Nineteen-Ninety-Something vs. Off the Deep End
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jbwarner86's avatar
By jbwarner86   |   
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Okay, folks, Nineteen-Ninety-Something has been running as a daily strip for about half a year now. I've produced about 200 strips so far, and it's pretty clear now what the series' world is like and who the characters are. Devoting all that time to this series has slashed the amount of time I have to spend on Off the Deep End, but you've also seen a pretty decent chunk of that too, and I just did those character profiles this week that offer a little more insight into who the main characters are.

So, that being said...which series do you like better?

A lot of the feedback I've been getting on NNS seems to be the same: "Oh, this is unpleasant." "I was hoping for a happy ending to this story." "Man, I hate this character!" Whereas the feedback on the little glimpses I've been able to do of OTDE are more along the lines of "Aww, this is adorable!" "I remember always wanting to do this!" "This is some of your best stuff!" And that tells me that maybe I'm putting all my time and effort behind the wrong series.

Yes, Nineteen-Ninety-Something has been my primary endeavor for the last eight years, and it's only now that I've finally turned it into something viable. But even I've noticed how nasty and unpleasant it's become. Nothing ever really works out for anybody, except the characters who don't deserve it, and in trying to capture that snarky, cynical tone of the 1990s, I think I may have just created a world that nobody really wants to spend any time in. Off the Deep End, though, is a decidedly more positive series, about a family of people who genuinely love each other, as opposed to Joel's family who are dysfunctional as all hell. OTDE is bright and sunny and playful, whereas NNS is gray and oppressive and pessimistic.

I've been hesitant to pursue Off the Deep End as an ongoing series because I thought the underwater photography thing would confuse people. But for the most part, everyone seems to be pretty accepting of the premise, and the characters seem to have really captured people's hearts. I certainly don't get comments about how much readers "loathe" them, as I have been getting for my last few weeks' worth of Nineteen-Ninety-Somethings. I do write for myself, of course, but I consider my audience as well. So be honest - what would you guys rather see more of?


UPDATE: So far, opinions seem to be pretty well split. A lot of folks argue in favor of Nineteen-Ninety-Something continuing, particularly so they can see Michelle and Kendra and Steve and Jocelyn come back. And I admit, I've missed them dearly too. Right now, three of them are set to make their grand returns between September and November of this year (as it stands, Jocelyn probably won't come into the strip until August 1991).

But the major criticism against the strip still stands, which is that it's way too dark and cynical for its own good. And unfortunately, before I get to bring back these characters, I have a four-week story coming up next month that's probably the darkest and most cynical I've ever written. But Michelle returns literally the week after it ends, so it's sort of like the grand finale of the "everything in Joel's life sucks" attitude that's permeated the strip up 'til now. The tone is something I have control over, and I can make a conscious effort to lighten the atmosphere. That's a simple enough fix to make.

However, the one thing I can't fix, and the biggest argument I've received against keeping this series going, is that there just isn't much about it that's new or original. It's a four-panel daily comic strip, set in the 1990s, that follows the misadventures of a dysfunctional is this any different from FoxTrot? Just because I added extensive swearing and masturbation jokes? With pop culture references that are 25 years out of date, it's impossible for me to break any new satirical ground with this series - pretty much all the shots I take at stuff that was popular in 1990 is the same jokes everyone else has already made. And half the people who read this series don't even get what I'm referencing, because they weren't even born when it happened.

Off the Deep End, on the other hand, is far less reliant on outdated pop culture humor, has a much brighter atmosphere, has a wide selection of likeable characters, can appeal to all ages, and uses a wholly unique premise that's more likely to make it stand out - who's ever done a series about an underwater photographer before? It's a far more personal project that speaks my voice better than my current series does.

