There are a couple things I wish to make clear before starting. The first is that these next few articles will not be sporks. They are going to be reviewing a work that I genuinely enjoyed. The second is that this work is not a book. It’s a webcomic, namely, minus.1 by Ryan Armand. Now, as far as I know nobody on here has reviewed a visual medium before, but I think I can pull it off. ;-)

Since it is a webcomic, I will not be using direct quotes like in my previous spork. Instead, I will simply link to the first strip and allow you to follow along with me. The comic is pretty short; one could probably read through the whole thing in about an hour or so.

So why am I doing this, reviewing something I liked instead of providing (occasionally) humorous commentary on something I don’t like? Because, simply put, Ryan Armand is a genius. He is able to do what so many amateur writers try and fail to do — make an immensely powerful protagonist who isn’t a Mary Sue. Therefore, this review will also have the purpose of showing that it is possible to write the situations often lambasted on this site, but you have to know what you’re doing and be skilled enough to win an award for your work,2 so one should focus on improving one’s writing skills before even attempting such.

As promised, here is the link to the first strip.

Now, to be fair, I should point out that the creator of this comic does have one inherent advantage over most of the writers sporked here that has nothing to do with skill, namely, that this is a comic and therefore nothing needs to be described in text. Thus, it’s a given that there is neither Purple Prose nor Beige Prose, so I will discount that. The most annoying thing about bad writing is often the characterization, anyway.

So the comic opens with the title panel, which showcases a girl playing with a ball. This is our main character. After a couple panels of her playing with the ball, the scene pans out to two older boys. They say they want to take the ball from our protagonist, and they do just that. What jerks. The as-of-yet-unnamed lead doesn’t seem to understand that they have no intention of giving it back, thus providing some insight into her character. Instead, one of the boys throws the ball in her face and laughs. Gee, could it be that we are not supposed to sympathize with them? They begin to walk away laughing, only for them to be swallowed up by tree branches that literally appeared from nowhere, and confirming that this is an Urban Fantasy setting, albeit one more like The Twilight Zone than your cliché Urban Fantasy setting, as will be seen shortly. Which is good, I mean, clichés are annoying at the best of times.

Our protagonist sees all this, and continues playing with her ball as though nothing had happened, thus giving more insight into her character: she does not appear to understand the implications of events around her. Now, this is the first strip, so it isn’t at all clear why everything happened. That won’t be clarified for a few more strips.

Of course, this wouldn’t be a review of a comic if I didn’t mention the art style, and here’s where the work really shines. Armand is certainly a talented artist, and he tells the readers that all the strips are painted on the type of boards that professionals use, which by itself proves that he put more work into this than most webcomic creators, who just copy and paste the same static faces into Microsoft Paint over and over again.

Now onto the second strip. I must confess that I don’t really want to review this strip, because it makes no sense to me at all; Armand had not hit his stride at this early point. I mean, even with my spork I was able to criticize how inept Rummel’s story was, but with this strip I can’t even do that, because things happen for literally no reason at all. It is certainly not one of the better strips. But for completeness, I must provide at least a cursory summary.

Our main character, whose hair changes color every strip, is in a cemetery on a snowy day. It is never explained why; it isn’t like she lost a loved one or anything. Instead, the angel carved onto one of the headstones comes to life and gets into a snowball fight with her, traumatizing a few senior citizens who are also at the cemetery. That’s it. There is nothing more to this, and so we will just move on to the third strip.

Now things are starting to get interesting. On the Internet, this particular strip is infamous, because it shows more of the protagonist’s character, and it isn’t very flattering.

The protagonist gets a balloon from a vendor, and within two panels it inexplicably pops.3 The vendor’s a nice guy and gives her another one. That one pops, too. Now, it is never clarified how old the main character is, because it is shown that she likes the sound of balloons popping or something. She has a million-watt smile and everything, acting like a four-year-old about it (yet, as will be seen in a later strip, she attends school.) So she’s all happy about the balloons popping, which causes some of the balloons that the vendor is still holding4 to pop, much to his surprise, because, you know, balloons don’t just suddenly pop for no reason. Then, our protagonist picks up a rock from the ground and throws it at the balloons, popping all the rest of them. Yeah, she’s a jerk. As shown, the rock’s trajectory is completely impossible, which is the whole point, because in this strip, it is shown that the main character possesses supernatural powers.


Yes, Armand is actually justifying the use of cartoon physics. The reason that things happen the way they do in cartoons is because the protagonist is messing with reality with her supernatural powers.

