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PostPosted: January 29th, 2014 06:48:13 am 
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I just re-read my archive, because I haven't done that in a while.

It's still pretty good! Pre-Tall-Comics, my old work always used to get embarrassing after a year or two. This stuff still holds up.

It's changed a lot more than I thought though. The old ones are really annoyingly wordy. Even though most of the panels have decent jokes in them, I feel like they'd really have benefited from me either editing a little more mercilessly, or spreading out some of the really big speech balloons into multiple panels.

I feel like the laugh-lines get a lot more time to breathe in my newer strips.

I really went nuts with the metafiction back then too, I mean, pretty much every episode was about a webcomic or a Gary P. Rastov book or something. I'm not really a fan anymore of the "Unwinder tells whatever character I felt like drawing about something over the course of three panels, and then the rest of the comic is the thing Unwinder was telling them about" format.

Really, my biggest problem, I think, was that I kept on inserting book quotes and meta-comics and stuff right into the middle of the strips at times that made them kind of a drag to read. Doing three panels, and then two paragraphs of Gary P. Rastov, to be continued after another three panels was kind of a lousy way of doing things, and I can see how it turned off a lot of potential readers back then.

I mean, Tall Comics should have book quotes and meta comics, and stuff like that, but it shouldn't be a chore to keep track of the main story.

I recall thinking, back when I made those strips, that the density of the old comics provided bonus value for readers, and that casual readers could easily just skip over the walls of text, or read them after reading the rest of the comic. This was kind of a dumb line of reasoning, as even my own instinct, knowing that I had intended them to be read this way, was still to just plow through them from top to bottom.

A way better use of huge blocks of text was in the Borges strips, where there was a lot of stuff going on, but each block of content was its own thing, and could easily be digested individually.

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PostPosted: January 29th, 2014 07:11:57 am 
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The art in the old strips was really ugly.

There was frequently good art, even in some of the really early ones. there are some good expressions, and some reasonably beautiful backgrounds in just the very second strip.

The shading was really ugly most of the time, though. Usually way too dark and smeary and gray. Prior to my move to setting the pencil work layer to "overlay" in photoshop, there was way too much mess on the page. I like some mess on the page, because I don't want my art to look too slick (like there's ever going to be any risk of that), but a lot of the old ones just have tons of indecisive, scribbly, extraneous lines that are kind of hard to look at. Here's a recent, good example of a page that's a bit smudgy and raw: http://tallcomics.com/?id=126. Here's an old, bad example: http://tallcomics.com/?id=23. The shading just makes the characters look gray, and it's way too scribbly. I recall a friend telling me once to "go easy on the pencil shading on the little girl," because it made it look like she had facial hair. I'm glad I started going easier on the pencil shading in general.

There are also a few relatively recent strips that err in the opposite direction, with the pencils being way too light. I think this mostly just resulted from a badly-calibrated monitor. I still have the photoshop files for those strips on my old hard drive. I might dig them up and darken up the lines a little, because they drive my crazy.

It also looked pretty bad when I'd draw a blurred background in on the computer instead of drawing it onto the page. That sped things up a lot, of course, but it was really ugly. Also, it was bad of me to ever copy and paste backgrounds. I'm sure it could be done well, but I did not do it well.

Early on, the comics were a lot more likely to feature weird stuff going on in the backgrounds (Hitmen for Destiny cameos! Sonty Mick popping up all over the place!). It would not be a bad thing for me to recapture some of that.

