This is a revised version of a writeup I did for my Facebook page a while back.
Webcomics are probably my guiltiest diversion on the internet. But like everything else on the internet, finding something worth reading requires slogging through the 90% or higher that is uninteresting hackwork. It’s a lot like wading around in a cesspit, looking for loose change. Someone I know, in a conversation sometime in the distant past, made the suggestion that I help out some of you who lack either the time or the set of heavy rubber gloves and hip-high irrigation boots necessary for that kind of slogging. So I wrote up some short blurbs on ten of my favorites (not necessarily my top ten favorites), in no particular order.
XKCD, by Rand Munroe (xkcd.com)
“A webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language.” I’d expect that most of you have at least heard of this one, since it’s one of the most popular out there. While there are a lot of math- and science-related jokes that are over my head, there is still enough variety in the subject matter to make the comic accessible for those of us outside those fields. From an artistic standpoint, I’m fairly impressed with Rand’s ability to portray action, drama, atmosphere, and expression using nothing but stick figures. My brother (the engineer) and I determined that if you combined my form of nerdery with his form of nerdery, you’d essentially get Rand Munroe. Updates MWF.
Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew (www.giantitp.com)
Another stick figure comic but with continuity, OotS is a lovingly rendered parody of the classic D&D role-playing games. It features the standard cast of motley adventurers that you’d expect in a fantasy/adventure story, each character both conforming and not conforming to their particular archetype. And no fantasy story is complete without an evil mastermind out to conquer and/or destroy the world. Story takes place in a reality governed by the rules of D&D 3.5—right down to characters leveling up, gaining skill points, and learning new feats. All in all, it provides a lot of fun takes on gaming, medieval fantasy, and adventure stories in general. Updates periodically.
Sluggy Freelance, by Pete Abrams (sluggy.com)
Think of it like Calvin & Hobbes, only the characters are grownups, the talking animals aren’t imaginary, and the characters actually build devices to travel to different worlds, instead of just pretending to. It starts out strictly as a comedy that thrives on pop-culture parody, but eventually evolves into an action/comedy/drama. While comedy is still king, the parody is toned down considerably, the action is on par with golden-age Marvel, and the drama is often heart-wrenching. One caveat about Sluggy: it is a daily comic that’s been going since 1997—that’s well over 5,100 comics to read. Fortunately, Pete provides hyperlinks whenever he references past comics. If you want to get caught up with the current story, go to the archives drop-down menu, select “Chapters not in books,” and select the chapter titled “bROKEN” as your starting point. If need be, I can recommend some of the more interesting chapters. Updates daily.
Girl Genius, by Phil & Kaja Foglio (www.girlgeniusonline.com)
Ever since Terra from Final Fantasy VI, I’ve had an affinity for the hapless character who causes trouble just by existing–Agatha, GG‘s title character, is one such character. She’s that quintessential protagonist who didn’t want the hidden powers she’s got, but everyone wants to either destroy her or control her because of them. The comic features a lot of steampunk elements, but without the grittiness or the pro- or anti-imperialist undertones that often go along with steampunk. Plus, I’m intrigued by the idea of a world where ‘mad scientist’ is a viable profession. Updates MWF.
Between Failures (betweenfailures.com) (Author seems to have multiple aliases.)
Failures is sort of a slice-of-life story about a group of twenty-somethings working at an entertainment retail store (probably similar to Hastings). The comic follows the daily lives of the store’s staff, individually and in groups, as they work to keep themselves entertained and bring hope to others, pretty much in that order. I think that anyone who has ever had a job that involves dealing with customers and/or coworkers, particularly in retail, can relate to this comic. The artwork isn’t remarkable, but the characters are among the most relatable I’ve seen in web-based comics. Updates MWF.
Amya Chronicles, by Savannah Houston-McIntyre, Andrew Hewitt, and Rebecca Gunter (amya.smackjeeves.com)
I think the artwork was what drew me to Amya, an adventure story set in a Georgian-looking fantasy world. The story is interesting and the characters are delightful, but Rebecca, the artist, has possibly the most elegant drawing style I’ve seen in webcomics. A lot of artists can make something elegant look cute—Rebecca is the only one I’ve seen who can make something cute look elegant. The story features Faye, a lovely, mute spell-caster, caught up in events seemingly beyond her control, but who is gradually learning that she’s not as helpless as she’d thought. Updates Wednesdays.
Questionable Content, by Jeph Jacques (questionablecontent.net)
In an age when comedy seems to focus upon characters who are stupidly resistant to growth and character development, it’s refreshing to find a cast that actually seems to learn from their mistakes and tries to improve themselves. QC is another “slice-of-life” comic, this one focusing around a group of friends and an independent coffeehouse. All around, this is one of the funniest comics I’ve encountered, in terms of both situational humor as well as slap-stick antics. But at the same time, it’s genuinely heartwarming to watch the traumatized accident victim come to terms with her father’s suicide and see the girl with severe OCD go from hyperventilating at physical contact to being comfortable hugging her friends. Artistically, it’s interesting to watch Jeph’s artwork evolve over QC‘s almost ten-year run. Updates Mon-Fri.
Blip, by Sage Leaves (blipcomic.com)
Though generally funny, Blip is a strange and rather sad comic. The basic premise is that K, the lead character in the comic, is a cosmic mistake—a girl who was never fated to be born. As such, she has the potential to interfere with other people’s destinies. Because of her potential to mess with fate, Heaven is attempting to damper her ability to affect others, while Hell is trying to figure out how to use her for their own purposes. Meanwhile, K’s best friends–a witch, a vampiress, and a robot chick–work to protect her from both sides. Oblivious to all of this, K tries maintain her work and relationships with those around her while cherubs and imps have lightsaber duels on top of skyscrapers. Updates periodically (comic on semi-hiatus, author was injured quite severely several months ago and is still recovering).
PhD Comics, by Jorge Cham (www.phdcomics.com/comics.php)
Piled Higher and Deeper is one of the things that kept me going for three years of graduate school. I think anyone who has ever been to college can relate–and the higher they’ve been in academia, the more this comic means to them. I find comfort knowing that I wasn’t the only one who felt like an imposter in academics–that other students out there find themselves tired, frustrated, and discouraged at the harrowing trials of higher education. I particularly love the archetypes that the comic plays on: the nameless, floundering PhD student; the oblivious, uncaring adviser; the slacker who’s been there for years; the hyper-liberal Humanities TA who takes her students on field trips to political protests. Updates periodically.
Crimson Dark, by David Simon (www.davidcsimon.com/crimsondark/)
CD is a computer-generated sci-fi/action comic with fairly obvious Firefly influences. While the story isn’t all that original, the science fiction is surprisingly well thought out. David even goes so far as to provide a database giving sizes and specifications of the military hardware and technology as well as history and politics of the various warring factions. Plus, the protagonists are genuinely likeable, and the space battles are fairly epic. One caveat: the story finished its epilogue, as David decided to wrap it up to focus on his new job with gaming company BioWare. He’s indicated that he plans to come back and add additional content, but the main story itself is finished updating.
I particularly enjoy watching the artwork evolve in some of the longer-running comics. Questionable Content is easily the best example of this, but Sluggy, OotS, Failures, and PhD are also interesting to read for that reason. I thought about posting pictures as well, but decided to err on the side of caution where things like copyright laws are concerned.
Anyway, ten comics is a good start. I may add more at some point in the future. If any of you find fault in my assessments, feel free to disagree with me. If you’re bothered by any omissions, you’re welcome to write one of your own.