|Original review author:||Redex|
|Webcomic name:||User Friendly|
|Author:||J.D. "Illiad" Frazer|
|Start Date:||November 17, 1997|
|End Date:||On hiatus as of 2010 with repeats (UPDATE: It's ongoing after all.)|
|Defining Flaw:||Terrible, lazy, copy/paste art that fails to improve even after 12 YEARS OF SOLID UPDATES; boring and conventional office/gaming humor; an over-inflated ego about what amounts to a steaming pile of laziness and mediocrity.|
This comic is pretty much your typical “techno geeks with office jobs” deal, complete with standard and typical jokes. Unlike most comics that start off being rough and crappy and evolve into something less rough and crappy (or actually good, in some cases), User Friendly fails this in every sense. It never manages to transcend itself in humor, writing, or art. And, oh God, the art! And to think Illiad wants you to pay for membership!
The navigation is hell of confusing. It takes FOREVER to find what you’re looking for, making it seem like the pages keep shifting around and the search features (what little there are) are changing the rules every time. There are none of the traditional navigation buttons on the front page, meaning that you only get the options “previous week of cartoons” “cartoon archive” and “random cartoon” (among other irrelevant options). In order to read the strips in any cohesive sense, you have to click on the day for "previous week of cartoons" or you have to access the archives, which at the very least have "previous" and "next" options. Why not just have those in the first place?! This whole system defies logic and intuition! That should have been the first clue of what’s to come. Clearly, the site is designed for the reader who only checks the latest entry (if at all). For the new reader, this plus the sheer archive panic (12 years of solid daily updates!) is enough to scare even the least productive office worker from reading.
The site design is a mixture of boring white and phlegm yellow—combined with a scritchy black and white drawing style, it’s really hard to distinguish what the focus point of the page is supposed to be. The site is, I guess, a hub for the I.T. working community and all their goings-on (insofar as it relates to User Friendly), but I’m only here for the comic and that’s all of the site design I am interested in. MAKE THE COMIC THE VISUAL PRIORITY, ILLIAD. That is what we’re here for, after all.
For the purpose of this review, I’ll be focusing on the first year of strips (11/97-12/98) and the last year of strips (05/08-05/09). That’s nowhere near the entirety of the comic, but it’s still several hundred strips of material. This should give at least some idea of how the comic has progressed through the years.
Day one. Most long running comics start off rough, and UF is no exception. The difference is that UF never bothers to improve. Arguably, it gets worse as Illiad relies more on copy/pasting and GIS backgrounds to carry the visual part of the comic.
Story and Plot
There isn't much of a plot to speak of. The comic centers around a wacky team of I.T. office workers and their antics. They go on adventures. They play video games. They make penis jokes. They bitch about Microsoft and current events. They hate customers. There's some sort of rivalry between the various creatures created out of random office funk. That’s about it. (I’ll admit: if there was an epic story in the middle of this comic’s run time that I missed, well, I might’ve missed it. But judging from the first and last year of content, I don’t think so.)
Oh, God! My eyes! My eyes!
We’ll start with the first strip: here we have sketchy, ill-defined bug-eyed drawings that emulate cartoony styles without understanding the underlying anatomy and perspective that makes those cartoony styles work. We see the beloved comic sans font so tiny it’s barely readable—a mark of a true cartoonist wannabe. The props, objects, and people are floating in midair. There’s no contrast or color here—just black and white, which (like the website) makes it difficult for the eye to distinguish where the focal point is supposed to be. But when Illiad later introduces color, the disaster that is the line art is even more apparent.
The comic seems to be drawn almost exclusively in side view shots, and when it isn't the characters are usually obscured by big computers or wonky, irregular shapes. Sometimes we don’t even get that lucky, and even the side views are obscured by convenient things like cubicles and…what the fuck is this?
In twelve whole years of run time, you’d think the comic would have had to improve, right? Well, you’re in luck. There are some minor differences: UF has finally moved away from that godawful font and now uses something more professional. It also uses grayscale tones to break up the monotony of the black-and-white lines. But the art? Yep, still crappy.
