bad things happen to them. (To be honest, probably 90% of the actually funny jokes in 8BT are just Fighter being stupid.)

I’m not sure why people attack CAD so much or why John Solomon went after B&G when 8BT is far more deserving of the vitriol. I want to make clear: this isn’t an anti-sprite-comic review. I read and enjoy Bob and George (which, having ended, is ineligible for a review) and I don’t even see sprite comics as a crutch for an inability to draw, as Dave Anez and Clevinger have mad Photoshop skillz to tweak their sprites the way they want to. The problem is that in Clevinger’s case, he seems to have put too many skill ranks in those and not enough in “being funny” or “having a decent story”, and Anez has a few in at least the former. Like CAD did for video game comics, 8BT started a trend (well, furthered the one started by B&G, much like CAD accelerated the trend started by Penny Arcade) of bad sprite comics by people who only see a way to get into comics without having a lick of art skillz, or even a reason to get into comics. Unlike CAD, I can’t discern Clevinger’s secret to his success, and my leading hypothesis is a bit distressing: geeks like the kind of non-sequitur nonsense Clevinger specializes in. If more CAD strips were like the Chef Brian strips it might be as beloved as xkcd.

On the other hand, if I find out 8BT in any way inspired The Order of the Stick, then all is forgiven. Though I’ll still rib Clevinger for Rich Burlew showing him how it’s done.

Oh, I’m close to coming up with my own solution to the draft-image-upload situation. Very close indeed.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized doors! Why did it have to be doors!)

There’s… a lot of stuff going on here. There’s so much going on that I even have more titles than I know what to do with.

First, a lot of the thinking I had in mind for what would happen after #653 is completely busted. Rather than a lot of talking, we got an action sequence. Truth be told, I probably should have done a post on #655, which was pretty weighty in its own right. So let’s see, Redcloak loses an eye and Xykon’s on the verge of losing his phylactery to someone who was a complete no-name before the current book. That’s not an important strip to pay attention to at all.

Yes, I am going to fulfill the April OOTS post I owe you, only with a week left in May. That was a brilliant strategy, wasn’t it?

So in order of what happens in this strip: See those X’s in Panel 2? So Jirix was worse than a background character, but may have saved… someone’s life. As we’ll soon see, possibly not Xykon, maybe Vaarsuvius, but perhaps most likely is just ruining O-Chul’s.

V still has at least a couple of spells left. That screws up some of the thinking that I, at least, had in mind.

Xykon’s phylactery is loaded with protections, as we find out the first time someone tries to break it… which probably suggests Xykon was not as close to being destroyed in the tower as we were once led to believe. So what happens when the time comes to actually break it near the end of the story? Or does Xykon actually survive the end of the story?

Third-to-last panel almost seems designed to address some of the more out-there and deus-ex-machina theories held by forumers… so why do I think it’s going to lead to forum speculation about Qarr popping in despite very little for him to do?

Cleverly, O-Chul’s last panel in this strip is him at the exact moment of him getting hit with the lightning bolt, and it’s clear in the last panel that he’s down, but we not only don’t see him we don’t even see Xykon. Is he dead? Negative hit points? Zero hit points? Even in positive hit points but too weakened to go on?

And now what happens? It would be stupid for someone to just crack open the door and render this little dilemma moot. Does V stick around for a while in the room or something? Does he hop out that huge hole in the wall, if that would be effective in any way at all other than getting a lot more scratches? Maybe Qarr really does hop in and do something? V ain’t gonna die here, because if she was she would be dead already… unless Xykon’s dealing with O-Chul has its own impact, like turning the MitD against him? It’s like Rich is playing chess with his audience!

And what about the rest of the book? We have at least one more strip of V running around like a chicken with his head cut off, that’s 657. Possibly a second, but I could at least see us moving on after the next strip if the circumstances are right. Then we have to zip back over to the main body of the OOTS for the return of Roy. That’s at least two, maybe three, strips. We need a strip for Roy himself to make his triumphant return, then at least one strip to assess the situation, and maybe a strip for looking forward or to serve as transition. That takes us to 660 when you combine the two maybes. Heck, maybe the OOTS will even meet back up with Hinjo and his group.

Because it doesn’t look like we’re going to get the exposition I anticipated for this stretch, you might think that means we’re using fewer strips. And you would be wrong. We’ve already burned two in the tower for different reasons than I anticipated. We have a bunch of establishing shots to burn as well (such as where Redcloak went and what V’s doing), and if the Linear Guild is going to show up in this book we need to see them soon. That’s a minimum of two (the LG and the end-of-book montage) and probably more, taking us to 662 or more.

An average of the last two books’ duration would suggest that the current book will end at or around the auspicious number of 666. We don’t have a lot of strips to answer all the questions that are best answered in the current book. Where do the OOTS go from here? What’s the Linear Guild doing? What will V do if and when he escapes? Are Xykon and/or Redcloak affected by these events? Where did Redcloak go with that Word of Recall? Will Roy tell off Celia? Will the OOTS replace V? How did Redcloak know about soul splices and will V find out? Is there special importance to the island both the Sapphire Guard and OOTS wound up at? Is the sky blue? Is grass green? All that and more, tonight on a very special episode of the Order of the Stick!

So this post isn’t quite as long or in-depth as I originally had in mind. Again, Rich kind of ruined things by going as far away from the exposition as possible. I can’t help but shake the feeling I’m forgetting something by rushing through this post, on either end of it. But at least in my own mind, I’m fulfilling my end of the deal, and that’s all that matters.

Apparently the ball’s in my court now. But I wonder if it ruined the original plan.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized bedtime story.)

If you’re here for Sandsday’s Global Warming series this post will make no sense.

So I finally got around to coming up with an idea for an OOTS post that didn’t require me to constantly put out updates on the current state of the strip, especially important with how slow the strip has updated over the past month-plus. (About two strips a week by my calculations.) And I get completely distracted with research for the activities going on in Sandsday now, so I only get around to actually writing it when I’m more than a week behind schedule. I may lay off on the webcomic posts for the rest of the month and return only for OOTS towards the end.

So let’s go back, back in time, before any of the events covered in the strip itself, before even the events (well, most of them; again, I don’t actually have either of them) in the prequel books.

To the beginning of the OOTS-verse? Hardly. To the end of the group generally known (but in-strip only by a strip title) as the Order of the Scribble, when the gates were freshly sealed and all that was left was to decide how to protect them.

Each of the five surviving members of the group has their own ideas for how to protect the gates, and the disagreement becomes so acrimonious that it’s a couple seconds away from bloodshed when Serini proposes a compromise. Each member retires to the site of one of the gates and protects that gate in their own way. Soon protects his gate with the honor of his paladins, Girard with his illusions, and so on. That’s pretty much familiar to OOTS fans, and important for understanding the entire plot, including events still to come.

Serini also proposes a non-interference clause, that her soon-to-be-former teammates agree not to interfere in each other’s gates. “We’ll set up some kind of monitoring divination to tell if someone else’s gate is broken, but that’s it. No spying, no ‘just checking in’ visits, no nothing.” The clear fear is that someone might visit someone else’s gate and pick up with the fighting to impose their method of protection on the gate, or at least tell them how to run it.

