I’ve always read and enjoyed comics. These days I don’t read many, but one I still keep up with religiously is the webcomic Questionable Content. I started reading it sometime in the early 2000s, based on somebody’s listicle of good webcomics. I’ve checked out several others over the years, but QC is the only one that has stuck.
Questionable Content is a “slice of life” comic set in an alternate universe that’s very much like ours except the AI Singularity has already taken place. Creator Jeph Jacques started it in 2003 as a side gig. Its original premise was about slacker indie rock culture but it quickly branched out from there and became much more. The story began when the main character Marten Reed, a laid-back college age guy who moved to Northampton, Mass., (home of “Smif” College) from California after a failed relationship. His companion is an AnthroPC named Pintsize, a mouthy and porn-obsessed little guy with a boxy chassis like a Windows PC circa 2001, an orb-like head, and four limbs that are like oblong paddles.
Early on, Marten takes in Faye as a roommate, they become best friends, and the characters and their relationships begin to multiply fractally. Faye takes a job at Coffee of Doom, a sassy espresso shop owned by former goth Dora, who’s as indie-obsessed as Marten. Marten confronts a young woman who seems to be stalking him; she’s Hannelore, an upstairs neighbor who’s nice but … quirky. Various other young folks – customers, roommates, bosses and employees, pizza deliverers, students and ex-students, nerds and gamers and their friends and roommates and even parents (and eventually AIs), cycle in and out of the story lines. It’s all held together by the witty banter of Marten, Faye and Dora.
It’s not all fun and games, though. Couples get together and break up. These are young people, most of them in their 20s, so they’re making the kinds of mistakes we all make at that time of life. And many of them are carrying a lot of baggage. Faye witnessed her dad’s suicide. Hannelore grew up on a space station with fabulously wealthy and brilliant parents, one neglectful, the other emotionally abusive. Others had families that splintered or they have varying degrees of bad relationships with parents. But for the most part, these are decent, compassionate young people who help each other through shaky times and mistakes, mostly by not judging, by accepting each other for who and where they are — just being good friends, mostly.
And then there are the AIs. Over the years Jacques integrated more and more of them into the series, and had some of them who had rudimentary chassis opt for more human-standard bodies. Some, like cybercrime cop Roko, convenience store clerk (and convicted felon) May, and military veteran Bubbles, are main or supporting characters. Many, like Punchbot, Melon, and Lemon, play minor but recurring roles. Most of them help advance what has turned into a major sub-theme, the civil and “human” rights of AIs. And in fact one of the main characters is now in a same-sex relationship with another main character who’s an AI — I won’t say anything more to avoid spoilers!
Be warned, Questionable Content is R rated. What’d you expect with a name like that? Jacques is a very humorous writer but also politically and socially progressive and deeply compassionate, and it’s reflected in his characters and story lines. As with IRL people, just about everyone has some kind of issue that they’re working to either resolve or learn to function with. Several are at various places on the non-neurotypical spectrum, and others have various neuroses or hangups. There’s at least one trans character, and more than one of the AIs has difficulties with body dysmorphia. There’s drinking and weed-smoking, sometimes to excess, which affects relationships. That’s why they’re called “slice of life” comics.
These days Jacques supports himself via Patreon subscribers and QC-related merch sales. Replicas of t-shirts worn by characters often end up for sale, and sometimes strip punchlines (“Baking is science for hungry people!”) will end up on mugs, aprons, hoodies and the like. Jacques has published several books with hard copies of the web strips with updated art, but the early strips on the site retain the original art – it’s fun to see the artist’s and characters’ evolution, I think.
So if you’re a fan of manga, comics, indie rock or SF, or some combination of the above, chances are you’ll enjoy Questionable Content. The link takes you to the most recent strip, and every page has links to the first, last, latest and random strips. Jacques on his About page recommends jumping in at No. 3500, but I think a good starting place is No. 1500. Enjoy!
(A while back Jacques did a side project, a seriously SF one-off comic called Alice Grove. It’s awesome!)