Tuesday, January 26, 2010

WebComics: Dave Kellett's "Sheldon"

I've loved the funnies all my life. I learned to read from a Peanuts comic book, and have been reading the funny pages in the newspaper ever since. One of my grandmothers, the one who lived some distance away and who we therefore couldn't see very often, always brought me another Peanuts collection whenever she visited. (That was not the only thing I loved about her, but it certainly didn't hurt!)

My dad loved Pogo, which is still my nominee for the greatest comic ever. Walt Kelly provided wit, contemporary satire, brilliant artwork, and deep and endearing characterization, every day for decades.

It was only relatively recently that I discovered that you could get quality funnies from other sources than the newspaper and the bookstore. The Web has made it almost trivially easy for a wanna-be comic artist to start a strip and get it in front of eyeballs. I stumbled almost by accident into a world of literally hundreds, if not thousands, of strips I'd never heard of.

Most of them will never appear in a newspaper (even if that venerable institution survives, which seems less likely every day). The major reason is that most of them are awful: bad art, little wit. Sturgeon's Law applies, and perhaps with even greater force because the barrier to entry is so low.

Some will never appear in a newspaper because newspapers are aimed at families. Quite a few web comics are aimed at adults, and their content is unsuitable for an audience of all ages. Of these, Sturgeon's Law applies again: many are merely in poor taste, but a few handle adult subjects with grace and wit.

My favorites are listed in a sidebar over on the right-hand side of this page. I need hardly say that I recommend them all, with the caveat that several of them do deal with mature subject matter.

The occasion for this post is my discovery of Dave Kellett's Sheldon. Sheldon actually is a family strip, in a couple of senses of the word. I don't really care about that, either way. Sheldon appeals to me because it achieves what I think of as the comic strip hat trick: it has good artwork, good wit, and appealing characters.

It took me a while to reach that realization. When I started reading Sheldon, I thought of it as competently done but unexceptional. I almost gave up on it. I kept reading largely because I was all caught up on other strips I liked better, and needed that funnies fix. And over time, I began to realize its quality. An example: one of the characters in the strip is a lizard named Flaco. The only thing Flaco ever says is "squee." You might not think you could squeeze (sorry) very much juice out of that; at least, I didn't. But over time, Flaco's character has grown in depth. He has a distinct personality and his own style of joie de vivre; and you would not believe how much expressive range "squee" has in Kellett's capable hands. He hand-letters the strip and brings the words (even "squee") to vivid life with creative typography.

So I'm now a convert, and I thought it only fair to bring your attention to this understated, marvelous strip. Sheldon now runs six days a week, with Saturday given over to Kellett's new sci-fi storyline, "Drive". (Kellett promises that his web site will eventually give Drive separate-but-equal housing with Sheldon, but for now it's just the Saturday installment on the Sheldon site.)

In future posts I will probably devote attention to some of my other favorite online strips and graphic novels. For now I'll just mention Kukuburi, which has not been around very long but which promises to be fantastic.


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