Some quick notes

This post was originally planned for tomorrow, which is when the College Football Rankings will likely be delayed until. The main reason is because someone gave me another reason to post today.

Robert A. Howard somewhat belatedly commented on my post on Tangents, and mentioned that he “definitely [would] mention [Da B]log over at Tangents.” Once that comes down the pike it should result in some sort of traffic bump, although between the hiatus and then the move to the new site I suspect Tangents has bled some readers recently.

After reading that comment, I think John Solomon may have been on to something in his characterization of Howard as a suck-up. I hope he doesn’t make too many changes just because I say so, and I hope he doesn’t define his writing style entirely on what other people say it should be, but I hope he knows what’s the blog he wants to write. Not that he should entirely shut himself off from the criticism of others – then he’s basically Tim Buckley, and no one wants to be that – but I think most people want to read “Tangents by Robert A. Howard,” not “Tangents by Eric Burns(-White), John Solomon, Morgan Wick, and a gazillion others”.

I’m trying to take it easy with this post. I slated quite a few things to put on Da Blog during the break, not least of them being a resumption of my platform reviews and another political feature to run during the summer, which I would work on now so they wouldn’t become a repeat of the platform reviews later, and so that I could work on several posts at once. But with my limited Internet access time, most of my time has been dominated by what I’m doing for Da Blog now. I haven’t even been able to look for any jobs, even for just during the break.

It doesn’t help that I don’t have the services of the local public library available during the winter break (don’t ask why), unlike in summer, and Seattle just got hit with the Cold Snap of the Century right AFTER it wouldn’t have mattered so much to me, so sitting outside and using the Internet, either stealing it from someplace else or using the city of Seattle’s on-again-off-again public connection, is a good way to get frostbite. I also don’t have the services of running just outside the house briefly anyway; the only connection left that’s a block or so from my house is far more inconsistent than what I’ve used before. (A nearby business has repeatedly offered to allow me to sit inside, but for at least two reasons I doubt I would like its atmosphere.) I burned my one real shot at using the Internet at a place I would have to pay for in a context where it netted me about an hour and a half, most of it not used on anything productive. I’m using the Internet four nights a week at a place where the only reason I don’t pay for it is because my dad works here, and it’s still technically mooching off another place’s connection.

And Da Blog and Sandsday are the closest things I have to any sort of income… I had been hoping to use the winter break as a time to wind down and relax before redoubling my efforts to get schoolwork done in the new quarter, but that doesn’t seem to be happening.

What is it with me and forgetting to put titles on webcomic posts?

I should probably stop talking so much about YWIB&YSFB. It was popular for maybe five months last year, made a brief (and far less productive) comeback early this year, and hasn’t updated since. But when it was at the height of its (reluctant) popularity, one of its favorite targets, when it took aim at something other than the subject of a post, was Robert A. Howard, proprietor of Tangents.

Referred to simply as “Bobby Tangents”, Howard was regularly painted as a “c**ksucker” with a gender-switching fetish, apparently because he reads a disturbingly significant amount of gender-switching comics, which might have something to do with the fact that there are a disturbingly significant amount of gender-switching comics. When he did a review of Tangents itself, John Solomon compared him to the kid in the playground who desperately wanted to be anyone’s – anyone’s – friend, no matter the cost, because if you asked him to eat a bug, by golly, he’d practically cook up a bug sandwich if he felt it would make him your friend. (What’s everybody looking at me for all of a sudden?) So with Howard, as Solomon saw it, he would tell a webcomic author how great they are supposedly just so they would give him the attention, or at least credibility.

Well, ol’ Bobby Howard took that to heart, and he started shifting, becoming less of a suck-up and throwing in more actual criticism in his reviews, thanks in part to the influence of other webcomic reviewers who could call out a webcomic’s flaws without being, well, John Solomon. (I know Howard has talked about this somewhere, but I’m not sure if it’s in the part of the archive that’s been reposted to the new site, or if it was even on Tangents at all.) He’s even gone so far as written what amounts to a “you had me and you lost me” for College Roomies From Hell!! What I’m here for is to determine how well he did that, and take a general look at Tangents, because I wasn’t able to find an actual webcomic I could review for today (though I think I’m good for two weeks after this, by which point it’ll probably be time to revisit the world of OOTS), and as Websnark and Tangents are really the only two webcomic review blogs that have ever mattered, an examination of the latter is long overdue, especially when a review of Websnark might have been the very first post to win the “webcomics” tag and I’ve already reviewed YWIB already. (I haven’t reviewed Tangents already because of the lengthy hiatus while the site was down, which I complained about several times at the time.)

