I grew up with newspaper comics. The ones I remember are Li'l Abner, Wizard of Id, B.C., Peanuts, Doonesbury, Pogo, Buz Sawyer, Marmaduke, et. al. Over time, most of the conventional strips got stupid (Family Circus, B.C., Wizard of Id), became too mainstream (Peanuts, Garfield) or disappeared (Pogo, Calvin and Hobbes, Far Side, Bloom County). But, I'd always turned to the comic section the second I opened the paper, and after that was done, I'd check the front page to make sure the world hadn't ended or something. After coming to Japan, I found that the majority of Japanese newspapers don't have manga, and the English papers have virtually no western strips (just Dilbert, Doonesbury and maybe Peanuts). So, I've spent more effort online looking for either digital comics syndicates, or webcomics. Which brings me back to the above issue that most newspaper strips aren't worth reading anymore. I find most webcomics to be a waste of energy as well. But, there are a few that I do like.
Light-hearted monster-hunt/adventure series set in England. Fun characters, silly monsters.
Order of the Stick:
Silly D&D-based adventure series with everyone drawn as stick figures. Lots of wordplay and crude jokes.
Pun-filled gag strip featuring a rat that is a medical doctor in an anthropomorphic universe. Sometimes, there are longer storylines and darker plot elements. The artist is a full-time Australian doctor that draws cartoons on the side.
Phil Foglio. 'nuf said.
Another D&D-style series, this one based on a unique rule set that is explained as the story unfolds. Marginal artwork and too many jumps in viewpoint, but sometimes funny. Unfortunately, the artist had a death in the family, and while she's recovering the writer has gotten lost in the ozone in a serialized text novel.
The Adventures of Dr. McNinja:
He's a doctor. And a ninja! He fights pirates, and giant lumberjacks. The story makes absolutely no sense, but stuff dies occasionally so it's all good.
Back when newspapers were first trying to make the transition to the internet, there were something like three different websites that carried comics, run by the different syndicates. No one site had everything I liked, and at one point, one of them started requiring a membership to look at the strips. Over time, there were mergers and stuff, and now it looks like GoComics is the last one left standing. Most of what they carry is dreck, in the bad sense of the word. Almost 20% seems to be reruns and old archives (Calvin and Hobbes, Boondocks, The Norm, PreTeena, Bloom County). But, once every one to two years, I'll go through the full index of strips to see if there's something new that catches my eye. One of the reasons that I decided to write up this entry is because I've found some new stuff that I like.
Now, this one is subversive! Scott Meyer gives underhanded advice on how to survive your friends, family, coworkers and boss, with a lot of knife twisting thrown in. One of my favorites, but only comes out 3 times a week.
Brewster is a spaceship captain whose brain was turned to mush after being probed by aliens one too many times. It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but there are some chuckles, and I find myself making a bunch of stupid jokes in the online comments section. Best if you're an SF fan, or if you just like science.
Calvin and Hobbes:
It's all reruns, but it's still funny.
Cul de Sac
Adventures of little 4-year-old Alice and her wiser, more finicky 7-year-old brother, Petey. The world is very twisted and unpredictable as seen through their eyes. Plus, Richard Thompson can draw good background setups.
Gary Trudeau has always been good at making conservatives angry, and that's good enough for me. Besides, I like early Zonker and Bernie, and present-day Toggle.
I've written about Endtown before. Heck, I'm the one that wrote up the entry on wikipedia. Anthropomorphic mutants try to survive in a harsh post-The End environment against monsters and genetically pure humans. Great art, great story, great characters.
I used to love the original strip, but Bill Amend went into semi-retirement, only running new strips on Sundays. It's still funny, but has lost any sense of character development or plot that it used to have. Now it's just three kids (a science nerd, a self-obsessed teenage girl, and a sports jock wannabe) that bug each other. Not quite at the "cute for cute's sake" stage yet.