Much as it tries, I don’t think strip #277 does a good job dramatizing the conflict between the Scribblers at this point, devoting only two and a half panels to it; Shojo’s narration almost seems to glide right past it, but it contains clues that the former teammates are almost downright enemies at this point, intending to impose their will on the others by any means necessary and burning with hatred, which is why I’d be shocked not to see one of the remaining prequels devoted to the Scribblers. So Serini’s non-interference clause is an enforced cease-fire: each member gets their own domain. Any member entering the borders of that domain is effectively invading, possibly even declaring war. This is a protection against anyone destroying a gate’s protection out of spite or at least interfering in how it’s run. Because the members vow not even to contact each other, they have no way of knowing whether or not another member is coming in peace – repeated subsequent mutual violations of the oath by Dorukan and Lirian aside.

I explain all this because understanding it is especially important for understanding subsequent events – especially when it comes to judging Shojo, and whether the ends really did justify the means.

First, we have to ask the question: does Serini’s non-interference clause hinder the effort to protect the gates against a threat that might attempt to unlock one gate, then another, then another? In theory, no. That’s why Serini slipped in the “monitoring divination” to alert the others if one of the gates gets cracked: so that the remaining members could potentially buttress their own defenses, or possibly even send in their own protection.

The problem in hindsight is that the divination doesn’t appear to provide details. Shojo had to send paladins to investigate the destruction of Lirian’s Gate, and scried to take a look at the ruins of Dorukan’s dungeon, and neither told him anything useful – certainly not as much as an unplanned visit from Eugene Greenhilt did. Shojo couldn’t publicly use the information he picked up from Eugene, as it was basically hearsay, but he could bring the Order of the Stick in on trumped-up charges to talk things over, and establish the threat to the other gates more clearly.

What the Order of the Stick can do that the Sapphire Guard can’t is check on the status of the other two gates, so the next question we need to ask to understand what’s going on is: Why does Shojo feel the need to do that? What, exactly, does Shojo hope to gain from it?

Shojo tells Roy that “Without concrete evidence of a threat to all the gates, [the paladins] wouldn’t consider checking on the other two.” Because the first they hear of Xykon and Redcloak is from the OOTS themselves, and that only establishes that they were responsible for what happened at Dorukan’s Gate (not necessarily Lirian’s), and the only way Shojo knows that Xykon is still out there and still a threat is because Eugene told him, for all they know the destruction of the two gates were isolated incidents and have no bearing on the other three.

Presumably the other two gates, having their own divinations, are aware of what happened to those first two gates and made their own investigations – though given Girard’s age and race it’s unlikely he’s still alive to stand guard at his Gate to respond to them, and therefore unclear whether anyone is – but it’s impossible to know that for certain, or what they found out, or what preparations they might be making, or whether that’s sufficient. So the first part of what Shojo wants the Order of the Stick to do upon reaching one of the gates is to find out if they can corroborate that there’s still a standing threat out there, to tell them what Shojo and the OOTS already know but can’t tell the paladins.

But Shojo wasn’t around when the Order of the Scribble broke up. He doesn’t see why the proprietors of each gate can’t support each other. If for whatever reason, say, Girard’s Gate isn’t set up to defend itself from Xykon and his minions, why shouldn’t Shojo send support? After all, the fate of the world is at stake, right? So the second, more implicit, part of sending the OOTS is to stall for time: make sure that Xykon doesn’t achieve his goal before Shojo can learn a damned thing about him. (Besides, what better way to corroborate that Xykon’s still a threat than a second round of first-hand evidence?) In fact, one gets the impression that – at least from Roy’s perspective (“the week AFTER we finish off Xykon“) – the real purpose of the investigation is not really “investigation” but nipping the problem in the bud. That’s why Roy goes to the Oracle first to make sure the OOTS go to the right gate, not just pick one of the gates at random.
All that means that when Roy subsequently accidentially rules out Soon’s Gate as a choice when asking the Oracle which gate Xykon will attack? It’s not really his fault. If it’s anyone’s fault, it’s Shojo’s.

The Order of the Stick wasn’t hired to defend Soon’s Gate, yet – even if Shojo isn’t confident in the ability of his paladins to handle the situation, he doesn’t have enough concrete evidence to make any preparations for battle. Shojo hired them to go out to another gate, come back, inform Shojo of the situation, and then Shojo could use that evidence to make sure the Sapphire Guard was ready. Shojo doesn’t really have a quicker path, so whether or not he’d considered the possibility that Xykon might attack his own gate while the OOTS were investigating another was kind of irrelevant, unless the kind of evidence he had in mind was the aforementioned first-hand evidence. In any case, he has an early-warning system, right?

In that sense, even before her attempt at redemption, Miko is really the savior of Azure City and perhaps the world, because she, not the OOTS, meets Xykon first-hand and warns of the coming invasion, even if it was in Xykon’s plans all along. In fact, if Shojo was confident in his paladins’ ability to handle the situation, it was well founded, because ultimately, the Order of the Stick has no impact on the operative part of the battle, for the gate, and if they have any it’s negative, by giving Hinjo someone to talk to about the gate’s location and be accidentially overheard by Xykon and Redcloak making their battle plans. Here’s a summary of how that part goes down:

Yes, Xykon does get decloaked because of Haley’s quick thinking, and slowed down by Roy, but Xykon just kills him and makes for the tower anyway. (Incidentially, re-reading the former strip for this post was the first time I ever really realized that “Team Evil” is in fact used in-strip.) I doubt the Sapphire Guard really needed Roy, or even Xykon’s decloaking, to help them stall for time and get set up – they were likely ready before the battle started, and it doesn’t do them much good anyway. So the gate is effectively saved by the ghosts of paladins past attacking Xykon, and Xykon struggling to hold them off until Redcloak shows up – and Redcloak, incidentially, shows up because a catapult shot, not one of the OOTS, killed a hobgoblin, and despite an attempt at a diversion from Haley, he runs basically unopposed into the castle.

Redcloak comes up with a plan that mostly succeeds in taking out the ghosts with the exception of Soon himself, who has Xykon and Redcloak on the ropes when Miko shows up and blows the gate – and how does Miko break out of prison? Tsukiko (who has zero interaction with any of the OOTS except irrelevant interaction with Belkar until the current book) causes enough damage to the prison for Nale to break the Linear Guild out and leave Miko alone, which also happens to be enough damage for Miko to make her own escape – again, zero OOTS involvement. Unless you want to count what Miko overheard that led her to lump Shojo in with the alleged OOTS-Xykon conspiracy and resulted in Shojo’s death – again, making matters worse from the outset, but if Miko doesn’t end up in prison, skip the first phase of the battle for the tower, and end up blowing the gate, and instead gets afflicted by the Symbol of Insanity or maybe joins O-Chul in the first attempt to blow the gate, then Soon’s plan works, Xykon and Redcloak are destroyed, and the plot cuts short right then and there.

As for the rest of the battle, Team Evil wins pretty handily there, with the effect that the non-Roy OOTS contingent is pretty much lucky to be alive, so the OOTS weren’t much help there either. The OOTS, effectively, were spectators for most of the battle. The OOTS take out the first-round elementals but not without them blowing a hole in the wall (so the goblinoids would have won the battle that much quicker), Roy slowed down Xykon, Vaarsuvius put up a defense at the breach (which kills hobgoblins but ultimately just plays into Team Evil’s hands), Belkar saves Hinjo from an assassination attempt, Roy saves Vaarsuvius from one of the Xykon-decoys, Belkar takes out another decoy and uses it to take out more hobgoblins, V is helpless when everyone files into the breach (and V ultimately causes more deaths on the Azure side), Durkon saves Hinjo from another assassination attempt, and Elan saves their butts by convincing the hobgoblins they’re all dead. So the OOTS cause more damage to Team Evil’s side and save Hinjo’s life multiple times, but ultimately have next to no real effect on Team Evil’s plans until Haley starts resisting, and even then it’s minimal until whatever point that the city is retaken. What effect they do have, as outlined above, is negative.

