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Eric: Bringing the Story: The Character Driven Shortbread

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!

Posted by Eric Burns-White at May 25, 2005 11:34 AM

Comments

Comment from: DanShive posted at May 25, 2005 1:37 PM

I really should read through Queen of Wands. Heck, I sat next to Aerie in the booth at the San Diego comic con for 2004.

If the above doesn't at least slightly amuse you, you haven't read todays Checkerboard Nightmare. For SHAME. Heck, I read it!

Comment from: Plaid Phantom posted at May 25, 2005 1:49 PM

Those who haven't read through QoW don't know what they're missing. Heck, I'm sticking around for the reruns!

Comment from: Polychrome posted at May 25, 2005 3:09 PM

QoW really deserves this one. Aerie is really good at what she does. I'm really looking forward to whatever she does next.

Comment from: Joshua Gelbard posted at May 25, 2005 6:01 PM

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

I've never thought of this before, but why exactly is it that many people say they are *on* a plane instead of in one? Well, not me- not anymore, anyway. You have made me realize the error of my wing-walking-implying ways.

Comment from: Tangent posted at May 25, 2005 10:14 PM

Hrm... I notice all of these are still humorous and funny comics, instead of dramas. Then again, you tend to avoid the dramas (unless they have occasional humor in them) in any event, so I suppose I should have expected that.

But yes, of that list, QoW deserves the Shortbread. I'm curious though why we didn't have CRfH or a similar comic mentioned. *ponders*

Then again, we're limiting ourselves to 5 choices per so that you can actually get these done. *wry smile* I suppose that forces limitations on what you can choose.

Robert A. Howard, Tangents reviewer

http://tangents.keenspace.com

Comment from: Wednesday posted at May 25, 2005 11:02 PM

I imagine the "on a plane" thing is a holdover from boats. Everyone actually just wants to be on, like, the Yamato, or the Queen Emereldas, or something.

What gets me is "deplaning." Dude. I've been a 777 for about eight and a half hours now; I totally need to deplane.

Comment from: miyaa posted at May 26, 2005 3:23 AM

Of the five nominations listed: I'd choose Penny and Aggie because to me, characters should be made as real and well-rounded as possible, kind of like what happened to the Velveteen Rabbit (not the Velvetta Rabbit, as I originally thought the title said when I first saw this children's classic). I don't read Achewood, so I can't comment on it. But of the other four, Penny and Aggie is the one that has characters that feel the most realistic, well-rounded characters. The others are really close.

I'm surprised you didn't nominate... Scarygoround. It was either this or Diesel Sweeties, two comics that have a wonderful variety of characters that are not only very well-rounded and realistic, but has grown up quite a bit. Granted, he has all of Bobbins as the basics for quite a few of his characters, but they drive the stories very well.

Comment from: Bo Lindbergh posted at May 26, 2005 9:10 AM

I've never thought of this before, but why exactly is it that many people say they are *on* a plane instead of in one?

Dude, what do you expect from prepositions? Preposition selection is the least logical, most arbitrary part of Indo-European languages. Compare and contrast: a) "He has no taste for pizza." b) "He has no interest in pizza." c) "He has no appreciation of pizza."

Comment from: UrsulaV posted at May 26, 2005 10:09 AM

d) He is not down with pizza.

Comment from: John Allison posted at May 26, 2005 12:22 PM

Scary Go Round isn't Websnark material, Miyaa. No Englishman has successfully "brought the funny" since Neville Chamberlain got off the plane from Germany in '39 with that "peace in our times" thing.

Comment from: John Allison posted at May 26, 2005 12:23 PM

Scary Go Round isn't Websnark material, Miyaa. No Englishman has successfully "brought the funny" since Neville Chamberlain got off the plane from Germany in '39 with that "peace in our times" thing.

Comment from: Spatchcock posted at May 26, 2005 12:25 PM

Bravo, Eric! Another successful listing of your favourites.

Comment from: Zaq posted at May 26, 2005 1:11 PM

See, Eric, this is why you absolutely need to read Dominic Deegan. It would have won easily, if you ask me... or at least gotten an honorable mention. (To be fair, I suppose some of the REALLY fantastic characterization, particularly that of Celesto, happened since 2005 started... kinda hard to distance yourself from a comic like that and think only of last year. Maybe "Character Driven" wasn't the characterization it deserved in 2004 compared to some of the other aspects. But I digress.) Still worth a read or three, though. I do love that strip.

Nevertheless, this was some enjoyable insight as always. I'm looking forward to the rest of these.

Comment from: neongrey posted at May 26, 2005 2:05 PM

Well, it'd be really dumb to hand out awards to comics he hates, Spatchcock.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at May 26, 2005 2:34 PM

Scary Go Round isn't Websnark material

Dude. I mean, seriously.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at May 26, 2005 5:34 PM

I'm surprised Bruno isn't on this list.

Comment from: Tangent posted at May 26, 2005 5:53 PM

I thought Eric had snarked Dominic Deegan... could have sworn Eric was why I started reading it. Or was that the gang over on #crfh at Nightstar? *ponders*

Rob

Comment from: gwalla posted at May 26, 2005 7:10 PM

I love Scary Go Round, but I'd never say that the characters were "realistic" or "well-rounded". Off-the-wall and demented, more like.

Comment from: siwangmu posted at May 26, 2005 7:30 PM

Yay!

ShortbreadsShortbreadsShortbreadsYay!

I was going to post saying "Wow, UrsulaV, that was freaking hilarious," but then it was followed up by freaking hilariousness from Mr. Allison (that sounds funny!) so I thought I should mention that instead. Now I've done both!

I want to like Achewood. I actually do. And Phillippe, from what I can tell, is entirely charming. But... I've started through the archives several times now, and I never make it. I enjoy some of the jokes, but the weirdness of the visuals gets to me (don't particularly want to look at small mammal in thong). Achewood so far seems to... leave a weird taste in my mouth. That said, I know enough people who love it that I want to get it, too. Normally when one posts, "I don't like this," one is not looking to be convinced, but I am. So, any takers? Wanna sell me on Achewood so I go back through the archives already loving it? Favorite strip? Drug I should take while reading? Mantra I can repeat to be looking for the right elements in the strip? If I don't fall in love with the archives by point X, is it most likely not for me?

Comment from: Ray Radlein posted at May 26, 2005 9:29 PM

I want to like Achewood. I actually do.

Sounds like my relationship to Anchor Steam Beer.

It took me a long time to be secure enough in my conoisseurship to admit in public that I didn't like it.

For what it's worth, Achewood is also more miss than hit with me, which is weird, because it sems like the sort of thing that should be right up my alley. I think it must be the humor equivalent of the "uncanny divide" — it's just exactly far enough removed from my resonant frequency to mess me up.

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