Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: "Overcompensating: A Dangerous Obsession" by Jeffrey Rowland

Overcompensating: A Dangerous Obsession

I'm a big fan of Jeffrey Rowland's surreal diary comic Overcompensating. It took me a while to read through the archives when I first started, but I thought it was worth it, especially since I think it's gotten better as it goes along. Like Achewood, I think Overcompensating has a wonderful way of using language - even if most of the time it's Weedmaster P calling someone a dick ass in a new and fun way. Rowland is able to write dialect in a way that still feels authentic - that's really difficult to do. But when you read the characters in Overcompensating, they sound like real people.

I also like the fact that his characters will be wearing shirts that change text randomly or they will all be wearing costumes, and no one will comment on this.

None of that is particularly relevant here, I just want to establish that I like Overcompensating a lot, and have high hopes for Mr. Rowland's future both with his comic and with the TopatoCo empire he has forged with his own robot arms.

Point being, when I heard he was making an Overcompensating book, I was very excited. Then I thought to myself, "why did this take so long? he has about 6 years of archives - he could have released a book years ago." Then I went back to being excited.

Thanks to David Malki, I got myself a copy of the book (THANKS DAVID MALKI!) and then proceeded to wait several weeks before writing a review, because I was lazy. But also because I realized the review was going to be very long. For example, we are several paragraphs in and I have still told you nothing about the Overcompensating Book except that it is a book.

Here's the deal with the book: I was disappointed. Some of this was the fact that this book, being Volume I, was full of the early comics - from the first (a classic example of forcing a bad punchline on a not-as-bad comic) to the one where Jeffrey moves from Oklahoma to Massachusetts. The fact is, they aren't great comics - yet. The later comics are better. It roughly corresponds to the quality of the art - which has a flat, far more cartoonish look to it at the beginning. It's also true that putting the comic into black and white takes away some of the energy and fun of the full color comics. I recognize that color printing would seriously increase the cost of the book, but it's also true that it would increase the quality of the final work. Would it be worth it? I don't know - I don't know what the costs would be.

But my real problem is this: The comics themselves are overrun with extra text. Here - I'll show you the image they have on the product description page:

See what I mean? Each comic (or almost all, at least) has a huge amount of text next to it, and I'd say a reader would have to spend about three or four times as much time on the text as on the comic itself.

Now, I realize that this is the exact opposite of the criticism I had for Kate Beaton's Never Learn Anything From History. In that case, I wrote that I was disappointed by how little she wrote about her comics. Nonetheless, I feel like I'm justified here - the problem with A Dangerous Obsession isn't so much the amount of text - though really, it's pretty crazy - it's that it's not all that interesting or relevant. It's mostly just random conspiracy theories of the sort that are occasionally funny in very small doses but are present here by the dozen. The stories just get boring after a while, and distract from the comic - especially when they are physically breaking up the comic itself, as in the left-most example in the image above. At some point I just wanted Rowland to leave his comics alone and let me read them, and not interrupt to tell me about the original version of Ghostbusters and how it was a documentary that made viewers go mad. I think a good example of the right balance to strike - both in tone and quantity - was the way Chris Onstad did it in the Achewood book.

All that said, the quality of Overcompensating: A Dangerous Obsession is made to look far better when compared with the atrocious introduction by one "Andrew W. K." The introduction actually goes for the middle school trick of "I don't know what to write about so I am going to write this introduction about writing this introduction." Mr. W. K. comes off as a huge tool here and in his other portrayals in the comic, and I hope to never have to deal with him again.

Also, just a caveat emptor sort of thing here: there is a picture of Rowland's horrible spider bite necrosis, and it is towards the beginning, and it is not as bad in black and white.

Final grade: C+. It pains me to write it, and I still love the comic - but for now, I'd say to stick with the online version. forgive me jeffrey.

Overcompensating: A Dangerous Obsession is 192 pages, softcover, black and white, and includes the story "Crisis on Infinite Butter Dimensions." It costs $14.


  1. you need to update the "book reviews" thing on the sidebar

    also: isn't it spelt "David Malki ! " or something stupid like that

    Good review, anyway. Just as a rough measure, how long do you reckon the book would be without the text + with Onstad-style amounts of text?

