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Eric: FAQ: Lexicon

Some note has been made of the number of posts I've managed to bang out. It's amazing what kind of output you can get when you combine enthusiasm with living in New Hampshire and therefore having little to do with your time. Also, it's been very hot recently.

However, a kind of technical language has developed in this strip, and because there are so many posts, it's being kind of spread out. As readers have pointed out to me. And pointed out that a cast page is less important to this kind of project than a simple glossary would be.

So, this is the first of our FAQ pages, and it features a lexicon of terms.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS: LEXICON

Biscuit, Tasty Tasty

When I think a particular individual strip really nails something -- be it a joke, an artistic device, a storyline point, a cliffhanger, or whatever -- I extol it. It's more than just saying "this is cool." It's saying "this is how it's done." It's a chance for others to learn. And I want to reward that webcartoonist who did this great thing. And it reminds me of something David Letterman once did on Late Night, back before the CBS Move. You see, he was doing Viewer Mail, and someone said "hey, Letterman -- you do this late night show, and it's funny! So what do you want -- a biscuit?" And Letterman said "yeah. I kind of do want a biscuit." So, the monumental NBC machine went into motion to fly the very finest of British Digestive Biscuits from London to New York, then run it up by courier to Letterman's desk. Since then, my mother and I always used "biscuit" as a reward for a job well done -- much like you would do with a dog. As for the tasty, tasty bit... well, the first time I used the biscuit thing, I followed it up by qualifying that it was tasty. And I happened to do it the second time as well, quite unconsciously. And when I realized that, I went with it. Besides, wouldn't you like to have a biscuit right now? A tasty, tasty biscuit?

Bringing the [whatever]

As an aficionado of Aaron Sorkin's writing, I have adopted some of his mannerisms. Yes, it annoys my friends and family too. One of those adopted phrases is 'bringing the' whatever we're talking about. On Websnark, this refers to the Webcartoonist bringing one of the core elements of a strip. For example, a webcartoonist can bring the Funny, meaning that there is a quality of humor that resonates with the reader. (Well, with me, anyway.) He can bring the Story, meaning that continuity and characterization are handled deftly and the reader wants to see what happens next. He can bring the Toolset, meaning he is bringing expertise in his craft. And so on.

Cast Page

One of the most important elements of a webcomic is its cast list. This can be a succinct list of characters and a short description, or it can be elaborate, updated in near-real time. However, it is absolutely necessary, because it provides the new reader with a fast roadmap so he can jump right in, and provides the long time reader with a quick reference to refresh his memory if need be.
That so many webcomics don't have a cast page mystifies we at Websnark. That some webcomics have a link or other site design for a cast page but don't actually have one can drive Websnark into a froth the likes of which few have seen and fewer survived. Few things like a nonfunctional Cast Page link can pull the word "dumbass" out of Websnark.

Cerebus Syndrome

The effort to create character development by adding layer upon layer of depth to their characters, taking a character of limited dimension (or meant to be a joke character) and making them fuller and richer. The idea is to take what was fun on one level and showing the reality beneath it. 'Cerebus Syndrome' refers to Dave Sim's epic, sometimes tragically flawed magnum opus, Cerebus the Aardvark. Cerebus started life as a parody of Conan the Barbarian starring an Earth-Pig born. Over time, it grew extremely complex, philosophical, and in many ways much much funnier. Then, Dave Sim went batshit crazy and Cerebus went straight to Hell, but that's for another day. People saw how Cerebus's humble roots could lead to glorious heights, and as cartoonists get bored with what they're doing, they decided to pull a Cerebus of their own.

Boredom is generally the key to a Cerebus Syndrome attempt. After a while, even a successful webcartoonist gets tired of fart jokes and sight gags and wants to make these characters more than they've been.

It is extremely hard to take a light, joke a day strip and push it through a successful Cerebus Syndrome. Dave Sim did it in stages, and at least in the early days of the transformation brought massive amounts of Funny to cover it over. Done perfectly, one only realizes in hindsight that the strip has turned out to be quite different than it used to be. Done sloppily, the Cerebus Syndrome fails, and the webcomic enters First and Ten Syndrome. Unfortunately, a failed Cerebus Syndrome is an excruciating process for the webcomic's fans to endure.

