Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Keenspot Dome Scandal: Adventures in Mismanagement


Eight years ago, webcomics were still struggling to find their way out of the womb, trying to figure out what to rip off of the print comic industry. Ripping off the jokes and the art was the easy part, but how would webcomics rip off the ability of actual cartoonists to make money? And so, the first webcomic syndicate was formed. Crawling forth from the primordial cyber-ooze, this primitive behemoth clumsily made its way forward in the world, in a spasm of inefficiency and ineffectualness. And while it was criminally worthless, it was still the aspiration of many budding webcomics, for if they could be accepted by this lurching monstrosity, it was proof that they had talent, potential, and something once mistakenly identified as "sticktoitiveness." Thus, Keenspot thrived, despite the law of Natural Selection.

While joining Keenspot became the goal of many up-and-coming webtoonists, it soon became apparent that Keenspot actually had no standards. Many of the comics that joined were incredibly ugly, horribly written, and entirely inconsistent. I don't even think popularity was a requirement, though only Chris Crosby could tell you what arcane criteria were used in selecting new additions to "The Spot." In fact, based on the list of every comic that's ever been on Keenspot, I can safely say that the only comics with any talent at all have either left for greener pastures, or suicided in a pile of their own misery.

Keenspot's greatest tragedy was never its lack of talent, however. After all, this is the Internet. People will read anything, if they can find it. No, Keenspot's worst transgression was not in its lack of talent, but in its inability to capitalize on what it had. Keenspot attempted to publish it's comics and sell them to actual comic book stores. This went over horribly, and the entire idea was all but scrapped, only resurfacing every year on Free Comic Book Day, which, as you can imagine, makes Keenspot's artists very little money.

Other forms of advertising are equally lackluster. Any advertising provided by Keenspot has been ineffective and inefficient. Most ads are placed in places where they are going to garner the least attention, so instead of being focused and powerful like some sort of laser, Keenspot's advertising can best be described as lazy and indirect, like lawn darts. Most ads are placed internally, which turns Keenspot into a whirlpool of self-destruction.

With all the counter-productive behavior Keenspot engages in, you'd think they'd have no desire or need to fire one of their cartoonists. After all, what's the point in kicking someone off a sinking ship? But Crosby has managed to cast logic to the wind once again, and has chosen to remove Kel McDonald (Sorcery 101, As We Were) from his ranks, a scant week before Christmas. Why, you might ask, would Keenspot turn on one of its own? Was Kel too talented, and therefore over-qualified for Keenspot? Although true, this was not the reason given for her termination. In fact, no reason has been given for her removal, at least not publicly. The only speculation is that Kel may have casually mentioned that Keenspot was not the bastion of efficacy and management that so many believed it to be.

Under normal circumstances, badmouthing your employer would be considered "an unwise business decision." However, when your employer does a more than sufficient job of badmouthing itself, expectations go out the window. After all, what can anyone say to make you look bad, when you've already done a splendid job of making yourself look as incompetent as possible already? Apparently that thought never entered Crosby's mind, because faster than you could say "Terrible Management Decision," Kel was out on her ass and Keenspot had not yet realized the hornet's nest it had busted open, like a piƱata of misery.

Unlike previous firee, John Troutman, Kel did not enjoy being fired arbitrarily. After airing many grievances with Keenspot, most of which were problems with their immense professionalism and extreme competence. The first response came from Teri Crosby, who essentially agrees with Kel's version of events, but hides behind the argument that Keenspot is a small company that is not well-staffed. Then comes Bobby Crosby, who claims that everything Kel McDonald, and by extension his own mother, has said are bald-faced lies. Son of the year, right there.

Bobby Crosby is the outspoken, antagonistic and often incorrect brother of Chris Crosby, and I'm not even sure he has any ownership of Keenspot, officially. He's responsible for countless numbers of terrible comics, who only end up on Keenspot by virtue of being the owner's brother. He also has an unnatural talent in showing up and arguing absurd points of view. And his arguments are about as well written as his comics are. I have to qualify that statement by saying that both are not well-written at all, because Bobby is the kind of person to misconstrue that statement and believe it was a compliment.

