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Eric: You know, I can only hope that Seth and Ann will get hit by a car in Something Positive next week.

Home on the Strange!

(From Home on the Strange. Click on the thumbnail for full sized all seen, all done.)

On January 23rd, in 2006, Websnark was running somewhere close to the height of its popularity. I think the "glory year" was probably 2005, but 2006 was still doing darn nicely. At the same time, I was at that point a creature of habit. There are things that I did, and things I didn't do, and very little breaking up of them.

Which is the nature of a thing like Websnark. When you begin, you're throwing everything against the wall and seeing what sticks. Sooner or later, you get a sense of what sticks and then... well, you stick with it. You become formalized. You become ritualized. You become expected and perhaps complacent. And for a while, you run high on that formula, because it really is what people want to see, and you really are pretty good at it, and it's all pretty fun.

Eventually, of course, things run their course. There is shift, and breakdown. You lose your enthusiasm. Daily posting becomes weekly posting, and then monthly posting. People might still read, but things shift from water cooler talk to "oh yeah, he's on X again," to nodding and moving on. You become part of the landscape, and eventually you become yesterday.

That is not a complaint, mind. It's what we predicted from day one -- there is a life cycle to these kinds of things. And no, Websnark isn't going away. Er, more than it already has, what since it's at best getting handfuls of posts. Regardless, I'm always happy when people come back to see what's going on.

But I look back at January 23rd, 2006, for a reason. Because that was a day I broke formula. That was a day I posted a snark on a webcomic that was just starting -- that literally just had one strip up.

As a matter of course, I don't do that. (I know, as a matter of course, I don't do anything any more. I mean that at the time I didn't do that. Meh.) I like to let a strip get a rhythm and actually build some momentum -- see where it's going -- before I start to talk about it.

There was also, of course, a fear of looking stupid. At the time, writing about a webcomic -- particularly a relatively unknown one -- on this here blog meant that strip's numbers would spike. I won't pretend that wasn't fun. But that also meant that a significant number of people would go and look at something I talked about, and so there was always the chance that 'something' would turn out to suck. No one likes to look like an idiot, especially when they're being so goddammed pretentious about everything trying hard to come across as an 'expert.'

But this one, I had faith in from the beginning. And so I linked it on day one, and I talked about Veronica Pare and Ferrett Steinmetz. I had faith because I liked both of their work in other media. Roni's RPG art and other projects had really impressed me. Ferrett's always been a great writer. And so I had faith that these two different people -- who at the time I didn't know at all -- would fuse like Firestorm into one kickass nuclear hermaphrodite.

Okay, that went in a direction I didn't expect. Moving on....

It's now been six hundred and eighty two days since I wrote that essay. And as of today, barring a potential holiday special, Home on the Strange is closing shop. During that time they produced almost three hundred strips, several storylines, a good amount of pathos, a good amount of debate, collected a rabid pack of fans, showed up every day they said they were going to, and in general kicked a lot of ass.

They have said that there were "creative differences" that led to the strip ending on this plotline. If so, they didn't often -- if ever -- transfer to the strip itself. I won't say every strip worked note-perfect, but they were all in the right key and more often than not they did their job. And the cumulative effect has been tremendous. We care about these characters and their wildly dysfunctional -- and very funny -- relationships. We laugh at the funny, we worry at the story, and we are wowed at the way both are conveyed with both word and line.

Which is a side note -- this is a comic strip where neither Roni nor Ferrett could be swapped out. They've made it clear that plotting is shared and that strip decisions are as well, but more importantly the visual language that Roni brings to the table -- the dynamic motion and appearance of the characters -- conveys as much information as Ferrett's words. These folks speak with their whole bodies, and any change there would be like all the characters suddenly speaking with british idioms and accents. It might still be nice, but it wouldn't be Karla, Tom, Andy, Izzy, Branch, Seth, Mincemeat and all the rest. So it would be with a different artist.

Which, to be honest, I appreciate. I like it when comics out of necessity need to be a pairing. It doesn't always happen -- most of the time, in fact, it doesn't happen. A lot of cartoons out there can shift writers, artists or even both and just keep on chugging along, at least recognizable if not perfectly meshing. Not so this gang.

Six hundred and eighty two days, and my relationship to these guys has changed along with. At the time, I didn't know either of them even indirectly, though I knew both of their work. I was a regular reader of Ferrett's. I owned things with Roni's art. Roni was a friend of friends of mine. Stuff like that. Now, I've had discussions -- sometimes extensive ones -- with both of them. Roni is one of those folks who I've kept meaning to go have a drink with, since we're not that far off from each other, but it's not quite happened, but we've certainly passed mail and comments back and forth to each other, and she's in that nebulous area that people get into on the internet. You know the one.

