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Tuesday, 23 February 2010

Questionable Content (as part of LGBT History Month)

a webcomic by Jeph Jacques

What’s It About?
QC is a slice-of-life relationship comedy. Principally it follows the lives of two roommates, Marten Reed and Faye Whitaker in a world slightly weirder than our own. Marten owns a small, self-aware robot (an AnthroPC) by the name of Pintsize who is probably more trouble than he’s worth and never more so than when he installs a laser in his CD tray. The strip is about their relationships with each other, their friends, their employers, families, even more psychotic robots and a superheroine who delivers pizza.

The reason I’m including this strip as my LGBT History Month review is the varied collection of sexualities in the cast including characters who are bisexual, gay, lesbian and even one character whose orientation is towards polyamory rather than monogamy.

What’s Good About It?
You can read Questionable Content one of two ways: the first is as a daily gag strip, which works because each four-panel instalment stands on its own with a punch line at the end. Each character is well-written enough that you can understand who they are after reading a couple of strips. The other way to read QC is as a long-running character drama. In this way you have a large cast with story and art developing across over sixteen hundred strips and seven years.

The little oddities, such as the fact that there are robots everywhere, are used mostly for comedy rather than to create a straight science fiction environment. This means that the weirder aspects of the world don’t take away from the human drama of the story.

The comic also has a serious side. Faye is initially hostile and unpredictable, unwilling to talk about her past. As it turns out she has very good reasons for this, though I won’t go into details to avoid spoilers. The mystery of Faye’s past is resolved, however, and the character develops beyond her original characteristics as the hostile/mysterious love interest.

There’s also a “will they/won’t they” love story or two. For those with little patience for these, I would like to assure you that these plots do develop and resolve, they aren’t kept in unchanging stasis to maintain a status quo.

What’s Bad About It?
With a title like Questionable Content it shouldn’t be surprising that some jokes are in slightly bad taste. This is mainly toilet humour: bodily fluids and functions and the like. Nothing graphically portrayed, no images to turn the stomach but fair warning that some of the jokes might not be suitable for those of a nervous disposition.

The character of Hannelore has Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, this condition is usually dealt with sensitively. The symptoms she is shown to have, the therapy she undertakes and the steps she has taken to deal with her condition are dealt with somewhat realistic. That said, however, her condition is used for humour.  EDIT: For a furthur discussion of disability representation within this comic, both good and bad parts, please go here.   Mild spoilers are included.

There are also scenes of recreational drug use.

What’s the Art Like?
As ever, internet etiquette stops us from posting art examples from webcomics, so please follow the links included below.

Jacque’s art style has developed greatly over the years, in fact there’s even a handy side-by-side comparison to make. Here is the third QC strip from 2003. As you’ll see, the character have no skin tone and there are many issues of anatomy. Jacques recently posted an updated version of strip #3in his current style: skin tone, more subtle facial expressions, great anatomy, detailed background and shaded colours. Coincidentally, whenever posters of blackboards appear in the art like in this example, take a moment to read them, they’re funny.

The change wasn’t sudden, Jacques is constantly experimenting with his style, so let’s take an example somewhere roughly halfway between the two: the shaded colour is there but the figure work isn’t as substantial as in the most recent example. On that subject, the two women in this example: the one with the glasses is Faye and Dora is the woman with the dark hair. One thing that Jacques mastered early on was drawing a variety of distinctive body types, both male and female.

Other Information
The entire Questionable Content archive is available for free from http://questionablecontent.net/. It currently amounts to over 1600 individual strips. A book is in the works but at this time no ordering information is available from Amazon and for our UK readers it might not become available at all. Any future information will be edited into this review and given its own post.

The comic updates five days a week, Monday through Friday and includes a short blog entry with each strip. There is also a Twitter feed written by the author. There’s also an attached t-shirt shop, which is the author’s main source of income since he turned professional on the strip.

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