I promised a review to superfightfight birdie too. Sff was a short read even though over a year of three-weekly updates; the reason is, i was able to slide over a comic without stopping to think about it; dialogues are usually short, repetitive, and a comic can be grasped in a second.
One interesting kind of webcomics is the one where creator makes a small universum with limited population and a set of rules. Intentionally, author limits himself, sometimes to challenge himself, sometimes to simplify premise, either to get more control over the comic's universe, to simpfy one side so he could underline other, or simply because, sometimes, it can beasier that way (to introduce one element at the time, for instance). In best examples, this gives thankful results: for instance, "1/0" with a strictly limited universe, was a sort of test-area, display case of an entire society, oportunity given by limited universe with clearly defined elements.
Superfightfight is no 0/1, that's for sure. But for the most of it's existence it's been a kind of comic i described above; recently, it went in different way that seems to want to start from a clean slate, but the old sff will follow is for some time. (Thankfully, birdie didn't erase old archives - i don't like when people do that, specially if there's been a year or so history of a comic, it should be available somewhere on site. Here, they're in the same archive and there is continuity, after all). so i'll talk about old and later move to the new.
Anyway, no matter what you think, you have to at least get a chuckle at how cynically minimalistic the choice of elements was. So minimalistic that it doesn't allow anything unpredictable or intriguing to happen in a comic. One thing is sure - this choice allowed birdie to speed up and simplify his production: not being able to give anything unpredictable, he doesn't even have to try. Not being able to go beyond a few pre-set jokes, he has to go on beating a dead horse. decidedly using several hand-drawn sprites, no background and ms paint as a tool, he is simply forced to produce a comic, from the script to a finished product, in a matter of seconds. Ironic, isn't it?
Anyway, here go the rules:
1. Ludwig is an evil, one-eyed, one-armed bunny. He hates burt.
2. Burt is a good-natured dinosaur.
3. Carlos is a french bear. Everyone ticks him off by calling him a gay.
4. Ludwig has got a bunch of henchn who are very stupid. Most of the time, one of them is present.
5. There is a sun that observes everything with a kind of knowing ambivalence, often strikes people with a thunderstroke and is sad for having no hands.
6. Other available characters: celebrities and a female version of henchman, hit on by carlos.
7. Sff slang is a mix of aol talk and rap slang.
8. Characters often display made-up martial arts. One person jumping and hitting other, whilE yelling a name of the kIck, constitutes as a punchline.
9. One character insulting other, preferably in a slang, constitutes a a punchline.
10. Pop culture reference constitutes as a punchline.
11. Any display of previously mentioned characterization (calling carlos gay, henchman showing how stupid it is) constitutes as a punchline regardless of how funny it would be in some other universe.
12. Background: flat blue.
13. Art: a set of sprites, one for each character, sometimes altered a bit, usually to display a martial arts kick.
14. Means: ms paint.
15. Apparently, characters are parts of a band. Readers don't really find that out until late in a comic. This info is scattered over the archive here and there, but not consistently or noticeably. Until recently it didn't seem to make a difference anyway.
You got to admit, it's tempting to try something like this; challinging your resourcefulness by limiting your comic this way. Kind of like von trier's "dogma 101". But lets see what these rules do to sff:
First, thanks to a talk that is a mix of a few trendy slangs, strong presence of celebrities and pop references (specially in field of music) that have even been given a status of punchline, even the fact that characters are a band - the whole comic gets a subcultural feel. Sff perhaps works as a display case of a made-up subculture, or even constitutes as one (provided a lot of popularity). Though, rather a mock-up display case because it's too simplified to grow into a cult. Not that it was the intention of author anyway.
I gotta say that this plentifull of pop references, as wall as slangcan be aut-off for me. I know it was a put-off when i was reading sinfest. Ok, i come from a country where all films and albums come belated, so ecchoes of some subcultures don't reach me and i'm often not even interested letting them reach me. But then, it's not me that is the problem: it's the comic that is aimed to members of a particular subculture, and people outside of it (which means, majority of the worl heh) are bound not to get it. in sinfest's case, it turned out that the subculture it was talking to, was rather wide on net, thus comic's popularity. Sff's target audience is less strict in cultural sence, although there are other limiting factors that i might mention later. no shame, i didn't get some jokes because i didn't get the references. But in sff's case, as i sAid, sliding over a comic is so easy, so a lot of those references slide unnoted as well.
Constant fighting and yelling of punch technique names consisting of, again, pop references, is a parody of pokemon-like animated action shows, so it seems. But since there's no other aid, specially visual, this parody isn't instantly reckognisable.
Now, strange universes work in different ways. Check all things that constitute as punchlines. Most of them aren't funny. But in sff universe, they are funny, because so say the rules of the universe. In it's universe, repeating a joke that wasn't even funny the first time, is funny.
