Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Now That it's Finished: Checkerboard Nightmare (oldschool)

(All images from Checkerboard Nightmare by Kristopher Straub. Click on the pictures to see them within the context of the website.)

So Kris Straub was able to stop making Checkerboard Nightmare strips for a full two weeks after he finished, meaning that I was most of the way through the archive crawl when I found out Chex was back. Anyway, it looks like the entire strip has been revamped and a few rules have been added, so I'm going to pretend those new strips don't exist and give Checkerboard Nightmare its proper review.

I found out about Checkerboard Nightmare through a review on Webcomics Examiner. Since I already liked 1/0 I decided to give it a try. Checkerboard does work with fourth wall breaking like 1/0, but it does so in a completely different way.

The Concept

Checkerboard Nightmare is a satire strip. Kris Straub uses his characters to provide a commentary on the state of webcomics, and later entertainment in general. As a result the characters are fully aware of their existence and have no regards for continuity. One strip they could be doing one thing, the next they could do something completely different. Despite this, there are still some full storylines and an overall arc. Also despite not following continuity, the characters themselves remain quite consistent throughout the entire story.

Also since it is a satire strip, and is based on parody of a few popular comics, there are quite a few jokes within the archive where you have to know the context to get the humor, or which aren't funny if you don't know the context. This might pose a problem to a webcomic newcomer who decides to do an archive crawl. Checkerboard Nightmare is truly for the webcomic geeks.

The Story

The official idea behind the strip is that Checkerboard Nightmare(better known as Chex) is a comic character trying to increase the popularity of his strip besides a lack of talent. He does, however, have an at least passable knowledge of basic marketing and a willingness to exploit anyone and anything he can, even to the point of stealing ideas and styles from other artists. Ultimately, however, he fails in every scheme he comes up with.

Chex has done everything from breaking the fourth wall to breaking the fabric of space/time. His schemes constantly end up putting him in court. This forces Lyle to bail him out multiple times.

The one person who Checkerboard takes the most advantage of in the strip is Dot, a more successful character who stole his look (which he in turn stole from his next-door neighbor). Chex is not one to shy away from controversy and makes many enemies, which is ultimately what leads to the end of the strip.

As for the ending, well, with so many disparate storylines, it's hard to come to a satisfying conclusion. I can't think of a better ending, but it is definitely not the high point of the strip. Still it feels like an ending, so on with the review.

The Characters

As I said before, despite a lack of continuity, the characters are surprisingly consistent. The only thing that seems to change is they get smarter or dumber in order to make a joke work. It helps that the characters are caricature more than actually characters. The two-dimensionality of the characters is maintained for the most part throughout the entire strip. Each character does grow in their own way, though.

Checkerboard Nightmare

Chex is, of course the star of the strip. He's an optimistic, opportunistic webcomics character with an idealistic stance on life and a distorted view of reality. He is also blessed with a single-mindedness that goes way beyond what would normally be healthy. Chex has no problem stealing ideas from other cartoonists, especially when the stealing of those involve as little work as possible.

Chex is one of the more static characters of the strip. In fact there are many times within the strip where he realizes he's about to develop as a character and fights against it. I think, deep down Chex realizes that he will never achieve the fame he wants, and he also knows that if he ever grows he will come to realize it and give it up. So he fights, and he goes into a rage whenever things seem futile.

Chex is a stubborn person. He is so absorbed in himself that he sometimes doesn't notice his friends. He actually laughs at their pain a few times. He has no respect for property, intellectual or material. He bases his entire personality off the trends. He's arrogant and immature. And that's why he's such a great character.


Of course, every comedic team needs a straight man. Lyle is the straight man for Checkerboard Nightmare. He's the person the audience can relate to, and the sounding board for Chex's schemes. He is the voice of reason and the lawyer who usually saves Chex whenever he gets in trouble. In short, he's the father from "Father Knows Best."

Though I've never really seen anything from that show.

