Thursday, May 28, 2015

Web comics that I like

I have always enjoyed reading comics, some more than others, but I haven't had a regular newspaper to get my comics for several years. But I was overjoyed when I found that I could read the daily comics online which I have been doing for a few years now.

Somewhere along the way I branched out and got into reading a few web comics. These are comics that do not (typically) appear in a newspaper, but are published online. Someone I know once mentioned that if I like the work of a particular author then I should share their work with people I know so that they can continue to write. So on that note, I present this incomplete list of the web comics that I read (in no particular order). I say "incomplete" because there are several (~30-40) that I read in addition to the ones listed here but they don't rise to the level of "I would definitely recommend this." There are a few others that I would recommend but they have been on hiatus for more than a year and may never come back.

Schlock Mercenary
I stumbled across this web comic about three years ago when someone made a reference to The Seven Habits of Highly Effective Pirates (now known as The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries), I looked it up and discovered Schlock Mercenary. The comic is written and drawn by Howard Tayler, and has been running daily since June 12th 2000. It is not your typical daily comic strip where you can start at any point and just pick it up as you go along. It actually has a (rather complex) story with many characters. Because of this it is described as a comic "space opera" (think "soap opera", but a lot less cheese and more space, and interesting characters). Even though this web comic started out as a side job it has since become the author's full time job, which means he is good enough at it that people are willing to pay him for it. That right there says something about the comic. Following this comic is like reading a long novel that only comes in daily doses. But it is interesting enough to make me want to keep reading it. It is also peppered with my style of humor.

This is actually a collection of related stories. Each one can be read independently, but there is a central story to them all. It is set in a world with magic in a mostly 1800's type world. The story has humor and action and interesting characters that are very likable.

This is another comic that I randomly came across. This one is drawn in black and white in graphic novel format, and updates about once a week. The tag line is "Life. Love. Hyperspace." and it mostly lives up to that by being a rather mellow drama set in space (that's mellow drama, not melodrama, as in it's mellow and it is a drama). I'm not one to read romance anything so that should be some indication as to how much "Love" there really is in this comic (i.e. very little relative to the rest of the story). When I first came across the comic I actually didn't read very much of it before I lost interest. But about two weeks later I came across it again and I read a little more and it hit just the right spot so I went back and read the whole thing from the beginning.

One on the things that I like about this comic is the artwork. The artist does a very good job with her characters. I find them to be very unique (both visually and character wise) and I think that is what got me reading this comic in the first place. The style of art is very distinct, but very expressive. The other thing is that the characters actually look like normal people, that is, they are average height and weight, unlike so many other comics (especially manga and anime) where the people are impossibly thin or super-model-ish. I think that helps make the story more believable.

PhD Comics
What can I say. I'm in grad school so of course I read PhD comics. It's one of the basic requirements to get into grad school. I first saw this comic years ago as an undergrad. At the time it didn't make any sense and I didn't think it was funny. But as I got closer to going to grad school it got funnier and funnier (and not because the comics changed, but because I actually stated to understand. I started to actually have that stuff happen to me.). Now that I am in grad school every time there is a new comic I have to resist the urge to print it out and go tape it to the door of my office since I know that there is already someone somewhere in the department doing just that. Just about every other office door has a print out of a PhD comic on it (that or xkcd, which is next).

xkcd is drawn by Randall Munroe, and it is perhaps the most famous webcomic in the world. It especially became well known after the Japan earthquake, tsunami and nuclear disaster when Randall posted a radiation dose chart to explain the radiation levels around the reactors. This got him noticed beyond the science/geek/engineer/slashdot crowd. His stuff is mostly stick figures with many references to science and computers. He also includes some strong language and *ahem* questionable content occasionally, so not for everyone. The comic comes with the following warning at the bottom:
Warning: this comic occasionally contains strong language (which may be unsuitable for children), unusual humor (which may be unsuitable for adults), and advanced mathematics (which may be unsuitable for liberal-arts majors).
Girl Genius
In terms of online web comics this one sets a high standard. It has won the Hugo award several times. This was perhaps the second web comic that I started reading. It updates three times a week with a full page color spread. It a fantasy/steam-punk comic with some humor thrown in. The story is complex with a rather large cast of characters. The only one who has them beat in terms of number of characters and extent of story is Schlock Mercenary.

Snow by Night
Snow by Night is set in a world that is like an alternate reality of colonial America. It involves magic, spirits, colonial powers, natives and an extensive back story not entirely contained in the comic. The story has been going for five years and shows no sign of slowing down.

This is a new comic. So I don't know where it's going yet, but I read a web comic/graphic novel called reMIND by the same artist and liked it. The artist is also associated with a Bible videos project and has done the art for one of their videos. It's quite good, check it out.

Stand Still. Stay Silent.
This story is set in a post-apocalyptic world where a mysterious illness has killed almost everyone. The last vestiges of civilization are found only in the Nordic countries. The artist is from Sweden, has lived in Finland and mixes in many elements of Nordic mythology. The characters are real and engaging. I think that if a Hollywood executive was forced to turn this story into a movie or TV show they would royally mess it up because the characters and monsters don't fit the standard archetypes. That is probably why I like it. It also has perhaps the scariest monsters I have ever seen in a story, and that is saying something since there have only been two of them in the almost 2 years since the comic started. The first monster didn't show up until chapter 3, and that is probably what made it so scary.

This one is special since it is one of the very few that I am actually considering buying the comic in book form. Perhaps in the future when I have gobs of money (ha!) I'll buy the books. The story is set in a world unlike any other I have ever seen. The world, and all the different races, are extremely unique. The story is much more complex than almost any other that I ever read in web comic or book. It is not straight forward and does not do what you would expect. I still remember the exact page where I decided I wanted to buy the books because the character development went from good to exceptional. There are very few stories that can achieve this level of character complexity.

Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether
I don't know how to describe this one. It is a mixture of scifi, fantasy, steam punk, western, and pirate adventure. It's been going for four years and it has kept me interested.

This is actually a collection of short stories. They tell less well known stories from the Grimm brothers. They are short and classic. None of the Disney rewrites here. People do get killed and not everything works out by the final song comes around. Sometimes they just end, because, well, that's how the original story is.

This comic is firmly in the magic and fantasy camp. There are wizards, some dragons, people with swords, staffs and horses. The visuals are good and there is enough complexity in the story that it doesn't feel cliche. If it weren't so complex then I probably wouldn't keep reading it.

As the name implies this is about paranormal activity. The story centers on a boy who moves into a town and finds out that he can see ghosts. It is more humorous than scary. It is also shamelessly self referential and poking fun of its more serious aspects. The characters also occasionally critique the artwork of the comic itself which adds an interesting touch.

Chicken Wings
This is a comic in the style of the classic newspaper strip. It is all about airplanes (and some helicopters) so the humor is all flight related. The comic appears in several aviation magazines.

Let me know if you know of any others that are good to read since I am always looking for new and interesting stories.

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