Escapist Webcomic Contest

By Shamus Posted Wednesday Mar 3, 2010

Filed under: Projects 66 comments

A month ago The Escapist launched the webcomic contest, which was an opportunity for someone to score a deal not unlike the one I have with Stolen Pixels. I made a comic that outlined the rules.

The contest is now closed and the contestants are waiting on the judging. The judges have been announced:

  • Senior Editor Susan Arendt, Brand Manager Spinwhiz, Community Manager Kuliani, Affiliate Relations Manager Encaen.
  • Ryan North of Dinosaur comics.
  • Brian Clevinger of 8-Bit Theater
  • Shamus Young of Stolen Pixels

This is the “secret project” I alluded to on Monday. And it really is a project. In total, people submitted three hundred and forty six comics, most of which were four strips each. Applying the power of mathematics to these numbers, we discover that there are 1,384 pages of stuff to review. Over half of the submissions came in the final weekend of the contest.

A few years ago most new webcomics revolved around the Two Gamers on a Couch trope. (The gamers were both dudes in 99% of the cases.) This year it looks like the new trend is “Two Dudes who are Game Designers”. Reading through the list, it’s interesting (and saddening) to see the same comedic mistakes made again and again. So many people, all freely and creatively choosing to tread the same ruinous path as a hundred other entries.

I’m not quite done going through the list. I think I’ve at least glanced at each entry once, but I’d like to give them all a second look. I try to read them in a different order each time, just to give them a fair shake. It’s easy to dismiss one as “crap art” if you were just looking at gorgeous artwork. I don’t want to miss some undiscovered XKCD because of this sort of thing. I’m reminded of the Penny Arcade story where their comic was rejected by an editor. From the perspective of Gabe & Tycho it was simply another trial to endure, another slope on the way to the summit. But for someone trying to pick a winner it can serve as a cautionary tale. Odds are very good that one of the three hundred and forty five non-winning entries will go on to find some sort of success. They’ll probably do it just to spite me. Their merchandising alone will exceed my household income, and their biggest selling item will be their logo with a “Rejected by Shamus Young” stamp over it, a satirical jab at my failure to detect their greatness. I’ll be known as the hack who didn’t realize that “Two Game Designers on a Couch with a Cat” was destined for world-class greatness.

That’s the nightmare I keep having, anyway.

I will say that good writers seem to be rarer than good artists. I’ve witnessed a lot of great art married to unworthy writing, but I can’t think of any instances of brilliant writing with terrible art.

I don’t know when the winners will be announced. I’m trying to get my side of things finished up this week.


From The Archives:

66 thoughts on “Escapist Webcomic Contest

  1. kmc says:

    This is about as far off-topic as it could get, but… you AND Ryan North? *die*

  2. Henebry says:

    Really cool to find that ALL the comics guys on the panel are people whose work I love passionately.

    I’m not at all surprised to see Clevinger on the list, given his work on 8-Bit Theater. But Ryan North was unexpected choice””and a fun one!

  3. Psithief says:

    Great writing and terrible art? DM of the Rings? It’s just speech bubbles on art you didn’t make! :D

  4. Nick Bell says:

    “I will say that good writers seem to be rarer than good artists. I've witnessed a lot of great art married to unworthy writing, but I can't think of any instances of brilliant writing with terrible art. ”

    The path to good art is easy for most people to understand. It requires great practice in creating art. You have to build up skills to create shapes, shades, shadows, etc. Regardless of the chosen medium, practice is required.

    The path to being a good writer is just as obvious, but rarely followed. Most people think being a good writer means being at telling stories and jokes. Others think because they love the subject matter, its all they need to write about it. While great verbal speakers with enthusiasm can become good writers, you still have to practice the art of writing. Too few realize this.

    1. Tizzy says:

      Well, it’s always difficult to assess objectively your own work, but I would imagine it’s an order of magnitude harder to gauge the quality of your own writing than it is to gauge your art.

      1. Meredith says:

        I dunno…I can usually tell I’ve written complete rubbish.

        It definitely takes practice and I can easily tell when I’m out of the habit. No where near enough “internet comedians” realise how difficult consistantly good writing actually is.

      2. Shamus says:

        Very true. I struggle with this all the time. Sometimes I write the Best Joke EVER and it gets a shrug. Sometimes I put up something that feels lazy and half-finished and it gets praised as the Funniest Thing Ever.

        Although, maybe visual artists suffer from this as well?

