This is the final medium-specific category of The Sketchys. Tomorrow, I have something very special planned to commemorate the year in media.
For today, we’re looking at the best new web shows started in 2013. You might be able to predict a few of the entries based on shows I’ve written about this year. There are a couple surprises in this unranked list. I also include my favorite episode with each honoree. Let’s get to it.
Penny Arcade’s Strip Search wound up being one of the most positive, inspiring, and life-changing reality shows ever created. The slower pace at the start meant learning a whole lot about the contestants, which made every elimination–even the clear winner/loser scenarios–very tense to watch. You didn’t want anyone to go home.
I think it’s pretty safe to say that all 12 finalists have benefited from the exposure of the show. All of them get invited to do guest strips for the Penny Arcade/PVP collaboration The Trenches. Almost all of the contestants have a webcomic project up at this point; all are regularly sharing their art. The post is actually going to focus on the finalists in more detail, but here’s what everyone else on the show has been up to.
Alex Hobbs is running his solo comic Wanderlust Kid and it’s really funny. Ty Haley (still running The Secret Life of a Journal Comic) and Monica Ray (still running Phuzzy Comics) are taking over The Trenches as the new writer and artist, respectively (that was announced at PAX Prime (skip to 6:31:00 for the announcement)). Mackenzie Schubert has a gorgeous new series called Full Stop running. Nick Trujillo is drawing up a storm at his Tumblr and has done guest work on PATV’s Extra Credits.
I normally have some anxiety issues when I go to a convention. I am not good with crowds and do not like to be touched at all. You would think that someone like me would not want to draw extra attention at a massive event like New York Comic Con.
You’d be wrong. I’ve really grown to love the challenge and community of cosplay. I’d like to have a signature costume that people know me for. I also prefer to have multiple costumes instead of one costume for an entire weekend. That’s the OCD kicking in. I don’t like the idea of people thinking I don’t change my clothes every day.
This year, I set out to do three new costumes but got derailed by illness. Wander from Wander Over Yonder got replaced with an updated Fry from Futurama costume. That was Sunday. Friday was Wilson from the indie survival horror game Don’t Starve and Saturday was Chris from the web series Bravest Warriors. Both were brand new costumes.
The third episode of Tropes vs. Women in Video Games premiered a few days ago and Anita Sarkeesian knocked it out of the park. Any doubts I had about her argumentation so far were quelled with the third Damsel in Distress video.
I remember when Super Princess Peach came out. I really loved the gameplay, but hated the concept. Peach’s powers in the platformer are based on emotions. She’s incapable of beating the game without wielding her emotions as a weapon. Sarkeesian takes it a step forward, claiming the gameplay mechanic is a “PMS joke,” which isn’t a stretch at all.
The push goal I was most excited for when webcomic Penny Arcade went to Kickstarter to go ad-free for a year was their pitch for a new reality show as season four of Penny Arcade: The Series. They would invite a group of comic artists to fly out to an unspecified location to compete for a chance to win, among other things, a year’s stay in the PA offices and a cash prize. The Kickstarter earned enough for the show, so the casting process was on.
Though I very much doubted my chances, I applied for a spot on Strip Search. I used clips from my first webcomic, Food Don’t Go Stale in Space, as well as my now-defunct due to time constraints (and eaten by ComicPress) Week in Media series. I also used examples of my actual painting and graphic design work and even some of my reality TV recaps that used webcomic formatting in my portfolio. The application was one of the more challenging ones I’ve filled out for a reality TV show (always good to know the aim of casting when critiquing a show) because of its breadth. Strip Search was looking for the total webcomic package: art, writing, marketing, and merchandising. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t get past the open call stage.
The contestants who did make it onto the show represent a wide range of style and experience. Some of the contestants are pretty inexperienced at creating a webcomic and some are professional artists for animation studios. Some run their own businesses and some had to quit their jobs to even go on the show.
What they share, and what comes across so strongly in Strip Search, is a passion for what they do. The artists are there to compete for a life-changing prize but they all seem to realize how fortunate they are to have this opportunity. The level of game playing after the first complete challenge to elimination experience is strategically choosing to not be the villain.
Even more telling is the confessional montage at the end of the first episode. All but three of the contestants admit that they don’t know if they can win. The three who do admit it aren’t super aggressive about it. There’s no “Send everyone else home, I came to win” aspect on this show like so many other competitive reality series. The season preview has one contestant saying the infamous “I’m not here to make friends” sound byte but I have a feeling she’s not being malicious in that moment.
