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Will there ever be another great sprite comic?

8-Bit Theater

8-Bit Theater

If you’ve ever done a random browse of webcomics over the past decade, chances are you ran into a sprite comic.

The sprite comic uses aesthetics from the early generations of video games, an era spanning the rise of Pac-Man and Donkey Kong to the video game crash of 1983 to the rebirth under Mario and Mega Man once Nintendo came to dominate the market. The aesthetic itself has evolved and flourished in a variety of media. A lot of it is deeply rooted in nostalgia, as when Community aired an episode in which the characters are sprites in an ’80s-style RPG.

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‘Magical Game Time’: Video games are good

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Gamers have waged an ages-long battle against public perception that video games are detrimental to the world’s youth: They’re time wasters that promote anti-social habits and glorify violence. Gamers respond to that pressure in a variety of ways, with some  lashing out against their critics. That was true of several webcomics in the mid-2000s, which unleashed their invective anger on popular political targets. “Don’t f*** with us,” said one popular webcomic. Others reacted by calmly suggesting aspects that could be improved in gaming. The crew behind the Extra Credits series, for example, often examines positive aspects of gaming that can help elevate the form from its sometimes adolescent levels.

And then there’s Zac Gorman’s Magical Game Time. If I were to divine a thesis from its comics, it would be “video games are good.”

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‘Gronk’: Moms raising monsters

2014-05-02There’s no better time than this weekend to remember your mom. (You … did remember it’s Mother’s Day, right? Don’t be an ungrateful punk. Pick of the phone and call her.) It’s a good time to recall all the things she’s done for you, like patching up your boo-boos, cleaning up after your messes, and all the other stuff chronicled on the pressed cardboard pulp of Hallmark cards.

It’s a tough and often thankless job … but it could be worse: Take, for instance, Katie Cook’s Gronk, which follows the adventures of a young mother whose child is a monster. A literal monster.

Dale is a young woman who lives in an isolated cabin deep in the woods of British Columbia. She loves her nerdy pursuits, and she works from home, but from what we can see she doesn’t socialize much. Everything changes when she encounters a young runaway chasing a kitten.

Gronk is a tiny green-skinned monster with blonde hair who doesn’t fit in with her kind: She’s too sweet and polite, and she’s terrible at being scary. She does, however, have a big imagination. After a monster rips up her beloved plushie, Gronk runs off … to the magical, far-off land of Canada.

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Check out Gerard Way’s webcomic ‘Twitter’

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While it’s not All Ages — or at least I don’t think it is — former My Chemical Romance frontman Gerard Way has written and drawn another comic, and it stars anthropomorphized cats.

Created by the Umbrella Academy writer for The Talkhouse, “Twitter” is about, well, Twitter, featuring a cat who invites a stranger into his home, only to immediately regret the decision. It’s not a complicated allegory.

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‘Battlepug’: Big animals, bigger action … and a pug who battles

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DC Comics is said to have discovered in the late 1950s that placing a gorilla on the cover, no matter in what context increased sales. I propose an addendum for the digital age: If your comic features an animal that’s larger than it’s supposed to be, it’s going to win awards.

Granted, I only have one point of reference for this highly scientific observation: Mike Norton’s Battlepug. In 2012, Battlepug took home the Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic; a year later, it won the Harvey Award for Best Online Work.

Not bad for characters that started life as a T-shirt that Norton designed for iFanboy.com.

The story of Battlepug is told by Moll, a naked, tattooed woman who lounges around a lot, to a pair of talking tiny dogs. While the combination of the seductive and adorable panders a little, a nagging feeling starts to gnaw on you as the story progresses. Questions fill your mind. Why are these three in a tall tower? Why are there no doors? How is food mysteriously appearing here? Why is Moll even telling this story? I know it’s basically a framing device, but as the story progresses you get a feeling that this tale is eventually going to intersect with the one about the oversized dog and the shirtless, sword-wielding barbarian on his back.

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‘JL8′: Kiddie Justice League, grown-up friendships

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Comic book romances can be downright embarrassing. In the Silver Age, Lois Lane spent all her time scheming to get married to Superman while sniping at her rival Lana Lang. During the Claremont years, the soap opera-caliber drama in Uncanny X-Men generated as much angst as the mutant-prejudice angle. It works because the audiences were, respectively, small children and teenagers. The potential embarrassment of rejection and the alien nature of girls or boys really is all you know about love at that age. As an adult, however, it’s hard not to read these comics and go, “Why are these adult characters all acting like a bunch of 8-year-olds?”