Rob Wilco, his psycho cat Bucky, and his idiot pooch Satchel. Lately, the strip has been in reruns, so there's some concern that Darby Conley may be suffering from health problems or something. For the most part, Bucky is a parody of modern-day conservative extremists, and most of the gags revolve around his being obnoxious.
Originally Robotman and Monty, this was a commissioned strip that the publishers created to sell a product. Eventually, the strip outlived the product and the Robotman character got dropped. The early strips were just insane, with a lot of surreal humor. Lately, it's more just a series of set gag pieces where either Monty reacts badly in public, his friend, Moondog, gets obsessive about food and beer, or it's a lampooning of the rich and elite. Most days are just "meh", but there's still an occasional zinger that makes it all worthwhile.
I like Wiley's off-the-wall sense of humor, and his political gags skewer the far-right extremists. But, he's also good at telling children's tales. Fun stuff.
I used to love Tank for his clumsy way around women, and Dr. Tzap's mad scientist shtick, but the jokes have gotten fairly formulaic, and Tank and Tzap don't really have any character development anymore. It's still funny sometimes, but I may drop it in a few weeks.
It's in repeats, but I do like Norm's slightly off-center look at dating and living in the workplace. And there are strips that I hadn't seen the first time around.
Brand New Strips:
I just starting reading this one this week. It only comes out a couple days a week, but the artwork is pretty elaborate. The jokes are relatively intellectual, mainly about art and life, sometimes about math or arithmetic. Fairly surreal, in the vein of Far Side or Bizarro.
Lost Side of Suburbia:
A fairly dark collection of short stories with children being kidnapped by fairies, trolls and other baddies. Kind of like Gahan Wilson for kids. Nothing really disturbing yet, but good artwork and interesting ideas. I don't really like the preachy nature of some of the dialog, though.
TerraTopia just started recently, and it's a kind of a serialized illustrated children's fantasy story. Every day there's one page of text with an accompanying picture. The art is really high-grade, but the writing is unpleasantly flowery at times. It's still too early to say what the story is about, but it features wizards, monsters, a boy from London, and a female shape-changer. I'm down to checking in on this strip about once a month to see if the story's progressed or not.
What I stopped reading:
Barney & Clyde:
This started out promising, about a homeless guy and the rich president of a big pharma company meeting and becoming friends. But, lately, it's gotten formulaic with silly puns and carping about modern life.
C'est la Vie:
Some French people take up living in California. Initially, I liked this one because of the weird jokes and strange scenarios, but again it got formulaic. Then again, the artwork looks like it's been ripped off from a Disney comic - very derivative.
Even when Lio was first advertised as a "soon to be carried strip", I thought it was a weak rip-off of Charles Addams and Gahan Wilson. But, I made it one of my favorites on GoComics, and because of that I read it every day along with the other titles. Finally, I had to acknowledge the fact that it can never measure up to Gahan's work, and I mercifully pulled the plug on it.
I originally started reading Pibgorn because the idea of a fairy finding her way into the human world and having adventures was rather intriguing. But, Brooke McEldowney forgot how to tell a story and at the end all sense of continuity disappeared. Now, he's recycling the artwork and adding commentary, where mainly he just likes to use lots of big words and complain about his readers not getting his jokes.
A precocious pre-teenager, named Tina, tries to make sense of her life between school, her friends, and her fashion-obsessed older sister. It was quite funny for a while, but Allison Barrows discontinued the strip and now it's just in reruns that I've seen before.
Rose is Rose:
I used to love Rose! Once, it was hip, off-the-wall and entirely original. Now, it's just like every other cartoon about a cartoon family - family-friendly and resorting to "cute for cute's sake". Bleh. Still has great artwork, though.
Yenny is a teenage Puerto Rican girl living with her single mother in a cottage by the sea. She's obsessed with fashion and wants to become a model, but her feet are too large for normal catwalk work (they're huge!) The character designs are very sexy, but Yenny reminds me too much of Bugs Bunny in drag but without the fur. Plus, David Alvarez has been slipping his schedule, with gaps up to a month between new strips.