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My Webcomic Heroes: 8Bit Theater

December 10, 2013

So, I read a lot of webcomics, and there are a great deal of them that have had a very formative impact on me. Both generally as a person, and specifically towards my decision to make a webcomic of my own. I wanted to share some of my favorites as I gear up to get back into my comic on 1/1/14.

The first comic on my List is definitely Brian Clevenger’s 8-Bit Theater.
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8-Bit Theater ran from 2001 to 2010, mostly 3 times a week. You can find the archives at http://www.nuklearpower.com/8-bit-theater-archive/

Brian Clevenger’s 8 Bit Theater is a sprite comic roughly following the exploits of the adventurers in the early Final Fantasy Games. The Warriors of Light tasked with saving the world. The twist, of course, is that the band of four heroes aren’t the real Light Warriors. They are incompetent buffoons at best, and a roving band of murderers at worst.

Clevenger takes a tried and true approach to storytelling, when your characters don’t do anything interesting, do something horrible to them. These four characters are quite literally chased around the globe, trying to escape whatever new mess they had gotten themselves into, leaving a wake of destruction behind them.

The gags are hilarious, and run the gamut from Bugs Bunny schticks to George Carlin irreverence. There is a lot of very good slapstick, but at it’s core 8-bit Theater is powerfully character driven.

What I find so appealing about Clevenger’s characters, is that they are Archetypes taken to their logical extremes that never deviate from their very clear motivations. In the 9 year run of the webcomic, even as the characters grew and changed, they remained 100% true to their core foundations.
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  • Fighter: Always remains well meaning but incompetent.
  • Black Mage: Always chooses the misfortune of others, even at great pains.
  • Thief: Steals as a point of habit, even when it becomes apparent he doesn’t need the money.
  • Red Mage: Seeks optimization in everything he does, even at great cost.

These characters become completely overblown archetypes, taking their traits to the logical extremes, but remain true to the core of their character and to their motivations. These are horribly horribly flawed individuals, but they behave in completely believable ways.

It may be a sprite comic, but year after year, these characters felt incredibly life like.

The second major victory of 8-Bit Theater is it’s linear approach to spectacle and scale. They start in search of an item, then to save a damsel, then themselves, then a town, then a kingdom, a nation, the world, the universe, and finish off with saving all of reality itself. At every turn, the stakes are being raised, and it becomes increasingly likely that these four fools are going to be the epicenter of some heinous catastrophe (and they often are) but they hilariously seem to always come out on top, often to the detriment of others.

All told, it’s really solid storytelling, with unbridled humor, and unforgettable characters. Clevenger has since moved on to writing Atomic Robo, where his writing talents absolutely shine. You can see bits of his old 8-bit characters show through at times: especially in the exchanges between Robo and Dr. Dinosaur.

As a webcomic, I can’t recommend it highly enough, and I’ll be honest it has greatly informed my own sense of humor. It’s worth reading the full 9 year run, especially as an example of dedication to characters and a single very long story arc.8bittheaters

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