Monday, July 31, 2023

Five More Online Comics, Past and Present

By Bixyl Shuftan
For those of us who never outgrew our love of comics, which probably means most of us, one place where we can read more is the Internet. The good news is one can find hundreds, perhaps thousands of comics online, from gag-a-day strips to serial story tales, from "family safe" to X-rated. The bad news, many are lacking in the quality of the art, stories and/or jokes, or both. The Newser reviewed ten a few years ago (here) and (here), then reviewed five concluded strips a couple years ago (here). After a request from a reader, here are five more I enjoyed, both currently going and concluded.

Apollo 9

This is a comic that fans of "Star Trek" and other sci-fi shows will love. Done by "Longtail," "Apollo 9" is the tale of a cast of characters and their ship as they go from one misadventure to another. "In space, no one can hear your mind snap."

Captain Maclupus was placed not in charge of a shiny new cruiser, but an outdated S-Class shuttle, it's mission not to explore strange new worlds, but to move a survey crew from planet to planet to interview unsuspecting people to fill out questionaires.  Among the cast of misfits are Lt. Cmdr Updike, an uptight gerbil First Officer, Lt. Cmdr Syzygy and Cmdr. Sunstreak, a Chakat pair who are respectively the Second Officer and Chief Medical officer, Lt. Cirini Stanson, the Foxtaur navigator, Sgt Zooey Perkins, an androginous cyborged bat and ship's mechanic with an often annoying cheerful attitude,  "Roz" Bradley, the hamster Survey Administer of whom the surveyers are all her relatives, and the ship's AI, which has it's own sarcastic sense of humor.

A number of the strips were one-shot gags, with some filler and holiday comics. The most notable exception was "Night of the Living Duckies" in which a shipment of toy rubber ducks are posessed by alien pirates. Besides Apollo 9, she would also do "Gemini Bright," a fantasy-themed comic. She also had a clearly adult-rated fancomic, "Coons," featuring characters from a strip of her friend Seth Triggs in a possible future scenario.

Apollo 9 ran from 2003-2006, the last strip being a Christmas special. Gemini Bright lasted longer, to 2008. In 2013, she had to shut down her website domain due to financial dificulties, but a year later, her friend Triggs donated some space on his for them. The last journal entry on Longtail's art page, on Aug 2014 was an appeal to donations so she could get an apartment and pay for her phone so she could get a steady job. It is unclear what happened to her since then. It is sad that this talented artist couldn't continue.

Apollo 9 is rated G with occasional PG. Some caution should be taking about clicking on some of the links as not all are safe for work.


Simply Panda Jenn

Panda Jenn's been mentioned in the Newser before as an artist who appears in Second Life somethings who has a hangout and did a few videos. She also has her own online comic: "Simply Panda Jenn." 
In the comic, her persona rents an apartment with the help of her friend Cody. But they can't quite pay for it on their own. So they bring in a friend of Cody's family: Bridget. With Cody spending hours on end with video games, and Bridget being a sci-fi fangil, Jenn at times feels like the only sane one around as she feels the weight of the bills on her shoulders and her job can be quite irritating at times.

Simply Panda Jenn ran from 2019 to Aug 2022, when Jenn had to take a break to concentrate on art commissions to bring in extra money. She plans to resume the comic soon.

Simply Panda Jenn rates a G with occasional PG


First strip: 
Twin Dragons

By Robin Dassen, "Twin Dragons" is described by him as "the daily lifes of the twins Kai and Kaya Romero, born as dragon hybrids in a human world." Fifteen years earlier in the story universe, about one in a thousand infants started being born "with animal characteristics in varying degrees" from resembling a Japanese neko with ears and a tail and mabe furry lower arms and legs to "furries" covered in fur with noticeable snouts. Kai and Kaya are dragon hybrids with scales, prominent ears and snouts, and tails. They are the twin son and daughter of Marco Romera, an Italian-American chef and Sabrina Blueford, a psychologist. Early in the strip, they live in a small town where they are greeted with suspicion by some of the locals. Fortunately, their father has earned enough money to start his dream: his own restaurant. To the delight of the kids, they're going to a neighborhood in the city where many hybrids live.

