Monday, February 9, 2009

Top 14 Web Comics You Should Be Reading

#14: Penny and Aggie
Writer: T. Campbell
Artist: Gisele Legace

What It's About: Two polar opposites, the fashion-centric, popular Penny, and her eternal rival, the free-spirited and unpredictable Aggie. The comic follows their soap opera-like lives through High School as the two of them repeatedly butt heads, despite, or perhaps because of, their overlapping social circles. In the midst of their bickering, they both take a stab at helping an overweight and socially awkward girl named Karen to better herself, unaware of the monster they're both helping create.

Why You Should Read It: First and foremost, the artwork. Gisele Legace's pencils make this doubtlessly the most artistically stunning web comic I follow. Penny and Aggie is #14 because of all the comics I read, it's the least comprehensible. The writer is, to be blunt, not very good. His dialogue is fair, but his exposition needs a lot of work. The reason to read it is the way T. Campbell constructs a believable, albeit highly dramatized, picture of life in High School from two different perspectives. That said, the slow boil of the Karen storyline over the years to the culmination it is now reaching makes it worth reading just to get involved in all the delicious drama that's been brewing now finally coming to a head. All the minor, incidental characters you would never think to have real purpose are now being utilized expertly. The conclusion of the current arc should be very satisfying to long-time followers.

My Favorite Strip:For the greater good - in a prior strip they finally teamed up, but in this one we see the seeds of friendship planted for the first time.

If You Like This, Check Out: Cool Cat Studio; Another comic by the same team. Cool Cat Studio has concluded, so it is possible to read it all beginning to end. Also, it has fairly graphic depictions of lesbian sex.

#13: VGCats
Written and Drawn by: Scott Ramsoomair

What It's About: The adventures of two cats, Leo and Aeris, and sometimes Ternaldo, Krug, and Pantsman, as they discuss or become characters in video games. Strips often end in the violent death of one or more characters.

Why You Should Read It: Ramsoomair is funny. The way he phrases things is funny, the way he draws is funny. There's hardly a strip on his site that doesn't make me laugh. With rare exceptions, he also stays on-topic. The VGCats strips that don't pertain to video games, movies about video games, or video games made because of movies are few and far between. It places high on the list because his updating schedule is abominable. We're lucky to see a new VGCats up once a month.

My Favorite Strip: A Brief History of Pac-Man - if you think this one is funny, then you are prepared for the VGCats experience.

If You Like This, Check Out: F@nboy$, The Slackerz, and Game Marks. Like VGCats, these comics follow in the non-linear, joke-a-day pattern. Truth be told, if I read it more frequently, Slackerz might take VGCats place on this list.

#12: Player vs. Player
Written and Drawn by: Scott Kurtz

What It's About: The hilarious adventures of the PvP magazine staff. Cole, Brent, Jade, Francis, and Skull, along with a wide and richly developed supporting cast, weave through stories of real-life struggle and epic video game drama. It began as a video game comic, but expanded its horizons until it reached the point where it bills itself as about "pop culture heroes." The characters learn and grow, and it's pointed out multiple times that things don't go back to normal at the end of a storyline.

Why You Should Read It: PvP caught my attention as a gaming comic, but it's become much more. It has storylines that are zany and funny as well as ones with romance and raw emotion. It twists and turns in ways you don't see coming, and always manages to catch you off-guard. PvP also has some of the greatest supporting characters of any comic, with the nubile Miranda, smarmy Max, megalomaniac Scratch Fury, and many others. The reason it clocks in at #12 is that Scott Kurtz frequently borrows storyline ideas directly from television show plots. I think a man who can incorporate random attacks by a giant panda as a plot device can certainly be more creative than that.

My Favorite Strip: No More Cookies - there are certainly other entries more terse with emotion, some far more hilarious, but this is the one I quote the most often. I think it also sums up beautifully what you can expect from the strip as a whole.

If You Like This, Check Out: Penny Arcade, PvP's sister-site (though they vehemently reject such accusations) and Ctrl+Alt+Del, another comic which started out about video games and grew into much more.

#11: Amazing Super Powers
Written and Drawn by: Wes and Tony

What It's About: A stream of non-connected comics usually centered around hilarious plays on words or comic misunderstandings that lead to brutal violence.

Why You Should Read It: One of several comics I read that avoid continuity, Amazing Super Powers takes madcap to the extreme. The writer (they're not clear to my knowledge who is the writer and who is the artist) has a tremendous gift for wordplay backed up by a visual gag. This formula works over and over again. This one did not rank higher because it's also very hit-and-miss. Sometimes they've got it, sometimes they don't. However, for guaranteed hilarity, check out the FAQ section on their main page.

