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Cerebus Syndrome / Webcomics

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Examples of web-based comics getting progressively more serious.
  • RAIN starts out as a somewhat typical slice-of-life school comedy. This slowly starts changing around Chapter 6: Fallen Angel, though only in that at this point, the relationship drama is at a high point, with school really just being a backdrop.
    • Rain's brother Aiken changes this in Chapter 12: Drab, being outright hateful towards both Rain and towards his ex-fiancee Jessica for being transgender. The story shifts focus outside the school at this point.
    • Then comes Rain's sister Kellen and Chapter 25: Wings: Kellen cuts Rain's hair short while she's sleeping and Rain promptly disowns her.
  • The comic All Roses Have Thorns starts taking itself much more seriously after a few chapters, with the initial pages being filled with fourth wall breaking notes, chibis, and cartoony violence. This is another reason why the artist is working on remaking the first chapters to make this seem more serious.
  • The webcomic Striptease started out with a cartoony art style, and lighthearted jokes about a comic artist and writer working together and the hijinks they and their friends engage in along the way. After a few chapters, we get not only a major Art Shift to a more semi-realistic style (still quite cartoony, but not compared with earlier strips) but the plot changes to something that would be a hilarious parody of soap operas if it wasn't taken so seriously-complete with evil twins, brain tumors, "I am your father" moments, character makeovers and a lot of other things that make it completely different from the story the readers had initially enjoyed.
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  • The Polymer City Chronicles are a good example of this. They start out as a simple four-panel gag comic about games with a wacky cast with minimal backstory. They sometimes feature story arcs, but they only last for a couple of strips and are done mostly for the humor. It then develops into an elaborate adventure story with space travel and demons, which comes to a screeching halt since the author himself seems to have lost track of the plot. He lampshades this himself by revealing the plot to be a Show Within a Show and letting the actors complain about the sudden interruption. The rest of the story is summarized in-universe before returning to the gag format for some time - only to start another serious storyline half a year later, which is still in progress.
  • Sluggy Freelance was probably the first webcomic to grapple with the tendency towards drama. Different readers locate the turning point at different places, but the early "Vampire Arc" was probably the first arc with ongoing continuity, characterization and character death. The final strip of the arc hung a little bit of a lampshade on the shift.
    • Nowadays, the strip deviates back and forth between dark and dramatic plotlines and light and goofy Slice of Life plots, currently passing a dramatic peak and becoming somewhat more airy. However, the strip is still somewhat less whimsical than it's early days. For example, the Medium Awareness and No Fourth Wall of the early days is pretty much gone or relegated to non-canon guest/bonus strips.
      • For a time, there was a special Sunday series of guest strips, called "Bikini Suicide Frisbee Days," which focused on the light, quirky days of the early days of the early comic, but it is currently discontinued and now sketches adorn the weekend updates.
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  • Emergency Exit does this with surprisingly good results. Starting as nothing more than a strip of wacky cartoonish hijinks and a vague plotline about college roomies, it abruptly takes a darker, edgier turn around the time they do a crossover with Parallel Dementia and plunges into a rather gripping dramatic stortyline. It tends to remember its comic roots, however, and doesn't hold back on quips, zingers, and punchlines. Character death has thus far been scarce, but it doesn't hold back on other brutalities, such as ripping the face off one of the main characters.
  • MegaTokyo started out as a light humor strip. This led to Creative Differences between writer Rodney Caston, who liked it that way, and artist Fred Gallagher, who preferred a more serious, ongoing plot. Rodney eventually quit, at which point Megatokyo became more of a seinen romance manga about the characters Piro and Kimiko, combined with a zombie-horror action story about Largo, and with comedic elements from the early strips.
  • The Chosen Four began zany and wild at first, though more plot driven as it went on. Then came the Moonside arc, which had no humor at all, with a nightmarish preview of Giygas. It went back to comedy afterward, but didn't quite recover all of the old wackiness.