Once in the city, they soon make a new friend, a dog hybrid named Benji. At school, they run into others such as Cleo, a snake hybrid who's the daughter of the owner of a software company, and Rex, who's the captain of the school basketball team. There's Nate, a quirky but smart human youth with glasses and purple hair who seems to have a way of figuring out things and solving problems. They go through various adventures from school museum tours to Dungeons and Dragons games, and more.

Twin Dragons started in 2015 and almost eight years later is still going. The comic rates a G with a rare PG moment (language). It updates every Monday. Dasen also does another comic, "Gamer Dragons," about Kai and Kaya's misadventures while gaming. It's updating is sporadic.

Comic link:


Most of us grew up reading comics and watching shows of superheros from Batman to Superman to Spiderman. So eventually a few would try their hand at doing a superhero comic online. I've seen a few examples, my favorite being Spinnerette by writer "Krazy Krow" and artist Walker Gomez.

Heather Brown is working as an assistant in a university lab when an accident infuses her with spider DNA, giving her six arms and super strength. Thrilled at the chance of being a superhero, she convinces her roommate Shahira to help her make a costume. But things have a rough start as her webs shoot out from somewhere other than her wrists and her first try at stopping crime doesn't go so well. Fortunately, she runs into two other heroes, Tiger and Mech-Maid, who agree to train her and she teams up with them.

But even after Spinnerette gets some skill as a fighter, things don't always go her way. One supervillian gets off the hook because she's a minor. She ends up getting told by Marvel to change her costume as her first one looks too much like a copyrighted character. They occasionally team up with one group of heroes from Canada, which includes a werewolf.

She ends up fighting various villains from sparkly vampires to Nazis trying to clone Hitler. One reoccurring antagonist is Dr. Universe, a super who's power is his intellect. But while he calls himself a supervillain, he acts more self-centered than evil, and is occasionally on the side of the heroes. In one of the more interesting story arcs, the supervillian is Colonel Glass of North Korea, who sneaks into the USA to damage his country's nemesis, and isn't particularly reluctant to kill.

The comic started in 2010, and over time has had some interesting and comical twists, at times poking fun at superhero tropes. In one arc, Spinnerette runs into her counterparts in alternate universes in which she came about in earlier decades instead of the early 2000s.  A few story arcs are actually short teasers to stories on sale. Krow and Gomez were also working on a monster girl comic on sale in addition to "White Heron," a super who defects from North Korea and becomes their star superheroine.

While still a good comic, it's my impression the latest story arcs don't have the same umph as those earlier after over a decade. Maybe Krow and Gomez are saving their latest better ones for the comics for sale.

Spinnerette advertises itself as updating twice a week. But some weeks it does so only once, and there are times the comic takes a short hiatus. The comic rates PG to PG-13 due to some language and adult situations.

Comic Link:

First strip:

Scandinavia and The World

In political cartoons, nations are sometimes represented by characters. There was also a Japanese magma and anime, Hetalia, which showed them as characters in a drama. On the Internet, there's a strip in which the countries are characters in various situations, "Scandinavia And The World," done by "Humon."

The primary characters are of course the Scandinavian countries. Sweden is a bit geekish, taking pride in his computer skills, but is sometimes seen as snobbish. Denmark is laid-back, though occasionally seen as lazy and a bit of a drunkard and stoner(the cartoonist herself is a Dane). Finland, who is usually carrying a knife, doesn't usually say much and is seen as a bit psychotic. Norway is something of the straight man among the four, though has a love of nature and fish.

There are also sister versions of country personas. For the most part, they mirror their brothers. But there are some exceptions. Sister Finland lacks her brother's mean streak, though still dresses very plainly. Among the most striking differences is between Brother and Sister Sweden, the woman looking like a blonde bombshell who's usually open for a good time. Other countries are represented as well. Germany is a humble soul who feels guilty for the actions of his counterpart Nazi Germany (who is his own character in the strip). England is a usually reserved character, always with combed-back hair and a monocle. France is snooty and very proud of it's culture. So what is America like? Brother America is depicted as a big blond guy who is usually well meaning and wanting to get along with others, but his ignorance about other countries can get others annoyed and occasionally cause problems. Sister America looks like a ditzy blonde, who is always going about with her pet chihuahua Ottowa. The two occasionally mildly bicker over issues, Brother America being the conservative one, and Sister America being the liberal one.

