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Your Daily Funnies

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xkcd #1110 - Click and Drag - by Randall Munroe

Growing up, I had a morning routine. I’d fix a bowl of cereal, pour myself a glass of juice and open up the Globe to the comics. My early favorites included Garfield and Mother Goose and Grimm – the punchlines didn’t change much, but Odie falling off the table was funny every time. As I got older, I preferred the family humor of FoxTrot and For Better or Worse. I even eventually began to appreciate the adult political takes found in Doonesbury and Bloom County/Outland.

I didn’t get the daily paper after I went away to college, but the late 90s and early 2000s brought with them the birth of w
ebcomics. Unconstrained by the need to fill three or four little black and white boxes in a daily paper, by the need to appeal to everyone, or to be family friendly, dozens of artists and authors began to produce comedy and compelling stories online.

One of the earliest and, to date, most successful comics has been Penny Arcade, written by Jerry Holkins and illustrated by Mike Krahulik. Dedicated to videogame culture and filled with a dedicated irreverence, the comic has grown since its debut in 1998 to attract 3.5 million weekly readers and hosts a yearly game convention. Penny Arcade stuck to the basic format of the newspaper comic strip, but succeeded with writing and art that attracted a niche audience and did it well.

A similar pattern can be seen in xkcd, a comic that mainly relies on stick figure art, but focuses on the intersection of science and pop culture. Randall Munroe, a roboticist and computer programmer at NASA, started drawing xkcd in his spare time and it expanded to become a full time job. He continues to write new comics three times a week, but in addition to the traditional “boxes with words and pictures” approach, he also uses his programming skills to create interactive games on his site and has expanded several ideas to book length projects. Thing Explainer (2015) offers explanations of complicated scientific ideas using only the thousand most common words in English and What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions (2014) is just what it sounds like.

On the social sciences end of the spectrum, Kate Beaton takes vignettes from medieval Europe to modern Canada and transforms them into hilarious but educational little slices of history. One of my favorites on both fronts is about Australian Gen. Sir John Monash. I’d never heard of Monash before, but the comic shows him responding to a critical British officer during the first World War saying, “Yes, let’s look at what you’ve been doing so far. Ah, I see, some losing here, some dying in the trenches over here.” Now I want to know more! Beaton does most of her work online, but Hark! A Vagrant! and two other collections of her comics are available in book form at the library. She’s also written a couple of children’s books and is currently producing a graphic novel, Ducks, about her time working in the tar sands of Alberta.

Other webcomics are more focused on long, slice of life storytelling and provide years of narrative and character development. Two that I’ve read for a long time are Octopus Pie by Meredith Gran and Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques. Both feature art and language that could never appear in a newspaper, but the lives of the twenty-somethings in the comics are all the more compelling because their relationships and conflicts seem more honest and open. Questionable Content is particularly notable for dealing frankly with depression, substance abuse, and LGBT relationships. And there are also funny, cake-eating robots, all in full color, five days a week.

Science fiction and fantasy make for popular subjects for long-running webcomics as well. Gunnerkrigg Court by Tom Siddell features some of the best artwork online and an exciting, funny, and touching Harry Potter-esque story about a young girl attending a mysterious school that blends advanced technology and magic. Homestuck by Andrew Hussie stands out as the comic that makes the most of its online format, including interactive storytelling, music, and even short films. The convoluted narrative follows a group of teenage friends who get sucked into a video game world and face time travel paradoxes and aliens threatening the Earth.

All of these comics have some element of humor in them, but have some other hook to really pull you in – whether that’s a focus on a subject that interests you or a long, ongoing story. Some, though, are more inspired by classics like Krazy Kat or The Far Side where the joke is everything. Dinosaur Comics by Ryan North takes this to an extreme by featuring the same art for every strip, but different dialog between dinosaurs that exchange quips about language, pop culture, and social expectations. Dorothy Gambrell’s Cat and Girl follows the title characters around their bizarre bohemian existence while they ask questions like: what’s the meaning of life? why is poverty so intractable? how did I get this flamethrower? and what should I have for breakfast?

Whether you want a short chapter of a long story every day, or just a quick laugh first thing in the morning, webcomics are a fun online option. I started with just one or two, recommended by more traditional authors, but quickly followed links to a list of more than a dozen pages that I visit at least once a week. Search for these titles online or try out the print collections for many of them here at the library!

Jeff Hartman is the Senior Circulation Assistant, Paging Supervisor, and Graphics Designer at the Morrill Memorial Library.


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