2015 marks the tenth anniversary of Garry’s Mod comics and soon we’ll have the tenth anniversary of Chris Livingston’s Concerned, so I decided to share my own personal (and biased) view of the history of GMod comics. This is purely my own opinion and you’re free to disagree with it, but, having followed GMod comics history throughout as either a passive observer or active participant, I think this purview actually works fairly well.
Basically, the way I see the history of GMod comics is very much akin to how the history of actual print comic books is split into eras, or “Ages” (which, in turn, was inspired by the “Ages of Man” of Greek mythology, but perhaps I’m going too specific there). If you look closely at the past ten years of GMod comics, it’s possible to discern some splits where things change to some degree (a.k.a. the paradigm shifts, if you wanna be fancy).
Through that logic, I’ve split the history of GMod into five eras. Mind you, this is my own romantic generalization of things, and based almost entirely on my own memory; I’m sure other people would have different opinions.
The Golden Age (2005-2006)
Examples: Concerned, Jeff, Apostasy
The first era, and arguably the greatest, of GMod comics. This era covers the very beginning of GMod comics, its rise in popularity and mainstream notoriety, and its culmination in large communities that led to the development of further eras.
Given that there wasn’t really a lot of effort put into archiving and chronicling the first efforts of a few people making webcomics using a videogame mod, it’s hard to tell exactly who started it all, but I think it’s fair to say that the origin of GMod comics’ popularity can be traced back to the early efforts of one man: Michael Clements, creator of PHW.
“Public Health Warning” began in early 2005 as a single joke that Clements, then known by his handle “Jian”, decided to expand into a series. He created a website to archive them for the public, PHWcomics.co.uk, as well as forums where people could discuss the comic or talk among themselves. By March, this early iteration of PHW had already expanded into a team of creators, including Steinman, Waxx, Clover and more, and a variety of series such as SKETCH, Geremy Tibbles, Ravenholm Armory and, of course, Jeff.
On April 13, 2005, the game-changer arrived. James “BrashFink” Brandt’s Apostasy was initially released independently on the Steam forums, offering sleek, professional comic book editing unseen in the typical GMod comics of the time. It spread like wildfire across the Internet, leading Clements to invite BrashFink to join the PHW team. Although he initially refused, eventually BrashFink agreed and further issues were released first on PHW, adding to its popularity.
Soon thereafter, another comic that would eventually become a beloved and extremely popular classic began. On May 1st, Chris Livingston launched Concerned, the quintessential Garry’s Mod comic series and, in my personal opinion, still the greatest. Much like Apostasy, Concerned became a massive hit everywhere, rapidly expanding the popularity of Garry’s Mod and its comics.
This period of rapid, uncontrolled growth launched what I see as this Golden Age of GMod comics. The PHW and Facepunch comic communities started through this surge in popularity and many of the most beloved and well-known classics hail from, or had their best periods, during this era. Naturally, most of the advanced techniques for comic making were still in development or unknown at this time, but it was well made up with unbound creativity, enthusiasm and popularity. The best of the best are still remembered to this day and the ones that were salvageable are still extremely enjoyable to read.
The point that marks the end of this Golden Age of comics, to me, is the end of Concerned, concluded on a high note in October 31st, 2006. At the same time, 2006 saw the last released issue of Apostasy, even though the series was planned to have between 8 to 10 issues, as well as the last remaining members of the original PHW team retiring or, in the case of Waxx, falling out with Clements and breaking away to form their own sites, in this case, Mine-Dog.
The Silver Age (2007-2008)
Examples: CRISIS, Infection 2 REDUX, PRODIGY
Following the original era of GMod comics came the Silver Age, which heralded a second generation of comic makers as well as a massive shift in things. Strangely, even though (or perhaps because) this is also the period when I joined, I find it harder to give a more general description of events, so it may come across as more biased than the description of the previous era.
Unlike most of the Golden Age, where editing was mostly still beginning and comics, despite their variety of genres, were simpler in nature, the Silver Age was marked by a bigger emphasis on editing and a more cinematic flair to comics. Andres, for instance, was noteworthy for his serious war comic series, such as CRISIS, whereas the controversial and infamous Shazbot is perhaps the epitome of the so-called “leet” comic editing (see example to the right). Despite the popularity of the style, however, these comics had a huge drawback in the time it took to produce them, leading to less releases than the simpler classic style. Personally, I also feel like this style aged poorly in comparison with the simpler Golden Age comics, but that might be just me.