And hell, the art’s even got a leg up these days courtesy of GIS photos. As lazy and shitty as it is to use photos for backgrounds instead of learning to draw them, I’d say it actually improves the look of this comic.
So after all of this, and after 12 years of updating every single day, what can I say about the art? I honestly think this is the best it ever gets. And that was done in 1998.
I've heard it suggested that in order to like UF, you have to get the jokes. In other words, you have to be a techno geek. If you don't think the jokes are funny, it's because you're too young and stupid to remember the golden days of the internet. It's because you're not an I.T. geek. Or maybe it's because...
It’s nothing that hasn't been done a million times before. There’s nothing new being said at all. To be fair, these jokes were probably a bit fresher 12 years ago, but that doesn't make them good. All the standard, boring jokes you’d expect are present in this comic. The characters like video games. A lot. The characters think females don’t belong in a technology environment. Alright! We get it, already! Females who use computers and play video games? HUHWUT?!?! UNHEARD OF! And if you think the writing gets any more interesting or thought-provoking (or even funny) than this, you are gravely mistaken.
Occasionally UF will take a break from the normal strip format and do these splash page jokes, which are probably the funniest part of the whole comic. They don’t tend to have as much actual drawing in them, generally relying instead on what looks like icons and other images grabbed from Google. In any other comic, it’d be shameful, but in UF, it’s a welcome break. On the other hand, the jokes in these splash pages are trying really hard to be clever but usually fail to be anything more than recycled gamer-bitching.
So who are the characters of this charming little comic? Good question. Having read through two years worth of strips, I still cannot tell the human characters apart by looking at them. It’s a pretty standard cast, complete with creepy nonhuman sidekicks, the AI character, the Dilbert-esque looking boss, and the rest of the basic crew:
Smiling Man is the creepy guy who smiles all the time.
Pitr is the guy who one day decides to start using a fake Slavic accent and NEVER STOPS. And no one seems to give a shit. I don’t know whether Illiad intended for the accent to sound incredibly ignorant because Pitr is supposed to be faking it or if he really thinks that’s what a Slavic accent sounds like, but in either case it is profoundly embarrassing. Even the characters agree his accent is bullshit.
And of course, what cast can be complete without a f-f-f-female! And she does just what you’d expect her to: shock everyone because she’s female and is working near computers. Wow. I’m guessing the joke is that these people really need to get laid, or something.
There are more characters, but…who can really tell? They all start sounding the same after the second panel of the first strip.
So, let’s see: non-existent character depth, hit-or-miss humor that depends on the target audience to find it funny simply by relating to it, jokes that are heavily reminiscent of popular comics of much better quality, mediocre commentary on all the technological current events, and whatever the fuck this is. Yep, it’s all there. All this and more can be yours for a simple payment of 3.95 a month!
I don’t know much about J.D. “Illiad” Frazer other than what limited information he presents about himself on his FAQ page. He worked, it comes as no surprise, in the field of information technology, which everyone agrees is the first step to becoming a cartoonist. These experiences led him to create the comic we all know and love today, Use—oh, who am I kidding. But, hey, he’ll come speak at your conference if you pay him enough.
User Friendly is an all around disappointment. If ever there were proof that you do not need talent, skill, or any artistic vision whatsoever to make money and have your work printed in niche publications, UF would be it. It manages to avoid getting any better simply because of its subject matter and appeal to its target audience, which Illiad describes as “…a narrow but deep demographic of technology professionals.” Sure, it never manages to be anything more than mediocre, but when you’re in I.T., apparently you’ll take what you can get.
I think the biggest disappointment is that Illiad has no respect for comics. He's a self-proclaimed "techno geek" and likes to make jokes about it. That's it, and that's all User Friendly was ever meant to be. It was written by and for people who have no interest in comics themselves but like to laugh at work-related jokes. And this comes as the greatest insult to those of us who care about the medium he's now taken as his career.
If you’re going to guilt us into money with your pleas for membership and your nag strips, you could at least respect our dignity and actually put some effort into making this comic. Er, sorry, cartoon.