|Original review author:||kyrtuck|
|Author:||Jesse J. Barboza|
|Start Date:||Janurary 1, 2015|
|Genre:||Slice of Life, Comedy|
|Defining Flaw:||All the humor is either nostalgia-based, disturbingly dark, or annoyingly snarky.|
The author has been playing around with the same group of characters, under different titles for the strip, since 2008. First it was called Maxwell Silverhammer, then it was named Forever 16. Now this latest iteration, Nineteen-Ninety-Something, is his attempt to do more character development and darker humor.
I've followed this guy's work for a while, I've found that some people aren't in love with this latest iteration, and there was once a thread on this in the BWW forums, so I thought that'd be good enough grounds to review this.
There has not been a drastic decline of quality in the webcomic as of yet, however, when Joel's mom got back to being a preachy-screechy, overprotective moral guardian in the "Found Under Carnal Knowledge" arc, after she and Joel got a pretty heartfelt and understanding discussion at the end of "Appetite For Self-Destruction", it hit me that this is going to be a Status-Quo-Is-God kind of comic, with little to no lasting meaningful character development.
You know the family sitcoms that are set in a time decades before its creation, like That 70's Show or The Goldbergs? Where we follow some Upper-middle class suburban middle American family on a journey to both celebrate and ridicule the various events, trends and popular media of the respective decade? Where the audience is expected to go "teehee, I remember that"? Well, that's exactly what Nineteen-Ninety-Something is, except as a webcomic. The main potential fans of this comic will either be people who lived through the 90's, or people with great interest in that decade. Anyone else is liable to be severly alienated by the endless waterfall of 90's references that this webcomic is, so this is a niche comic to say the least.
This webcomic goes through various story arcs, following different characters, plus the bigger colored strips that appear on Wednesdays that are usually unrelated to the transpiring arc. Most, but not all, of the story arcs will heavily reference some piece of 90's pop culture, be it some casual slice of life observances, wacky teen adventures, or the very sporadic dream sequence. The point is to bring up little nostalgia giggles, if you've lived through the 90's. On the side there's little bits of quote unquote "character development" but it tends to just hammer in again and again the status quo of the cast. Joel and his group of friends are supposed to be sympathetic, downtrodden rebels. Lindsay and Kevin are god damn heinous. Everyone else is some kind of annoying jerk.
The characters are highly expressive, and distinct with their designs, so readers can easily tell one apart from another. Flat colors are used, but that is excusable since the author is deliberately trying to invoke the feel of a newspaper comic, and he actually updates daily. The panels and speech bubbles are done by hand, which I personally like more than the premade digital bubbles that some art programs do. Occasionally they look uneven, but that could be considered part of the charm.
In all respects to trying to look and feel like a newspaper strip, it may be a little too simple, and could use some more line work with the hair. Maybe do some more little line-based details to make it just a little less flat-looking. I know Calvin and Hobbes was a strip the author has cited as an inspiration, has used more line-based details than what Nineteen-Ninety-Something uses. On rare occasions, he has used some cel shading, it tends to be very minimal, and so not utilized in the best way, like in this strip where he missed doing the shading that should have gone underneath Kendra in the third panel.
On a more inane note, he likes to draw male nipples as solid color dots, when it seems like they should have an outline like everything else.
Lastly, I thought it should be fitting to showcase the improvement his art skills have achieved across the years he's been doing this. A good example being the original and remake of the same exact strip.
Most noticeably, the author started out with just showing the head and shoulders in nearly all the panels. But now, he's capable of showing more of the body, and so showing off more pose, all in the same amount of space. A big part of achieving this was making the characters' heads and eyes smaller, which also gives them less of an impish look. The speech bubbles are also using their space more efficiently, so there is less useless white space within, again, making the scenes less crowded while giving more room and focus to the characters.
When making backgrounds, he has them much better populated in the more recent pieces.
Reading through the daily strips, one thing that may get tiresome is all the cynical snarking that makes up this webcomic, and believe me when I say that it s everywhere. Doofy shows and movies getting snarked at, that's expected. The teenager protagonists snark at their teachers, parents, siblings, and school enemies, okay fine. But when snark is almost the sole form of interaction that goes on, even amongst family and friends, it can overall feel more caustic than comedic. There have been a handful of cute sweet moments, like when the kids stick up for one another, but it's too infrequent to bring much sense of balance. It also doesn't help that the main character Joel isn't as sympathetic as he's intended to be (see Joel's section in "Characters" for further details).
