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Friday, May 15, 2009

By my standards, I think I'm a month late with this.

In February, at the end of my "Webcomics' Identity Crisis" series, I said this about The Floating Lightbulb:
I'm probably going to do a review of the Floating Lightbulb itself one day, and when I do I'm probably going to say that Bengo is a more cerebral John Solomon. Bengo doesn't hate all webcomics - though the Floating Lightbulb doesn't do much in the way of actual reviews at all - but he certainly seems to hate most of the personages in mainstream webcomics. In his eyes, most big-time webcomics creators are self-promoting jerks who probably cheated to get to the top and as such are bad role models, and most webcomic bloggers are ego-strokers, often with rampant conflicts of interest, who shill the same comics over and over again. Not every webcomic blog gets this charge, not even biggies Tangents and Websnark; mostly the vitriol goes to Gary "Fleen" Tyrell and [Xaviar] Xerexes, proprietor of Comixtalk.
Shortly thereafter, Bengo wrote a post explaining, among other things, that he didn't hate all mainstream webcomics, he just reserved his vitriol for those grouped under the names of Dumbrella and Halfpixel. And even though he never mentioned me by name and I'm still not sure if he even knows of Da Blog's existence, I started to panic and planned to start this post with a comedown, stating that maybe I'd overstated his hatred.

Well, earlier this week he banged out a post that seemed to show where I might have gotten the idea he was a curmudgeon. Apparently a large number of webcomic creators are engaging in an e-e-evil plot to mislead Aspiring Webcomickers Everywhere in order to maintain their own standing and keep webcomics mired in a cesspool of mediocrity. Oh yes, what they disseminate is nothing but a mess of LIES! But they won't succeed, oh no, even now their kingdoms are falling, and soon the curtain will fall away and THE TRUTH SHALL BE REVEALED! They can't keep it down forever! Ha ha ha, ha ha ha, aha ha ha ha ha hahahahaha!!!!!!!!!!!!

(This isn't the first time I've sat through Bengo putting his tinfoil hat on, either. He seems to think that people who think Scott Kurtz is "nice" are victims of an elaborate charade and front so dead-on and uncanny he should be an actor, not a webcartoonist! Because it can't possibly be that Kurtz is just a complex, contradictory - GASP! - human being who feels nice in some circumstances and egotistical in others! Not that Kurtz being an arrogant jerk who thinks he's Scott McCloud's heir as Representative of All Webcomicdom but always ends up putting his foot in his mouth in doing so is exactly a secret...)

I don't want to give the impression I find TFL the conspiratorial ramblings of a madman. In fact, TFL is one of the better, or at least more interesting, blogs you'll find when it comes to advice for aspiring webcomickers. About a year ago, Bengo started trying to research webcomics in preparation of a new project he hoped to do with his wife Pug. Distressed at the paucity and contradictory nature of information, he started the Psychedelic Treehouse website as a storehouse of his findings, and started keeping a running log in TFL. Bengo nonetheless plowed on and ultimately contributed to two webcomics and a side project, while continuing to look for information on what to expect on the financial front. He became so distressed at the information in the HalfPixel group's "How to Make Webcomics" that after a bad interview with Dave "Sheldon" Kellett and Brad "Evil Inc." Guigar, he wrote a scathing post casting severe doubt on the book's business model that made him a lifelong enemy in Kurtz and is largely singlehandedly responsible for much of TFL's popularity, such as it is (which is to say "more than that of Da Blog").

The metaphor implied by the title is probably the most succinct summary of most of TFL's contents. Well, kind of. Sort of. Actually, according to an informal overview I did, only a little more than half Bengo's posts were classified as "ideas webcomickers can use, perhaps to increase their revenue or help their art, sometimes taking their cue from things existing webcomickers are doing. Often this takes the form of cool stuff on the Internet people can use. Other times it's highfalutin' ideas, concepts and classifications that would make Scott McCloud and Eric Burns(-White) blush." The rest, for the most part, is split fairly evenly between actual webcomic reviews, mere observations about the webcomic community, or ripping into people Bengo hates.