        1. rbtroj says:

          My take on it (and probably a weak analogy): Writer’s are like voice actors – everyone who can talk thinks they’re a voice actor – everyone who can write thinks they’re a writer.

          It’s much harder to call yourself an illustrator just because you know how to doodle.

        2. Shawn says:

          I’ve learned that my own opinion of any given Clockworks strip has little to no resemblance on the reception it gets from the readers. There have been one or two exceptions, where I really liked something that everyone else really liked; but quite frequently I’ll put out something that I’m unhappy with and everyone loves, or I put out something I love that gets a resounding “meh” from the readers.

          1. Moridin says:

            This reminds me of a certain Irregular Webcomic strip…This one

            Oh no robots is a good thing just for this kind of things.

        3. toadking07 says:

          No, def have had problems like that with videos I made. Something I made for the heck of it is funnier than the one I slaved on. I worry a lot that I might be to “inside” the jokes to know if they are funny. I mean, after I’ve written, rewritten, edited, drawn, filmed, and record my webcomic/video/joke, I’ve seen it so many ways the punchline is not funny at all to me, so I have no idea if anyone else even gets it!

          If that makes any sense…

      3. Mari says:

        I think both come with experience but writing is probably harder to self-evaluate than art. I can sit down to draw something in my mind and once it’s on paper it’s very easy to see that it fell well short of what I was visualizing. When I sit down to write then read back over my work my mind sometimes plays funny tricks that fill in words I inadvertently omitted or lends context to something where the context is missing. That’s why the writing world is rife with editors and proofers while the art world is big on “every viewer is their on interpreter.”

        My best tip for would-be writers? Have people read and critique your work as often as you find willing subjects.

  5. Meredith says:

    It’d be fun to see all the entries, and yet I don’t envy you this job at all. I’m sure you’ll make the best choice for the site and those who aren’t picked will perhaps have been given the push they need to start looking for other opportunities.

  6. nerdpride says:

    XKCD would be easily spotted by a continuous stream of references to sciences and math, especially physics, and applications of those. I don’t see why XKCD-like comics would be entered in, or win, a contest from a videogame site. Unless videogames have become 10x more awesome while I was away.

    1. Shamus says:

      Note that the comic doesn’t HAVE to be about videogames. (Although most of them are.) It just has to be entertaining. And XKCD entertains a LOT of people. (Over an order of magnitude more popular than THIS site. Which is humbling, considering the time that goes into this thing to do ten updates a week vs. his three.)

      1. Also, XKCD wasn’t quite so focused on maths/science at the start – there were a lot more ‘boy in a barrel’ style strips

      2. Mari says:

        The thing that amazes me about XKCD is that it appeals to people outside the math/science nerd herd. I’m by no means a math or science nerd but I adore XKCD. One of every five or six comics is completely over my head but instead of alienating me, I wind up looking it up and reading until I understand the joke.

        1. Adam says:

          I think it’s because XKCD doesn’t revel in the shallow joy of knowing something that most people don’t know, it revels in the pure joy of knowing something interesting. The former induces a gut reaction that turns you against the topic, where the latter inspires you to learn about it.

  7. ChechenRebel says:

    >Reading through the list, it's interesting (and saddening) to see the same comedic mistakes made again and again.

    What mistakes are those?

    1. Shamus says:

      I’ll probably detail them after the winners are announced. I’d like to be able to contrast mistakes against the eventual winner.

      1. MadTinkerer says:

        Feedback is always important, and exceedingly precious and rare when it comes to contests like this. That’s part of what makes American Idol so compelling.

      2. Peter H. Coffin says:

        There’s probably material for a couple of blog entries: Stuff Wot Fails and Stuff Wot Wins at least. And you’ve certainly got a boatload of material to look at to puzzle out the principles from.

      3. Rhykker says:

        Looking forward to this.

      4. toadking07 says:

        As a person who entered, I’d really like to see this. Entered my comic feeling all proud and sure I had the contest, then hearing about other people’s entries and I started to think I had no chance whatsoever. Now I’m somewhere in the middle but just as curious as to what will win and how close the rest of us came.

  8. bbot says:

    Brand Manager, “Spinwhiz”? Half the managers on that list have aliases instead of names. What is this, 2600?

  9. toasty says:

    @bbot, its the internet. Nobody (except Shamus, and some other people. :P) go by their real names.

    What’s even funnier is when people call you your screenname/gammertag in real life because they don’t know/remember your real name. It took me months to realize that Jinkin’s real name was Reza. It was only when he added me on Facebook that I figured it out. XD (No, I dont expect you to know Reza. He is a friend of mine who does not frequent this site).