Please note that one can continue to bring the Funny while going for Cerebus Syndrome -- and in fact, probably should. It is far more common to drop the Funny, which increases geometrically the chance to fall into First and Ten. Note also that not all strips that bring heavy Story, mix humorous and serious elements, and have bad things happen to their characters are undergoing Cerebus Syndrome (or First and Ten Syndrome, for that matter). It's only those strips that began on a very light, even limited dimension level and then transform into something different that really shoot for the Cerebus Syndrome. So, Sluggy Freelance, which started out mostly humorous and now has a healthy dose of the Funny and the Story (with occasional forays into sequences like "Fire and Rain") is that rarity of rarities -- a successful Cerebus Syndrome. Digger and For Better or for Worse, on the other hand, had complex characterization from day one, and cannot be said to be in Cerebus or First and Ten. Got it? Good. There will be a quiz.

Daily Webcomics Trawl

Those comic strips I read every day, or at least every time they come out. Usually a combination of my personal enjoyment and a moderately regular update schedule combines to put a strip on the Daily Webcomics Trawl. The strips on the Daily Webcomics Trawl are the ones most likely to be snarked at any given time.

Execution

Contasted with Pacing. Execution is the way an individual strip does everything -- brings the Funny, brings the Story, sets up the joke, delivers the punchline, impacts us with seriousness, or whatever. Execution is local -- each strip is a separate execution.

First and Ten Syndrome

First and Ten was one of the earliest "made for HBO" television series, and bears about as much resemblance to The Sopranos as American Pie bears to American Beauty. It was a tits-n-ass fest with football player stereotypes and the always 'fun' plot of having a woman own the team. Because women? And football? Gosh, that could never happen. It was light, frothy and fun, in an exploitive way for a couple of seasons. And then, they decided to make it serious. The stereotypical coach became a browbeater who emotionally abused his assistant coach because he suspected the coach would leave. There were teen runaways and drug abuse and sexual abuse and darkness at all turns. It tried to become dramatic -- in part because it's felt drama is easier to pull off than humor.

Well, I admit it's hard to find the Funny if you don't know what you're doing, but losing the Funny in exchange for 'character development' leaves pure schlock, untouched by new viewers who weren't interested in the comedy series, but alienating the existing fanbase. When the E True Hollywood Story is produced 20 years later, inevitably the "change of direction" is touted as the reason for the inevitable decline and failure.

A strip falls into First and Ten Syndrome when they take a shot at Cerebus Syndrome and miss. Rather than be a mix of the Funny and the Story with much better developed characters and more of a sense of reality, the strips fall into a suckfest of angst and misery, with bad things happening to characters we like and all sense of fun beaten out with a stick. While webcomics that fall into First and Ten can continue to have good -- even great -- moments, it's an exercise in masochism to find them. The seminal First and Ten Syndrome comic was the original Roomies, which veered away from silliness into angst so deep that ultimately, Willis had to end the strip and start It's Walky. Note that Willis may have very different views on this transition.

The Funny

Born of Aaron Sorkin and Sports Night, the Funny is one of the core elements ascribed to webcomics by Websnark. The Funny is not so much humor than attitude. A strip can be said to bring the Funny when its overall tone is meant to appeal to a reader's sense of humor, sense of the weird or both. The Funny does not have to mean jokes, and jokes do not necessarily bring the Funny. Whether or not a given strip brings the Funny is a subjective decision -- for some, Superosity brings the Funny every day. For others, it doesn't bring it at all. When I snark about a strip bringing the Funny, it's always in my opinion. Of course, so's everything else on this site. It's an opinion site. You see how that works? Of course you do.

Please note, a strip can bring the funny, lowercase, without bringing the Funny. In other words, putting out a bunch of lame jokes does not the Funny create.

The nature of the Funny is that lapses in other elements of the webcomic -- the Story, the Action, the Execution, the Pacing, and so forth can be forgiven in the presence of the Funny. The Funny is the only attribute of a webcomic that can keep people coming back day after day if everything else fails. Which is not to say that strips with no interest in the Funny are doomed to fail -- they can be the best strips on the planet. But they have their work cut out for them.

The Funny, I should reiterate, does not mean rolling on the floor howling with laughter until bladder control is lost. To be honest, I rarely laugh vocally at any comic strip. I might smile a bit or, for a particularly humorous bit, snort, but the Funny doesn't require that. It requires a sense of humor to be present in the strip that appeals to my sense of what the Funny is. And mine and yours, like I said before, may differ. So don't bitch at me about it.

