written and drawn by Tatsuya Ishida
What's It About?Sinfest is a daily online comic strip. Originally intended for newspaper publication author Tatsuya Ishida was unable to find a paper willing to publish his product so he turned to the internet. Reading Sinfest it isn't difficult to see why it wasn't taken up and why that's a damn shame.
In some ways the world of Sinfest is a pretty normal place. The two main characters, Slick and Nique, have their on-off friendship/flirtation, they have their friends, both have their romantic troubles (mainly self-inflicted) and their dreams of fame and fortune. On the other hand it’s a damn surreal place: the Devil runs a stall (“Anything you want! Price: Your Soul”) complete with succubus booth-babes and his own personal fanboy, the characters regularly converse with God Himself and Slick's best friend Squigley is a pig on drugs. Sinfest is by turns a touching, surreal, political and thought provoking four panels once a day, every day.
What's Good About It?Though the format of the series is that of a simple newspaper comic strip Sinfest is surprisingly complex. Ishida makes regular use of politics, social satire, comparative religion and philosophy in the strip, not just as explicit punchlines but through implication and subtext. The Devil character in particular is used as a vehicle for social commentary with his various temptation-based business enterprises.
Sinfest actually operates with several casts of characters rather than just the one. The largest cast, headed by Slick and Nique, features in the majority of strips but Ishida likes to shift his focus. Many of his more satirical strips in recent years have eschewed the principal cast entirely in favour of a rock star Barack Obama and American wartime propaganda figure Uncle Sam, whose marriage to Lady Liberty is on the rocks. Lighter storylines tend to feature a cat and dog called Percy and Pooch, base upon Ishida's own pets.
In just about any other format this approach might come across as confusing and fractured but in the brevity of the four panel strip it works because the focus of the writing is to tell the joke rather than advance a complex ongoing plot. This means that the shifts in emphasis don't interrupt ongoing threads or get in the way of building narrative tensions, instead it simply adds variety to the reading experience. The same can be said for certain returning strip concepts such as the abstract Calligraphy strips or Slick's regular attempts to get himself elected to public office.
Also because of the compartmentalised nature of the strip you can begin reading at pretty much any time so don't worry about having to find a convenient jumping-on point. Once you've got a handle on the characters, though, a trip through the thousands of strips in the archives is well worth a go.
What's Bad About It?Some of the content in the strip could be considered religiously offensive. The series regularly makes use of revered figures such as Jesus Christ, Buddha and the monotheistic God. Whether or not the mere inclusion of these figures offends you is, of course, a personal matter but at least be assured that where the relevant religion contains rules about what can and cannot be portrayed Ishida follows those rules diligently. For instance, when the monotheistic God appears he is either a disembodied voice or a pair of hands (sometimes with hand puppets) peaking out from a cloud, His face is never shown in accordance with Biblical scripture.
Also on the subject of offensive content there are numerous references to recreational drug use and pornography in the strip. Despite the childish stature of some of the characters and the cartoonish art style this is definitely not a series for kids.
What's the Art Like?Normally this section would have some nice, eye-catching scans but because Sinfest is a free-to-view webcomic etiquette means we instead include links to relevant examples. Unlike most webcomics Sinfest never makes use of guest artists, the series is pure Ishida from start to finish.
From Monday to Saturday the strip is presented newspaper style in four black and white panels. Ishida draws in a flowing manga style that is most reminiscent, of all things, of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts comic strip. Most days the strip operates as your typical four-panel gag strip (in form if not in content, as we've discussed) but Ishida does like to play with the format. Every now and again you'll get one of these fellas with four characters articulating one thought, usually with some meaning for each of their storylines at the time. Also previously mentioned are the strips that break up the main storyline featuring the adventures of Ishida's pets.
Also, if you've ever wanted to learn a little written Japanese there are the Calligraphy strips.
In common with American newspaper strips the Sunday instalment is page-length and presented in full-colour, the extra space usually being used to tell a more complex joke that is sometimes part of the story running in the week and sometimes separate depending on the author's mood.
Other InformationSinfest posts new strips daily at http://www.sinfest.com/ with the complete strip archive reaching back to January 2000 free to view. There is a blog section to the website below the strip but updates are extremely irregular. Three print collections have been published, the details of which can be found on a conveniently displayed sidebar on the front page of the site, I haven't provided Amazon links because at time of writing Ishida is switching to a new and larger publisher, Dark Horse Comics, so the new editions will be of significantly higher quality.