That's not to say Lyle is completely devoid of personality or humor. In fact, his sense of humor is just fine. He has a wonderful sarcastic side which shows every once in a while, and he's very creative. He has to be when he's defending Chex all the time.

Amazingly, despite being rather fed up with all his shenanigans, Lyle is quite loyal to Chex. This may be because he's part of an organization dedicated to letting stupid people take over the world, but he still sticks with him and remains a friend until the end of the strip.

Lyle does, however, have a life outside of the strip. In fact, he's one of the few characters that do. Dot used to, but she keeps losing it because of Chex. Vaporware was built by Chex and is basically programmed to stay with him. Lyle has a family outside of the strip and is able to keep them through the entire run. (It seems to be a healthy family, too, or at least a relatively healthy family.)


A robot built by Checkerboard Nightmare himself with one goal: Come up with new and interesting ways to choke Lyle Zebulon. At least, that was his goal at first.

Vaporware is pretty much your stereotypical robot. Lacking emotions, sometimes trying to seem like he has some, bent on destroying humanity and running his robot minions. You know, typical stuff. He's also bitter because he feels like he's stuck in that niche, and doesn't like it, although he still enjoys choking Lyle every chance he gets (although, deep down, I think he actually cares about him (it's like those elementary school romances)).

Like Lyle, he serves as a source of sarcasm and cynicism within the strip. However, he tends to be a little more cruel than Lyle is. However, since he was built by Chex, there are many times where he's forced to do things because of his programming, even if he doesn't want to. However, he is in many ways his own robot, and is fully capable of reaping the benefits whenever they present themselves.


Dot is Chex's competition and friend. She's also the person who Chex screws over the most in his schemes.

Dot is your typical male-fantasy female comic character, submissive and kind to a fault. (that's what Straub says, at least) While she has sued Chex more times than I want to count, she's always willing to drop the charges, and even hope that somehow Chex will learn his lesson, which, of course, he doesn't, but it doesn't hurt to hope. Does it?

However, even though Dot is pretty much the only female character in the comic, she is not a romantic interest. Chex is too caught up in himself to really have a true romantic relationship (although he did try once) and Dot is only attracted to anthropomorphic animal characters, mainly cats, like Schrodinger.

However, Dot, unlike all the other secondary characters, still maintains a sense of naivety, which of course causes her to be proven wrong with almost every assumption she makes. She thinks her audience will accept her for who she is, but once they find out she dates a cat they throw her out. She thinks Chex will change and he keeps finding new ways to prove her wrong. She thinks there is still good in the world she lives in, and that there is good in Chex. Who knows, she might be right on that one. It's nice to have a chracter that's optimistic, but not suicidally optimistic (like Chex is), though.

Winona Ryder

Okay, Winona's not a true character in the comic, but you sure hear about her all the time. Chex has what I would call an unhealthy obsession with her, as evidenced by the comic that picture came from. She does turn out to be a deity at the end, though. I just thought it would be cool to have a gag character in there.

The Wrap up

You can't deny Checkerboard Nightmare's place in webcomics history, nor can you deny the impact Kris Straub is still having on webcomics today. This is a person with his foot firmly within the community. He's good friends with most of the major names, and I'm sure some of those people look up to him. Checkerboard Nightmare is just part of the influence he had, and even though there are many jokes that need context there's enough humor in there for it to be a fun read even if you don't get all the references. To tell you the truth, I don't get all of them either. I still like the comic, though.

Sorry about taking so long to write this. Writers block just hit me hard. The way I write, whenever I get writers block, it's like a wall comes crashing down right in front of me, and I can't get anything finished. Ideas don't come. Luckily when I'm inspired I tend to write a lot so it evens out.

You'd think these thing would get easier as I write more of them, but no. They're getting harder. I could use a break. I'm going to start work on my next review now. I don't know if I'm completely satisfied with this one, but it's done and I've said all I want to. Moving on.


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