For the record? Foxtrot brings the Funny. Garfield does not. All clear?

Pacing

The development of a webcomic over several strips -- contrasted with execution, which is individual. Generally, Story strips need pacing more than Gag-a-day strips, though gag-a-day still sets a tone which can be considered pacing. Pacing is generally a reflection of the tradition that a given webcartoonist is operating in. A strip heavily influenced by manga is often slower-paced, letting the situation develop slowly. A strip heavily influenced by traditional four panel newspaper comic strips is generally much faster paced. Story-heavy strips, like adventure strips, can have slow or fast pacing depending on the nature of the story. Too fast a pacing can make a strip seem frenetic and unfun. Too slow a pacing can cause your readers to blow their own heads off in frustration. Combining slow pacing and irregular updating is a good way to get death threats, which seems like an overreaction. I mean, it's not like we're curing cancer or making pound cake, here. Mmm. Sweet sweet pound cake.

Premise

The conceit of the webcomic. A comic's premise is the short description of what the comic is about -- and what differentiates it from all the other comics about a couple of mismatched college roommates out there. Note that the more complex a strip's premise (ie -- the more that needs to be said about it to describe it concisely), the more labored the strip will seem. The more of the strip's trappings that can be cut away without inexorably changing the strip, the better. Superosity's premise, for example, is "an innocent man-child, the supergenius sentient board he lives with and the man-child's horrible little brother muddle through life, love and abusive friends and family." If time travel, nanotech suits, overly commercial movies and cat poop were all cut out of the strip, it would still be Superosity. If, on the other hand, Chris grows up (as he did once, though it didn't last) or Boardy goes away it stops being Superosity. Contrast this with College Roomies from Hell, which is "Three college roommates -- a cynical manipulator, a decent fellow, and a flake -- deal with romance, anger and the fight against evil with their counterparts -- a hard edged warrior, a beautiful woman who can't cook or deal with reality and a manipulative blond who has killed off her inner, better self -- while Satan plans to use them in different, terrible ways." CRFH needs all of the above elements to continue to be CRFH, which makes it harder (though hardly impossible) to support the premise. Story strips tend to have more elaborate premises than Funny strips, though this is hardly a law.

Safari Tabs

The way I trawl through my daily webcomics, on a daily basis, is to open a block of webcomics all at once in Safari (I am indeed a Mac user) and bookmark all of them at once as a series of tabs. So, when I click on "Day Comics" in my button bar first thing in the morning, something like twenty three tabs open up, all at once. While I read the first several strips, the rest download. As a result, it takes me very little time to read a whole bunch of strips each day. Which is how I can do this and not lose my job.

Snark

Snark, according to Dictionary.com, refers to Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" and to unexpected computer disasters. And that's a nice pedigree, honestly. However, common usage in recent years has made "snark" into a verb, usually meaning "complaining about something in a sarcastic manner."

I'll be honest. When I was first putting this site together, I had a laundry list of things to call it, because I expected all the simple names to be gone. The leader, I'm sorry to say, was "stripping-the-web," off of Bloom County's term for cartoonist: stripper. I knew I'd get traffic I didn't want, but I assumed it would be available. When I finally sat down to register the site, on a whim I plugged 'websnark' in first, thinking that it would perfectly describe what I did -- a computer disaster on the web, often with sarcasm -- but that there was no chance in Hell it would be available. Which shows what I know, and here we are.

I don't review here. I don't do number ratings or critiques or recommendations. I pretty much just blather on about whatever's caught my attention, express my opinions, and move on. So when I use 'snarking,' I mean 'posting about stuff that interests me.' An individual snark is therefore an individual post on something that interests me.

Why not just use "post" then? Because "snark" gives people some preconception of what I'm doing -- and if they read the site, they know that they're not going to agree with everything. But that it's possible it'll entertain them.

Besides, I like the word. Snark-snarkity-snark snark snark.