  2. this isn't why I come to this blog

  3. ... but I was glad to see it here anyways.

  4. No, anon, but Carl started this blog to get free crap under the guise of "reviewing". However, I can support Carl in this because rather than charging for his "services", he's just picking up swag -- sorta like swiping stuff from the store you work in vs stealing money from the store. Actually the same thing, but the first sounds a lot more reasonable and therefor I support it. Yes, logic: the domain of the internet.

  5. This was discussed at the end of the last topic but nobody will read that now so I'll add it here:

    Raven, the fact that you can't see the expression of the full frontal nude beret man makes your edit all the more funny to me. It looks like he's just suddenly getting a seizure or something like that. Imagine someone enthousiastically talking to you and stopping mid-story to stand there right in front of you with a blank expression and arms at odd angles, and then continuing as if nothing had happened. That's basically what the comic looks to me now. Surreal. Accidentally surreal.

  6. I recognize that color printing would seriously increase the cost of the book, but it's also true that it would increase the quality of the

    it's like a cliffhanger

  7. How come you've never heard of Andrew WK? He had a hit song "Party Hard". And also had a cameo in Aqua Teen Hunger Force. And got bottled at Gathering of the Juggalos way before Tila Tequila. And... I'm done here. OK, I'll admit he's not very famous.

    Though, while I don't know what he wrote in that introduction, but he seems like a pretty cool guy to me.

  8. but he's a juggalo

  9. @Fred: haha, and that is the first thing you wake up to; the "shuffling" of the woken figure in the last panel now looks like frightened shuddering. See, Randall's medium totally has the potential for medium-specific humour.

  10. Nah, he's not a juggalo, just a huge IRL troll. Here's his GotJ performance on video:

  11. Andrew w k is the last of what one would call the hardcore punk movement.

  12. one would call it the hardcore punk movement but one doesn't want to for some reason

    maybe one is afraid of rejection

    someone hold one

  13. UndercoverCuddlefishAugust 31, 2010 at 9:58 AM

    i hate one

  14. Andrew WK rules. That is all.

  15. randall in a boxing match against a velociraptor


    captcha: blogromi

  16. Nathan Fillon (Mal from Firefly) in a boxing match against giant velociraptor in a ball pit while Megan masturbates with a Carl Sagan shaped vibrator.

  17. UndercoverCuddlefishAugust 31, 2010 at 3:59 PM

    while mister hat sells tickets and beret guy tells us to seize the day

    the whole scene is accompanied by music from pianocat

    this is xkcd

  18. UndercoverCuddlefishAugust 31, 2010 at 4:00 PM

    also richard stallman and corey doctorow were there

  19. And also he makes the comic anywhere between 5 and 50 years from now.

    Ugh. Imagine 50 more years of xkcd...

  20. there is a chart at the bottom that unnecessarily quantifies the plot.

    Ann: Dang, I forgot I had that bar. I guess I should update it, yeah.

    Raven: That's not why I started the blog - I didn't get a free anything until I got the xkcd book last year, about 18 months into blogging (or so). But it is quite the perk! And it's sort of like stealing, except that I ask for thing and people give them to me. So it's more like getting a present.

  21. Why did Breadpig give you a copy of the xkcd book, anyway? I mean presumably your email involved the fact that you run a site called, y'know, XKCDSucks.

  22. he used his other one

  23. they were really eager to comply for some reason

  24. Carl: While your review did not inspire me to go out and buy the book, it DID inspire me to go and read the Online Comic, which I had never heard of before. 1 more reader isn't nearly as good as 1 more customer, but it's better than nothing, right? Hopefully Jeffery will forgive you.

  25. @Carl: Bank robbers ask for the money, too.

    I read the archives once so I know that this was not your motive, but I was trying to explain that in order for you to get swag, you are obligated to publish a review; so whether he comes here for reviews or not, they'z gonna happen because you like the swag. I'm just saying if you're getting swag because you hate something, I support that right. Very much so.

    @Ann: Presumably to try to convert him? His review wasn't less than luke-warm if I remember.

  26. Ann - I got the xkcd book because Alexis Ohanian thought it would be neat to give it to me, as a way of showing that he and his group don't get upset by my existence. I think it worked; I think it made them pretty cool folks. It even got twittered.