So, as much as I really want to keep Nineteen-Ninety-Something rolling, as much as I want to introduce all my main characters back into the strip and revel in the nostalgia-soaked goodness of the decade I grew up in, it's kind of sobering to think that it'd just be spinning my wheels for ten years, treading in the footsteps of cartoonists who already did all this stuff 25 years ago, and much better than I can. Which does kinda inch me closer towards pursuing Off the Deep End instead. I haven't made up my mind yet, but that's definitely looking like a better option at this point.
anonymous's avatar
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kingofswing617's avatar
My suggestion is character development. Such as  Tina, she not unlikable like later-seasons Lois Griffin or Peggy Hill, but still she is obnoxious. I would just like for her to loosen up a bit and realize that not everything that young people are into is some product by the devil himself.
Jeimii-chan719's avatar
Jeimii-chan719Student Writer
To be honest, I love them both. I love Nineteen ninety something since I've been reading it forever but Off the deep end is new and different enough. I'd love to see you do them both eventually but I'm leaning more towards Joel and the gang.
andrewk's avatar
I like 90-Something because that era is nostalgic for me. Also, I do swim but don't know a whole lot about it and am nowhere near advanced in it.
Captain-Chaotica's avatar
Captain-ChaoticaHobbyist General Artist
Well, I don't know much about "Off the Deep End" (I didn't even know it was a series with, like, a story and characters...I thought it was just more of your characters-from-different-franchises-underwater thing...which...feels kind of like a fetish to me so I avoid it because knowing that much about someone kinda squicks me out) but I _do_ like "Ninety-Ninety Something" when it's more lighthearted.  You know, more like the "Maxwell Silver Hammer" days, as someone else said.

To me, because the series DOES feel a lot like Fox Trot, the sudden swearing and masturbation jokes kinda make me wince a bit when they happen, because...I don't know, it doesn't seem to fit _here_.  I'm not a prude, I mean, I swear like a sailor in casual enough company, but...I dunno, some of the lines in the last storyline, with Tabitha, were kinda...jarring. 
I'm not saying the series is _copying_ FoxTrot; it's from a different point of view and writing style that make it definitely your own.  But there's something about the scenes with the mom and dad, especially, that make lines about "jacking off" kinda...yeah.

I agree with the previous people who said, take a step back, and try to see the '90s as more from the attitude of a kid.  It DID have some cultural goofiness, but I, who am older than you by a bit, mainly saw only the negatives--depressing music, wars, and such.   However, the fun stuff such as Pokemon and the Spice Girls were also around, and maybe having more of a "Wow, this is awesome, I get to stay up late watching MTV because it still has music videos now!" attitude might help...undarken the strip a bit?
EVERY decade had both things that were funny and silly and things that were dark, after all.

I'd also say:  Maybe cut down the negative or mean storylines to a shorter length, or break them up considerably with a lighter sub-plot.  Also, not so much bashing of easy targets--your entire-month-long Justin Bieber bash storyline comes to mind.  (Mind you, he DOES suck, just, it didn't need 30 days to say what everyone already knew.) 

LONG STORY SHORT (too late):  Nineteen-Ninety-Something has potential and it HAS made me laugh many times in the past and I DO like most of the characters.  Just, try to reconnect with whatever it was that made it _fun_ in the first place, and tweak the series' tone to that.  :)
I'll say this:  I am like THE first person to drop a series because it's gotten too dark and hatefull (Battlestar Galactica and Heroes come to mind), and I'm still reading this one.   If Little Miss "Ooh, I don't want this anymore, it's too dark, ooh, I'm such a delicate easily-depressed flower, ooh!" is still a must still be doing something _right_.

Blackferret66's avatar
I tend to enjoy NNS more than ODE. It's not that I don't like ODE, but NNS tends to speak to me more. I do agree that the negativity should be toned down, including the swearing. I have nothing against swearing, in and of itself, but it's out of place when Joel does it in front of his mom, or to his mom. I also think you should get rid of Lindsey and her family. Those kind of "get away with everything" bully characters are a real turn off for me. Just my view, though. On the other hand, I kind of like how Tina is over the top as a mom. Maybe I think that the strip works best when its a bit of a parody of traditional strip families and goes a bit further in that regard. As far as running out of ideas, I think all strips go through that, sooner than later. I don't really worry about that, though. I just enjoy seeing the character interaction, regardless of the story line. Nor do I worry about the timeliness of the materials. There are a lot of strips that either seem to be stuck in one period in one way or another, or just ignore references altogether and still continue. (Seriously, Family Circus has been printed for what, 150 years, and has anything in that ever been relevant to any time period?)

