8-Bit Theater In Review   Leave a comment

I was going to wait a while before reviewing any webcomics as I can talk about them long enough to drive any sane person away, but I realized today that Brian Clevinger’s 8-Bit Theater just hit its 1000th strip. So what better time to review what is probably the most well known spirte comic on the web?

 Some History

According to its home page today, Brian Clevinger started 8-Bit Theater in January of 2001 to, as he puts it, “trick the University of Florida into giving me credit for, basically, goofing off with Photoshop in my spare time.” So for over 8 years now, he’s been putting images of someone else’s art onto the Internet.

Now, while that may seem lazy to some folks (and, in fact, many sprite comic artists are accused of being lazy just on principle), I personally think it’s interesting to consider the work trade-offs. While it’s true that Brian hasn’t had much of a need to artistically create his own characters (especially since he’s also borrowing very heavily from the plot of the original Final Fantasy game), his art has come a long way since his first strip.
In that time, the characters have become surprisingly expressive. Just the tweaking of a few pixels and suddenly characters are displaying a wide variety of emotions (and if they’re being really expressive?  They’ll raise their arms!)

Anyway, as for the art, a casual observer might not be able to tell the quality, but for someone who’s taken a look at many sprite comics (or even many webcomics given the quality of some out there) the art is very sufficient for the story being told.  After all, in a world where Dinosaur Comics exists, it’s pretty clear that webcomics, regardless of art, can be supported by a fine script. And Clevinger’s scripts are very good.

I believe the strength of his scripts come from his realization that he’s dealing with very flat characters, both artistically and from a story concept. The original final fantasy didn’t have much in the way of character growth, and neither do his chosen light warriors. Black Mage is still evil, angry, and comically ineffective in all his attemtps at vengeance against his default allies. Fighter is still fun-loving, life-loving, sword-loving, eager to spend time with his alleged friends, incredibly naiive, and optimistic. Thief is still greedy, egotistical, and addicted to the quick con. Red Mage is still Red Mage.

And the characters don’t need to evolve beyond those points for the story at the moment. They may be flat characters, but they’re very good at being flat characters. While the story might not have too much more life left in it (they’ve nearly gotten to the end of the first final fantasy game), the characters are as stable as Bud Abbot and Lou Costello. The Who’s On First routine may get old, but it doesn’t get tired.

Anyway, I recommend that you give 8-Bit Theater a try. The art style might not allow you to really enjoy it thoroughly at first, but if you can get used to it you’ll start to see the real art at work behind the deceptively simple sprite positions.

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