You know when it’s not quite so embarrassing? When the characters themselves are 8 years old. Yale Stewart’s JL8 (formerly known as Little League) envisions the members of the Justice League as little kids. I don’t know how he gets away with it, as DC Comics already has its own “superheroes as little kids” concept with Tiny Titans (the publisher doesn’t appear to mind, though, as the webcomic seems to have led to a deal for a Superman book). The characters of JL8 look less abstract, though, resembling characters in an ’80s Saturday morning cartoon. (Justice League Babies?) Or, perhaps even more appropriately, they all seem to have leaped off the same character sheet as Art Adams’ X-Babies.

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‘Unsounded’: Fantasy rebooted

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 10.19.53 PMMost of the time, high fantasy is set in a world based in historical Europe. There are some wonderful backdrops there — beautiful castles, scenic farmlands and thick forests; there’s also a big challenge to the setting, however: To retain the authenticity of its historical roots, most of the characters are typically depicted as Caucasian. You can perhaps create diversity by using standard Tolkien races (dwarves, elves, orcs and such), but usually the common, everyday people often look like the same kinds encountered in Arthurian legend or a Robin Hood story.

One of the most remarkable things about Ashley Cope’s Unsounded is how she twists the formula of the typical fantasy setting. Most of the characters, for example, seem to be of African descent. How do the people of Cresce look like when dressed in Renaissance-fair garb? Pretty darned cool, it turns out. Their hairstyles are a little modern, but that’s been a problem with a lot of high fantasy.

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‘Savage Chickens’: Office humor on office supplies

chickenweekendAh, Post-it notes. Legend says they was created by accident: Spenser Silver was tasked by 3M to create a super-strong adhesive, and in a folly that would rock the office world to the core, he created the exact opposite, a weak, pressure-sensitive adhesive. That invention would go on to grace the backs of small scraps of paper all over the world.

Post-it notes come in all sizes and colors these days; on my desk are blue, green, orange and hot pink Post-it notes ranging in sizes from as small as 2 inches by 2 inches to as large as 4 inches by 6 inches … although I’m told even bigger sizes exist. Still, the color and size immediately recalled when you hear “Post-it note” is the standard, pale yellow 3-inch square.

Post-it notes serve a variety of purposes: You can fold them into a paper airplane, you can paper them on your window as a tribute to Super Mario Bros., and sometimes you can take notes on them. What Doug Savage does, however, is turn them into a long-running webcomic, Savage Chickens.

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‘Saga,’ ‘xkcd’ among 2014 Hugo Awards finalists

saga-v2The finalists were announced today for the 2014 Hugo Awards, which recognize the best in science fiction and fantasy.

Presented annually since 1955 by the World Science Fiction Society, the Hugo is among science fiction’s most prestigious awards. The winners will be presented Aug. 17 in London during Loncon 3. The nominees for best graphic story are:

Girl Genius, Vol. 13: Agatha Heterodyne & The Sleeping City, by Phil Foglio, Kaja Foglio and Cheyenne Wright (Airship Entertainment)
•  “The Girl Who Loved Doctor Who,” by Paul Cornell and  Jimmy Broxton (Doctor Who Special 2013, IDW Publishing)
The Meathouse Man, adapted from the story by George R.R. Martin and illustrated by Raya Golden (Jet City Comics)
Saga, Vol. 2, by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples (Image Comics )
“Time,” Randall Munroe (xkcd)

In addition, Staples and Daniel Dos Santos, whose work includes covers for Fables, Serenity: Leaves in the Wind and Tomb Raider, were nominated for best professional artist.

The first volume of Saga won the best graphic story category last year.

Natalie Nourigat makes a good case for global travel

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If you’ve ever wanted to travel abroad but were afraid something bad might happen, A Boy & A Girl artist Natalie Nourigat makes the case for just going for it in her webcomic Home Is Where The Internet Is.

Over the past year Nourigat has shared both comic strips and blog posts about her travels through Europe, but this latest strip stands out as less of a travelogue and more of a motivational speech.

“For most of my life, my everyday choices were based on the assumption that I could not trust other people,” she wrote. “I thought it was my job to foresee and prevent all harms from befalling me.” As she got older, though, she said she accepted two simple facts: everybody dies, and “I would like to live a little first.”

It’s a great strip, and if you’ve ever thought twice about international travel, it might make you think a third time.

Webcomics are for the children

Camp WheedonwantchaThe comic strip/webcomic documentary Stripped opens with an idyllic scene straight out of the Hallmark Channel. A little girl runs into the kitchen and sits on her father’s lap; he opens a newspaper, and together, they flip to the Sunday funnies, a well-remembered moment of childhood made possible by the magic of comic strips. It’s a scene that rings true, because many viewers have had similar experiences. Maybe you weren’t sitting on your father’s lap; maybe you just ripped through the paper, trying to separate the cartoons from the classifieds. Anything to get at those comic strips.

