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May 26, 2009 9:38 AM   Subscribe

Running since late 2006 under a Creative Commons license, Erfworld has now reached the end of book 1 in 150 pages of layered, fantasy roleplaying game ruled, pop-culture fuelled writing and consistently good, disarmingly cute artwork.

Having previously been recognised in Time magazine's top 10 graphic novels of 2007 despite having no physical form. If web comics are your thing, this would be the perfect time to give it a go, I think you'll like it...
posted by Molesome (45 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
I really like Erfworld. It's been dragging along for a while with existential angst, but it's cute. The pop-culture references come and go with how serious the arcs are, but it's still pretty whimsical. Glad to see it's out from under the wing (or thumb) of Order of the Stick, a reprehensible, visually unpleasant and obtuse wordfest with no redeeming value.
posted by boo_radley at 10:05 AM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Order of the Stick, a reprehensible, visually unpleasant and obtuse wordfest with no redeeming value

To borrow (and mangle) another mefi's phrase, I'm sorry boo_radley, but we can no longer be friends.
posted by porpoise at 10:10 AM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Now I have no porpoise to my life :( Ah whale.
posted by boo_radley at 10:13 AM on May 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


Boo, I could not agree less - I've loved OOTS since it was first posted here on the Blue, and eagerly await each new comic.
I can see not getting the inside humor or otherwise failing to grasp the characters' charm, but calling the strip represhensible and declaring it devoid of value is just shrill ridiculous ignorant trollish posturing.

Erfworld is an interesting story wrapped around an interesting idea. The artwork, however, is definitely the weak link. Inconsistent renderings of some characters interferes with one's ability to follow the plot. While more ambitious in its draftsmanship than OOTS, Erfworld fails to live up to its own ambitions and readability suffers as a result.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 10:13 AM on May 26, 2009


Erfworld sounds really neat. I'm going to check it out. Good post!
posted by elder18 at 10:14 AM on May 26, 2009


booooooooooo boo_radley
posted by macmac at 10:17 AM on May 26, 2009


Molesome: If web comics are your thing, this would be the perfect time to give it a go, I think you'll like it...

The five most dreaded words.
posted by paisley henosis at 10:19 AM on May 26, 2009


Slight Spoiler

I stopped reading Erfworld when I realized the only thing I was really interested in was if Wanda and Jillian would hook up.

I love Order of the Stick. Much more interesting than Erfworld.
posted by nooneyouknow at 10:21 AM on May 26, 2009


OOTS has gone downhill since the trial with all the paladins involved. Too many words in each strip, too preachy, and the drama is rather bad.
posted by clockworkjoe at 10:33 AM on May 26, 2009


I read both. They're different. I like both enough to wish that they both updated more often.

Daily would be nice, for starters. :D

I kid. But I think both are worth a read, though it took a re-read of the Erfworld archives in one sitting for me to really understand the story properly.
posted by WalterMitty at 11:07 AM on May 26, 2009


Ah but Paisley Henosis there is no burden of expectation that you will read it, and tis far easier to click and discard than to hand back a book that you've had on your shelf for six months and really feel you ought to give back before it ends up on bookmooch (trust me, I'm waiting for that right moment)
posted by Molesome at 11:37 AM on May 26, 2009


OOTS has gone downhill since the trial with all the paladins involved. Too many words in each strip, too preachy, and the drama is rather bad.

Haha. Too many words? So what, each strip contains 1,000 words instead of the usual 500? Are they twice as big? Did he discover some sort of word compression technology unknown to the rest of science? Because when I last read OOTS, it was wordier than most livejournal blogs.
posted by graventy at 11:45 AM on May 26, 2009


BigLankyBastard, disagreement is not trolling.
posted by boo_radley at 11:46 AM on May 26, 2009


disagreement is not trolling

No, but diverting a thread away from its primary topic AND going beyond a simple statement that OOTS did not appeal to you, all the way to condemning it using morally loaded terminology such as "reprehensible" and "no redeeming value" are acts with a distinctly trollish ring. I think that's the sort of thing that's generally labelled "Threadshitting" around here.

