(From Least I Could Do! Used by permission.)
We have mentioned, long ago in a distant past that perhaps you may not remember, and perhaps you do, assuming I haven't made it up myself in my delerious Monday Morning Haze, that one of the downsides of Webcomics as they're generally implemented is the inability to revise.
Wow, does that sentence look ugly. Let me try it again.
As we've said before, Webcomics -- unlike most traditional publishing -- can't easily be revised as you go along. If you're writing a story or drawing a comic book, and you get three quarters into it and realize that you really should have had one less character and done things differently and maybe made the wisecracking sidekick a girl and perhaps set your tale in Hoboken instead of Mordor, you can always go back and do just that. In webcomics, however, you're essentially posting your rough draft as you go along, and that's it. It's released. Major revisions aren't in the cards, unless you do significant surgery.
This is especially true when you have a shift in style or tone. It's one of the things that leads to the Cerebus Syndrome attempt, and it's one of the leading causes of First and Ten: you get several months (or years) into your comic and you realize this isn't what you wanted to do at all -- less light gag-a-day, more deep storylines and character development.
Or... and this is actually really common... your style may simply change over time.
We've seen this a lot. If you look at the early days of almost any long running webcomic, the early days will have a much different, often rougher style. This makes sense. If a person draws a strip day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year they eventually find better ways to do things. Their renders get tighter. Their techniques get broader. They get more stuff in their toolbox.
Or, in the case of a strip like Least I Could Do, they just hire another artist.
So, you can have someone who is proud of his webcomic throughout -- he loves it, he thinks it's wonderful, he's excited every time he posts... and then one day he looks back to the beginning of his strip and he suddenly becomes horrified at what he sees. "Oh my God," he says. "I was such crap! If only I could go back and revise all that!"
And that's problematic, because people don't like change.
It's a truth in life. People like the past to stay the past. They want the strip to match up with their half-forgotten memories. If they need to go back and look at it, and it's not the same... well, they get uncomfortable. They want to see the old strips. They liked the old strips. And why would you ever change the old strips?
Some artists go ahead and do it anyway -- I know that David Willis has revised a bunch of his old stuff to bring a consistency of style, for example. Others just sort of shrug and laugh about it. After all, it's no big deal, right?
Until it is. And that brings us back to Least I Could Do.
There have been three different artists on Least I Could Do. The strip was started by Ryan Sohmer as the writer -- of course -- and a man name of Trevor Adams. Then Trevor Adams left and Chad Wm. (For William, I assume) Porter came in. Then Porter left and Lar de Souza came in, and here we are today.
Now, Sohmer has gone on the record that he wasn't proud of the writing in those early strips -- fair enough. It's not just art style that evolves over time, after all. But what's unspoken is... well....
Look, I'm a terrible artist. I'm the worst artist in the world. I'm Antidextrous -- I can't write (or especially draw) with either hand. I have no basis to cast aspersions on another person's art. And Trevor Adams is a significantly better artist than I am.
But being significantly better than me isn't anywhere near enough to be good. And Trevor Adams just wasn't very good.
I mean, it's not horrible art by any stretch. It's kind of a fun anarchic style. And there are those who like it quite a bit -- and, like many webcartoonists, Adams improved by leaps and bounds. By the time color came into the strip, he was solid and getting moreso. But when Trevor Adams left and Chad Porter came in, the strip improved by an order of magnitude, and it all came back to art.
But, this was part of the history of the strip. This was part of the past. Events in those early strips still have impact today. And people like the past.
The problem is, Sohmer and Blind Ferret wanted to do a print collection. And regardless of one's opinions of the art as art, as graphics files they were simply unprintable. We're talking low resolution gifs in black and white here. Sohmer's print collections are top notch in quality, on good paper and with great production values. Putting a 72 d.p.i. GIF in that... would not be a kindness to the strip, the consumers, or Ryan Sohmer.
It is, in one real sense, the same issue that the owners of the original Star Trek had to deal with when Blu-Ray came out.... and the same issue that George Lucas had to confront when DVD came out before that. In both cases, Star Wars and Star Trek: The Original Series, the writing was excellent but the state of special effects had advanced so much both projects looked cheesy, dated and fake.
Lucas chose a broad revisionist course. The Special Editions, he announced, would be what he had always envisioned Star Wars to be, now that special effects had improved to the point that "his vision" could be created. The problem is, he didn't simply revise the look of things, he revised the substance. He made editorial decisions. He added whole sections. He changed sequences to match what he thought was appropriate in the 90's, even when they conflicted with what he decided in the 70's.
It was a monumental success, but it also made a lot of people angry. Han did shoot first, damn it. Just because Lucas decided that Han as a bastard who became a lovable rogue didn't match up with his current vision of Han as a lovable rogue who just became more lovable didn't take away peoples' memories, and the change meant they focused less on the movie as an improvement and more on how it "desecrated" the movie.
Never mess with a geek's childhood, man. He will cut you.
Star Trek, on the other hand, tried very hard when they did all-new special effects to seat those effects into the original story, rather than revising the original story. Sure, the grey backdrops became digital matte paintings and the Gorn blinked -- but the Gorn did the same stuff he did before and the backdrops did nothing more than add more eye candy. Kirk stayed the same. Sure, they put in new music, but the new music was based on the original compositions, so the musical cues remained the same. It was far less an attempt to update the original series of Star Trek, and more an attempt to make the original series look acceptable in Blu-Ray.
And it was the right choice to make. To be honest, if I look at the originals of Star Wars and the Special Editions of Star Wars today, they both look pretty cheesy. We've come so far since the Special Editions came out that now they look just as bad and dated as they did before, which means all that's left is comparing the two cuts of the movie -- and the 70's version of Star Wars is a better cut than the 90's version. (Return of the Jedi's 90's version is, admittedly, a better cut than the 80's version, but that may have to do with Ewoks singing). And Family Guy's shot-by-shot parodies are fantastic, but I digress.
So, enter Lar de Souza, and LICD: Black and White. This is a new print collection of strips, all of which are being redrawn by current artist de Souza, in the current style of the strip, but working hard to reflect the characters as they were then. And the question is, did they go with Star Wars and George Lucas, or did they go with Star Trek and the remasters.
Sort of neither, sort of both.
The strips -- as you can see by the comparison above (you can't click to a larger version because that's the size of the original -- M. Sohmer was kind enough to let me reproduce it full size for these purposes) -- are radically different. They are not higher resolution retraces of Adams's version of the characters. They are not the old strips with increased details. They are Lar de Souza drawing these strips, using his interpretation of the characters, albeit with echoes of the original hairstyles and other things.
At the same time, the writing is (apparently) not changing. The same things are happening. The same choices are being made. Even where the characters don't ring necessarily true to who they become (Rayne, for example, failed sometimes. And didn't know everything. Or is that catty of me?) they're not changing them.
And, more to the point, the original Trevor Adams versions are staying up on the web. Right now, they haven't decided whether or not to put de Souza's art up alongside it, but I suspect this will be a print-only thing for at least a good long while. Which makes good economic sense... and even better sense in terms of keeping people happy by not radically changing the past.
It's an exciting way to do things, and I hope it is successful for them. I'm curious enough that I plan to buy a copy, and I suspect I'm not the only one.
Now, if I could just talk Wednesday into redrawing Unfettered By Talent for me...