The argument that Keenspot is a "Small Company" is offensive to anyone with any sensibilities. Any company which has made enough money to purchase an abandoned school in South Dakota should surely have enough income to hire an accountant or at least someone with a business degree to actually manage the company with some semblance of consistency. Unfortunately, Keenspot would prefer to squander their resources and efforts on goals that are well above their current means. Instead of investing in people to make the business run more smoothly, and producing products that will grow their brand, Keenspot instead attempts to swing for the fences, trying to land TV shows and Movie deals, which go belly-up as soon as they're conceived. After all, you can't hit a home run when all you can do is bunt.

Upon hearing of Kel's firing, many other Keenspot artists have boldly quit in protest. However since all of them are still being featured on Keenspot and haven't moved anywhere, it is hard to say whether this is a genuine action or just for show, but it has prompted the Crosbys to state that they are no longer accepting any new comics. If you want to join the pool on how long THAT lasts, go ahead and send me an email.

Ultimately this whole event has highlighted just how terrible of a company Keenspot is. While a decent idea, it has been run into the ground by terrible business decisions, awful PR from its higher-profile members, and extreme apathy from anyone who sees the problem. My advice to any webcomickers, new or old, is that if Keenspot comes knocking on your door, it would be best for you if you do not answer it. They will just bog you down and prevent you from growing to your full potential.
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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Mag-Isa: Good, Evil, I'm the Guy With the Self-Loathing


Here We See Emmanuel "Crybaby" Cruz About to Achieve Super Wuss Form Level 4
Conflict is an essential part of any story. Well-written conflict is an essential part of a good story. So when something is written that is devoid of conflict, it becomes difficult to determine if you have a story, or a Series of Events That Happened. The former is generally intriguing, attracts an audience on its own merits, and maintains some momentum that the writer can use to coast through some dull but necessary exposition. The latter would be akin to telling everyone that you had a mediocre cup of coffee, and expecting them to care. Today we'll look at what happens to a webcomic when it is deprived of any conflict whatsoever, and how that affects a reader's ability to care. Our subject is a comic known as Mag-Isa and has persisted for two years and 10 "chapters" without any conflict. It has only done so through sheer force of will, and perseverance in the face of boringness.

Mag-Isa stars a young, troubled self-insert by the name of Emmanuel Cruz. He is an Filipino immigrant to Canada, who often laments his lack of friends and family. A normal person might consider that there might be some way to improve himself so that he would better fit in and make friends. But no, apparently it's just a cultural difference and there is nothing that can be done to bridge that gap. His family is not much better, allegedly. Both parents are portrayed as incredibly abusive, when they inconsistently beat Eman, complaining about his violent tendencies after he writes a troubling journal entry about raping drugged-out prostitutes with AK-47s. Eman sees no issue with his writing of course, and doesn't comprehend why anyone else would. After all, it's just a creative writing class, so it's not like the words are anything more than an expression of his inner desires.

Considering that Emmanuel is a blatant self-insert, the reader can only assume that these incidents reflect actual events in the author's life. Exaggerated, most likely, but since hyperbole is just a matter of scale, it wouldn't be much of a stretch to assume that the author has the same kind of twisted worldview where it's normal to write about killing your colleagues and self, and that no one should express any concern over that kind of content.

This is not the only troubling behavior exhibited by Eman. There is also an event where he spends all his time helping his female friend work on a book report. After it's finished, Eman decides to ask her out, but she rejects him. Could it be the fact that she values his friendship more than his value as a potential mate? Or perhaps it's just the really creepy way he asked her out? No, she's just an ungrateful, selfish cocktease who wishes to torment Eman for no other reason than he's fun to torment. Then she shoots him.

