Ladies and gentlemen, every mediocre webcomic cliche in one comic, minus the geeky ones!

sgrthumb(From Scary Go Round. Click for full-sized goodbye.)

There is one reason and one reason only I am reviewing Scary Go Round, and that’s because it just ended, and as such I review it right now or not at all. By putting this out this late in the week, nearly a week after the last strip, I’m technically violating my “don’t review ended comics” rule; I was actually considering putting it out Monday. As such this will be very different from my other reviews in more ways than one. I’m going in knowing absolutely nothing about the story, and I’m reviewing it almost entirely from an archive binge perspective.

Here’s my description of the first chapter: A comedy horror mystery.

Yes, Scary Go Round, like a lot of webcomics, got off to a slow start with a story about Rachel, reassigned to resurrect the school newspaper, stumbling on the paper’s former staff stuffed into a cupboard, which turns out to have been carried out by a sentient gas that was a former member of a science club. While Rachel, the whole time, makes wisecracks to her more straight-laced friend Tessa, and while the characters appear to be paper cut-outs that barely open their mouths. It’s head-slappingly stupid enough I braced for the worst from the rest of the strip.

As it turns out, after two stories of this sort of Scooby Doo-like antics, the strip shifted focus to the characters of Tim, Ryan, Shelley, and Amy, almost junking Rachel and Tessa from the strip entirely; there’s only one more Scooby Doo-like story after that. Shelley, killed off in the second story, gets resurrected as a zombie in the third, and then seemingly for good in the fourth, and the strip at this point could best be described as Sluggy Freelance meets Questionable Content, maybe even with a little Gunnerkrigg Court and Something Positive mixed in. (QC‘s Jeph Jacques even did a guest strip for SGR.) Fundamentally it’s a slice-of-life story where the characters seem to take the fact that every day of their lives they’re surrounded by wacky stuff (like portals to alternate dimensions and weird black diminutive monsters that want to eat people) in stride, simply firing off wisecracks at it all. The story evolves in focus eventually to Shelley and Amy in particular as Tim and Ryan retreat for different reasons in late 2003, and pretty much stays there for the rest of the strip.

A note on characterization. I’m trying to get away from the notion of this space as a resource for Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere as opposed to simply a review site, but I have to say a few words about how the characters were portrayed in early SGR. I understand that you write what you know and you put a little of yourself into each character, and you want to give your comic a defining attitude, but it’s generally a bad sign when all your major characters share an attribute, like wisecracks and snark as in the early SGR, and it is in fact their defining attribute to the extent when you strip it away the characters become two-dimensional cyphers. There are differences between the characters, but they don’t shine through very well. Allison, to his credit, took more steps to separate his characters as time went on, particularly making Shelley downright sassy (if the final strip is any indication), but is it just me, or is the Shelley who’s constantly looking for adventure in the post-reboot SGR more consistent with the Amy of the first quarter of the strip than the Shelley she got drunk at least twice to drag along on wacky adventures? The later Amy seems rather demure for someone with tattoos all over her body.

There were several points in this early portion of the archive where I thought that, like Dresden Codak, John Allison was hiding some part of the archive from me as an old shame. Apparently that’s because most of these characters were part of a previous, less wacky strip dating back to 1998, but there’s almost no evidence of this on the site itself – the archive dates back to 2002 and outside the blog, there’s no mention of this earlier strip, only a “since 1998” note on the about page. The first place I learned about the existence of this earlier strip, in fact, was none other than TV Tropes. If I had to guess, the reason the existence of this strip is hidden is because of the 2007 reboot of the strip to be more new-reader-friendly, but that doesn’t explain why “first” still takes you to 2002 with the only direct mention of the reboot being the about page, and after reading the first quarter of the strips, I find Scary Go Round remarkably new-reader friendly considering its wackiness, as the status quo doesn’t really change much.

That is, until Shelley diesagain.

At that point, Scary Go Round went through its own version of PVP/Goats Syndrome, or trying to put your strip’s ridiculous elements through Cerebus Syndrome and succeeding only in making them even more ridiculous. SGR was never gag-a-day, never really tried to get rid of its humor, and never really deconstructed its ridiculous elements to my knowledge, but at this point it did start to become necessary to keep a scorecard to keep track of everything, and it sure as hell became more and more ridiculous. Here’s all you need to know about SGR from this point forward: the cast page has a fish-man (apparently as a regular part of the cast), a “nautical inventor”, a goblin infestation in Tackleford, a space owl, devil bears, Shelley’s sister Erin, who “Grew to her (comparatively) enormous size after drinking something her sister stole”, and Rachel, who was killed and subsequently sold her soul to the devil. Oh, and according to TV Tropes Shelley makes this “death” thing a bit of a habit of hers. The first storyline after the relaunch (or at least the link to the relaunch on the About page) involves Shelley, the mayor, and Shelley’s reporting partner Mike going insane, and a giant green bee stalking the British equivalent of the county fair, and generally makes very little sense.

Quite frankly, I think SGR was better in 2003, its first full calendar year, and early 2004 than it was as it went along and got wackier and wackier, even though I haven’t read most of that. For what it’s trying to do, early SGR is rather servicable; later SGR is too wacky to take seriously, and as the cast page appears to be frozen at a point in time before the reboot, it seems to me that the final story is as continuity-choked as what SGR had pre-reboot. In fact, I can’t even follow some conversations or even make out the meaning of some lines, especially in later strips. Just as Bobbins begat Scary Go Round, so Allison is planning to make SGR beget another new comic. If he ever decides to go the wacky hijinks path SGR embraced – and I’m not sure he should – I hope he looks back at what he had in 2003, and tries to recapture the magic he had there, and not find himself showing Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere everything you need to know on what not to do.