Like video games, comics inhabit a bizarre point in the art continuum, relying on multiple factors (some of which are unique to their form) to communicate with their audience. It seems fitting then, that there are a good deal of comics, mainly webcomics, that draw from video games for their inspiration. In this list, we’ll take a look at ten comics that are worth your time if you love video games, or just comics and good storytelling in general.
1. 8-Bit Theater
One of the first comics people think of when they think of video game webcomics is undoubtedly Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theater. The comic that codified the sprite-comic genre, 8-Bit Theatre was originally set to adapt a number of NES games into a comic, including Metroid and River City Ransom. But too much traction had been gotten with the Final Fantasy strips, and thus, a legend was born. Loosely (and do I mean loosely) following the plot of the original Final Fantasy for the NES, 8-Bit Theater revolves around the Light Warriors, a group of “heroes” who are even worse than the terrors and monsters they’re supposed to be fighting. The impotently evil Black Mage, the painfully idiotic Fighter, Thief (who stole his descriptors, he’s that good), and the delusional Red Mage make for an entertaining core cast that is rounded out by a huge roster of supporting characters like the benevolent White Mage, her directionally challenged bodyguard Black Belt, the omnipotent “wizard who did it” Sarda, and the Light Warrior’s “evil” counterparts the Dark Warriors. Running for over nine years, perhaps no other webcomic has done as much for its genre than 8-Bit Theater.
2. Bob and George
But 8-Bit Theatre probably wouldn’t have gotten any traction if it weren’t for Bob and George. While it definitely hasn’t aged well, particularly in the humor department, Bob and George was pretty much the sprite comic to start them all. Originating as filler for a hand-drawn strip, Bob and George heavily utilized 16-bit Mega Man sprites. Alternating between retellings of the Mega Man games and plots involving the title characters, the comic’s author Dave Anez, and usually time travel and ice cream. The comic’s seven year run was marked by near-daily updates, with only a handful of days being missed. In that time, it introduced a plethora of original characters that complemented the cast of Mega Man characters such as the infinitely respawning Ran, and former evil minions Mike the Ninja and Chadling.
3. Brawl in the Family
The first comic on our list to still be ongoing as of this writing, Brawl in the Family is always a joy to read. Drawn and written by Matthew Taranto, the comic mainly deals with the antics of Kirby and King Dedede. But true to its name, other characters who are featured in the Super Smash Bros. series make regular appearances, and even more regularly, the comic serves as an outlet for Matthew’s thoughts on current gaming news. Never cynical, but always honest, Brawl in the Family is one of the most genuine (and genuinely funny) comics on the web today.
4. Awkward Zombie
Another comic that gained steam from parodying Super Smash Bros., Awkward Zombie also serves as the outlet for author’s thoughts, in this case Katie Tiedrich. The scope of the games parodied is broader than Brawl in the Family’s, covering things like Pokémon, Mass Effect, World of Warcraft, and Fire Emblem. While that might mean that some strips might not interest a given reader, they’re consistently hilarious, pointing out odd inconsistencies in the logic of the games, or otherwise throwing its characters into odd situations. If you’ve ever wondered how surfing in Pokémon would work practically, or scratched your head thinking about the properties of the Iron Boots in The Legend of Zelda, Awkward Zombie has your back.
5. VG Cats
In many ways, VGCats defies description in an article like this. It’s your typical gamer on a couch comic, but the gamers are cats. And sometimes those cats replace the video game characters themselves. And sometimes there aren’t cats. Whatever the cat level status is, VGCats, and its Pokémon spinoff Super Effective can always be counted on for a sardonic look at the inherent absurdities of some games, and current industry practices.
Most of the comics listed above have their fair share of funny moments, but few are so gut-bustingly funny as Gigi Digi’s hiimdaisy. As TVTropes puts it: [the comic] specializes in making super serious games much funnier. Games like Metal Gear Solid, Persona 4, and Ace Attorney are given a bizarre, sometimes horrific twist by the complete nonchalance of most characters, and by the completely out of this world facial expressions that the artist seems to specialize in. It’s also worth noting that this is a rare comic that has actually had an impact on a game it parodies. The term “fsteak” that originated in this comic was later referenced in Persona 4: Golden. Sadly, the author’s livejournal page no longer exists, but this link contains an archive of most of the comics.
