Sunday, January 22, 2012

My Library: Dangerous Days

I have an extensive library and I'd like to share it with the world. I could simply catalog all the books, movies, music, and games I own, but I might as well share my thoughts on them, too. I've read, watched, or played very nearly all of them (one or two just sucked), and some of them I read, reread, and rereread as the mood strikes me. So, from end to end, one book/movie/album/series at a time, I'm going to go through them, describe them, and what I like about them. You'll probably notice that I'm going through them in alphabetical (by author) order; that's how I have my library set up. First up, Dangerous Days by Pete Abrams.

Pete Abrams is the author and artist of Sluggy Freelance, a webcomic with fourteen years of archives. Dangerous Days is a collection of comics from the middle of May to the middle of December, 2002. Not entirely coincidentally, this is also roughly the time I discovered and began following the comic. As with a number of my favorite authors and artists, I discovered Sluggy in college. A decade later, Sluggy is still going strong and I'm still following it. Sluggy is one of the older comics on the web, and its archive is daunting. It has followed a daily update schedule (with the occasional very rare vacation) since August of 1997. That is, of this writing, 5,262 days, or 5,262 comics. On weekdays, this is a three panel format such as you'd find in the paper; Sundays a full-color, many-panel comic, also as in the paper; and Saturdays a three panel comic.

This format has varied somewhat over the years. Maintaining a daily update schedule is daunting for any artist, and Abrams has changed how he updates. For a time, in order to have some respite, he gave Saturdays over to guest artists/authors, such as Clay Yount of Rob and Elliot. These days, he's freed his weekends up by posting sketches, rough drawings, a one-panel non-canon one-off, that sort of thing. I don't know about anyone else, but I don't begrudge him these, seeing as he has a family. Also, what he gives us during the week more than makes up for it, since his art and writing has matured with 15 years of work and feedback. What he provides during the week is no longer a three-panel, gag-a-day comic, but a full page, lushly drawn, meticulously thought out story (sometimes hints and musings have been provided more than a decade in advance, completely missed even by his most rabid, imaginative, equally meticulous fans).

Sluggy began as a short-arc comic, having fun with various nerdy story types; typically affectionate parodies, such as the early sc- fi adventure, which parodied Star Trek, dimension travel, Alien and others while also expanding the cast. Over time, as seems inevitable on the internets, the comic became darker and more serious, exploring character growth, tragedy, melodrama, and all sorts of crap. Some fans lament the loss of the zany days of bikini suicide Frisbee , but others appreciating the deeper, more complex stories. Can't please 'em all.

Dangerous Days, named after one of the story arcs contained within, is a good example of all this, containing two horror parodies, a Harry Potter parody, and an arc which deals with a number of betrayals and at least one good character gone evil. Oh, and some zany fun. And ghosts. And an artist obsessed with all things crotch. Seriously. The book also contains a bonus, book-only story to make it more enticing for fans. After all, an artist's gotta eat and that means he's gotta sell.

I certainly don't recommend Dangerous Days for the random reader, any more than I'd recommend the seventh book of Robin Hobbs's Realm of the Elderlings series (eleven so far, with more coming, grouped in self-contained but mutually supporting trilogies), but those 5,262 comics are incredibly daunting to any newcomer. I've gone on an archive binge of sluggy a few times in the past, but not in the last five years, I don't think. If you were to read a week of comics every five minutes (generous for some of the heavier arcs) it would still take you more than twelve hours of reading. Fortunately, there are resources out there to help you with that.

  • Archive Binge: lets you set up an RSS feed to go through comics at a rate of your own choosing
  • Piperka: acts as a tracking tool so you can keep a handle on where you are in a number of webcomics, and binge at your own pace

Set up one of those and read five comics a day and you'll have caught up in about three and a half years. Not bad, eh? I do recommend Sluggy, as it hits all the good highs and lows, and Abrams really has turned into an excellent storyteller and artist; a good archive trawl would be well worth your time. I still follow this comic for a reason, and it's not just because of nostalgia for the glorious days of college. It's because I like it. Next up: Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
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