Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Wednesday Webcomic Review 3: Nerf This

I was a fool to think I could escape my own work ethic, even for a weekend. I’m currently in the car on a road trip up the mountains for New Year’s, where 10 people are going to sleep in an area fit for 4 at most. Awesome times – but that damn nagging in the back of my head won’t let me ignore my homework. I blame you for this, mother!

So that being said, let’s launch into my second webcomic review: Nerf This.

First off, this is not a gaming comic. I was a tad confused for the first dozen or so pages when no video game references came up, because to a former hardcore online game player (mostly World of Warcraft) “Nerf” means to weaken through a patch. Nerfing something is making it less potent.

But the comic brought it up in a scene about nerf bats. Good, I was glad to have that cleared up so I could actually read it for what it WAS, not what I was expecting it to be.

And what Nerf This is, is pretty funny. It’s one of those gag-a-day-while-still-having-a-story comics. (I don’t know if actually updates every day, I read comics by the archives) Scott Ferguson is pretty good at injecting a joke into almost any situation, even the tense and dramatic ones where humor doesn’t belong. It definitely breaks the tenseness of the moment, but in a good way that doesn’t feel awkward so much as just the right amount of silly, and in that sense it’s good to see that Nerf This is very self-aware. It’s a joke strip, and he does whatever the hell he wants within it but always gets that laugh nonetheless, on par at least with Jeph Jacques of Questionable Content in that regard. (one of my favourites that I’ll get to one day).

It wasn’t always like that though, there were a few times during the earlier archives when my “I’m not laughing” face came out and had to push forward through the page, trusting that the next one would make it up. This might be because it was relying on the 'safe' bet of over-the-top crazy humor, which (and this is a personal preference) I've seen far too many times. That being said, there were still laughs to be had (particularly with the Koalas – they're on his cast page.) I don’t fault Scott for the choice, start with what works until you can find your niche, I’m just stating it for what it is. The first few pages themselves are interesting, setting the tone as a silly gag strip (by means of a senior’s UFC league) and creates a curiosity for the 4 or 5 pages it goes on, and I'm glad to say that the more recent comics about the main cast seem to be more grounded in realism (or at least the sense of realism that comes with the story.) Soon after the UFC League is the introduction of Monty, who may or may not be the main character, I’m not sure. It’s his mug shot on the logo, and he has the first entry on the cast page, but he’s also a 6-inch tall monster that can only say “SKEEEE”. It doesn’t really matter, because he’s still awesome, and I’m a bit surprised at just how many different things “SKEEEEE!” can mean in context.

Mostly any eye-rolling induced was due to the other contender for main character, Chase Connors. He’s a typical social misfit, typically taken up to the point of being unable to realistically function in society. It’s shocking that he maintains any friends at all, who seem indifferent to his shenanigans at best if not outright repulsed by them, which gives me a sense of inconsistency (a pet peeve). His kind of over-the-top humor usually fails to tickle my funny bone, because it’s not even clever, it’s just weird for weird’s sake (and relies too much on penis and sex jokes, which might work for a younger audience; I’m 22 and gamed online, that stuff is beyond stale to me). Chase works works well as the setup for a joke, and in that he’s valuable, but he doesn’t handle punch lines well. He’s also Monty’s owner, so blegh. Can’t have one without the other. As with the rest of the comic, it does seem to be getting better, but mostly because comics as of late have been dealing with a large story problem and he’s always around other people.

Back to some good stuff. Chase has a girlfriend, and she has a dad. That dad is awesome. Mr. Mills is, if I recall correctly, a lumberjack, (Correction: Upon making it home and editing this with internet access, he's a simple adventurer-for-hire) whose beard is capable of sparkling. Also, he wrestles bears. He seems like the only one who actually outright detests Chase, which leads to plenty of awkward <sigh> moments; a bad sigh for him, but funny for us, because it’s only funny if someone suffers, right? Scott has a penchant for “gentlemanly” humor to boot, and there’s very little that can’t be improved with a top hat and old English mannerisms. And about half the time, it’s done by animals.

On that front, a lot of his comics as of late have been of the non-sequitor type. One side-story tells some of the events around the villain’s origins, using clipped greyscale photos of old Englishmen with eyepatches. The other two are straight-up off the wall, one of which is jokes involving the maker himself and his cadre of gentlemanly animals (and a chicken whore), and lastly a series involving the forces within Chase’s head, appropriately labeled such things as “Emotion” “Logic” and “Repressed Rage”. The fact that base emotions like that can take on characteristics all to themselves (as simple as they may be) is clever and ridiculously obvious once someone else has thought of it. Doubtless caused a dozen or so hands to flail upwards with a “Why didn’t I think of that?!”

Anyways, where was I going with that? Right, these comics have been more common than the story comics lately. I wonder if it’s a coincidence that it lined up with the resolution of the big villain story arc; maybe he’s got nowhere to go from here and is posting silly fillers until he can find a direction? I’ll still keep checking, because it’s still funny as hell, but I hope whatever writer’s block he has gets figured out soon. I miss Monty.

Lastly, since I’m an artist, I can’t let a comic go without a word on the art. Art can legitimately make or break a comic for me; good art will catch my attention and get me started on reading, and bad art can defile my eyes with every page to the point that I cannot go on, regardless of the quality of writing. Nerf This starts out very simple and cartoony (complete with Stretch Armstrong rubber limbs), but it was just talent unrefined. As time has gone on, Scott's style has evolved drastically, but don’t let the beginning art turn you off. It’s pushed forward to something wonderful, with lots of heavy shading and an overall more earthy tone, further grounding the feel in “reality”. The same style is used in another of his comics, Scout Crossing, and perhaps lends itself much more to that environment, where the gritty tones and dark shadows can flourish with full pages as opposed to the physical confines of a joke strip. I am very excited for Scout Crossing and will follow it with high expectations – once there’s a bit more to the archives, I’ll add it to my review list.

Summing it up, Nerf This is definitely worth checking out – it doesn’t fall into any one category or niche, and can be enjoyed by anyone with a sense of humor younger than the 70’s. It’s funny, it’s very clever, and is guaranteed to get you giggling once it gets going. (ooh, alliteration. That wasn’t even intentional!) Check it out here:

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