Wednesday, July 8, 2020

Online Comics: Five More Strips

By Bixyl Shuftan

Among the things people do online are reading online comics. And there are some serial comics out there with long-lasting storylines. A few months ago, I wrote a review of five of the more popular ones. Since then, I've gotten suggestions to review a few others. Some of those pointed out to me either weren't running for very long, or were beyond a PG-13 rating (including a few good ones that might get someone in trouble if they were seen at work, even at break time). But I came up with five more to take a look at in-depth.

Two Kinds

TwokindsDrawn By Thomas Fischbach since October 2003, "Two Kinds" is described by the artist as a "Fantasy Manga." It takes place in a Medieval Fantasy world with three main races. There are the humans, whom are the technologically and magically most advanced of the three. There are the Keidran, whom come in many varieties such as tigers, wolves, foxes, and others, whom are the shortest-lived of the three and are more instinct-driven and territorial. A third group are the fennec-like Bastians, whom live in a militaristic society and are unable to use magic. The Humans and Keidran share a large landmass, and as humans occasionally make slaves out of the furs there's been trouble between the two kinds for centuries. The Bastians, whom live on a group of islands apart from the continent, have largely been left alone.

The story begins as a human named Trace awakens, having lost his memory. Shortly afterwards, he comes across Flora, a tiger Keidran girl . They soon run into a Bastian named Keith, a fighter whom was banished from his land until he brings back someone to his people's islands. This is the start of an adventure that involves a number of other characters. Raine is a seemingly normal young woman aside from her gray hair whom has a very unusual background. Natani is the younger of two wolf assassins whom were magically linked after an accident, and is not what first appears to be. There's Lady Nora, a two-thousand year old dragon whom has a fondness for Trace. And there are a number of other characters.

The characters end up splitting into two groups after some time in the story, and the comic would switch from one to another for a while. Trace quickly learns that he's a powerful person in his land. But as time goes on, he gradually learns details of his past showing that he wasn't always the kindly person he has become. Eventually, Trace's group makes it's return from the Bastian Islands. But this isn't the end of their adventures as someone decides to cause more trouble between the humans and Keidran. Recently the characters have decided to check out Trace's old home, which has it's share of secrets, and dangers.

The comic currently updates an average of once a week, though occasionally may take longer. Due to violence and some mature humor, the comic rates a PG rating.

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Girl Genius

A popular Steampunk online comic, "Girl Genius" is written by Phil and Kaja Foglio. This "gaslamp fantasy" is the tale of Mad Scientst Agatha Heterodyne and her friends (and enemies).

The story takes place in 19th Century Europe in an alternative Earth where "mad scientist" isn't just an expression but a fact of life. Either the helpers of powerful men and women, or powerful men and women in their own right, "sparks," as they're called when the speaker is being polite, have been the cause of much mayhem, as well as people finding a solution to it. Probably the among the most feared were the Heterodynes, at least until Bill and Barry Heterodyne, also known as the Heterodyne Boys, came about. Using their talents to stop trouble rather than cause it, they became heroes whose stories became the stuff of legend. They disappeared putting an end to "The Other," the most feared of all sparks whom tried to enslave Europa's population. Peace was restored by way of Baron Klaus Wulfenbach, whom installed what became known as the "Pax Transylvaia" over much of Europa. While many are relieved that any trouble will be met with a quick response, Wulfenbach's often ruthless ways have made him a controversial figure. Helping Wulfenbach are the Jagers, odd-looking humanoids often with claws and fangs that are super-strong and feared by most.

At the story's start, Agatha Clay is a lab assistant in Transylvania Polygnostic University. One day on her way to the lab, her locket is stolen. After an incident at the lab, she returns home and ends up making a "clank," or steam-age robot, in her sleep, which activates when she awakens. Eventually, she learns she is really Agatha Heterodyne, the daughter of Bill Heterodyne. Baron Wulfenback also finds out and goes after her, considering the idea of any heir to the Heterodynes a potential threat to the peace he's established over Europa. Agatha gets away with the help of allies, and after some adventures decides to make her way to Mechanicsburg, the ancestral home of her family.