    Edit: To my knowledge, at least. :p

    1. Kennet says:

      Funny thing: I have ever only heard the name Reza spoken out loud in Dreamfall, so every time I read it in your post it sounds in my mind like Zoà« (one of the main characters from Dreamfall) is saying it, while the rest is in my normal in-my-head-reading voice.

      Also, is it weird that I am taking about a voice in my head?

  10. Zack says:

    Arguably xkcd is the perfect example of great writing and terrible art, but I dunno if that counts because it’s done by the same guy, not a separate talented writer and hack artist as your original criteria suggests.

    Also, when Randall feels like drawing some actual art, it usually comes out really pretty. So it’s not like he [i]can’t[/i] draw.

    I think he could probably do professional art if he sat there with a tablet for hours on end, as is required for that kind of thing. >_>

    1. Awetugiw says:

      I don’t think I agree that XKCD has terrible art. It has very simple art, but that is not quite the same. Yes, Randall Munroe uses stick figures for his comic. But he uses the stick figures very well.

      1. Yeah, I’ve never seen stick figures convey body language that well. (Although one game of Pictionary came really close.)

    2. Andrew says:

      Personally, I like XKCD’s style. But then, I’m the sort of person who skims over visuals, paying them just enough mind to get an idea of what’s going on in the scene, before moving on to to the dialogue. While it’s a terrible way of reading most comics, it works fairly well for XKCD.

    3. El Quia says:

      It was really funny that clicking on that link I only got the word “CANYON” where the comic should be. Sure, a refresh solved it, but it was still very funny in the context of your post :p

  11. King George says:

    No instances of brilliant writing with terrible art? But didn’t you just mention Penny Arcade?

    1. krellen says:

      Ba-Dum *kish*

    2. LintMan says:

      The early PA strips did have pretty lousy art, I think. But Gabe’s art steadily improved over time as is quite good now, IMHO.

      Also, Schlock Mercenary. The first strips especially were pretty bad, but the writing was/is consistently great. Fortunately, Howard Tayler’s art has steadily improved as well (though not nearly by the same amount as Gabe’s).

      1. Matt K says:

        I have to agree the art is fairly top notch. However the writing is kind of going downhill.

        I think the issue is that they now don’t have to worry about the time or money that games take so I soemwhat decent game is okay since they get to play a game. As I see it it’s lead to them not really having the passion of the older days.

        But that’s a discussion for another day (one I’d file under gaming habits) and hey I still read the comic (even just out of habit) and it’s not to say they haven’t had some more recent gems.

        1. Moridin says:

          I think that’s the way many webcomics go…The art starts as pretty bad, but keeps improving. The writing is consistently good in the beginning, but after a few years it gets worse. I don’t read PA(I’m not really a gamer. The only reason I’m reading this site is because I first found out about DMotR.), but the same holds true for Questionable Content and many others, too.

          1. Mari says:

            My hubby feels the same way about QC. My response is, “You obviously haven’t read today’s QC.” It works once or twice a week at least.

          2. Andrew says:

            I think it has to do with something Shamus mentioned a few times when he was writing about anime; all good things have an end, which, although saddening, is part of what makes them good. There’s a number of webcomics that would’ve been greatly improved had the author wrapped up the series at an appropriate time and moved on to other things.

  12. Rutskarn says:

    Ugh. I posted the images successfully, but apparently I was 30 seconds late with the description. So…I’m half in, half out.

    This is my fault, and I acknowledge that I’m probably SOL, but when I asked about it they did say they were getting in touch with their IT guy. Maybe. Possibly.

    1. Stargazer says:

      That explains the art on your excellent blog ;-)

  13. SoldierHawk says:

    Oh wow. I don’t envy you this task, Shamus, but if anyone is up to it, I believe you are. I can’t wait to see what you guys end up choosing!

    Good luck. :D

  14. I had considered submitting a cartoon for the contest, but I feared that coming up with good material week after week would be REALLY stressful and difficult for me.

    I can assure you that my idea for a cartoon would NOT have consisted of two game designer dudes on a couch.

    Bah. Oh well…


    PS Good luck, Shamus. I don’t envy you right now.

  15. Atarlost says:

    Um, great writing with crappy art? lots of newspaper syndicated strip has crappy art. If someone didn’t consider their writing great they’d be replaced. Many papers still carry Peanuts, and it’s not on the strength of the art.

