Ode to Something Positive (S*P)
Something Positive may not be the first webcomic out there, but it was the first I encountered way back in early 2002. It was my gateway drug into webcomics as they exploded onto the internet scene in the early aughts, and at their heyday was my preferred method of wasting time at work. The first 30 minutes of my workday was always devoted to catching up on my comics, and, just off the top of my head, I went through: Something Positive, PVP, Queen of Wands, Penny Arcade, Errant Story, Girly, Megatokyo, Applegeeks, Two Lumps, Wapsi Square… and several others I can’t remember the names to anymore.
And though I stuck with these comics for years, over the next decade and a half, they began to fall by the wayside one by one until only S*P remained.
In all honesty, I think it’s because no one could have tailor made a comic specifically for me outside of a laboratory. Author Randy Milholland grew up near Dallas in the 90s just as I did, and spent much of his 20s in Boston, as did I; neither of us really caring for the Northeast much (he really summed my feelings for the city well here). We both were also steeped in comics, classic cartoons (and their commercials), and RPGs, though I was more theater-adjacent than his cast is.
And, as the first S*P comic demonstrates, we shared a pitch-black sense of humor…
While it certainly takes some balls to come right out the gate with an abortion joke, this intentionally offensive choice was not entirely unique at the time. Nor were the moments of abject violence, esoteric nerd culture Easter eggs, or fanciful/ random asides (trapdoor gators anyone?).
In fact, as Yahtzee rightfully pointed out years later, there was a bit of a formula to webcomics written by men at the time. And while S*P certainly presented with some of these tropes, it transcended the rest of the webcomics at the time for one reason alone: Character growth.
The cast of S*P most decidedly do not exist in a floating timeline, as they age, arc, and grow in real-time. This means, to me at least, they’ve reflected my own timeline since we all started in the same malaise of our mid-twenties with bad day jobs and relationships, then pushed on through our stable careers and relationships of our 30s and now butt heads with our 40s. As they’ve reached middle age, the S*P characters have definitely mellowed from their reactionary/ violent 20s. But then again, so have I.
So I think it’s telling that a comic kicking off with an abortion joke, nearly sixteen years later and on the day I decided to write this ode, involves the main characters’ children just days before mine’s to arrive.
S*P’s greatest strength is its characters, so while not every joke lands or ages well; they don’t really need to. I and audiences care about these sarcastic misfits, not in spite of the fact they’ve changed over the years, but BECAUSE they’ve changed. These arcs have been decades in the making, and it takes a real gift at writing to transform characters like Mike and Monette into people I actually want to spend time with.
And those two, they’re probably some of the most periphery characters in existence, but they still receive attention and arcs because this is a sprawling and intricate world Randy has created. The thousands of strips available online (for free, I might add), might be intimidating to some to undertake, but I strongly suggest you do.