As far as ODE, I think it might be a bit too bright and fluffy for me. This sounds odd after I suggested toning down NNS' negativity, but I think there's a happy medium that NNS could do better. But if you wanted to pursue ODE because it speaks to you more as an artist and writer, then I would still follow you, because I like your art style and humor.
Zerozero204's avatar
"But I’m looking at the feedback I’m getting, and I’m starting to think that maybe I haven’t illustrated that in a very interesting way. It’s just resulted in a lot of really dark stories that people don’t seem to respond too positively to."
Now while a little more exposition might help, the problem isn't that "it isn't very interesting". The world is a naturally terrible place. Dark can be fun. Having to read about irrationality and stupidity isn't very fun. Too much pointlessness, swearing instead of action, Lindsey, and Tina doesn't seem so help the 'strip.
SuperMarioSuperStar's avatar
SuperMarioSuperStar General Artist
I will respond to your update, with saying that you shouldn't leave such a large project unfinished. Until you mentioned it, I never once thought of this strip being similar in any manner whatsoever to FoxTrot. You're writing NNS as though it were appearing in newspapers in the 1990's, which is something I REALLY like about it. So, stick to it. Do both series, just don't leave one sitting to collect dust.
RBL-M1A2Tanker's avatar
RBL-M1A2TankerHobbyist General Artist
Why not incorporate Nineteen-Nintey-Something into Off The Deep End?  Transition those characters into the newer one, so you can use them as one-off strips as necessary.  Certainly could fill in as background characters too. 
jbwarner86's avatar
Well, that'd give me one series with like 20 main characters. It'd be kinda hard to keep track of everyone.
RBL-M1A2Tanker's avatar
RBL-M1A2TankerHobbyist General Artist
I wouldn't make them all main characters.  Obviously there'd have to be some adjustments to who would be main and who would be secondary, but it would give you ample opportunity to work with a variety of stories without having to split your time between them.  The way I would see it is that it would give you a pool of characters to draw from (puns not intended) to tell a specific story.  And you could easily make the cast of NNS be older, so they wouldn't directly compete with the cast of OTDE. 

...we have enough acronyms yet?
maxvision92's avatar
maxvision92Hobbyist General Artist
If they're in the same timeline and 1990Something is set in actual 1990, then Joel would be 41 in the other comic. He'd HAVE to be at a severely reduced role.
RBL-M1A2Tanker's avatar
RBL-M1A2TankerHobbyist General Artist
Unless you don't follow the same time line.  There's plenty of options one could go with.  IE, could be a different universe, as it were, where they were all equivalent ages in the same area.
maxvision92's avatar
maxvision92Hobbyist General Artist
The two strips are also set half a continent apart.
RBL-M1A2Tanker's avatar
RBL-M1A2TankerHobbyist General Artist don't have to stick to that.  There's nothing constraining the writer from changing things. 
maxvision92's avatar
maxvision92Hobbyist General Artist
That's not his style, though.
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Otakukiller's avatar
OtakukillerStudent Writer
I think the big problem, is you've entered the 90s mentally and then grew up in that 90s mentality. 

The 90s as a kid is this awesome time of weird shit and crazy music, but then, as time passes, you realise just how depressing the 90s is. Wars taking place, the angst period of music and art and comics was coming around. It was all rather misanthropic. 

I feel, in order to regain some of the cheer that used to exist in 1990something, you need to drop a couple years backwards and return to the mentality of a 12 year old, watching his saturday morning cartoons and playing pokemon and mario. 

For things you might want to specifically change, maybe focus on growing the mom's character. She's entirely 1 diminutional. The dad is pretty 1D also, but at least he has good and bad qualities. 

The mom on the other hand, is oppressive, controlling, and psychotic at times.

For a plot idea to fix this, perhaps do the thing most actual mothers do to try and stop siblings from fighting. Lock them up in a room for a while and make them sort their feelings out. 

Maybe have Joel and his family go on a camping trip, and a mud slide washes Joel and his mom from the rest of the group. Joel and his mom are now isolated from the rest of society, there's no civilisation to define social rules for them, and have the two finally let loose what their problems with each other are. 

Maybe then do a short flashback series called 1970something about Joel's mom, give us a taste of HER childhood. 

Maybe have a moment during the mudslide situation, where Joel's mom finds some paperwork in Joel's bag, and finds out that they're forms to be emancipated, she flips out and she and Joel have a good hard fight, where she finally realises just how far she's pushing her son away from her. 

Have them kiss and make up, and maybe have her become a bit more encouraging in Joel's life choices. 

Heck, Kiss was huge back in the 70s, maybe have Joel go looking through old records and finds out his mom was a huge Kiss lover as a kid and they bond over. and then the Kiss reunion happens, and the two of them decide to go together. 
jbwarner86's avatar
One of the themes I want to use in the strip is the generational divide between the free-thinking punk Gen-X crowd embracing rebellion and change, and their confused and frustrated Baby Boomer parents who are being dragged into the '90s kicking and screaming. That's why Tina's such an uptight moral guardian - that way of thinking was very popular among parents back then, particularly those who were intimidated by stuff like The Simpsons and Nirvana turning the status quo of America on its head.