7. Cucumber Quest
The first item on our list to not only be by the author of another item, but also to not directly involve video games, Cucumber Quest is the brainchild of Gigi Digi. In fact, working on Cucumber Quest is the main reason she stopped working on hiimdaisy. While it doesn’t parody or reference a game, the influence of Kirby and especially Paper Mario is unmistakable on this coming-of-age adventure. Tropes like a quirky group of recurring bosses are played straight, defied, and parodied to high heaven. Just before Cucumber is set to go off to Puffington’s Academy for the Magically Gifted and/or Incredibly Wealthy, his father sends him a letter with urgent news: Queen Cordelia plans to resurrect the Nightmare Knight and plunge the world of Dreamside into darkness. Cucumber’s sister Almond is a much better candidate for the role of hero, but in strict adherence to video game tropes, this is unacceptable. Little sisters don’t save the world, Cucumber must be the one to do it! Joined by the well-meaning but cowardly Sir Carrot, and the somewhat daffy Princess Nautilus, the race is on for Cucumber to travel throughout the kingdoms of Dreamside, defeat the Nightmare Knight’s Disaster Masters and save Dreamside and Princess Parfait! While the comic is available for free online, it’s well worth it to buy the printed books, which contain tons of concept art that fleshes out the entrancing world of the comic. Oh, and did I mention this world is inhabited by rabbit-people?
8. Penny Arcade
Perhaps the greatest codifier of the gamer on a couch comic, Penny Arcade’s real notability is in how it’s branched out from just being a comic. While the comic is still going strong, many of you reading this might think of the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) first, or of the creators’ work with charity (their experiences with disbarred attorney and anti-video game advocate Jack Thompson are nearly unbelievable). The comic has even been spun off into video games themselves. The comic received an episodic series, and Tycho appeared in Poker Night at the Inventory alongside Strong Bad of Homestar Runner, and the Heavy from Team Fortress 2.
Here we have not just one comic, but an entire set of comics officially sanctioned by a video game company. Created by artists from comic company Udon, ShiftyLook features comics based on Namco video games like Bravoman, Wonder Momo, Katamari Damacy, and Galaga. In particular, the comic based on Bravoman, an entirely obscure platformer, is a hilarious fourth-wall breaking jaunt. In essence, it’s what Bob and George did but better and more concise, only lasting a bit more than three hundred strips. I also find myself partial to the Katamari Damacy series that follows the Prince’s attempt to save the world while still struggling to impress his dad. It is a little baffling that there was never a Pac-Man series, but what was produced is good enough on its own. The comics have been so successful that three animated series have been produced. One based on Mappy, featuring Namco characters in an office setting done in a limited animation style, an anime based on Wonder Momo, and most notably, a Bravoman series that features voice acting legends like Rob Paulson, Dee Bradley Baker, and Jennifer Hale. The site also featured a dating sim game Namco High. The comics ceased updating earlier this year, and in September, the site will go offline, so read them now while you can!
10. Scott Pilgrim
Finally, the only comic on this list that isn’t a webcomic, the Scott Pilgrim series is without a doubt one of the best comics I’ve ever read. Today, it might be more famous now for being made into a movie starring Michael Cera and directed by Edgar Wright that received good reviews, but did disappointingly at the box office. As much as I love the movie, there are times where the comic simply surpasses it (like the Honest Ed’s scene in volume 3). In the mysterious land of Toronto, Canada, Scott Pilgrim is dating Knives Chau (17 years old), and that begins our story. What follows is a tale of butt-kicking, true love, and boss fights with evil ex-boyfriends (and ex-girlfriends) as Scott fights for the heart of Ramona Flowers. If video games could be read, this book would be a video game that you read. I know that didn’t make much sense, but if you’ve read it, you’ll know what I mean.