When I Told Her to Swallow a Bullet, This Wasn't What I Meant
Through all of this, there has not been any significant building conflict. Chris has propped his "story" up against a generic Good vs. Evil plot, but has not done much to actually develop or explore this conflict, or even show how Eman fits into it. Meanwhile, Eman has had several opportunities to engage in conflicts of his own, between his peers or his self, but instead of confronting any of them he instead chooses to ignore it and go somewhere else. When his favorite priest is accused of pedophilia, Eman just cries for a bit and then moves on. When his friend and roommate gets shot in front of him, Eman just yells for a bit, launches an effortless revenge attempt, and gets shot up a lot, then moves on.

Ultimately, Eman joins an anti-government terrorist cell because some girl has sex with him. He then spends the next period of time training to fight against some generic, faceless enemy. His colleagues are other degenerates who have lashed out violently against their peers, and feel that there is nothing wrong with their behavior. The unusual bit about this, is that Eman had spent a while doing "Martial Arts" training with his priest (before he had been framed for pedophilia) and almost immediately becomes out of shape when he joins the anti-something terrorism squad.

In eleven chapters, the only thing remotely approaching conflict would be two poorly choreographed fight scenes, one between a priest and the object of his desire, and the other between some heretofore uncharacterized agent of "Good" fighting some bizarre plantchild. Neither of these fights has any sort of building action, no motivation beyond "I don't want to die right now" and serves no literary purpose beyond breaking up the boring exposition. This does not qualify as true conflict, though, since it doesn't really add to the story in any way whatsoever. Instead, this is a way to distract the reader from the fact that there is nothing driving the plot by creating the illusion of strife. Unfortunately for Chris, it's hard to forget that the protagonist is a worthless, self-hating twerp who has no potential for an enticing story.

When This Guy Flips Out, His Skeleton Gets All Wonky
So if there is no conflict driving this story, just what exactly is? Something must be compelling the author to tell this story; there must be something driving him to put us through this drivel. My guess is that it's some sort of cathartic release, retelling these "tragic" events of his life so that the pain will stop. But I'll tell you something, Chris, the pain never stops. as long as this webcomic exists, someone will have to live through the pain it causes. And if you have a conscience, the guilt will eat away at you until you destroy yourself. I hope.

From what we've seen in Mag-Isa, I think it's safe to say that Chris harbors some kind of persecution complex, feels that the reason his life is so terrible is that someone out there is trying to make it so. This is the theme presented in Mag-Isa, large corporations and media outlets being corrupted by the generic forces of "Evil" to trick people into believing dumb ideas and performing horrible actions. The responsibility is removed from the people and the blame is placed squarely on the Elite.

It has always been firmly established that a good story requires conflict. Conflict drives the plot, giving your characters a reason to grow. It is the lifeblood of any plot. But until Mag-Isa, no one really knew what would happen if the story lacked any conflict whatsoever. Now we know that it becomes a whiny piece of livejournalistic moping and depression. Thanks for the experiment Chris Lim, you can end it now. Please?
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Sunday, December 06, 2009

1977: Like a TV Show, Except You Read It


Here We See the Cast of That 70's Comic. From Left to Right: Jackie, Eric, FES, Kelso and Donna. They're All High on Illegal Drugs
What's worse than ripping off a popular television series? Ripping off a popular television series, and then putting it in a webcomic format. Fortunately, I can safely say that today's topic does not violate one's sense of decency in all the basic, lackluster ways, but manages to do so in new, exciting ways. Actually I'm sure it hits on all the basics, I've just become insensitive to those kinds of transgressions, what with subjecting myself to them regularly. But I digress. Today's case study is a comic which goes by the less than descriptive name 1977, and as you may have surmised, takes place in the year 1977.

1977 follows the story of 4 twenty-somethings who smoke illegal marijuana and attempt to play in a band. Of course, I have to take their word that they're in a band, seeing as how they're never portrayed as actually playing in a band. The closest they get is performing activities that bands do, such as driving out to shows, try to find someone else to do the hard work for them, and sell illicit drugs. However no pages have actually shown the characters during or immediately after one of their alleged "shows." Effectively, when a story arc begins involving the musical aspect of the strip, suddenly the plot ends and we cut to a character shooting up LSD.

