|Original review author:||Griffbits|
|Webcomic name:||Everyday Grind|
|Start Date:||November 8, 2009|
|End Date:||December 11, 2011 (but supposedly ongoing)|
|Genre:||Slice of Life (but with the Wackiness!)|
|Defining Flaw:||Bland, generic characters written blandly and generically|
I first heard of this one on the BWW forums. When I checked it out, I encountered many flaws, but after I had gone through the archive and researched the author a bit, I wasn’t sure whether or not this comic deserved a review. Not because the comic isn't bad...it is. But rather because there’s no real drama going on here. Ben Trowell seems like a good enough guy. There’s no shameless begging. He does start to get a little fan-servicey in his DA gallery towards the end, but certainly nothing too creepy. He’s not forcing his comic on anyone or even really trying to get people to look at it. It’s just sitting there in his gallery and really seems like something he just wanted to do and that was all there was to it. But I also noticed that he’s seeking critiques on most of his artwork on DA...and it seems like he actually appreciates honest feedback. So that’s what this review is going to be. I’m not going to rip him or the comic apart. I’m going to try not to be mean or sarcastic. This is going to be an honest critique – rather than a criticism – of Everyday Grind. So, Ben, if you come across this, take it for what it is. If I do sound mean at any point, it’s just ‘cause that’s what these reviews usually call for and stuff slips out every now and then. Nothing personal!
It’s a cliche, but basically right from the beginning. As in, the very first panel of the very first page. It begins with a guy dreaming he’s a dragon-riding knight rescuing a sexy princess, only to have his fantasy interrupted at the climactic moment by the alarm clock, whereupon we are brought to the crashing realization that what we had thought was going to be an epic fantasy comic is in fact, yet another “slice-of-life-wacky-people-doing-wacky-things” comic. It’s bad enough to start your comic with a cliche...it’s a whole other thing to start your comic by disappointing every single person who’s reading.
I’m not going to harp on this too much. The artwork was atrocious in the beginning, but Ben Trowell did exactly what we always hope webcomic artists will do: he got better. And damn, did he get better quick. Take a look at the earliest stuff on his DA account compared to the newest stuff. I’m actually really impressed. So I’m not even going to bother talking about the comic’s beginnings in the art review. That being said, there’s still a few things I’ll mention and the truth is, these are things I probably wouldn't even bring up with certain other comics. But because Ben has shown a level of improvement, these are things that I believe he should actually consider and internalize...because they will help.
First of all, even his most recent work has a very static line. What does this mean and why is it a problem? In real life, things don’t have outlines around them, but they do have value shifts from various depths of shadow through various depths of mid-tones to various depths of highlights. When drawing something, it’s generally a good idea to utilize every component of the drawing to simulate that effect. This obviously involves coloring and shading, but it also involves linework. Having dynamic linework creates not only more interest, but also helps a viewer’s mind interpret the image with which they are presented. In areas that should be shadowed, dynamic linework would be thick. In areas that would be highlighted, a dynamic line would flow smoothly to a thin line. You generally see same-width or static linework in a couple places. Most animation utilizes static line because it would be almost impossible to keep track of fluid lines from frame to frame. It would also be unnecessary, since the subject is in constant motion anyway. You’ll also often see static line in digitally inked work, especially from self-trained or amateur illustrators. Believe me, the importance of fluid line is hammered into your brain if you study illustration in school...and for a good reason. Most readers probably won’t even consciously notice it, but it does have an effect. Here’s an example. On the left is a panel from the final page of Everyday Grind. So this is at the comic’s peak, art-wise. Not bad, right? Just bland. On the right is the exact same panel, but with fluid line. See how much more interesting it immediately becomes? You actually care more about what this character is saying now, because he has weight...presence. It feels like there’s actually something there, rather than a collection of wispy lines that’ll blow away in the slightest breeze. And for those of you who claim that static line is a style, take another look. The image on the right is still undeniably Ben’s style. It’s just infinitely more interesting and easier to look at. Remember what I said about a fluid line helping a viewer interpret the art? Yeah...compare those two images again and honestly ask yourself which one makes it easier to understand the shape and form of this character...and even the nature of his expression. See, dynamic line is like salt...it just makes your style taste more like your style. And to be fair, about halfway through Everyday Grind, people had apparently brought this up to Ben and he made an effort to improve it. The result however, is not actually dynamic line. It’s a static line that tapers at the ends, while retaining the same width for the other 99.9% of its length.