My Favorite Strip: Wipe That Smile Off Your Face - Amazing Super Powers. The Web Comic that makes pancakes cry.

If You Like This, Check Out: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, which follows almost the same formula and updates much more often.

#10: Joe Loves Crappy Movies
Written and Drawn by: Joe Dunn

What It's About: As the name implies, the strip follows writer and artist Joe Dunn as he views a new crappy movie each week. A meta-comic in some respects, it is aware of itself as a comic, and in fact is occasionally about Joe's struggle to write a comic based on a particular movie. Joe is joined by his wife and best friend, and occasionally Emperor Palpatine in his weekly struggle to give his reading audience insight into the beauty of movies that are crappy.

Why You Should Read It: Do you love crappy movies? That's a big help. Even if you don't, this strip is usually spot on in discerning exactly where films go wrong. Dunn manages to capture both the magic of cinema that drives us all to the theaters, and the inanity of some of the garbage that we pay money to see. The only thing that keeps Joe Loves Crappy Movies from earning a higher spot on my list is that many of his strips are lost on me. By and large they require some knowledge of the film to understand, and I simply haven't seen as many crappy movies as he has. A great feature of his site, however, is the ability to navigate comics based on what movie they're written on.

My Favorite Strip: Cheesy One Liner - This entry I consider the essential Joe Loves Crappy Movies strip. It shows just how funny he can be as a writer while perfectly summing up just what to expect from the comic.

If You Like This, Check Out: Free Lunch and Matriculated, the other Joe Dunn comics in the Digital Pimp line, and also Theater Hopper, which shares Joe's basic premise.

#9: Order of the Stick
Written and Drawn by: Rich Burlew

What It's About: The Order of the Stick follows the Dungeons & Dragons-themed adventure of a party by the same name; Roy Greenhilt the Warrior, Hayley Starshine the Thief, Durkon Oakenshield the Cleric, Elan the Bard, Vaarsuvius the Mage, and Belkar the Ranger. The party moves from story to story as players would a campaign setting, oftentimes even bemoaning their trials as though speaking with the voice of the player controlling them. Though filled with subplots and intrigue, the main storyline remains the struggle against the evil Xykon, a lich of unfathomable power who has total world domination within his grasp.

Why You Should Read It: Like the game, the comic strip is epic. The sheer depth of character development provided will draw any reader to choose a favorite, and then rest assured that favorite will have a story all their own at one time or another. Burlew weaves a thick tapestry full of heroes, villains, monsters, and politics while staying true to the D&D world and rules. The entirety of my experience with Dungeons & Dragons is this comic, and it's also the reason I'll probably never play. Because I know no DM-designed campaign could ever be as good as the story found here. The only problem I have with the comic is that the code used for the site is apparantly as complex as the stick figures used in the story. Expect frequent Page Load Errors and Page Not Found screens if you intend to follow this one.

My Favorite Strip: It's Not a Game of D&D without a Monty Python reference- Well played, Burlew. Well played.

If You Like This, Check Out: Sluggy Freelance. Order of the Stick with a modifier of Epic +1.

#8: Ctrl+Alt+Del
Written and Drawn by: Tim Buckley

What It's About: Ethan MacManus, the most diehard gamer of all time, and his struggles to force the real world accept his reality. He is joined by his roommate and best friend Lucas, girlfriend Lilah, and robot made from an X-Box, Zeke. Follow Ethan's insanity as he seeks employment, challenges corporate America, organized a Gaming Holiday, and founds the Gaming Religion after conferring with the Gaming Gods. Also, there's occasionally a penguin, and sometimes he gets shot with an arrow.

Why You Should Read It: This strip started out entirely about video games, with some periodic sprinklings of other references, or the nonsensical (yet hysterical) Chef Brian. Over the years, Buckley breathed life into his characters and made them into more fleshed out people in the same way games became more complex from one generation of system to the next. While he has received a lot of criticism for some of his more heavy-handed subject matter, Buckley's writing talent cannot be denied. What started out as a comic for gamers has become a comic everyone can enjoy, it just happens to have a hardcore gamer as the central character. It's no less interesting reading about their love interests and maturation into adulthood than it is to read about Everquest or Gears of War. If you still would like to though, CAD Sillies now provides that function fulltime.

My Favorite Strip: A Modest Proposal - Major Spoiler warning if you intend to start reading. If you do, ignore this link and start at the beginning. It will make you appreciate this strip for how heartfelt and beautiful it really is.

If You Like This, Check Out: CAD Sillies, found on the same site, or refer back to Player vs. Player.