BTW, the word "Reprehensible" means "Deserving rebuke or censure; blameworthy." I find that a more accurate description of your first post on this thread than of a perfectly harmless comic strip.

Anywhoo, I'm still interested to see where Erfworld goes from here. I have not been reading the forums on that site, is the strip moving to a new venue?
posted by BigLankyBastard at 11:57 AM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


erfworld is easily the most pretentious and least interesting web-comic that I've read.
posted by oddman at 12:42 PM on May 26, 2009


Oil me up and add me to the pile-on - OOTS, taken as a whole, is about the closest thing to pop literature I've found on the web. Not least for the sad and terrible (yet uplifting) tale of O'Chul, that possibly just ended (spoiler!).

Erfworld I've looked at maybe twenty times and have been completely uninterested in following. I'll keep trying, but it seems to be in a different league from Rich's geeky delight.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:08 PM on May 26, 2009


My opinion on OOTS: terribly drawn, wordy as fuck, and stuck in the morass between gag-a-day and serious that so many bad webcomics fall into. It relies on drawing fans not by being a good comic but by being solely reliant on D&D humor. To be perfectly honest, I haven't looked into Erfworld because it's on OOTS' site.

Also BLB, the only reprehensible thing in this thread so far is your labeling anyone who disagrees with you as trolls. Metafilter has a higher level of discourse than that.
posted by flatluigi at 2:02 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


erfworld is easily the most pretentious and least interesting web-comic that I've read.

So you haven't read many webcomics, then?
posted by FatherDagon at 2:42 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I actually quite enjoy the simplistic artistic style of OOTS. Burlew manages to evoke a lot of expressivity with very few lines. For example; Belkar's eyebrows when he's in different moods.

After reading OOTS for so long, I've grown fond of a lot of the characters and I've even warmed up to Elan. Currently, the fate of V's soul and O'Chul's current predicament, not to mention how the shadow monster Oo* will respond, has me checking the site for updates everyday.

True, the plot line of resurrecting Roy has grown a little tedious but whether/how the OOTS deal with the lich will keep me going back.

*I sooo want that black tshirt with the yellow Oo on it, even if no-one will get it
posted by porpoise at 2:46 PM on May 26, 2009


@Flatluigi - OOTS hasn't been solely reliant on D&D humour for ages. And terribly drawn? Do you mean he could draw a better stick figure cartoon? or that the stick figures were a bad idea?
posted by Sebmojo at 3:17 PM on May 26, 2009


I agree! The state of hosting provision for OOTS and Erfworld *is* completely reprehensible! There's no need for that much of a routing problem/ Slashdot effect every time a new strip comes out.

Oh, were we actually discussing content? Sorry.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 3:34 PM on May 26, 2009



Some clarification about Oots. Whenever I look at Oots, it is reciting bits of Dungeons and Dragons manuals at me. Used sparingly, this self-aware humor might be clever or interesting (There will be an example superior to oots later). It happens all the time, though, and it got old once the "I get that!" wears off, which was, for me, the third strip. Ho-ho, role playing mechanics sure can take the place of humor, ho-ho.

One of the most egregious examples is Vaarsuvius' deal with these devils, where there are several panels of nothing but spell names. This is fundamentally lazy writing, hampered by the fact that the characters actions are so poorly conveyed by someone who's never bothered to stretch himself artistically.

I've played D&D first through fourth and a ton of other systems, besides. My parents sold their own line of lead miniatures, for pete's sake. I am squarely in the demographic that Oots should appeal to, and it doesn't. It's pandering, convoluted and banal. Stuck in derivative cultural rut not of its own making.

So what does a funny pop-lit (to use Sebmojo's great term) comic look like? One that can make good use of cultural references? I'll recommend Don't cry for me, I'm already dead as something that might fit the label.
posted by boo_radley at 4:56 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Really, Erfworld is doing the exact same thing OOTS is doing, with a different genre. Both of them are trying to repeatedly press the button that triggers nostalgia for when you were ten and escaping from a complicated world by burying yourself in the rules of a fantasy game. OOTS's game is AD&D; EW's game is some Japanese AD&D-inspired fantasy console wargame I never played.