Secondly – and this is important, because it is a problem on its own and also affects understanding of the story – Ben seems to have a problem capturing how people actually look. He should really consider doing some more life drawing. There’s a character in Everyday Grind named Jamie who is South Korean and a character named Charlotte who’s Mexican. Now, before I say what I’m about to say, please understand that it is in no way intended to be as insensitive as it may sound...I’m not a racist, after all. Here goes...that’s not what people from South Korea and Mexico look like. Even though he alters the skin tone a little, all of Ben’s characters – and indeed, all of his drawings in general – have pretty much the exact same facial shape and facial features: the upturned nose, the complete lack of lips, the ever-so-slightly chubby cheeks swooping down to a dainty chin. And you’ll notice that I prefaced this not by saying that Ben has a problem depicting ethnicities, but rather that he has a problem capturing how people look. Because it isn't just ethnicities. Not too long ago, Ben did an illustration to be used as a logo for his wife’s company, depicting her and their cat at work and play. Sweet. And a nice illustration. Only thing is, this looks nothing like his wife. You can find a photograph of Ben and his wife in his DA gallery. I'm not posting it here, nor even a direct link...I’m not a stalker, after all. You can either check it out for yourself or take my word for it that he didn't really capture any of her physical characteristics. Compare the nose, chin, face shape, eye shape, mouth...they’re all off. Take a look at her eyebrows in the photograph. That’s a really distinctive shape, right? Pretty easy to replicate if you’re trying to nail a likeness. But the eyebrows in the illustration don’t even come close. Y’know who it does look exactly like though? Every other female Ben’s ever drawn.
So it’s not ethnicities so much. He just kind of has a habit of homogenizing humanity in his drawing. This, compared with the static linework makes for art that is, while technically pretty proficient, really kind of boring.
Story & Plot
Okay, this is a little bit weird. Everyday Grind was written over the course of three years. I say written, because I’m pretty sure it’s over. The story arc ended and Ben gave some indication that it would continue, but that was a year ago...so who knows? Anyway, it was written over the course of three years, but the events take place over the course of one day. I’ll talk more about why this is such a huge problem in the Writing Review. But basically, the plot focuses on three roommates: Norman, a human; Figs, a duck; and Paunch, a Sasquatch (he’s called a Yeti in the comic, but the Yeti is specifically Himalayan and Paunch is not). Why is one of the main characters a duck and one of them a Sasquatch when every single other character in this universe is a human? Who gives a shit? Norman owns a used bookstore, Figs is the manager of a Wal-Mart surrogate and Paunch is blissfully unemployed and chronically lazy. During the course of this day, Norman meets Jamie at his bookstore and she instantly falls madly in love with him for some indefinable reason. More on that in the Writing Review as well. Once he closes up shop, Norman, Paunch, Jamie, Figs and Charlotte (who is a clerk at the store Figs manages) all go to a heavy metal concert and...then it’s over. Three years and 55 pages. That’s the story. It’s boring. It’s bland. It’s generic. Nothing of anything even remotely approaching consequence happens. I’m not saying that all comics have to have earth-shattering revelations and history-altering plots. There are plenty of really interesting character-driven comics that simply focus on what a group of characters (even wacky characters) do. But Everyday Grind’s characters are unoriginal, uninteresting and not even sort of clever. They simply can’t sustain that kind of story. And they don’t.
