A Rusty Life

What Did I Learn?

weekly webcomic reviews by Delos Woodruff

A Rusty Life by Johnathon Bigelow
I originally wrote a review of A Rusty Life quite a while ago but most of it seems to have been erased and I was forced to rewrite the review. I didn’t remember that ARL started out in March 2003 as a black and white comic with a four panel sqaure layout. Color is added in November 2003 which improves the comic quite a bit. It eventually becomes more of the standard newspaper style strip with color.

It’s interesting to see how the dynamics of reading change between the two. There’s a longer mental pause when you translate from the upper right to the lower left panel than going left to right panel jumps. This lets you time the punchlines differently. It’s also a little less common to choose the four square layout so it was nice to get that different experience.

ARL is usually pretty funny – better than many of the comics in the newspaper. ARL is not afraid to expand the medium, either. There are strips where the fourth wall is broken. You might say the panel borders don’t hold anyone in. I also liked how the comic made fun of comics occasionally, such as when it knocked the talking heads you see all the time.

I got distracted there. I wanted to talk about how gags can be difficult to pull off. You have to write the joke, then draw it visually funny too. Everyone has different skill at this, but sometimes the humor doesn’t translate well or lines won’t cooperate. Many comics build up long, drawn out stories that are just one big joke. ARL has a pretty good short term joke payoff and even works them in long term sometimes.

It was in September 2006 that ARL was redone in newspaper style layout. At that point, some continuity was edited out. While some things were ported over, minor characters were dropped and other things were changed wholesale, I liked that he wanted to redo classic strips in the new format. I found it interesting that a the artist would choose to reboot a gag a day strip. Most wouldn’t bother, but it must have been a good opportunity to refocus the comic. You can read all about it on the About page.

That was long ago, in internet time. Where is ARL today? For one, the artist is looking for a new tagline for the comic. I won’t go into how difficult it can be to get just the right quote. If you get a good idea, you can contact the artist – here’s his request for suggestions. The update schedule has some good points to it from a publishing perspective, as well.

ARL is chugging along nicely, doing the Tuesday and Thursday updates, with extras. Many comics update M-W-F, so this gives a new comic to see on those ‘off days.’ There have been some gaps this summer in the Wednesday extras due to various things – like being at a con. Another noteworthy thing: the panel borders disappeared around October 2007.The foreground has linework but nothing else. Another interesting choice by the artist. It has quite a ‘pop’ effect.

What did I learn?

This is very well done gag-a-day work. Being funny doesn’t always require a complex build up of character and situation. I can only encourage you to enjoy A Rusty Life along with me.


  1. I’ve been checking out this comic on and off for months. The artist is a good guy, and that made me want to read it. Then I found out the size of the archive, so I have been checking it in segments.

    Everything about it is appealing and tasteful, but I am left with a nagging question: If Johnathon Bigelow and I went through his archive and picked out our choices for the funniest strips, would they overlap a lot, or not? Simply put, I’m not sure we have similar senses of humor. That might work to his advantage, because what I find funny leaves many people puzzled, and vice versa. (The jury is still out on whether my own humor comics will find an audience.)

    Regardless, John works hard on A Rusty Life and I’m glad to see someone spend the time it needs to give it a quality review. Cheers to reviewer and reviewed.

    BTW, I don’t really know John, we just seem to find ourselves in the same place at the same time a lot.

  2. It’s funny that you mention that about the humor. By far, I enjoyed most of the strips. Once in a while, there was one or two that I didn’t get (Like the ‘Rod’ one from the other day.)

    Since the work is appealing, I assumed there is some backstory thing that a fan would get that explains that comic.

    Thanks for reading!

  3. mpd57

    HEY! DELOS! Ahem! Does your email think I’m spam? I’m thinking Houston may have a communication problem 😉 two messages and counting 😉 entering dark side of moon – you’re brea.in. up … … Hou…..!

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