This would be forgivable if the generic plots were halfway decent. But if that were the case, then I wouldn't be writing this review. 1977 managed to last a whole three months before introducing a gimmick where the male lead suddenly genderswaps. I was hoping that when the plot resolved, this gimmick would be shelved eternally, but you and I are not so lucky. The spontaneous sex changes have been used repeatedly in lieu of jokes, when the cartoonist needs a way to introduce a plot point. The first clue should have been how the ridiculous story was ended with a tenuous reference to The Incredible Hulk. In fact, it seems that the majority of 1977's plot is fueled by nothing more than pop culture references. Don't get me wrong, the occasional reference is fine for the sake of making a gag, but for actually driving a story, it's like building a skyscraper on quicksand.

Pothead Musician Rule #6: Distract Your Audience From Your Terrible Playing by Wearing a Revealing Outfit
The perpetual regendering raises another issue with the comic, namely the fact that every character has the same hairstyle, and therefore, every character looks the same. Effectively, not only do all the girls in this comic look the same, but now you have the added confusion of a male character who also looks like all the females. Clearly the cartoonist hasn't considered the psychological implications of what would happen if the two male roommates, after a night of taking illegal drugs, woke up to find they had engaged in sex rituals with each other. I don't think anyone could look at their roommate the same way after that kind of traumatizing experience.

Artistic anomalies are not limited to the fact that everyone has the same hair; the eyes also lead to a disturbing conclusion. While female characters are given decently expressive eyes, male characters are given soulless, pupil-free eyes. This kind of disconnect between his depictions of the two genders indicates some degree of sexism inherent in the mind of the cartoonist. This is further evidenced by the fact that his sexswapping character exhibits the same differences between his male and female counterparts, which, aside from making it difficult to mentally connect both versions, seem to further indicate that the cartoonist sees a fundamental difference between the two genders.

Drug Use Has Been Shown to Decrease Comic Making Skills and Increase Levels of Smugness
Putting the cartoonist's latent sexism aside, we must now take issue with the uninspired setting of this comic. The 1970s were probably a great time if you were a shiftless layabout who did nothing but ingest illicit drugs and pretend that you could play guitar. But for anyone with half a brain, the 70s were just a time when life was annoying, inflation was out of control, and people had no taste. During the 70s, music was at its most banal, lacking style and substance, ignoring tradition and innovation, and our cartoonist feels it necessary to title each comic as a reference to some 70s song. It was cute at first, but as time wears on the relation between the chosen lyrics and the content of the comic becomes tenuous at best.

This extends to all the other pop culture references found in 1977. All sources of entertainment were incredibly vacuous, and it takes an extremely vapid, drug-addled mind to remember any of them fondly. To be honest, that is true of everything today and will be true for all of eternity, but that's another matter entirely. The point we're making today is that the 70s were an uninspired era, and any fond remembrance of them is clearly the work of illicit substances.

Nostalgia has never been a great premise for a comic strip. It's usually just a mask for poor writing, and often uses references in place of actual plot progression. This transgression is further amplified by choosing an absolutely absurd era to be nostalgic about, a time when the people driving culture were so focused on themselves, chasing that next high, rather than improving society in any meaningful way. So remember, when you're coming up with the idea for your next webcomic, avoid basing it on your own nostalgia, no matter how appealing television might make it seem. And remember to pass on the grass!
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Sunday, March 08, 2009

Rooster Teeth (aka College Dorm: The Webcomic)


Cool Your Daiquiris
"I Call It 'Bad Webcomic'"
You might have noticed, for the last few months, I have had an email link asking for reader submissions of comics to review. I did not have to wait long until I received a suggestion: Rooster Teeth comics, from the same people who brought you Red vs Blue. A cursory glance told me that the comic was terrible, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what was primarily wrong about it. So I decided to go through the archive and make a list of everything that was missing, in order to discern what the cartoonist did wrong.
  • 40% of the American Flag - While inserting someone else's artwork into a comic is generally reprehensible, as it looks incredibly awkward and wrong, there is an exception when it comes to national flags. When it is flat against a wall, a flag made in Photoshop is going to be indistinguishable from a flag grabbed off Wikipedia, as long as it's accurate. A US flag with only 25 stars and 11 stripes is close enough to fool the reader at first, but becomes more and more suspicious the longer its looked at, and is rather disconcerting in a 'humor' comic.

