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Arts on the Web

Cartoons: Fun and Sprite-ly

By Fred Choi

8-bit Theater <>

A recent trend in online cartooning has been the appearance of comics which use images of characters from well-known video games (known as “sprites”), and whose humor assumes that the reader is familiar with the characters’ personalities and the storylines of the games. Sprite comics are an entirely new art form, created directly for the venue of online comics. Time will only tell how the genre will evolve.

Although it might have been easy to decry earlier comics for their heavy reliance on existing artwork, to the degree that they oftentimes consisted solely of dialogue between several stationary sprites, newer versions incorporate original artwork along with the video game artwork to produce a unique and entertaining brand of cartooning. (See <> for an overview of the history of sprite comics and compelling arguments about the validity of Sprite comics, by Brian Clevinger).

Some sprite strips, like “Oldskooled” (<>), feature a host of characters from different 8-bit Nintendo games, but in general the strips which concentrate on a single game are more coherent and cohesive.

One of the earliest and best sprite comics on the web is 8-bit Theater (<>), based on the Nintendo game Final Fantasy I, a game so popular that it’s spawned a movie and numerous sequels on different platforms.

8-bit Theater, by Brian Clevinger, is now in its 79th biweekly episode, since its February 2001 inception. Like other sprite comics, 8-bit Theater gets many of its laughs from the quirks of the Final Fantasy games.

Like other sprite comics, 8-bit theater’s humor often relies on the stereotypes of the characters. The Fighter is characterized as a jock, strong but a complete idiot, whose favorite phrase is, “I like swords.” The Thief is a kleptomaniac who will steal anything not bolted to the ground. The Black Mage loves destruction, and the Red Mage is a nerd who has memorized the stats for all the weapons in the game. These stereotypes have the potential to limit the scope of the comic, but thus far Clevinger has, for the most part, avoided getting stuck on overly repetitive jokes based on his characters’ traits by having his comic follow the general framework of the actual game and utilizing situational comedy.

Instead of relying simply on nostalgia, which is certainly a factor which draws people in, Clevinger skillfully offers amusing and oftentimes quite clever reinterpretations of the games.

In the fourth episode, the Thief, attacking the Black Mage, threatens him with, “Your GP or your HP!”

In episodes 28 and 29, the sexy White Mage, after having smashed the Black Mage with her giant hammer multiple times for trying to hit on her, stares down at his broken body as he gasps, “Ribs ... broken. Organs ... bleeding. Spleen ... still unaccounted for. (wheeze).” She sighs and mumbles, “Lousy White Mage’s Oath,” before finally grudgingly casting “Cure.”

As well, the comic feels more ambitious than most other sprite comics because its comics are full-page rather than only four or five panels, and attractively put together, with extensive backgrounds to fill the sprites’ world. There are times when the situations and dialogue seem far too familiar and the violence seems gratuitous, but at its best 8-bit theater is definitely a sprite comic worth bookmarking.

Like 8-bit Theater? Visit < links.html> for an extensive list of online sprite comics.

This column is dedicated to highlighting the best arts on the web. If you would like me to check out a site that you think deserves attention, e-mail me at <>.