Naturally, the vendor freaks out and yells at the main character to go away. And here is where the strip derives its infamy. No sooner has the vendor yelled at the protagonist, then, in the very next panel, he begins to transform into a balloon. Let me repeat that. She turns him into a balloon because he justifiably yells at her. And in the very last panel, the vendor-turned-balloon pops.

This is why the protagonist of this comic is so infamous. She is Chaotic Neutral to a T. This could easily have gone horribly wrong. However, at no point does Armand state or imply that the protagonist is in the right. She just acts the way any young child would if they could do whatever they wanted with no regard for the laws of physics, because children are too young and innocent to understand what goes on around them. The main character isn’t outright malicious; she just doesn’t understand the consequences of her actions. This is why “It’s a Good Life” is a horror story. And because this is a visual medium, the readers are able to see every character’s expressions and so sympathize with the people who suffer because the protagonist is playing around without a care in the world.

The fourth strip is not nearly as dark as the one before it. We see the main character, presumably at her house, overlooking some loaves of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly. It should go without saying that once again her hair has changed color. I will not mention this again, because now it should go without saying. For some reason, she animates the food, goes outside. and plays with them. We see Frisbee, drawing with sidewalk chalk, and exploring the landscape. Speaking of landscapes, one major trait of a comic is that the story is conveyed by the images as much as by the text. In this, Armand succeeds par excellence. In the middle of the strip is a beautiful landscape, of a river that runs through a forest, with oak trees in the foreground. It really shows off Armand’s ability as an artist.

Well, in the next panel, we finally learn the main character’s name. It is… (wait for it) …minus. Poor kid, named after an arithmetical operation. She’s probably teased in school. Well, at least now we know why the webcomic is called that.

We learn this because minus’s mother yells at her from off-panel,5 presumably not to play with her food, and is surprisingly unfazed by her kid having the ability to bring the food to life. I wonder if she knows anything about what happened to that balloon vendor. minus actually complies (revealing something else about her: she never directly disobeys any request that anyone asks of her, except for that poor balloon vendor) and tells the food that they can’t play anymore because her mother says that she has to eat them. Because What Measure Is A Non-Human, amirite? The food is now sentient. I mean really. That being said, the line is truly hilarious, simply because I could imagine it actually being said with all seriousness. After a beat panel, in which the food is clearly distressed, minus leads them back to her house, with the story to be continued on the fifth strip.

Yes, this comic does have some continuous story lines. This one is pretty short, though.

The next strip opens with some random guy about to eat a sandwich. It is never explained who he is, and he isn’t important at all. The comic’s recurring characters have not shown up yet. So, just as he’s about to take a bite of his presumably delicious sandwich, who should pop up from out of nowhere but minus.6 For absolutely no reason at all, she telekinetically lifts the man’s sandwich and slaps him in the face with it. Yes, minus is just a child, but that is still jerkish behavior, and her youth is no excuse for it. The loaf of bread from last strip jumps onto the table, and minus follows by taking a flying leap, clearing the table in a single bound like she’s Tony Hawk or something. The man’s expressions in the background are just priceless. He is not the first person to be terrified of what is going on, and he certainly will not be the last.

minus and the food go away for the time being, leaving the man alone on-panel. Now, there are no words in this strip at all. The story is told entirely through his expressions, which I mention here because it is the most noticeable at this point. Adding words to this strip would ruin it; the pictures themselves perfectly capture just how confused the man is. His respite lasts for only three panels, as minus apparently found some more food and animated it, and they all throw themselves in the man’s direction, pelting him so much that in one panel they cover him completely, and then the last panel just has minus and the food run back the way they came, while the man is lying on the floor behind the overturned table.

This basically showed how minus acts when nobody gets in her way. There are a lot of strips like this.

The story line is not over, though. It continued on the sixth strip.

The scene cuts to one of those cartoony sailboats out at sea. Because we’re at sea, all the colors are tinted blue, yet Armand doesn’t make this completely saturated. The character of the day this time is the ship’s captain, who sees minus and the bread loaves through his spyglass. Apparently minus conjured him just to be entertained, because he opens fire on her, with cannons and aircraft and everything. Of course, since he is just on a little sailboat, it is obvious who is behind this. After a few panels of the missiles’ trajectory and of minus watching from a pier, they are revealed to be harmless fireworks. So minus did all that just to have something pretty to look at. It is clear that she doesn’t have the longest of attention spans. The firework panel is nice, though.

And that’s the end of this story line. It isn’t as ambitious as later ones.

The seventh strip begins the sub-plot of minus at school, interacting with children her own age. There is very little dialogue in this strip, and it isn’t necessary.

