Part XVI: "Sinfest" 

(As seen at sinfest.net)

 

Hey, folks. KingMan here. I don't remember how I first stumbled upon Project AFTER, but I remember my entrance occurring around when Eric Schwartz tried to inject some drama into Sabrina Online in October of 2012. So I've been hanging around PA at least since then. I liked the reviews Cody and Max did for Comic Release (my favorites of theirs being Megatokyo and Pastel Defender Heliotrope) and, while I'll probably never write something with that level of quality, I figured I can at least give my voice a shot and see what happens. Who knows, maybe I can even do a few more of these.

Of all the comics that have been featured in CR, I feel this is probably the most redundant of the lot. Everyone from The Bad Webcomics Wiki to Shitty Webcomics (and its offshoot, The Webcomics Review) to The Other Side to Webcomic Overlook to The Webcomic Police have analyzed Sinfest and pretty much everything I'm going to mention has been covered to some degree in at least one of the above sources. It eventually hit me to pick a comic I actually like and criticize that. I already promised myself I'd do Sinfest, though, so I'll set that other idea on the back burner for now.


The Story
 

The story chiefly revolves around Slick—a wannabe pimp who is either a very short young man or an abnormally horny ten-year-old boy—and his efforts to get into the pants of Monique, an inconsistently sexualized beat poet. Along the way, they get into many adventures (and I use that term lightly), some involving Slick's friends Squigly, a pig who acts like an older brother to Slick, and Criminy, a nerd who serves as the opposite. Other major characters include God, Satan (who Slicks tries to sell his soul to in order to get chicks), a stereotypical religious zealot named Seymour, and a little demon named Li'l Evil who looks up to Satan. When the comic focuses on these characters going about their everyday lives, whether it be Slick hitting on Monique or God and Satan trolling each other or Li'l Evil making fun of Seymour, it manages to be okay—not good, just okay. The characters themselves are competently written (for the most part) and quirky enough to provide mild amusement. Slick being an overconfident buffoon, Monique being a self-centered douchebag, God being a troll, Satan bouncing back and forth between superiority and inferiority complexes, and so forth. Initially, at least, Sinfest makes for unspectacular-yet-harmless entertainment.

It's when the characters simply interact and get on each other's nerves that the early strips were at their best. About the worst that can be said is that Tatsuya wears his influences a little too closely. You see, Sinfest often "pays homage" to the comics you read in the newspapers, such as Calvin and Hobbes or Peanuts. The most blatant example of these "homages" being Satan running his business by means of a roadside stand similar to Lucy's. This particular means of paying tribute to the comics of yesteryear will come and bite him in the ass and damage whatever enjoyment I might have had, but we'll get to that later.
 

Wait a minute... The Devil... Lucy... Lucifer... Real subtle there, buddy.


Unfortunately, even before Tatsuya went off the deep end with the whole feminist shtick, a good chunk of early Sinfest was just awful at worst and pointless at best. When Tatsuya isn't having Slick and Monique doing poetry slams that sound like they were penned by a drunk fortune cookie writer (yes, I know their lack of talent is part of the story, but that doesn't make those strips any less obnoxious), he has the cast doing dumb calligraphy lessons that Sesame Street could've done better, or partaking in spoofs of movies and other newspaper comics that are, with one or two exceptions, utterly cringe-inducing. Imagine Robot Chicken if it was written by a pseudo-intellectual college student.
 

Sinfest doing pop-culture parodies then...

 

...and Sinfest doing pop-culture parodies now(ish).


The stories involving the author-insert character's pets are generally okay, but after seeing the dog and cat doing cute things for the fifth time, it just gets boring. I'd rather watch the antics of my own pets or read Calvin and Hobbes itself, if only because there's some substance to its sugar—and because Bill Watterson had the good sense to end C&H before it devolved into self-parody.

Then there are the moments where Tatsuya climbs up on his soapbox and tries to wax philosophical. His observations on the flaws of consumerism are less original than jokes about airline food, he has characters repeatedly ask why God allows bad things to happen in the world with little to no payoff, and some strips are nothing but characters talking about how much life sucks (Beavis and Butthead this ain't). It's neither funny nor thought-provoking. If Tatsuya directed porn, he'd tell the actors to engage in an hour-long discussion about the pointlessness of existence while sitting on a couch as unarousingly as possible.

I could easily use up a few thousand more words listing all the ways Sinfest neglects it purpose of making readers laugh, but I'll just move on the worst of the worst—which is, not surprisingly, when Tatsuya tries to tackle politics. Some fans have said that the political posturing began when the feminist bullshit stared. Oddguy of BWW claims it started when Obama was launching his campaign for president. In reality, the comic has always had some political bent to it, though I think the first signs of it getting excessively preachy began around March of 2003, when the Iraq War began and Tatsuya spent the rest of the month making ham-fisted propaganda comics. Even if you think the Iraq War was a poorly-planned clusterfuck, Tatsuya's commentary was so devoid of subtly or cleverness that the end result was offensive for reasons that had nothing to do with politics.
 

