El Goonish Shive

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I now have a new favorite web comic. Which may or may not be significant. I don’t read many web comics, so I can hardly claim to be a connoisseur. On the other hand, the fact that this one holds my attention while most do not must say something about it.

The comic is called El Goonish Shive. The name refers to the artist Dan Shive, and has no other significance. It’s a fantasy/comedy/adventure/coming-of-age series involving a group of high school students whose lives are partly ordinary and partly very weird. It is published 3 times a week, though this has varied over the years.

Why do I like it? One reason is that it is consistently hilarious (though the humor is somewhat twisted and will probably not appeal to everyone.) More important is the meticulous storytelling and the well-drawn, likable characters. As in all the best stories the warm and funny parts are balanced by a certain amount of darkness, though even the darkest storylines tend to have warm, fuzzy endings.

The comic started on January 21, 2002, so I am very much a latecomer to it. (Oddly, in all this time only a few months have passed in the lives of the characters, though that is enough time for some significant character development.)

Because the comic is so story-oriented, I recommend starting at the beginning here and working your way through it in sequence. This is the only way to really get to know the characters and their background.

The main drawback of this approach is that the drawings in the early strips are almost painfully bad. Over the years Dan’s drawing skill has improved to the point where the drawings now seem well above average for a web comic. This supports the adage that it takes 10 years of constant practice to get really good at something.

The other problem with the early strips is that the first story arc is rather uninspired. Its only real purpose is to introduce some of the main characters. Things start to change with the strip dated February 11, 2002 (the beginning of the second story arc) when Grace first appears. At this point Dan seems to find his footing as a storyteller. The story takes off in wild and wonderful new directions and never looks back.

Parental Advisory

Dan recommends the comic for teenagers and up, and that seems about right to me. Some of the material might be disturbing for preteen readers, and would certainly disturb their parents. (Stories involving the characters’ sexual orientation, and gender-bender humor.)

In other respects it is actually pretty tame compared to some other web comics. There is no nudity, no illegal drugs, and not even much in the way of strong language. There is some violence, but no real gore. The overall tone is upbeat and life-affirming.