Other characters in the story include the Baron's son Gilgamesh Wulfenbach, sometimes called "Gil" by those who know him, whom ends up falling in love with Agatha, much to his father's annoyance. One of Agatha's first allies is Krosp, an intelligent cat, whom is sometimes known as "the Emperor of Cats." Another friend is Zeetha, a green-haired woman whom can be a terrifying fighter whom Agatha first meets at a traveling circus. Captain Bangladesh DuPree is one of the Baron's more ruthless enforcers, among those pursuing Agatha. Tarvek Sturmvoraus is part of the "Storm King Conspiracy" that opposes the Baron, and ends up being a rival with Gil for Agatha's affection. There's Maxim, Ognian, and Dimo, three "wild" Jagers whom end up as Agatha's bodyguards.

It should be noted that the strip has plenty of fans among Second Life's Steamland community. The virtual world even has it's own Baron Klaus Wulfenbach. There's also that while many webcomic artists hope to "strike it big" and gain a big enough following to sell books in print, with Girl Genius it was the opposite. It came out in print first, and only later on started appearing online. The story has it's own wiki page (link).

Girl Genius is updated three days a week, and rates G with occasional PG. While the naughtiest you'll see is the occasional scene of lady in Victorian undies, there is occasional death and violence.

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21st Century Fox

In the words of "Freefall's" artist Mark Stanley, "21st Century Fox" is, "Probably the most improved comic on the web. From near scrawls and stick figures at the beginning to full color animated gifs. Even with the improved art, this comic's strongest point remains the writing." Drawn by Scott Kellog, this "Romantic comedy of the future" is about Jack Fox and Cecil Giraffe and some friends and acquaintances of theirs as they go about various adventures in the late 21st Century.

The world of 21st Century Fox is an anthromorphic version of Earth in 2066. Much is different from ours, such as the uneasy relationship between herbivores and carnivores (unless the herbivore is so big, instincts aren't a problem), and that scientific progress has gone to the point people are working and living in space. Technology has gotten to the point women can have a pregnancy in artificial wombs (which look a lot like lava lamps). But some things are very much familiar such as prejudice, differing beliefs clashing, and the quest to find love and romance.

At the beginning of the story, Jack Black the fox and Cecil Stewart the giraffe are quite literally on the road, cruising in Jack's restored 1950s Thunderbird. Engineers for hire, they go from job to job solving various technical problems. As one might expect in a comic, not all of their jobs are mundane such as when they're hired by a mad scientist to repair equipment that fried in a lightning storm. Eventually, the two find love. Jack meets Dr. Jenny Curtis and Cecil ends up in relationships with Beth and Barbara (It's a giraffe "herd thing"). But for Jack and Jenny, their relationship gets inconveniently long-distance at times as at one point she gets sent to space to work for months and his various jobs get him sent to places such as North Korea. But despite everything thrown at them, they manage to make it to the end of the day. In the current plot, Jack is hired by a Middle-Eastern country under sanctions to upgrade old computers in a deal approved by the State Department as a peace offering. But not everyone wants him there, and Jack and his team come across something they weren't meant to find out.

Kellog didn't start the strip with as much drawing skill as he does now, and the beginning of the archives are black and white sketches (though still better than what yours truly ever did). If one looks around in the comic long enough, they can come across his "ancient archeology" of the pre-story comics done in the 1990s which he considers embarrassing (though may remind aspiring writers everyone has to start somewhere). While the comic has a number of scares and drama, in the end it's a comedy and punch-lines are never far away. Kellog also does his share of poking fun at things such as politics, such as plans for a nuclear fusion rocket being voted against in Washingtoon because politicians are scared of the word "nuclear," and religion such as the "Disney Fundamentalists" whom have taken certain lines from the movies to the point of an actual religion. There are numerous pop-culture references. While predation is a concern early on in the strip, after a few years into the comic "Scientifically Produced Animal Matter" is perfected to the point the carnivores stop going after the herbivores. A couple times, the story takes a side trip from Jack and Cecil to Johann Maus as he takes a job on the moon, and later on to Dr. Steve Carlson as his career after college starts off in a space station.

