From classics like Penny Arcade and VG Cats to newer strips like Intelligent Life, these satirical webcomics poke fun at gamers and geek culture while sharing inside jokes that never make it to mainstream comics and cartoons. Put down the controllers for long enough to dive into some of the best webcomics for gamers and geeks and emerge validated.
I love the style of Fans!; it’s just plain fun to look at. It’s a total celebration of being a geek by the superb T. Campbell (who also writes the fantasy strip Guilded Age and the well-known Penny and Aggie) and Jason Waltrip. The story revolves around the collegiate members of a science fiction and fantasy fan club; sometimes they watch movies and play RPGs like the rest of the geek world, and sometimes they save the world from epic extraterrestrial or supernatural villains of the Khan and Sauron types. Members include Rikk, an almost laughably inspirational club president, Will, whose motto above all is “never hit a girl,” Rumy, a quiet manga artist, and Alisin, Rikk’s girlfriend, whose hedonistic nature masks a tragic secret. The group is opposed in part by the Fantasmagoric Integration Board (F.I.B.), reminiscent of Men in Black. Fans! both mocks and cheers on genre fans. Eventually, the story is set in a world in which everyone popular loves formerly-geeky things and only nobodies can’t see the merit of science fiction and fantasy - this both parodies the normal state of things in which beloved genres are snubbed by the mainstream and serves as a warning against stereotypes of extreme nerd culture. The strip’s first run was from 2000-2005; a second run lasted from 2008-2012.
Manly Guys Doing Manly Things
Manly Guys Doing Manly Things, written by Kelly Turnbull, is all about playing with the tropes of geek culture and breathing new life into the most macho of video game characters. Our main man is Commander Badass, a surprisingly three-dimensional character considering the ridiculous name. If you want to imagine his voice, Turnbull insists that he sounds “like something halfway between The Maxx and Michael Keaton’s Beetlejuice.” He runs a firm that helps the manliest, meatiest, most heavily muscled characters of video game fame to reintegrate into society. Sometimes this goes better than others. Big Daddy gets a job at the daycare, Gannon wears a three-piece suit, and Kratos (God of War) becomes prom queen. The world of Manly Guys is a little different from our own; Marlon Brando is an actual deity, Canadians sneak across the border, and Rambo movies rule. Testerone rages everywhere in a magical land of pop culture inside jokes and dry references to video games. It’s a little more mature than many a video game webcomic with no sign of descending into a parody of manliness.
Haters gonna hate, but I was laughing my head off from the first panel of Ctrl+Alt+Del by Tim Buckley. Though it can essentially be summed up as a strip “about two guys who play video games” it’s experienced significant evolution in depth and character development as the story has played out over the last 14 years (it started in 2002), leaving epic story arc for shorter, one-off jokes. The four protagonists are Ethan, a gaming fanatic, Lucas, a cynical programmer and Ethan’s main gaming buddy, Lilah, a *gasp* girl who likes video games, and Zeke, a sentient Xbox 360-based android with plans for world domination. This incredibly popular webcomic has recently even had an animated series adaptation. Some criticize the strip for trying too hard to get deep and philosophical (and failing); others feel the jokes are stolen and the material is sometimes a re-hash. But while it isn’t Shakespeare, Tim Buckley’s work is one of the biggest reasons that many people begin reading webcomics in the first place. Even if you don’t love the strip, it’s a great introduction to the genre and forces webcomics readers to examine their own ideas about what it is they do enjoy.
Andrew Hussie’s Homestuck begins when John Egbert, thirteen, finds a beta copy of Sburb, an upcoming video game, in his mailbox. The game begins like this:
“In here you keep an array of humorous and mystical ARTIFACTS, each one a devastating weapon in the hands of a SKILLED MAGICIAN or a CUNNING PRANKSTER.
You are neither of these things.
Among the ARTIFACTS are: TWO (2) FAKE ARMS [CURRENTLY CAPTCHALOGUED IN YOUR SYLLADEX], ONE (1) PAIR OF TRICK HANDCUFFS, ONE (1) STUNT SWORD, ONE (1) MAGICIAN'S HAT, ONE (1) PAIR OF BEAGLE PUSS GLASSES, SEVERAL (~) SMOKE PELLETS, SEVERAL (~) BLOOD CAPSULES, and ONE (1) COPY OF COLONEL SASSACRE'S DAUNTING TEXT OF MAGICAL FRIVOLITY AND PRACTICAL JAPERY, and ONE (1) COPY OF HARRY ANDERSON'S "WISE GUY", BY MIKE CAVENEY.”
If that doesn’t fill you with delight I don’t know what possibly could. Perhaps knowing that when John installs and runs the game, it causes a meteor shower to destroy his house and he’s transported to a planet in another dimension, where he and his friends must then play the game to create a new universe (because they’ve triggered the destruction of the planet). Homestuck is full of Gen Y pop culture references and captures Internet humor that mainstream comics never manage to tap. It’s not just drawings, either: gigantic pages are a mix of still and animated images, intimidating walls of text, Flash movies with original music, and even short video games that have generated a fanatic movement among readers. Some say it takes up a lot of time, but it sounds to me like something well worth clearing your schedule for.
VG Cats is a satirical cat-themed reflection on video games that frequently mocks the industry. It’s wildly popular (easily one of the 10 most widely read webcomics, surpassing even Peanuts) and has won a few awards (WCCA’s, Outstanding Gaming Comic) but if that first sentence didn’t really draw you in, maybe skip it. There are a LOT of kitties, and they’re playing the roles of famous video game characters in many a strip. And for those of you who just aren’t catlovers, it might be...a little much. Ok. For those of you cat lovers who are still here (meow!), know that VG Cats often includes violence and sexual innuendos - not for innocent little kittens. It also includes the sub comics Adventure Log and Super Effective. The artwork is great, even consistently, but the same cannot be said of the updating schedule; read the archives, but don’t hope for anything new.
More of a political humor comic than a wacky gaming comic, Penny Arcade by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik has been around since 1998 - that’s right, almost 20 years - and in that time has gained an incredible 3.5 million readers. The geekiest of the geeky are its target audience; it’s improved tons over time, and the strip is totally dedicated to doing its own thing. The art is delightful and the jokes move quickly (if you’re on the inside to understand them in the first place). It focuses on the alter egos of the writer and illustrator, named John "Gabe" Gabriel (the comic) and Tycho Brahe (the foil), and includes a bizarre melange of surrealism, zombies, Santa Claus, and a truly horrifying blender. It’s updated three times a week, so there’s always more to enjoy from the brilliant authors, who are among the very first webcomic creators bringing in enough dinero to quit their day jobs and make a full-time career out of internet funny papers.
The creator of Intelligent Life recently stated in an interview that “we’re ALL geeks...whether we’re comic geeks, video game geeks, sports geeks, tv geeks, workout geeks, food geeks... the list goes on.” This inclusive attitude is clear in his strip, which never mocks and always champions geeks of every kind. The main characters live in the real world; they are Skip, a marketing account rep and self-proclaimed geek, Gwen, Skip’s strong-willed adventurous secretary crush, Mike, an uber-fanatic computer programmer, and Barry, Skip’s sport-loving ladies’ man co-worker nemesis. You might assume that Barry’s more typical interests and proclivities are mocked and discarded as worthless, but the generous comic creator is clearly driving home a message that it’s great to geek out about anything - even if that thing is fantasy football.