Monday, July 10, 2006

Just like last week there was a comic with a Penny-Arcade art-style and a Ctrl-Alt-Del humor, this week there’s a comic with a CAD art-style and a humor that can’t be enjoyed by anyone.

"The Lotro Files," by JJ Maitland, is a comic that sets out to satire the gaming community around the Lord of the Rings Online game, as well as the game itself. One thing I was interested in seeing was how much humor they could pull from the franchise… they call themselves “The LOTRO Files,” and have thusly dedicated themselves solely to Lord of the Rings. Because of their name, they can’t have access to the otherwise wealth of information that non-specific gaming comics have. If they make a joke about another game besides LOTRO, they’re no longer the “The LOTRO Files”… they’re “The LOTRO Files… and some other comics that don’t have anything to do with LOTRO.”

Every time one of the LOTR movies came out, the webcomic community would be flooded with Golum/Precious/”the One Ring” jokes… and that’d be it. Since that was all a casual observer would be interested in and understand, I wanted to see what kind of LOTR-specific jokes TLF could pull off, since their intended audience would most certainly more fanatic about the series.

Before I start off, let me point out that one of the worst things a comic can do starting out is to draw a woman, poorly, and then draw attention to it. This comic has that woman as the banner atop every page. Yes, that’s a woman. Supposedly. When I first saw it I thought it was a Rob Liefeld MS Paint rendition of some sort of LOTR troll, or orc, or whatever the hell it is.

It’s hard to sell “sexy” when you can’t draw.

Anyway, onto the comics. Since there were only eight in the archive, it was a rather short read and easy enough to include them all in the critique.

1: “And So It Begins”
With an ending line like, “Oh crap, here we go again,” it’s actually a fair way to start a comic. And even though the first comic has a “the One Ring” punchline, it could either be a ploy to pull in readers with a familiar joke, or an unintentional foreshadowing of the quality of jokes to come.

2: “Patience My Pet”
Who is Patience? Why would kidnapping it be a threat? Or more than that, why is the line funny? The “Kidnap Patience” threat in the middle is entirely nonsensical until you get to Comic 7, and even then it doesn’t make much sense.

After that, the comic ends in another “precious joke.” Is it because the author is trying to break readers into the LOTR franchise with another (well, the same) familiar joke? Well, since the “Patience” reference isn’t explained until Comic 7 (unintentionally, no less), probably not.

3: “The Hunter”
Of all the comics that make no sense… this is another one of them. There are three panels and I cannot grasp what the joke is. The first panel really tries to push the idea that the character needs to be quiet, with words like “silently,” “stalking,” and the phrase “not making a single sound.” The second panel is a glowing-green arrow flying away. The third panel is the character remarking on that the arrow is glowing green and how he is going to stay calm about it. What the fuck.

I don’t get it. The joke he’s setting up would be that the second panel would be something to ruin the silence the character is trying to maintain, followed by a remark of dismay as the third panel. Normally, I’d applaud Maitland on not being predictable, but I’d like to think that for every red-herring setup there’s some line of logic behind it. It’s more like he lost track of what the joke was along the way and just wrote about what he was doing.

4: “The Regiment Calls”
Another golum/precious reference. That is all.

5: “The Voice of… Reason?!”
Aside from the main character redrawn in a robe (with his hands still in his fucking pockets… in a robe), the entire comic consists of paragraphs of “dialogue,” and may as well have been a forum post and not adapted to a comic. The comic attempts to justify itself with a humorous turn of events in which the main character speaking these paragraphs of text is beaten to a pulp by those he was just insulting. But, when the “pulp” looks like a pile of red Play-Doh protruding with pipe-cleaners like some half-assed third grader “free-time” project, it’s hard to find the end result congruous with the main character the pulp was supposedly “beaten from.”

6: “Please Do Not Feed the Trolls”
LOTRO players travel into a dark cave, where the lights go out and they’re violently murdered because the lights are out. Now, are the lights out because it’s a reference to a quest in the game, or are they off while the characters are attacked because the artist knows he can’t draw the attack sequence?

What’s even more frustrating about this comic is the first and last panel. What does either a Donut or Earl, from “My Name is Earl,” have to do with anything? Are they thrown in because they each have something to do with the game? Or is it because the author was eating a donut and had just caught a rather engaging episode of “My Name is Earl” and did a darling little tribute because of it?

To his credit, though, he did draw this red… orange… armor-wearing monster-thing. I actually can’t make heads or tails of what it is but I do know there’s a mouth in the middle.

7: “That’s Not Patience”
Another mysterious “Patience” comic. From what I can deduce, “Patience” is the goldfish in the last panel, and received its name from the phrase “Patience, my pet, ” which was the title of comic 2. In itself, it’s actually a somewhat-clever pet’s name. However, the characters make jokes saying they’re going to “do” things to Patience, like “kidnap” or “tickle” it. Are these phrases on their own? Are they puns? Can you tickle or kidnap other virtues, like “honesty” or “creativity”? Does that make sense to anyone?

Since I can’t figure out why this joke keeps popping up, I can only gather that it’s an inside joke amongst the author and his friends, and that perhaps Patience is a real pet of theirs. But the strip makes no effort to present the joke in a way that the average reader (even if they’re the central LOTR community they’re shooting for) could somewhat understand and possibly find funny, instead leaving the audience stranded and confused.

8: "Races of ME Part1: the Dwarves"
There’s really not a lot of humor in this comic. The bulleted jokes don't have that much "punch" to them, especially since they aren't very well represented. A "stupidly" large axe looks rather, well, stupidly small. The "beer gut" looks more like the rotated half of an end-parenthesis.

Even though it's supposed to be the main character as a Dwarf, It would’ve been nice if the creator drew the main character as a Dwarf entirely from scratch, instead of “dressing up” the character's template in an attempt to achieve the same effect. Doing so would've certainly taken more time, but it really would have brought out the characteristics the bulleted points remark upon. However, since his artistic abilities haven’t exactly been the most remarkable, it's not especially surprising.


Of course, it’s clear that “the LOTRO files,” as a comic, was made as a lark. Being that it’s hosted on a “LOTR Roleplayers” website, there’s a very good chance it was created by one of their forum-goers, and upon completion was hosted by the server. Since I found this comic three months ago, and it hasn’t updated since then, there’s three possible explanations:

1) The “webcomic fever” ran its course after the 8th comic.

2) His ideas overshot his ability to draw. Since his style is directly copied from CAD, and because all the characters were dressed-up from a single template, he’s probably lucky he was able to draw anything at all. Hell, the “orc-woman” at the top’s face was probably copied from stock art, which would explain why her breasts, by comparison to her visage, were so lackluster.

3) Maitland ran out of material, realizing there’s not much more to be said about Lord of the Rings Online.


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