Anyone who has been reading web comics for any length of time has at least heard of Sluggy Freelance. And why wouldn’t they? Written and drawn by Pete Abrams and created in August of 1997, Sluggy Freelance is one of the oldest comics available on the internet. It’s long, looping stories may not be for everyone, however, and it’s definitely not the kind of comic that you should pick up if you don’t intend to read the entire archives.
And don’t get me wrong on this: reading the entire archives is a commitment.
Sluggy Freelance is a daily comic, and has been for it’s entire 10+ year run. Of course, once you start reading, you’re not going to be able to stop. You’ve been warned.
I’ve heard a lot of negative comments smashing Sluggy over the years, most of which revolve around the fact that people just don’t have the time or patience to slog through years of convoluted twists and turns that crop up in Sluggy. From warring holidays to alternate dimensions, Sluggy’s plot can be a lot to take in. Yet, if that’s seriously the only problem you have with the comic, then you’re dumb and I have no time for you. Try reading a book sometime.
Sluggy Freelance begins with Torg, a geeky, goofy, fun loving guy, and Riff, an introverted cool guy inventor, discussing the difficulties involved with downloading Satan, lord of Hell, into a computer. From there, things get a little out of hand with the introduction of Zoe, a communications major at a local college, Bun-Bun, the strip’s obligatory “cute talking animal” who seems to be a tiny avatar of destruction, and Aylee, an alien with an identity crisis.
The comic was originally created to fit the ‘joke-a-day’ format, but quickly evolved into something much more, as the early story lines began to build on themselves. There’s always four or five unresolved plots waiting around the corner (some taking over five years to be resolved) with a lot of one shot stories and running gags along the way.
First, the positive. Sluggy Freelance is, hands down, where you need to go if you want to read a mega-epic story. The characters are believable and feel like real people, the humor is spot on (errr… mostly spot on), and you’ll find yourself looking for hints for upcoming stories even during lighthearted stories. Heck, even the inter-character will-they-won’t-they romances that pop up all over web comics doesn’t feel forced here, and with one or two notable exceptions, Abrams steers away from the long, forced, inner monologues full of sexual tension that pop up all over anime based comics.
Sluggy Freelance was originally created with parodies in mind, and still follows that formula occasionally. Abrams has expressed a desire to have a complete run of “Torg Potter” comics, and you’ll find the occasional pop culture reference peppered into the normal madness that is every day life in Sluggy. It’s highly entertaining, and highly addictive; you’ll find yourself in a panic when you finally catch up with the current story and your old friend, the trusty “next” button, no longer helps you.
Additionally, during Sluggy Freelance’s downtime, when everyone isn’t being chased into hiding by satanic kittens or creepy cloner geeks, you’ll see numerous fun stories that are just a pleasure to read. The fun weeks set up a nice buffer between some of Sluggy Freelance’s larger issues and help keep the comic’s joke-a-day charm alive and well after over 10 years.
But, Sluggy Freelance does have its share of negatives, as well. Like I said before, the comic is not for those who are just looking for a simple plotless gag-a-day comic, and if you jump to Sluggy right now, what you see won’t make much sense. Personally, this doesn’t bother me, but then I’m pretty addicted to webcomics, so it’s all relative.
Second, while the action and most fight scenes will just fly by when you’re rushing through the archives, things will dramatically slow down when you finally catch up with the story. Where once the huge robot/demon/Santa Claus/assassin fights were cool, now they just become frustrating as you wait to see just how it all plays out. You’ll spend several weeks on exposition for story arcs like Oceans Unmoving before something happens, which can get a little long winded. Oh, and often, very, very often, Abrams will go off on a witty, humorous story tangent parodying a movie or game for a week or two at a time, when what you really want to see is the main story moved along at a reasonable pace, or any pace at all.
Additionally, Abrams takes possibly the most vacations out of any comics on the internet, and the archives are peppered with “filler weeks” and guest artists. Abrams will also post incomplete sketches on weekends and sometimes during the week if he gets behind. I can understand that artists can run the risk of burnout if they don’t take a break now and then, but sometimes you have to wonder how much filler could have been avoided if Abrams had just worked ahead a little.
Still, there’s something guaranteed to go on the site seven days a week, and the guest artists work (for the most part) range from fantastic to passable, depending on who’s at work. Most of the guest artist work isn’t related at all, and can be safely skipped if you feel so inclined.
The bottom line here is that Sluggy Freelance should not be passed up. The blemishes you might see in the comic are easily buried under a solid, entertaining web comic experience, and anyone who has not at least given the comic a shot is seriously missing out. Just be prepared for that nervous twitch in your eye when you finally run out of comics, hey- try not to hate the stick figure filler, man. It’s not their fault they’re space lost.