Webcomic Book Club Full Reviews
of JibJab by Gregg & Evan Spiridellis


Review of "JibJab"
I wouldn't consider any of the titles on "JibJab" to be webcomics, primarily because they are not a reading experience. Comics are read. If the presentation is timed for you, I'd consider that to be an animated cartoon, even if it may have subtitles that you read.

Still, having said that, I can see why it might be useful to review along with webcomics, because "JibJab" succeeds in an area where 99% of webcomics fail. It has (to a certain degree) reached a mass audience. I can walk around my office floor and no one there will have heard of "Penny Arcade" or "Sluggy Freelance" but nearly everyone will have not only heard of, but actually seen a "JibJab" cartoon. Now that doesn't make "JibJab" better as a work of art, but the Spiridellis brothers are obviously doing something right to reach such a huge audience using just the Internet. What webcartoonist wouldn't love to have their strips being e-mailed around the globe as fervently as last year's "JibJab" cartoons?

On to the cartoons themselves...

"DJ Fred & McGinger"
More novelty game than cartoon. This is one of the three interactive mixer programs where there is a stage with figures, props, and connected sound effects. You cursor over or click on various images to mix a live video of sounds and animations. It's moderately funny and fun to play. But it's also instantly forgettable.

"It Bit My Ass"
Unfunny. This one is typical of the numerous amateurishly awful Flash films that are out there. It stars the grumpy old men characters, Cicero & Leo, and is not worth the download time.

"Cooking With Clinton"
Weak. The facial animations for Clinton are surprisingly comical at moments, but the comedy doesn't last the length of the brief program. It just keeps wallowing in the Clinton goofiness without really going anywhere.

"Bush Vs. Gore"
Another interactive Flash mixer, but more effective than "DJ Fred", as it combines the mixer board with political figures. This may be the first "JibJab" program link that someone e-mailed to me way back in 2000. It's fun interactive stuff that I spent way more time playing with than I'd like to admit. But again, it's less a webcomic (a reading experience) and more a novelty game.

"Funny Foreign Names"
Pretty funny cartoon mocking Bush, but not as good as it could be. The little elf character was cute.

"Geezers: The Musician"
Another awful outing with the two horribly-voiced, stereotyped old folks Cicero & Leo. Truly an arduous experience to sit through. I hope the Spiridellis brothers are smart enough to abandon these terrible characters and stick with the political caricatures.

"Raps: Founding Fathers"
This third Flash mixer was the weakest of the three, with mediocre lyrics about the Founding Fathers of the USA (Franklin, Washington, etc.) done in a rap style. On a technical level, I couldn't even get all the rapping fathers to function, and I didn't really care.

"Ahnuld for Governor"
Less a satire than a full on campaign commercial for Arnold Schwarzenegger from when he was running for California Governor. Ahnuld comically uses his movie roles to justify why he deserves to hold the office. But these movie allusions are exactly what Arnold does all the time (so did Reagan), so there was nothing actually critical of Arnold, just a friendly exaggerated homage. Nonetheless, as a cartoon it was still fast paced and rather funny.

"Good To Be In DC"
One of the two best "JibJab" cartoons and a link that got e-mailed around a lot. It's fast, catchy and has lots of cameos and secondary gags (the Clinton slap) that make the whole experience fun.

"This Land"
The most widely seen and best "JibJab" cartoon. It summarized all of the negative candidate cliches being tossed around during that time (2004 US presidential election) and blended them into a fast paced and catchy musical cartoon. It really captured the moment and was almost a cathartic release from all the campaign negativity to see all the figures from the nightly news lampooned in such a fun way. Further successful mileage was gained from the Clinton slap.

"Second Term"
No one e-mailed me this one and I watched it for the first time to write this review. I can see why this cartoon didn't quite catch fire like the previous two. It was still a generally successful entertainment and drew a smile from me, but it felt like more of the same old same old. I don't think any of the Bush gags felt like they were filling a cultural gap in quite the same way "This Land" did. Alas, in it's third outing, the gag of the Clinton slap had lost all comical mileage.

Overall
The biggest drawback with these cartoons (even the two best) is that there is no real edge to them. They are designed to get laughs without really offending anybody and just riffing on and exaggerating the traits of the politicians that we are already familiar with. That approach struck lightning with "This Land," but doesn't suggest an actual satirical perspective worth returning to. The timing and the gags work well enough on the better ones to be funny, but there aren't a lot of layers of artistry to appreciate beyond that. The photo-caricaturing is not nearly as satisfying as a good hand drawn caricature by Jack Davis or Mort Drucker (of Mad Magazine fame). Come to think of it, the song lyric rewrites aren't nearly as clever as the ones that used to appear in Mad (the "sung to the tune of" feature). One good thing about "JibJab" is you don't have to check back on their website. It they come up with another popular gem, chances are someone will e-mail it to you.
Review by The Phantom Critic Tue Mar 15 2005 12:30 AM

JibJab is not a webcomic. How it could be classified as such is beyond me. It is a series of Flash movies using shallow animation to simulate talking celebrity heads and pretty good impersonating voices. It is sometimes funny, but often devolves into jokes that Jay Leno could come up with. Incidentally, their most famous movie, This Land, was featured on the Tonight Show, garnering it a tad more fame and legitimacy than other Flash movie sites. It also takes a while to load anything.

