Recently in 2004 Shortbread Category

It's been an eventful couple of days here in the sunny Bay Area. The trip out was marred by a lad of fourteen or so running into me at a full run in the Chicago airport, knocking me backwards and over onto my backpack. It was something of an uncomfortable fall. My computer was fine -- which makes some sense, as that's what the backpack is designed to protect. However, in the front portions of the backpack were both my ipod and my Treo 600 cell phone, and those have simply ceased to be.

Yesterday, I spent hours of the day in the company of the astounding and fun Shaenon Garrity, of Narbonic. I'll document that visit in Gonzo Journalism style at some point, but will mention I had a huge amount of fun with her and all the walking has left me sore today. Today Baycon proper has begun, which is always a fun and exciting thing.

But enough of that. You want the next Shortbread category. All right then. Without further ado...


Bringing the Story: Epic
Storytelling has many dimensions to it. There's plot and characterization, theme and setting and genre and all the stuff every "how to write" book has ever come out with. Well, I submit that another dimension of story is scope Some stories are very much grounded in the everyday. Some stories have broader implications -- affecting a ship, or a town, or a nation, or even a world.

And then, you have strips of scope, where the stage is the galaxy, or the universe, or multiple dimensions -- where saving the entire world feels like just the first piece of the puzzle, where characters affect the fundamental nature of reality. Some stories, in a nutshell, are epic.

The Webcomics that Brought the Epic Story are:

  • Fans: T Campbell and Jason Waltrip's magnum opus has, for years and years now, covered vast numbers of science fiction tropes and science fiction fandom tropes. In fact, they managed to pull off an amazing feat -- they managed to draw in the worst elements of fan fiction -- a sense of self-identification, mary sue, marty stu, multiple source comingling and so on -- as meta elements of their series and make them all work. Chief among those was the epic scope of the series. They didn't just save the world, they remade it. They wielding the power of dreams and song, and if one character might get sidetracked into a future where he becomes the Allfather of humanity as the last living male, surrounded by zaftig females (and hand in hand with that turning the ultimate Guy Fanfic Pr0n Fantasy into a poignant story of loss and societal evolution), the backdrop remains monumental instead of tiny.
  • Gaming Guardians: Gaming Guardians sets the epic tone from the very nature of the premise and doesn't back down from it. Postulating that every Role Playing Game creates its own universe and Our Heroes are devoted to protecting the integrity of those universes from corruption and destruction clearly puts them into an epic scale of adventure. This is compounded by the ever present threat of the d'Twenty. Graveyard Greg and Web Troll clearly have a sense of the grand to what they're doing, and they pace it well (though one day I hope against hope for a synopsis page and a cast page -- there's a lot of characters running around in this thing.)
  • It's Walky!:Okay. I know. It's Walky made the infamous "You Had Me, and You Lost Me" list. I admit that freely. However, that doesn't change my capacity to recognize both the scale that David Willis was operating on or his facility with it. The endgame of It's Walky was set in nothing less than galactic war, with universal figures and epochal cheeses striving from beyond the very grave to save all of humanity. Where love and gigantic guns combined for butt kicking. And where sacrifices can and would be made for a universal better good. Transuniversal invaders, afterlifes being contained by robot bodies, and girls named Lith alike prove that even if It's Walky lost me, it never lost its sense of scope.
  • Sluggy Freelance: Sluggy Freelance is something of a chimara, with many different heads and faces it can present, in many different combinations. 19942004 was a year of Epic for the venerable strip, however, as Torg found himself far from being the nominally hapless comic relief, but instead the most effective and competent hero for an entire universe, which itself was dealing with the occupation by and threat of horrific demons. The personal -- Torg's oath to Lameverse Zoe, Horribus's absolute fixation on Torg -- to the global. Psyk, most of all, sought to extend the rule and power of the demons, and as a result ascended to the power and glory of Demon Lord Psykosis. A goddess was returned from the fridge, prophecies were made and fulfilled, and Torg was seemingly inexorably changed forever. (Though the next year would possibly put paid to this thesis, but that's outside of the scope of this particular award.)
  • Superosity: Superosity has never shied away from epic backdrops and scenery. We know, for example, that Bobby ends up tyrannically ruling the world, and then Snap the Turtle becomes a rival monarch. We know Boardy apparently goes mad and then evil, and then goes on to save humanity multiple times. We travel to the moon to see the creator of Alf go insane and we travel to the ends of time to accidentally change the course of comic strip history, leading to the brother of the creator of the Yellow Kid becoming the absolute dictator of all things. (As part of a desire to visit the very first Labor Day, no less). Say what you like -- Superosity brings banality to greater scale than ever seen before.