There are various examples of such universes in which different rules apply, so they take some adjustment to be enjoyed. Take a theatre show featuring a good improvisational acter. Tucked up in your seat, you're slowly dragged into his universe where he can even say some very stupid things, you'll still enjoy. And laugh. But he won't say those things at the beginning - he knows that first he has to drag you in.
Basically, if you accept the rules of sff universe, you'll enjoy it's jokes, perhaps even more with every repeat. How much is sff able to make you obey it's rules, is the important question. I can't really say, but i'd say chances are 50/50. And you definitely have to have talent for irrational thinking. Those who don't, won't see much more than stupid jokes repeated; they'll keep thinking that the comic is the way it is because that's an easy way for birdie to have an updating comic. Which is, actually, true: with this conception, he can make a dozen of comics daily (his rules allow him to batch out scripts, just as well as finished comics) and then forget about it for a year or so - and still never stop updating. Rules mentioned previously, although he probably didn't define them directly, are cynically made up to allow him that. Close your eyes at this obvious fact and you have a chance to be dragged into comic's universe and his rules.
Now, from the perspective of our universe, i think that show-stealers are sprites themselves. That is, character designs; burt's sleepy face, sun's two-toothed mug, carlos's instant anger, together with their immovability, no change in their expressions, are hillarious themselves, and sometimes, just imagining them saying those things with those expressions, makes you laugh instead of a joke.
How to improve such comic? Not much by improving it's art obviously. Switching to hand-drawing would change comic entirely, make it something totally different (though very possibly better). Birdie could've spent more time on writing particular jokes. Remember "calvin and hobbes", lots of it's jokes were lingering on a very few premises that are rehashed through plenty of comics (like the one where reality counteracts with calvin's imagination) and still, watterson would always find a new edge that made it funny yet again. Birdie doesn't enrich his comics with new edge (only in a few instances, like when carlos grows a moustache, but even then, casually). Of course, one could argue that adding new premises equals adding elements to a set i numbered earlier, thus diluting them. Some could say that taking more time and effort to make comics would contradict the nature of comic that it's produced very fast (and perhaps that some of spontaniousness would be lost). Again, these are arguable point, but sff, in this phase, is so limited by it's rules (set in comic's history, previous comics, rather than directly defined and written somewhere) that it didn't have much space to move, or improve.
Thus the only thing birdy could do in order to move and improve, was to start a new comic. With same characters and similar in spirit, but still very different.
But slowly, first he went to changing facial expressions and altering sprites more often (alas, not followed by changes in writing), experimenting with vector graphics, until he finally switched to hand-drawn. Birdie seems eager to better his work quickly, which, i feel, is the reason for asking for a review too. A very logical move. Making the old Sff might've been easy, but it's also a routine. Probably boring routine.
New sff (sff: year one, heh) starts at the beginng where burt and carlos decide to start a band. Ludwig and his henchmen soon enter the stage as shady characters. A few big differences: continuity, though often interrupted by outbursts of drink-induced nonsensical behaviour; unusually lot of puking in these new comics, which, together with drunkness, bad gigs and dirty streets, forms a more realistic picture of underground culture, as oposed to the one from previous incarnation of sff, that we could call, iconic, or symbolic.
Birdie (surprisingly to his sprite past) appears to be a compent artist for what he aims to; this might be the first time i see a webcomic influenced by it's fanart, as designs of Burt, carlos and others seem inspired by some of renderings of his characters by guest artists. Those are very likeable designs, specially burt. art sure needs some shaping up, mostly in reign of finding comic's art style; i can see sff filled with heavy hetching and black-white contrasts; i can't imagine it coloured, really. But leave that decision to birdie and we'll see what he comes up in making his art complete. He could also use some more pre-thought in spacial arangement and scenery, because characters sometimes look like they're just floating around on different heights. On the other hand, i like vertical format he often uses.
So, birdie finally decides to tell a conventional story of his characters. Change, as much an improvement as it was inevitable; story tells of a fast succes of burt and carlos's band, provided with their notoriety for bad playing, all spiced with jokes that aren't much better than those from previous incarnation, though with continuity in background, they're passable (talking from our universe, of course ;-) ). It is intriguing that birdie uses more space to tell of character's low life and rotten minds than of actual events concearning their succes. However, in a dection he choose, he'll have to spend time on second as well, in order for his story to make sence in the end. i am, for instance, interested to see details about their meteor sucess. However, i don't think that birdie should neglect on low life elements.
Well... I presume that birdie wanted me to talk about the actual incarnation of his comic more. It's promising but it's not much. There are a lot of comics in new incarnation, but thanks to slow pacing (scattered with drunkness) sff is still not at the place where i can see where birdie is going with this Comic; conception isn't clear yet; so i was talking mostly about what sff could be, not so much about what it is now.