Of Gordon Shumway and Bill the Cat and Other Mythical Beasts

I don't know if any of y'all ever read any of the webcomics I link to. You should, because every last one of them rules. You may not have noticed, but I just added a new one, Rob and Elliot. All I can really say about it is that one of their strips features the scene from "ALF" you never knew you always wanted to see.

Webcomics, you see, are the wave of the future. Those of us who are closer to 30 than to 20 are probably the last generation to remember when newspaper comics were any good at all. For Christmas last year, Emily got me "The Complete Calvin & Hobbes," three rat-squashing volumes of Bill Watterson's mind-blowingly brilliant comic strip. I've been pulling it out now and then over the last eight months, savoring the gorgeous art and finely crafted humor. "Calvin & Hobbes" ended when I was in high school, not long after Gary Larson ended his crude-but-almost-always-funny "The Far Side." A couple of years previously, Berke Breathed had ended his great "Bloom County," of which my brother and I had been big fans. Breathed has brought Opus and Bill the Cat and Steve Dallas back in "Outland" and "Opus," the returns ever-diminishing.

Today's newspaper comics section is essentially two pages of wasted ink. A few bright spots - Stephan Pastis' "Pearls Before Swine" and Jef Mallet's "Frazz" are often amusing, and "Frazz" is quite well-drawn - swim in a sea of tired old strips that have been running since God was a boy and which need to be put out of their misery. Worse still are the newer ones, painfully unfunny and artistically inept to boot. Say what you will about "Beetle Bailey" or "Blondie," at least the cartoonists who draw them are reasonably if not wildly talented. On the other hand you've got the new stuff like "Brewster Rocket: Space Guy!" and "A Doctor, a Lawyer and a Cop," which come from the "Dilbert" school of "you don't even have to be able to draw or be funny to have a successful comic strip." And the less said about stuff like "Baby Blues" and "Jump Start" that comes from the "Family Circus" school of "cutesy kids are funny!" humor, the better.

In contrast, the world of webcomics is vibrant and exciting, full of interesting new talent and bizarre humor. Admittedly, webcomics can be overly nerd-focused, too obscure, and there's far more chance of encountering sub-par art on the web than in the paper. Still, if you know where to look (and my links are a decent place to start), you can find more humor, style and personality than in every ink-and-paper "A&E," "Lifestyles," "People" and "Places" section in North America.