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Eric: Unabashed appreciations are fun to write, you know it?


From Goats.)

Jon Rosenberg's mind is a strange, strange place. It's easy to become lost there.

Things aren't always easy to follow in Goats these days. Oh, that's always been true. Some of the epic battles against Gregor Mendel got 'complex,' in their time, but there used to be more of a reset after plotlines. Things got back to some value of normal. Philip and Jon ended up back in the bar, Neil and Bob went back to their amusements, Toothgnip went back to nailing chicks. The usual. The normal.

Eventually, Rosenberg got bored. And then he got ambitious.

Two years ago today, he started a plotline called Space Wizards. It started the cast on a roller coaster of change, of understanding, of universal apocolypse, of talking vegetables and universe-hopping virginal farmer's daughters. In short, Jon Rosenberg set "normal" on fire with a matchstick of mayan demon fire.

And it's been fun. Folks at the time e-mailed me, saying he was going for a Cerebus Syndrome. But that wasn't accurate -- the Cerebus Syndrome is when someone's been mostly humorous and decides to go for a balance of serious with humor, in hopes of getting the best of both worlds. Misdone, it leads to First and Ten Syndrome -- the replacement of humor with drama (or melodrama) in such a way that you alienate your existing audience and completely fail to attract a new one.

Rosenberg hasn't done either of these things. Goats is, if anything, significantly funnier today than it was two years ago. And it was pretty damn funny two years ago. What Rosenberg did was change the underlying assumptions of his comic -- he went from picaresque, where short adventures and jokes passed through, to recurrent -- where each strip builds on the last. He changed the scope from moderately local to epic. And he let his inner bastard (never too far from the surface) out to have fun.

And here we are. It's been two years. Not long ago, Rosenberg celebrated his birthday and his two thousandth comic strip, alike. And I took some stock. After all, I read Goats every day, but I had been having some trouble keeping track of what was going on. Goats is a complex strip these days, with plots that go past labyrinthine and straight into "what the fuck?"

So. I decided the best way to refresh myself and to see how well Rosenberg's experiment has gone was to start over from the reboot. To hit that link to "Space Wizards" above, and gorge myself on the plotlines.

So I did. I went through Fish's transformation into Fineas. I went through his revenge on Toothgnip, the trip to the Mayan underworld, the discovery of the lands of the space monkeys and the infinite typewriters. Our cast set each other on immortal fire, kidnapped each other into grayscale bars, became messianic figures to transdimensional farmland totalitarianist theocrats, and drank many, many glasses of fine single malt scotch.

And you know what I discovered?

Jon Rosenberg is a demented genius.

Demented is obvious, and needs no explication. Genius, however, becomes revealed as one devours the strip, watching huge chunks unfold as fast as you can click the next page link. He builds constantly, each new layer fitting atop the foundation that came before it. The resulting story might be sprawling and huge -- an invention Rube Goldberg would love -- but by God it does what it set out to do.

If you're new to Goats, make the commitment to jump in. Start with that link to Space Wizards up above. You might be a little confused in the beginning -- there's no cliff's notes to follow -- but the story should be pretty comprehensible. By the time you get to the far end of Good Hitler vs. Space Hitler, it will soon become irrelevant. The history of Goats before Space Wizards is great, but hardly necessary to the adventure to come.

If you're not new to Goats, you already know this.

I opened saying it's possible to get lost in Rosenberg's mind. And that's true, reading day to day. But going back and rereading from his new beginning on? That makes it all plain as day.

Better hurry up. We have only six years before it all ends. And, if Goats is to be believed, us with it.

And the next time I see Jon Rosenberg, I'm going to stand him to single malt. I figure alcohol can only make things better.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at November 29, 2006 5:28 PM


Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 29, 2006 9:19 PM

I get this vision of Eric dunking Jon in a vat of single malt, like one of those old dunking vat where you get three chances to hit a target and dunking a guy. Otherwise, how do you stand him up to a single malt?

Comment from: Plaid Phantom [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 30, 2006 2:10 AM

So, are drinks the new biscuits?

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 30, 2006 2:57 AM

I have always given biscuits for strips, but drinks for cartoonists who just plain rock. ;)

Comment from: alienpriest [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 30, 2006 9:49 AM

Never been a big Goats fan, myself. The funny just wasn't there for me(but I am assuming there's supposed to be funny there.) On top of that, I remember back when i tried to follow the strip, Rosenberg always seemed to have is oppinions on the exact opposite side of the webcomics drama as I would hold. (The artist is as important a selling point as the art, in my book; I wouldn't stomach Picasso or the like if I felt otherwise).

I have a theory about complex plots and a serial presentation: Just because you can do it, doesn't mean you should. I'm not saying you have to dumb things down to a basic gag-a-day format, but it's all too easy for a "good" writer to add TOO many layers of complexity for the format of the medium, loosing the casual reader that doesn't feel like spending time flipping thru past episodes in bulk. Strips like Narbonic and others pull off a fairly involved plot just fine without loosing the reader: complex enough to make you say "Woah!" but not too much to make you say "Huh?"

Just my opinion.

Comment from: Doug [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 30, 2006 10:56 PM

Any mind that can come up with the concept of 'Urethra Weasels' is too dangerous to be allowed to roam at large. Someone should take the nice man in and give him a good home- and secretly drug his food and water so he no longer presents a serious danger to Society.

Would single malt whiskey fill that role?

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 1, 2006 12:58 AM

I have one word: "Breasticles."

That is all.

Comment from: Matt Sprengeler [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 1, 2006 9:22 AM

I stopped reading Goats just after "Good Hitler vs. Space Hitler." Up until then, the strip felt like it had X amount of Funny that it was fitting into Y plot-space, and that was a great ratio. Then when Jon rebooted things, he expanded plot-space to something like 7Y, but kept the Funny at X. That turned Goats from a delight into a chore, at least for me. Now that a couple years have passed and all the foundations for the new setting are in place, I think that ratio is evening out again, and it's provisionally back on my daily list. But he broke my heart once, and I'm afraid he'll do it again.

And really, urethra weasels aren't anything new. Haven't you heard of that South American fish that'll swim right up your urine stream into your urethra? No? What are they teaching in schools today, anyway?

Comment from: Michael Weaver [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 1, 2006 2:06 PM

A while back, I found a link to Goats, from someone who recommended it. Out of curiosity, I went to the site, and as usual, started from the beginning of the archives and worked my way towards the present.

That was a mistake.

I never made it past the second year -- there was too much crazy and not enough consistency to tie it all together. It's a matter of personal taste, I understand, but I like my plots thick and sticky, like chocolate syrup. Humor is the ice cream underneath that makes it all bearable.

Or something like that. I need to work on my analogies.

At any rate, I started again from this here post, starting at "Space Wizards" and working my way up to today's urethra weasels. The weirdness was a little bit much at first (kitten-Pop-Tart singularity? Honestly, what?), but it got better over time, so I stuck to it.

It was a wonderful waste of my time, but by the porkchop that is God, it was a fun waste of time. This strip has made it on my daily list. Thanks for introducing it to me, and curse you for letting me waste five hours catching up on it!

Comment from: Aerin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 4, 2006 5:00 PM

IIRC, the Kitten-Pop Tart singularity was explained before the Space Wizards arc. I'm not sure exactly when, but I think it was shortly after the universe reboot.

Comment from: Gary Tyrrell [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 4, 2006 7:41 PM

Eric said:

there's no cliff's notes to follow


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