Two More Similarities Between Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics

Well, since I still seem to be going through a bit of an animated sitcom phase at the time of writing, I thought that I’d write a follow-up to an article about the similarities between webcomics and animated sitcoms that I posted here about a week ago.

So, here are two more awesome similarities between animated sitcoms and webcomics:

1) Side stories: The day before I wrote this article, I was watching a second-hand DVD of season six of “American Dad” and happened to notice a really interesting episode. The episode is called “Rapture’s Delight” and it’s this 1980s-style religion-influenced sci-fi horror comedy thriller episode that is at least slightly visually and tonally different to the rest of the show:

This is a screenshot from “Rapture’s Delight” (2009/10). This post-apocalyptic sci-fi horror comedy episode of “American Dad” is very different to a typical episode of the show, and yet it works really well!

The episode is so wonderfully cheesy on so many levels, the “Doom” -style dystopian future, the 1980s-style electronic and heavy metal music, the stylised American Christmas scenes and the fact that it’s a cheesy sci-fi/horror/comedy/thriller story in the middle of a sitcom. Yet, it still works as an episode of “American Dad”. Not only that, it also made me think about webcomics too.

This is mostly because some webcomics will occasionally do something similar to this, where they will include a somewhat different side story in place of their usual self-contained comic updates. Although it’s been quite a while since I’ve really read it regularly, Holkins and Krahulik’s long-running gaming webcomic “Penny Arcade” will occasionally include more “serious” graphic novel style story arcs in place of the usual topical gaming comics.

These are two panels from “Sand” by Holkins & Krahulik (2013). The characters, visual style, subject matter and tone of this “wild west” sci-fi comic is significantly different from the usual videogame-themed “Penny Arcade” webcomic updates that they post on their site.

But, why do webcomic makers do this? Well, there are several reasons – but the main one is that it gives us a chance to try something a bit different. To break with routine for a while and remind ourselves of how fun making comics can be. It’s also something a bit different for the audience as well.

For example, my own occasional webcomics have featured things like science fiction story arcs (like this one, this one and this one), detective stories (like this one, this one, this one and this one), a zombie story and even a story arc set in 1990s America. In addition to this, I also recently tried to make comics that included no dialogue whatsoever. So, yes, this sort of thing happens as much for the sake of the webcomic creators as it does for their audience.

2) Historical cameos: One of the great things about any drawing-based medium is the fact that it is ridiculously easy to include amusing cameos from historical figures. After all, you don’t have to find actors or models who look like the people in question.

Although this sort of thing can also be done easily in prose fiction (John Kendrick Bangs’ “A House-Boat On The Styx” being the classic example), it obviously lacks the visual elements found in webcomics and animated sitcoms.

Anyway, a good example of historical cameos can be seen in an episode from season two of the animated sci-fi sitcom “Futurama” called “A Head In The Polls” which features a hall filled with the re-animated heads of many US Presidents, who have amusing conversations with the show’s main characters.

This is a screenshot from the Futurama episode “A Head In The Polls” (1999). Re-creating this scene in a live-action sitcom would be ridiculously difficult yet, since this is an animated sitcom, the creators of the show were easily able to include a scene like this.

This concept of historical cameos is explored a lot more comprehensively in Kate Beaton’s excellent “Hark! A Vagrant“, a webcomic which mostly revolves around history-themed comedy. Beaton’s comics often feature amusing meetings between historical figures and/or silly situations involving historical figures, and it is hilarious.

These are two panels from episode 213 of Kate Beaton’s “Hark! A Vagrant!”. This comic update revolves around Jules Verne sending Edgar Allen Poe some obssessive fan mail, and it is one of many examples of historical comedy in this webcomic.

So, why do webcomics and animated sitcoms do this kind of thing? Well, the obvious answer is because they can. The more subtle answer is that it is a very good source of comedy, for the simple reason that history is often treated with a very high degree of seriousness and reverence. As such, it is perfect for irreverent humour. It can also be a good way to pay tribute to historical figures and/or to critique the way that history is recorded and remembered too.

Although this is something that I haven’t done that often in my own occasional webcomics, this mini series of mine features silly historical cameos from Ada Lovelace, Karl Marx and Jack The Ripper. I mostly just did this for the fun of it, but it certainly gave the mini series an extra something.

“Damania Repressed – Analytical Engine” By C. A. Brown

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Anyway, I hope that this was interesting 🙂

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Animated Sitcoms And Webcomics Are More Similar Than You Think – A Ramble

Well, although I’m still going through a bit more of a nostalgic phase than usual, I thought that I’d take a break from talking about 1990s computer games to talk about one of the other “nostalgic” things that I rediscovered recently – animated sitcoms. In particular, I’ll be talking about what animated sitcoms can teach us about making webcomics (but, for time/practicality reasons, I’ll only be looking at two “immature” animated sitcoms here [eg: “South Park” and “Family Guy”], as well as a few webcomics too).

