Friday, February 4, 2022

Green Phoenix - Questionable Content Review

It's certainly been quite a long time since I released a review of some form of literary work, that being my 1634: The Bavarian Crisis review from September 10th, 2021. So with 2022 now well underway, I feel it is far passed time to look at yet another piece of literature, though today's work will be a little different than my usual fair.

After all, Webcomics aren't usually categorized, in my experience, along the same lines as other forms of literary media. Whether this is due to classism philosophies within literary circles or the tendency of webcomics to explore concepts in a much more free-form and subversive ways than paper and published comics is something that I will leave up to others to debate. What is not up for debate is that among all the webcomics I read, there is one particular series that I have adored for years for its willingness to explore complex topics and create long-form character and relationship driven plot lines that would make a daytime soap opera blush.

The fact that this series has also managed to continue on a routine schedule since 2003, in a genre that sees most comics go under after two or three years, only makes Questionable Content by Jeph Jacques all the more extraordinary and absolutely worth examining more closely to see just what it is about this webcomics that makes it so easy to be drawn in.

  • Written by Jeph Jacques
  • Published Online since 2003
  • Story Ongoing as of February 2nd, 2022.
  • You can support on Patreon
  • Available at


I know for a fact that I have discussed Questionable Content in some capacity in the past, whether on this website or among my various other projects and platforms. But in all that time, I am amazed that I never have actually sat down and did a more in-depth review and examination of this 19 years and counting webcomic. I've never in all that time decided to

Well that changes now, as my mind has been thinking about just how incredible this webcomic is, in terms of both its age and the diversity of its content and tonal evolution.

Describing the plot of Questionable Content is actually a little bit challenging because the webcomic has shifted from its foundational structure, due to the evolution of the art style and a shift in focus to a larger cast and more complex and inter-related narratives; more in the style of an American daytime soap opera.
In the beginning, the comic comprised mostly of one-shot joke comics involving the day-to-day musings of millennial alternative musician and habitual slacker Martin Reed, his perverted AI companion Pintsize and his crush on his roommate, the loud-mouthed, hard drinking Faye Whitaker. Most of the comics dealt largely with discussion regarding various different aspects of alternative music, even ignoring some of the weird sci-fi elements that were just hand-waved into existence, like Pintsize. Even as the cast grew, including people like the neurotic neighbor Hannelore and the goth coffee-shop owner Dora, this generalized laid back tone remained; but a small shift did occur over time. By the 200th episode, the comics began making the larger transition towards more developed relationship drama alongside a more detailed art style.

Nowadays, 4700+ chapters in, the animation is professional level quality with multiple ongoing and interconnected story lines, a massive cast of characters each with their own foibles and follies that make every day an absolute treat as to whether a particular relationship will evolve or continue or be ended. It makes for a riveting experience, all the while layering in more complex thematic commentary on our modern world and engaging in fantastic scientific world-building for the increasingly diverse cast of humans and AI which make up the world of Northampton, Massachusetts.

That diversity really is something that is so incredibly important for the overall character of Questionable Content. The comic never shies away from topics heavily rooted in the LGBT+ movement or Communities with Autism, including some representation that I have rarely, if ever, seen before in any previous media. But the comic never takes its representation as token and it rarely makes it political, instead choosing to do the most heroic thing and normalize such communities by making a character's sexual orientation, gender identity, or mental condition but a single piece of a far more complex character; a feat really only possible because of the long-form model of the webcomic.
A great example is the character of Claire Augustus, Martin's current girlfriend and the sister of Clinton Augustus. Claire is revealed early on to be trans, an aspect of her personality that has caused a great deal of strife with her father and stress on her. The comic does not shy away from discussions regarding her gender identity, especially once she and Martin become...intimate (the comic is decidedly R rated but not at all explicit unless you go looking in certain places on Patreon). But Claire is also an extremely devoted friend of Hannelore and her old boss Tai, she has a competitive but loving relationship with her brother Clinton, she worries about her future as a librarian and constantly pushes Martin to better himself and engage in more "adult" activities, like setting up a bank account. She is also a prodigious shipper of her friends and the other various locals of Northampton, much to some of theirs chagrin.

Can you tell who one of my favorite characters is?

But this does bring up one element that I think needs to be discussed. It is absolutely not a flaw, but it is something to note. As the cast has grown and new relationships beyond the initial three of Martin, Faye, and Pintsize have developed, Martin and Pintsize have become increasingly side-lined, often going months without ever appearing in the comics. Now the comics are playing on a much shorter timescale than the real world, but it still is noticeable.
It seems like Jeph has been taking note of this and trying to integrate them into some of the more complex story lines now playing, such as having Pintsize finally get a human-looking AI body (as he was the last AI in the group to receive such an update) and having Martin closely tied into Claire's storyline regarding her post-graduation career as a librarian, a story line that could absolutely shift down-the-line to seeing Martin and Claire even being forced to leave Northampton, which would be an absolute shock to the universe. So it seems like Jeph is aware of the issue of an ever expanded cast, and seems to be making moves to either compact the story of trim off old or completed story lines from the early days (although I do hope that Steve never fully disappears).

If I had to discuss my favorite current story line, it would have to be anything involving Faye and her AI girlfriend Bubbles and their repair shop Union Robotics. Through their shop, they've actually become something of a grounding location for many consistent story lines, right alongside the Coffee of Doom, the original cross story hub location. The relationship between Faye and Bubbles is absolutely adorable and sweet and watching them interact with so many different characters, while worrying about finances and helping to stage other stories, like Roko and her work on AI rights or Millefeuille and her burgeoning relationship with Brun, who was also in a strange love-triangle poly-possible relationship with Clinton and the lovable himbo Elliot.

If you want to marathon the past issues in order to catch up, you will have quite a lot of work in your future. 18 years and over 4000 issues is a lot of ground to cover and the early comics are very primitive in terms of design and coloration and the focus on more one-off or musical jokes does make it a bit difficult to get through, but I promise that the story does kick-off after the first hundred or so chapters into a more narrative focused writing, which is quite frankly incredibly good. Jeph is amazing with dialogue and capturing a unique personality for every line of dialogue, very rarely was I ever confused as to who is ever speaking or the tone at which those lines of dialgoue were intended.

Indeed, I could actually see a animated adaptation of Questionable Content doing incredibly well and being very successful over streaming platforms, although the more comedy soap opera aspect may be difficult for some to get into.

In conclusion, Questionable Content is a magnificent example of the true potential of webcomics as a literary and visual medium. It is a significant amount of work to get through the backlog, given the sheer age of the comic series, but it is more than worth it for stunning character design, beautifully representative and diverse dialogue and comedy, and a fantastically complex web of ongoing narratives and character relationships that is set to only grow with time.


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