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PostPosted: January 29th, 2014 07:27:17 am 
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:unwinder1:
Early Unwinder art went through a lot of interesting phases. He used to sometimes have kind of a snout, which has completely gone away. He also used to sort of have dents in the side of his head, which looked stupid and weird. A lot of the old art gives him much bigger eyes, which always looked bad. There are a lot of points in the archive where I subtly tried new things with the character design. I felt a bit insecure about Unwinder's character design back then. I felt like it was too simple, and his features floated around on his face too much, and I guess I thought I might draw him with more consistent features if I had more features to structure his face around. Which was silly. The one thing that has stuck, is that he consistently has a much stronger jaw than he did early on. In early strips, I'd often have his neck just kind of taper into his lower lip, which tapered into his upper jaw, which, looking back, I really don't like. I go through phases of showing his teeth more and less often, but I think that's more a whim thing than a conscious decision. Over the years, Unwinder's proportions have changed a bit (though they're never THAT consistent), and his head is a little smaller in comparison with his body. Really, it looks like he's aged two or three years, which is completely unintentional, but kind of OK.

Unwinder's early writing was the main non-metafiction source of wordiness in the very old strips, to the extent that he barely ever let anyone else talk. I was trying a bit too hard to write him cleverly, and I was really reluctant to cut anything that I thought might get a laugh. I had a pretty explicit "more-is-more" philosophy back then, as I mentioned above.

I've had this perception for the last couple of years that early Unwinder was really mean, and he's mellowed out, and gained more appreciation for his friends over the years. I was actually kind of surprised on this readthrough to see that that isn't the case, at least not nearly as much as I thought it was. Unwinder used to prank Barbecue Sauce, and make fun of his tastes a lot more, but I feel like it rarely strayed outside of what's normal within a friendship.

The main way Unwinder has developed, I think, is that he actually listens to the other characters instead of limiting them to reacting to whatever he says. Which is really good. He still regularly insults his friends (Did you actually look at these before you bought them, or does the lottery work you into such a blind froth that you can only paw desperately at the scratchoff display mat, and make gargling noises at the nearest convenience store clerk?), but he lets them get a word in edgewise, which is the only way that the supporting cast has been able to develop.

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PostPosted: January 29th, 2014 08:04:01 am 
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:mildred:

Mildred's hairstyle has changed, of course. Over the course of the strip, she has gradually dressed less like a cartoon little girl, and more like an actual little girl, which is a reasonable shift, especially since, like Unwinder, it seems like I've inadvertently aged her up about two years. I might even drop the bow, because bows like that really only exist to differentiate female Pac-Men and Micky Mouses from their male counterparts when there are no secondary sexual characteristics to go on.

Mildred's head used to be a bit wider, and her eyes closer together and more oval-shaped than they are now, and I feel like the character's design evolution has been effective.

Mildred feels like she's been almost completely overhauled since the early strips, where she was almost as precocious as Unwinder. Look at this comic as an example: http://tallcomics.com/?id=24

Very early Mildred was more-or-less interchangeable with Barbecue Sauce. She was just there for Unwinder to have a different face to talk over. I think it was around the PG-13 strip where she was first established as the "actual kid." She wavers between that characterization, and a more adult one, until the strip where she goes to the dollar store, where any chance of her ever using words like "implications" ever again is buried.

I want to use Mildred more than I have been. I think of her as a more important character to the ensemble than, say, Dr. Minivan, who tends to get more screen time. Look at this thing that I'm doing! I'm going through and talking about all of the cast members, and I felt like she should be discussed second!

:bbq:

One of the things I tend to do with my character designs is, instead of thinking them through as occupying three-dimensional space, I think of them as a collection of symbols that you identify the characters by (this is why I used to try to put more things on Unwinder's face). It's a very childish way of designing characters. Think about a kid designing different characters. Often, they'll differentiate them by, say, giving one of them a triangle for a head. Which is basically what I've done here. Barbecue Sauce is more dependent on this design philosophy than any other character, and one of the many problems with that is that he tends to get really distorted and exaggerated when I draw him a lot. I've caught myself tons of times making his eyes smaller, and his head pointier, and his whole body generally fatter.

It's worth noting that whenever somebody does a guest comic, they always change Barbecue Sauce's character design the most. I don't know if that means they don't like it, or if it means that they just don't really know how to approach it.