You wanna know what’s something I’ve noticed about Tangents from reading, really, a smattering of reviews?

The writing style.

Apparently Howard learned in English class that, when writing an essay, you are supposed to “hourglass” your argument: start with a broad topic, narrow the focus down to whatever you’re writing about, then bring things back out to a broad level at the end. Howard certainly has the first part of that down. He will start most reviews by talking about some general trend in webcomics, or about writing, or about some other topic that ties into the comic he’s reviewing, or occasionally about the comic itself. It’d be easy to consider a parody of Tangents just looking at the beginnings of his posts:

Games have been played since the beginning of time, but it has only been in the last quarter-century or so that people have taken to the idea of playing them on computers. As the video game industry has evolved and taken its place as a medium on par with any other, it has become natural that a medium which involves the one-time release of single, complete stories, like movies, would see the attraction of sequels and trilogies, and so forth. And like movies, it’s easy to see how this would lead to an overreliance on said series. Sandsday has brilliantly skewered this trend in its latest comic

Part of that is that Howard’s style is different from that of Eric Burns. In Websnark’s heyday, he would review a specific episode of a webcomic, and often the same webcomic at least twice a week, or at least twice a month, with little more than “this is funny,” or saying something about the webcomic in general at the same time; Howard started out trying to do long-form reviews about entire comics, not unlike what I try to do in the regular Tuesday space, but for the sake of his own sanity, he has more recently moved on to shorter, more condensed and moment-in-time reviews – though he still tries not to review the same webcomic all too often, and he still tries to pull it back to the comic as a whole.

Still, he reviewed Megatokyo once on September 30 and again on December 13. He’s also reviewed Order of the Stick, Gunnerkrigg Court, The Wotch, and xkcd twice in similar timeframes. In fact, he’s reviewed xkcd at least four times over the course of this year, including once on October 13 and again on December 5, which begs the question: does he intend to review xkcd as often as I review Order of the Stick? (And that’s not even counting the reviews posted on Howard’s LiveJournal when Tangents was down, which aren’t part of the new archive. Yet. OOTS and the Court haven’t been reviewed twice since the new site went up, only once each.)

And the thing about this shift is that Howard has, really, started making Tangents more like Websnark, but he still seems to want to write his reviews like they’re essays. Once upon a time, Howard introduced the “secant” as a way of differentiating his moment-in-time posts from his webcomic-in-review “tangents”. As Howard started trying to condense all his reviews, by his own admission the definitions flipped, and while he attempted to rectify that situation, the truth is that not only had the secants become the lion’s share of the posts by that point, almost all the posts on the new site are tagged “secant”. The distinction, truly, means nothing anymore and I’m not sure Howard can get it back.

What’s more, the openings of Howard’s posts really presage something about the posts themselves. In many ways, Howard’s deconstructions of the medium makes Burns look downright normal. Sometimes, as with his recent Something Positive post, all Howard basically has to say is “this is somewhat derivitive, but hey, this part is funny!” But Howard’s most recent Megatokyo post is as much about how any webcartoonist can avoid “talking heads” as it is about anything having to do with Megatokyo itself. In fact, he has quite a few “how it’s done” posts, targeted not only at webcomickers but, at one point, at podcasters. A trip through the Tangents archives, especially more recent ones, could be considered almost “Webcomics 101”. When he reviews a story-based comic, namely The Wotch or Gunnerkrigg Court, he will go into an in-depth examination of his interpretation of the characters and where the story can go from here, which sounds downright normal unless you’ve actually read those posts. (Granted, it’s not that different from what I do with Order of the Stick, which surprisingly, Howard doesn’t seem to treat quite as in-depth.)

Maybe this is because of the weightiness of the other posts, but reading those posts that don’t attempt to explicate Howard’s feelings in depth, that spend the lion’s share of their time really just explaining the context without saying much about it, I sense a creeping pointlessness, dolled up in enough prose to attempt to hide it. We could continue the parody we started above by having it essentially say, “I laughed at this”, only hidden in a lengthy explanation of the entire history and even concept of the strip, or we could take the beginning we used and attempt to use it to write an entire theory of Life, the Universe, and Everything.

Howard’s biggest problem, I think, is that a significant number of his posts aren’t much different from Websnark in substance – but he has nowhere near Eric Burns(-White)’s sense of humor. If he had more of a sense of humor, some of his three-paragraph posts could be written in three or four sentences.