They both layer their core "hey remember that game you played? wasn't it crazy now that you look at it as an adult?" value with a bunch of modern cultural references.

And if that is what you want in a comic, they both deliver.

If you require halfway-competent art, Erfworld delivers, while OOTS does not. I have never read any "How I Make OOTS" essays but the whole thing has the look of something made mostly by cut-and-paste in Illustrator; I can imagine that there's a directory full of reusable parts on Burlew's hard drive, and that any comic he can do without actually drawing a single new thing is a good comic in his eyes. Hey, it works for User Friendly.

I have looked at chunks of Erfworld in the past; I have never been able to click on OOTS' 'next comic' button more than once before its crude art makes me close the browser. I am glad to know that Book 1 of EW is done so I can actually read it and see if it becomes something more than the sum of its irregularly-scheduled parts. It's certainly a lot more visually ambitious than OOTS is, though its writing feels like it's at about the same level.

And I will close this with a bit more threadjacking: enough trashing of a strip related to the one being linked to, how about linking to another nerd-values strip that is almost done? Phil Foglio's comedy sci-fi graphic novel The Gallimaufry is almost done being serialized on the web - it feels like it's within the last ten pages - and it is clever, dense, and drop-dead gorgeous.
posted by egypturnash at 6:10 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


Also,

> curl http://www.erfworld.com/wp-content/uploads/book1/[001-150].jpg -o "erfworld #1.jpg"
posted by egypturnash at 6:22 PM on May 26, 2009


Interesting points.

@ Boo:
Although the strip you link to actually has only one spell on it (did you mean this one?), I agree that many of them do rely heavily on the technical aspects of what is effectively a transcription of a D&D campaign.

However there's a useful distinction between D&D gags (like these) and places where D&D is used to add an extra layer of meaning to the proceedings or as a kind of language. I'd argue that Rich is pretty damn sophisticated about how he does both.

The recent Vaarsuvius plotline is a great example of this - this extraordinary combo, while technically a 'list of spells', is a brief haiku in game design all of its own as well as providing significant information about the character to the careful reader. Cf this. And as a counterpoint, this.

The character and story happen to be using using the mechanisms of a largely rules-legal 3.5ed D&D campaign. It's a deliberately and thoughtfully constructed layer of meaning, not just a bunch of 'I cast magic missile at the darkness' funnies.


@egypt

I think you've got a point about nostalgia, but only to end of the first 'book' (150 strips or so? when they first defeat Xykon). After that the characters develop, change, grow ect ect. It's still a comedy strip, but there are actual moral issues investigated in amongst the hijinx.

As to the art, well. Strokes/folks I guess - I think it's an acceptable stylistic choice, and he regularly rings some neat changes (like this, this and this).

As a corollary to this threadjacking, I undertake to read the first fifty Erfworld strips :) Seems only fair.

posted by Sebmojo at 7:27 PM on May 26, 2009


I'll give Erfworld a shot. I gave up on OOTS for some of the same reasons I gave up on xkcd - they both seemed to have reversed webcomic logic. It's pretty rare that you can mentally subtract the text from either strip and still have the comic be enjoyable on some level. On the other hand, you can usually imagine the text sans images and still be entertained. The pictures in OOTS are basically redundant, and mainly seem to exist to provide some sort of vain focus or stage direction for neverending dialogue - it's almost anti-visual. Even film storyboards would convey more narrative.
posted by Ritchie at 8:00 PM on May 26, 2009


Sebmojo, I'd meant to put the word "arc" in the Vaarsuvius link. The one strip isn't bad on its own, but it starts a roller coaster culminating in your corrected link. While I still dislike the strip, I can respect your opinion about it.
posted by boo_radley at 8:24 PM on May 26, 2009


@Ritchie

That's fair enough - while I was researching my post I looked at the strips with new eyes, and yes if you're not apprised of the labrynthine backstory it is pretty bland.

