The favorites, part 2: comics

First things first — I missed a day of posting. And while this matters to no one other than myself, I still want to apologize. I won’t always be updating every day, but I want to try as hard as possible when things in my life are as calm as they are. Regardless, as penance, today everyone gets a POST X3 COMBO. I figured doubling up would make up for the missed day, but then that just puts me back on track and I haven’t actually done anything to make up for it. So, three posts today, full-length, no random links to things I’ve already done.

Ok, now that we have that out of the way, let’s get back to the focus of this post — comics. Sorry to disappoint, though, if you thought I’d be talking about traditional, American comics. While I love the Marvel (and DC too, I guess. Kinda) universe as much as the next sci-fi buff, I’ve never actually read a comic book. Nor do I really have any particular desire, but I suppose that could be easily changed with some prodding. But since none of you will prod me, they’ll continue to go unread by me. Ha! What a shame.

You’re probably wondering just what the hell kind of comics I read if not American, but I believe I’ve left some hints scattered throughout this blog. For the most part, my comic diet consists of mostly the web variety plus manga. I read a lot of both, mostly because of how easy-going they both are. Also I like the pictures, even if that makes me feel kind of like a four-year-old who is just learning to read. Anyway, let’s break off into an examination of my favorites in the two categories.

FAVORITE WEB COMIC: Homestuck

Let me tell you about Homestuck

Let me tell you about Homestuck

I have seen this .gif almost as many times as I’ve seen my parents. I’ve been alive for 22 years. Homestuck has only existed for about four years. Also, nothing I just wrote is hyperbole.

Now that we’ve established the depths of my love for the work of Andrew Hussie, I should probably go ahead and stop those of you who know anything about Homestuck before any conclusions are jumped to. I am an adoring fan of the comic, and I have an overwhelming amount of respect for its author — but I not your stereotypical Homestuck fan.

If I may put my hipster glasses on for a moment, I’d like to say I was on the mspaintadventures bus before Problem Sleuth (a previous work by the same author) was even half finished. I was there when Homestuck started, and re-started, and for every other major milestone. But I’m also not the kind of person to cosplay a character, or write Homestuck fan fiction. And I’m not the kind of zealous fan who vibrates with excitement or rage depending on another person’s feelings about this comic. And to borrow from the great Jerry Seinfeld, it’s not like there’s anything wrong with that. If that’s the kind of fan you are, I respect (and fear) your dedication. Your love for this thing exists on a whole other level I can never reach. We’re like two siblings separated at birth, with the same inclinations, but different values. And though we’ll never truly understand each other, we accept each other just the same.

Ok, lame purple prose aside, let’s step back from this stereotype-squashing to actually talk about what Homestuck is, for those of you who don’t already know. Homestuck is a web comic on the website mspaintadventures.com (I already linked it above), written and illustrated (mostly) by Andrew Hussie. He’s been writing various things for years now, but this is his first big hit. Also, calling Homestuck just a web comic isn’t entirely accurate, since it defies what you’d normally expect from a web comic. Still, since it’s on the web and it’s a comic, that’s the designation it falls into.

As for the story, here’s the best I can do without spoiling too much: A 13-year-old boy named John Egbert starts playing a game called SBURB with four of his friends, but gets more than he bargains for when he realizes that the game affects reality in a very serious way. It’s written in the style of an old command-based text-adventure game.

That’s really all I can say, other than that the summary I just gave you is woefully simplistic. Honestly, this comic’s plot is so convoluted and wonderfully clever that almost any small detail can become a spoiler, sometimes retroactively. It has a boatload of characters who are more varied and developed than almost any other piece of fiction I’ve read. There’s also a pretty unique mythology within the story that’s amazingly comprehensive and serves as a great lens through which you can examine human nature. Oh, and there’s also 22 albums of original music, most of which is absurdly phenomenal in a chip-tuney way. And the art is both perfectly simple and gorgeous, with plenty of awesome animated flash videos. People also crowd-funded $2.5 million for a Homestuck video game. Maybe someone called it the first great work of internet fiction, or the Ulysses of the Internet (spoilers: they did). I could also spend three whole days explaining this in more depth, but Hussie does a fine job summing it up on his own.