Shojo didn’t need the OOTS to defend Soon’s Gate (if anything he would have been better off with them elsewhere), and they weren’t of any use in defending the city, except that the Sapphire Guard’s situation would have been far worse if Hinjo had followed Shojo to the grave. Likely the city would have been left in the hands of someone like Kubota even after whatever point the city got retaken, but that assumes both Shojo and Hinjo were taken out in the middle of battle, hardly a sure thing especially with Shojo’s deception and age requiring him to take a passive role.

There’s one other thing we need to consider, and that’s the fact the Sapphire Guard doesn’t disseminate any information about how the other gates are defended to its paladins, something that makes no sense to Redcloak. That, it’s made clear, is the non-interference clause rearing its ugly head again, because if each gate defense group knew the details of the other gate defenses they could exploit any weaknesses in them. Since they’re not going to be contacting each other, they have no need to know each other’s defenses anyway. And although it might appear from this post that the non-interference clause hindered the goal of protecting the gates from threat in the long run (ie, now), it’s here that it provides one advantage: keeping important information from falling into the wrong hands. Redcloak attempts to interrogate O-Chul into learning the secrets of Girard’s Gate, but it ain’t gonna work.

(This also makes clear that although Redcloak has extensively read Serini’s diary, it hasn’t provided him with this end of the story, the exact reason why the Scribblers took one gate per member and defended them so differently, and why they haven’t come out in force to crush him already. He’s just been an unwilling beneficiary – and victim – of it.)

Serini’s compromise is arguably one of the major driving forces of the entire plot of OOTS, at least following the destruction of Dorukan’s Gate, and it’s interesting that both Shojo and Redcloak have essentially discounted it out of a lack of knowledge and appreciation for the exact circumstances (or in Redcloak’s case, knowledge of the compromise at all). That suggests that if and when we do get a prequel book on the Order of the Scribble, we should take it as a sign that someone that does have such an appreciation is coming soon. In any case, there’s a pretty good chance we can expect it to rear its ugly head again at the remaining two gates and send the plot off in directions currently unexpected.

After Friday’s strip, my theory is that Oasis is a robot or cyborg of some kind. If that’s ridiculously blatantly contradicted by the strip itself, well, that proves my point.

(From Sluggy Freelance. Click for full-sized lots of missiles.)

I have a big beef with Pete Abrams of Sluggy Freelance fame.

I mean seriously. A big beef. Sluggy is one of the oldest webcomics on the Internet; it and User Friendly are the elder statesmen of webcomics, dating back to 1997. When I mentioned Sluggy as a representative of the sort of “wacky stuff happens” comic that makes up one of the two major branches of webcomics, counterpointing Penny Arcade‘s role for video game comics, back in my initial round of webcomics posts, I mostly mentioned Sluggy because it was the best representative I could think of and I couldn’t really think of whether there even was an equivalent to Penny Arcade. It turns out I may have been closer to the truth than I realized. Sluggy was perhaps the pioneer for Cerebus Syndrome in webcomics, and it got an early enough start to be a big influence on the “wacky hijinx” webcomics to follow. It’s not as nearly-mainstream as PA, but it’d be hard to find a webcomic more influential on more top webcomics.

But it’s as old as User Friendly, and if reading UF in 2006 monopolized my time and caused me to fall behind on things that actually matter, well, Sluggy has over two years’ worth more of strips now. And it’s more important to know what happens in them, because this is a far more continuity-laden strip than UF. Chances are that a given strip will contain at least one reference to a previous strip in a pink bar beneath the strip, showing just how interconnected Sluggy‘s mythology is. So it’s really critical that Sluggy eases the transition for new readers who want to join the Sluggy phenomenon but don’t have the time to read 12 years’ worth of strips.

Sure enough, look at the front page of the Sluggy site and it entreats you “New viewers, click here to view the Sluggy viewer’s guide!” And how does this “viewer’s guide” get people acclimated to the comic? By providing some sort of summary of the story so far, like Girl Genius or The Wotch? No, silly! By suggesting three potential jumping-in points to start reading: the beginning, “the sci-fi adventure” (a Star Trek/Aliens parody that wound up introducing Aylee to the strip) and Torg’s frolic into “The Dimension of Pain”… and both of these latter storylines take place within the first year. (Or you could just read the Torg Potter parodies separately, but where’s the fun in that?) Welcome to Sluggy Freelance, newbies! You want to skip some strips in your archive binge? Here, we’ll let you skip less than a year of a twelve-year run! Read at your own pace; we’re willing to wait a year or more for you to catch up to the current strips if you need it! Have fun!

Does Abrams provide anything else to get new readers acclimated to the strip other than an insultingly small head start? No! There’s not even so much as a cast page – Eric Burns(-White) won’t like that (2004-5 vintage Eric Burns, at least)! You’re pretty much stuck reading most of over 4000 strips! Have fun, kids, you’re on your own!

I get the feeling that at this point, Abrams is perfectly content writing for the audience he already has, especially since, as he’s been focusing on the “megatomes” there haven’t been any books collecting any strips after 2002 (only five years into the strip’s run), so his Defenders of the Nifty program has become an increasingly important source of income. Abrams has one of the larger fanbases of any continuity strip, so it’s very tempting to coast and not make things easier for it to grow, and be content with what he has.

This strategy may be doomed to failure. A recurring topic over the last month at The Floating Lightbulb has been looking at Google Trends data for various webcomics and webcomic sites, and a noted trend of various diverse comics declining – and Sluggy has been no exception. One of the many proposed theories has been massive archives scaring off potential newcomers to continuity strips, and there’s no archive scarier than Sluggy. I compared Sluggy to four other leading continuity comics, and the only one declining faster than Sluggy is Megatokyo, which is infamously anti-new-reader in its own way. (Order of the Stick and the rest of Rich Burlew’s site has lost half its audience since the start of the tracking period, but it’s so much further ahead of the rest of the field, only now falling to Megatokyo‘s audience at the start of the tracking period, that it’s hard to make a fair comparison.)

Perhaps the forumites could get together and create a short “cheat sheet” of a thread for new readers, or the Defenders could get together and create an officially sanctioned Sluggy wiki, or something. They can still read through the archives “at their own pace” but at least it’s easier to understand the current strips at the same time (which will help in getting them through the past strips). But no. Instead new readers are probably going through the current storyline wondering “who – or what – is Oasis and why should I care?” And they’re going to go back through the links in the pink bars, and those are going to lead them to strips that pose more questions, and they’re going to want to go back to more strips that provide background for these strips… only they won’t be able to because beyond the current storyline, those bars are (presumably) hidden behind “Defenders InfoShields” – they’re For Defenders’ Eyes Only.

Quick tip, Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere: putting extraneous yet useful or at least appealing stuff behind a paywall? Good. Putting stuff that makes things easier for new readers behind a paywall, especially when it’s one of the very, very few bones you throw to new readers? Bad.