There is a little trend of the author promoting his own political viewpoints. All the teen protagonists we're supposed to be rooting for lean towards the liberal left. Most of the mean pushy parents are conservatives, Aaron's dad and Jocelyn's parents being particularly rough examples. The dark side of overprotective parenting and moral guardianship burns with Joel's mom. Then there's one strip where the author attempts to compare the rise of Trump's political career with David Duke's campaign to run as governor or Louisiana. (Disingenuous to say the least.) Even so, its not as hamfisted or in-your-face as the full-on political webcomics on this wiki.
Lastly, the black comedy in this strip may be unsettling for some. Nineteen-Ninety-Something doesn't settle for just attempted destruction of property, or characters getting emotionally crushed. Oh no, that's child's play that is. This strip cranks it up a notch with actual destruction of property, numerous physical assaults right in public, filming sexual intercourse for retribution,a BDSM fetish, attempted filmed date rape humiliation, the world's scariest failed babysitting, threatening a policeman with a water hose, Joel becoming temporarily deaf, Joel living out Stephen King's story Misery, Joel's girlfriend getting followed all the way to New York by a psycho trying to "get even" in the middle of a Thanksgiving parade, Aaron's father plotting murder, or the pretty brutal beat down of the strip's biggest antagonist.
And no, those scenes are hardly played for actual drama. Any consequences, or emotional impact on the characters involved will only get covered in one strip, or one panel, if that. Lindsay getting beat up by Jocelyn is the only one of those listed events that led to any significant character development (Lindsay's). Those other things are essentially Black Comedy, used more for shock value than to provoke any deep thought. I've liked me some good violent Black Comedy with all-jerk protagonists in webcomics like Exterminatus Now, 8-bit Theater, or Two Guys And Guy. But with those, its softened a good deal by the fantastic setting, and using adults helps too. The things I described, taking place in a fictional portrayal of a real time and place, with teenagers, is more than a little creepy.
The snark-tastic, gaming, Simpsons-loving, rocker who serves as our main character. We the readers are supposed to feel for Joel because he feels oppressed by his parents and the world in general, but often, Joel looks more like an ungrateful brat.
To summarize, Joel is emotionally supported by a hot, very trusting girlfriend, and a growing team of friends. His parents don't like his music, but they let him buy and play a guitar. Granted, they later restrict him to just one hour a week, but he could just as well practice elsewhere. They let Joel own and drive a car, and pay $2300 for repairs when Katy wrecks it. He apparently has a T.V. in his room. His family takes him on a vacation to a them park, and its even the same destination as the rich asshole neighbors. His mom just lets him skip church out of sheer laziness. His dad pays him $20 for caddying, even as Joel insults his dad right to his face. After a heartfelt talk, Joel is allowed to go to a big music festival, and they let his band play in their garage (I guess they lifted the one hour ban?).
Joel can't catch a break? Damn, looks like he's caught plenty.
A warm and attractive Asian chick who wants to bankrupt her parents by demanding all the latest 90's video games and computer software. She used to make her own videogames too, but that hasn't been brought up in a long time. Soon after her introduction she becomes Joel's perpetual cuddle toy, but she's also been supportive of other characters like supporting Kendra making a school paper strip when many people didn't like it, or becoming the math tutor to Lindsay and actually giving her helpful advice on other things.
The local school prankster, comicbook enthusiast, and rebel, though as the series progresses, the actual onscreen pranks we see him do get fewer and farther in between. Most times Steve is just a leading generator of snark, cuddling up with Jocelyn with the laid-back smirk forever planted on his freckled face. Becomes the band's drummer, too.
A punk rocker girl complete with hair highlights, piercings, fishnet stockings, a constantly bare midriff and cleavage, bisexuality, and an attitude bigger than all of Minnesota. Her rebellious spirit is sharpened all the more by the whetstone of living with two ridiculously cold, uptight, materialistic parents. She's introduced fighting with her old band and leaving, then quickly becomes the perpetual arm candy of Steve. But she also gets to physically assault the two people in this comic that deserve it the most. Plays bass for the band.
Joel's best buddy who's main thing is being a dumb, grinning womanizer who meets with an abysmal success rate, compounded by clashes with his ultra-conservative, manly-man father. Eventually, his own uselessness to the comic becomes apparent even to him, and he gets depressed over not having a passion like the others. That is until he decides to create a band named after himself, and becomes its lead singer.
