Unbound: Gag comics that won't make you gag

The internet abounds in gag comics. The three- or four-panel gag strip is by far the dominant form, and you find it all over the web, both generic comics and those catering to various niches. Of course, as with all things webcomic, finding the comcs is easy but finding the good comics is more of a challenge.

So here is a sampling of gag comics that I have been reading lately. Some are thigh-slappers, while others are more likely to elicit a smile, but there's a good deal of variation in style and topic, which hopefully means there's a comic in here for every funnybone. And if you were to subscribe to the RSS feed of each of these, your news reader would have its own funny page every morning. Sort of like your local newspaper—only funnier.

Bug is a minimalist comic that is all about the joke. The characters are one step up from stick-men, and they are completely anonymous—there is no consistent character from one strip to another. The art is simple, but it does the job, which is to showcase creator Adam Huber’s deadpan humor. Every strip is a witty twist on some aspect of modern life, from what hang gliders are thinking to why canes are cooler than walkers, and every one so far has been dead on.

Josh Way’s Strewth has even less continuity—the style varies from day to day, sometimes drawings, sometimes old photos. Most of the gags are about pop culture, particularly geek culture. Sometimes the humor is a bit esoteric, but he also takes on Disney and even Santa Claus. And even though I don’t watch Lost, I got what he was talking about here.

On the Edge has been around for quite a while, but creator Leisl Adams seems to have really hit her stride in the past two years. It’s basically a romantic comedy featuring two cops, but the twist is that their universe is inhabited by a number of demons who personify various emotions—anxiety, jealousy, etc. Fortunately, Adams handles this concept with a light touch. The main character, O. Negative (a.k.a. Mr. Negs) has been reduced to quasi-human status and works as a therapist. Since he’s a demon, he’s the world’s worst therapist, continually encouraging his patients’ worst impulses. Adams interweaves his antics, and those of his fellow demons, with a love story between Jim, a hunky cop (who is also a cat, but just barely) and Alice, a human woman who is his partner until he moves up to detective. The story is hard to follow in the early strips—it almost looks as if some episodes are missing—and the gags aren’t as funny, but it looks like Adams really put the pedal to the metal in early 2008, and the writing improved a lot. (Start here and move forward, if you want to catch up.) One thing that is consistent from the beginning is her deft, linear style of drawing, which conveys a lot of emotion without a lot of fuss. If you like ensemble strips with a bit of continuity, give this one a try.

The gags are pretty mild in Squid Row, but it’s not so much a laugh-a-minute comic as a pleasant little stopover, the sort of thing you read because the characters are fun. The main character, Randie, is an aspiring artist who works in an art supply store and makes occasional stabs at being a Real Artist in between dealing with leaky roofs, an obnoxious cat, and other sitcom-like situations. Her best friend Ryan is a writer who seems to be a bit better off, and he supports her mentally as well as financially. A sprinkling of other characters round out the cast—her grouchy co-worker Grace, hyper art therapist Enid. There's a glitch in the archives—some strips are repeated, others are missing—but as continuity is only a small part of this strip's charm, that's not a deal breaker.

Robot Beach is kind of like that too. You read it mainly for the characters and the story, and once in a while you get the occasional belly laugh. This is a young comic (only 61 strips up as of this writing), and creator Matt Forcum is still experimenting a bit, bringing in bits of narrative here and there. It’s about a robot who is stranded on an island and makes friends with the locals, a smart-alecky, cigar-smoking lobster and a smart-alecky seagull. The character designs are nice, and I like Forcum’s painterly backgrounds, so I’ll be following this one to see where it goes.

Finally, Max vs. Max is Wes Molebash’s new comic, and I’ll confess, I never thought a Christian comic could be so funny. Molebash steers clear of the preachy stuff; he writes like a grownup and isn’t afraid to let a character get whacked in the nuts once in a while. Max, the main character, is freshly divorced and trying to figure out how to deal with his new reality. The strip comes out of Molebash’s own experience with divorce, but what makes it is that he really is a good writer: The arc where he has a late-night conversation with a surprisingly snarky God (start here) hit my funnybone hard.

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