Meanwhile, your existing readers aren’t much better – it’s hard to remember twelve years’ and 4,000 comics’ worth of material, certainly hard to sort through it, so every bone you throw to new readers is also a bone you throw to your existing readers. (Which may help explain putting context links behind a paywall, but doesn’t justify it. Not that I’m asking Abrams to change that if he doesn’t want to.) Existing readers have the additional burden that Sluggy doesn’t have an RSS feed, a trend which, by the way, I actually understand a little bit: RSS is newer than its actual age would suggest, if that nade sense. In 2006, freshly moved into the dorms, I hunted around for a newsticker that would best emulate a TV news ticker and could be used long-term to keep me posted on the news, and settled on this. On its creator’s most recent post on his own blog (dating to… 2006!) he wonders what it might take for RSS to go “mainstream”, and suggests that some sort of RSS “killer app” (he suggests so much so that it would become synonymous with RSS and become a genericized trademark, so only geeks would know the technical name) might be the solution. I would propose that the release of IE7 (later that same year) and its internal RSS reader may have at least in part served as just such a “killer app”. Until then, I suspect a significant number of webcomics creators, certainly much of the general public, had barely even heard of RSS.

Sluggy deserves every ounce of praise it gets; I sometimes found myself looking at various points in the archive and reading significant stretches with interest. (Granted, they were mostly fairly early when the strip wasn’t as laden down with mythology, and a lot of the time it was to look at or for Aylee in one of her humanoid forms, but still. Yes, I really need a girlfriend.) And I’m intrigued enough by the current story arc, which promises to be a milestone one, that I’m planning on keeping on reading Sluggy until this arc’s conclusion. But I don’t have much of a reason to keep reading Sluggy beyond that. With my overcrowded schedule, I just don’t have time for another strip that demands an Order of the Stick level of attention, certainly one with so massive an archive, so much of a need to comprehend all of it, and so little help in doing so.

Webcomics’ Identity Crisis, Part V: The Survivor’s Guide on How to Turn a Comic Book into a Webcomic

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized wildest imaginings. This line would have been so much easier if I had nabbed the previous strip…)

Finally, we get to the first of my reasons for writing this series in the first place. And yes, this counts as this month’s OOTS post.

Recently Diamond Comics Distributors, which basically holds a monopoly on distribution of comic books, announced some changes in their policy that have the effect of raising the bar for what might be called “independent” comic books.

They’re certainly not good – nearly doubling the dollar amount a comic would have to sell in order to be guaranteed a continued listing in Diamond’s catalog – but it’s hardly the first time Diamond’s raised its bar. Something about this time, though, has convinced people – as though the previous times didn’t – that Diamond doesn’t care about the little guy and only exists to benefit Marvel and DC – if even DC. According to Diamond’s latest figures DC only makes up 31⅔% of the comic market, compared to 46% for Marvel – basically, Marvel has a little less than 1.5 times the share of DC. (On a dollar basis, the margin is roughly 41% to 30%, so Marvel makes a little over 1.25 times the money of DC.)

Have a look at the most recent monthly sales charts for December and be depressed by the parade of “DC” and “MAR” in the publisher column as you go down. You can count on your hands the publishers other than those two to place anywhere in the top 200, in order of market share: Dark Horse, Image, IDW, Dynamite, Avatar, Boom!, Aspen, and Abstract – and the latter four all first appear between #176 and #200, and only Dark Horse and Image get primo placement in the front of Diamond’s catalog along with Marvel and DC rather than being tossed in the jumble with the rest. Even more depressingly, Dark Horse and IDW owe a lot of their standing to their Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel comics respectively, with Dark Horse getting an added boost from Star Wars; outside of Marvel, DC, the Buffyverse, and Star Wars, the highest-ranking comic is Dynamite’s Boys… at #96 and a quarter of the sales of the top titles. Those are the companies – basically, Dark Horse, Image, IDW, and maybe Dynamite – that could survive if Diamond induced a contraction of the market to the point that it started having a practical constraint on the business of Marvel and DC, and there’s little practical reason to think that it couldn’t.

For numerous commentators, from Steven Grant to Christopher Butcher to Elin Winkler to Brian Clevinger, the latest changes are the last straw: it’s time for everyone else to bail out of the direct market as presently constituted, certainly in this economy, and move on to… something else. You could stay in the direct market and hop onboard the Image train and keep creative control while getting Image’s marketing savvy and catalog placement, but it’s far from impossible that Diamond contracts the market so much your title can’t get by regardless, and if it can Image becomes too conservative to publish it anyway. You could just do straight-up graphic novels, which as I mentioned earlier in the series are a form of infinite canvas compared to the 22-page monthly comic anyway, and send it to the bookstore market, but the bookstore market, as personified by Borders and Barnes & Noble, still has even higher barriers to entry, and still doesn’t give comics the respect they deserve. (When I went to Borders in Downtown Seattle to look for Reinventing Comics, the arrangement of the graphic novel section disappointed and disgusted me, with an explicit division between “manga”, “superheroes” and a single heading (rows include headings, which include shelves) of “other graphic novels”. Barf.)

Or you could go into a distribution mechanism where your presence is guaranteed even with a readership of zero… but where there’s little to no money to be had even with quite a bit of momentum.

Webcomics.com is STILL down, but in the comments to a post on New York Comic-Con (which for some reason I mistook for the infinite-canvas post I mentioned in Part III until checking Google’s cache right now, and may have made myself look like an ass in my own subsequent comments… oops, one way it’s a good thing Webcomics.com is down right now) Scott Bieser remarked that the new Diamond rules could lead to a mass exodus of “long-form” talent to the web, spawning not one but at least two posts (both down with the rest of the site right now) of advice to long-form creators on succeeding on the web. One of the two posts (the one that by all appearances went into greater detail) apparently was posted too soon to be indexed or cached by search engines before the site went down, and as it appears to be the more detailed one I’d like to see other webcomics bloggers’ take on this issue, but there’s still an interesting tidbit, worthy of further discussion, on the piece of it that I can see on one of the cache pages. I’ll get to that in a bit.

So, welcome to webcomics, comic-book refugees! Now that you’re here, what do you do?

First, before anything else, read Parts III and IV of this series and decide for yourself whether you want to go for the infinite canvas and join Scott McCloud’s revolution. If you do, you’ll probably learn more from McCloud’s books than you ever will from me, though I have a few important cautions in Part III. If you don’t, it’s worth it to read McCloud anyway.

Still here? That probably means you’ve decided not to pack your entire story into one installment that you read on a single page. That, in turn, means you’ve decided to put each page of your story – probably made to fit the 8½ x 11 format for easy printing later (or half-pages of that to fit on one screen, as McCloud proposes) – on one at a time. That, in turn, probably means you’re releasing comic book pages on a comic strip model, where you release one page at a time on a regular basis, and all the pages together make a single, coherent story. (You could release several pages at a time and change nothing, but…)

You’re probably going to need to unlearn much of what you learned about the comic book format.

Typically, learning from the ones that have come before you is a good place to start. Girl Genius is widely considered, if not the best, at least a significant trailblazer. Gunnerkrigg Court is worth studying too. But there are things both strips do that could trip you if you aren’t careful.

