From such humble beginnings comes out of the greatest webcomics of all time.
Sinfest is the personal project of Tatsuya Ishida, who uses a deceptively simple format to discuss a multitude of topics ranging from radical feminism to politics to hetero-normativity. It’s a three panel black-and-white comic with a full color Calvin’n’Hobbes-style splash page on Sunday, and its been updated daily since January 17, 2000, with rare exception.
Starting as a commentary on casual and acceptable corruption in mainstream society, the characters were little more than caricatures at first, used to lampoon the accepted levels of hypocrisy that we all rely on to get through our everyday lives. The interesting point about Sinfest is that it looked at this hypocrisy without judgment, accepting it as a part of societal norms.
We all use stories to move through our lives and to justify our actions. There’s things we do every day, small and selfish things that we don’t think about that make other people’s lives worse, and we tend not to notice or brush it off. Pointing this out is considered rude in polite society, because there’s a fear that we’ll be judged for the small indulgences and terrors that we perpetuate.
Sinfest looked at those moments and their self-obsessed viewpoints, not a means of ridicule, but as a part of a shared experience. It started with a look at the selfish knee-jerk need for more that drives a consumerist society, what that can cost, and how little we consider the consequences. From there it began looking at addiction and cognitive apathy in the same light, while introducing characters to deal with those and ever more complex topics.
Religious hypocrisy and expectation played a big part in the early days of the comic, used as a means of fleshing out absolutist philosophies into something a little more understandable. Those that admired the perception of those absolutes were introduced and shown to have as little understanding of those absolutes as any of the other people within that – and our – world.
Those that follow a faith without an understanding of that faith were shown to live in glass houses, their acceptance of tenants they don’t actually understand making them both laughable and sympathetic. Those that see evil as a natural state of psyche were likewise lampooned, the emptiness of solipsism and nihilism both explored and shown to be fruitless.
Politics were brought in and discussed, the comic directly addressing everything from the Economic Crash of 2008 to the life-ending threat of student debt to good intent sometimes having unexpected consequences, and dealing with those consequences. The difficulty of changing one’s life is addressed, how other people can want to lock you in their understanding of who you are. Likewise, there’s a whole ongoing story about how you can lose people in the effort to become a better person, but also what ambition without ethics can cost.
There’s beauty in this comic.
Simple, heartfelt, and profound beauty.
Lately, the comic has been discussing some of the biggest trends in media, the ideas of toxic masculinity, radical feminism, and casual racism. It does so unblinking, Tatsuya Ishida unwilling to back away from the evils he sees in the world and doing everything he can to address them, and that’s what makes this comic as powerful as it is.
Reading and understanding Sinfest is a life-changing experience. There’s humor enough to balance out the harsh honesty of the strip, which is a good thing given the weight of the subjects discussed. The art varies with the need of the story and has improved mightily over the course of the past fifteen years. The strip above was the first, yes, but this is the page from this past Sunday:
Sinfest has been one of my favorite comics for a very long time, and is one of those things that I check daily: wake up, breakfast, Sinfest. For all of these reasons, I cannot recommend it enough. Sinfest can be found by clicking any ‘Sinfest‘ throughout this article.