Biscuits aplenty! Biscuits for my Lord Arioch and all the nominees! But Sluggy Freelance gets the Epic Shortbread -- the Tasty, Tasty Epic Shortbread.

19942004 was a year when Sluggy's storytelling was hitting on all cylinders, and the epic scope of "That Which Redeems" set a truly grand backdrop for telling what was, in the end, a truly personal story. The interweaving of humor and pathos (I still want Pete Abrams to market a Dimension of Lame Tarot deck) coupled with the truly epic stakes -- and the sense of tragic sacrifice leading to planetary redemption -- set a bar which few strips could easily reach.

We've settled into the convention now, and that means that there should be more chances to write Shortbread essays over the next few days. Next up is the Bringing the Comedic Story Shortbread. This ought to be interesting!

Assuming there are no hiccups at the airport, at the precise moment this delayed post goes up on Websnark I should be lifting off from beautiful, rainy Manchester Airport in New Hampshire, with an ultimate destination of beautiful, hopefully not rainy San Jose, California. Naturally, over the next several days my focus on Websnark will be... well, 'lesser.' I'm going on vacation, and I'll be spending large amounts of time nowhere near my computer throughout.

Wednesday will be providing some coverage, of course... but this also seems like a good time to get some stuff off my to-do list. Namely... the second part of the 2004 Shortbreads -- the Bringing the Story Shortbread Recipients.

Yes. I know they're six months late. Let's pretend that was by design, all right?

These are focused on 2004, and on the decisions I made back in 2004, mind. So, no matter how much I have grown to love Girls with Slingshots or how disappointed I was in Sluggy Freelance's "Oceans Unmoving" storyline, I'm going with the same judgment I had back then.

And. You also have noticed there's only one Shortbread here. That's because I'm going to type away at these throughout my vacation, setting them up to update through the course of the week. That way, it's not waiting on my putting together a monumental post, but instead can proceed apace. So -- my vacation week equals SHORTBREAD WEEK FOR ALL OF YOU!

As you know, the Shortbreads are given by me to those comic strips I feel exemplified the form in some way or other. These are less true awards as they are a critic's "best of 2004" list. Nominees and the recipient alike are among the best practitioners of the art form being commemorated, and everyone should be happy -- UNDER PENALTY OF TORTURE.

The "Bringing the Story" Shortbread recipients reflect those strips and webcartoonists who best tell stories in our medium -- this is less about the execution of daily strips or jokes and more about the pacing, the pathos, the characterization... the storytelling

So. Let's get our first category underway, shall we?

Bringing the Story: Character Driven
The most basic unit of any story -- the atoms that form the story molecule -- are the characters in the story. The most kick-ass plots can feel flat and uninspired when confronted with lifeless, boring characters who don't seem to evolve realistically, Padm╗. Well drawn characters who drive the story seem to write themselves -- but they don't. And their writers deserve every ounce of the biscuits they earn.

The Webcomics that Brought the Character Driven Story are:

  • Achewood: If Achewood is jazz in webcomics form, the characters are the solos, and Chris Onstead plays them beautifully. From the monotone crippling depression of Roast Beef to the traumatized innocence of Phillipe straight through to the erudition of Cornelius Bear's evocative and hauntingly beautiful closed captions for porn movies, the personalities that make up Achewood are the signposts for what's happening -- and very often become more important than either plot or humor.
  • Narbonic: Like there was any chance in Hell I wasn't going to bring up Narbonic in these things. Shaenon Garrity is an absolute master at creating solid comic strip characters -- they have unique voices, they have carefully balanced motivation, and they clearly drive the plot. After all, when Helen Narbon specifically shows up to a symposium she'll be humiliated at so she can gloat, while her henchman Dave falls desperately in love with an Artificial Intelligence and Artie the Gerbil foments rebellion only to be thrown out of his cabal for misrepresenting himself on Livejournal, there's rife story potential coming out of these insane, insane people.
  • Penny and Aggie: The evolution that high school forces on both the popular girls and the outcasts are rife fodder for storytelling, and T Campbell and Gis└le Lagac╗ jump in with both feet. Penny and Aggie are well painted studies in neurosis and arrogance, and the ways those two polarities clash.
  • Queen of Wands: Aeire's love of the word balloon is clear -- but it's born out of a clear understanding of who her characters are and what they're going to say. Kestrel, Shannon, Angela, Seamus and the rest had every word and phrase born of a solid foundation of characterization, and Kestrel's evolution as a character -- and a person -- drove the strip's evolution at the same time.
  • Something Positive: Any comic strip has characters. It takes a very special comic strip to have characters who terrify the Hell out of me while making me care what happens. The day Monette grew a soul, I was hooked. The day I realized I sympathized with Mike instead of just hating him, I knew Randy Milholland was a master.