If you placed your hopes on the direct market in the first place, you’re probably used to the 22-page monthly “floppy” format (and in fact I’m assuming you want to make a story that continues indefinitely, rather than something that’s completely wrapped up in one book). That in and of itself is going to have to go; it’s now the individual pages that you’re going to be collecting in graphic novel form later. There’s no need to divide your story into neat 22-page chunks.

In turn, the way you think about those pages is probably going to be drastically different. You’re probably used to seeing the page chiefly as a part of the whole – understandably. But if you’re releasing those pages one at a time, your audience will experience them one at a time. Those pages have to stand on their own. You may be able to get away with massive, dramatic splash pages in print, but if that’s the only thing in that particular update, you’re giving your audience very little, and they may feel cheated. You have to move the plot substantially forward, or otherwise leave your audience satisfied, in every single update. (I don’t mean that you have to contort your story so every update has some sort of big dramatic cliffhanger, contrary to what some may have thought about my webcomics.com comment, only that you can’t have updates where nothing happens either. And if you’re going to have “cover” images for each chapter there damn well better be a VERY good reason.)

I touched on this issue when I reviewed Girl Genius, but it also applies to the Court, and what I said there bears repeating here: one “long-form” comic that seems to understand the difference between the webcomic format and the print comic format is The Order of the Stick. Even there, though, there are three caveats that make me wonder whether anyone has found the balance. OOTS is as much a humor comic as it is a “dramatic” comic, so Rich Burlew can and usually does fall back on a joke to end each comic; and two big parts of Burlew’s solution are piling on mounds of text and using the infinite canvas to extend an installment to two or even three pages if the story warrants.

(Also look at 8-Bit Theater, which hardly skates the first problem and doesn’t do much for the second, but never falls back on the infinite canvas to my knowledge. The Wotch is reliant on jokes but not too reliant on words.)

The latter approach, though, is one that you should definitely consider if all else fails – especially since the very fundamentals of how you write, especially pacing, may have to change to fit the web. Considering each page as an “issue” in and of itself means paying less attention to how they fit with each other (which is nonetheless still important, but becomes more akin to how each issue links with one another). In Reinventing, McCloud laments on the various contortions his story has to go through to fit the print format, such as stalling tactics. Such maneuvers won’t be entirely eliminated by the web if you’re not going whole-hog into the infinite canvas, but maintaining them for no good reason is a big mistake and will only be more noticable. You may find yourself restructuring your story to take full advantage of what the Web provides.

(But in all of this, remember that unless you’re already pretty successful, most of your audience will be reading your story all at once in an archive binge. Ideally, your comic should provide a satisfying read both on a one-at-a-time basis and all at once.)

There’s one more thing about translating a comic book to the web that bears mentioning, and it both ties in with what I’ve just said and serves as a segue to the next topic. Someone once said, “Every comic is someone’s first”. I had thought it was Julius Schwartz, then I thought maybe it was Mort Weisinger, now I see a source that claims Mark Waid. Regardless, it’s just as true in webcomics as it is in comic books, and that can be daunting when every page takes the role of what used to be a 22-page issue.

You could take steps to make every single page accessible to new readers, but it will probably force your comic to something closer to a humor comic and definitely will involve significant contortion to the story. More likely, if someone doesn’t want to binge through your entire archives, you can take steps to ease them into the story gently. Include recap pages to get new readers reasonably caught up on the story so far up to the start of the current chapter, or maybe even up-to-the-page updates. Eric “Websnark” Burns(-White) is insistent on the value of cast pages, even woefully out-of-date ones, in acclimating new readers into the comic as well. If your comic itself is done right, you can intrigue new readers into what’s going on right off the bat, while also piquing their interest on questions like “Hey, why is Character X acting like that towards Y?” and getting them diving into the archives to answer those questions and getting more questions, and eventually becoming completely hooked. (I finally became a fan of OOTS after being linked to a point just as the Azure City Battle was starting and it carried me basically to the then-current strip, and started me on an addiction to the rest of the archives.)

Building an audience is somewhat easier on the web than in the dog-eat-dog world of traditional comic books, but there are new parameters to keep in mind as well. Because there’s no solicitations, and you’re not a smaller part of the broader once-a-week habit of visiting the comic store, you have to set and keep a regular schedule for yourself to release each page. I recommend at least once a week, preferably more, or else it will drift from the memory of your readers. Even if you have an RSS feed, if you update too infrequently you may be asking your readers to do too much work to remember what came before. Select a certain set of days each week to update, such as Monday/Wednesday/Friday, and hold yourself to that, especially if you don’t have an RSS feed (or Twitter). 22 pages a month breaks down to 5-6 pages a week, but you may have to have less; you should have a substantial buffer if at all possible, and know the pace at which you complete each page and plan accordingly.

For several reasons I went over in Part III, but also because of some of the factors I mentioned in the preceding paragraph, webcomics have evolved under a comic strip model. Translating comic books to that format will necessarily involve some contortions. But is it necessarily true, as Tim Broderick claimed in the piece I can’t access even a cache of, that “long-form generally doesn’t attract as many readers on the web as short form”?

I don’t think so. There are certainly a good number of badly-done “long-form” webcomics, and comics where the necessary contortions may have produced an inferior reading experience. And long-form comics present a number of challenges that short-form comics don’t have to deal with. But comics that provide an unbroken thread of continuity from page to page offer one big advantage over “short-form”.

If you’ve been reading my webcomic reviews, you know that I typically take more kindly to a comic with a lot of continuity than a simple gag-a-day comic. Gag strips may give me a chuckle each day, but there’s little reason for me not to just read the day’s strip and be done with it, forever – no matter how much that day’s strip made me laugh. A gag strip doesn’t leave me waiting with baited breath for the next installment, waiting to find out if Vaarsuvius will finally say those prophesied four words that give him/her Ultimate Arcane Power. “Long-form” comics, done right, can attract a lasting readership less subject to certain ebbs, flows, and changing tastes than simple gag strips.

Broderick may be living in a time when long-form comics aren’t as popular as short-form ones, but with this key advantage, I think that as more long-form comics work out the kinks of how to work on the Web, the reverse will come to be true – especially with a potential explosion of new experimenters. Long-form comics may have to go through significant mutation to get there, but there’s a reason for all the short-form comics that have gone through Cerebus Syndrome.

So because I lost an early draft of this post Wednesday, yesterday I had to type it up in a “draft” editor that was autosaving but not rendering everything correctly. I had to use regular Blogger to add the strip image.

(From Something Positive. Click for full-sized pie.)

This is going to be a shorter review than some of my other ones.

Something Positive is funny in a way, because for me, it’s the opposite of xkcd. When I reviewed xkcd I started out doing a limited archive binge, and because I found myself with little to say, I decided to follow along with the strip at the pace it normally updates before reviewing it. It didn’t change my lack of anything to say, but that in itself was something to say. That incident gave me my policy of following along with strips for a spell before reviewing them, which has been taken to the point where I generally don’t necessarily archive binge anymore.

So with S*P, I’ve been spending the past few weeks following along with the strip, and when that left me with very little to say about it, I decided to go back to the beginning of last year and follow along on an archive binge. And at first, that didn’t change my lack of anything to say. At first.

Because I’m convinced Something Positive reads better all at once than as it updates.

Honestly, S*P is an odd duck to categorize. On the one hand, it’s a gag-a-day comic, and even there it’s a bit schitzophrenic. Sometimes it’s making commentary on geek culture, and when it does it can be hard to tell whether Randy Milholland hates geek culture with a passion, is in fact sympathetic, is one himself, or a combination of any or all of the above.

