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Eric: Bringing the Story: The Epic Shortbread

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!

Posted by Eric Burns-White at May 27, 2005 7:35 PM


Comment from: Aerin posted at May 27, 2005 8:07 PM

Hmm, did you mean 2004? Sluggy Freelance is on my list of archives to attack next, but it's a bit of a daunting prospect, partly because it has such a huge scope. But now that it's won the Shortbread, I might just have to give it a go.

Comment from: Natural Slave posted at May 27, 2005 8:28 PM

Well, thankfully the Sluggy archives don't go -quite- that far back.

Comment from: Josh C posted at May 27, 2005 8:32 PM

^^; 2004, yes. And Sluggy's worth every darn second.

Comment from: Dave Van Domelen posted at May 27, 2005 8:59 PM

No, 1994. Time zones hit Eric really hard.

Anyway, any chance assclown (or his parents) will foot the bill to replace your hundreds of dollars in wrecked electronics?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at May 27, 2005 9:40 PM

I've been very tired the last few days. 2004, indeed yes.

No chance for reimbursement, sadly. Assclown performed a classic hit and run. I got no chance to make demands, and there were no parents in sight.

Fortunately, the fairies will have it out with him at a later time.

I've replaced the iPod (I sort of need it for the trip back). The cell phone (a much stripped down model) will come later.

Comment from: Wednesday posted at May 27, 2005 10:32 PM

You only sort of need the iPod to travel?


Who are you?

Comment from: Tangent posted at May 27, 2005 11:25 PM

I am shocked that Clan of the Cats wasn't even nominated. I mean, we're into year two of an Epic storyline that has had the Ressurection of Dracula, the death of one of the Council of Three, the governing body that keeps the Netherworld from erupting into war, and more! *sigh* I mean, I've not even heard of some of the other storylines.

That said, I do think Sluggy deserves to win, because of That Which Redeems. *shrug* Even though I really like Jamie's comic... SF managed to (back then) truly excel.

Of course, if this had taken place during the same time as The Adversary of CRfH... then that would be a much closer call. *grin*

Robert A. Howard, Tangents reviewer


Comment from: siwangmu posted at May 28, 2005 12:16 AM

Hey, wanna hear something scary? In 1994 I turned 11! The best part, in my opinion, is that you time-warped a decade back, but you were consistent. Also... what's editorial policy on spelling mistakes and the no-changing errors without annotation thing? Um, just wondering is all.

I almost want to go read It's Walky just for the chance that I'll find out what an epochal cheese is. Epochal cheese! Dude, if you had a really long period of time in which a lot of grand conflicts occurred, you'd have an epic epoch.

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at May 28, 2005 12:37 AM


Clan of the Cats wasn't nominated because... and I recognize this as a personal failing... I don't actually read it.

If I get a block of time with little else to do, at this stage I mean to remedy that.

Comment from: DanShive posted at May 28, 2005 2:13 AM

GASP! Eric Burns doesn't read every web comic in existance?! My world has no meaning!

*dives out of a window, but is ok after landing on some dry leaves, at least before the dry leaves catch on fire*

Comment from: je.saist posted at May 28, 2005 2:22 AM

*picks Dan up out of the firey leaves and drops Dan into his own chat channel*

stay there and we'll get that window fixed...

now where did I put that duct tape...


anyways, CoTC and The Wandering Ones are two comics that I read every now and then, so I've missed the whole Dracula story. I too need to read it.

Comment from: Jamie posted at May 28, 2005 7:38 AM

Clan of the Cats wasn't nominated because ... I don't actually read it.

You still said nice things about it once, and I appreciate that. I╠ll be the first to admit that COTC is not for everyone╠s taste. I like doing it. In the grand scheme of things, that╠s all that really matters.

Comment from: Stephen Kyle posted at May 28, 2005 1:00 PM

Uh... I'm confused? Why does the link to Sluggy Freelance, where you announce it as the winner, actually take you to Queen of Wands?

Is this some hidden joke on your part, Eric?

Comment from: Eric Burns posted at May 28, 2005 1:16 PM

Stephen -- it's because I used the Character Driven Shortbread as a template, and missed changing that link when I changed the text. It's fixed now.

Comment from: ItsWalky posted at May 28, 2005 11:45 PM


It's nice to be remembered.

It means I don't have to put my mind into a cyborg body when I get old.

Comment from: Christopher B. Wright posted at May 29, 2005 4:08 PM

Just because you don't *have* to doesn't mean it wouldn't be really cool if you did.

Comment from: DanShive posted at May 29, 2005 5:22 PM

Yeah, I mean, wouldn't that be living the dream for a Transformers fan? You could model yourself similar to the Beastwars Optimus and have a monkey form! Based on "Shortpacked" and "It's Walky", that would be the ultimate for you, wouldn't it?

Comment from: je.saist posted at May 29, 2005 5:43 PM

David... in a cyborg body?

I'd be more worried about him taking vengence on Hasbro for all the repaints.

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