All of those three categories, to some extent or another, furthers the same goal as the first: educating aspiring webcomickers. Bengo reviews webcomics so we can learn from them, his recent posts on webcomic traffic trends were made with an eye to trying to find out why so aspiring webcomickers wouldn't fall into the same traps, and he doesn't want anyone looking to Scott Kurtz as a role model or have their business plan ruined by "How to Make Webcomics". This isn't just generic stuff you can find anywhere else on the Internet, either. Bengo pretty much assumes you're looking to enter webcomics for the long haul, and make some money from it at the same time, and maybe even join the Tier 1 Pantheon of Popular Webcomics. I can't vouch for the effiacy of any of the advice Bengo gives - I'm afraid I would have to classify his comics as Tier 3 and unreviewable until proven good (or at least potential-filled) - but there's a lot of stuff you won't find anywhere else (by which I mean you won't find any competing or affirming advice) and a few things where Bengo seems to be downright pioneering, daring to go where no one has gone before. Where else are you going to find stuff like this?

All of which means TFL has a rather interesting clientele in that it is written primarily not for the general public at large, but for aspiring webcomickers. What really makes this interesting is that a blog written entirely for aspiring webcomickers would ordinarily go entirely into the advice pool. Bengo writes for a specific subset of that clientele, yet he's also calling out the webcomics community at large for their practices that derail aspiring webcomickers. I think the closest thing to an equivalent I can think of would be Bengo's mortal enemy at Halfpixel at, yet even that site doesn't really go into current events or reviews or that sort of thing, yet despite the tagline of "webcomics news," TFL isn't really a news site either (by which I mean it's not much of a news site at all). (The tagline used to be "Webcomics Eureka", which was a little more accurate if a little redundant with the title and not entirely sensical.)

Now so far, my webcomic blog reviews have been of review sites, so I should probably say a few words about TFL's reviews. Briefly, they tend to focus on obscure webcomics, and somewhat surprisingly for TFL's normal subject matter, they tend to be rather basic, focusing on such things as what the setting is, what the format is, how good it is with mechanics, and what Bengo likes and what he thinks could be improved. They're short, general, and to-the-point, without too much of the rambling or dwelling on specifics of the Burns(-White)/Howard/Solomon/Wick crowd.

The Floating Lightbulb is the closest thing I've yet found to the Order of the Stick of webcomics blogs, in that it's hard for me to find anything (well, much) bad to say about it. If Bengo's insights into webcomics are vindicated - which really only happens when you become popular, as people either deconstruct your arguments or tell people how much you helped them; it's damn near impossible to do what the opposite of vindication is, since you generally don't get popular if you're wrong, and in any case Bengo may be well on his way - TFL (and Psychedelic Treehouse) could become an absolute must-read for anyone looking to jump into webcomics, as well as anyone else examining the field. And the Webcomic Blog List is not only a useful form of webcomic blog promotion, it's a useful resource for anyone looking for webcomic blogs to read, such as someone like me who's looking for more webcomic blogs to review.

The one big elephant in the living room where TFL is concerned is Bengo's sometimes-obsession with Dumbrella, Halfpixel, and their cohorts, which can come off as just trying to drum up attention by picking fights and proclaiming "everything you know is wrong!" (If Bengo decides to respond to this post in any way, I fully expect him to go on another possibly-conspiratorial rant about all the damage Kurtz and Co. do to webcomics just like all his others.) When Bengo isn't ripping into the self-proclaimed "role models" of webcomics, his posts are thought-provoking and insightful. Even when he is they can be enlightening and affirming. Either way, you're guaranteed to get your recommended daily allowance of brain food just about every day.

The Floating Lightbulb is, pending verification of Bengo's advice, most highly recommended. And I'm not just saying that to get on the Webcomic Blog List - TFL's on my RSS reader for good. As I said back in February, I'd bet anything Bengo would rip me and Da Blog to shreds, both for lavishing praise on him and focusing too much on popular webcomics for my own good (and maybe echoing Robert A. Howard's critique on top of that).

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