The problem with Sluggy
It's called Sluggy Freelance and the problem is that it takes itself way too seriously. The comic started out as a gag strip revolving around a small group of people: Torg; the everyman figure, Biff; the mad scientist (but cool with it), Zoe; the hot babe, Gwynne; the plain one who is also a witch, Bun-Bun; the psycopathic rabbit, and Kiki; braindead ferret. They would fall into other dimensions, fight elves, vampires, and demon kittens, parody pop culture favourites like Star Trek and Harry Potter, and generally have a lot of fun in stories that ran for a few weeks.
And then along the way creator Pete Abrams started moving away from daily gag strips with continuity to epic graphic novels puplished at the rate of 4 panels a day. And even though the stories took a much more seriously dramatic turn, they still dragged along all the gag baggage. You can't do a serious dramatic story where characters struggle with pain and loss and fill it with demons with silly names from the "Dimension of Lame".
And because individual storylines might only feature a couple of the regular cast and drag on for the best part of a year, it becomes hard to keep track of what is going on. The final straw was the science ficton epic "Oceans Unmoving" which only featured Bun-Bun of the main cast, and had a hideously complicated plot involving timeless space that ran for 13 months, broken only by 3 week digression into Harry Potter parody. Abrams tried desperately to keep this behemoth moving along by producing a prodigious amount of comics each day, but that didn't stop it being a big complicated graphic novel chopped up into small pieces and spread out over such a long period of time that you needed to keep going back and rereading all the previous bits to make any sense of it. It was totally the wrong format for the story, and Abrams freely admitted it had got out of hand.
A month or so into this storyline I stopped reading the comic daily and just caught up about once a week in hopes of the story making sense, but to be honest I wasn't that interested in it. It was a clever concept, but it just went on and on. I wasn't very interested in most of the newly introduced characters and I really lost track of what it was about. I wanted to see Biff blow stuff up, Gwynne get all witchy, Zoe make cutting remarks and slap people, and Kiki go "ooh, shiny!". Eventually I stopped reading it altogether.
It was several weeks after the story finished before I even noticed. At first it seemed like things were back to the way they used to be, albeit with some more serious characterisation under the humour. But within a couple of weeks we were off on what first appeared to be a short digression road trip with added ninjas but which has just turned into 3 weeks of soul searching as Torg confronts his feelings for Zoe. Okay, the shadow puppet imagery was cool, but three weeks of it? And when we find that one of Torg's fears is that Oasis will show up and kill Zoe, I was surprised. I mean if she were really out to get Zoe, surely she would have turned up sometime in the last four years?
It's evident that Abrams has moved beyond the format of a daily gag strip, but that is what he is working with and it's an unhappy compromise. And he seems unable to dispense with the broad humour, using it as a crutch even while it is undermining the more serious things he is trying to do. It is not impossible to mix drama and humour. Just look at Girl Genius, for example. But what's going on in Sluggy is sometimes as effective as putting fart jokes in Hamlet. Any laughs it generates are at the expense of the dramatic tension he is trying to create.
I am all for creators pushing their limits, and I am not in any way suggesting that Sluggy should return to some arbitary "good old days". I just wish that Abrams would make a decision and either find a way to do the big graphic novels he wants to, or do a gag strip with limited continuity and puns. Both at the same time is not working, and it hasn't been working for a long time now.