There are no story arcs, instead the comics all being one-shot jokes from things such as events in history to jokes about cultural differences and oddities to current events. The artist isn't afraid to poke fun at her country. Once Sister America goes to Denmark, decides it would be polite to learn some of the language first, and Sister Denmark criticizes her for wasting time since most Danes know English and there's only a few million Danish speakers in the world. Another time, a moose from Sweden swam to Denmark, and Denmark freaked out thinking it would attack, "our nature is ridiculously safe." One reoccurring gag is of the Scandinavian countries as vikings, raiding England. Part of the punchline is that while Denmark, Norway and Sweden seem nice and pacifistic now, a thousand years ago, they were anything but.

Politics inevitably makes the news, and the comic. When Greenland chose a flag that's not anything like the traditional cross designs of the Nordic countries, it's seen as "A Big F-You" to Denmark, whom had colonized it. England's getting out of the EU was fodder for some cartoons. Of the incident in which a dozen Danish artists caused a HUGE stir in the Middle East because they drew Muhammad in less than complementary ways, the cartoonist commented "this is what happens when you leave Denmark alone for too long."  Occasionally, North Korea, depicted as a paranoid antagonistic man hiding his face under his flag like a cowl, makes the strip. But some issues in American news such as the Israeli-Palestinian issue never do.
Then there was the results of the USA's 2016 election when Brother America got done up in orange skin and was acting Trumplike for a time. But the artist admitted she missed America as the "lovable dork." So a rainstorm washed away the orange and he went back to his old self again. But the orange gunk too on a life of it's own as it's own character, "The Trump Blob."

While the comic usually ends with a punch line, there was one recent notable exception. With last year's invasion by Russia of the Ukraine, the usual simple style of the characters was put aside for the cartoon just afterwards, showing Russia beating up Ukraine and the EU sliding a clip into NATO's pistol. The caption was "Hey Putin, you big dumb idiot. If you're killing people in Ukraine because you are afraid of NATO, then you really f**ked up. You are the monster that reminded people why NATO was created."

If there's a message to "Scandinavia And The World," it's that people can have some pretty weird differences and sometimes truly be jerks to one another, but also that people can overcome such differences and put aside old grudges to be nice to one another and say "Skal" (Scandinavian word for "cheers")

Scandinavia And The World started around 2009 and is one of several "Humon Comics." Is updated somewhat sporadically, once a week to once a month. Occasionally, there will be a long pause in the comic website, but checking the Facebook page there are one or two new strops that haven't appeared there yet. The strip rates a PG-13, due to profanity and some adult situations. Earlier in the comic's history there were a couple nude scenes, so this isn't a comic to be browsing at work.

Comic link:

First strip:

That's all the cartoon reviews for now. As mentioned before, there are hundreds of good ones we haven't touched on yet, or even heard about. Was there one you want to see mentioned? Feel free to send one, and we might post it as a Reader Submission.

Bixyl Shuftan

Friday, July 28, 2023

Commentary: The Staying Power of Second Life

By Bixyl Shuftan
As a Gen-Xer, most of my earliest memories about home video entertainment involve the Atari and it's games that the household had. We got it around Christmas 1979. Four years later, I was playing the Atari games less and less. A better videogame system had came out, the Colecovision, plus the house now had a compuer, an Apple II plus. I can't remember when the last Atari game had been bought, maybe around that time or shortly afterwards. But less than five years after my household had gotten the Atari, I had stopped playing the games and they were shelved.

So what happened? Atari had gotten somewhat complacent over the years, and others began coming out with systems that could play better games, such as Intellivision and Colecovision. And then there were the makers of videogames that were soon flooding the market with them, some that were more or less cheap knock-offs of similar games. Eventually came the "crash" in 1983 in which demand for the games dropped. I myself still liked games that were coming out, but they were for the newer Colecovision the household got. In a couple years, our Coleco console would break. There were no more being made, and Atari games were no longer being sold. Not that I was overly interested as their appeal was waning on me, and went to just the computer games. And so that was my end of playing the home video games. It would be just the games on the Apple II.

Two decades later, it was a different world in regards to home entertainment. The World Wide Web had been around for about a decade. It was around December 2006 when I finally got high speed Internet. I soon checked out two places friends had been talking about: World of Warcraft and Second Life. World of Warcraft with it's simpler goals was easier to make sense out of, so I got into that one almost right away. Second Life took longer. After some looking around, after which the person who invited me over was suddenly too busy to help much, I only came on once every three to four weeks, until I found out about the Relay for Life track. That got my attention, and I began logging on more often, started meeting people, made friends, got a better avatar, began learning more about the place and where more interesting places and events were.

