|Original review author:||Daisenseiben|
|Webcomic name:||Between Failures|
|Author:||Crave-the-Bullet, A.K.A. Crave, A.K.A. Thomas|
|Start Date:||March 2007|
|Genre:||Slice-of-life nerd culture|
|Defining Flaw:||Go-nowhere plot, stagnant and boring art, walls o' text... take your pick.|
Unoriginal anime-influenced art style. Bland, flat colors and stilted body language.
Nothing ever happens. Promises of interesting storylines abound, but these are forgotten in favor of imitating Questionable Content.
Side characters all have interesting backgrounds, but are never expanded upon or shown to suffer repercussions. All of the focus is on the most uninteresting character of the bunch.
Occasionally dips into the same nerd culture ramblings on games/movies that the Internet is already saturated with.
Sad story about sad people working a sad job. Could be so much better if the author cared to try.
I started reading this comic way back in the jolly old year of 2010, when I was trying to combat the crippling depression of being dumped, unemployed, and homeless. While borrowing a friend's computer, I stumbled across a little thing called Between Failures. And because the art didn't look like something an 8 year old crapped out and the writing wasn't completely stuck up its own arse, I gave it a try. And I finished the damn comic and have been reading it ever since.
So please understand I don't hate this comic. Like your mother might say while guilt-tripping you, "I'm not angry, I'm disappointed."
Hard to say really, which makes it all the worse. In the early strips, the characters were aware their jobs sucked, that their lives had spiraled completely out of control, and that they were metaphorically circling the drain. It has since turned into nerd-wank.
Story and Plot
There isn't one. The comic claims to be about the times and adventures of Thomas Blackwell and his friends at an entertainment outlet in the middle of nowhere. Instead, it is about Thomas Blackwell and his friends as they work a dead-end job that has provided them with no professional skills and sucks the life out of them, owned by a company that is starting to fold up. They decide to fiddle while Rome burns by talking about books, movies, video games, Thomas's hobby of collecting action figures, and generally nothing important.
So our cast of characters are:
Thomas Blackwell: Our resident protagonist and resident (sort of) Gary-Stu. He's an asshole, a liar, and a manipulator, but we're supposed to like him because he's loyal and really a sensitive guy once you get to know him. He apparently runs things at the store, despite not even being an assistant manager, mostly by manipulating the succession of ineffective managers into hiring who he wants.
Edward Lincoln and his sister, Jessica: Ed, the hotheaded new guy, wears glasses, dresses like Harry Potter (which the comic will not let you forget), and gets into fights a lot. We're told he's really smart, but we only have Jessica's word on that. Jessica looks like a taller clone of her brother with tits attached. She also has a 'live for the moment' attitude when it comes to sex and spends most of her time molesting Brooksie.
Nina Grace: the store's statuesque blonde bombshell, former cheerleader, with a severe Harry Potter fetish (spoiler: she wants Edward to 'ride [her] like his quiddich broom'), who writes erotic fanfiction in her spare time. Oddly, this mash-up of personality traits makes her the most normal of the bunch.
John Kepler: The butt of most of Thomas's more asshole-ish stunts. Official character description states he "fancies himself a ladies man," but not three lines later " [he] is so used to striking out with girls that he actually gets weirded out if one comes on to him first." Strangely, we only see him hit on girls like twice. He mostly exists to be Thomas's butt-monkey and Brooksie's sole normal interaction with the human race.
Jolene "Brooksie" Brooks: The shy, blue-haired, habitually sneaky movie nerd, capable of quoting any movie you ask her. (Curiously, the only movies she's asked to quote aren't actually that obscure, and the quotes she responds with are the more famous ones, almost as if a lazy author just scoped Wikiquotes or something.) She's very shy, doesn't interact with people that well, but she once dreamed of making her own movie. That hasn't been touched on in years, and these days she mostly exists to be sexually harassed by Jessica. Oh yeah, she also has a naturally has a two-tone hair color (blonde/black) and may be bisexual. MAI WAIFUUUU!!