But stick figures are pretty explicitly the 'bare minimum' standard for art in comics, so he's not being secretive about it. And his writing and plotting, to my mind, are very good.
posted by Sebmojo at 8:29 PM on May 26, 2009


Sebmojo: @Flatluigi - OOTS hasn't been solely reliant on D&D humour for ages. And terribly drawn? Do you mean he could draw a better stick figure cartoon? or that the stick figures were a bad idea?

I've looked at several strips of OOTS and the art style is simplistic and brightly-colored. Almost childish.

This is incredibly counterproductive if you're trying to do a storyline with gory death, mass familicide, and a Huge Mistake.

(and, to an earlier point, you really shouldn't break the mood with a gag strip/punchline directly between those 'hard-hitting' plot points)
posted by flatluigi at 8:51 PM on May 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I disagree, obviously. IMO it's simple, rather than simplistic, and it wears its simplicity proudly on its sleeve to make it even clearer. The strongest knock against it is that the text has metastasised to the point where only a few of the strips have an overall visual impact - but that's a price I'm happy enough to pay as I like Rich's writing a lot ("Nice dodge!" "Ninja.")

But my (predictable) opinion aside, what's your beef with ironic juxtaposition? It's a fairly basic artistic technique, isn't it?
posted by Sebmojo at 9:04 PM on May 26, 2009


I feel that a lot of bad things are chalked up to trying to be deliberately ironic. Show me a place where you can make a case that OOTS is drawn simply to be ironic and not just because the artist can't do any better.

I also feel that anyone who does a work for a long time with absolutely no creative growth to show from it is comfortable in their mediocrity and that is terrible no matter who the person is.
posted by flatluigi at 9:28 PM on May 26, 2009


No, I meant the 'how can you draw something grim with childish stick figures' point you appeared to be making.

As for growth, the writing, plot and characterisation have been the focus and they've gone to all manner of crazy places.

The central visual identity of the comic hasn't changed, sure, but why should it? The point of the strip has never been the zip-zappiness of the art - a point which, again, is made front and centre in the name.

Occasionally there'll be a nice subtle touch, or a spiffy splash panel, but that's really just a case of doing something unexpected within tight constraints rather than an indication that the art is the central concern.
posted by Sebmojo at 9:41 PM on May 26, 2009


But stick figures are pretty explicitly the 'bare minimum' standard for art in comics, so he's not being secretive about it. And his writing and plotting, to my mind, are very good.

It's not simply that he uses stick figures, but that all the images are framed in the most invariant way possible. I mentioned upthread that it suffers by comparison with storyboards for a film, and that wasn't hyperbole. But I could have used another comparison - that of a side-scrolling video games, with jokes (Golden Axe, anyone?). He's not confined to that by stick figures - there's no reason why he can't, for example, show the adventurers charging a monster from the POV of the monster, or the POV of someone behind them, or the POV of someone hovering overhead. He just chooses not to. And I think he chooses not to because the images aren't really there to convey anything of emotional importance. They're there so you can see who is saying what.

I actually think OOTS would be awesomely excellent if done as the internet equivalent of a radio serial (a podcast?) instead of a webcomic. Have different actors doing the different voices and use old-fashioned foley work to sell the notion of place.
posted by Ritchie at 12:36 AM on May 27, 2009


Ya'll sound like Josh Lesnick.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:52 AM on May 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ritchie, he's done all those things. I'm too lazy to seek them out, but here's other examples.