Ferrett, on the other hand, I have had 30's drinks with in a hotel bar where we had to explain the gimlet to the bartender. Ferrett's wife is my lawyer. And Ferrett was two seats down at ground zero on the day I proposed to Wednesday. Grinning his fool head off, I would add. Later, he ate cheesecake with us and was cheerfully abused by Mara, a force of nature Weds and I like a lot.

Their strip ends unexpectedly. They let us know midway through this storyline. And it's clear it wasn't an easy decision for them -- the storyline in question was, if anything, clearly setting up the coming year's plots and conflicts. Instead, it was the end-note. And like all unexpected things, there's stuff hanging out there. Branch was mentioned -- there's actually a donation drive going (via their Paypal button) to try and raise five hundred by Christmas. If it works out that way, then they'll put up a Christmas Special that will close out Branch's story.

But that's just Branch's story. We've had new stories opened, new potentials brought up, and old ones left fallow. We haven't ended Seth's story, for example. Mincemeat's story was kind of shoehorned into completion but really it still has cards on the table. In short, this is not the ending that I think either would have wanted to have, at least without a lot more buildup.

And of course, Tom and Karla and Seth and Izzy's story hasn't ended either. There's way too much potential conflict there. Way too many trainwrecks where the engines haven't yet slammed into brick walls. Way too many things that will potentially destroy these relationships... only in the end they don't.

A while ago, I said that the operative question wasn't 'when will they get together' in this strip. It's 'when will they break up.' But even at the time I didn't think they actually would. The conflict of the strip was rife, and the personalities were volatile, but this is comedy, not tragedy, and even if the day got dark, it would be bright in the end, or so it seemed. Well, a lot of that tension never had a chance to break open, with the brightly wrapped candies of comedy and angst pouring out for us to scoop up greedily. And at this stage, it won't. But as unexpected endings go, this one's not bad at all. It gives us good chances to laugh, it gives us a sense of where these people are going, and it gives us a chance to wave goodbye. And know in our hearts that their story will go on, even if no one's telling it to us.

In the end, I'm going to miss this strip. There are ways it scratched my Queen of Wands itch more than Punch and Pie has, even. And I'm going to keep my eye on both of them -- see where they go and what they do from here, because we know it's going to be good. They've proven that much.

But today, I'm looking back those six hundred and eighty two days. Back to who I was back then, and back to what I was saying in that essay. On that day when I broke one of my own rules and rolled the dice, and said, and I quote:

...I have faith in his writing and her art, and think that maybe, just maybe, this will be one of the best strips of the year.

And you actually have a chance to get in on the ground floor of it. This is day one, people. How often do you get a chance to say "hey -- I was reading on the first day."

This is day 682. They've now ended. And I get to say "I was right, god damn it!"

And how often do you get to do that in life?

Peace, Ferrett and Roni. Thanks for everything.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at December 5, 2007 4:01 PM


Comment from: Megalomaniac2 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2007 5:48 PM

"And so I had faith that these two different people -- who at the time I didn't know at all -- would fuse like Firestorm into one kickass nuclear hermaphrodite."

See, this is why Websnark's still my favourite webcomic review column. It's stuff like that.

Comment from: Tangent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 5, 2007 7:05 PM

Nice framing, Eric. You were there for Strange's start... and for it's end. I think it needed you for that.

Take care.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2007 10:19 AM

What's the saying? "Everything ends badly, or else it wouldn't end at all," I think. At least it's ending while people still enjoy it.

I can accept Home On The Strange ending because, well, I always assume interesting stories go on after any work ends, and I just don't get to hear about it. That might be tragic, but it's better than watching the work degrade for whatever reasons (like the collaborators not getting along, or not feeling the energy to do it right, or whatever).

I guess the only thing left is to wonder "What now?" for them both - because I think it's no stretch to say that they'll both have interesting stuff in the future, and we just have to be patient for it.

Comment from: GG [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2007 12:21 PM

I'm reminded (as I so frequently am) of a quote from Sandman: "All of Bette's stories have happy endings. That's because she knows where to stop. She's realized the real problem with stories -- if you keep them going long enough, they always end in death."

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2007 1:32 PM

what since it's at best getting handfuls of posts.

Well, you have an audience content to wait for quality, well-thought-out wordsmithy.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 6, 2007 7:49 PM

Wow. Took me three days to remember my password for Websnark...

I think there are far too many webcomics, like in a lot of newspaper comics, that have gone on far too long *coughForBetterorForWorsecough*. I think it's really hard when to know to stop a story.

Comment from: Pooga [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at December 7, 2007 11:16 AM

Arg. Now that it's ending, I can read this. Every time I tried to check out "Home on the Strange" in the past, it was being blocked (supposedly for "Adult Content") by websense. I read a few from home, but most of the times I checked it was from work. I was going to lament the fact that I never got a chance to check it out due to that block when I tried the link above. Of course, now it works... :-/

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