Now, this is probably a conscious decision on Howard’s part. Websnark was never originally intended as the Founder of Webcomics Criticism, only a place where Burns could comment on whatever funny things he found on the Internet, which happened to mostly be webcomics. So it’s natural that Burns(-White) would create an atmosphere where he was just shooting the breeze about the webcomics he loved, even if he did spend most of his time going through it with an English teacher’s fine-toothed comb.

But one thing webcomics have always been paranoid about is respect (any non-mainstream medium is), and while the Webcomics Community(tm) was quick to seize on Websnark as the first place to treat webcomics as worthy of serious discussion, no doubt there were many who were concerned that, in tone, Websnark didn’t take anything all that seriously. I think this may have been a more overriding factor in Tangents’ creation than Websnark’s “ignoring comics that deserved reviews” (although oddly, judging by the April 2005 posts in the new archive, Howard actually started out with a bit more of a sense of humor than he does now). If Websnark was the first place to treat webcomics as worthy of any sort of serious discussion, Tangents would be the first place to treat them as worthy of the discussion you would give 1984 or Wuthering Heights.

So Howard would write what amounted to English papers on the topic of webcomics (although the first time he writes about a strip, he will basically review it to some extent, and give some sort of recommendation on whether you should read it)… and the problem is that it’s probably the wrong style for when he wants to just write these short posts that basically say “I enjoyed this”. Howard still does posts, labeled “webcomic commentary”, that are substantially such deconstructions of the medium in general that they don’t even consider one specific webcomic as their example. But when you write superficial posts in an English paper’s style, you become a target for parody, even self-parody, and you remind people why people don’t talk that way in real life.

Funnily enough, not only does Howard display some humor in the aforementioned CRfH snark, it’s not boring and rather appropriately tears into what Maritza Campos did with her comic. In fact, it’s almost as funny as YWIB, only actually convincing. When Howard has something negative to say about a webcomic, his “Webcomics 101” style helps him point out exactly what turned him off to that webcomic, while still doing so in an entertaining style. Unlike Websnark, Tangents continues going strong nearly four years in, still doing webcomic reviews on a semi-regular basis, and for potential webcomic writers and artists Howard’s opinions can be eye-opening. And as I always say, none of what I have to criticise about Tangents is a complete turn-off. But – unlike Websnark – it’s not compelling enough to make my RSS reader.

On the other hand, my own webcomic reviews bear more than a few similarities to Howard’s…

You know the drill. OOTS fawning ahead. Here there be spoilers.

(From The Order of the Stick. Click for full-sized planning ahead.)

I found a recent comment from Robert Howard that stated that Tangents would take a couple of months to come back in full. Which means I can put up all my other OOTS thoughts while I wait. I’ve added yet another one to the stack, and neither one of the two I was thinking of is the one I want to look at today.

This one concerns the very structure of OOTS that has sprung up recently. At the end of the last book, Rich Burlew split the Order in twain after killing off their fearless leader, and since about #500 the strip has largely consisted of shuttling between the two groups: Vaarsuvius, Elan, and Durkon on the one hand, and Haley, Belkar, and non-member Celia on the other. (Roy’s ghost has popped in once or twice with the latter, though the Oracle of Sunken Valley has been the only living being to see or hear him so far, and we also shuttled over to Team Evil for a spell, and their captive paladin O-Chul.)

Nominally, both branches of the Order have been concerned with reuniting, resurrecting Roy, and continuing their quest to stop Xykon’s evil plot. The former, and thus the latter two as well, has been restricted by a magical spell surrounding Haley and Belkar that only they and Celia know about, coupled with the fact that the only members of the group able to make magical contact with them, or resurrect Roy, are with the other group (while Roy remains with Haley and Belkar).

Haley, Celia, and Belkar have remained largely focused on their goal, although the group dynamics between them have been, in large part, the focus, and the last time we saw them Haley’s past looked to be catching up to her. However, Elan and Durkon, powerless to do anything about the situation, have found themselves distracted by the travails of their hosts, Hinjo and the in-exile government of Azure City, especially the plot against Hinjo by the rogue noble (possibly with otherworldly backing) Kubota. (V has been just the opposite, so focused on trying to find Haley and Belkar it’s caused him/her to do the elvish equivalent of “lose sleep” and grow distant from the rest of the group.)

As a result, the story of this half of the Order has little to do with the overall superplot of the strip at all, and has been, essentially, a self-contained story of its own. It is, essentially, Elan’s story, which is why I was hoping to link the Tangents-derived post to this stage of the story, even though recent strips have cross-cut between the tribulation in the strip above and the battle with a massive demon. Kubota’s top minion, Therkla, has been distracted from her “kill-Hinjo” mission by her growing “feelings” for Elan, which until recently Elan was mostly oblivious to, and Kubota was barely oblivious to. Now that plotline has been building to a climax worthy of a Bond movie, which makes it all the more appropriate that Elan would be at the center of it – and which, especially coupled with the renewed promise the last time we looked at Haley, Celia, and Belkar, pretty strongly suggests the group will reunite at or around #600.

