|Original review author:||Izzus|
|Webcomic name:||Unnatural 20|
|Authors:||Pat Nietupski and Phillip Barber|
|Start Date:||July 2, 2012|
|End Date:||February 26, 2015|
|Genre:||Tabletop gaming comic, comedy.|
|Defining Flaw:||It's so unfunny it's depressing.|
It's difficult to pinpoint exactly how this comic came to be, or how I found it in the first place. From what I can tell, the author, Patrick Nietupski, got together with his friend and decided to create something loosely based off of their lives and tabletop gaming culture. This would work if the author were humorous, but he isn't, so it doesn't.
Just a reminder: Almost every link was chosen by clicking the random button. No cherry picking here.
Page two. In the very first strip, the blog post was about beginning the comic, and how they were planning it for a while. But the comic itself? Well, the comic was shitty, but at least it was self-contained. It wasn't being used as a preface for the blog post, it was the beginning of an idea between two friends.
That changed by page two, and from then on, every single strip became a poorly drafted (I doubt the strips are even drafted at all, but I digress) introduction to some tangentially related blather. It was at that point that the website was no longer about the comic, but about what the blogger had to say.
Story and Plot
The comic doesn't have a proper story, but there was recently a sixteen page story arc, so I guess I'll review that.
It's not that good. It's about a bunch of freelancer dudes who get called out into a region of space to make a delivery. They find an abandoned ship, and then after some debate, explore it. It turns out that someone who's obviously the bad guy is also looking for the ship. The tenth page doesn't display, but by page eleven, reading past the spelling error in the third panel, we learn that they found Santa. Evil guy tries to kill them all, but they escape in Santa's ship and save Christmas. Santa ditches them on a planet and gives them a new ship. In celebration, they have a party.
I have a few major complaints about this arc, aside from the art. The first is the name of it. "I Saw Three Ships"? That's like if Blade Runner was called I Chased a Replicant, or if Big Fish was called I Told Some Stories. The second complaint is that it's wordy as hell. The first page of the arc is deceivingly sparse, but when the arc gets rolling, it's WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS WORDS. The author needs to understand that this is a comic, not another one of his short stories. When I was reviewing Escape From Terra, I noticed it had the same problem, where the author wrote it like it was a book instead of a comic.
My third complaint is about the futurespeak. Grrm? Kvegbeast? Hrrznt? What the fuck, just spell things normally. Talented Sci-Fi authors don't do this for a reason, and that reason is that nobody can figure out how to pronounce the damn words. It's not immersive, it's frustrating. My fourth complaint? Fucking hell, by page twelve, the pacing goes straight out the window and around the world in twenty seconds flat.
All in all, it's really not worth reading. Just a Christmas story in space, and one which could have been better written/illustrated at that.
Where did this guy's arm disappear to? Why are they so stiff? Where the hell are they standing? What's up with everyone's face? Why are the shadows all wrong? Why does the artist suck so much at foreshortening? All these questions, and more, when you look at Unnatural 20! I doubt the artist has ever studied or honed his skill, and there's no denying that they've never had a serious criticism of their comic. Because if they have, then they've ignored it. Pretty much everything about it can and should be lambasted. It's a gag comic, sure, but there's plenty of gag comics with good art. Penny Arcade, Opus, and even motherfucking VG Cats have better art than this. Hell, have you ever read Perry Bible Fellowship? It's a gag comic, and the art is fucking fantastic. The only positive thing, if you can call it that, is that this comic's art is one step above Cathy.
Aside from an intermittent case of Family Circus syndrome, what the art really suffers from is rushed composition and a lack of consistency. This is really the kind of stuff which can be done in a day by any unskilled hand. Look at this example, and keep in mind that I've chosen it at random:
The following is what I immediately notice:
The characters are stiff, with the only sense of motion being movement lines. The fishing poles are disproportionate. There's no indication of distance between foreground and background other than the parallax in the third panel. Their mouths don't change shape until the third panel. Shaggy's right arm grows longer by a good six inches in the second panel. Their hands keep changing size. Eyebrows over hair, a pet peeve of many accomplished artists. The shadows look like stains rather than displacement of light. The grass looks like it's growing through the dock. The backgrounds are smudges, obviously created in less than a minute each.
And this strip is from July of 2013, five and a half months old at the time of writing. The art hasn't changed a bit since then. At a glance, any trained eye can spot at least a dozen or more flaws in the comics art. The artist needs to take a class or two, because it sure as shit looks like they just picked up a pencil one day and said "Welp, guess I'm a cartoonist now!"
You may notice how most of the comics I present to you have nothing to do with tabletop gaming. This is because the comic isn't about tabletop gaming, it's about the blog topic below every strip.
The jokes themselves are usually crap, as seen here, and here, and here, and here, and so on. The two main characters are Shaggy and Hipster, and the comic revolves around their exaggerated, sometimes outright hyperbolic conversations. Mostly.
In the end, the writing boils down to two words: Sub par.
