I have been reading the Webcomic Overlook for close to four months and in all that time have remained completely stymied by the same problem: I have no idea what to say about it. I mean that quite literally: I find absolutely nothing remarkable about any of El Santo’s reviews.
In some sense, perhaps that’s a good thing; El Santo doesn’t really have any of the idiosyncrasies of a Robert A. Howard or even an Eric Burns(-White). He simply goes forth and reviews webcomics, completely unremarkably. That’s not to say he simply reports on webcomics in a completely boring style; far from it. Most of the time, his style is as playful and laid-back as the best of them, yet capable of deconstructing a webcomic when circumstances warrant. In that sense, he’s not entirely unlike Websnark, except he doesn’t get quite as neurotic as Websnark or even Tangents can get.
Nearly four years ago, Eric Burns(-White) identified several different definitions of the word “critic”, and if he strives to be the “scholarly” type of critic and YWIB exemplified the “negative” type of critic, then El Santo is perhaps webcomics’ foremost example of the “reviewer” type of critic, possibly, though I’d need a more knowledgable outsider’s take on this, the answer to the challenge set forth in the comments to that post. That characterization of Websnark may surprise anyone who read my original response to that post, but unlike Websnark, Tangents, and me, El Santo never comments on current events in comics he reads. He strictly writes a review on how good the comic as a whole is and whether or not he recommends it, occasionally doing some scholarly analysis of why it works or doesn’t work (and occasionally getting quite snarky at something he doesn’t like), and then he generally doesn’t touch it again. If Tangents was the first to succeed at treating webcomics like literary novels, El Santo is, if not the first, certainly the most prominent to treat them like movies.
Although El Santo’s style comes across as rather breezy, when compared to how Websnark and Tangents do the same sort of actual “review” review, he’s substantially closer to the latter than the former. The main thing that separates them is that, while both of them will start by saying something on some tangentially related subject that they eventually bring around to the subject of the review, El Santo does so with a bit more levity, while Tangents tends to stay more deadly serious. I made fun of Howard for that tactic, but with El Santo it’s more a part of his appeal and charm. Beyond that, both of them break down the elements of the comic and what makes it tick, or not tick.
(Considering how Websnark almost never did any actual reviews except in connection with some current moment – though my inability to find them wasn’t helped by the fact they never did get around to fixing their old archives – it’s hard to say it had a style.)
El Santo bills his main reviews as “ridiculously long”, but I never get the sense that they’re really that long. It’s not like he’s launching into a detailed dissertation on every aspect of a webcomic; I’m not even sure they’re longer than my own reviews. They’re certainly longer than what Websnark and Tangents engage in, but that may say more about them – and thus, the state of webcomics criticism – than about him. For the most part, El Santo fills out his reviews with detailed descriptions of the plot (as opposed to the brief descriptions of the concept Websnark or Tangents would use) that he’ll sometimes use as a jumping-off point to talk about his thoughts on the comic’s evolution and aspects of the comic, coming back around to more general aspects towards the end. One of my few quibbles with him is his reliance on formula, tending to focus on explaining the plot and using that as a jumping off point for analysis rather than using the analysis as a jumping off point for explaining the plot as I would do.
He seems to be most in his comfort zone when talking about a humor comic or a comic he hates, as that’s when he’s at his snarkiest, but that’s to be expected; what’s impressive is his ability to switch to extremely serious analysis of a good dramatic webcomic, maybe even in the same review. He’s almost found a way to take the Websnark approach and evolve it into a more professional (for lack of a better word) form. I get the sense that his review style has evolved as it’s gone on, with him finding his voice and a review style that works for him and does the medium more justice; he was plenty snarky even in his five-star review of Gunnerkrigg Court and didn’t go on so long about the plot (admitedly at a time when it didn’t have much plot). Beyond his focus on plot exposition, he might be the closest of the three to my own reviews stylistically, and those early reviews even more so.
I can’t say we have a common taste in actual webcomics – I have to disagree with his calling Scary Go Round one of the best webcomics of the last decade, and how dare he blaspheme Order of the Stick by only giving it four stars (and then only because it does what it does with stick figures)?!? Considering our shared enjoyment of OOTS, Gunnerkrigg Court, Questionable Content, and even Darths and Droids, my tastes seem to run more in parallel with those of Robert A. Howard, though I don’t know if I would like The Wotch or some of the other comics of that sort Howard has reviewed in the past or whether he would like Ctrl+Alt+Del (or at least that comic’s early days), though I do get the sense that both Howard and El Santo would really like Homestuck (El Santo even gave its predecessor Problem Sleuth five stars).
That, combined with the fact that as snarky as El Santo can get, he doesn’t really give me an actual reason to read his reviews (unlike Websnark), makes me ambivalent about adding the Webcomic Overlook to my RSS reader full-time. He’s not giving me a reason not to, so it’s staying on my RSS reader for now, but the Webcomic Overlook is just sort of there to me. Perhaps I’d get a kick out of his comments on current happenings in webcomics now that I’m not reading Comixtalk anymore, but I wouldn’t read it just for that if I found I liked Fleen.