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Eric: THERE IS NO CRYING IN NINJA!

(From Skinny Panda. Click on the thumbnail for full sized Cheeto Assault!)

Since close to the beginning of Websnark, I've had people e-mailing me to talk about Skinny Panda. It has a huge number of fans, all of whom thought I should read the strip, because they wanted it snarked and -- more to the point -- they thought I would like it. Many people who e-mailed me were somewhat chastened, however, because it seemed Skinny Panda had gone away, having suffered a year-long hiatus, followed by a brief flurry of strips, and then another seemingly endless disappearance.

So, I didn't ever get around to reading it. This wasn't because I thought they were wrong -- far from it. I assumed this strip must be something special to inspire such devotion despite not currently updating. However, with the massive number of strips I have in my backlog that are currently updating, I made the decision that strips that weren't updating would go on a back burner.

Well, David Wright of Todd and Penguin let me know that A) I should read this thing right now, and B) it was updating again, which killed that argument. So, having had an odd morning (I'd discovered that Questionable Content was having server troubles, which led me to figure out where the archives were and start reading them, which turned into rereading the whole of them. I didn't expect it, but there it was) anyhow, and seeing the archives for Skinny Panda weren't that long, I started reading.

Skinny Panda is the brainchild of Phil Cho. (No relation that I know of to Frank "I know Scott Kurtz" Cho.) It started back in 1999, which is to say it started back in the Golden Age of Webcartooning. And it was brilliant. Extraordinarily well drawn, with evocative characters, simple to understand but sophisticated storytelling, a clear understanding of the medium and a willingness to go a little nuts. Every so often, the main strip -- which tells the story of the morose Skinny Panda, his angry friend Gopher, their daisy-like potted friend Flower, and the cybernetic and oddly emotive Robokitty -- would be interrupted to tell the story of Penelope, an intelligent young girl from an upper crust family who seeks to be independent but doesn't really understand how (or why) living like common folks should involve acting like common folks. (Penelope would later run away from home and arrive in the main strip proper).

And then there were the stick figure cartoons. And though I fell in love with the strip proper, the stick figure cartoons really blew me away.

The stick figure cartoons happened on an irregular (and sometimes even regular) basis, and was made up of many many small panels with stick figures drawn in them -- generally there were at least sixteen or twenty panels in each stick figure cartoon, and sometimes considerably more. These panels were small, and as I said the art in them was basic black stick figures without features -- but somehow the stick figures were drawn with tremendous fluidity and flexibility -- rather than being simple art that anyone could do, they were spartan -- the minimum art in the minimum panel size needed to tell sophisticated stories. Objects like rocks that appeared in the stick figure strips still had weight and depth and shading, leading to a sense of solidity. And the stories themselves reminded me of some of the best small-panel storytellers, including Segar's Thimble Theater and -- even moreso -- Carol Lay's Story Minute and Waylay strips.

And I don't lightly compare people to Carol Lay.

You see three -- count them, three -- strips in this snark. These are one of the few Stick Figure sagas with some continuity. These are the story of a young ninja learning focus. That's all. A young stick figure learning focus. And yet, there's Cheetos, and cheese dust, and a brutal murder, and crying. And a denouement that just made me happy to be alive.

And reading through this, I realized that Phil Cho gets the medium. He gets it incredibly well. He knows how to take the most basic drawings -- though the art remains pretty, even in stick figure form -- and turn them into powerful and funny stories. He knows how to strip away all the dross and come up with a pure essence of cartooning.

And that's just for the stick figure comics. When you look at the regular strips, you see someone who's an absolute master at crosshatching and inking and the black and white strip form. There's no computer tricks at all -- he doesn't even cut and paste panels as near as I can tell. The writing is first rate, the art matches it perfectly....

He even conveys ennui well. And in the middle of the archive he suddenly does a Winnie the Pooh parody that captures the essence of A.A. Milne vastly better than the Walt Disney Corporation has done in many, many years. This really is worth anyone's time to go through and read from the beginning. And it won't disappoint you.

So, all those people who wrote to me? You were right.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at February 13, 2005 6:30 PM

Comments

Comment from: jjacques posted at February 13, 2005 7:25 PM

We were in the midst of a server move last night/this morning, hence the outage.

I hereby take full credit for you finally reading all of Skinny Panda. Thank you, thank you.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at February 13, 2005 7:28 PM

Hey, it got me to reread all of Questionable Content, too.

Clearly outages are the key to long jags of comics reading.

Comment from: Dragonshark posted at February 13, 2005 8:01 PM

My fave is the motivational strip

http://www.skinnypanda.com/pastepisodes/2004/04-02-13.html

especially about the novel, (hmmmm, someone needs to pay Eric a visit in november, and take the motivation with you)

Comment from: Joshua Gelbard posted at February 14, 2005 12:01 AM

I find reading large comic archives to be the best way to procrastinate. Skinny Panda, so far, is very awesome indeed.

Comment from: MrPerson posted at February 16, 2005 5:06 PM

Some good things Websnark has done for me:

1) Alerted me to the fact that Lil' Abner is available online.

2) Poked me into actually reading Overcompensating, and given me a reminder that Rowland started doing his regular comickry again.

3) Pointed me towards Skinny Panda. It's not often I come across a comic that regularly makes me laugh, but this is one. Currrrse you.

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