#7: Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal
Written and Drawn By: Zach Weiner

What It's About: Zach Weiner presents the world through a lens of madness and puns. Expect a relentless storm of laughter as comics are lined up with the most ridiculous captions imaginable, often completely changing what you think the comic is about based on the strip. Another strip with no continuity, this is simply comic after comic filled with insanity. Insanity and laughs so hard they make your sides hurt.

Why You Should Be Reading It: Because everybody loves to laugh, and this comic gets the job done. Some are merely chuckle-inducing, but by and large you can expect to be laughing out loud as you endlessly click the "random" button.

My Favorite Strip: What a Way to Go - If you can read this and not laugh, you may not actually have a soul.

If You Like This, Check Out: Cyanide and Happiness. It's like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, except that the gag is played out by the characters, not the caption. Both also have titles centered around great ways to start your day.

#6: 8-Bit Theater
Written by: Brian Clevinger

What It's About: The comic literally is the game Final Fantasy. It follows the four Light Warriors; Fighter, Thief, Black Mage, and Red Mage, as they travel through the original NES classic to collect the 4 Orbs of Light, defeat the 4 Fiends, and thwart the plans of the Dark Warriors. Only this time, that's not what they set out to do at all.

Why You Should Read It: This one probably takes at least some knowledge of the Final Fantasy series or the original game to understand properly. That said, Brian Clevinger has taken a comic consisting solely of 8-Bit NES Sprites on different backgrounds and somehow provided us incredible insight into their reactions and emotions using only pixels and dialogue. The clueless heroes (who are in fact, far more villainous than their enemies in reality) stumble through the quest line of Final Fantasy in increasingly uproarious parodies of the original game. If you love Final Fantasy, or even Role Playing Games in general, you're sure to get a kick out of 8-Bit Theater.

My Favorite Strip: It will change every time he puts up a new one - I'm putting up the latest one as my favorite, because honestly Clevinger somehow manages to outdo himself every week.

If You Like This, Check Out: There are no webcomics available to compare with 8-Bit Theater, but you can go to your local comic shop and find Atomic Robo, also written by Clevinger.

#5: Cyanide and Happiness
Written and Drawn by: Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, Matt Melvin, and Dave McElfatrick

What It's About: Rape, murder, cancer, AIDS, assorted STDs, self-mutliation, necrophilia, cannibalism, suicide, fratricide, drug and alcohol abuse, useless superheroes, pedophilia, animal abuse, child abuse, masturbation, full frontal male nudity, and visual puns.

Why You Should Read It: You shouldn't; unless you have a suitably dark sense of humor. If that's the case, this may well be the funniest comic on the internet. Drawn nearly entirely with stick figures, and with all the freedom that entails, the irreverant Cyanide and Happiness pushes the far past the boundaries of good taste. However, if you love the absurd and appreciate the idea that there might be humor in everything, this is the web comic for you.

My Favorite Strip: Nazi Yahtzee? - an example of C&H's frequently used "awkward silence" gag. I could honestly flip to any random strip and call it a favorite, but this one does use several of their conventions all at once.

If You Like This, Check Out: The Perry Bible Fellowship. The only comic that must make the creators of C&H say "well that is just plain wrong."

#4: Penny Arcade
Writer: Jerry Holkins (Tycho Brahe)
Artist: Mike Krahulik (Jonathan Gabriel)

What It's About: The ongoing antics of Tycho and Gabe as they react to the most recent news about video games. With only occasional flirtations with continuity, the strip is kept open so as to continually react to the current events facing the world of video games, the authors themselves, and the universe as a whole.

Why You Should Read It: This is without a doubt the most consistently entertaining web comic on this list. Not only does it succeed in tackling the subject matter of each strip in ways both amusing and insightful, but it has through 10 years of existence managed to stay on-message. It began as a strip about video games and pop culture, and a decade later it remains just that. Holkins masterful writing style is perfectly complemented by the ever-improving art of Mike Krahulik. That is not to say Krahulik is an artist who needs improvement, it means he is already tremendous at his craft yet still clearly strives to reach new heights. The only barrier preventing this comic from reaching the top 3 or even number 1 is in fact what makes it great; the stalwart dedication of the duo to never stray from their predetermined subject of interest makes it to a degree inaccessible to a large audience. Fortunately, there are a great deal of their strips with references mainstream enough to be enjoyed by all.

My Favorite Strip: Santa's Little Helpers - This was the first Penny Arcade strip I ever read. I literally did not sleep that night because I was laughing too hard.

If You Like This, Check Out: You could go back to PvP or Ctrl+Alt+Del, but in all honesty the buck stops with Penny Arcade where video game comics are concerned.

