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The Smart Move Awards


Summer 1999

Smart Move: Bruno the Bandit The first Smart Move Award goes to Bruno the Bandit by Ian McDonald for the storyline entitled, "The Forbidden Game." In it, our cultural obsession with the forbidden, and specifically with sex, is lampooned mercilessly, starting with the premise that the game of chess, due to the decree of a sore loser of a king long ago, is against the law.

Now, you know what just a few years of Prohibition did to the United States. But a game? Yes indeed. Remember when Dungeons & Dragons was supposed to be Satanic? We saw a lot of morons fumblingly pretending to be able to play the game, waving sticks around in cultish monk robes, just so they could be bad boys. So, yes, anything can be glamourized by a negative stigma. In this case, it's chess, which has been elevated to the equivalent of sex in the fictional society of Rothland. And the whole thing is quite funny.

All of the praise of Bruno the Bandit that I have heard in recent days has never failed to mention "the chess storyline." So it is a fair bet that these episodes have played a strong part in increasing the readership of the comic. That means it was a Smart Move, and this award was named partially in honour of Ian McDonald's clever chess gambit.

Smart Move: The Class Menagerie Also sharing the debut of the Smart Move Award is The Class Menagerie by Vince Suzukawa, for the fresh start he has given the strip this past month or so. Now is the best time to be introduced to the comic, as Vince has just completed "Move-In Day," a series of strips designed to begin the entire saga of The Class Menagerie. Gee, how successful could a new Episode One of an existing series be, do you think?

But "Move-In Day" by itself is not the sole reason for this award. The Class Menagerie has been retooled for success in multiple ways. Originally, the site was updated once a month, and the two weeks' worth of new comics were put into a one-month calendar format with two weeks of "reruns," the purpose of which was not entirely clear, since all past strips were available anyway. Now, the new site is updated once a week with up to four strips, encouraging regular readership much more effectively. The stories stand alone as units; they aren't put into any arbitrary time frame. Strips are shown one at a time and at a faster-loading size. The whole site looks better and better from top to bottom, especially the character bio pages, which are cleverly designed and a delight to behold.

Is it any wonder The Class Menagerie is doing so well right now? This new beginning for an already excellent comic strip is a Smart Move if I ever saw one.

October 1999

Smart Move: PvP Smart Move: PvP Smart Move: PvP
This Smart Move Award to PvP by Scott Kurtz is for the strip that appeared on October 1, 1999. That's right, one individual strip. Remarkably enough, that one strip garnered PvP a fair bit of attention. Kurtz is not alone in having the guts to puncture other web comics, but very few creators can do it with enough style to maintain their dignity. Kurtz's final blow to the imitators is to demonstrate that he can, when he chooses, mimic Bloom County far better than they can. And, of course, the reference to open-source software (i.e. Linux) is a subtle reminder of a previous series of strips unapologetically focusing on User Friendly with equal finesse.

December 1999

Smart Move: Ozy and Millie A whirling Warren Children who are as smart as grown-ups are nothing new in comic strips. But we must look to Ozy and Millie by D.C. Simpson to find grown-ups who are as smart as children. The parents of Ozymandias and Millicent don't talk down to their kids, lie to them, or underestimate them. They don't consider themselves infallible or above the occasional childlike pastime. They are allies rather than adversaries. A good thing, too, because it often seems the rest of the world, young and old, is against them.

Enter Dr. I. Wahnsinnig. Of all the cogs in The System, the school psychiatrist has got to be the last person you would ever expect to be on your side. This is exactly why this character's introduction is so refreshing. Dr. Wahnsinnig is a sensible human being (well, a ring-tailed lemur to be specific, but you know what I mean) who won't allow herself to swept along by the sort of popular hysteria that so often takes the form of labelling children as problems and clamoring for easy solutions. Just as in life, it is nice to come across a reminder that there are good people out there, and some of them might even have the power to make a difference. I think the addition of another clueful adult to the world of Ozy and Millie is a Smart Move, and I hope she makes more appearances in the future.

Februrary 2000

Smart Move: The Suburban Jungle John "Gneech" Robey took a look at his comic strip, The Suburban Jungle, and decided it could look better. So, unlike most cartoonists, who would let the look of their work evolve gradually over time, he deliberately redesigned his characters, took a short break, and implemented the new designs on his return. The changes are subtle, but the impact is clear: it looks like a better artist took over. There's more realism in the features, and most importantly, the characters' faces have distinct proportions that make them look more like individuals. Sure, you could tell them apart before, but only by their hair, markings, and clothing; the face was more or less one all-purpose face. Now, the personalities really shine through. The introduction of full color on weekdays adds to the visual appeal.

Congratulations to the Gneech for pulling off a carefully planned Smart Move.

June 2000

Smart Move: College Roomies From Hell Cartooning is an art of nuance. One of the most important things a cartoonist has to do is make the characters expressive. Every reasonable means of expressing what the character is feeling should be utilized. These means can range from facial expressions to body gestures to iconic marks to word-balloon styles to just writing "GUILT" over the character's head. But I have never before seen anything like the method now being used by Maritza Campos, and it could only happen in College Roomies From Hell.

You see, Dave had a near-death experience from which he was not completely restored, and now a part of his soul resides in a cat. It behaves as a realistic ordinary cat, but the two are empathically linked, meaning that whatever emotion Dave is feeling, the cat is feeling also. As is typical of CRFH, this is a development that becomes the new norm instead of being resolved. You see what Maritza has achieved here? There is a whole extra body with which to express Dave's feelings! When he is happy, the cat purrs; when he is scared, the cat does that Halloween-decoration thing. Dave has become a much more sympathetic character in a very short time with the use of this device. Planned or not, this idea is a delightfully Smart Move.

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