Miguel "Mike" Hernandez: The hopeless inept manager of the store. Despite being visibly overweight, and perhaps subsisting on a diet entirely of donuts, Mike demonstrates amazing capacity when it comes to hitting things with other things. He's probably got around 6 months before the corporate office fires him.
Reginal "Reggie" Watson Boothe: Reggie comes from money, and he won't let you forget it. He looks down on all his co-workers, openly insults them (granted, this doesn't really set him apart from the rest of the cast), and thinks he's too good to follow basic instructions. As a result, he's set numerous product displays on fire accidentally (God and the author of this comic only know how). Thomas seems to put up with him because he's got an aunt in the corporate office, and so serves as Thomas's unknowing informant. As to why a stuck-up prick like Reggie stays at a place he believes is beneath him is never explained to any satisfaction.
Wesley Asel: Wes wants to be as manipulative as Thomas and as spoiled as Reggie. He's a sycophant, a thief, and isn't even all that pleasant to be around. When introduced it seemed like was trying to get everyone else fired and/or arrested, but he hasn't gotten screen time in years.
The 'story' strikes me as distressingly close to another webcomic about people who spend absurd amounts of time talking about entertainment media and not doing anything. I would mention what comics those are, but that would be mean.
Which is honestly too bad, because there have been honest attempts at having these characters break out of their shells and become something. Thomas and co. spent an early adventure out as amateur ghost hunters. Or Brooksie's plan to make her own movie. Or Thomas and Carol's relationship, which was advertised as a game changing plot line, but instead amounted to a wet fart.
The art has shown improvement over the years, but this isn't much of a compliment. It starts at a 4 out of 10, and ends up at a 5 out of 10. There is definitely worse out there (I'm looking you, The Wotch), but I've seen better.
He does demonstrate an ability to draw people of different body types. Carol and Mike are definitely heavier, Ed is thin but toned, Reggie's a beanpole, Brooksie's petite, and so on. He also has a decent supply of different face types, unlike some webcomics we could name, even if Thomas and Ed start out looking like brothers.
However, the details begin to add up. Early on, he had a habit of, whenever showing a face from the 3/4ths view, he wouldn't draw the far eye. This may have been done to make the face look cleaner, without having a mess of lines right there in the middle. But this could have been solved by making the lines on the face less bold; as it is, it looks like everyone is constantly winking at each other.
On the subject of eyes: He used to not draw Ed's eyes. Since Ed wears glasses, I can see why; drawing eyes behind glasses, especially thick Harry Potter-esque frames, can make the face look squished and ugly. And, there's lots of precedent for not drawing the eyes behind glasses, especially in a cartoony style which is what we have here. However, get a load of this:
Did you see it? He didn't draw Ed's eyes, but drew his cheekbones, EVEN WHEN THEY WERE BEHIND THE GLASS. So we have glasses that you can't see through, except when you need to see the shape of someone's face. This winds up making it look like he got lazy and forgot to draw in Ed's eyes.
Once you notice the eyes, you can't stop noticing the other problems. He draws hands different sizes, Ed has a clear problem with Ye Olde Popeye Forearm, and a bunch of fingers that look unsettlingly like turds. Try to un-see it, I dare you.
We aren't even going to mention he almost never uses anything other than a medium distance shot, making his comic nothing but talking heads. I find this perplexing, because he made definite experiments with dynamic shots early on.
None of this really improves when he makes the jump to color. In fact, it gets worse. Sure, he shows a sense of delicate shading for hair, but only for the girls and only for hair. The guys get to have flat, boring hair, and everything else is lucky if it gets a half-assed cel-shade (only one layer, of that though!). All this with a jarring, eye-seering color palette, as if he's afraid we won't be able to see that Brooksie's hair is blue. And who makes a background lime green? Really, no one thinks that color is appropriate for anything other than an accent.
Lastly, he has an obviously anime-influenced style. I wouldn't normally think this is a big deal. Hell, I like to draw in anime style myself. The difference is, I don't constantly bash anime and crack jokes about how bad it is. If he drew in, say, the Simpson's style, there wouldn't be an issue. But instead, he draws like he just got his first How to Draw Manga book, so he comes off like a hypocrite.