Although already present in the Golden Age, a growing trend during the Silver Age was the formation of comics groups, which would later have a big impact in subsequent eras. Even while the two main forums remained PHW and Facepunch (which had a growing rivalry, if memory serves), you could find comic makers grouping together, to the point where essentially everyone was a part of some “comic production group” at one point, even if that “group” was just them. Perhaps the most noteworthy of these groups, and a hallmark of the Silver Age, is Tribal Rose, created in late 2007 and comprised of mostly Facepunch members such as Nexus Elite, Near Elite, Striker and Hazardlife. Tribal Rose had a surge of popularity for the originality, quality and fun of their comics as well as the number of popular comic makers in the ranks, and the name and logo are still regarded as marks of quality by those who remember them.
(I think it’s worth mentioning that I also joined the community and started making comics in the Silver Age, although my productivity was quite limited, despite some spurs of popularity here and there. And it still is, so I guess I haven’t changed much.)
Around midway through what I consider to be the Silver Age period, PHW started crumbling down – more literally than you’d think for a website. Michael Clements brought down most of the main site, including the archive of PHW Team comics, and started trolling the community after protests. Eventually, the main site was closed permanently, but the forums remained active after some reshuffling, and Clements abdicated from his role as Admin and left the site for good. Despite the losses, the community remained quite active for a while, even leading to events such as the PoB/CR-O War.
That said, many of the more active comic makers from PHW were discouraged by the losses and either retired or focused more on forum activity than comic making. Sadly, the same community that was keeping the legacy afloat also became increasingly hostile and unruly, which led to my own retirement from PHW to focus on a site I co-managed with a fellow comic maker and friend. The subsequent changes throughout 2008 of the state of comics mark the end of the Silver Age, and the dawn of another era.
The Bronze Age (2009-2010)
Examples: Madman: the Game, Brane Worlds, FZE’s comics
Following the Silver Age and as PHW slowly crumbled away and lost focus, we enter what I refer to as the Bronze Age, and very much an era as unstable as the early days of the Golden Age.
One of the trends of the Bronze Age was the decentralization of comic making from the big two sites, particularly PHW. Rather than having the two massive hubs where separate communities grew, the notion of comic groups developed into separate forums where each group resided, which wasn’t completely new (Happydevil Comics and Mine-Dog coming to mind), but was much more prevalent here, to my recollection. In my personal case, I was co-leader of Phenomena on Break, originally created by the comic maker GrowingDelirium (later just “Delirium”), which was perhaps one of the most successful cases, as later on there were discussions about merging Phenomena on Break with the remnants of PHWOnline. Another noteworthy forum was the Brain Dead Union, where current Metrocop forum members Chris and FZE were quite active, and one of the longer-lasting forums of the type.
On the Facepunch side of things, it saw a boost in comic makers thanks to PHW’s decline, joining the already prevalent resident comic makers. It also saw the escalation of the trend known as “interactive comics”, where creators would start a comic and let the community decide where the plot would go. A particularly noteworthy case is Madmanmad’s “Madman: the Game“, which was incredibly popular at the time. Sadly, not every interactive had the same level of quality, but long-time creators such as Hazardlife and Lt_Commander continued to create excellent story-driven comics during this period.
I find it hard to pinpoint a concise end to the Bronze Age as it was marked by the end of a lot of things. For one thing, what was left of PHWOnline saw an inglorious end, putting to rest arguably the most important site of GMod comic making. For another, even as the last members of PHW flocked to Facepunch looking for a safe haven, Garry Newman decided to close the comics section altogether, leaving comics to be posted in the screenshot forum section and leading a lot of people to lose interest altogether. The remaining small forums that had formed made attempts to replace those as the main site for GMod comics, but all failed, including Phenomena on Break, which saw its fair share of melodrama and was summarily closed by Delirium, who then moved on.
The important thing to note here is, by the end of 2010, Garry’s Mod comic making as we had known it was essentially dead. Which brings me to…
The Dark Age a.k.a. the Drought (2011-2013)
Examples: Lou Collins: Man of War, ACER, Crazy Knife’s comics
Yes, overly dramatic titles (and I also thought of “the Great Hiatus”, but that felt too Sir Conan Doyle), but they do justice to what happened to Garry’s Mod comic making during this period.
The two hubs of comic making were gone, Mine-Dog moved onto more general gaming as it became a smaller and more close-knit community, and the engine itself had started to show its signs of aging as gaming became more visually impressive in the next generation. A small number of communities, particularly the aforementioned Brain Dead Union, endured for a while, but as a small group of people losing interest in comics. By all intents and purposes, the popularity of GMod comics had ended years earlier, and while in the mainstream it was seen as a dead fad, even the Garry’s Mod community had lost interest and moved onto simpler things.
At this point, with really nowhere else to go despite some attempts by various people to launch new comics sites (including a failed attempt at a new PHW and my own first sorry take on a new comics site, but the least said about that, the better), most of the few pseudo-active comic makers moved onto the Facepunch screenshot section. However, as screenshots grew increasingly more complex in production and end result, the few GMod comics that still saw the light of day tended to be quickly lost amidst the flurry of new screenshots being released every day.