Scott Kellog is a farmer in real life, a small place in West Virginia not too far away from a huge radio observatory, and occasionally he has to slow down or put in a filler strip in order to take care of the animals. Besides pictures of farm animals as strip filler, there are occasional tributes to moments in history such as the Moon Landing and the Wright Brothers' Flight. He's married to fellow cartoonist Kathy Garrison, whom does the strip "Carry On."

21st Century Fox is rated G with occasional PG

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Carry On

Drawn by Kathy Garrison, "Carry On" is the story of Kathy Grrsn, a hyena woman, and her friends and family. It originally started off in 2004 as a tribute to the wedding of Cecil, Beth, and Barbara Stewart of "21st Century Fox." But after the wedding was over, Garrison kept writing.

Carry On is somewhat unusual for a "furry" comic as it's main character and a number of the others are hyenas. Garrison would state she wanted to do something different, and as she couldn't think of any sympathetic hyena characters in stories, and the most familiar were the villainous ones in "The Lion King." There's also that some details about them are more than a little weird when one thinks about it.

The world of "Carry On" is an anthromorphic version of Earth, with a few other differences such as the country of Rackenroon in Africa. Although the comic started out as a tribute to the strip of the artist's husband, it's present day rather than near-future, though a little future tech slips in at one point when a scientist has a supply of nanites handy. Kathy may be an American, but as her parents came here from Africa, there are occasions her hyena heritage as coming from a background of a society of fierce warriors where the women are in charge comes up. This most notably happens when relatives from Africa or those recently from there show up at home. While Kathy does have a temper, the ways of her grandmothers are a bit much for her.

Following the first story arc in which Kathy is a bridesmaid of the Stewarts' wedding, she returns back to her life as a writer at a city newspaper. She writes mostly obituaries, though occasionally does other topics. When not working, she's dealing with her sister Sandy, or her parents Arf and Tina. Arf is a mortician, which provides the family with some meat. Tina comes from a line of hyena nobility.

For the first several years of the strip, Kathy deals with various misadventures with her job and her family, such as covering a convention in which she ends up making the news as well (not something a reporter wants to do). Then it's revealed that Kathy is the heir of her Great-Grandmother's title of the Duchess of Rackenroon, plus there's been an arranged marriage between her and Lieutenant Fredrick Kruger, whom is from the wealthiest family in the kingdom, as well as the sole male officer in the female-led Hyena Brigade. While his mother is not liked by Kathy's family, they consider Fredrick's intelligence an asset. Kathy isn't so sure about either the idea of marrying someone she's never met or being the ruler of a society with a well-earned reputation for bloodthirstiness. But her family convinces her to go through with it. It's then off to darkest Africa, with Sandy joining them to help protect Kathy. But to avoid spies and possible assassination, the trip to the city is a cross-country trip through African wilderness and hostile animals and tribes. But even when Kathy and her friends arrive in the city, her challenges have only just begun.

Like her husband Scott Kellog, Kathy Garrison is a farmer. And there are occasional strip filler pictures of life on the farm.

Carry On is updated three days a week, and rates a PG (subtle mature humor).

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Drawn by Chris Grant, "BOHICA Blues" is the story of Joe Rock and his time in the Army Reserves at the time of the Iraq War. Life as a reservist isn't like that of GIs in WW2 movies as they're not facing death every single day. But life is far from easy as problems arise from all kinds of sources from regulations and rules that make little sense to troublesome NCOs, and the ever present threat of the Good Idea Fairy.

The main character of the comic, Joe Rock, was inspired by "Sgt. Rock" of DC Comics, and the term "Joe Rock given to all recruits when Grant was in training. The name of the comic, "BOHICA Blues," comes from the acronym-loving Army's expression "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again." In his Army days, Grant would do his "hastily scrawled"" comic for his fellow soldiers. After the Army, he would put aside cartooning for a few years, but bring it up again as a reservist in Iraq with an earlier edition of "BOHICA Blues."