If Thomas Blackwell were any more of a Gary-Stu, he'd be named Rayne Summers. In the early days, he was an asshat who mocked his coworkers' gaming choices, advocated slacking instead of hard work (despite hard work maybe turning his failing store around), andhumiliatedhis coworkers. He's lost some of his worst traits recently, which would be good, normally. However, it turns out Thomas has a few odd quirks when it comes to relationships. He's not really used to being a viewed as a sex object by his girlfriends (you have had sex, right dude?) and gets wracked by nerves after dropping the 'I love you' bomb (I know it can be stressful, but grow a pair). Oh, and it turns out he can't let go of relationships.
He also is openly manipulative of his coworkers. For instance, he gives Ed a series of Fight Club-esque rules to follow, but gives Brooksie a completely different set. When called out for this, Thomas claims it's because he tailors his rules to each coworker's personality so they can better fight their roles. Never mind his rules seem to suspiciously fit each person's gaping personality flaws, incidentally keeping them dependent on Thomas. Glad you could clear that up for me, Thomas! I'm over the fucking moon that you informed us you tailor your expectations of us out of respect for our innate capabilities, and not to exploit character flaws for your own gain.
Speaking of being called out, Thomas never is. Despite his constant bullying of everyone around him, he's never yelled at, punched, or fired (which he so sorely deserves). Instead, everyone continually compliments him on his innate talent and drive, saying once he gets his head on straight he's gonna go far. This, despite the fact that he is probably the least driven member of the cast. Nina writes, Brooksie wants to direct a movie, Carol and Mike and Reggie want to climb the corporate ladder, and even Ed wants to turn his life around.
But that's okay, because all of the other characters are just there to support Thomas. They are entirely defined by their relationship to him. So much so, that when the author does try to make a story central to one of the other characters, the sudden shift makes it jarring and odd.
As if the Gary Stu-ism wasn't bad enough, the author also commits the cardinal sin of wall o' text. Time and again, he demonstrates how NOT to pace a story, giving us blocks of text that could really be trimmed to about half their length or spaced out over multiple strips. This is almost farcical, as in over 1000 strips, he has completed maybe 2 plot arcs, neither of which was particularly involved (Carol admits her Eternal Love for Thomas; Thomas, Brooksie and John go ghost hunting). The rest of it has been retail employees standing around sassing each other. Be still, my beating heart.
The horrendous pacing would almost be bearable if the story actually WENT SOMEWHERE. But it doesn't. In fact, our author falls into a trap that multiple webcomic authors have fallen into over the years, and that is he doesn't seize the plot lines handed to him. I keep coming back to the amateur ghost hunter arc, because it was our author's first big chance to make a break from his set formula. He could have had multiple story arcs where the characters adventure out into supposedly haunted locations and hi-jinks ensue. Hannah-Barbara captured the hearts and minds of generations with that exact formula. Or he could have gone somewhere with Brooksie's movie idea, giving us the nitty-gritty of amateur film making.
But no, he decided to give us sassy 20-somethings bitching each other out while working just above minimum wage. Because the Internet really needs another one of those.
I'd take it all back if they'd just jump Reggie in an alley and give him the beat-down he so richly deserves.
Despite filling the bottom of every single comic with a rambling account of his latest non-adventures buying children's toys, I don't know much about the guy. According to his Dev-art account, he's a fan of Harry Potter, Mario, Shortpacked, Gravity Falls, and Questionable Content (now it all makes sense).
Oh, and his real name is Thomas. Now taking bets on whether his last name is Blackwell.
If Crave would just stop writing love letters to Jeph Jacques and actually take the options he's given himself, this would be an actual decent comic. As it is, he seems content to wallow in Gary-Stu mediocrity.
Between Failures: The comic itself
Crave-the-Bullet: His dev-art page.
Questionable Content: What this comic is trying so hard to be.
Something Positive: If you prefer your sassy 20-somethings to have real problems and actually do things.