However, even in this situation, there were still people from the old days who were interested in Garry’s Mod comics. One such person was Facepunch member usaokay, who managed to retrieve and repost the long-lost first issue of Apostasy, which had been one of the losses of Michael Clements bringing down PHW during the Silver Age. Not only was re-reading a long-lost classic exciting for the old fans, it also brought a surprise one-time reappearance of BrashFink himself, who made available the entirety of Apostasy in the same thread.
In my personal case, re-reading Apostasy for the first time in years got me so excited again for the Half-Life 2 universe that I found myself going back to an idea that I’d started work on in 2011, but had since dropped: The Adventures of Hercule Cubbage. At the same time, I decided to create a site originally oriented towards Valve games as well as comics, and thus Metrocop was born. The renewed enthusiasm over comics also managed to draw in at least one newcomer, Dactrius, whose presence and series ACER were unfortunately short-lived, but serve as a good representation of the first sparks of hope for a return of comic making.
At the same time, there were a few Facepunch members notable for their ability to merge the popular trends of screenshot creation with comic making. Possibly the most popular is Crazy Knife, whose humorous comics are enormously popular over at Facepunch, although others such as pvt.jenkins also managed to keep comic making alive to a certain degree, and are noteworthy for still being active today and producing excellent material.
Luckily, what some would have called the end of comic making wasn’t quite that, not just yet. A small number of people regained enthusiasm throughout 2013 and a place for discussion was founded on Facepunch. To quote The Dark Knight, “the night is darkest just before the dawn”, and the dawn was finally coming.
The Modern Age a.k.a. the Renaissance (2014-2015)
Examples: The Quest, Team Life, Kaden (to be released)
Now we enter the current era, which I like to refer to as “the Comic Renaissance”. Perhaps later on with hindsight I’ll have to rephrase that, but at the moment it’s very exciting indeed. I’d say the word that perfectly sums up this era so far is “nostalgia”, based on the following two main trends:
First off, and what I’d say actually kicked off this Age, comes the return of old-school comic makers from the Golden and Silver Ages. Well-known names such as AJ Rimmer, Gogi, Jim_Riley, Near Elite and John-Matrix returned from their respective hiatuses, either with brand-new content (Gogi’s 10-part The Quest, Near Elite’s perskin series and TF2/HL2 crossover Team Life, John-Matrix’s Tabula Rasa) or resurrecting their beloved series of the past (AJ Rimmer’s Worse than Life and Jim_Riley’s more recent return of Beyond Borders). The trend hasn’t quite stopped yet as more old-schoolers have joined the Metrocop forums, and hope is high that they’ll return to comic making at some point in the future.
Secondly, the actual recovery of many comics from the past for people to enjoy again or, in some cases, anew. In this case, I apologize but I have to shove modesty aside, as Metrocop seems to have been a big part of that becoming a thing, first with the Blast from the Past posts and later on with the creation of the Comic Archive and the Nostalgia Update. Of course, if we want to trace this trend back to its origin, credit is due to usaokay for bringing back Apostasy first, and also very deserving of credit are members of the Metrocop community such as Arctic Avenger and jim_cjr, who are sharing their own personal archives of long-lost content.
The reborn comics community is also the reason why Metrocop gained forums in the first place, which, while relatively small in membership, are extremely active and, personally, a pleasure to visit daily. However, there are still hurdles that we must overcome for comics to become a thing again, particularly figuring out how to attract new blood to comic making with a game as old as Garry’s Mod, as well as create even more brand-new content and not just rely on nostalgia. In the latter regard, we thankfully still have enthusiastic creators hard at work, such as mcharest and his long-awaited and highly-hyped Half-Life 2 comic Kaden, which, from what I’ve seen, promises to break the bold and may even be enough to attract mainstream attention to GMod comics again. Naturally, I will also keep working on new comics, with Hercule Cubbage promised to return in the future and my own perskin series, Mythic Comics, developing into something bigger, whereas Metrocop will grow in official numbers, creating a new Comics Team that should bring the history of GMod comics full circle.
And with that, I conclude my personal overview of the five stages in Garry’s Mod comics history. Once again, bear in mind that this is just my heavily romanticized version of the GMod history. It’s hardly a complete look at the past ten years either, as I neglected to mention many names of creators (e.g. T3h_Pwnag3/Joker, Popwarbunny), comics (e.g. The Vortfather) as well as controversies and behind-the-scenes events that had a big effect in the community of our little hobby. This is just my personal attempt at organizing the trends of comic making into historical steps, based more on memory (likely very faulty) than fact.
With that said, I welcome comments that would contribute more opinions and facts, and I’m willing to do addendums and corrections if necessary. So, let me know in the comment section below, or join the discussions in the forums! And, as always, stay tuned for more news and content!