El Goonish Shive
Sometimes I’m left to wonder if Dan Shive weighs his comic on a scale, because it seems when El Goonish Shive’s artwork is at its best, the storytelling suffers… while he starts taking shortcuts with his art when ramping up his writing talents. Of course, I’ll be the first to admit I hold Shive to a higher standard than I probably should, especially when compared to quite a few other comics I’ve come to enjoy but which haven’t run for nearly as long as EGS. Unfortunately, Shive’s latest crime against artistry is a common flaw among many webcartoonists, even some who’ve been comicking for some time: copy-and-paste artwork.
Undoubtedly some of my older readers are already rolling their eyes at my mentioning this, as I’ve long had issues with the abuse of copy-and-paste art. I’ve long felt it robs the cartoonist with the chance at improving their artwork (for as the saying goes, practice makes perfect), and in turn robs the readers. And yes, I know that cartoonists are often hard-pressed for time, and draw comics as a hobby after work or school. Nor is all copy-and-paste bad; it’s quite possible to manipulate a drawing so that the copy-and-paste is hidden or transformed into something else.
Sadly, Shive ignored these alternatives and went for a cheap repeat of two panels. There were no shifting camera angles. There were no closeups. There were no background differences. In fact, Shive actually copied one panel and only altered a facial angle and added Elliot in two panels. And the irony is, the differences between panels 4 and 5 show how to disguise copy-and-paste art! The shift in Susan’s head and the addition of Elliot helped disguise the fact they’re both the same panel. It’s pure and utter laziness, with a scene that could have been far more powerful artistically if Shive had just taken the time to draw Susan from a different angle.
It diminishes from a potent bit of character development that I don’t recall being expanded upon before: Susan’s feeling of isolation after Sarah started dating Elliot (way way back when EGS was known for decent storytelling and mediocre artwork with oversized heads). This is something many of us can identify with: being abandoned by friends who suddenly have someone else to be with who sets their hormones percolating. And it’s not even a retcon. It makes sense and helps to deepen Susan’s character a bit further. I mean, we already knew she had issues with her father… but now we can see how she could feel anger at this guy whose only real crime was agreeing to date her best friend.
The irony of the situation is even more interesting when you consider Shive has actually been laying the groundwork for Elliot and Sarah’s eventual breakup… and Susan’s own growing attraction to him. For all that I’ve complained in the past about Shive’s bizarre fixation on turning EGS into the Hogwarts Comic of Magic and Witchcraft, he has slowly started the pendulum swing back toward better storytelling. Unfortunately, this is a moment when some of those fancy camera angles he’s used in the past could have helped deepen the emotion of the scene, rather than stall it out with the entropic weight of copy-and-paste artwork.
Ultimately, this is about what would make El Goonish Shive into a better comic. I applaud his continued effort to improve his storytelling (assuming this is not just a cyclical shift between art and story), but this is only half of the job. The best comics utilize art itself to tell the story. You can see elements of this with Susan’s body language and the weight of her solitude weighing her down. Sadly, shortcuts such as copy-and-paste art cheapens his storytelling efforts and diminish the quality of the comic as a whole. If he avoids (or at the very least does a better job of disguising) these elements, then EGS may surpass its heyday so many years past. Yes, I know it’s an odd idea to think of me praising EGS eventually, but he may yet pull it off.