    I don’t know what the excuse for Garfield is.

    1. Atarlost says:

      Gah. The great danger of being able to alter text in the middle of a block is that you will replace a singular phrase with a plural and not notice. My grammar is normally better than that.
      *hangs his head in shame*

    2. Shamus says:

      When I say “crappy art”, understand that I’m not just talking about someone with a bland style, mechanical feel, lack of expression, or same-y characters. I’m talking about “This person has no experience drawing, but they sketched out some incoherent and out-of-proportion figures on blue-lined loose-leaf paper, scanned it, and uploaded the illegible result.

      I’m not talking about Brittany Spears. I’m talking about someone who can’t play or sing, hammering out sour notes with wild abandon.

      It’s a completely different scale.

      1. Cuthalion says:

        That is the most hilarious thing I’ve seen all afternoon.

  16. Gary says:

    hmm… I didn’t submit any of my comics (or my other comic ideas) because I do not write video game comics. That is a shame. Alas, I thought the rules said something about video games, but maybe my subconscious inserted it because it was on the Escapist site….

    1. Rhykker says:


      The following considerations will help you create a valid submission that can be brought to the judging panel:

      Subject – Is the subject matter interesting to readers of The Escapist? The Escapist aims to capture and celebrate the contemporary video gaming lifestyle and the diverse global video game culture, so please plan accordingly.

      They didn’t say it *has* to be a “video game” comic, but comics that encapsulate the listed subject likely have a shoe-in over other types of comics.


  17. Shawn says:

    Man, now that I know you’re on of the judges, I’m happy I didn’t submit. I thought about it, but between time constraints and questions about copyright and ownership, I decided against it. Had I submitted, I think win or lose that would have been a bit awkward.

  18. Ergonomic Cat says:

    Also, and I say this only because I love it, Dinosaur comics is not exactly an example of great art. ;)

    My wife constantly asks me (half in jest at least) “Why do you keep laughing at the same comic over and over again?”

    But I have one of them up on my wall at work, so I can just fill in dialogue as I go. ;)


    1. Shamus says:

      Oh, when I said I couldn’t think of any bad art / good writing, I meant in the contest entries. I’m sure there are plenty of them in the wild, as it were.

  19. H.M says:

    …well, my entry didnt fall in either “Two Guys on a Couch” formula, thats… thats something, I guess XD

  20. Gandaug says:

    Congrats, Shamus. The stress of deciding another’s fate is now yours.

    On a side note I’m surprised and not surprised at the same time about Brian Clevinger. He’s a rather successful webcomic guy. Though in my opinion the quality of his work has suffered greatly over the last year or so. This isn’t the forum for that discussion though.

    Congrats again, Shamus! You deserve the recognition.

  21. MelTorefas says:

    Great art and lousy writing? Send one of those people my way, Shamus! Writing I can do! Art? Not… not so much. But doing a co-op webcomic with a skilled artist is a dream of mine.

  22. Ratpage the Thrice-dead says:

    You say that stellar writers could be rarer than outstanding artists, but could that have anything to do with you being a writer yourself, and thus more apt to find flaws in words and ideas than in images?

  23. Louis says:

    I’m sorry to hear that so many of the comic entries relied on the Two Guys formula. I was going to enter the contest, my idea being one-panel posed-toy comics. For example, one idea I got as far as photographing was to show two Lego Dwarf mini-figures next to a Transformers planet-like complex bristling with weaponry, with the dwarfs saying- “This is going to be the best Dwarf Fortress EVER!” “How do we get inside?” “…maybe we can find some kind of online help file.” I figured being a little different would get me noticed.

    The reason I didn’t bother, though, was my lack of skills. True, my idea sidestepped the need for actual art, but it still would have looked unprofessional if I made the dialogue bubbles in Microsoft Paint with the default text font. Also, I figured I’d need some kind of border or something so that it didn’t just look like a simple photo. I knew I didn’t have the skills to add the polish.

    So, in the end, I decided not to waste the judges’ time. It’s my gift to you, Shamus, for all the great entertainment over the years. ;)

  24. mlkjhgfds says:

    Also, awesome writi… awesome STORYTELLING and crappy art – does anyone here know Hitmen for Destiny ?

    It’s almost impossible to get someone to start reading it, but when they do start they can’t stop. It’s that bad and it’s that good.

