Archive Binge: Questionable Content
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Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques is one of the big ones as far as webcomics go. It has been running for so long that you are able to see his art style evolving through the years, moving through three or four distinct phases before reaching the style that we know and love today. The story follows whiny indie rock kid Marten as he stumbles through life, constantly tripping over attractive women who inexplicably want to spend time with him. He gets less annoying quickly. Don’t worry.
It has a focus on humour, with a slightly altered reality where AI and robots are more commonplace, with tiny adorable robots having more or less replaced personal computers and very little else having changed. In the early years there was an emphasis on jokes relating to music, as that was many of the character’s area of interest but as the cast has grown and diversified there are now jokes running the whole gamut from noxious oversharing toilet humour to obscure references to fictional manga series.
There has always been a consistent level of snark and self-deprecating humour tying all of the characters together but what Questionable Content did well, and did long before its imitators made awful half-assed attempts, was acknowledging that its characters were flawed human beings that had not lived consistently wonderful lives. Every character has had bad things and good things in their history, some of them are still dealing with the scars from the bad things and they are definitely an influence on how the characters interact with the world. Even Marten, whose negative experiences have driven him to become kinder and more understanding.
By having such a long running story, a degree of reality has also crept into the comic. Where a graphic novel would close after all of the plot-lines were resolved, a webcomic keeps on rolling. Relationships that were the focal point of the earlier story fade into the background. People that were once major parts of Marten’s life, gradually vanish. The only thing that is consistent is change. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the romantic arcs. The worst part of the romance in Questionable Content is that you know every character involved intimately. You know the way that they are going to respond to events and you completely empathise with them. There is no good guy and bad guy in the relationships and when the character’s faults drive them apart you get to experience both side’s pain. Thanks Jeph.
Shockingly enough for a story that represents reality with only a single exception, Trans, Queer and Poly people have sneaked into the comic too and every one of them is treated with the level of respect that they deserve as human beings. Genuinely this time; thanks Jeph.
Questionable Content is not for the faint-hearted, it has been running since 2003 and while the early artwork isn’t as pretty as the later designs it is all perfectly serviceable as a vehicle to let you hear these characters. Once you have sunk into the world Questionable Content does what all truly great entertainment does, it makes you forget that these characters aren’t real people. Even when they are robots.