The flip side is when it’s a chronicle of the ordinary lives of its characters, and here, it oddly takes on elements of a storyline comic. Milholland is not shy about allowing his characters to grow, change, and undergo some form of character evolution. It’s tempting to compare it to Seinfeld or the like, but it’s different as well. Several characters have several ongoing plots, which move at a snail’s pace but still actually move. If there’s an appeal to the strip, it’s in waiting for all these plots to move while laughing at the geek-culture strips. It’s easier to appreciate all these shifts if you can read them in a single archive binge, where all the infinitesimal movements are less annoying, and a host of only marginally funny strips can have their humor add up and rope you into the strip.

Basically, the ongoing plots are the most compelling element of the strip, but they move incredibly slowly, so if you don’t have much patience at all that shouldn’t be a reason you follow S*P. Conversely, if you find the geek humor funny you might decide to read it for that reason, but because of the plots that humor isn’t as common as you might like and isn’t always as funny as it should be.

And Milholland has a lot of characters and a lot of plots. It’s even more daunting, and potentially confusing, when fairly minor characters get significant screen time and their own plots largely independent of the (nominal) main cast. During my binge I often had a hard time keeping all the characters straight. (How many red-heads does Milholland have in his cast anyway???) Milholland has a fairly prodigious cast page (though it has some gaps, including Aubrey, who you’d think would be first in line to get an actual page considering she’s one of the original three cast members) but it leaves me with the impression that Milholland has spent a little more time than you’d expect with characters whose connection with the main cast was always a little thin in the first place. (Mike would fall into this category.) This may have something to do with who the fandom has latched on to, but still. And these are just the ones Milholland maintains plotlines for; there are boatloads of other characters that only show up at “Old Familiar Faces” time.

I also have a little bit of an issue with the art, although I think I have more of an issue than I otherwise would with Milholland’s text-laden panels (which Ctrl+Alt+Del is so criticized for) and irrelevant art because recent strips that happened to fall within the time I was following it hammered home the point for me. Two strips in particular, one of which saw a last-minute script swap-out and the other one of which Milholland just couldn’t decide between two scripts. In both cases, the art is exactly the same in both versions. Seriously. Milholland basically could take any four panels of Davan and Aubrey talking and plop in whatever dialogue he needed. He could create the new Dinosaur Comics, even! And they’d probably go on and on about whatever their problems were and how to fix them and some snarky remark and… and there are quite a few strips where the dialogue could be swapped out for something else! It’s tempting for me to ask “why make a webcomic if the art doesn’t matter? Why not go into prose?” but that would disqualify half of webcomicdom, including Dinosaur Comics, which is beloved partly because the art doesn’t matter. (On another note, be sure to check out my webcomic!)

I don’t think I hate Something Positive nearly as much as I’ve made it seem in this review. I can certainly imagine it being an enjoyable diversion for someone, and I did have a few laughs and found myself constantly clicking the “next” button wherever I was in the archive, but I’m not sure I can completely endorse it either. I don’t want to say it’s mediocre at best, but I think I do have some deal-breaker problems with it, or at least a series of smaller problems stacked one on top of another that mixes with just not being quite compelling enough. But I think my state of mind is affecting my judgment here, because of all the stress I’ve been under recently, and because of that there will be no webcomic post next week so I can recharge my batteries, catch up on past stuff, and allow my next webcomic post to be on Order of the Stick so I can stick to a realm I’m comfortable in and already know what I’m getting coming in.

Seriously, why do so many comics I encounter have no RSS feeds? Even the venerable User Friendly and Sluggy Freelance have no RSS feeds!

(From Fey Winds. Click for full-sized tree hex of knowledge, apparently.)

I have said in the past that I do not review comics that are neither popular nor good, because they do not deserve the attention. So I’m willing to savage a webcomic if I deem it popular enough that people need to be warded away from it, but bad webcomics with no readers should be allowed to wither like they should do naturally.

The flip side is that I am willing to review a webcomic no one’s heard of if I think it’s fantastic. So if you want me to expose your webcomic to the masses, you can e-mail me at mwmailsea at yahoo dot com. If I don’t like it, you’ll get a “thin envelope”: an e-mail with my suggestions for you. If I do like it, or at least think it has a lot of potential, you’ll get a “fat envelope”: a full-sized review on Da Blog.

The thing is, Fey Winds – despite a ridiculously bare-bones site layout with nothing except a news post, some fan art, and the comic itself (no cast page, no RSS feed, no “world” page despite a promise of it on one page that required a brief description of an aspect of the world), despite having next to no exposure in the broader webcomics community that would convey that mystical quality we call “notability” – is a comic I’m reviewing because it falls in the “popular” category.

That’s because I discovered Fey Winds by way of Buzzcomix.

I’ve talked about Buzzcomix in the past – the vote-powered webcomic ranking site (well, one of at least two), once thought completely abandoned but recently revamped back in August with a whole mess of new features. One of these was a “status” line that would appear below your comic’s entry – similar to previous description lines, but with the important changes that a) you could change it without entering your profile, and more importantly, b) when you changed it, your new “status” would appear at the bottom of the screen in a running ticker alongside other webcomics that had recently changed their statuses. Which meant just by changing your status, you’d be guaranteed at least a shot at exposure for anyone who dropped by Buzzcomix for the next twenty-four hours or so. Needless to say, constantly changing statuses became a favorite fallback for several wannabe webcomiceers desperate for the sliver of exposure the line promised, and complete no-names littered the ticker, because no webcomic that already had the exposure, that was anywhere near the top of the list, would stoop to such shameless tactics. (You probably haven’t noticed, but I’ve been changing Sandsday’s status line with each new strip. :)

Word of the new Buzzcomix has spread in fits and starts, with the result that early on, there was some bumpiness in who was on top – after being fairly consistently in the upper eschelon on the old Buzzcomix, Girl Genius, to take one example, was completely missing for the first month or so – although once the Foglios and their fans got their act together, GG went right to the top and stayed there for a while. It’s since been dethroned by Goblins, which at least has warranted a TV Tropes page – of course all you need for a TV Tropes page is a fan or even creator who happens to frequent the site. (Unless said creator isn’t a complete self-promoting jerk.)

(I hope I haven’t just made Fey Winds jump the shark by introducing Nicole Chartrand to TV Tropes.)

So, for some time, I would visit Buzzcomix to change Sandsday‘s status line, and on my monitor, I would always see the top three comics, and because of the vote quantities involved and how long they stick around (early in the new Buzzcomix the top of the rankings would completely shuffle around every month when the last round of votes expired, though that’s already tapered off) the top three comics would stay fairly consistent: Goblins, Girl Genius… and Fey Winds.

Now, by the time I started writing this post Fey Winds had already been knocked out of the #3 spot by Misfile, Buzzcomix itself got suspended by its host a week ago and lost all the votes when it returned and FW was slow to recover, sinking all the way to #24 or so for the past week, and Fey Winds owes a lot of its Buzzcomix popularity to the use of incentives (the instant a new incentive and comic was posted Fey Winds shot back into the top 20, and my guess is it’ll be back in the top 10 by the time you read this). Still, lots of webcomics use incentives to prop up voting, and they can’t crack the top three. But what attracted me to Fey Winds enough to tell myself to check it out some time was not its high ranking, but its status line: “Fantasy adventure with 100% of your weekly dose of snark. Now with 50% more story!” (The second sentence has since changed to “Now on Chapter 4!”)

