For the second time in as many weeks, I find myself writing this blog from a strange land beyond the internet. Other hints that this is life, but not as we know it, include a proliferation of scones, jam and cream and people who pronounce the word pixie, ‘piskie’ (don’t ask how it came up). Yes, I’m currently enjoying the delights of Cornwall, but even this sand and sea fest can’t keep me from my geeky duties. In fact - in a transparent effort to re-establish my credentials - this week’s offering is going to focus on a hardcore zone of geekdom. We’re talking internet secrecy and people who wear T-shirts with code on to the office. We’re talking webcomics.
Yes, webcomics are for people who don’t feel that an encyclopedic knowledge of the internet, or an all-consuming passion for comics are sufficiently geeky in isolation. They must be combined! If you’re concerned that these days everyone is cashing in on the fact that it’s become vaguely cool to be a nerd and the girl with the short skirt and the perfectly manicured nails was quoting Star Trek at you this morning (Sexist! Why shouldn’t she?!) then webcomics provide a perfect chance to get back to basics.
I’ve talked before about how often traditionally ‘geeky’ areas function as a kind of secret society for the initiated and webcomics fall squarely within this remit. Despite my wishy washy arts graduate background, I’ve read XKCD for several years now, a fact that has not entirely ceased to astound my more scientifically minded contemporaries. (A dear, but not always subtle friend once expressed his skepticism that I could possibly comprehend more than half of it. Lies! I may not always understand the maths, but I am invariably down with the sarcasm)
The truth is that checking XKCD has become one of a plethora of daily (or at least thrice weekly) routines that serve to comfort, reassure and break up the nine til five monotony for me. In fact, I would even go so far as to argue that XKCD and its ilk serve as a kind of modern day philosophy for the time rich and attention poor, serving up easily digestible nuggets of observational wisdom.
In a more predictable vein, Hark A Vagrant makes history fun (No, really!) and reading it gives me that warm, fuzzy glow that comes with combining the fun of a comic, with the sense of smug self–satisfaction provided by its vaguely intellectual credentials. It also makes me feel better about the fact that my introduction to web comics came in an altogether less highbrow package. Technically a cartoon rather than a comic, Homestar Runner blighted my university years, and thanks to it, I am better acquainted than I would ideally wish to be with Strong Bad, Strong Sad and the Burninator. Still, at least Marzipan was a feminist...
Regardless of my rather mixed history with them, there is ultimately something rather special about web comics. They teeter precariously on the edge of the main-stream which means they can ultimately disregard it and court controversy on a whim. The internet is an unregulated, labyrinthine space which isn't always a good thing, but it does make it a perfect home for the surreal, transgressive and niche. And on occasion, web comics have taken this mandate to push the boundaries to its natural conclusion. There's as much bad taste, politically incorrect and shocking stuff out there as there is of the clever, life enhancing variety. And sometimes the two are one and the same.
So this week, the Reluctant Geek is about to get interactive. (Hang on, that may have come out wrong…) In the name of sharing the love, why not leave a comment below bigging up your favourite web comics. Which are the ones that get you through your working day? Or make you feel that you are somewhat less alone in your appreciation of the depressing nihilism/breath-taking hypocrisy/wondrous beauty (delete as applicable) of everyday life?
Now, I’ve never really worked in an office for more than a few months at a time and even more shockingly, I’ve never worked in IT at all. But as I understand it, a certain amount of time wasting on the internet is practically mandatory. Perhaps we can help each other out by ensuring that said time wasting is spent on the highest quality material the net has to offer. (No! Not porn!!)
And that is a rather beautiful thing, wouldn't you agree?
This week, Kate is playing board games with her family. And it isn't even ironic.