Sporadically Checked

There are some webcomics -- including some I truly enjoy, like Men in Hats and FLEM Comics, that either because of incredibly sporadic updating or just personal preference I prefer to go and check every once in a while, reading all the strips I need to read to catch up. Certain Story strips, like General Protection Fault can end up on here when a story has bogged down a bit and would be better served read from beginning of the plotline to end. However, it's hard to ever get back onto the Daily Webcomics Trawl after this happens, and it's a short step from there to "You Had Me But You Lost Me."

The Story

Derived from 'the Funny,' the Story is another of the core elements ascribed to webcomics by Websnark. Encompassing continuity, plot and character development, the Story describes any strip where what happens now develops inexorably from what has come before. This can be comedic or dark, soap opera or adventure strip. Strips like Sluggy Freelance heavily rely on the Story, where strips like Men in Hats don't use it at all.

Strips that don't bring the Funny typically bring the Story, if they're going to truly be a webcomic as opposed to an online art sketchbook. Not that there's any problem with online art sketchbooks, but they usually have a problem keeping repeat readers. Unless, of course, the sketches are of naked ladies, but that's not important to this lexicon.

Toolset

The tools a webcartoonist brings to his trade. These can be artistic or textual, plot or humor oriented. Each creator brings different tools to his trade. Recognizing what toolset a webcartoonist possesses and works with is an essential step to properly bitching about assessing his work in a fair and honest way.

Webcomic

Some form of sequential art that is available via the web. Period.

Honestly, that's it.

No, I don't care if a comic strip also appears in newspapers. It's still a webcomic. I don't care if you have to pay to read it. It's still a webcomic. I don't care if it's full pages of a graphic novel being developed. It's still a webcomic. If it's sequential art, and it's on the web, it's a webcomic. Honestly, why is this so hard a concept?

[Webcomic] For Dummies

This refers to those strips (often with overly elaborate premises or extremely slow pacing) that desperately need third party sites to fill the gap for confused new (and even existing) readers. As the plotlines for these comics descend into a self-referential pit requiring deep commitment on the part of readers to keep straight, a webcomic can either document things simply (generally on a cast page or some kind of synopsis) themselves, or rely on their fanbase to produce some of their own. Megatokyo is one of the worst offenders in this regard, and several fan Megatokyo for Dummies sites have appeared in answer to the need.

Why Do I Read This Webcomic, Again?

A list of webcomics that, whether because of changes to the strip or a lack of changes to a strip (no one said this stuff was easy) has become more of a chore than a pleasure. It remains on the Daily Webcomics Trawl, but it's far more likely to get a cynical snark out of me than a happy one, and it can fall off the list and onto "You Had Me But You Lost Me" all too easily. User Friendly is a strip on "Why Do I Read This Webcomic, Again." It's Walky recently dropped off it onto the "You Had Me But You Lost Me" list, and General Protection Fault and Real Life Comics are rallying to emerge back into the good graces of the Daily Webcomics Trawl.

You Had Me But You Lost Me

Sometimes a strip that I liked or even loved just... drifts apart from me. We start doing more and more things alone. I don't call as often. Look, baby. You know you deserve better, but... it's not you. It's me. Okay? I think I need to read other webcomics, and you need to spend time with a different audience. Let's still be friends, okay? Oh, I'm gonna need my records back.

Still to come

Penny Arcade Defense

Posted by Eric Burns-White at September 1, 2004 1:53 PM

Comments

Comment from: Shaenon posted at September 1, 2004 2:26 PM

Seriously, dude, drop the "bring the" patter and the private lexicon based on justly-forgotten cable TV shows. They're distracting. And everything else in your blog is super, super good.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at September 1, 2004 4:03 PM

Duly noted, which is a weasely way of answering. I'll do my best to minimize the terminology, but if it's what fits what I'm writing, I'll use it. And honestly, I enjoy using it, when it's appropriate. I'll try to limit it, however.

Comment from: Eric the .5b posted at September 1, 2004 8:38 PM

I say bring the patter. I couldn't guess 1st and 10 from context, but haven't had any difficulty following the posts.

Comment from: Sarcasma posted at September 15, 2004 12:49 AM

Finally! I've been trying to leave you a comment for days with no luck.:p

I agree -- keep bringing the patter! Patter means you have your own voice instead of vagueing up your writing for the masses. Yes, patter that includes homages to such geniuses as the Sorkin is still your own voice. So feh to patterlessness!

