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Webcomics You Should Be Reading

September 14, 2011

The Internet has exposed us to an immeasurable trove of information and entertainment. Wikipedia! Colorful local news segments set to music! Pictures of cats with hilariously misspelled captions! And of course, a form of entertainment that is universal to all cultures and generations: videos of guys getting hit in the nuggets. For myself and a few of my fellow Tweedigentsia, the Internet also provides access to the wonderful world of webcomics.

As the print media paradigm dies its slow, agonizing (and often amusing) death, so goes the traditional outlet for comic strip artists. A few have managed to transition from print to digital. Some have done so in parallel with the outlets that have fostered them throughout their career. Others have gained popularity solely as a webcomic; birthed in the digital world and, in some cases, meant only for a digital audience. The artists don’t have to avoid using salty language (or even nudity) to be funny or get their message across. They don’t have to play the traditional syndication games or worry that some busybody will get offended and demand that the paper drop their strip.

Because the artists do not necessarily have to worry about the universal accessibility of their characters, subject matter, or even their visual style, they are free to cater to as specific a niche as they could possibly want. You will find meticulously rendered, hyperrealistic styles. You will find styles in the tradition of the classic strips we all know and love. You will find poorly drawn (often deliberately so) scenes that merely accompany a funny story. You will find abstract, photographic styles. You will even find stick figures, raw and unadorned as to avoid distracting from the dialogue or the topic of the strip itself. There are webcomics about politics, religion, video games, specific video games, Seinfeldian observations, employment, math, really nerdy math, and anthropomorphized bodily fluids (more on this later). Here are a few of my favorites:

xkcd

We’ll start with the big kid on the block. xkcd is smart. Really smart. It is read by all smart people on the Internet. (What? You don’t read it? Hmph…guess you’re not smart.) This was the comic I was thinking of when I wrote earlier about “raw and unadorned” stick figures. Randall Munroe’s “webcomic of romance, sarcasm, math, and language” has been quite a success since he started it in 2005. He’s done strips about password strength, prime factorials, YouTube comments, and meat cereals. If you’re not a huge nerd like me, don’t be dissuaded by the comp-sci in-jokes; Munroe keeps it accessible for the most part. If you’ve got an hour to spare, go back and check out the archives. It’s interesting to see how his content has evolved while his visual style has changed very little.

Least I Could Do

What happens when Calvin (of “& Hobbes”) grows up? Least I Could Do is more or less a twisted, adult version of Bill Watterson’s Sunday paper classic. LICD’s main character is Rayne, a promiscuous and endearingly self-absorbed man-child with an ambiguous job and some very understanding friends and sexual partners. When he’s not making advances at every attractive woman he sees or playing elaborate pranks on his friends, Rayne obsesses about Indian food, satisfying his every childish desire, and spotting his homosexual doppelganger “Gayne.” There is even a weekly “Least I Could Do: Beginnings” which further borrows from “Calvin & Hobbes” by showing an imaginative and impulsive Rayne as a precocious 8-year-old. I really can’t remember how I came to know about this comic, but I’ve been reading it for a few years now and have guffawed more than a few times.

The Oatmeal

Even as webcomics are free to deviate from the traditional Sunday-funnies strip format, The Oatmeal simply blows the paradigm to smithereens. But I say it still counts as a webcomic. And it is goddamn hilarious. Though sometimes veering (hilariously but solidly) into raunchy territory, a new Oatmeal comic in my RSS reader is always a treat. Honestly, I don’t know where Matthew Inman comes up with this stuff. A few favorites include the difference between mayonnaise and Miracle Whip (definitely not-safe-for-work), a paean to Sriracha hot sauce (“a delicious blessing flavored with the incandescent glow of a thousand dying suns”), and some explorations of “minor differences.”

Hyperbole and a Half

Hyperbole and a Half falls in the lo-fi/highbrow category. The images all appear to have been done in Microsoft Paint, circa 1991, but the stories they accompany are absurd, accessible, and drop-dead funny. Author “Allie” writes anecdotes from her life, or her childhood, or her dogs (known only as “Simple Dog” and “Helper Dog.”) I guarantee you will laugh out loud at posts like This is Why I’ll Never be an Adult or The Party or The Sneaky Hate Spiral. Bet you’ll find yourself posting at least one of these on Facebook or forwarding it to all your friends.

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2 Comments
  1. Sean Gilroy permalink
    September 14, 2011 5:10 pm

    How could you leave out “The Adventures of Dr. McNinja?”

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