The kids are playing baseball, and minus is at bat. Of course, she hits the ball, but just as some kid in the outfield is about to catch it, the ball’s trajectory inexplicably changes so it falls to the ground immediately. The remaining panels are the hapless outfielder trying to pick up the ball while it moves away from him, interspersed with minus making it all the way around the diamond. When she reaches home plate, there is a sequence of drawings of her doing a victory dance, leaving the other kids pissed off. Apparently, they know that she has supernatural powers and caused the ball to take that wonky path, and force her to leave. During all that, there wasn’t a single word of dialogue. I think it’s clear what Armand’s philosophy of comics is.

The eighth strip is another one that does not have much for me to talk about because not much happens. We see minus drawing on a wall of her house, which again makes me inquire as to her age, because most people stop doing that in preschool. Her mother yells at her from off-panel to wash it off, and so minus, naturally, blanks out everything… including the picture that was hanging on that same wall. So of course, she doesn’t restore the original picture, but magically puts her own drawing in the frame. Our heroine, ladies and gentlemen. Even when she’s well-meaning, she focuses only on her own desires. As for the strip’s artwork, even when the wall is completely blank, Armand shades parts of it blue, so that it has some texture and is not just nothing there. Again, you don’t see that often in webcomics these days.

The ninth strip continues the minus-around-other-kids sub-plot. I must say, I really like the texture of the sky in this one. It starts off with minus approaching two identical twin girls who are tossing a ball back and forth. These are our first recurring characters. There is only one problem: they do not have names. In this respect, Armand is the polar opposite of Rummel; whereas the latter named every character no matter how minor, the former doesn’t name anybody except the protagonist and a few gag characters, no matter how important the other characters are to the story. It can get frustrating in a review like this.

So anyway, minus asks the twins if she can play with them, and their response is what makes the readers like them. They call minus out on the cavalier use of her powers. And here is an example of what I said at the beginning of the review, that Armand is good with characterization. He has characters who criticize the protagonist, and they are not faulted for it in-universe. In fact, the readers are allowed to agree with them. It isn’t a case of a Strawman Having A Point. If only more writers were able to separate themselves from their characters and have them be criticized for their actions, then maybe this site would not need to spork so many stories.

The twins bring up a very good point: that minus used her powers in that baseball game in order to turn a pop fly into a home run, so it is no fun to play with her, even though they are just playing catch. So they get minus to leave, and nothing bad happens to them.

But in the very last panel, we see minus playing catch with an angelic being she made real, and we can clearly see she is upset. So this strip also confirms that minus does experience the full range of emotions as anybody else. This is also some amount of foreshadowing.

The tenth strip introduces some more recurring characters: a red-haired girl with a ponytail, another girl with hair that looks white or greenish, and a Hot-Blooded, brown-haired boy. The latter’s introduction is as an Incoming Ham, with him pretending to be a running-back, not caring who is in his way, and knocking the two girls over. The ponytailed girl, who to Armand’s credit, looks different from the red-haired twins, yells at the boy, and the two of them get into a shouting match. We know that they’re yelling because their speech balloons are jagged. The boy says he will grow up to be a hotshot football star, to which the girl retorts that she will grow up to be president, and outlaw football.7 The boy, since he is still firmly in the Girls Have Cooties stage, says that no girl could ever be president.

And here is where minus relates to the comic. The ponytailed girl, who is just as Hot-Blooded as the boy, retorts that she will become president thank-you, because she has the help of minus. It should be pointed out that from what we have previously seen, minus does not hang out with the other children because they dislike her.

So of course, the boy calls her bluff, going up to minus and asking her, and I am not making this up, if she will be the ponytailed girl’s “tool” when she’s an adult. Oh, children, not understanding what those words can mean…

minus ignores both of the others, and says that when she grows up, she will be an elephant. Now, this leaves the other two deeply confused, with the boy trying to explain to her that this is impossible.8 Pshaw, like that’s stopped her before. She promptly turns into an elephant, much to the boy’s astonishment. The strip ends here, but it’s the beginning of another story arc.

The eleventh strip isn’t just minus., it’s minus. the elephant. This is something that Armand will do whenever minus transforms herself into something else, which happens several times. So minus leaves school and walks around as an elephant, thus leading to a bunch of onlookers confused as to why there is an elephant around town, again, with no dialogue when such is not strictly necessary to tell the story. Once again showing no regard for other people, she enters somebody’s pool without permission, and tries to ride on a Ferris wheel. Even though she is currently an elephant. Don’t question it too much.

