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BOOK REVIEW

Sluggy Freelance

There’s more than porn on the ’net

By Dan McGuire
CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

160 pages

Black and white

$12.95

Available from Plan 9 Publishing, http://www.plan9.org/

The founders of the Internet would probably be dismayed that their creation, originally intended to advance the human race by making scientific collaboration instantaneous, was being used to shuttle comic strips back and forth. But then again, it’s also being used to shuttle pornography to digerati shut-ins around the world, so maybe it just makes sense to embrace the lesser of two evils.

A good place to start is by picking up a copy of Pete Abram’s Sluggy Freelance: Is it Not Nifty, a 160 page compilation of strips covering the first eight months of the hugely popular Internet comic strip, Sluggy Freelance.

The strip follows the tangled adventures of Riff, a self-described freelance bum and inventor, and Torg, a web site designer trying to scatch out a living. They’re ably aided, and occasionally hindered, in their adventures by a mini-lop rabbit named Bun-Bun who plays the strip’s Standard Cute Critter by way of Hannibal Lector.

A few additional characters, such as their neighbor ZoË, who plays the strip’s straight woman, and Dr. Lorna, a parody of Dr. Laura, the noted acerbic talk show psychologist, are introduced as the strip progress.

The fact that Abrams prints his strips on the Internet gives him a certain degree of freedom that his newspaper colleagues don’t have. He occasionally drifts into tame jokes about alcohol and sex -- things that tend not to pop up in Peanuts.

In addition, Sluggy Freelance seems to be targeted to the typical Internet user and has a tilt that the standard syndicated comic strips don’t. It assumes at least a cursory knowledge of Star Trek, the X-Files, and Aliens. And, like all Internet humor, it makes a few jokes about Bill Gates and Microsoft Windows.

It’s worth noting that everything in the book, except for a short series of strips entitled “A Day in the Park,” is available online at Sluggy Freelance’s web site, http://www.sluggy.com. Some of the on-line strips are also in color, which the book renders in greyscale with varying levels of success.

Nevertheless, Sluggy Freelance sits comfortably in the top tier of comic strips out there today, and Is it Not Nifty deserves to be on every MIT student’s shelf.

So go pick up a copy. The pornographers, who’ll get some additional bandwith, will thank you.