It astounds me that such a creative, well-done comic strip as Tatsuya Ishida’s Sinfest is available daily for free. Such accomplished, high-quality work is well worth paying for — which can be done by buying this collection, and you get the bonus of comics in more permanent print form.
I’ve called Sinfest “the best webcomic out there“, and I stand by that judgment. Nothing else combines such beautiful cartooning with such insightful observations and wide-ranging humor. Ishida can draw cute pets at play, with a dog and a cat annoying each other (the dog is gullible and joyful, the cat aware of how pets and people manipulate each other), or God as a puppeteer in the sky (genius metaphor) using his toys to demonstrate wisdom, or a guy and a gal debating gender roles and sexual expectations, or the devil as well-dressed businessman, or other kinds of social satire unfettered by editorial fear.
The closest thing to a normal character is Slick, the young man and wannabe pimp who keeps getting seduced by Satan. He resembles an older Calvin (of Calvin and Hobbes, as disturbingly illustrated on page 31) but with more mature interests — mostly internet porn and other lustful engagements. He’s accompanied by Squigley, a talking, walking pig who has the same habits as Slick without the redeeming guilt, plus he indulges in copious amounts of drugs. Criminy is a shy boy with glasses, there to contrast with Slick, especially in his faith. Slick’s attractive friend Monique serves as an everyday reminder of what he wants but can’t have; she writes poetry and struggles with her own need for attention. God even has a loony fanboy, Seymour, a nondescript being in a cross-bedecked smock and halo.
Ishida is an excellent mimic, able to mock other comics and pop culture characters as needed, sometimes in racy ways. One of the most impressively artistic approaches comes in the occasionally recurring calligraphy lessons. Over four panels, an active character is streamlined and reduced to a Japanese character for the word they symbolize. Ishida’s art is stunning in how realistically expressive all his varied characters are as they comment on the foibles of modern life. I most admire how unafraid he is, willing to comment on religion, sex, and drugs. And not shallowly, either, taking cheap shots or making quick gags — his observations are well-thought-out and often work on multiple levels. Or sometimes he just goes for the cross-cultural funny, as in the recurring “Ninja Theatre”, in which Wasabi the Pimp Ninja faces off against Monique as Yellowtail, the geisha slut villainess. They can both descend into stereotype — the sex-crazed loser, the attractive tease — in order to demonstrate interdependency of their expectations.
How can a strip be so terrific in art and content and meaning, pretty to look at, funny to read, but still saying significant things about our world? This volume collects the first 560 comic strips, originally published from January 17, 2000, through August 4, 2001, on 200 pages, three strips to a page. As a bonus, a dozen early strips from Ishida’s time on his college paper, with artist’s notes, are also included.