The Order of the Stick is one of those things that should never have worked. A comedic strip, illustrated entirely in stick figures, set in a literal D&D campaign world (complete with earning XP and other RPG tropes), with a dense, multi-layered plot, produced over the span of fifteen years, and still not done?
Absolutely should suck. But it doesn’t.
First, the art isn’t crappy. (Not that it ever was.) Sure, stick figures lack the complexity of, say, one of your typical comic books, but so what? The simplicity and clarity of the art is impressive in and of itself, and it effectively conveys, scene, action, and characterization. Not everything has to be a Joe Quesada masterpiece to be great.
Also, the strip was funny at the beginning, and has stayed funny for fifteen years. It’s not quite gag-a-strip, but it’s 99.9% of the way there, something incredibly difficult to attain. Humor is hard to do, harder than drama, and most humorous strips, shows, and series are forced to, sooner or later, drop back into drama because the writer ran out of the funny. Well, OOTS has brought the funny for a decade and a half, and hasn’t run out of juice yet.
Last is the genuine emotion in the series. Roy’s struggle to prove himself to a distant and disdainful father, while completing a truly epic quest to destroy the lich Xykon, the valor of Lord Hinjo (paladin of the Sapphire Guard) and the self-righteousness and consequent blindness of his fellow paladin (and stone cold bitch) Miko Miyazaki, or Vaarsuvius’ guilt over having sold his soul for a chance to get revenge on one dragon by killing roughly a fourth of all black dragons in existence (plus related half-dragons, dragon-blooded, dragon born)—with one spell: Familicide. (It’s an Epic. Kills you, and everybody related to you, or related to them, or them, or them, etc.)
The characterization is strong, varied, and consistent. No one acts out of character just to make a joke, and each main character, and many secondary characters, are given notable amounts of character development, and even full character arcs (like the orc ninja. Tragedy in one act.) In a culture that has apparently forgotten what storytelling is, Rich Burlew (creator of the strip) still knows what audiences want, and can deliver it.
Unfortunately, Rich suffered a severe hand injury back in 2012, which has crippled his ability to deliver strips on his formerly robust schedule. The story is still moving along, however, and Roy, et. al., are nearing the end of their quest. The stakes are literally world-ending—the most recent plotline has three entire pantheons voting on whether to destroy the world or not—and Team Evil is apparently ahead, in the ninth inning, with Team Stick desperately trying to tie up the game to force it into overtime.
Fifteen years. 1116 strips (plus extra material in the printed books, two additional background volumes, appearances in Dragon, etc). And eight printed volumes.
It’s been a great ride so far. Well worth the length of the trip.
Jasyn Jones, better known as Daddy Warpig, is a host on the Geek Gab podcast, a regular on the Superversive SF livestreams, and blogs at Daddy Warpig’s House of Geekery. Check him out on Twitter.
I just use an RSS feed
Hey if we’re doing webcomic love, you got to give it up for Dr. McNinja (which has concluded so now you can go through and read the whole thing).
Order of the Stick is my definite tie for #2. It’s tied with “freefall” which I also recommend (http://freefall.purrsia.com/).
I used to place 8bit theater higher but… eh, OOTS has edged it out. I backed its kickstarter and don’t regret it.
I love Freefall and it has kept up consistently high quality for its whole extremely long run but I’m teetering on dropping it because of Florence and Winston’s creepy relationship.
I can’t argue with you there, Anthony. My buddies and I like to engage in debates about scifi alien girls all the time. 😉
I loved Order of the Stick. Hadn’t read it in years. I dropped out near the end of the Empire of Blood arc, when I’d be all “Man, I haven’t read it in months! I wonder if I’ll ever catch up?” and there would be 12 new pages.
I hope I get around to finishing it someday, but I just haven’t had time for webcomics ToT
Burlew got bit by the radioactive virtue signaling spider – fairly low key by most standards, but it was enough to push me from being an irregular reader to having the whole thing drop off my radar. Couple that with the extreme length of the story, and eventually it just made more sense to wait for him to be done with it rather than read OoTS in drips and drabs.
There are three webcomics I read–Order Of The Stick, Girl Genius, and Oglaf. Of the three, OOTS is my favorite.
I suggest Lackadaisy. Brilliant, except it doesn’t update enough.
I recommend Rusty & Co.
Damn you to all the 9 Hells, Gehenna, Hades, Pandemonium and all your favorite levels of the Abyss. I have spent the entire day reading this new discovery and am still not halfway through.
Don’t worry, you’ll catch up before you know it.
Now Darths & Droids on the other hand…
There was one panel of OotS that had me laughing for days afterward. It was where lich Xykon had faced off against another high level character backed up by an army and used the superball inscribed with a potent symbol to gain the upper hand.
Afterward, all these deceased characters are in a long line to have their souls judged before getting shipped off to whatever outer plane they are destined to go. And the high level character is standing in line reading some paper and suddenly blurts out, “I had 3HP left!!!”
In other words, during the battle the character had made a math error and didn’t catch it, and so he died before he should have which could have changed everything.
I was laughing because I have done the exact same damn thing at least half a dozen times after playing D&D or Warhammer.
OotS deserves all the praise it has been given. I unfortunately was obliged to give it up due to a promise made to myself about partaking of stories that in any way normalize homosexuality. But the comic is indeed exceedingly well done.
Off-topic, but I do want to bring up the excellent (and complete) webcomic Digger Both hilarious and (later) incredibly emotional. It has nothing to do with D&D though.
Big fan. I check for new strips every day.