Part XVI: "Sinfest"
(As seen at
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 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
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.
minute... The Devil... Lucy... Lucifer... Real subtle there,
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
Sinfest doing pop-culture
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
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.
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.
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 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
Why does Slick
look like he's wearing just a jumpsuit and shirt?
Wait, where the
fuck are his arms in the first panel?
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.
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
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
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!