IMAGE EXPO: Eric Stephenson's Keynote Address Set to Reveal New Projects
Pete Abrams’ webcomic Sluggy Freelance has been running for roughly a hair short of forever. Launched in 1997, Sluggy is a stalwart survivor of the first wave of webcomics … and it shows. Despite being one of the most popular and enduring webcomics, the site still looks like it was developed on Geocities and optimized for 14.4k dialup modems. The simple green title in the top-left corner may have been created in WordArt and never updated. Revisiting Sluggy Freelance is like stepping into a time warp: For a short time, I’m transformed back into a pimply college freshman obsessed with manga like Ranma 1/2, pretending I was opening my mind to foreign pop culture when in reality it was an excuse to see shapely anime girls with their clothes falling off.
I mention this because I decided to catch up to Sluggy Freelance with the currently running “Mohkadun” storyline. Wouldn’t you know it, one of the first scenes was a big-eyed female who resembles an anime girl with her clothes falling off. Oh, Sluggy Freelance, you unlikely and pervy source of nostalgia you!
I’ve probably been aware of Sluggy Freelance for as long as I’ve been aware of webcomics. On a fantasy literature message board I frequented back in the day, commenters used “Zoë” and “Bun-Bun” as online handles, and there was much shared laughter about dorky gags like “Muffin the Vampire Baker.” Torg, Riff, Zoë, Gwynn, and switchblade-wielding bunny Bun-Bun form a sort of Scooby team that encounters ghosts, mad scientists, aliens and holiday mascots on the reg. The comic is epic in nature, yet it’s adamant in its refusal to take itself seriously. A storyline where sweet, good-natured Torg has his heart crushed feels important precisely because Abrams refuses to write the moment as a silly one; the consequences felt permanent for once. Sluggy is filled with both terrible puns (“World of Warcraft” becomes “Years of Yarncraft,” for example) and callbacks to earlier storylines that are meant to be building blocks to a mythos.
That mythos, though, is impossible to retain. Unique for a webcomic, Sluggy updates every day of the week, 52 days a year, and remembering all of it requires superheroic levels of memory retention. If you’re a fan of this webcomic, and you’ve managed to retain 17 years’ worth of storylines often filled with important plot developments disguised as vaudevillian slapstick … you may want to reconsider your life choices. Marathoning Sluggy Freelance can often feel like a chore, and I admit that I tapped out during the second “Oceans Unmoving” storyline (concluding in 2006), which I understand was the breaking point for many longtime readers. (“Long, laborious, turgid,” said Websnark’s Eric Burns-White.)
So why jump in to “Mohkadun,” storyline that began in March 2013 and is continuing to this very day? (And you thought Forever Evil was taking its sweet time to wrap up.) Because this may be the beginning of the end of Sluggy Freelance. According to Abrams, “It provides the foundation of this final part of the Sluggy Freelance story. And after Mohkadun is done I will be freed up to step away from the drama for at least a little while.”
Fortunately, Abrams himself is aware of the impenetrable nature of his webcomic, and he’s been including footnotes with almost every page. Much like those bombastic caption boxes in older comic books (“See Issue #147 — Prancing Pete!”), these footnotes provide hyperlinks to returning characters, previously referenced locations, and long lost storylines. It all nifty (to coin an Abrams phrase). “Mohkadun” does work as a standalone story, and I think newcomers can pick it up from the first page of the arc without getting lost. However, the footnotes help fill in both the seven-year gap that I haven’t read and the forgotten elements of the parts I did.
“Mokhadun” will also provide you a explanation of the webcomic’s title, which has been a source of consternation for webcomic pundits for nearly two decades. True to the Sluggy Freelance heritage … it’s a pretty silly explanation that has epic consequences. Things may change, but Sluggy never changes.