The Internet has gone through all of the development that one would typically associate with adulthood.
It had its initial birth where no one knew what to do with it, the times when it took its first steps and everyone just moved out of the way, and of course, the awkward teenage years.
This post is about the awkward teenage years.
One of the most fascinating things about our society nowadays is that you can almost pinpoint one’s exact age based on their earliest memories of the internet. Are you haunted by the sound of dial-up? Remember being thrilled when it took less than 5 minutes to load a webpage? The days when Google was a new concept and totally not evil? Was your first taste of social media BlackPlanet, MySpace, Facebook or Twitter? Do all of those mediums sound ancient to you?
The rise of the internet and the amount of people who have consistently connected to it as it has aged, showcase a varying in the levels of use and understanding on it’s most extreme ends. In the early days, you were a nerd if you spent too much time on it, and nowadays you’re a weirdo hermit if you stay off it. It’s amusing really.
Back in the early 2000s, if you wanted to be entertained on Al Gore’s internet, you had to do some digging. Sure, you could go into the AOL Chatrooms and provide your A/S/L for everyone (all you kids using ASL as shorthand for “as hell”, No, just stop) including some likely pedophile traversing around in there. If you skewed a bit older, you likely found yourself on any kind of forum or message board, arguing with strangers about there really being a way to unlock Sonic and Tails in Super Smash Bros. Melee. If you were lucky, you would dig a little deeper into sites like GeoCities, Stupid Videos or NewGrounds to find games and videos before the advent of YouTube. All in all, these were all important corners of the internet over a decade ago, and they all, in a way, influence the type of content and humor that we see today. I once did a piece on the Internet cult phenomenon that was Homestar Runner and today I decided I would cover a myriad of things that weren’t anywhere near as popular, including Sprite Comics.
A sprite comic is a comic, most usually a webcomic, that uses sprites from video games for the majority of its visual work. A “sprite”, in computer graphics, is a 2D object that moves around; the characters and enemies in video games, especially earlier ones, are good examples of these. The comic is not about pixies, more often than not (TVTropes). Usually the author of these comics would choose to create/put these together out of the love of a franchise or for comedy’s sake. Let me inform you, before you go looking down a rabbit hole, MOST Sprite Comics were not very good, and even the ones that were great didn’t really age so well because of the wide range of editing abilities we have nowadays. Even still, they brought something to the table that many people enjoyed for years.
One of the most famous of Sprite Comic series was the “Neglected Mario Characters” series by Jay Resop. Neglected Mario Characters, or NC for short, is believed to be the origin of the genre. It put focus and emphasis on the background characters of the Mario franchise, as well as some from other Nintendo franchises and new and unique characters based off of already existing ones. For example, the two characters in the image below?
Fred the Spanyard (yes, that is the correct spelling) and Bill, The Extra Guy, two characters who would eventually become the focus of the website with their own mini-series: “Bill and Fred’s Quasi Mediocre Adventure.” A few of the websites mainstays included creator Jay Resop, who was represented by Bob Dole on the body of a stick figure (as well as Jay Reesop, played by Ross Perot), Dr. Donez, a quacked out scientist who is somehow friend and foe. Citrus Man, the amnesia’d version of Mario Mario who fought for trust, justice and all things lemony, etc, etc., it’s probably as corny as it sounds.
NC gave rise to sprite comics but was also inspired by a bit of antiquated forms of entertainment. Back in the early days of fanfics things were a little (and continue to be), weird. But there was one website in particular that dedicated itself to all things humor when it came to video game/entertainment crossovers, and that website was “Battle of the Video Game Heroes” or BOTVGH for short. BOTVGH was a series of scripts that based on proposed interactions and comedic situations between video game characters. The characters knew they were on a webpage, but were also, somehow, on TV in their own universe. In other words, it was like an animated sitcom, imagine a more PG Family Guy but with the scenarios played out by Mario, Luigi, Link, Sonic the Hedgehog and the Samurai Pizza Cats.
Look, laugh all you want, but 13-14 year old me was flatout entertained by all of this. The internet was a different entity back in 2003 (to be fair, BOTVGH debuted in 1997), and for a kid who had just moved 6 hours away from his extended family, this was the only thing that kept me sane on a day to day. Especially during the summer before I even started at my new school or had the chance to meet friends. I’ve recently tried to go back and reread some of these, without the nostalgia filters, and admittedly, it’s tough. There are still some gems and funny moments in there, and they are pretty well written, just not engaging or entertaining enough.
The next evolution beyond the basic sprite comic became sprite animation, and Newgrounds was the forefront of that. Once people learned how to animate these sprites on their own, they put together unique and interesting videos. These were often pretty short and meant to be something to laugh at for a minute or two before moving onto the next, a large chunk of these can still be found on YouTube.
There is by far a large variety of these (including my personal favorite, The Thwomps, where two of Bowser’s signature minions attempt to overthrow him and the Mushroom Kingdom), but what had to be the most popular, without a doubt, was Super Mario Bros. Z. Yes, that is exactly what it says it is.
The video series was a fanboy’s wet dream before we knew that it could be fully realized in the form of Smash Bros. Brawl. This was not one I ever watched, but I do recall people talking about it significantly, and it being prominent in conversation on a ton of message boards. It’s a bit too cheesy and over the top for me (coming from the guy who would sit and read sprite comics for an hour), but hey, to each their own. If it brought someone joy, then damnit it was worth it.
I honestly don’t know where I’m going with this or how to wrap it up. The main thing I do want to say is that the internet is crazy now and used to be even crazier. An uncharted territory ripe with a bunch of nerds like me who got wrapped up in fictional stories about our favorite animated characters. Back then, you were a loser if you were on the Internet, especially anything besides MySpace once it became popular, but thankfully our thought process has changed and we’re all now significantly attached to it in almost a depressing way. 🙂