  • A Clear Concept of How People Converse - In most RT conversations, the characters are performing an unnatural action known as 'palming.' Artists often feel a need to do something with the characters' hands, but usually have no idea what they should be doing. Consequently, characters are drawn palming, because doing nothing is an undesirable option. Additionally, the characters must ALWAYS be facing the camera, because otherwise we wouldn't know who they were. Even if it looks like their heads are on backwards, they must always look toward the reader!

  • A Tenuous Grasp on Human Anatomy - I'll start with this: necks do not end in the center of the head. They go in the back of the head. They're also not a foot long. Some of these characters have massive noggins perched atop narrow stalks for necks. The clavicle does not attach to your back, and torsos don't look like that when they twist. The humerus is not attached to the ribcage, and pectoral muscles don't just disappear. I can see why these guys are grossed out.

  • Phonecall for Rooster Teeth
    "No, I'm Not Interested in Buying Eyelids in Bulk at a Discount"
  • Upper Eyelids - Most emotion in RT comics are expressed by squinting the character's lower eye lids. In fact, the majority of panels feature a closed lower lid. It would be nice if this was some sort of satire of the common half-lidded expression found in most webcomics, but I really doubt that the artist is clever enough to come up with that. Instead, I think he's just trying to avoid falling into that quagmire, and managed to fall into it from the other direction.

  • Jokes - I'm not sure I understand the point of this one. Blu-ray players exist outside of PS3s so why is this guy spazzing out? No one knows. Why is a man yelling at trees? Who cares? There are a lot of comics that don't have jokes included. I know we're in a recession, but this is ridiculous.

  • Consistent Comic Resolution - Some of these comics are really really small, and some are really really big. It's really kind of annoying having to strain my eyes to read one, then having to scroll all over the place to read the next one. Please keep them a consistent size, so the pages aren't annoying to read.

  • Positive Space - Yes, I know you don't want to crowd the panel with characters and dialog, but this amount of negative space is just ridiculous. The guy looks silly at that size, and just doesn't engage the reader like he would if he were filling up a bit more of the panel, especially in those two panels where nothing is happening. The same could be said of these two, as they would look better if they were filling up the panel, as they'd look closer together and give the impression that they are actually interacting. This is probably caused by the artist drawing the characters before even thinking about the word balloons, so he draws a lot of space for the balloons to go, just in case. In the future, I would reccommend sketching the whole thing out, text and all, so it doesn't feel like the comic has a bunch of visual gaps in it that divert the reader and eat his soul.

  • Filters out the bad stuff
    Ironically, It Doesn't Filter Out Red Vs Blue
  • Fresh Ideas - If you've read 10 of these comics, you've pretty much exhausted the depth of Rooster Teeth's pool of ideas. For the most part, these comics are about 30-year-old men who act like they're still living in the college dorm. Cracking gay jokes and video game sex jokes like they're still as funny as they were then, but unfortunately they aren't. When a 20 year old cracks an immature joke, it's funny because you expect him to be immature. When an old man makes the same joke, however, it's just creepy, because the only people that age who make immature jokes are most likely sex offenders. The writers are aware of how stale the material is, because they've acknowledged that the main comic is not funny enough, and decide to include some zany background character doing something wacky, in order to ensure laughs.

  • Shins - Apparently someone blew this guys shins off in the war with a machine gun, and they had to glue his feet to his knees. But I think that idea's already been done.

This list has made one thing about Rooster Teeth comics apparent: It's missing something. What that something is can only be determined by looking at this list and analyzing each missing piece. And I have finally discovered what is wrong with these comics. They lack one crucial element, the one thing that is necessary for any webcomic. Hopefully the cartoonists at Rooster Teeth can work on attaining this thing that they are lacking, because until they do their comics will be the most brainless abominations to ever exist, appealing only to idiotic squids. What is this solitary thing that they lack? That thing is talent.
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