The Order of the Stick

So I’m finally reading The Order of the Stick. I know, I know… I really should have read it ages ago, and be totally up to date, and read each new strip as it comes out. In fact I’ve been meaning to read it for ages, but could never get over the archive panic it stirred in me each time I tried to start on it. So I never got further than about half a dozen strips into it.

Until recently when I linked two things which I really always knew but had for some reason never put into close proximity with one another: (1) the comic is available in collected book form, and (2) I have enough disposable income to afford the books. So I ordered every book I could – which unfortunately excludes the currently out-of-print Book 3: War and XPs. Nonetheless, the remainder of the collection arrived last week and I’ve been devouring them as bedtime reading. I’ve just finished Book 2, and will now read the prequels (Book 0 and Book -1) before resorting to the online format to work my way through the strips of the missing Book 3. (I’ll buy Book 3 as soon as it comes back into print – in case Rich Burlew needs any more justification for another print run.)

So let me say, it’s much easier to digest a webcomic with an ongoing plot and text-heavy strips and a 500+ strip archive when it’s presented in a book than it is to click through it online. At least for me, anyway.

No doubt many of you are avid followers of The Order of the Stick already. You know how good it is, so I don’t need to go into that. Despite not having read it until just this last week, I had absorbed enough of the opinion and general aura around it to know that it must be good, so I knew I wasn’t plunking down good money for something I’d regret later. Deep down I already knew this was a good webcomic, and I still couldn’t get over the entry barrier of that archive of a few hundred strips until I could get my hands on them in book format. Which naturally makes me think about things.

Tacking to port slightly, the books come with introductions written by Rich Burlew, both at the beginning of the book, and before each chapter of action. Unfortunately for people like me, as I discovered, these introductions are written based on the assumption that you have already read the strips that they are introducing. They actually give away plot elements in the upcoming chapter, and in some cases for several chapters in advance. And I’m pretty sure one of them gave away something that is in a future book that I haven’t read yet. So I’ve taken to ignoring the introductions entirely for now.

Which is a shame, because Rich has very interesting things to say about the creative process and the planning that goes into his comics. Being a comic creator myself, it gives me a good indication that this guy really knows what he’s doing – he’s not just throwing stuff together every week with no forethought. And I can understand the tiny detailed things that he must be thinking for every strip that he puts together – things that most readers will never consciously notice, but which add to the immersiveness and quality of his work.

I just wish that this stuff could have been written without referring to events in the comic that haven’t occurred yet, from the perspective of a first-time reader. Sure, most people reading the books will have already read everything online – but not all of them. I think some thought needs to be given to constructing the books in a way that doesn’t spoil things for new readers. It’s a minor annoyance, but an annoyance nonetheless.

But overall, I’m very impressed by what I’ve read so far. What obviously began as a gag-a-day comic strip evolved very quickly into something with clear plans for a grand plot. It’s easy to see why Rich Burlew has grown such a large fan base. +1.

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