I know that the definition of sequential art is a hazy one, as a series of still pictures standing next to each other can carry adhere to that term just as well as a series of still pictures shown in rapid succession (with added sound), but you know that one is a comic strip and the other is a movie. This is not "sequential art" we're trying to discuss. It's comic strips: still pictures standing next to eachother which when read in a certain sequence denote the passage of time. Sometimes they can only be one panel, in which a word or thought balloon still denotes the time it takes for the cogitation to get across. Unlike still pictures, comics cannot be absorbed by the mind instantly. They must take ime to read. Unlike books, comics not only provide a visual aid to the narrative, but the visuals are an integral part of the narrative. Unlike movies, comics can be read at one's own pace. JibJab is only like a comic in the fact that these are mostly still pictures of people and things with their components animated in order to convey a sense of movement. If you count JibJab as a comic in any way, you might as well count this too.

Sure, sometimes rules can be bent, and the internet makes bending the rules even easier. Animation can be added to a comic to give it an extra flair. Comics can become interactive by having the user click on things to proceed. Comics can have added sound. That still doesn't take away from the definition of comics, though, which are still pictures in series meant to convey the passage of time. JibJab ain't it.

As for comparing it with other political cartoons, go ahead. I'm not stopping you. Lord knows there aren't enough authors, pundits, cartoonists, bloggers and late night talk show hosts trying to put a lighthearted spin on the tragic mess that is American politics. I don't really care who's saying what or how they're conveying it or even if I agree with any of it. I just want to know whether they're funny or not. JibJab: eh...
Review by Cobra Thu Mar 10 2005 08:54 AM

I'd have to say that JibJab isn't a web comic. Web animation, yes. But comic? No, not really. No slam on the quality of the work, though.

But I'm not sure where the question comes from. With comics like Vicious Souvenirs, the question is more relevant. Souvenirs is animated....but the animation only changes the panels and their order, with very little motion inside of them. And the reader gets to determine how quickly or slowly the panels move. From what I've seen of JibJab, though, it's straight animation-you let it load and click play, and it goes until the end. So the question doesn't really make much sense.

Of course, I can't think of a better one specifically about JibJab, so....yeah.
Review by Benor Sun Mar 06 2005 06:48 PM

I do not belive that JibJab's animation fits within the definiton of "comics" defined by Scott McCloud, and held to by himself even when ported on the web (thus, "web comic").

First, let us strip out delivery. Right now, the formats for a comic are print images, and electronic images (GIF/JPG/PNG). This is because comics are static images. You could present them in a way using Flash that allows some fading or movement between images, but it still would be a comic. For example, Scott's own Flash-based "Daily Improv" and MZDM's Avatar Incantations done by Datban.

JibJab does animation, aka cartoons. They're in-line with film animation of the likes of Bugs Bunny or the video animation presented on Cartoon Network. They're in Flash, but then they could also be in MPEG, RealPlayer, Quicktime, DivX, MS Media, Nupplevision, or more (there's like forty different formats out there for video). However, they aren't static images animated into place. They are actual movies. With actual audio! And while most folk may have sound cards, my laptop doesn't, and it may actually be to slow to decode the video and play it fast enough.

So, that by definition, JibJab's animation can't be a comic -- it's a cartoon. We're not "Web Cartoon" or "Web Video" reviews, we're web comic!
Review by STrRedWolf Sun Mar 06 2005 06:13 PM



Question:

Well... if we want to debate the term, I'd say no, Jib Jab is not a 'web comic'. A comic consists of drawn panels in a sequence. When the sequence becomes chronological rather than physical, it would be considered an animation. Some presentations would fall into more of a grey area, but JibJab is not one of them.

Now, if the webcomic book club were to review 'web media' or some other term equating to the same thing, then it would be applicable.



Review:

It's funny, non-offensive political ribbing. There's no point, or slant, just a skit and a song. Instantly my mind reels back to the crudely done Monty Python skits done (30?) years ago. These are done better, the animation quite good considering the medium it uses. The tunes are catchy, the running gags not annoyingly overdone.

More likely this would appeal to an older audience that would 'get' the style, and care more about politics. Show this to your parents in their 30s or 40s (if applicable) and I bet they'll laugh.

The site itself is simplistic. There are ads but they are trying to market the videos while providing them for free. The videos themselves are several MB apiece, so dialup users may have it slow going. I'd certainly recommend anyone tempted to crack a political joke to watch an animation or two of JibJab.

(Rumple is hilarious)
Review by Re Sun Mar 06 2005 05:34 AM

Should JibJab be considered a webcomic for reviewing purposes?

Nearly every English-speaker online has seen or heard of the JibJab animated political cartoons that get meme-mailed across the web. Should these cartoons be compared with political strips like Get Your War On or This Modern World? If not, is it more the artistic/commercial sensibilites that make it a different breed or the perception that it is more animated cartoon than webcomic. Do such distinctions even matter when discussing web entertainments? I've seen this topic of webcomic definitions arise over the years on various forums and was curious if members here have a take on the subject.
Review by Furilius Pitch Sat Mar 05 2005 08:32 PM

Visitor Reviews & Comments

No. I don't see their flash movies as webcomics. But they are sure darn funny.
Review by Psychobob Fri Apr 15 2005 08:33 PM

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