Joe Rock of Boise Idaho has just joined the Army Reserves after his term of enlistment in the regular Army is done. "College money, one weekend a month, and none of that active-duty nonsense!" he feels. But to his surprise, he finds he'll be going to Iraq just after processing. While life in the 213th Combat Engineers may be serving his country, it's hardly all guts and glory. There's plenty of boredom and tedious work.

Life as an Army Reservist called to duty has plenty of absurdities. And it's not just that your vehicles are second-hand from the regular Army. There are the Sergeant Majors whom ignore your concerns, aside from issuing occasional trivial rules or telling you to mow the grass. There's the rules while deployed such as no alcohol in Islamic countries, which meant no beer, while being served bacon and ham in the chow line. There are things like soldiers whom spent months in cold areas training and wearing t-shirts and shorts next to soldiers fresh from Iraq and bundled up from still being used to hot weather. There's the latrines stinking to the point of a new level of Hell because the locals driving the poop trucks have been threatened by insurgents. There's the local police using similar uniforms and ski masks to the local insurgents. There's the vehicles with inadequate armor being sent in, plates put on as extra shielding, and the mechanics having to do extra work due to the wear and tear. There's the ice cream at the PX being only pink-wrapped "Princess Bars" for a month, and jokingly blamed on Osama Bin Laden as a deliberate effort to undermine morale.

When a soldier goes back home on leave, and talking to civilians, friends and otherwise, they often don't even know where the war is or even if there is one. On the other hand, those against the war (whom aren't always liberals) want them to come home safe and sound, and often have a better knowledge of what's going on than some of the supporters. And when a soldier talks about the war, there's the tend to over-exaggerate talking about the dangers to one's buddies and any girls one hopes to date, but tells the parents things were easygoing. And no matter how boring things were back in the USA while on leave, when you come back to Iraq, it almost seems like it was paradise. And even at the spookiest Halloween party, no monster or zombie was really feared as much as Involuntary Extension Orders. And then there's the ever present threat of the "Good Idea Fairy," whom torments both the battalion and the whole Army with "good ideas" that turn out to be things from minor annoyances to strategic decisions with unintended consequences that last for years.

Eventually, Joe Rock does get promoted to Sergeant Rock. But rather than the nerves of steel comic-book character, this Sgt. Rock tends to be more easy going. And not unexpectedly, he finds rank does have it's privileges, but it can also be a pain in the butt as soldiers now look to him to help solve problems. And of course there's the paperwork to take care of.

There's no shortage of subjects for humor, such as Grant musing if the tank was the symbolic vehicle of WW2, and if it was the helicopter for Vietnam, would it be the poop truck for Iraq? And unlike previous wars, soldiers now had access to video and computer games, or Dungeons and Dragons, which could get a soldier talking not about what was shooting at him in real life, but a video game. But not everything was so funny. Hard work and progress done over months could be undone by "an act of monumental stupidity," and was with Abu Ghraib.

One more thing about the predecessor strip made in Grant's days in Iraq. It seems his comic poking fun at Secretary Rumsfeld's "you go to war with the army you have, not the army you want" comment (current strip) was mentioned in the news website "The Hill."

BOHICA Blues would conclude on June 29, 2020. The 213th is doing some reconnaissance when they're ambushed by insurgents. And on "That Last Hard Day," not everyone makes it. Two of the characters are dead and two with lasting injuries. "At some point in a war comedy," Grant would write, "you have to confront the war part. ... To pretend this never happens does a disservice to not just the story and the characters, but to the real-world people who suffered in the conflict." The comic would end with a "ten years later" strip showing how Joe and his inner circle of Army buddies turned out. Grant did say this might not be the end as there might be an occasional random strip once in a while in the future.

BOHICA Blues rates a G to occasional PG rating.

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What other online comics do you read? Feel free to point them out in the comments below.

Bixyl Shuftan

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