Adam Ellis, of recent BuzzFeed glory, is perhaps the worst cartoonist on the Internet right now. Sure, there are offenders like him, like Tim Buckley for example—but Buckley has largely faded into obscurity, and was criticized into the sun in his time. Plus, he was never making the BuzzFeed Bucks that Ellis is now. Rob Liefeld also tops most lists of awful artists, but at least Liefeld has to put a modicum of effort into what he does. Ellis literally takes popular Internet posts and pastes the same face into them for several panels and calls it a day—and this isn’t just me saying, “oh, his art is all similar and his posts are similar to Tumblr jokes,” I mean that they quite literally are the same picture or directly ripped-off jokes (tons of examples, but here’s a Reddit thread predating his comic by three years.
But comic artists repeat stuff all the time—what’s the big deal? Well, you’re right, comic artists do repeat stuff. It’s vital to storytelling sometimes to have a very similar shot between two panels. Some artists definitely trace poses, like Liefeld or Greg Land, but even tracing requires more effort than literal copy-and-paste. Most of Ellis’s comics could have numerous frames completely edited out and lose no continuity. This comic doesn’t need 4 of the same panel. It loses no meaning if you cut out the last two—in fact, it’s almost excusable now, because it’s just a two-panel joke about how quickly one’s feelings on a drawing can change, the fact that the two panels are identical notwithstanding.
There are some jokes that don’t even make sense at all. This comic is absurd. Ellis, as a white cis gay dude working for BuzzFeed, of course LOVES RuPaul’s Drag Race, and this comic seems to be at the expense of a Russian drag queen who… evidently must sell potatoes, because she’s Russian, get it? This is the kind of joke your senile grandfather would tell at a Moose Lodge dinner to a bunch of other senile codgers. Coming off of this, I’m not going to say that drag is inherently transmisogynistic—it obviously has deep roots in the LGBT+ community and especially communities of color, and claiming that all drag is bad is erasing the valuable work done by members of the drag community and their right to expression. But people like Ellis make drag a mockery.
Here, for example. Haha, get it!? It’s funny, because he’s a man dressed like the ugly lady from Hocus Pocus, which is obviously funny because it’s funny when people with “male bodies” are women, right? It’s just insulting, and, like all his jokes, already been done.
Ellis also responds incredibly poorly to all criticism. This is just the most recent example of him tweeting at me after I referenced an image of 40 of his comics overlaid on one another, telling him it was not a compliment but a failing. He blocked another friend this morning for making humorous edits of his copy-pasted face onto other sources, and messaged said friend to complain about it. This wouldn’t be out of the ordinary, if not for the fact that Ellis has thousands of fans, consistent work with BuzzFeed, and profits from his terrible, appropriative clothing designs. He is an at least reasonably wealthy man, of little to no talent, who is so hurt every time someone levels a criticism or makes a joke at his expense that he responds personally. Imagine if Picasso threw a hissy fit at every single person who ever didn’t like his art. And in the age of the Internet, there’s documentation of these incidents—there’s no deniability. Ellis knows he’s going after people much less significant than him and simply doesn’t care.
I think of all the things Adam Ellis has done, however, this is the most embarrassing. It not only features an unnecessary blank panel and his trademark copy-and-pasting but it’s a joke taken from a literal child. He credited the child in the Facebook comments section, but nearly three thousand people shared it and only 68 liked the comment, so it’s unlikely people even knew it wasn’t original content. I’m not saying it’s wrong to use existing jokes for things if they’re something common or especially funny to you, but it’s nonsense here. It is meaningless coming out of the mouth of a grown man. From a child, in Vine format, it’s the kind of funny little joke that kids make and people love, but coming out of a grown-ass man it’s nothing. It’s not even fluff, it’s just garbage.
I think what frustrates me the most is that comics like Ellis’s are taking away from some of the really great webcomics online, and delegitimize webcomics as a valid form. Critics are already hard enough on comics as art, but they’re starting to be accepted more and more as a “serious” art form—but even comics fans are divisive on webcomics. With so many examples of bad webcomics, like Ellis’s BuzzFeed works and Tim Buckley’s CTRL+ALT+DEL, it’s not hard to see why. But there are some truly great series that spawned on the net. The massively successful anime and manga series One-Punch Man started as a webcomic, and its simplistic style and fun characters made it an instant success. The well-known webcomic Achewood makes nearly no effort to present intricate or overly dazzling art, yet it’s told perhaps some of the most profound and deeply funny stories in any media format. These comics show that you don’t have to be the most technically-skilled artist to create something amazing with little to no experience. But Ellis throws that all away, by making things not only simple but identical, taking away anything but the most minor and meaningless of variations, and foregoing fun characters and story for whatever is “relatable” in the moment.
(P.S.: Adam, if you’re reading this, maybe you can tweet some Mean Girls GIFs at me again. That’ll really show me.)
Art by Jun Joestar.