Well this is interesting, I thought. “Fantasy adventure” with a good dose of “snark” and humor? Pray tell, had I found the new Order of the Stick (only with actual art)?

Erm… no.

First of all, the “snark” is a lie, and I accuse Nicole Chartrand of false advertising. There’s some snarkiness and even pointing out of tropes in some of the very earliest strips, like in Chapter 1, but very little. As the “Now with 50% more story” line implies, Chartrand has dipped her comic headlong into Cerebus Syndrome (even though her world already had some quantity of story arc running through it, I use it here to denote that the strip has become much more serious and the stakes raised as we learn boatloads more about the characters). But that, in turn, hints at my real problem with the strip:

Fey Winds is moving its plot along way too fast.

If you intend on reading the strip for yourself later, turn away now, because I’m about to summarize the entire “intro” chapter, which explains much of the concept: Once upon a time, a sorcerer introduced… something… into a long-running, devastating war. It’s unknown whether the Sylphe is “a spirit, or a construct, or the child of a god,” or something else, it’s just known that “armies, towns, cities, lives” fell before her, until she unexpectedly turned against her master – going against anything anyone had thought her capable of doing – and helping restore the countries she helped destroy, then disappearing, leaving only a series of powerful MacGuffins for her to be remembered by, “sought out by thieves, kings, and wholesome adventure-type folk… like us!”. (Emphasis in original.)

We’re then introduced to the cast: Larina, some sort of runaway from “a big elven sanctuary in the mountains” (“she never told me why she left, but then, I never asked”), who has a Stone of Possession on her forehead she picked up while investigating some sort of magical spring, which occasionally “shunts her spirit out of the way and possesses her with the soul of a random wandering ghost”; Nigel, whose story is that he’s a “Kaderrian mercenary” who encountered an “ugly witch and ugly daughter on his way home from a mission”, had the latter fall for him, he rejected her, and the witch cursed him to follow “someone who was a girl, but not a girl, and neither human, dwarf or elf.”

That happens to describe our narrator and main character, called “Kit” by the other characters, who was (stay with me here) a fox until she attempted to raid a chicken coop belonging to a witch, who “tried to turn me into a warty were-toad. Lucky for me she was completely senile” and turned her into a humanoid instead. Larina taught her speech, gave her clothes, and told her the story of the Sylphe; Nigel (who’s “a little creepy, and always seems to know what [Kit’s] thinking”) “taught [her] about swords and fighting – and the three of us have been traveling together for a few years since.”

Did you catch all that? Good, because practically none of it (especially the mysterious parts) is still extant for the current strips. Some of it was abandoned almost immediately (for example, Larina’s “possessed” self is a “fangirl” calling herself Belinda who takes over more predictably, when Larina takes some sort of blow to the head), but in order: the Sylphe is/was pretty firmly a golem; so far as I can tell, Larina has lost her gem to one of the Sylphe’s makers; Nigel is actually a golem himself; and Kit somehow had the spirit of the Sylphe inside her, and her actual origin has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with what we were told back in the “intro” chapter.

There are still a few lingering mysteries (why was the Sylphe able to rebel against her masters? Why did Larina flee her home in the first place?), but the general feeling is that most of the questions are resolving themselves, barely 100 comics into the strip’s existence and while it’s only in its fourth full chapter – as though Chartrand is losing interest and rushing to the meat of the story she wanted to get to all along. Now, it’s possible – nay, likely – that what’s going on here is closer to how Order of the Stick overthrew virtually its entire premise about a hundred comics into its run, and what we’re seeing is only the beginning of what Fey Winds will become, not the end. It’s also possible that part of the problem I’m having has to do with Fey Winds’ weekly update schedule (and closer to biweekly earlier in its run), and that I need to keep in mind that Fey Winds is, after all, already over two years old. OOTS wrapped up its first book, and resulting overturning of the premise, only one year into its run!

Still, there’s the pacing a strip has to consider on its own update schedule… and then there’s the pacing the way a significant portion of your audience is going to read it. I’m willing to accept that for someone reading the strip as it’s come out, the current events have completely shaken them out of their comfort zone and have turned Fey Winds into something completely different than they were used to. Still, I can’t help but wonder (as someone who, like what could turn out to be a majority of the audience Fey Winds could still have, read the story to this point in an archive binge): couldn’t Chartrand have waited just one more chapter before shaking things up? Even the start of Chapter 3, before they reach the tomb, contains a number of hints of various things that get at least partially resolved in that very chapter.

Fey Winds proper (outside the “intro” chapter) only turned two years old this November, as Chapter 4 started, and was only a year and a half old when the part of Chapter 3 that engaged in the shaking-up started. Would two years of the strip introduced in the “intro” chapter really have been too much? (This is especially important as, like Girl Genius, Fey Winds releases a page at a time no matter how trivial the page may be, and coupled with its start-of-chapter splash pages, this suggests that Chartrand has plans to release her comics in a book later, meaning even more of her audience will be reading her strip all at once.)

Besides, having read the comic since its return from holiday hiatus, I’m thinking a weekly schedule may be too slow for most people given the content-per-comic ratio. For a comic with this much plot to release at the rate it does, when some comics (even now) are little more than one-shot jokes, is almost excruciating. At least most of the time, Girl Genius has more story per page and releases on a Monday-Wednesday-Friday schedule. Order of the Stick also tends to have more story per page than at least some Fey Winds comics (until recently, updating “three times a week without warning”) and people complain about it going too slow! (If Chartrand is going for the pacing of Gunnerkrigg Court, which she links on her “Links” page, it’s worth noting that comic also releases on a M-W-F schedule.)

No wonder Chartrand has started moving the plot forward faster! Had she started with a decent buffer and released just two pages per week, she could have spent longer with a funnier comic, still might be further along with the plot here in early 2009 (or at least two years-plus into its run), and the ensuing story would be richer for it. And I wouldn’t wonder if the “intro” chapter was completely superfluous. (Considering the changes she makes when the story begins, the “intro” chapter could have been more consistent on its own merits as well.) As it is, the weekly schedule is a hard habit to maintain without an RSS feed.

Since I’ve been babbling on for some time, I’ll make some general comments on the strip itself to close things out quickly. First, a quick note on the content-per-comic ratio; it is certainly tempting for some beginning webcomic-makers to put as little as possible in each strip to entice repeat visitors, but it tends to be more maddening than anything else. I criticize the strip’s descent into Cerebus Syndrome, but the “wacky hijinks” stage of the first two chapters wouldn’t even have a chance at my RSS reader (assuming, you know, it even had an RSS feed), and the ramping into gear of the plot is really a help in that context, to the extent I’m probably going to keep following it for just the near future, if only through the very beginning of Chapter 5 to pick up on the loose threads of the end of Chapter 3. So far the plot isn’t compelling enough for me to stick around longer, and more importantly the pace of updates may mean I just decide to catch up when the mood strikes me, rather than following it all along week-to-week. The brief forays into anime-inspired art for certain moments are something of a turn-off – generally, no matter what your art style is, you shouldn’t shift it too often (or too much) and you should have a good reason when you do.

