Saturday, 21 April 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Ctrl+Alt+Del vs. Dueling Analogs

Following on from my previous article I’m still on a bit of a try-something-different kick, so this week I’ll be comparing two gaming webcomics, strips that use the abundant source material of the average internet user’s probable second hobby to point and laugh at.

Ctrl+Alt+Del is considered to be one of the great internet establishments that seems to have been around forever; a long-form story interspersed with standalone gag pages created by Tim Buckley. The main story focuses around the main character, Ethan, who’s one of those dangerously stupid comedic characters unless it has anything to do with his chosen subject of expertise, in this case gaming. Despite his Homer-Simpson-in-a-random-mood level of stupidity, he has still managed to achieve incredible things through the history of the strip, including build his own fully self-aware robot out of an X-Box, become manager of his own gaming shop, and rise to leadership of his own quasi-religion that worships video games.

The art style is certainly solid enough, and the story does have the knack of getting into hilariously crazy situations without being too random (if that’s possible?), but I find myself struggling to find nice things to say about this webcomic. Looking past my personal bias against gaming webcomics and trying to read it with a fresh outlook, it still doesn’t grab me with its plotlines or its occasional gag-a-day pages. Also it kinda irks me as a Nintendo gamer that most of the references are about X-Box, Playstation, PC, and even tabletop games, but not very much Nintendo.

The main problem is balance. Like a few other webcomics that have fallen into this trap, when the short gag pages are going well, the ongoing story either slows to a crawl or suffers in the writing, or vice-versa. And even if the ongoing story is taken on its own, issues of balance creep up in the narrative as well! I refer of course to the now infamous ‘miscarriage scene’ involving Ethan‘s girlfriend Lilah. Readers expecting yet more gaming or pregnancy jokes were stunned by the curveball, and readers who were invested in the characters felt that the hard issue was cheapened by the surrounding gags both before and after the event. I don’t want to get too far into the big debate still swirling around this, and I respect a creator’s right to do what he wants with his own creations, plus I’m all for a bit of conflict to move the story along, so lets just leave it at that.

Dueling Analogs is a purely gag-a-day webcomic with a few running themes, created by Steve Napierski. The site has had a very pretty remodel recently, giving over space to share and redistribute other gaming comics and news articles from around the web, but if you click the “exclusives” tab at the top you’ll find the original content we’re after. Several long-running themed pages continually pop up in the strip, things like “Rejected Mega Man Robot Bosses”, “Unofficial Pokeball Designs”, and “Games You’re Glad Were Never Made”, simple gag ideas that work fairly well and are ripe for revisiting.

Although the strip does often rely on jokes about the gaming news of the time, and like a lot of gaming webcomics it quickly feels dated during re-reads as a result, I found that the majority of its punch lines do actually attain a timeless quality. This is a benefit from the strip seemingly focusing on the big mainstream games that everyone has played or at least heard about, and also laughing at the conceits and cliches of the gaming industry as a whole. And I am glad to see some Nintendo jokes in the mix!

Sadly though, many of the comic’s jokes fall flat (in my personal opinion), or are of the variety of “so simple/childish I could have thought of that”. And although they do extract a school-boy giggle from me, the large amount of rude/adult content and jokes will put off quite a few people.

And so to the verdict. I was surprised that I hated the “big league” Ctrl+Alt+Del as much as I did, when apparently it’s one of the most successful webcomics on the internet. And even though it’s not something I’d normally read, Dueling Analogs is far and away my pick of the week.

Todd Marsh totally promises to read the Abominable Charles Christopher EVENTUALLY.

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