Wednesday Webcomic: Questionable Content

For the last 15 years, Jeph Jacques has been sharing a world with us. It’s a world quite like our own, but different in some subtle and not so subtle ways. In the very first strip in August of 2003 we meet two of the central characters Marten Reed, a young office drone and musician and his rude, lascivious AnthroPC AI companion robot Pintsize. It gets both more, and oddly less weird from there. For instance, Artificial Intelligences seem to have no interest in taking over the world. or maybe they have and we haven’t noticed?.

The story centers around Marten, his best friend and roomie Faye Whitaker, her boss at Coffee of Doom the aggressively bisexual Dora Bianchi, and their neighbor the clinically neurotic Hannelore Ellicot-Chatham. The storylines initially focused on Marten and Faye as they navigated post-millennium malaise, griped about relationships and snarked about indie music. But as the cast grew and Jeph’s drawing and writing skills grew along with it, QC became something much more ambitious.

Imagine Friends with an updated sense of social justice. The cast is diverse across multiple spectrums, from the effusively polyamorous librarian Tai Hubbert, Marten’s girlfriend Claire, a trans woman, to Faye’s girlfriend (!) Bubbles, a retired military AnthroPC suffering from PTSD. Jeph has been particularly adept at addressing some pretty deep emotional issues throughout there series with kindness and humility. And he stands by his characters as if they are friends. For instance he has promised that there will never be any stories or jokes about Claire’s “junk” in response to nosy Twitter trolls.

The stories are sexy without being exploitative, raunchy without being puerile, and rude without being crude. Jeph has explored whether friends can or should become lovers, grand romances and quick flings alongside frustrations and loneliness. QC has dealt with questions about how we interact with technology and culture, how to be a good or bad friend, or a good or bad parent. His characters feel very real, even when they are up to seriously outlandish shenanigans, like when they had to disable the military laser that Pintsize’s new chassis had been accidentally shipped with, or when they went to the Space Station  that Hannelore grew up on.

16 years of storylines are too much to sum up in one blog post. I recommend diving in from the beginning. Treat it like a Netflix binge, it’s worth the time. If you have a couple bucks a month to toss in the hat, Jeph has a Patreon that can get you tomorrow’s strip today, as well as other Patreony goodies. And he has some sweet merch, including print editions with bonus content! Jeph’s also an excellent Twitter follow,  and a good Tumblr. His other webcomic, a complete sci fi tale called Alice Grove, is also very cool.


Wednesday Webcomic: The Order of the Stick

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Debuting in 2003 as a way for  Rich Burlew to drive traffic to his RPG resources site Giant in the Playground Games,  The Order of the Stick is one of the longest continuously running comics on the web, clocking in at issue #1151 as of this writing. What started as an excuse to crack wise about RPG and fantasy tropes has grown since then into a small publishing empire churning out comics, graphic novels, card and board games and even calendars and X-mas ornaments. Thanks to his plucky stick figure band of heroes, Rich has grabbed the brass ring that every gamer has reached for since Gary Gygax drafted his friends to help him staple together and ship the first D&D box sets off into the world, to make a life from his passion.

The story follows the eponymous adventurers, gathered together by Roy Greenhilt the Fighter, as they travel the land on a quest to fulfill the blood oath Roy’s father had failed to complete before his demise, to destroy the Lich Xykon before the undead wizard completes his quest to unlock the reality destroying Snarl and wreak havoc across the universe. They were also a regular feature in the late lamented Dragon Magazine, where they poked fun at the hobby with wit and flair. Those stories were collected in Snips, Snails and Dragon Tales, along with tons of new material. The final Dragon Magazine strip is a love letter to the legendary publication.

Far from being just a series of puns and gamer inside jokes, Order of the Stick has addressed a surprising series of interesting issues. Durkon Thundershield, loyal cleric of Thor has to deal with prejudiced humans and the moral failings of himself and his comrades. Haley Starshine has a secret mission to rescue her father that she has to weigh against the greed that makes her a good thief. The casually homicidal halfling ranger Belkar Bitterleaf learns that there are consequences to his actions he hadn’t imagined and the high elven wizard Varsuvious discovers that power is not always worth the price. Elan the Bard invents a religion all his own.

It’s worth starting at the beginning. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Wednesday Webcomic: Galena

I love Webcomics. As a lifelong reader of both superhero stories, graphic novels and the daily funny pages I could easily lose whole days to binging a new find. The same freedom that the Internet provides me to inexpensively get up on my soapbox and howl at the moon has allowed a new generation of artists to bypass the publishing gatekeepers and bring their graphic creations straight your eyeballs. I cannot imagine a better place to start this weekly feature than with my best friends creation, Galena.

You can probably guess that I’m related to one of these guys. Tony Doench is the first of my four brothers, who blundered into the world a mere 11 months after me. We’ve shared a whole heck of a lot of our lives and loves together. While I was more the writer, Tony is one of those people who has been drawing since he could hold a crayon. He was our go to illustrator for RPG character sheets (still is actually,) and at the turn of the century he had the chance to hone his craft at the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art.

The writer, Chris Dunn is my best friend, a gifted RPG Gamemaster and a natural storyteller. He started the Short Stuff Writing Project a year ago to encourage himself and his friends to write weekly at least, each week with a new prompt. Sometimes memoir, sometimes fiction, the project has become yet another way we all orbit around his creative gravity.

Galena is the story of a refugee, a shipwreck survivor haunted by a mysterious and violent past. She is lost in a strange land, desperate to prove her worth to a master… any master. She catches the eye of Vahn and his band of adventurers; Beatrix, an amazonian purveyor of brute violence, and Eugenie and Xenovia, priest and sorceress and sexy couple. They quickly discover that Galena herself is a dangerous fighter and she sees in Vahn the master that she has apparently lost.

Of course all of these were characters in one of our Pathfinder campaigns. Three of them actually, a sprawling epic that crossed timelines and dimensions and required two talented GM’s, Chris and AJ to craft. It was a multiyear collective storytelling odyssey and some of the most fun we had at the table ever. And I am not at all bitter that none of MY characters made the cut… so far (cameos have been hinted at.)

Besides an art style inspired in part by wuxia comics such as Chinese Hero: Tales of the Blood Sword,  Galena uses an innovative method of presentation that is only made possible as a webcomic. Each chapter is essentially one long image designed to be scrolled through. Take Chapter 2 for instance. After surviving the shipwreck and making her way to the small port town of Cliff Side, Galena narrates her way through a day trying to survive in this unfamiliar environment. As you scroll right the town is revealed, recurring characters are introduced, including Vahn and his fellows. Keep an eye out for some interesting cameos.

Galena is up to 18 chapters and it gets better every time. I hope you enjoy it reading it as much as the creators enjoy making it.