Joe! Webcomic Review

What Did I Learn?

Today’s comic under review is Joe! by Michelle Billingsley. The About page informs us that this comic is based on Joe, a wise cracking ten year old getting into trouble based on “imaginatively-exploited everyday shorelines,” which is pretty accurate up to the current comic of #112. However, the rest of the cast is just as smart-alecky as Joe.

Even while being a gag-a-day comic, it is often broken into storylines and mini-arcs, plus fillers and guest comics and such. You have to recognize this as a feature, not a bug. The artist is like many webcomic creators – trying to dedicate time to making the comic aside from the day job, the standard troubles with computers and all those other real life things. Really, any kind of semi-regular creative schedule is a feat and we should appreciate creators who can pull it off. Recently, another artist (Tres Swygert III) has assumed the art duties, which seems like a good plan for creating more comics.

I thought it was interesting that the colors are visually strong. The overall tendency in the comics I usually see is for more subdued tones with shadows and highlights, partially because software makes it easier than ever to do. (Obviously, each person reading this is exposed to a far different array of comics than I am, so YMMV. But still.) And while color strength is just one of a thousand things that comic creators have to make choices about, the strong colors in Joe! really force you to read the dialog and participate in the story.

What?!? Partici… What is he on about? Well, what do you find yourself focusing on here or here? Was it the shadows and the computer effects? No, they come across as secondary. The art is an expressive caricature, the color accentuates, the word balloons call attention to themselves and the dialog IS the comic. You can’t just glance at it and get the gist; it’s not that kind of comic. You have to read and react to it.

Let’s come back a second – I’m not saying that Joe! lacks visuals. There’s a certain punch to these panels, don’t you think? Relatedly, I was taken in by the visual changes we see over time as Joe! has evolved. Look here:

Pretty interesting to see them side by side? We should expect to see changes over time in an artist’s work, shouldn’t we? Further, we should celebrate them as it helps each comic improve. Sometimes we can be so critical, expecting a rigid sameness in comics that it’s healthy to look askance at that view from time to time. In this case, Joe! has some solid characteristics even when the rendering techniques and methods change. That’s the kind of consistency we should shoot for.

What Did I Learn?

This might be my first review in a while, but there is still much to examine and learn from in creating good comics. Once you check it out, I’m sure you will agree that Joe! is a fun read.


  1. Pingback: JOE! - Joe! Gets Reviewed!

  2. I am so glad to see that spotlight shining on Michelle Billingsley’s “Joe!” webcomic. Michelle was one of the first people I met when I started posting my work online and she was instrumental as far as inspiring, motivating, and entertaining me while I was getting my feet wet, so to speak.

    Never one to simply follow the crowd, she constantly pushed herself to excel and make her comics better with each installment.

    Michelle never rushed her strips or created one just for the sake of obeying a rigorous deadline. With Michelle, she gave you the latest “Joe!” when she felt like it.

    Art is supposed to soothe the designer’s nerves, not irritate them. Michelle drew when she felt like it, and her work always looks phenomenal because she did it “her way”.

    Great review!

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