The challenges are a mix of having fun and actually running a webcomic. In the second episode, the artists play a very long game of Fax Machine. Each artist starts by writing a caption for the next person to draw. The next person draws the prompt on a separate page. The person after them has to write what they think the caption was for the previous illustration. The Fax Machine challenge did have a prize and a winner, but it was a totally casual affair to warm the contestants up.
The elimination challenge shown in episode three brought the artists right into the business side of running a webcomic. They had to design a t-shirt inspired by the Strip Search graphic with no more than four colors–black plus three others. The winner would have their shirt sold on the Penny Arcade website and earn all the profits from it. Even within what was essentially a challenge to market someone else’s brand, the artists had plenty of room to show their own style.
Bravest Warriors is an animated web series from Pendleton Ward, the creators of Adventure Time and The Marvelous Misadventures of Flapjack on Cartoon Network. The show follows four futuristic teenage heroes who work as soldiers for hire. They warp throughout the universe with special power suits that give them various abilities.
The series has a really warped sense of humor. It’s very Ren & Stimpy meets Doctor Who, only in bite-sized five to six minute episodes. I’ve actually cackled at each of the nine episodes so far. The show is willing to do anything for a joke. From slapstick to awkward absurdity, nothing is off limits.
Let’s look at episode 2, “Emotion Lord.” Danny, one of the heroes, becomes very ill and requires immediate surgery to recover. Out of nowhere, a crazy old man in a blue space suit appears and causes trouble. He summons space chickens, food, and even puppy dogs just because he can. Every time the crew makes progress toward saving Danny, the old man–one of the legendary Emotion Lords, traveling through space and time with the power of emotions–summons something else to destroy the crew. It’s five minutes of bizarre sight gags that build to an uncontrollable explosion of silliness.
The style of Bravest Warriors is key to its success. The teenage crew has a great look and style of movement. Chris, our main hero, wears a blue suit of armor that doesn’t quite fit him. The shoulders are too high, making him look far weaker than he actually is. Danny, who is kind of a jerk, wears a red suit closer to a hoodie than anything that could offer protection. Beth, a girl (the show’s characterization, not mine), wears a white and green suit that actually fits her body for function. And Wallow, the largest of the warriors, wears a skin tight orange and yellow outfit that showcases his colossal form.
Each character is equipped with oversized gauntlets or boots that give them their power. The shape and position further help to define the character silhouettes and personas in very clear ways. Chris’ gloves are so large that it looks like he shouldn’t be able to move them while Wallow’s gloves look almost too small for his frame.
Bravest Warriors has the “everything resets” sitcom formula every episode with just the slightest hint of overriding story arcs. No matter what happens the week before, Chris, Danny, Beth, and Wallow will return to fight for the universe again. The will they or won’t they relationship between Chris and Beth and the true story of the elderly Emotion Lord pop up but do not define the direction of the show. It’s very early Futurama in its loose narrative framework but tight episodic structure.
You can catch Bravest Warriors on the Cartoon Hangover YouTube channel. New episodes go up every other week. You can also follow the Tumblr that showcases all sorts of cool art, gifs, and products inspired by the show.
Leave it to the mastermind behind Regretsy to once again turn concern trolls into entertainment. Helen Killer, aka voice actor April Winchell, took a leave of absence from the popular Etsy-mocking website to launch a new series. The details were held tight to her chest until a few weeks ago when the Sockpuppet Theatre homepage and YouTube account went up.
What is Sockpuppet Theatre? Sockpuppet Theatre is a new web series where April Winchell wrangled together some of the best voice actors in the business to read dramatic scenes ripped straight from the Internet. Each voice actor takes on a different character in scenarios like “YouTubers respond to video of dog eating potato chips.”
You can watch the original NSFW versions at the Sockpuppet Theatre YouTube channel.
Sockpuppet Theater reframes the actions of trolls as entertainment. There’s a good chance that if you’ve ever read the comments on a blog, news site, or video that you’ve encountered a troll. You may have even engaged them in conversation. When you feed a troll, you’re going to get burned.
In an ideal world, nothing would distract you from enjoying a friendly discussion about a subject on the Internet. This is far from an ideal world. People post homophobic rants on recaps of reality shows starring drag queens because they don’t like how you described a contestant. Some even seek out conflict for fun, taking joy in the frustration and anger they create. Trolls are part of daily life on the Internet.
