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Explodingdog.com Sees Differently

By Fred Choi

staff writer

Sam Brown’s Cartoons

<http://www.explodingdog.com>

This column is dedicated to highlighting the best of the Web. If you want me to check out a truly unique, funny, or interesting site that deserves attention, e-mail me at <webstuff@the-tech.mit.edu>.

The premise behind explodingdog.com is simple: visitors submit titles and the site’s creator, Sam Brown, draws a cartoon based on it. This simple explanation of the site’s method doesn’t even begin to explain how addictive or powerful these drawings are. Simply browsing randomly through just a few of these cartoons quickly shows that, despite the modest trappings, Brown’s work continues to entertain and move even after a thousand pictures. He eloquently combines his attractive visual style, sense of fun, and sometimes sick humor with raw emotion. In a world where so much art is overrated and only a few marketable people like Takashi Murakami get concentrated attention, it is refreshing to stumble across Brown’s immense body of modest yet high-quality work.

Because of its style, the visuals on explodingdog.com immediately set themselves up for being underrated. In reality the visual style is purposeful and essential to the impact of the pictures. Brown’s use of childishly scrawled stick figures (called “leetle monsters” by some at MIT), along with recurring cartoonish figures (such as the orange goldfish, the green monster, the red robot, and the fat baby) adds a layer of innocence which is beautifully employed to offset the very adult emotions of the pictures. For example, in “something is understood” (July 15, ’01), the wide forehead and black-framed glasses contribute to the strong, concentrated gaze of the stick-boy reading his heavy book. In “i trust you but i am not sure why” (June 12, ’01) a stick-boy rests uncomfortably in the embrace of an eerily unemotional and silent red robot with large yellow eyes. In “i think my computer is controlling me” (June 12, ’01) Brown beautifully captures the defeat of the technology-ensnared in a cartoon that fancifully shows a hypnotized stick figure feeding cake to a computer whose screen reads, “MORE CAKE.”

Even in his earliest cartoons Brown shows his skill, as in “random people get me down” (January 13, ’00), in which a group of red stick figures fly joyfully past a sun, while a firmly Earth-bound black stick figure holds his head as the sun’s rays pierces his body from behind. These themes of loneliness, fruitless searching, and man’s enslavement to technology all relate to life in our contemporary world. On explodingdog.com, Brown captures true postmodernist themes in a surprisingly effective and natural way. Clearly it is easy to read too much intention into these cartoons, but either way you interpret them, these cartoons are entertaining and enjoyable.

Along with the more emotion-laden cartoons, Brown’s site also includes hilarious pictures that are off-the-wall. For example, “seeing differently” (July 15, ’01) depicts a stick-boy wearing 3D glasses with the caption, “i got stupid vision!” Also, the surreal “Watch out! You might get what you’re after” (June 20, ’01) shows a stick-boy standing in water attempting to eat the goldfish in his hands.

In a World Wide Web full of a lot of mediocre and bad art, explodingdog.com is truly a refuge. Kudos to Sam Brown for a site that helps us all to “see differently.”