Every...day...grind. Now we get to the real reason this comic belongs here. It’s so generic and boring that you sort of have to wonder why it was even created. I mean...Ben’s not really seeking to profit off this comic in any way, so it’s not that. He really just seemed to want to create a comic. But this is what he came up with? At any crossroads of originality, Everyday Grind plows straight on through to the “Seen It!” side. So let’s break this down a little further. I already mentioned the cliched-when-cliches-were-invented opening. In the next strip, we get our first in a series of handy introductory panels, telling us the character’s name, age, species, occupation and defining trait. This is useful, because it avoids having to mess around with any of that pesky character development later on. Eventually, there's one for every single primary and secondary character throughout the entire strip. Cool! From there, we spend literally four strips learning that Paunch’s cooking is bad. And that’s the joke. It’s not handled in any clever or original way. The joke is literally just that he’s a bad cook. Oh wait...no...he’s a really bad cook! He’s also lazy. So we’ve got three roommates...one fairly normal, one a wacky talking animal and one a lazy, wacky mythological creature in a mundane setting. How many times have we seen all this before? And the wacky talking animal isn't even wacky! He manages a department store. He’s just another normal guy, who happens to be a duck for some indeterminate reason. That’s not interesting!
What’s even weirder is that Ben can’t decide on which cliche he really wants to assign to characters. Take another look at Norman’s (Norman…get it? He’s the normal one) introductory panel, where it describes him as an “oblivious simpleton.” Uh...there is absolutely no evidence of that anywhere in the comic. And I’m not even saying that the character changed and developed over time, leading away from this. I’m saying that apart from that one panel, this character is never depicted as an oblivious simpleton. And he’s not even depicted as such there...it just tells us he is. But he isn't. In an official character profile created later on, Ben describes Norman as a middle child who had to become a self-made business owner at a young age. Oblivious simpleton or savvy self-made man...which boring cliche is it? Here’s the best part though. The rest of that character profile says this: “His mild taste in food, entertainment and manners earns him the reputation of being boring to some, yet stable to others.” Wow. Just wow. This is the main character and his defining trait, depending on who you ask, is being either boring or...get ready for it...stable. I demand to be entertained by this man’s wacky antics!
One of Ben’s main problems seems to be that he doesn't actually know what a joke is. I say this with a fair amount of confidence, because in the entirety of the comic, there is not a single actual joke. There are situations that, if handled properly, could be humorous. But there isn't a single crafted joke. So here’s this strip, where we first see the diner, Menny’s and also meet the character Orlov, who is destined to become a fan favorite! This brand of playing against expectations was mildly amusing when it was first done on cave walls. These days, though, there needs to be a new wrinkle for it to be funny. What’s even stranger is...look at the very next strip. It’s the same bit, just spelled out even more. We understood the “aggressive hospitality” bit in the first one...we don’t need it explained again here. But that’s a recurring theme, as we shortly spend three full strips being introduced to one of Norman’s employees, Casey. The setup and punchline of each of these strips is simply that Casey plays Dungeons & Dragons. That’s all there is. That’s the joke. Except that isn't a joke! It’s an observation...and not a very funny one. This continues for the entire run of the comic, with nary a joke in sight. It’s all just bland, generic, unfunny observations. Old people like to reminisce about their lives! Lazy moochers like people who give them free stuff! Record company executives are actually demons because they don’t like it when people steal music! Guys are whipped! Some people are older than others! You can wipe your ass with a cat! There’s a guy who...wait a minute...what the hell? Wipe your ass with a cat? Yeah...uh...I really don’t know what happened in Ben’s mind there. I guess I wouldn't exactly call this one bland and generic, just...what the hell? I don’t know. To make it even more horrible, take a look at Paunch in the very next comic. I’ll give Ben the benefit of the doubt and assume that’s supposed to be chocolate, but come on! Other than the cat debacle though, it’s all just so boring and overdone and ordinary. There are so many comics where the Artist Comment boils down to “this is something I did once!” That doesn't make for an interesting comic. It just makes for a useful diary entry to remind yourself of all the neat-o things you used to do when you were younger.
All of this just flows right into Ben’s biggest problem, which is mirrored by one of his big art problems: he can’t write real people or real interpersonal relationships. Jamie is Exhibit A in this argument. I'd say she's kind of a wish-fulfillment girlfriend, but I don't even really think that's true. I think Ben just can't write real people. We are introduced to Jamie while she is in orgasmic rapture due to the very existence of books. Norman then appears and Jamie instantly falls in love with him. I don't just mean she's attracted to him, I mean that she's one step away from boiling rabbits. Now pay attention to this. Basically from this point on, the entire rest of the plot hinges on the fact that, five minutes after meeting him, Jamie stalks Norman to the diner and then throws her lonely ass upon him, showering him with gifts in a desperate attempt to get him to notice her. This is what propels the plot forwards to the aforementioned heavy metal concert and the culmination of the entire story. And when it's all over and Jamie's lying in her bed alone, she writes in her creepy little book of hopes and dreams that "It was a good day." It rubs the lotion on its skin or else it gets the hose again.