Like I said, creativity within tight constraints. It's like house music - you don't criticise it for having a four to the floor beat - what's the point? It's house music.
posted by Sebmojo at 5:09 AM on May 27, 2009


I'd never heard of Erfworld before, and, well, I read the whole thing today. At work. It did drag in some places, and clearly, I wasn't familiar with the game mechanics enough to get some of the plot, but I enjoyed it. I'm constantly looking out for webcomics, as I'm teaching an ESL class at my university focused on, well, comics. The problem is, for my class, at least, is that most of the comics I find are way, way too high level for my students. That's for the class. For me, I'm exposed to all kinds of stuff that I find quite interesting, like this, like Rice Boy, or A Softer World, and I love it. Thanks for the link.
posted by Ghidorah at 5:46 AM on May 27, 2009


Thanks for the examples Sebmojo. Most of those are still examples of the side-scrolling video-game perspective that I've been whining about, albeit pulled back a ways so you can see more in the panel. There is one example, taken from Zykon's perspective as he faces down a group of soldiers, that illustrates (heh) my larger point. Do you notice the totally unnecessary dialogue in that panel, that he missed a chance to use the image and the image alone to elicit an emotional response in the reader? If you mentally edit out that dialogue, what is the effect? Does the dramatic tension increase or decrease? Those are the constraints he should be working within! If he paid more attention to stuff like that, I'd still be following OOTS.
posted by Ritchie at 6:05 AM on May 27, 2009


Okay, I've now done my promised fifty strips of teh ERFZOR - and, like Ghid, I agree it's pretty good. Nice art, and the TBS stuff is neat. I'll keep going. Personally I still prefer OOTS, because it's more about the words and the characters and in the end that's what makes stories.

Ritchie - i think he gave up on using the image and the image alone to reliably elicit an emotional response at about the time he decided to use stick figures to tell the story. Any chances he gets to resile from that decision he clearly loves taking, but.. y'know?
posted by Sebmojo at 6:17 AM on May 27, 2009


And, bless, but at least with OOTS I can tell what's going on in a strip.
posted by Sebmojo at 6:27 AM on May 27, 2009


I also feel that anyone who does a work for a long time with absolutely no creative growth to show from it is comfortable in their mediocrity and that is terrible no matter who the person is.

*cough* Ctrl-Alt-Delete *cough*
posted by graventy at 7:35 AM on May 27, 2009


graventy: True. Even though comics that don't grow at all are bad, there are certainly bad comics that show growth. Examples: CAD (first and last) and Questionable Content (first and last).
posted by flatluigi at 12:40 PM on May 27, 2009


graventy, that's the webcomics equivalent of Godwining the thread.
posted by Molesome at 1:04 PM on May 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Read through nearly all of ErfWorld yesterday.

It was excellent so long as it was just being funny. While working on making Stanley more redeemable was nice. The enemy lines drama, not so nice. It's awesome to see that kind of strategy wargame exploded, with the implications of all its system-simplifying rules made explicit. The Wanda/Jillian thing was head scratching. Going on about the horrors of war, feh. There's an overabundance of telling-not-showing in there too, using whole strips to focus on some point best left in a single panel.

It was good enough that I read through it all, and there are very few webcomics that can say that. But still, kind of disappointing.
posted by JHarris at 6:14 PM on May 27, 2009


i think he gave up on using the image and the image alone to reliably elicit an emotional response at about the time he decided to use stick figures to tell the story.

You keep returning to this point as if stick-figure drawings are never capable of conveying anything more than the baldest statements, and that let's Burlew off the hook. But that's not true. Early man was painting stick-figures on rock with more emotional wallop than that in OOTS.

The artwork in OOTS is dull and stiff because for some reason Burlew wants it that way, not because he's committed to a format which allows nothing else. I can't deny that I found it interesting enough to read in bulk lots - I read the current series up to where Vaarsuvius meets the black dragon on an island, and I've read the prequel books he did - but they simply don't sustain my interest from week to week. I can gorge on it if it's presented as a year's worth of strips, but it doesn't retain any emotional hold on me from week to week.
posted by Ritchie at 8:13 PM on May 27, 2009


I keep returning to it because it's transparently obvious. Your caveman counterpoint might have more weight if there were more 6000+ panel RPG-pastiches at Lascaux.

But really - enough. De gustibus, etc.
posted by Sebmojo at 2:26 AM on June 3, 2009


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