So why not turn these would-be villains into the butt of the joke. Sockpuppet Theatre is spinning the script on the trolls. Everyone in the discussion comes across as ridiculous, but the troll is not allowed the last laugh. By introducing the heated discussions to the flapping maws of sockpuppets, the hot button issues become a great source of comedy.
Bonus points are duly awarded to the play on sockpuppet in the title. So far, the three editions released so far all seem to contain a new player who has the same philosophy of the original troll but a brand new voice. They’re most likely alternate accounts, or sockpuppets, or the original troll. It becomes a game of figuring out who is fighting with multiple accounts and which player will fumble first.
Sockpuppet Theatre is a web series worth following for quick bites of humor. Where else will you hear Billy West (Fry from Futurama), Pamela Adlon (Bobby Hill from King of the Hill), April Winchell (Clarabelle the Cow), and Rob Paulsen (Pinky from Pinky and the Brain) swear like sailors while reading copy straight from the Internet?
Comic-Con Episode IV: A Fan’s Hope, Morgan Spurlock’s documentary on San Diego Comic-Con, came and went without much fanfare. It was a portmanteau documentary, telling a handful of stories about people attending the convention for various reasons. It did a few festivals and conventions before opening in limited release and VOD on the same day.
The subject who stood out the most for me was Holly Conrad. She was running a costume workshop out of her garage, creating an elaborate set of Mass Effect costumes for the Masquerade at Comic-Con. Her team wound up winning the judge’s award for their execution and innovation.
Holly stood out from the other subjects in the documentary because she didn’t view the convention in the same way. With a dry wit and a laser focus on one aspect of Comic-Con, she was not the typical comic fan you would expect in this kind of documentary. Obviously she’s a fan. She was just really focused on showcasing her work in that contest.
Holly Conrad now runs Crabcat Industries with Jessica Merizan, the person who never left the sewing machine when Morgan Spurlock filmed the workshop. The duo now have a costume and fabrication how-to show on the Nerdist Channel called Try This at Home with Crabcat Industries.
The first episode showed a clear direction for the program. Holly and Jessica have fun doing this work. They also have really sarcastic personalities and love a good awkward moment.
The first episode focused on setting up a workshop. They ran down their recommended safety equipment and tools before they really start fooling around with their friends/coworkers. Since there’s no right way to set up a studio (other than what works for you while still being safe), the episode doesn’t focus too much on how this team set up their studio. You get enough shots of their shelves, wall units, and hanging system to inspire your own set-up without dictating what you have to do.
Try This at Home is a very relaxed DIY show. Fabrication and costume design are wide fields with no definitive solution to any challenge. Aside from the tools (heat guns, sealants, vacuum forms, sewing machines, rotary tools, etc.), all you need to declare success is a safely completed finish product. Whether you do it in foam, recycled materials, or latex casting, all that matters is that finished product. Does it look good? Is it durable? Does it do everything it’s supposed to? Then you’ve succeeded.
The second episode focused on creating an Infinity Gauntlet (a super-powered weapon wielded by Thanos in the Marvel universe) and is a fast look at fabrication. Holly drafts a quick paper pattern, then cuts away at foam until she has something resembling the Infinity Gauntlet. Then it’s all carving, gluing, sealing, and painting from there.
At first, I questioned whether going through the steps so quickly was a wise decision. If someone wanted to make the exact same Infinity Gauntlet featured in this episode, they would have to watch a few times and parse out some of the unnamed extra steps. The edit assumes that someone who wants to do this project has a good sense of intuition.
Then I realized that, with editing for time, this became a sort of introduction to this style of fabrication. Holly runs down all the equipment she used to create a metallic texture on the foam. It’s up to you to follow the product directions and experiment with application techniques.
As I’ve learned from a lifetime of ceramics and crafting, there is no one right way to create a fake finish. This show is telling you what you need to get to experiment with this method. Do you want your gauntlet rough or smooth? How much gold is enough gold for your design? Do you want to do the bulk of your work in carving or painting the piece? Those are the choices you have to make when doing any kind of DIY project.
The important takeaway for me with Try This at Home is the no stress atmosphere. Making things is frustrating. The last thing you want to do is be so serious that you lose out on any fun in the process. You’re making costumes and props. It should be fun. You should be able to fool around with your friend and get the job done.
If you have any interest in design and fabrication, it’s worth checking out Try This at Home. It’s a fun introduction to how his process works.