Fey Winds isn’t bad, but once again it is crushingly mediocre. It comes off as, well, as some wannabe artist (who gives off a “valley girl” vibe in her news posts – and yes, especially considering the rest of her site, Chartrand is definitely an artist first and writer second, and we all know what that means) deciding to jump on this here “webcomics” bandwagon. I’m not saying it needs to be Order of the Stick, but there’s a lot that’s unpolished and somewhat amateur about it; in more refined hands, the plot could be somewhat compelling, even if the brief flashes of humor (which, especially lately, come off as unintentional and more “oh, that’s kinda funny” than actually laugh-inducing) were still retained. In addition to pacing, Chartrand could stand to learn more about what comic artists call storytelling, something she seems to have gotten better at since some excruciating and confusing moments in the first two chapters. (Moments that, as with Dresden Codak, suggest that sometimes in webcomic art, less really is more.)

There’s a lot of potential in Fey Winds so far; if I were judging it solely on the basis of its art it might be one of the prettiest webcomics on the Internet (and perhaps the need to make art of that quality is why FW runs on a weekly schedule when the pace of the story would seem to dictate updating more often), but then again if that were the only basis xkcd and Order of the Stick wouldn’t even be in the conversation. Still, the story that’s been told so far is actually pretty decent, if not yet must-see, even though those spurts of humor come off as more of a sales gimmick than as something Chartrand would do just as part of the process of writing the story (though that may be a misconception). Certainly I’m seeing no structural problems with the dialogue or anything clunky or excruciating like expospeak (this being a possible exception). But for as decent as the story is, it still falls into some beginners’ traps, not the least of which is the sense I get that the eventual story was still very much a work in progress when the “intro” was posted, even besides the parts that were intended to be discarded later all along.

Fey Winds has a lot going for it, but right now it’s hardly the best webcomic you’re not reading (despite what some fans may claim), and it sure as hell isn’t the new Order of the Stick. Or even the poor man’s version.

I abandoned webcomics posts in the leadup to the election, and now it and RID may be the only two remaining regular features. Go figure.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized negotiations.)

I think I’m scraping the bottom of the barrel for these OOTS posts, and I’m going to have to stop making them every month at some point. I’m thinking when I hit the one-year anniversary of when I started making them.

I have basically two left. One I sort of missed the window on because of Tangents, and which I’m not particularly interested in anymore because it was a little convoluted and weak and stupid. The second is the one I’m giving you today, and it too is a little crazy and stupid.

Part of the reason the current book has kind of been pissing a lot of fans off may be, paradoxically, that it is too OOTS-centric.

Honestly, “Team Evil” may be more popular than any single member of the Order. Xykon is downright snarky for an Evil Overlord, Redcloak is something of a tragic figure, the Monster in the Darkness is entertaining, and the demon roaches are always good for a side laugh. Checking in on their happenings used to be a regular feature in the lead-up to the Battle for Azure City. But we’ve only gotten one relatively brief check-in on them since, and O-Chul was the real star of the show there.

That may indicate that Team Evil may be in the process of being de-emphasized as villains, but if so, it’s not at all clear who’ll replace them. The Linear Guild, the only other major villain group (and entertaining in their own right – honestly, the three or four least interesting recurring characters might be members of the Order), have been completely unseen since their escape during the battle, the only real clue as to their remaining plans being Nale’s mention of “sneak[ing] off and capturing another [gate]”. Were it not for that, and the fact that an entire strip like this was dedicated to the Guild’s escape (and a few lingering questions, like just how Sabine is Haley’s opposite), one might think Rich had just written the Guild out of the strip entirely.

Nonetheless, I kind of wonder if the Guild’s influence is in fact being felt in everything going on now, or if we will in fact see them by the time the gang gets back together, and the reason for that is a result of my wild theory:

The Linear Guild is secretly helping the OOTS.

Nale heard of his brother’s existence and decided loyalty to his brother (he is admittedly Lawful) meant assisting the Order’s cause under the guise of opposing them. With Sabine’s help, he tends to know more than any of the Order do at any given time, almost to the point of being omniscient. In fact, maybe Sabine is the real player here trying to help Haley.

Now, there’s actually very little to back up this theory, and at least a little to oppose it, and it’s kind of masturbatory for me to devote an entire post to this. The point of the Linear Guild is that they are a set of Bumbling Villains(tm) whose schemes (unlike, and as opposed to, Team Evil) are never any true, real threat, and always fail spectacularly in an entertaining, comedic fashion. Nonetheless, it’s interesting to note that when Vaarsuvius noted the serendipity of the timing of the Linear Guild’s kidnap-Roy’s-sister plot in making sure the OOTS was in the right place at the right time for the Battle of Azure City, s/he was more right than s/he knew.

(My Latin teacher, incidentially, recently let it known that he absolutely hates constructions like “they” or “him or her” or especially “s/he” in sentences that could describe anyone of either gender, and wishes people would at least pick a gender for each specific instance, if not be consistent with which one. Personally, I pronounce “s/he” as s-he. In any case, I wonder how he’d react to Vaarsuvius…)

Every single thing the Linear Guild has done has ended up helping the OOTS in some way. It’s uncanny. Consider:

  • When the OOTS first “accidentially” met the Linear Guild, in that pivotal 43rd strip, and the Guild roped the Order into their scheme to crack open the Talisman of Dorukan, it nearly resulted in the death of the Order – but instead it introduced them to Celia, who in turn, accelerated their path to Xykon and indirectly may have helped make that “final” confrontation come a lot sooner in other ways. (Remind me to add a discussion of Celia’s present behavior to the OOTS post docket.)
  • As I mentioned in a very, very early OOTS post, when Sabine disguised herself as a blacksmith and sent the OOTS on a quest to find the starmetal, she arguably saved the OOTS from dissolution. And is it possible that she secretly knew the starmetal was real and that the OOTS had the means to succeed where others had failed?
  • As Vaarsuvius mentioned, Nale’s contacting Roy the instant they left the Oracle kept them busy for long enough not to go running halfway around the world while Xykon wiped out the Sapphire Guard and won the game. With a little assist from a drunk wizard, of course. If Shojo still has an able teleporter after the incident the OOTS ends up not having to spend another few days in the City.
  • Haley brought up another example during half the OOTS’ second trip to the Oracle: It’s because of Nale that Haley got her voice back, and that Haley finally got with Elan. Oh, and if Nale doesn’t leave Elan in jail Elan never becomes a Dashing Swordsman.

I could easily see a scenario where whichever gate the Linear Guild captures, between the other two groups Team Evil gets there first in plenty of time, but gets delayed enough trying to dislodge the Guild that the OOTS can show up and foil both their evil plans. If the almost-canon belief of the fans that Elan’s father is holding Haley’s father is true, I could see the meeting of the bunch, engineered by Nale, end up helping Elan, Haley, and the OOTS at the (apparent) expense of Nale and the Guild. I could even see a scenario – and this ties in to the prediction at the start of the discussion – where the eventual reunion of the OOTS happens because of the Linear Guild in some way. And even if my overall prediction is untrue, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Linear Guild and OOTS come together to stop Xykon’s plan at the final battle.

Maybe Elan wasn’t unintentionally ironic when he said, “Meeting the Linear Guild is the best thing that ever happened!!

Okay, so for the delay this was a ridiculously short post. But no worries. The post I have planned for this Tuesday has been in the works for several weeks.