Interestingly, it’s not clear exactly what role Therkla plays in this story. At first glance, she’d appear to be a classic femme fatale, especially since Elan has been an item with Haley since just before the battle over Azure City. However, Elan has never been at risk of turning to the side of evil, or even really being distracted from whatever he needed to do. When Therkla suggested just being together until Haley returned, Elan rejected even that without a second thought (although it’s unclear just how much he’s willing to stick to that position). If anything, it’s been Therkla who seems to have genuinely been drawn, if not exactly to the side of good, at least away from the side of evil, with Elan being the unwitting “femme fatale” in this case – a point driven home when Kubota initially put Therkla in the “him or me” position instead of Elan. In fact, it’s been suggested that Therkla has never even really been evil, but has only been loyal to Kubota for giving her a place where she can fit in. (Therkla’s a half-orc and there’s a long tradition in science fiction and fantasy of half-breeds being rejected by both sides of their lineage.)

This is not the first time Burlew has brought us a story quite this divorced from the overall superplot, which hasn’t really advanced that much since the battle of Azure City. The lengthy bandit episode had little to do with the superplot, as did the starmetal quest that it took up the bulk of. The only real time we had a story quite this divorced from the superplot, at least since the effective start of it, has probably been the last encounter with the Linear Guild, which by and large, Elan also stood at the center of. The foreshadowing of that story, incidentially, started at the very beginning of the starmetal quest and wasn’t resolved until right before #400, a delay of over 250 strips – suggesting it may be a long wait indeed for anything quite so momentous to befall the one thing there’s any real foreshadowing of at the moment, which ironically, would be the next advancement of the superplot. In a sense, it’s stories like these that keep the strip from going “mad”, as it were, with focusing on a single plot it advances above all else, and allows it to keep a little bit of the magic from the Original 42.

I so hate Robert Howard right now.

“In a couple of weeks I should have enough money to rent server space,” Robert A. Howard says on his LiveJournal. Tiny problem: It’s been a month since Howard was forced to leave Tangents’ old host, and every time he’s updated since then he’s said it would be “a couple of weeks” before he would have enough money for server space. I have little reason to believe he’ll make any real progress this time, or that the next update won’t say something similar.

It’s a bit of a shame, not just because I had been planning a review of Tangents (although I’m starting to rethink that), but because OOTS this week reached a point that would have been perfect for me to write a certain post I had in mind, just as I reached a point that I was going to spend on an OOTS post… but it required the existence of a post of Howard’s that’s not on the LJ backup.

I might have a webcomic post later in the week, but it’s probably not the one I was going to post here and it might not even be on OOTS. If I don’t have anything, you get two posts next week.

Quickly typed in a closing library…

Very quick check-in.

I will post a Random Internet Discovery tomorrow, but I have a LOT on my plate. I need to do something to find a job this week and my schedule is all out of whack after I went to the wedding of a relative’s AND ill-advisedly subscribed to RSS feeds from both Media Matters AND Newsbusters. New street signs coming by Friday, and plans I had made to re-announce Truth Court on Thursday now look to be waiting for Saturday or later.

Robert Howard posted on 7/30 to say it’ll still be two weeks before Tangents is on a new site. I’m probably returning to Order of the Stick next Tuesday, and that’ll be on the 12th, so I should have a full week after that to look at Tangents.

Important Webcomic Post Update

I was going to post on Robert Howard’s Tangents on Tuesday, but its current host is shutting down, and Howard’s plans to move it to an independent host were not far enough along yet for him to implement. So it is currently being hosted on LiveJournal and is archivefree. That last bit, plus my reluctance to link to a temporary site, means you get something completely different (as in, an actual webcomic) on Tuesday.

I will make a post on Tangents when it moves to a permanent host in “a couple of weeks”, though I may have a week delay to actually read the archives and write the post. I have at least three comics which I’ve read enough of to make it through any delays, plus a second post on Order of the Stick, so I’m good through August 19. Now I need to get to actually writing them. Throw in another webcomic blog, a fourth comic I have some things to say about even though I’ve actually read none of it, and a third OOTS post and I’m good through September 9. I can probably throw together something on Penny Arcade or User Friendly if I need to after that.

In other blog news, I made a change to this week’s Sports Watcher upon being reminded of something.