Like Unwinder and Mildred, in general, I feel like Barbecue Sauce has been aged up just a bit, but less noticeably so than the others, because I've drawn him inconsistently enough that some of the older pictures of him look older, and some look younger. In his earliest appearance, Barbecue Sauce didn't have Ninja Turtle hands, but that's such an early change that I think it barely counts as development.

Early on, someone from a forum expressed distaste for Barbecue Sauce's character design, because he's always baring his teeth, and that makes him look angry. I addressed that with that silly comic about him burning his lips off, which was one of my worse comics, because Barbecue Sauce feels really out of character in that one (he is implied to have kissed a girl on a dare!).

Barbecue Sauce has mostly evolved to be a more effective foil for Unwinder, and aside from the strip I just mentioned, I feel like he's followed a pretty linear progression, without a lot of dead ends. Early on, he was about as much of a "real kid" as early Mildred but they've evolved in different directions. His temper doesn't come up too often anymore, but I feel like it's still there. Barbecue Sauce is just a sweet, loyal, introverted, geeky friend who puts up with a lot, and gives Unwinder a lot of material to work with. I'd like to use him more with other characters, so he can kind of develop into more than a sidekick.

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PostPosted: January 29th, 2014 09:26:36 am 
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:horseman:

Horse-Man has a similarly troublesome design to Barbecue Sauce, and in early strips he goes off-model a lot (Here's the craziest example! http://tallcomics.com/?id=11). He doesn't get used very often, and as a result, his design hasn't evolved much. His wardrobe has changed, with the oldest comics portraying him in tank-tops and white tee shirts, then some comics where he's wearing a suit for some reason, and then now he's usually reasonably casual, but not slob-ish.

Part of that is that I kind of retconned him as a Latino at some (fairly early) point. I admit, this was really for no reason other than crass tokenism, and because I felt like his character design made that plausible. This influenced the way that he subsequently dressed, because I thought, "huh, I probably shouldn't portray my only minority character as a complete slob." I feel like there is some kind of unfortunate stuff going on there, but all I can really do is roll with it at this point.

I think early Horse-Man seemed a bit more irritable than present-day Horse-Man. Or maybe he's still that irritable, and I just don't notice it as much. I don't know. He's not the most interesting character in the strip, but he's got some good stuff going on that I can work with, in that he seems to have some issues with his dad, and he's divorced and dating, which opens up material that none of the other adult characters are probably going to touch. I feel like he's got a pretty clear life outside of Unwinder. Which is probably healthy.

I still don't know what he does for a living.

:minivan:

In terms of design, Dr. Minivan has changed a lot superficially, in terms of hair of course, and facial hair. I do like how even though he's a short chubby guy, his body has always been totally different from Barbecue Sauce's. I feel like that's a good thing that my character design work has going for it. Older strips did more stuff with his eyes than newer ones, and I think that it was smart to move away from that. Really, he's got pretty much the same eyes and mouth as Unwinder, which is kind of interesting, considering how different the character is.

His character design has never really been as good since his hair problems started. I've intended to give him back his original receding hairline for a long time now, and I should probably just do it.

Dr. Minivan was kind of a breakout character after that one where he lost his hair, and I feel like I might have overused him for a while (there was a time when I thought of him as almost co-protagonist). He's drifted from his original "scientist" concept, and probably too many of his strips are about his dumb hair storyline, but he's gotten to be one of the more versatile characters (you can pair him with pretty much anybody), and he's very easy to write for. He also probably has mental health issues, and is probably asexual, which probably gets me some kind of cred with somebody. I'm a little bit worried about keeping his future trajectory light and fun. Recent strips have maybe focused too much on his becoming a burden on the people around him.

Having an actual storyline running with him (the hair thing) has somehow made it feel like less time has passed for him. Ever since about two Dr. Minivan strips after he lost his hair, I've thought of his hair loss as having occurred at a floating "about halfway through the archive," which has become really inaccurate.