So if I had her and Joel find common ground and "kiss and make up", as it were, that'd be pretty much the exact opposite of what I'm trying to make the strip about. I do hint at other aspects of Tina's personality - the Supermarket Sweep story showed that she can be passionate about some things, albeit things that are extremely boring - but that moral crusader aspect of her personality needs to be prominent because it's what motivates Joel to be a rebel in the first place.

Joel's life at home is pretty cruddy. It's when he's with his friends that he's happiest, when he can just be himself and nobody snaps at him for it. I just haven't introduced more of his friends yet, which as several people have pointed out, is why the strip feels so bleak right now. In retrospect, I shouldn't have waited this long to introduce the rest of the cast.
Otakukiller's avatar
OtakukillerStudent Writer
it's just, this 1-dimensional moral crusader (giving aspects like the supermarket do make her entertaining, but she's still relatively 1D, maybe 1.5D) makes her so insufferable. I mean, many asshole characters in media, people we know we're supposed to hate, work, because their terrible flaws are written half-way as a comedy, so even if the characters are suffering, we as the audience are not. 

"Suffering is great, when it doesn't happen to us", is I think the main theme of the argument of what I'm trying to say
maxvision92's avatar
maxvision92Hobbyist General Artist
If your planned big storyline is what I think it may be, i.e. something related to Aaron's crusade against the cheerleaders, well, it's probably too late to suggest a way to cut it short if reaction to it gets really negative feedback is, in the middle of it, Joel just decides that whatever's been planned, nothing will be worth it inevitably blowing up in their faces AGAIN, and he just goes back to class or whatever and only hears the aftermath of whatever stunt Aaron's pulled. Probably be a good capstone to how cynical and detached he's become, that he's not even going to dignify the possibility that Aaron knows what he's doing.

As for your big problem with this format, yeah, I'm not gonna lie here, this idea is a LOT less fresh and innovative than it was in 2007; for one thing, the 90's nostalgia has actually kicked in by now, and in the meantime your work has become dated before it's even published. And in your attempts to fulfill this dream project of yours, you've slowly alienated your audience by eliminating the elements many people fell in love with about your comic. If you'll forgive my extreme nerdery, this is sort of why Star Trek: The Next Generation sucked so hard in it's first few seasons; Gene Roddenberry's vision for the franchise and that world was drifting further and further from what audiences fell in love with in the original show, so the resulting show was found as stiff, boring, preachy, and filled with unpleasant characters, and the few attempts to break that mold he quashed. It's probably telling that the period before that, when Trek had achieved it's most commercial success in the early-to-mid-80's, Gene was completely locked out of creative control of the franchise, and TNG started getting good after he had to retire and later died.
JadtheDog's avatar
I actually enjoyed it when the strips took place in modern era and you handle the satire of recent events so much better then 90's style. The barren Circuit City with the sole employers as the new manager was just genius. The characters will still snark and sarcastic, but it was mostly towards dicks who deserved it. Like when Steven and Jocelyn pissed of their former principal during a ban performance cause he didn't like what Jocelyn was wearing. Sure they made sarcastic comment towards friends and family, but it came off more as playful teasing then genuine meanness.
USSManhattan's avatar
JB, have you thought about just bringing NNS to the present? I'm aware you said that these characters are made for the 90s, but my thoughts are twofold:
1) Like the tone, you have control. Is there really anything intrinsic about the cast that you cannot have in 2015?
2) Your brief run of strips set in present with these characters... to be honest, I enjoyed them a lot more than the current run.
TheJayster49's avatar
TheJayster49Hobbyist Digital Artist
A thought just occurred, didn't you say that you preferred comedic tones over dark tones? I mean, considering that you (among others) believe that Nineteen-Nineteen-Something has gotten more darker and edgier, and that some prefer Off The Deep End for being more light-hearted.
vcubestudios's avatar
vcubestudiosStudent Filmographer
My only suggestion to you would be to finish the story arcs that you currently have, and re-introduce fans to the characters they want to see before it ends. As an artist myself, I can understand the feeling of overworking a creation, especially one that has lended so much to one's current style and taste. But whether this is just a hiatus, or if it truly is the end of the comic, I think most of us will agree it'd be a good idea to get everyone in for one last shot in the strip. After-all, don't you want something to leave a positive impression on you, and leave you remembering it fondly? 
TheJayster49's avatar
TheJayster49Hobbyist Digital Artist
I actually like the masturbation jokes. Not gonna lie, I've been waiting for a comic that mentions masturbation
anonymous's avatar
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