(published on May 15, 2002)
I knew that it was only a matter of time until my random reviews would stumble upon a huuuuge archive -- hosted on webcomics hub pioneer Keenspot, Ryan Smith's Funny Farm's archives silo is packed tight with 1212 daily strips, including colour Sundays. But, true to its name, this cartoon barnyard does manage to harvest the funny, an insanity mix of gag-a-day and underlying plot that will feed your fancy for winters to come.
Essentially, the overall plot runs as follows: Ront (a dog) and Mewn (a cat) -- old schoolchums -- run a boarding house in the country. Gulius (a bird), one of the tenants, is a surly company man at Westone Industries who tries to cope with day-to-day office life. New tenants eventually pop up: Flink, a kind and naive pig who is irresistible to all women (he's oblivious to this, of course); Boe (a sheep? a bull?) who loves to work out; Mileena (a chicken), a rich girl with a "mysterious" past...
As the story progresses, we find that Westone industries and Mayer Industries are somehow entangled in large-scale conspiracies and such -- of course, all the characters get involved in this one way or another. Hijinx ensue, and etc. The entire strip's run is an evolution of a comic world – it starts out mostly with gag-a-day strips, but slowly, a very captivating story develops, while still keeping the funny.
An odd thing: the main characters are all anthro animals, but the supporting characters are all (with a few rare exceptions) human; this is a little odd since this co-existence is never really addressed in the comic. Even weirder is the fact that while there ARE some anthro animals, there are also regular animals as well -- Mileena, an anthro chicken, used to have her own pony. Boe, who could be a sheep or a bull (I still don't know, and it's never really said) is a chef who cooks all sorts of dishes, including meat dishes. Oddest of all, perhaps, Ront and his brother Pomeroy, dogs, have a human mother, who is shown once, without any explanation offered.
Once you get past that odd mish-moshing of human and anthro, tho (which doesn't ever really BOTHER you outright, but makes you wonder), the comic flows smoothly. The writing is by FAR the strongest element of the comic; the dialogue is NEVER forced (i.e., you don’t feel like you’re being dragged towards a punchline), and practically EVERY strip is at least good for a chuckle – when you consider that there are over a thousand strips in the archives to date, that’s QUITE a feat, indeed!
Another great strength is Ryan’s pacing... he seems to know exactly how long to have a “serious story” go on until he switches over to the lighthearted “non-plot” stuff, and vice-versa. But the funny or scary thing (depending on how you wish to take it) is that even the “non-plot” stuff could turn out to be VERY important in future episodes -- Ryan has brought back what seemed like harmless jokes, and made them into intrinsic plot points on numerous occasions!
The art is simple and stylized cartoon art, one that shows no large-scale influences. While nothing extraordinary, it gets the point across effectively -- a reader always knows exactly what's going on. The backgrounds are as well-rendered as the characters, and Ryan is good with dynamic layout within a panel, using perspective, switching "camera" shots, and avoiding Talking Head Syndrome by having everyone move around or do something while they are exchanging dialogue. For a comic STRIP, the art does EVERYTHING it's supposed to, and therefore is just fine.
There are some tiny flaws here and there, such as Ryan's occasionaly tendency to use 4th-wall jokes with no practical purpose, and his seeming obsession with cameoes and crossovers -- he is a true "cameo whore". Fortunately, he seems to have left both bad habits behind in the last year or so of his archives. His coloured Sundays were atrocious at the beginning, but they eventually got better, too, as he got the hang of CG. His biggest remaining fault would be his lapse into typos or misspellings on a regular basis; Ryan should take the time to proofread his comics before publishing them (or find himself an editor to correct his errors for him). But, with that said, you can tell that Ryan is constantly working on improving on his flaws.
In fact, Funny Farm has only gotten better since its strong beginnings. Yeah, there are still some unanswered questions, but Ryan seems to enjoy taking his time with them, and since the strips themselves are so entertaining, the readers forget their impatience and wait happily, satiated by everything else that Ryan offers.
Overall, I'd say that Ryan has succeeded in mastering the very difficult skill of juggling between being a silly gag strip and being a story-driven comic. Funny Farm does both with style, and if you're someone who enjoys character-driven chuckles as well as story-led suspense and action (and let's not forget that Ryan is ALSO very good at creating believable romantic tension!), than maybe it's time that you put on your favorite Sunday strait jacket, and check yourself in at the local Funny Farm.
FINAL TALLY: worth getting sent to the asylum for
Name of Comic: Funny Farm
"Sponsored" by: Keenspot
Genre/style: humour comic, gags and story, anthro
First comic: January 26, 1999
Total # of comics
(at time of review): 1212 4-panel strips w/ colour sundays
% of archives read at time of review: 100%