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Eric: Also, I kind of miss the Volvo. But I'm weird.

Real Life Comics!

(From Real Life Comics! Click on the thumbnail for full sized CLANG!)

I continue to follow Real Life Comics, generally happily so. However, there's a certain dynamic energy that it's been lacking of late. I've sometimes tried to figure out what it could be, mind -- it's not that Real Life Comics is bad, it's just not....

Oh God, here comes that phrase. That horrible, horrible phrase.

...it's just not what it was.

The phrase is horrible because it is both unreasonable and inevitable. No comic can remain what it was. None. Garfield today is not the same comic as Garfield in 1977. Blondie is massively different from when it started. The first days of Sheldon have a different feel than the most recent days of Sheldon. Webcomic, newspaper comic, pamphlet comic, or other -- time forces evolution of some kind.

It's unreasonable because it belies entitlement of the worst sort. "Oh. Well, I liked the strip before... so they should stay like that. Now it's different. It's just not what it was." It's the passive-aggressive variation on "you suck."

Which, you know, Real Life Comics... doesn't. It doesn't suck. It's pretty good. It's got good art and it's generally funny. I have no complaints. It's just... not what it was, you know? I couldn't get my brain around the concept better than that. I couldn't point to anything and say "this is what's changed." It was just there.

Which is one reason I haven't written about it much, lately. You remember E. Burns-White's Principle on Discourse from the last post, right? "Anytime you think something is self-evident? It's not." I couldn't write about Real Life Comics without asserting it's differences without demonstrating them. Which is high-falutin' for saying i couldn't back my words up.

And today, with Tony coming back in, I can. Suddenly, my thoughts have crystalized. I can write this post. Because today has the dynamic energy that it generally doesn't have, and I can put it to words.

For quite a while now, Real Life Comics has been too close to real life.

The joke of the comic's premise has always been that these are just 'real life comics.' Greg Dean is just documenting his daily routine. Nothing to see here. But of course, said real life included dimensional doors, sentient computers, time machines, death rays, and a universe where the Dreamcast was a successful gaming platform. There was a certain undercurrent of absurdity to everything. If Greg ate a whole box of Krispy Kreme donuts, he could gain superpowers. When new computers were constructed, sometimes they needed cooling towers. It wasn't just fantasy, it was absurdly unreal.

Now, that element hasn't completely disappeared. For several strips, Dean's been telling us about how drinking an energy shot has accidentally made him a supergenius. That's within the ballpark. However, things are generally more settled now. More grounded. Greg and Liz are married. They have jobs. They go out to movies. They point out the truly absurd aspects of life. And there is a sense that things are just... there. Settled. In a routine. Like most college students who's moved out into the world (with almost ten years' passage of time), the characters have gone into routine.

Today, though... today's a glimpse of that old energy. The frying pan to the back of Greg's head as "cure" harkens back to the truly absurd. It's not one step away from reality -- it's a full on lurch.

And I've missed that. Greg Dean (the cartoonist) has such a great sense of imagination -- such a grasp of the crazy -- that it's sad to see it gone from the strip most of the time. I'd love to see some full on adventures come back center stage. I'd love to see Greg and Liz accidentally fall through time to somewhen else and have to try and deal with it. I'd love to see the incarnate totality of X-Box Live gain sentience in their living room and call them infantile names.

Hell, you know what would be fun? Have some horrific experiment of Dave's send today's Greg back to 2000, and send that Greg to today. Just for a couple weeks, mind -- but if there's going to be contrast, revel in it.

Like I said above, Real Life Comics will never be what it was -- because it can't be. None of us can go back to what we were. (Says the man who's blogging the way he did four years ago and seeing how long it sticks.) But maybe what it was... can inform what it becomes.

Either way, I enjoyed that frying pan disproportionately much.

(Apropos of nothing -- the Real Life Support Group is being called upon by Greg and Liz, what for to help preserve Liz's education in the wake of the current economic climate. It's on their front page right now, down towards the bottom. Fly! Liz is cool people!)

Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 29, 2008 5:21 PM

Comments

Comment from: ticknart [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 29, 2008 6:02 PM

My "it's just not what it was" for Real Life Comics has been the lack of characters in the strip.

There used to be more cartoon Greg interacting with three or four people. For a long while, it's just been Greg and Liz. I know it's because they got married and then moved to SF and then to Texas and they may not have a lot of regular people in their life. Heck, even if they were regularly interacting with a few people, it wouldn't be like when Greg was living with Tony and Dave.

Like you, Eric, I still enjoy the strip, I just think that when there were more than two character who appeared on a semi-regular basis (and Alan Extra doesn't count, since he doesn't actually interact with Greg and Liz) there would be more energy in the strip. They don't have to be megalomaniacs (although I can't see any fault with more megalomaniacs in the strip), but more characters would be great.

This week, the absurdity was fun, but I think Tony showing up brought the energy. It wouldn't have made the same impact (totally intended) if Liz smacked Greg with the pan.

Comment from: Triant [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 29, 2008 6:48 PM

Oh thank goodness, it's not just me. I still like the strip and all, but ever since the in-strip characters got married, moves away...it's been boring. The Greg&Liz show doesn't get my attention as much as when he had a larger cast.