Comment from: Phil! posted at March 24, 2005 1:17 PM

I think the two most important parts of the Lexicon are "Cerebus Syndrome" and "First and Ten."

"Bringing the, ______ for dummies, Toolset" and all that are pretty self explanitory in my mind. But to get a really good idea of what you talk about those two terms are most important.

There's tons of folk who have no clue who or what Cerebus and/or Dave Sim are, and "First and Ten" is pretty obscure a show. I've never heard of or seen it myself.

But Cerebus Syndrome is something that does come up often, and is important to address. And people need to know what you're talking about. Like me, I had no clue what First and Ten was until I read the Lexicon here.

I guess my point is that having a posted Lexicon is a damned good thing. This, I say, was Websnark's equivalent of a Cast Page before you put up the "Cast Page" for the site (between the teo of you, there isn't much cast).

Comment from: Doc posted at May 9, 2005 5:40 AM

I am fully in favour of the Lexicon (captial L and all), apart from anything else you use the concept of cerebus and and first and ten so often that its better to have a simple term for them than to use drawn out explanations of what you mean that in the end are less effective.

Hell your writing is at such a high quality that anyone who is turned off by that probably isn't going to enjoy your style anyway.

Which reminds me, when are we going to see the 'Penny Arcade defense' in here, you gave it a proper name the other day (12:09 on may 5th 2005), and you've referenced it before, its just a matter of time now.

Comment from: Doc posted at May 9, 2005 5:42 AM

Hell your writing is at such a high quality that anyone who is turned off by that probably isn't going to enjoy your style anyway.

Damnit, what the hell does that even mean? I guess I meant to say that its quirks like the Lexicon that makes your style so good (though not exclusively but it certainly adds to my enjoyment), so if someone doesn't like you with the Lexicon, I don't think they'll like you without it.

Comment from: JB Segal posted at June 6, 2005 4:26 AM

Um...

"Snark, according to Dictionary.com, refers to Lewis Carroll's "Jabberwocky" and to unexpected computer disasters."


I don't care what Dictionary.com says, and I would REALLY have expected you to correct them, anyway.


The word 'snark' never appears in "Jabberwocky".


It appears ALL THE TIME in "The Hunting Of The Snark" ("An agony in seven fits"), however:


"'Just the place for a Snark', the bellman cried

as he landed his crew with care

by supporting each one on the top of the tide

by a finger entwined in his hair.

'Just the place for a snark. There, I have said it twice.

That alone should encourage the crew.

Just the place for a snark. Now I have said it thrice

and what I tell you three times is true.'"


(I always meant to memorize ALL of that.)


As it is, Jabberwocky I know cold. As for the rest of the Snark, all I can tell you off the top of my head is:

"He had softly and silently faded away,

for the Snark /was/ a Boojum, you see."


(No, I haven't gone to see just HOW correct I got the quotes... but I'm really close - I know that.)

Comment from: JB Segal posted at June 6, 2005 4:27 AM

(Ok, the preview format and what I'm seeing once I hit 'Post' are notably and annoyingly different...)

Comment from: Mettle_of_Honor posted at October 10, 2005 7:20 PM

Just an echo of agreement...

The lexicon you choose is as much part of your style as is anything else.

Besides... Would anyone really not understand "Bring the Xxxx!"? Maybe I'm biased. I may not know sports night from a sport drink, but I sure watch a lot of West Wing.

Rock on, Sirrah.

Comment from: Mario posted at January 15, 2006 8:32 PM

Just out of curiousity...

Does anyone have a refrence for "snark" as a verb meaning "making a sarcastic comment" from before 1994?

Comment from: Nate [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at January 24, 2007 9:36 AM

As a slightly related note, your comment in the GPF Had-me-and-you-lost-me bit no longer holds true: Apparently 1st & Ten is out on DVD. Not only that, but if TV.com is to be believed, there's new episodes. Or at least, a new episode that aired on the 1st of January, this year. Take it as you will.

http://www.tv.com/1st-and-ten/show/2595/summary.html

Comment from: Sean Duggan [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at March 6, 2008 6:10 PM

Interesting reading your "Sporadically checked" entry, and how it usually fortells a lack of interest in a strip, and bouncing it up against your current "State of" classifications where you admit that some strips you really like, you can only really read in fits and bursts. ^_^ Shows some changing of the author, I guess. And change can be healthy.

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