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2014 00:14:36 am 
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great analysis, fun to read. i'm posting this to say this and also to remind myself to continue reading from barbecue sauce next time i remember to look here


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PostPosted: January 31st, 2014 01:38:00 am 
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:howard:

Howard hasn't changed too much visually from his early appearances in Unwinder's Tall Comics. In some of the old ones, he was colored a bit darker, but seeing as he rarely shows any emotion, I haven't experimented much with his expressions. I do make a conscious effort, whenever I draw him, to make his expression as blank as possible.

Howard was carried over from my old "The Patio" comics, which can kind of retroactively be viewed as a pilot for Unwinder's Tall Comics. Horse-Man (the protagonist), Unwinder, Mildred, and Painburger all originated here as well. In The Patio, Howard's shtick was that he apparently believed himself to be every celebrity in existence. In most of his appearances, he'd just describe an actors accomplishments in the first person, while staring blankly into space and not really reacting to anyone around him.

I decided to drop that shtick when I launched Tall Comics, because it was already pretty played out, but I wanted to keep Howard around, because I liked the dynamic that his low-intensity surrealism brought to the ensemble when I played him against chatty Unwinder, and grumpy Horse-Man. I replaced his weird identity problems with reality-warping properties, which eventually evolved into superpowers.

The more interesting Howard progression, I think, is that he was initially portrayed as extremely passive. Really, the funniest thing about the possibility of Howard getting, say, a tacky tattoo was that there was no in-character way to imagine Howard actually going to a tattoo parlor and selecting a tattoo. Since then, Howard has developed into a low-key trickster god (Ha! "Low-Key" = "Loki"), sometimes aiding other characters without any clear motivation, and sometimes deliberately making trouble without any clear motivation.

:lionman:

Lion-Man started out as a deliberately generic stoner character, and there's really not much to say about him. He certainly hasn't revealed any hidden depths, and there's really nothing to him but a stereotype. The only thing that's really been added to his personality is that sometimes he seems to be deliberately sabotaging himself. His job storyline, though, has given me one of my most reliable formulas for when I don't know what to write about. I'm starting to think that I've gone to that well too many times, though, and I'm planning on shaking up his storyline a bit, and maybe bringing him into contact with the rest of the cast more often.

:spondulio:

Spondulio is so narrowly high-concept that bringing him back so many times is the most unambiguous mistake that I've made in Tall Comics, I think. The diminishing returns that his four appearances brought are really apparent.

I had this idea, when I introduced Spondulio, that Unwinder would regularly be meeting high-concept one-off characters like this, and it was going to be kind of another formula I'd use when I wasn't feeling the metafiction thing. Maybe I should have gone with it more. The only other time you really see it, aside from maybe one or two borderline cases, is in this strip: http://tallcomics.com/?id=124, and it's a pretty effective formula.

Unfortunately, I learned the wrong lesson when people liked the Spondulio strip, and instead of widening the universe with more and more oddball characters, I brought him back again and again with less and less inspired schemes.

If I ever want to use this character again (And I kind of do, because I don't like throwing anything away), I think he's going to have to be retooled almost as extensively as pre-Tall-Comics Howard. I'd keep the wealth, and the completely matter-of-fact oppenness about his greedy motivations, and probably even his propensity for crazy schemes, but his coincidentally performing charitable acts is played out.

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2014 02:42:22 am 
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Felicity

Felicity was introduced just so that she could be the author of Your Guess is as Good as Mine, and most of her characterization occurs there. I kind of feel bad about how I've handled her in Tall Comics, because she doesn't display a lot of personality. Any of her appearances that don't involve Your Guess is as Good as Mine could probably just as easily feature another character. For instance, the one where she tells Unwinder about Johnny Christmastree, she could have been Unwinder, and Unwinder could have been Mildred, and the script would barely need to be changed. In the Paul Bunyan strip, the only reason I used her is that she's from out of town, and in the teen sex comedy strip, the only reason I used her is that she's hit puberty.