#3: Least I Could Do
Writer: Ryan Sohmer
Artist: Lar deSouza

What It's About: The misadventures of hyper-promiscuous Rayne Summers as he manuevers from one sexual conquest to the next. Rayne is joined by best friends Noel, Mick, John, and Issa, but the comic focuses primarily on Rayne. Egotistical, insensitive, and fiendishly clever, Rayne breezes through life with a smile on his face, no matter who suffers because of it.

Why You Should Read It: I don't know how Ryan Sohmer does it, but if you read Least I Could Do long enough, you develop the same love-hate relationship with Rayne that he seems to share with the entire world he lives in. You'll laugh at his politically incorrect remarks and snide comments, as well as his childish manipulation of his friends and their feelings. At the same time, on those rare occasions when he gets his comeuppance (such as the time Noel "beats the shit out of him with a smile on his face) you'll cackle fiendishly at his misfortune. Also, you don't want to miss the poignant moments when we get to see the deeper side of Rayne and those around him, particularly moments with his family. I think what Rayne would say is that he just wants make people smile. It's the least he can do.

My Favorite Strip: Fortunately, the site was down at the time of this writing. I really don't think I could pick just one.

If You Like This, Check Out: Looking For Group, done by the same team. Though based around the game World of Warcraft, it doesn't make it any less accessible or hilarious.

#2: xkcd
Written and Drawn by: Randall Munroe

What It's About: Romance, Sarcasm, Math, and Language. And occasionally a man in a black hat and his girlfriend whom you really shouldn't mess with. I'm serious.

Why You Should Read It: Munroe's writing is so clever, so witty, so deep and inspiring, you can't help but be drawn in. His style is irrefutably his own, and he blends exactly what he promises on the tagline in each new comic. An on-going combination of in-jokes for mathematicians and scientists, pop-culture references and critiques for the larger crowd, and heartfelt, impossibly moving stories of love, loss, and loneliness, xkcd truly has something for everybody.

My Favorite Strip: Election Coverage - Jason will no doubt argue for one of the beautifully written romantic strips in all their melancholic splendor, but come on. This one is hilarious.

If You Like This, Check Out: More xkcd. There's nothing else like it.

#1: Sluggy Freelance
Written and Drawn by: Pete Abrams

What It's About: Ninjas. Pirates. Mummies. Vampires. Egyptian Curses. Zombies. Robots. Assassins. The Devil. Time and Space. Santa Claus. The right of caste. Demons. Talking swords that feed on innocent blood. Alternate dimensions. Video games. Schools of magic. A Book of Evil. A Satanic litter of kittens. Witches. Ghosts. Mad Scientists. Spastic ferrets. Murderous mini-lops. Xenomorphic aliens. And that only scratches the surface.

Why You Should Read It: Sluggy Freelance was the first webcomic I ever read. It started out (I thought) boring and trite. That is, until they brought in the vampires. In a twist that came literally out of nowhere, the entire tone of the series shifted from the first year to being somewhat juvenile and soap opera-like to a continuous madcap adventure filled with just as much triumph as tragedy. Pete Abrams builds on each story to tell the one after it, introducing story elements in ways so subtle you never see it coming until he springs its importance on you, and suddenly all the pieces fall into place. The site is also easily navigable, and while the art is not of the quality of Lar deSouza or Gisele Legace, Abrams does frequently abandon his minimalist style to show he really knows his way around a sketch pad. If you want a complete and cohesive story spanning over 11 years now, filled with laughter and heartache, then there is nothing better than Sluggy Freelance. Become a Sluggite today. It's pretty darn nifty.

My Favorite Strip: A God Damned Demon Lord - You need to read the whole story arc to really understand, but this is one of the most gripping, emotionally charged moments of the entire series, and the culmination of years of build up.

If You Like This, Check Out: Anything! Sluggy Freelance is the jack-of-all-comics. Every other webcomic I was ever exposed to stemmed from Sluggy, and there's a little bit of all of them to be found in it as well.


Miasma said...

Well done.... If I may add to the milieu....?
Here are my top two over at my blog:

I figured it was too long for a comment.

ali d said...

I was starting to get really nervous as I got toward the end that xkcd wasn't going to be on your list, and that we were going to have to have serious words, Mr. Pratt. But you pulled through for me in the end. You always do.

Max Nova said...

And questionable content is a guilty pleasure.

Ozkirbas said...

Do Achewood and Questionable Content still post?

Brett said...

If I may be so bold as to add suggestions:

Rice Boy & Order of Tales
[otherworldly picturesque fantasy]


Gunnerkrigg Court
[lighthearted mystery-laden British boarding school fantasy]

A Lesson Is Learned But the Damage Is Irreversible
[indescribable - but skim past the first 3 comics in the archive]

Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life
[philosophical robot oddysey IN SPACE]