A Black girl who's friends with Michelle, and is single-mindedly obsessed with anything related to cartooning and animation, to the point where she gets emotionally triggered by Don Bluth making a mediocre film. In one arc, she gets really meta, making a comic strip that's set 20 years earlier, and struggling with people not getting it. She also drew some self-nudes that caught Aaron's eye, but in a pleasant surprise, they did not end up as a couple. Incredible!
Joel's cute but ditzy younger sister whom he exchanges one-liners with all throughout their household. Her interests are mainly whatever was mainstream popular for teenage girls at the time. She's self-centered to the point where she can't even shop for Christmas gifts for other people. Katy can be really single-mindedly intent on pursuing some petty goal, like going to the mall with her friend, even to the point of stealing her brother's car and fleeing from the police. She was also dumb enough to idolize Lindsay for too long of a time.
Mother to Joel and Katy, and an elementary school teacher, her main purpose is to be an unbearable, killjoy moral guardian and bash upon any new trendy thing that either of her children pick up. Sometimes does this with her own students as well, with mixed results. Later on, her crusade has had a bigger reach across her local community.
A boring sitcom father who mainly acts as a straightman to the antics of his wife or children. However, he has provided his own small bursts of snark, and is comically obsessed with a local baseball team.
the nastiest character of the comic, or possibly of any High School setting. Right off the bat she's introduced as a snooty rich girl neighbor. Lindsay makes herself the most popular girl in school by having the old Cheer captain shoved down the stairs and injured, and uses status-destroying rumors on another girl and steals her boyfriend. Cheats on said boyfriend, and later even rapes him! Tries to break up Joel and Michelle. Takes scary measures to attempt to humiliate Katy and Ashleigh merely because they annoyed her with all their idol worship of her. Is unappreciative of freak'n everything. Sabotages two singers in a competition. And for a long time she received absolutely no comeuppance for her actions, but then things started to turn around for her when she lost both a juicy contract and the singing competition due to her attitude problems. After a final humiliation of Katy, that actually got through Katy's thick skull and brought her to tears, Lindsay gets the brutal looking beat-down by Jocelyn and has to be hospitalized for a few days. She may be finally reaching some much needed character development when she learned that the girl she got injured is now wheelchair-bound.
Lindsay's constantly ill tempered, potty mouthed, shades-wearing brother who exists for only two purposes. One, to beat up the protagonists out in public, sometimes getting away with it scot-free. And two, to flirt with girls in a most creepy predatory fashion. He's apparently a date rapist to boot. Unlike Lindsay, it does not look like he's heading for any kind of positive character growth.
Michelle's little sister who mainly exists to antagonize Michelle, and emulate whatever piece of children's entertainment was popular at the time. She also treats her one and only friend Eric, like a servant.
Katy's BFF who does ditzy girly things with Katy. That's it. Total satellite character.
The constantly angry principal whose competency may be called into question, between his obsession with getting his coffee, and letting certain things slide in hopes of getting the school a trophy.
Kendra's younger brother, a timid little boy squashed between being Jenny's abused plaything, not living up to his peers' expectations of being cool, and Kendra's sometimes weird tastes in cartoons. He's one of the most sympathetic characters of the whole strip!
Kendra's older brother who only exists to act black and gangsta.
A goofy one-note hippy girl.
A student who actually manages to be even more of a ridiculous buzzkill than any of the adults. Amazing!
Jesse J. Barboza (is that supposed to be a humorous misspelling of Barbossa?) is a fan of cartoons from many different eras. He is also a big fan of drawing various cartoon characters underwater. Good luck trying to tell me thats not a fetish thing. Somewhat paradoxically, Jesse will flip the hell out if you draw porn of his characters, regardless of how many times he himself draws them underwater. Other than that, there isn't much that's noteworthy about him, he doesn't seem like such a bad guy. He is open to other people's ideas when it comes to improving his webcomic.
Like I said earlier, this webcomic can be readable and entertaining to people with specific tastes or ages. However, it cannot gain any gigantic influx of fans while keeping up its core identity. Perhaps it can draw in some more fans by softening up its humor, making the protagonists look less like rebellious punk-jerks, and make more generalist story arcs that aren't so heavily centered on 90's pop culture.