The only really interesting purpose that she's served outside of YGIAGAM, I think, is that she's old enough, and almost smart enough, to invert the relationship that Unwinder has with the other child characters. I can maybe do more with that.

Prudence

Prudence was introduced just so she could be the author of Six Daze. Most of her characterization is that she's a very religiously conservative home-schooler. She doesn't have quite the same problem as her sister, as she's been used consistently in ways that kind of require traits that she has, and nobody else does, but she's still a very specific tool that I only need in very specific instances. If I were to get tired of jokes about church and home-schooling, I really wouldn't have any more use for her.

I don't even really know if this is a problem.

Troy

There's never been much point to Troy. I think even some of the most loyal readers don't even know who Troy is. I just wanted Unwinder to have a teenage foil. Now the Walsh twins provide that, while bringing at least a little more personality. And if I really need a male teenage foil, Shadow and Chug are close enough.

Ultimately, though, I really don't need an adolescent perspective for Unwinder's Tall Comics, because there's really nothing that a teenager's going to say that Unwinder himself wouldn't say. The Simpsons doesn't need a prominent teenage character, because Bart and Lisa are both precocious enough to stand-in. Unwinder's Tall Comics is the same way.

Between The Patio, and Unwinder's Tall Comics, I had kind of a false-start that I called The Unwinder Variety Hour. It's pretty embarrassing, and can be viewed here: http://www.theduckwebcomics.com/The_Unwinder_Variety_Hour/. The interesting thing about it is that it introduces both Dr. Minivan and Troy. Dr. Minivan stuck. Troy didn't.

Painburger

Painburger has only appeared a few times, and there's no reason for me to keep discussing more and more obscure characters and recently introduced characters at this point, but I'll go ahead and finish off this one.

Painburger serves almost the same purpose as Howard, except that she's more aggressive than Howard, and is specifically malicious. I see no reason to use her more often than I do, nor do I see any reason to expand on her character. She's just there to be really horrible and push people (mostly Dr. Minivan) out of their comfort zones in audacious ways.

I intended for Painburger to be male, but at some point, someone misinterpreted his gender, and I decided to just go with it, because I realized I liked that better.

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2014 03:30:14 am 
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Unwinder wrote:
Since then, Howard has developed into a low-key trickster god (Ha! "Low-Key" = "Loki"), sometimes aiding other characters without any clear motivation, and sometimes deliberately making trouble without any clear motivation.


It's odd you say that, because I can't remember any times Howard has really made trouble. I can certain remember him helping people, and I generally think of him as benevolent, just in a very vague way. Even in the latest strip, his annoying Horse-Man is an accidental byproduct of the new persona he's adopting, it doesn't feel to me like trouble-making. Like, if he does ever do 'bad' things it's a result of obliviousness.

He's a sort of slightly more likely to be helpful version of The Unity, in my mind.

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2014 04:07:37 am 
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Yeah, I think "deliberately" is probably too strong a word. There are some hints that he's sometimes at least somewhat aware that he's annoying people, like when he brings Moist Rider to life and smirks about it when Unwinder gets upset with him, and when he seems sheepish about having turned himself into a square.

I'm not sure if those touches were a good idea, but I'm reading him as lazily capricious.

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PostPosted: January 31st, 2014 04:14:58 am 
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Oh yeah, I should have said something about Amy.

Amy's hacker thing was kind of cute, but I think I went a little too far with it. I don't like it when small-scale comedies get too high-stakes. At one point, she said the FBI was looking for her, and I think that was a little too large-scale. I don't think there's too much more to get out of that one trait.

What I did really like on re-reading the archive was how often I used her as Unwinder's partner in pranking Barbecue Sauce. That was a funny concept, and when I use her in the future, I want to do more with that.

