This is a guest post by Mark Tabler, who by day turns Chinese food into Ruby code and by night is a webcomic aficionado. Also, he is a licensed locksmith, blacksmith, wordsmith, and pretty much any other smith you can think of. You can find his marvelous words on everything from gaming to slot machines here; Mark on Quora.
|Current status/schedule||Active / Daily|
|Launch date||12 June 2000; 18 years ago[|
|Genre(s)||Science Fiction, Comedy|
From Wikipedia, “Schlock Mercenary is a comedic webcomic written and drawn by Howard Tayler. It follows the tribulations of a star-traveling mercenary company in a satiric, mildly dystopian 31st-century space opera setting. Since its debut on June 12, 2000, the comic has updated daily, begun to support its author, and been nominated for five Hugo Awards.”
Schlock Mercenary, the Comic Space Opera by Howard Tayler, is a masterpiece of modern webcomics. It’s also a masterpiece of ancient webcomics. Some interesting dates: Its first strip was published on June 12, 2000. On April 29, 2002, Tayler wrote a blog post in which he reaffirms his commitment to his readers: “Fresh Schlock, right here, every day, forever, or until I die.” And below the strip of June 12, 2018, there is a note from the author: “Today’s installment is the six thousand, five hundred and seventy-fourth installment of Schlock Mercenary.” If you count the days between 6/12/2000 and 6/12/2018, you get 6,574. For nearly two decades, Tayler has not only kept his promise, but has kept it on a daily schedule – and with zero gaps, zero backfills, and zero “guest” or “filler” strips. I bring this up for two reasons: the first is that if you follow any webcomics at all, you’ll recognize this feat as clear evidence of a true artistic passion coupled with a work ethic that can only be described as legendary. Independent of all else, 6,574 updates in 6,574 days is worthy of a lifetime achievement award strictly on its own merit.
“Maxim 3:Howard Tayler
An ordnance technician at a dead run outranks everybody.
-The Seventy Maxims of Maximally Effective Mercenaries”
The second reason I bring this up is so you know how strongly I must feel about the work, when I say that I rank its sterling publishing schedule as only third or fourth on a list of its most impressive qualities.
Tayler is a master storyteller. I’ll grant (and so will he) that if you start from Strip #1, you will not find the work of a master artist. But the story begins to unfold in curious, interesting, and unpredictable ways right from the start. I believe that one of the hallmarks of a brilliant writer is to craft stories where the events are a surprise as they unfold, but seem inevitable in hindsight. Tayler nails this aesthetic: every single book stands in equal support of its series, in a format of “I had to tell you that story so that I can tell you this one.” And, by the time you get to book 5 or 6, the art will have progressed to “solid competence,” and not long after that into “work of a legitimately talented artist.”
“Where’s your sense of adventure?― Howard Tayler, Resident Mad Scientist
It died under mysterious circumstances. My sense of self-preservation found the body, but assures me it has an airtight alibi.
-Captain Tagon & Captain Andreyasn”
Schlock Mercenary is both an epic saga with a long story to tell, as well as a comedy strip with a rock-solid gag-a-day tempo. Most of the punchlines are well-crafted and worthy of at least a grin or a short chuckle, and Tayler manages to pull of more than his fair share of laugh-out-loud moments. In somber moments, the punchlines soften into wistful quips. (After telling a horrific war story, a commander is offered a refill of a stiff drink by a sympathetic lieutenant. The commander declines: “They don’t make bottles big enough for this kind of empty.”) It’s this amazing balance that turns this into a classic for the ages, in my estimation. Whether I’m in the mood to follow the adventures of some of my favorite career-sociopaths, or to philosophize about the social ramifications of longevity in a post-scarcity world, or simply giggle about how different people react to Schlock’s unusual biology. (Required to wear a costume in support of a mission, Schlock complains about his appearance. A supportive crewmate says she thinks he looks handsome, but Schlock grouchily huffs that he “looks like a pile of crap under a tarp.” His crewmate takes a second look, and replies “Okay… but don’t go blaming the tarp.”)
Now is a great time to catch up with the strip. We’re somewhere in the middle of Book 19, now, and Book 20 will end the current 20-year mega-arc of the story. Tayler has promised two things about a post-Book-20 world: that there will still be new Schlock every day, and that it won’t be the beginning of another 20-year arc. As of right now, you’ve got about 18 1/2 graphic-novel-sized books to catch up on, which would give you the chance to follow along as this story finishes up in real time. I’ve been reading Schlock almost-daily since before I was legally old enough to drink. My *reading* schedule is gappier than Tayler’s *publishing* schedule, but in all that time, I’ve never been disappointed: not in writing, not in the stories, not in the drama or the humor or the philosophy. I think that if you have any love of graphic novels or webcomics, you owe it to yourself to at least take Schlock Mercenary for a spin.
Much of the biographical information for this post was taken from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Schlock_Mercenary