A year after my arrival, I'd gotten an SL job and a purpose here, had a group of friends, and all looked well. How long it would last, I didn't know. I'd been part of an online sci-fi roleplay that lasted for several years before it closed down. And then of course there were the Atari games that lasted for a few years before things went downhill with the company.

Sixteen years later, I'm still around. It was nine years ago that I let my Warcraft account expire. While I would get back on a few more times, the last time three years ago, I didn't stay for long. But Second Life I'm continuing to log on regularly.

So why the difference between my time here and Warcraft, and that of playing Atari games? Well, it the case of the Atari games, the answer is more obvious. There was no social aspect to the games, the technology of gaming progressed so that others were offering better products, and the company ran into trouble after a few years before it's new and improved gaming system caught on. With computer gaming, there were more possibilities as computers could be upgraded as games got more detailed and sophisticated. And with the Internet and World Wide Web came more and more of a social aspect. Those two developments would allow for MMORPGs and public virtual worlds.

My personal experience with World of Warcraft, I got into it fairly quick and got into an Internet friend's guild. But he and his wife would need to log off after a couple years due to real-life troubles, and eventually the group closed and my group of friends became fewer and fewer. In contrast, in Second Life I kept making friends and kept finding places, and experiences, to go to. Probably the only reason I stuck around in Warcraft for a while was because some SLers I knew also enjoyed the game. But after several years, my interest waned to the point I would come on only for short periods. Part of the reason was it's monthly fees. There would be other MMOs such as Rust that got my attention over time, but once again I would mostly playing with friends from Second Life, and eventually be taking breaks when their interest waned.

I would also give a few other virtual worlds a try. Early on, there was InWorldz. But if it wasn't for my Second Life friends, it wouldn't have gotten more than a passing interest. And when they paid less attention, so did I. Later on, some began checking out VRChat. Two keep going back there, a late Gen-Xer and a Millennial. It does seem this next-generation virtual world attracts mostly computer users not yet in middle age. But Second Life continues to get numerous residents in their 30s, 20s, and younger.

So what is it about Second Life that continues to attract people twenty years after it's creation? I once stated I came here to see the places people had been making, but I stayed because of the people. Like elsewhere on the Internet, I found interesting people, some like-minded and some a bit different but still interesting. There are others who came here for different reasons. Some came to see what they could build here. Some came here as it can be a great place to hold a roleplaying game in the style of "Dungeons and Dragons." And yes, there are those who were attracted to Second Life because of the "cyber noogie."

But in the end, what keeps us here, at least in my opinion, is the social aspect, the people. 
Yes, social media such as Facebook and Twitter has proved more popular. But some of us want and feel we need more than just a space to chat. We desire a three-dimensional landscape to interact on. Plus in recent years there's been growing concerns about social media's willingness to respect privacy and that it may be bad for the mental health of some people and be toxic to America's political discussion.

As to why Second Life and not VRChat? Well, the newer virtual world is in a different style. There is no "mainland" or any  other group of directly connected areas. All locations are basically islands onto themselves that one can easily portal to, but not directly connected to. Also, there is no inworld economy, no currency. Everything at "stores," at least that I've seen, is for free. If one wants to sell an avatar, one has to work out the deal outside VRChat and convince the interested party you're not trying to cheat him or her. That and wanting your own unique look can be much more expensive. And aside from a few places that set something up, there is no texting. You have to up and speak and not type. If you really don't want to, or can't, use your voice, you're out of luck. That likely discourages some, especially women, from going about there.
This isn't calling VRChat a bad virtual world, it's still good. One regular user I talked to told me it seemed more alive to her, enjoyed the option for full body tracking (which needs special gear) and she found it easier to find places where people were active and not just AFK. It's just that (in my opinion) Second Life has aspects it doesn't, and is more versatile.

Twenty years later, Second Life is still, in my opinion, the best virtual world available to the public.

Bixyl Shuftan

Addition: Someone contacted me saying recently VRChat has added more options for texting, notably a "chatbox" about a year ago.