The strips about Hipster and Shaggy are downright crap. Seriously, even one of the most recent ones (at the time of this writing) follows no logic at all in regard to its punchline. This kind of thing is what really drags the comic down. They'll be driving their conversation down the proverbial highway of the build up, and then when they come to the punchline SHOOM! There goes the conversation, straight off a cliff which wasn't even there in the first place. In less metaphorical terms, it's like the author doesn't possess the ability to construct a coherent narrative, and shoehorns the punchline in there practically every single time. There's no rationale between the build and the delivery.
Then we have the strips which aren't about the two main characters, like this one and this one. Same problem, the punchline makes no sense. In that first one, what's wrong about Bilbo pulling a Scrooge? Is it supposed to be funny how he's not doing his job? And in the second one... Fuck, it just doesn't make sense. It's not even dry humor, all I see is a bunch of non sequiturs.
Then again, there are strips which do make sense, but just aren't funny. I don't understand the author's methodology when it comes to this, it's as though he doesn't understand that in order to do a gag comic, you either need to have a reserve of jokes or you need to be naturally witty. Did he really run out so quickly? Did he have any in the first place? If you're not a funny guy you shouldn't try to be funny on a regular basis, and you can't use ideas from those "wouldn't it be funny if" conversations you have with your pals. You actually need to understand how to create a joke, and since the author's wit is clearly lacking when it comes to the gag department, the problem becomes apparent that he's inherently inept at the creation of a gag comic. He just throws a bunch of crap at the wall and sees what sticks. Most of the time, it doesn't.
What gets me is that this Bjorn guy recently made an entire blog post about how to write a joke. What's more is that he thinks jokes are better when they're subtle. But wouldn't you know it? None of the jokes in this comic follow the guidelines he wrote about. I'd be insulted if I didn't know he constantly makes himself out to be some sort of super intellectual.
Yeah, the comics aren't really the focus of the site. They're all pretty much just a preface to the blog posts. Take this one for an example. The dude talks about his fetish (which is both unrespectable and tasteless), and the comic itself isn't really that funny. Then the blog post, putting it into context, goes on to talk about public discussion of fetishes, completely disregarding the fact that nobody with dignity wants to hear furries talk about how they're furries, or how scat fetishists like to play with feces, and so on. Then there's this one, where the comic makes no sense at all, until you read the blog post and it turns out that the author has a boner for some dude who goes by JBills. Oh, wait, how about this one? The dude is sitting on the shitter talking to the guy on the phone next to his stall. Then the blog post talks about phones and technology.
Really, the comics are just an introduction to the blog posts. Why bother having the comics at all? Isn't the website supposed to be about the comics? If I wanted to read someone's blog, I'd read a blog. If I want to read a comic, I'll read a comic. Never in my life have I wanted a comic to be part of a blog post. Why bother to have the comics at all at this point? Why not just turn it into a blog? Clearly, they're using the blog posts to contextualize the comics, rendering them useless altogether. The focus isn't the comic, it's the blog.
Pat Nietupski is an author out of Western Massachusetts. He is currently studying Mechanical Engineering at WPI. At least, that's what his profile says. He also repeats himself when speaking. What I know for sure about him, though, is that he loves to complicate his prose in order to make himself sound more intelligent. Or... Was it the artist? Whoever the fuck goes by Bjorn on their website (what's with the aliases when their names are right on the comic, anyways?). I shit you not, this is a direct quote from that guy.
Who gives a shit? Furthermore, who the fuck talks like that in real life? The comics are irrelevant, and a good portion of the blog posts are just purple prose. You don't need to dress your ideas in five thousand coats of intellectualism. If the idea is significant, and if it's presented well, it'll stand on its own. Check out how it sounds when you don't wave a giant flag that says
"SMART GUY, RIGHT HERE!" "CEREBRAL INDIVIDUAL, LOCATED HITHER!"
Holy shit, look at that! It conveys the same exact idea without being obnoxious! It's simple and to the point, cutting the fat away yet keeping the substance intact. Bjorn needs to quit injecting himself with liquefied thesauruses if he wants to stop sounding like a damn Starbucks socialist.
The comic isn't even the reason the author runs the website. It hasn't been since page two. When I look at it, I don't see effort. I don't see hard work. I see a personification of this comic, and it is a mask. Beneath the mask is a person, ready and willing to talk your ears off over shit you couldn't care less about. The person paints a picture on the mask, confusing you, and then when the person sees your confusion, they give a smug smirk and vomit a waterfall of pseudo-intellectualism into a tub. Then, they take you by the back of your head, and they dip your entire being beneath those waters, where you are accosted by boredom. The person wants to talk to you about global warming, when you could just as easily read a scientific article. The person wants to talk to you about how television is more different now than it ever has been, even though this is obvious.
I have the sneaking suspicion that the author purposefully makes the comics shitty, so that you have to scroll down and read what Bjorn has to say in order to understand them. Then he gets the chance to prattle on and on about his super important opinions as though it's somehow enlightening you. Maybe he hopes that you'll be overwhelmed not by what he says, but how he says it? I don't know. What I do know is that the artist sucks, the author isn't funny, Bjorn can't type two sentences without using a word longer than four syllables, and I hope that I never touch this shitty comic again.