Ben's weird depiction of humanity also manifests itself in an ailment becoming far too common in webcomics that I like to call “premature shenaniganism” or “early onset hijinks.” Basically, this is when a cartoonist loves his characters too much. He has invested so much of his time and effort into his characters that he believes readers will have the same level of investment right out of the gate. Which is never the case. One telltale sign is when character bios give you nugget after nugget of information about a character that is never even hinted at in the comic. Click here to see examples of that...I'd post links to specific examples, but basically that would involve linking to every single character bio there. So let's just save us all some time. But where the disease gets its name from is the phenomenon wherein characters are featured in special holiday strips or filler strips before they're introduced in the comic itself or introduced to other characters in the comic or when we break from a storyline to suddenly engage in - of course - wacky hijinks of the cat-ass-wiping variety for no reason. Both of those strips broke away from the main storyline while Jamie was stalking Norman. We don't even know these characters yet, let alone care about them! This is why taking three years to tell the story of one day is a problem. Everyday Grind really wants to be the story of a tight-knit group of friends and the crazy yet comforting misadventures they get in to. That's fine. That could make a great comic. It has made great comics. But we're essentially taking three whole years to see just the first meeting of that group of friends. Ben knows each character and how they relate to each other intimately, but we don't. And he has no idea how to show us. This problem impedes Ben’s ability to tell the story and it’s stark evidence of how little comprehension he has of crafting a character and the ways in which readers will respond to that character. It's an insidious problem that chips away at the foundation of the comic, rather than coming out and hitting you in the face like the unoriginality does. A comic really has to earn that moment where it can command a reader's interest simply by showing a group of characters sitting on a couch talking to each other. This can be done either by having the dialogue be just that interesting or by having a well-rounded group of characters that the reader has come to know and love through a series of trials and events. Everyday Grind has neither of those, but Ben still wants to shoehorn these moments in. He wants to be at the point in a comic where the reader feels comfortable just being with the characters. But he doesn't want to - or doesn't know how to - go through the effort of taking the reader and characters on a journey to get to that point. What he doesn't realize is that it's the journey that gets you there. It can't be manufactured. It must be earned. And Everyday Grind has earned nothing.
Like I said, there’s no real drama to be found here. Ben seems like a pretty good guy and even a pretty good cartoonist, in the sense that he’s constantly trying to improve and actually succeeding at it. He seems to have a little bit of fetishism going on (feet and chubby girls predominantly), but it never really ventures into creepy territory. He seems to be in a normal, loving marriage and seems to have normal relationships with normal friends. I think in the sea of webcomic creators, Ben actually ranks pretty damn high on the human being scale and I've got no beef with him. Just with Everyday Grind...
...but I’ve got a big beef with Everyday Grind. For all the points listed above. I can’t even recommend it as a so-bad-it’s-funny kind of deal. It’s just. So. Boring. I would recommend checking out Ben Trowell’s DA gallery in general, just to see that there are bad webcomic creators for whom artistic improvement is possible. Other than that though...bleah. One last thing...I’ve gone the whole review without mentioning this, because it’s a really inconsequential point, but I do want to get it off my chest. If I were to tell you about a slice-of-life webcomic featuring a guy who owns his own business and the name of the strip is Everyday Grind, what would you assume that business to be? Coffee shop, right? Right. What’s up with that?
- Everyday Grind The comic itself.
- Ben On DA The rest of Ben's DeviantArt gallery.
- Some Ass-hat On Tumblr I’m not really sure who this guy is, but holy crap, does he hate the comic...I get the impression he/she/it's kind of a douche who makes some erroneous judgment calls, but it’s still an interesting read.
- The Museum Of Unnatural Mystery Droppin' some Yeti knowledge on ya!