It’s a scene that may accidentally have put a chink into the “webcomics are the future of the newspaper comic strip” argument.

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Comics A.M. | ‘Attack on Titan’ Vol. 13 sells 1.4M copies in first week

Attack on Titan, Vol. 13

Attack on Titan, Vol. 13

Manga | The 13th volume of Hajime Isayama’s hit dystopian fantasy Attack on Titan sold 1.4 million copies in Japan during its first week of release: 1.13 million copies of the regular edition, and 270,000 of a special edition that includes the original video animation. Kodansha ordered a 2.75 million-copy initial print run, a record not only for the series but for the publisher as well. The 66th volume of One Piece holds the record in Japan for highest sales in the first week with nearly 2.3 million copies. [Crunchyroll]

Publishing | Darren Davis of Bluewater Productions, talks about the evolution of his company and the origin story of its Female Force bio-comics line: “[W]e saw a comic book done of Barack Obama and John McCain during the 2008 elections, and my partner joked and said, ‘Why don’t we do Hillary?’ And I thought, oh my God, that’s a brilliant idea.So I thought, let’s do this, but let’s do it differently. Let’s not do it like everyone else, with a boring biography. We did it with a female empowerment angle. We released Hillary Clinton and Sarah Palin at the same time, and whether you like Sarah Palin or hate Hillary Clinton, you have to respect both of them for where they came from and who they are.” [The Beaverton Leader]

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Eyeing the Eisners: a look at the 2014 nominees

The Oatmeal

The Oatmeal by Matthew Inman

One of my favorite times of the year is here: the announcement of the nominees for the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards. I love poring over each category to look for surprises, seeing books I never heard of or never got a chance to read. I guess when you get right down to it, I love getting to celebrate awesome comics.

It seems that with each year, the Eisners get better at reflecting the comics art form and industry at that moment. The judges not only hit the fan favorites and critical darlings, but also unexpected choices and hidden gems that truly benefit from this kind of recognition. It’s where quality instead of sales rule, as it should be for an award recognizing the very best of the industry.

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Comics A.M. | What Amazon-comiXology deal means (and what it doesn’t)

Amazon buys comiXology

Amazon buys comiXology

Digital comics | In today’s Amazon-acquires-comiXology article, Rachel Edidin deflates much of the hype, and the panic, surrounding the deal, pointing out that comics distribution is already a monopoly, large corporations already run the comics market, and comics have been available on Kindle all along: “Is the concern [...] a distribution monopoly? If so, the direct market is in no position to criticize: over the last 15 years, Diamond Comics Distributors has consumed almost all independent print distribution in comics, and dictates practices and policy to retailers and publishers alike. The idea that print comics are somehow more independent than their digital cousins — or a scrappy underdog fighting the good fight against evil corporate profiteers — is frankly ridiculous.” [Wired]

Awards | Michael Cavna talks with Kevin Siers of the Charlotte Observer about winning the Pulitzer Prize in cartooning. [Comic Riffs]

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The webcomics documentary that’s actually about the funny pages

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The mission statement for Stripped!, a documentary by Dave Kellett (Sheldon) and Frederick Schroeder, is about forging a common history between webcomics and newspaper funnies. Not comic books, interestingly. I suppose that makes sense, as the most popular webcomics (xkcd, The Oatmeal and Penny Arcade) most closely resemble the four-panel forebears. It’s starting to become standard practice, by the way, to refer these sort of webcomics as “gag-a-day” or “short-form.”

Still, it’s a delight to explore this oft-neglected corner in the world of sequential art. The days of the celebrity cartoonists like Milton Caniff and Al Capp are long past, as depicted in archival footage where they were treated as major celebrities on early TV shows. However, the list of interviewees for Stripped! are still recognizable industry titans: Lynn Johnston. Jeff Smith. Greg Evans. Jim Davis. Mort Walker. Cathy Guisewite, who hilariously has the letters “AACK” hanging in her home. And one name that brings the directors to the point of fanboy glee, Bill Watterson … the first time he’s allowed his voice to be recorded. (Charles Schulz may no longer be with us, but his influential presence looms over the entire documentary.) It’s wonderful seeing the faces of the creators behind so many iconic characters. They gather here to reminisce, sharing crude doodles drawn as a child, their cherished influences, and the highs and lows of working under the syndicate system.

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