Saturday, November 08, 2014

Book-A-Day 2014 #310: Diesel Sweeties: There Is a Cat on the Internet! by R Stevens

Webcomics are not just newspaper comics without editors, though they can seem that way sometimes. Webcomics don't need to fill any particular size every day, for example -- though many do keep to very newspaper-esque dimensions, or ape a printed comic-book page in electronic form -- and can use technologies more advanced than flat image files, if they want to.

Of course, just because you can do something doesn't mean you will. Most comics on the web could run in newspapers -- assuming the Trousers of Time came out differently, and their audiences actually read newspapers these days -- and the rhythms of a long-running daily strip turns out to be very similar whether the substratum is electrons or wood pulp. R Stevens's popular online strip Diesel Sweeties actually did run in newspapers for around a year, though the cartoonist ended that when it took too much time and energy away from the work that was actually making him money. (And that can either be seen as an obvious "dance with the one that brung ya" lesson, or an indication that the web has clearly surpassed print and will rule forevermore.)

I'm told that There Is a Cat on the Internet! is the third Diesel Sweeties collection, but the book itself doesn't explain anything: there's no indication of when or where these strips appeared, whether they're appearing here in their original order, if anything had to be redrawn or fixed, or even who any of the characters are. I assume these are relatively recent strips from the web version of Diesel Sweeties -- since I don't remember seeing Maura in it anywhere -- but that's a pure assumption; Stevens and Oni Press don't deign to explain anything here. This is purely and entirely a book for people who already know they want this thing -- quite appropriate for a company that mostly sells through the comics direct market, actually.

Stevens has a crisp, pixel-by-pixel, pseudo-8-bit art style that is more expressive than it looks at first blush (and is probably more difficult than it appears, as well). It's an affectation, sure, but so is any distinctive art style, and it fits the generally cool affect of Stevens's characters and their world: even when his jokes aren't about technology and the connected world, it's all mediated by that world. (Tech is the sea that these characters swim in -- literally, in the case of the not-insignificant fraction of the cast who are actually robots.)

I have a vague sense that this is a theme collection, the 21st century version of Happiness Is a Warm Puppy, but, if so, the book doesn't make that clear. If there is a theme, it's just "technology," which is close enough to the center of Diesel Sweeties to make me doubt that guess. But there are none of the occasional longer sequences and stories here; this book in entirely one-off strips and observations. It also mostly features secondary cast -- Uncle Grandpa, the kittens, whoever that guy with the gray hair is -- which could mean just about anything: it's actually old strips, it's actually new strips, it's actually carefully-chosen theme strips.

However it came to be, There Is a Cat on the Internet! is a good sampler of the strengths of Diesel Sweeties: dry, quiet humor; understated characterization; a close eye on the self-destructive tendencies of everyone; and, inevitably, some very bad Internet puns. I don't see a real use-case for this book being anyone's introduction to Diesel Sweeties, but the world is vast and my imagination can't encompass it all. I might not know how it came to be or if it has any particular role in the larger project of nailing Diesel Sweeties down to print, but this is a good sampler of a smart, wry modern comic strip, and that's a good thing.

Book-A-Day 2014 Introduction and Index

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