Comment from: miyaa [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 29, 2008 8:46 PM

Part of it is that real life has intruded into Greg's world. Those of us who frequent the Real Life forums certainly know some of the struggles.

At least it stable and is at a watchable level, which is more than what I can say for some strips, say, For Better or For Worse, which...well let's just say after Tony hits Greg with that frying pan a couple more times, he should go after Lynn Johnson.

Comment from: ecrane [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 29, 2008 11:28 PM

Real Life is what got me into webcomics. Back during my first year of college, a friend linked me to a RL strip that opened my eyes to a new breed of humor. It was right up my ally; Greg Dean was my age, had my interests, and wrote an amazingly funny strip in which both took center stage. The story arcs were inventive, the interplay between the characters dynamic, and I looked forward to each update with unbridled fanaticism.

It's been about seven years since then. (Gods, really?) Greg has certainly changed, matured, and moved on in life. So have I. Our interests no longer intersect nearly as well as they once did. Now Greg is married, and undoubtedly sees the friends he started the strip around about as infrequently as I see the friends I had back then. As Eric and others have mentioned, Greg has entered a happily married routine. For which, hey, kudos!

These days, though, I don't look forward to Real Life with fanaticism. I don't really look forward to it much at all. I still enjoy it, but I only read it when I remember that I haven't checked the site in a while. The reasons for this are pretty much laid out in Eric's article; he sums up my own feelings perfectly. It makes me sad, though, that the comic isn't what it used to be. I miss the enthusiasm it evoked; the references my friends and I would make to recent strips while at the gaming table, the late nights studying where I would refresh the page every few minutes to get the latest updates. Heck, I even miss the old running gags about Greg loving Pepsi, Final Fantasy, and Ultima Online.

But, really, those are my problems, not his. I miss the old days of the strip because they were *my* old days, too. I've got my own routine, now. I don't get to spend all of my time hanging out with my college buddies. The free time I could dedicate to video games and roleplaying has largely evaporated. Real Life isn't as wild as it used to be, and that's a shame.

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 30, 2008 12:14 AM

I've been thinking this for some time too. I spotted it right away, myself, since the same thing happened to the journal webcomic I was drawing when I got married. (Notwithstanding that this was in 1988 and lacking the internet I had to distribute my webcomic by carrying the updates around in a blue three-ring binder. Uphill, both ways.) Wait till the Deans have kids. Though at least that'll bring in new characters.

Comment from: Centurion13 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 30, 2008 12:22 AM

Never read the strip. Probably never will. I've dropped a few strips for their lack of funny or an incoherent storyline or even because they were so preoccupied with their own preciousness (Kevin and Kell, MegaTokyo, 9 Chickweed Lane, Wapsi Square).

But I have kept Websnark precisely because I had the feeling that, despite his lapse in the past year or so, Master Burns would continue to provide me with something few others can - rational discourse on topics not generally associated with reason.

Which is why I am still here, four years later, reading your renewed entries with renewed interest, Eric. Please, do continue the effort. We appreciate it more than you might realize.

Centurion13

Comment from: nick15 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 30, 2008 4:30 AM

I've never read Real Life Comics before. But after reading about how Real Life Comics is not the same as it was when it started because it's actually more about... real life, that really doesn't give me much of a positive opinion of what it used to be. Does that mean that, up until recently, the title "Real Life Comics" was a complete misnomer? Ugh it just makes me not was to get into it even more.

Comment from: Eric Burns-White [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 30, 2008 4:21 PM

It's not really a misnomer. It's just less a journal comic and more... well, whatever Overcompensating is? That's what Real Life is. Only different.

Comment from: Greg Dean [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 30, 2008 7:25 PM

Honestly, Eric - you hit the nail on the goddamned head. Even from my perspective. I've known for years now that the comic was "not what it was", and I can even tell you the exact moment when it changed - it was when I decided, arbitrarily, that I would move Greg and Liz out on their own, because hey - they're married now. That seemingly minor decision meant that now, all the other characters were cut off from the cast, and had to actually have a REASON to be there. I've tried to keep them more involved with things like the Space Station and some other various storylines, but what made it work back in the day was that Tony didn't NEED a reason to be there, he just was. I didn't have to contrive some reason for it.

After moving Greg and Liz out, the comic just sort of necessarily took on a more realism-driven tone. It wasn't a conscious decision, it was just me being a slave to my continuity, and it wasn't until recently that I actually identified where I went wrong and set about finding a way to fix it. I actually think I HAVE that way, but I want to get the storyline written out in full before I start, because I don't want it to suffer the same disease most of my storylines tend to fall prey to - not having a clear ending, and just rapidly coming to a close. Deus ex machina can only get you so far. :)

Just wanted to let you know that, interestingly enough, the author in question agrees with you wholeheartedly.

Comment from: JackSlack [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 30, 2008 9:57 PM

Ahem, second try.