Birds aren't obvious enough. He should've gone with a grenade and a pot leaf.


Speaking of clusterfucks, let's talk about the feminist arc. As with Ctrl-Alt-Del's miscarriage storyline and the whole of Sonichu, this portion of the comic was such a train wreck that it has managed to transcend the boundaries of its readerbase and achieve status as a meme that's gained greater recognition than the comic itself. The politics are dumb at best and batshit insane at worst (his positive view of the SCUM Manifesto and Andrea Dworkin falls in the latter category), the arcs go on substantially longer than most of his early ones and somehow manage to say less than your average pet arc, his attempts at humor have gone from hit and miss to completely embarrassing (the exception being how the earlier comics poking fun at radfems are retroactively made much funnier), and whatever mastery Tatsuya had with pacing his comic is out the window, replaced with more pretentious symbolism such as The Reality Zone. For a fun activity, take a drink whenever a Matrix reference pops up.
 

This is what radfems actually believe.


Arguably the worst thing about the comic's descent into radical feminist hell is the way that half the cast undergoes a one-way transformation into less-likeable versions of themselves. The comically bumbling Satan gets rewritten as a serious villain with little thought put into his motives, Li'l Evil becomes an "adorable" bishonen, Squigley goes from being a parody of stoners and frat boys to a submissive communal punching bag, Slick turns into a walking allegory for the failings of masculinity with no personality to speak of, and Monique changes from a bubbly-yet-sensible bisexual attention addict into an angry lesbian who practices kicking men in the balls before leaving the house.

If the comic wasn't already batshit enough, it gets worse. I didn't notice this until the Webcomic Police pointed it out, but a lot of the hookers look like they're fourteen years old. It doesn't help that Tatsuya has shown he can draw full-grown women when he tries. I don't think he deliberately went the "a man who watches porn is a Jimmy Savile in the making" route, but hey, if he put Valerie Solanas and Andrea Dworkin in a positive light, it wouldn't surprise me if he believes that too. That, and it makes the whole Slick/Monique relationship way creepier.

And then there's the plagiarism allegations. Shitty Webcomics mentioned Tatsuya ripping off this comic from Bloom County:
 


Compare that to this early Sinfest strip:
 

He also rips off Pepé Le Pew.


Oddly enough, this isn't even the most damning example of him ripping off a newspaper comic. As mentioned earlier, I said that Tatsuya was trying too hard to ape Calvin and Hobbes. Eventually, I decided to see for myself if it went beyond that. Tatsuya may be a hack for ripping off a relatively obscure comic, but surely he can't be stupid enough to rip off a comic that's pretty much a household name.
 

 


Dammit, Tatsuya.

Somebody must have caught onto this, because in January of 2011, Tatsuya confessed that, during his time as a penciler for Dark Horse, he ripped off some drawings for a G.I. Joe comic, among other things, and swore, "My criminal days are behind me." And yet, that's not the end of the story. In May of 2013, AJ Lome of Gumbo Gamer was working on a webcomic called Four Eyes. One of the strips he released was this:
 


A week to the day later, Tatsuya uploaded this:
 


Lome himself (who I think is a solid artist, BTW) said that this was probably coincidence, not to mention that if Tatsuya did rip off the comic, he was smart enough to shift some elements of the joke around, similar to the Bloom County example, in an attempt to prevent his fanbase from calling him out on this (sadly, it seems to have worked). However, as the saying goes, once is an accident, twice is a coincidence, and three times is a habit. I've included three examples of (possible) plagiarism here, but there are more I opted not to include in this review. And in the case of the Calvin and Hobbes example, he doesn't even try. Even if the allegations weren't true, it still doesn't hide the fact that Tatsuya's versions of all three jokes are just watered-down imitations. Not only did he rip off one or all of these comics, but he did a piss-ass job. No wonder the man doesn't have a career outside of Sinfest.
 

And the douche tries to lampshade this.

 

The Art


The art is nowhere near the quality of, say, Dr. McNinja; for the newspaper comic strip direction Tatsuya is aiming for, though, it's serviceable. The aesthetic gradually changes from an imitation of Bill Watterson's work to a more anime-esque style, which is something of a double-edged sword. Anime Sinfest is more distinct in appearance, which makes it feel like more of a tribute to Watterson than a full-blown ripoff, but it also lacks the hand-drawn charm of the early strips. By the end of 2010, 90% of the comic looks as though it was "drawn" by creating and combining Bézier curves in Photoshop.

The large Sunday strips Tatsuya does these days are occasionally capable of showing some nice detail (and if Tatsuya can show me that he drew them himself, then I'll be really impressed). Still, any richness in the artwork feels like a special event instead of the norm. I wish he went that extra mile and put in a little more effort so that it didn't appear as though corners are constantly being cut, especially where the early strips are concerned.
 

Why does Slick look like he's wearing just a jumpsuit and shirt?

Wait, where the fuck are his arms in the first panel?