The Ferris wheel conductor (or whatever they’re called) doesn’t question it too much either, and says that the ride is too small for elephants. Dayum, if I saw an elephant walk up to an amusement park ride and try to get on, I’d evacuate everyone and try to get out of its way, not tell it to stop as though it could understand English. This guy gets points for sheer ballsiness. Distraught, minus goes to an ice cream vendor, but he refuses to serve ice cream to elephants, for some reason. So minus is upset, changes back into a human, and walks away. Now that she is a child again there is nothing stopping her from getting the ice cream and going on the ride, but whatever. There are a few panels where she sees a dove fly away, and then turns into a dove so that she can join it. The last panel is a beautiful panorama of the town. And that’s the end of this story arc.

I will only cover one more strip in this part of the review, but this is an important one so it’s all good. Strip twelve introduces another recurring character, who is far more important than most other recurring characters.

It opens with minus drawing with sidewalk chalk while the red-haired twins walk by. They stop to point and laugh at her, for no real reason. So I take back what I said earlier, they’re kind of jerks. Seems like everyone is in this comic. But somebody else was following them, a girl who, for some reason, has green hair. She is certainly going to screw the rules of how this comic works, as she walks up to minus (after a few panels of the latter working on her chalk drawing) and introduces herself. After a Beat Panel, minus makes the subject of her drawing come to life. Of course, the green-haired girl is frightened, so what does she do? Make her own sidewalk chalk drawing, her expression daring minus to bring it to life as well so they can play together. Which is exactly what happens. If females were capable of ballsiness, this would rival, nay, surpass, the actions of the Ferris wheel conductor.

As will be seen later, the green-haired girl and minus become fast friends.

Well, this is the end of Part 1 of the review. Please leave comments below.


1 Yes, the title is given in all lowercase letters, with a period at the end, no matter what its position in a sentence. This could take some getting used to.

2 Which Armand actually has, for this comic.

3 Trust me, a lot of things are inexplicable in this comic.

4 What is truly hilarious about this is that the comic is grounded enough in reality that the vendor is not lifted away by the force of his hundreds of balloons, but at the same time, supernatural things happen in every strip.

5 By the way, we never actually see either of minus’s parents on-panel; only from them yelling.

6 Who, for some odd reason, is drawn differently in this panel than in preceding or succeeding ones. She looks more like a manga character, in this panel only. She even has blue hair!

7 They appear to be in elementary school, and so can be forgiven for not knowing that the President does not have that kind of power.

8 And again, Armand is really good at drawing quizzical expressions.

Tagged as:


  1. Resistance on 17 October 2013, 15:38 said:

    Interesting review. I’ve started reading the comic and it’s very entertaining. Thanks again for the review. Loved how you criticized and pointed out things you liked. The way you wrote it, at first, I couldn’t view the webcomics as I was on a BlackBerry with crappy service, but the way you wrote it described the comics very well. You might not need to link them every paragraph, maybe just at the end?

  2. Brendan Rizzo on 17 October 2013, 18:06 said:

    The way you wrote it, at first, I couldn’t view the webcomics as I was on a BlackBerry with crappy service, but the way you wrote it described the comics very well. You might not need to link them every paragraph, maybe just at the end?

    Oh. It’s a shame you can’t follow the links; I’ve checked them and they work for me. Unfortunately, I have already written the next three parts of this, in which I gave the links to every strip. Heh heh…

  3. Resistance on 17 October 2013, 22:51 said:

    The links work fine, but reading things that aren’t text based on a BlackBerry is super annoying. When I got on my PC though, I read them then.

  4. Woofb on 9 November 2013, 12:37 said:

    Really interesting. I have some slightly-autistic qualities which made it hard for me to understand this comic. Unusually for someone on the autism spectrum I don’t seem to have verbal deficits, but I have distinct difficulties with visual understanding, social cues and implications, intuition, and emotional and facial expressions.

    The last thing I had this much trouble with understanding was the film WALL-E, because the first two-thirds of the film was visual/emotive/intuitive, with no verbal component.

    Given this comic without your exegesis, I’d have shrugged and walked away, because I had no way of understanding the qualities that are its strengths, but you’ve taught me how to ‘read’ it. (By comparison, I can read xkcd fairly naturally, as long as I look up the science bits I don’t get).

  5. Brendan Rizzo on 9 November 2013, 17:31 said:

    Glad to see you enjoyed this, Woofb. And don’t worry about that at all; I haven’t mentioned this to anybody else on the site, but I, too, am (slightly) on the spectrum myself — I have Asperger’s.

    Glad to be of help to you, though.