As for the culture surrounding the comic, well, that’s the reason for all the stuff you read before the comic’s summary. Basically, some people like it a whole hell of a lot, and that bothers other people. And just like any fandom, there are obnoxious members who get on everyone’s nerves. But it’s also a far bigger shame that some people judge a work of art by the actions of small few. Plus, the fans do plenty of amazing things. All of the music I mentioned is fan-made, but fans also create awesome art (probably some NSFW somewhere in that link, eventually. And some bad art. But the good is there.) and many have taken up the noble art of theory-crafting (that’s just one of them, but he’s probably my favorite and is sharp as hell. Don’t look unless you want spoilers). There’s also a select group of “livebloggers” who write about their experiences while reading Homestuck, allowing us caught-up fans to vicariously re-live the series through them. For the sake of cutting down on parenthesis, I’ll just put the link to my favorite liveblogger right here.

The fandom does cause some problems though, and is a force to be reckoned with. After all, Homestuck sometimes breaks the Internet. One of the series’ flash videos was going to be so large and popular that it had to be hosted somewhere with more servers (since everyone would be watching it at once), and Hussie got Newgrounds.com to do the job. Except it crashed Newgrounds too, which is quite the feat. Also, his own site often has problems handling the web traffic when updates come out, especially in the past few days.

Anyway, a good summation is that Hussie is my personal role model for story telling. He doesn’t do everything perfectly, and I might be too indoctrinated to find all the flaws in his story, but he does far better than most other people. And at the end of the day, he’s also just a dude who had an idea for a story and then made it real. I met him at Phoenix Comic Con this past summer, and he seemed really humble, even if it doesn’t always seem like it in comic. It may be tough to get through the comic’s opening, but you’ll be happy once you do.

NOTABLE OTHER WEB COMICS: Least I Could Do (not sci-fi), Penny Arcade (despite all the apparent controversy), 8 bit theater (oldie but goodie).

Ok, now on to my favorite manga. This was really hard for me to decide on, because I’ve read a lot of really amazing manga, and it’s hard to pick one above the others.

FAVORITE MANGA: Fullmetal Alchemist

Don't call Ed short. Really.

Don’t call Ed short. Really.

I should say up-front what I’m basing this decision on, if only because I’ve read a lot of other great manga I would consider “among my favorites.” But since I have to pick my favorite, I examined which series I’ve often come back to. And while I’ve re-read many manga series, it’s rare that I’ll bother watching the anime. I find it pointless because they’re full of filler and I read faster than I can watch. Contrary to what I just said, though, I thoroughly enjoy Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood (the other anime is derivative garbage). It’s about the only anime based on a manga that i still enjoy.

Anyway, on to why I like the manga itself. To start, it strikes the perfect balance of humor and seriousness. It’s never good when a work of fiction either takes itself too seriously or doesn’t take itself seriously enough. There are just enough running gags and lighthearted moments in the series to balance out some of the really dark (midnight-on-a-cloudy-evening-in-the-middle-of-the-ocean dark) themes and plot points.

Also, the series does a nigh perfect job of balancing power — the magical kind, I mean. It’s unfortunately common that characters end up ridiculously strong by the end of the series. And while in one way it makes sense, it also seems a bit unrealistic. I mean, by the end of most manga, the main character is a God among men. Once the story is over for them, what do they do with the rest of their lives? Anyway, FMA fixes this problem wonderfully by keeping the strength of the main characters relatively constant (with an exception for Alphonse Elric). Hiromu Arakawa solves this by making the character’s smarter instead, which is a much more interesting angle. There are, of course, stronger characters, but most people stay at the same level throughout the series.

The story itself is also extremely enjoyable, and the twists and turns often take you by surprise. The pacing is also spot on and very few chapters feel slow. Oh, and you can really see the effort Arakawa put into the world building, bringing together different and unique cultures/histories to make a realistic setting. Not only that, but the inherent philosophies of the story (equivalent exchange, the nature of the truth) make you think.

NOTABLE OTHER MANGAKonjiki no Gash!! (Zatch Bell!)Death NoteShamman King, Hunter x Hunter, Yu Yu Hakusho, Soul Eater, Akira, Rurouni Kenshin, Elfen Lied, Naruto, One Piece, Dragon Ball/Z, Fairy Tail, History’s Strongest Disciple Kenichi. Yes, there are a lot, and that’s mostly all the manga I’ve finished, minus Bleach because it makes me sad now, even if I still read it.

So yeah, there you have it. There isn’t as much as to why I like FMA as there is to why I like Homestuck, but both of them are some of my favorite non-book things to read. I’m just fortunate that one of them isn’t even finished yet.

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