 

The Author

 

Surprisingly, there isn't a whole lot that can be said about Tatsuya Ishida, if only because he tends to keep a relatively low profile. Compared to the likes of Aaron Diaz and Andrew Dobson, Tatsuya spends very little time making an ass of himself in public.

The closest he came to it was during Sinfest's early days, when Something Awful diaper fur Shmorky spoofed Sinfest in his own webcomic, Otaku Feh. Granted, Otaku Feh itself was a pile of crap, but that's not the point. The point is that when Tatsuya got wind of this, he accused Shmorky of ripping off Sinfest and threatened to sue him. Setting aside the irony of a serial plagiarist accusing someone of plagiarism, it's pretty obvious that the guy doesn't have as tight of a grip on satire as he thinks. It would be like if the people who make the James Bond films saw the Austin Powers trilogy and decided to sue Mike Myers for stealing elements of their franchise. Or if the people who own the rights to Peanuts tried to sue Tatsuya for stealing their characters.


In Conclusion...


For all its faults—some of which are pretty damn glaring—I can't bring myself to hate early Sinfest. Sure, the comic is derivative as all hell, but I'd be lying if I said it didn't give me a smile. Unfortunately for Tatsuya, I can find a lot of similar comics that can give me the same amount of entertainment plus a whole lot more depth. And after Tatsuya became a male apologist and dedicated his comic to sermonizing about toxic masculinity, his buffoonery wrecked whatever chances Sinfest had of becoming anything more than a knockoff of other, better works. Which, now that I think about it, might have been the whole point.

- KingMan

 

 

Alex's AFTER Thoughts

 

In the interest of fairness, I'll be the first to admit that drawing a gag-a-day comic strip is way harder than most people think. Manga artists have a substantially heavier workload and graphic novel illustrators often struggle just to pay the rent, but cartoonists have their own brand of hell to deal with. People can talk shit about Jim Davis all they want for allowing Garfield to drag on as an insipid waste of real estate on the funnies page, but look at what the man has to work with. You've got a tiny cast of characters (some of whom never speak), an extremely rigid format (usually three panels of self-contained story always ending in a punch line), and a stifling regulatory code that dictates what kind of content you're allowed to depict. Now, within those guidelines, think of a funny joke. Take your time. Got one? Okay, now do that six times a week for the next thirty-seven years. The most talented comedic geniuses who have ever lived wouldn't be able to mine more than a few months worth of genuinely funny comic strips using the Garfield formula, and Davis sure as hell ain't a member of that group.

One thing I can say for Garfield is that the comic is at least consistent. That fat furry bastard loved lasagna and hated Mondays just as strongly three decades ago as he does today. Tatsuya Ishida wouldn't know consistency if it bit him in the same place on the ass every single day for a decade. When faced with the task of writing seven original comics a week, Ishida's creative well dried up faster than a pack of wet wipes strapped to a rocket being shot into the center of the sun. Rather than have Sinfest fall into repetition faster than any comic in history, he decided to simply throw in whatever random idea his brain shit out that day, even if it directly contradicted ideas his brain had shit out previously.

Pop quiz: Is Uncle Sam's relationship with Lady Liberty a metaphor for patriotism masking harmful behaviors, a criticism of America's foreign policy, or part of a larger commentary on domestic spying? The answer is simultaneously all three and none of the above. Is religion the opiate of the masses or a refuge for the enlightened to escape the trappings of consumer culture? That one changes with the wind. Is a group of men sharing their feelings a positive rejection of stereotypical masculinity or shameless self-pitying that marginalizes women? Depends on whether or not someone took his medication that morning.

Ishida changes his mind so often and so drastically it's as if he's juggling half a dozen split personalities that refuse to agree on anything just to spite each other. If he walked into a supermarket with a grocery list consisting of eggs, coffee, and cereal, he'd walk out with a pack of adult diapers and fourteen bottles of Thousand Island dressing. Then he'd masturbate in his car in the middle of the parking lot and feel so guilty afterward that he'd try to strangle himself with his shoelaces.

Sinfest's lack of cohesion wouldn't be so bad if it weren't for the obscene amounts of hypocrisy some of the incongruities create. One of the comic's few messages with any kind of staying power states that the sexualization and exploitation of women is basically the root of all evil in the world. Despite Ishida's efforts to beat readers over the head with this point for years, an average month of Sinfest strips still contain more scantily-clad female bodies than a stack of Victoria's Secret catalogs. Ishida loves to criticize the double-standards of organized religion, but at least when Christians condemn pornography, the person delivering the sermon isn't a stripper in a G-string squeezing her tits with one hand while she thumps a Bible with the other.

When people are unhappy and they can't pin down the reason why, they invent one. The more intense their fear and frustration, the more powerful a source they credit. For all the ills of society, the church blames the Devil; Ishida blames the Patriarchy. Given a choice between the two, I'd be forced to side with the church. I'm sure I've done a shitload of things that make me deserving of eternal torment, but being born with a Y chromosome isn't one of them.

 

'Till next time!

MANGA!