  25. Galad says:

    “…their biggest selling item will be their logo with a “Rejected by Shamus Young” stamp over it…”

    I’d like to think that things don’t work this way in the civilized world. I’d like to think that if this nightmare of yours were to come true, then the most attention you’d get in relation to it would be a fleeting mention in an obscure google video like the one you posted with the Penny Arcade creators. Am I naive to think so?

    edit: not to mention that it’s not just you that judges the entries, it’s you and another 6 people, 3 of which are escapist staff.

  26. MelasZepheos says:

    I long ago gave up trying to judge whether my writing was good or not. Whenever I feel like I’ve written something half arsed and very dull which I also utterly hate and would never revisit, my seminar groups always praise it as if all the minds of the finest authors were distilled into one incandescant moment.

    Whenever I write something I feel is worth praise, where I have gone to real effort over dialogue and narrative flow, they either say it’s meh or outright bad.

  27. Deej says:

    A note on judging (in the condescending sense) the entries with terrible writing married to acceptable art, since it applies to me by the sound of it, but also probably to many of the other entrants; so here’s a word on their behalf.

    I had this idea of developing shrewd commentary of games via the use of humorous graphs, diagrams and other unusual graphical representation (in retrospect, a lot like these effin’ hilarious rap graphs). I’ve done a couple already. I have another concept on my hard drive which feels like a Metal Gear moment as perceived through the lens of A Softer World. That’s about as accurate as I can get non-visually. If I’d submitted either of those ideas, I’d probably be feeling pretty smug right now, bursting with righteous originality. And for good reason — I applaud the peeps who went for something that strayed off the beaten trail.

    Sadly, that was not me. I like to think of myself as an artist. I’m not amazing, but I know I want to get better, and I knew doing this that I wanted to bring something a little cartoonish yet a little painterly to the mix. There’s probably a boatload of relevant ideas that would allow me to explore what I wanted to do with the art and yet still deliver some punchy script, but they eluded me in the short time I had between coming across the contest and submitting my entry.

    What I’m trying to say is not “Boohoo, my entry’s actually much better than you may think.” No, not at all. It is what it is. What I’m trying to get across is that sometimes your intentions for your art may not actually gel with your intentions for your writing. If you’re not actually concerned about the art, then this issue becomes moot and you can produce diagrams or stick figures a couple of times a week with no qualms whatsoever. But if you do care about the aesthetics… well, the Penny Arcade format can be pretty powerful.

    This, as you say, is a ruinous path indeed, but one that can be walked intentionally. That said, it is still the result of an inability to creatively solve the problem of how to keep your art and writing in sync with one another. This isn’t designed to excuse the stereotypical approach or defend it — it’s no polemic. I just wanted to point out how truly difficult it can be to build a solid concept around something that writes well within certain constraints (I’m sure many people felt, like me, that it was important to keep gaming in the fray, considering what the winner’s eventual context will be) and something that looks good within those same constraints.

    If something outre or abstract wins, I will be glad, truly. If somebody does a series of game-related Venn diagrams or whatever I will come back every Monday and Thursday religiously to read them. I’ll be happy for them, content in the knowledge that I wanted to be unoriginal. I wanted to draw myself getting hit by a flying blue shell or talking to Gordon Freeman.

    And I get why that wouldn’t win.

    This all sounds a bit like someone who’s realised he isn’t going to win and wants to cover his arse by immediately shouting “Well I didn’t want to win your contest, anyway, ‘cos it’s, like, lame… and stuff.” I assure you this is not the case. It’s an awesome prize, I just feel a bit deflated that I wasn’t the right person to snatch it.

    Anyways, sorry for the rant. Just adding my two cents.

    P.S. Friggin’ love the footer.

  28. Deej says:

    Goddammit. I just came up with The Right Ideaâ„¢. I fail at life.

  29. HelloThere says:

    I’ve entered the contest, and I have a question.
    You mention good writing, and I’ve checked all the judges’ strips, and they all have lots of text. Sometimes maybe unnecessarily too much. I have to admit I’ve never read those strips before. So my question is: does good writing mean lots of text, or is funny, short text enough? Cause my strip didn’t have too much text. And I’m not trying to be evil or anything, I’m just afraid mine will not be good enough because of this.

    And sorry for my english, I’m not a native speaker.

    1. Shamus says:

      Good writing isn’t about how much text there is, but how well it’s used. The text should be reduced to only what you need. If you have a lot of text then you’d better have a lot of story, or a lot of jokes.

      One of my favorites had no text at all.

      1. HelloThere says:

        Thanks for clearing that up!
        Exactly what I was thinking.

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