All of these deserve biscuits... but Queen of Wands gets the Character Driven Shortbread -- the Tasty, Tasty Character Driven Shortbread.

Queen of Wands was funny, but more than that it showed growth. Kestrel's journey down her lightning path (yeah, as always I mention the lightning path) was more than just a sequence of jokes -- it was the heart and soul of the story Aeire was telling. The woman who left at the end of the series had found her sense of balance, her sense of self. How Kestrel reacted from one minute to the next drove the overall evolution of the series. As she faltered, the comic grew dark. As she achieved, the strip soared. And when her story ended, so did the comic.

There were plenty of other great characters, of course. Angela, Shannon, Seamus -- even Zot -- all had clear personalities, differences and opinions that inspired confederacy and conflict alike.

Check in later (when? I have no way of answering that -- I'm in a plane) for the Bringing the Epic Story Shortbread!

2004 Bringing the Funny Shortbread Part II

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Something -- probably the sheer length -- in the Shortbread recipient list keeps breaking. The last few paragraphs will be there for a while, and then will disappear. And, as they include... well, the webcomic who took the overall, I'm kind of hoping it can actually be read.

So, after the "read more cut" (to keep from spoiling the suspense) I'm repeating those paragraphs here. So, if you want to know who took the Overall Bringing the Funny Shortbread for 2004... you should read the extended entry.

If you were lucky enough to see it in the long post, there is nothing new here. Oh, and my brain still hurts.

Humor is inexorably linked with cartoon art in modern society. Look at the terminology. Cartoon. Comic Strip. Funny Pages. While I'm never going to claim that a strip has to be funny (because I value my life, and I don't want to be burned at the stake), it goes without saying that a good number of strips are going to be funny.

Or at least try to be funny.

This warm plate of Shortbread (Tasty, Tasty Shortbread) is going out to those webcomics that I feel most Brought the Funny in 2004. Bear in mind, these are the strips I read that I think succeeded. I don't read every webcomic (I doubt I read 5% of all the webcomics out there. I doubt you do too, for a statistically valid description of "you.") So I don't claim this to be an objective list of the best, funniest webcomics in the world. These are the ones that made me smile, pretty much every day.

Your absolute hatred of me and my opinions begins... now.

(Note, the list is going behind a "read more" link because it's fucking huge. You're welcome.)

As I put together the Shortbread Recipients lists (there are four lists -- Bringing the Funny, Bringing the Story, Bringing the Toolset and Bringing the Other Stuff), I thought you might like to see the artwork Ursula Vernon (of Digger fame) provided for the project. Snarky is without a doubt the best thing to come out of this website, in my humble opinion, and there's always something adorable about chef's hats. Needless to say, I'm thrilled with the picture. (Click on the thumbnail if you want to see it full sized.)

As I said, there are four lists. The first three -- Funny, Story and Toolset -- are then divided into categories. To be a category, there has to be at least six webcomics that come to mind that fit the category. Those six get listed, and then I give the category Shortbread out. At the end of the list, an overall webcomic for the list is picked as well, to give everyone a reason to read to the bottom.

No big deal, right?

Hah. I'm working on Bringing the Funny right now, and there are fourteen categories in it. With six nominees per category, that's eighty-four blurbs to write. Plus fourteen blurbs on the categories themselves, and fourteen blurbs about the winners. And the Overall, of course.

That's for one list.

I'm an idiot. See me roar. I'll try to get it done for today, though.

Logo: Sleeping Snarky

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