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PostPosted: February 1st, 2014 23:01:47 pm 
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Finished reading and enjoying! Your feelings about your characters never really clash with mine, except that you feel like things get played out sooner than I do (like I see what you mean about Spondulio, but I think he only barely started to get monotonous to me when you were already writing about how played out you thought the concept was getting). I feel like I get tired of predictable things in comedy pretty quickly compared to most people, so maybe the fact that you’re even more wary about that than I am is one of the reasons I like your comic!


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PostPosted: February 1st, 2014 23:03:16 pm 
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oh yeah, I was also going to ask if The Patio is somewhere online, because I’d be interested in seeing it


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PostPosted: February 2nd, 2014 00:37:59 am 
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Here we go!
http://epparker.com/filezone/patio/

I made at least a dozen more of these, but I never scanned them in. I'm sure they're still floating around my parents' house somewhere. Maybe I can dig them up.

There are about three years between these and the launch of Tall Comics, and they're really bad. Like, I had good memories of them, and there's some good in them, but they have become so embarrassing that I really did not want to post them here. There are so many tone-deaf lines. "Can you honestly say no to a little girl with mittens?" sounds way creepy and sexual. Howard loses his arms to a celebrity I didn't name because the charicature didn't come out right, and I didn't feel like redrawing it. Everything is so obnoxiously, in-your-facely, THIS IS ABOUT POP-CULTURE, even though I seem to barely know what I'm talking about.

These characters, particularly Unwinder, really did show some potential though!

The action never leaves Horse-Man's patio (which you never really get a good look at), and the strips are all rendered entirely in ball-point pen. There was no digital manipulation on these. I was taking a drawing class at the time, and I wanted to make something really immediate and unfiltered in contrast with my very labored, stagnant Too Far drawings. These scripts were almost completely improvised. I honestly didn't have any plans for distributing them online, I just passed them around among my friends.

About two years after I did these, a close friend told me that I should do more of them, because he thought they were a lot better than my Too Far comics. I took a look back at them, and I liked the characters, and I liked the rawness, but I didn't really like the constrained setting, and I felt like the plain ball-point pen art was never going to catch on with anybody. That last one with the color was kind of my first attempt at pinning down the art style that I eventually settled on.

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PostPosted: February 4th, 2014 23:01:31 pm 
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neat! thanks. it’s cool to see the history of how your current style developed, so I’m glad you linked that and talked about it.


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PostPosted: February 26th, 2014 23:09:38 pm 
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Thanks for the analysis. How interesting.

You know, I never tired of Spondulio, or his accidental charity. Every comic has its one-note characters (Pig Pen is filthy) but Spondulio's problem is so weird.

Howard is great because he is absolutely inscrutable. If he is a trickster god, I think of him as being uncommitted to that role. I especially love it when Howard doesn't know what his own deal is. I think there's been this tension between, "I did that on purpose," and, "How did I get myself into this?"


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PostPosted: February 27th, 2014 07:05:32 am 
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The main problem with Spondulio is that his first appearance was just dense with ideas, and every subsequent appearance was less material stretched out over more panels.

Since I wrote that analysis, though, I came up with some a pretty good idea for broadening his role while remaining true to the character. You'll be seeing him again soon!

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PostPosted: February 28th, 2014 21:33:39 pm 
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YES! I eagerly anticipate Spondulio's reappearance.


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PostPosted: March 23rd, 2015 01:09:11 am 
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Just my input as a frequent Tall Comics reader, but I don't actually feel that the "gives charity while coming up with a thin facade of greed" concept is played out. I think the "gimmick" only loses potency when that implausible money-making scheme for the charitable giving is overly silly. Basically, I think any time you have a clever idea for how obvious charity can be spun as greedy, Spondulio will be very effective, gimmick and all.

I think he'd lose his edge as a character if you retained crazy money-making scheme without the "covering up charity" aspect; a lesser Monty Burns would probably not be a net asset.


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