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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