These two mediums have a lot more in common than you might think. Both tell stories using stylised drawings, both have to be made (relatively) quickly, both rely heavily on well-written dialogue, both have a limited amount of time and/or space to tell a story, and both are usually deliberately “unrealistic” in all sorts of inventive ways.

A good example of this can probably be seen in Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “South Park“. This is a long-running animated sitcom where each episode is apparently written and produced within the space of about a week or so (in order to allow for more topical satire). As such, the show often tends to use a fairly primitive level of animation – where the emphasis is much more on the comedic dialogue and the amusing events of each episode than on detailed art or fluid/realistic animation.

This is a screenshot from season 7 of “South Park” (2003). As you can see, the art is deliberately undetailed. Likewise, the animation is done using CGI that emulates traditional “cut out” animation. This allows the show’s creators to make episodes quickly, albeit at the cost of less realistic and less fluid animation.

Sacrificing art/animation detail for speed is something that anyone who makes or reads regular long-running webcomics will probably be familiar with.

A good example of this has to be Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal“, a daily webcomic which often uses undetailed backgrounds and very cartoonish art in order to maintain a constant daily schedule.

These are two panels from one of Zach Wiener’s “Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal” comics from last year. Like with “South Park”, less detailed art is used in order to increase the speed and regularity that these comics are made.

Like with “South Park”, the emphasis of the comic is on amusing/ irreverent/ silly dialogue (or amusing situations). As such, the audience is more likely to focus on this than the level of artistic detail in each update. This also allows for daily comic updates too.

For comparison, take a look at Winston Rowntree’s “Subnormality” – this webcomic looks absolutely beautiful, but all of the hyper-detailed art takes a long time to make, so the comic only updates once every few months at the very most.

This is a panel from “muZeM” by Winston Rowntree (2015). As you can see, the level of artistic detail is considerably higher. However, one result of this is that the comic can sometimes only update 1-2 times per year (as opposed to every day or several times a week).

So, yes, the level of artistic detail in a webcomic depends heavily on factors like the update schedule, how topical the comic is etc.. Just like animated sitcoms.

Moving on to another TV show, I was lucky enough to find a cheap second-hand DVD of Seth McFarlane’s “Family Guy” (the DVD cover claims that it is season ten, but Wikipedia suggests that the episodes are from season nine).

Anyway, one interesting thing about this DVD boxset is that it contains an hour-long special called “And Then There Were Fewer“. This is a slight parody of Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None” and it is probably one of the most visually sumptuous episodes of “Family Guy” that I’ve ever seen (plus, having made an Agatha Christie parody comic of my own last year, I was naturally curious to see how “Family Guy” handled this topic).

This is a screenshot from Seth McFarlane’s “And Then There Were Fewer” (2010). As you can see, the art looks a bit more detailed than “South Park”.

Anyway, the reason that I mentioned this episode is because some parts of it use fairly obvious CGI effects (as opposed to more subtle CGI that imitates traditional animation).

For example, many of the establishing aerial shots of the mansion that the episode takes place within are quite clearly created using cel-shaded 3D models, rather than “traditional”-style animation. And, this is a good thing! It allows the show to do something that would be near-impossible with traditional-style animation in a fraction of the time and for a fraction of the cost.

It’s also a good example of how webcomic creators shouldn’t be afraid to use whichever technologies make it easier and/or quicker to make better webcomics. I mean, it’s no coincidence that many regular modern webcomics will often use digital tools (for example, my own occasional webcomics use a mixture of digital and traditional materials) since they allow for things like the easy correction of mistakes, the fast addition/alteration of colours, the addition of digital effects and the seamless re-use of previously made artwork.

This is one of my own comic updates where, due to time limitations, I created the central panel using entirely digital tools. The other two panels are digitally enhanced ink/watercolour drawings.
(“Damania Replicated – Records” By C. A. Brown [2016/17])

And, no, this isn’t “cheating”. As long as it is your own original work, then there’s no rule against using whatever procedural shortcuts you need in order to get your comics out on time and/or make them look good. As cynical as it sounds, most readers will be more interested in reading your comic than working out how it was made, and most other webcomic artists will understand that shortcuts can be an essential part of making a webcomic.

So, yes, those are two things that animated sitcoms can teach you about making webcomics – the dialogue matters more than the art, and that you shouldn’t be afraid to use digital tools (if this makes your art look better and/or makes it quicker to make).

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Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