Jesus, Eric. Greg just can't win with you.

http://www.websnark.com/archives/2004/08/its_a_fashion_s.html

:)

Comment from: Greg Dean [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 1:01 AM

HA! I had forgotten about that. Brilliant. :)

Comment from: Eric Burns-White [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 1:33 AM

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

--Walt Whitman

Comment from: Chris Crosby [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 1:51 AM

GARFIELD started in 1978.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 10:22 AM

You know, Mara is never going to see that epic beard-fight she wants us to have if you keep fighting with yourself, Eric.

Comment from: Eric Burns-White [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 10:55 AM

More seriously, perhaps what this belies is the need for balance in Real Life Comics. Enough of the 'real life' to be grounded, enough of the craziness to be fun.

Also, I'd like to think I'm smarter now than I was four years ago. Four years ago I wasn't even married.

Comment from: Ununnilium [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 2:48 PM

Personally, I'm just tired of "dumb character becomes smart, becomes asshole" plots. I mean, Flowers for Algernon was a *tragedy*.

Comment from: JackSlack [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at August 31, 2008 3:23 PM

Eric, for your lovely responses both of this page and the one I linked, you get mad points. :) Bravo.

Comment from: Plaid Phantom [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 12:19 AM

"Four years ago I wasn't even married."

Some would argue that implies a decrease in intelligence. ;)

Comment from: nick15 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 6:12 AM

It's not really a misnomer. It's just less a journal comic and more... well, whatever Overcompensating is? That's what Real Life is. Only different.

Ahhh OK, I see what you mean. In that case I see even more your concern about RLC being more about real life, as I'd be sort of... concerned as well if Overcompensating gradually switched over to a comic that was absolutely rooted in real life.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 9:09 AM

I now know that Plaid Phantom is single. Because no married man who wanted to live to see tomorrow would say that sentence.

I don't think being married has changed my intelligence at all... but boy, did it dramatically improve the "common sense" factor in me.

Comment from: Centurion13 [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 1:23 PM

Congrats on your gettin' hitched. But what is with the trendy double last name? I thought you two didn't get wrapped up in the small stuff. What, are you now a male chauvinist pig (haven't heard that since the mid-1970s) if you 'make' the woman take your last name?

Burns-White indeed.

Cent13

Comment from: Eric Burns-White [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 1:48 PM

...I... like the sound of "Burns-White?"

Seriously, who peed in your corn flakes this morning?

Comment from: Elizabeth McCoy [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 3:36 PM

After all, if you went with "White-Burns," there would be far too many "sideburns" jokes, and that would only be funny the first time. And probably not even then.

(And how else is one going to get that fancy two-syllable last name business going _legitly,_ y'know? Change it just for the sake of change, and your neighbors will look down their noses at you, the johnny-come-lately, the posturing new syllably. But when you get married? Now there's a name-change with _honor._)

(Of course, one must not go overboard with it. One must recognize when one has quite enough syllables already, as I have. Four in my first name, two in my last name... Nay, I must be generous with the syllably, and neither take my husband's last name (besides, there are too many "ih" sounds in it to be good with all the "ih" and "eh" ones in mine), nor hyphenate. It would not do, to be too ostentatious.)

Comment from: Eric Burns-White [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 4:11 PM

Absolutely, Elizabeth. ;)

The fact that this means I no longer directly share a google search witha Fox News apologist is just gravy. ;)

Comment from: Paul Gadzikowski [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 4:15 PM

I told my wife that I should take her name, but she didn't listen. Just as well - those were the days before search engines.

Comment from: 32_footsteps [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 1, 2008 7:25 PM

Oh, sorry, I knew I should have watched what I was doing this morning. In my defense, I wasn't fully awake. Truly sorry about that, Cent13.

See, I always thought he took that particular last name because it sounds neat. You know, when something is blazingly bright, it "burns white". I totally thought he was going with that mental image.

Though admittedly, I did ponder what would have happened if they just formed a new last name, like a nomative Voltron. "Whiteburns" or "Whiteburn" is far from the worst last name you could see.

That said, my wife and I kept our respective names. We already established ourselves professionally under our birth names, and our last names each have particular meaning to us (believe it or not, I'm actually living up to a legacy of Healeys behind me).

Comment from: Plaid Phantom [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 2, 2008 1:52 AM

Haha yeah I'm still single.

Though I imagine I'd still make a joke to that effect if I was married. I'm insane that way. Though it might be a bit more subtle.

Re Eric's last name, part of me does not doubt that he did thus just because it sounded more pretentious. ;)

Comment from: gwalla [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 2, 2008 1:42 PM

I believe it was so that he could be E. B. White.

Comment from: Warren [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 8, 2008 10:14 AM

Judging from today's strip, looks like Mr. Dean has been reading WebSnark ..... http://www.reallifecomics.com/archive/080908.html

Comment from: Altum [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 8, 2008 12:57 PM

Also a clue: the fact that he posted twice in the comments to this 'snark?

Comment from: no_relation [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at September 8, 2008 7:50 PM

I'd like to think I'm smarter now than I was four years ago. Four years ago I wasn't even married.

And yet, the taglines on previously linked post say "Posted by Eric Burns-White at August 24, 2004 11:47 AM"

It almost sounds like you were always married to Wednesday, but four years ago you just didn't know it yet.

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