  • College Roomies from Hell!!! engaged Cerebus Syndrome with "The Adversary", a six-month arc that played the Devil (previously a minor comic relief character) as a terrifying threat, and the Butt-Monkey's (previously humorous) romantic woes as heartbreaking.
  • Parodied and played straight while being lampshaded in Shortpacked!: after Ethan explains to a toy store customer how "Try Me" products come to the store with a tag on the battery which, once pulled, means the battery's unstoppable decay, Robin accidentally pulls the comic's "drama" tag.
    • It's also a Call-Back to the author's previous Webcomic, It's Walky!, which attempted the transition with varying success; an alternate universe version of the Big Bad from that comic shows up when Robin pulls the tag, although in this incarnation he's more of a Meta Guy than a straight villain.
    • Later, Leslie goes to another alternate universe to try to find an alternate Rachel to break up Robin and Joe. She discovers that the person who invented the Drama Tag was Galasso's wife, Pamela, who did so to avoid dying of cancer. In the alternate timeline it worked, and there's no drama, but there's no character growth either. The Walkyverse Rachel pulls it so she can go home, and so the Head Alien would be vulnerable to Robin intervening to save Leslie's life. In the canon timeline, the Drama Tag didn't stop Pamela from dying, but by then she had come to accept her fate.
    • Its Walky as a whole is an example as well, as it is a more drama and action heavy sequel to Willis' previous strip, Roomies. Of course, Roomies went through its own bout of this starting with the death of Ruth.
    • It is notable that in his current Ultimate Universe series, Dumbing of Age, Willis didn't even try to avoid Dramedy from the start, showing that he at least has learned to play to his strengths.
  • Breakpoint City starts out mostly gag-a-day, but has since begun using more plot (and less ridiculous plots). It still maintains a good dose of humor, however.
  • When Bob and George started, it was simply a stand-in for another comic the author, Dave, was planning on doing and, as such, was mostly just one-off jokes from comic to comic. After the comic that Dave was working on never managed to lift off the ground, Bob and George began to get storylines and continuity, although it stayed humorous; the story is mostly told one punch line per comic, with an ending that borders on making a "Shaggy Dog" Story of a two-year storyline.
  • Parodied in this Checkerboard Nightmare strip.
  • The webcomic Exploitation Now started as comedic, but changed into a drama (with the comic's focus shifting from two characters to two other characters), ending up with a main character Killed Off for Real.
  • Done fairly successfully with Order of the Stick (with Lampshade Hanging in this strip). The fact that the comic stayed funny, and the quality of the plot itself, mean that the comic has only grown more popular as the increasingly complex plot unfolds. The strip's creator has even stated that he believes it would never have garnered such a large following without the story. Considering the theme of the series, it's got a similar case of Fridge Brilliance to Goblins below.
  • El Goonish Shive. After the heavily plot-based, action-packed "Painted Black" arc, the author admitted that he didn't really feel comfortable with that sort of thing. His next arc was about the interpersonal relations of the cast; it was still dramatic, but in a different way. The series continues to shift between drama, humor, and outright weirdness. There are definitely more serious storylines, and previous weirdness is often explained away but the author refuses to go all the way and sacrifice humor entirely - even the villains contrast with Damien by having their own moments of humor and absurdity and generally have sympathetic aspects, unlike his dead-serious personality with barely any sign of positive qualities. The obvious authorial intent is more mature storylines in substance rather than just being edgy.
  • Dominic Deegan: Oracle For Hire did this, while not ultimately forgetting its roots; the author still at least uses puns for comic relief during its more serious arcs, though needed to be reminded to do so by his readers in the wake of his first. The resulting Mood Whiplash is relieving to some and jarring to others.
  • Sam & Fuzzy started out as a episodic comedy Webcomic about a taxi driver and his psychopathic bear friend, but once the Ninja Mafia is introduced it ends up as a long but still hilarious tale of deception, murder, demons and ninjas.
  • RPG World went from gaily romping through RPG tropes to blank-eyed villains killing people and fetishistically licking the blood off their swords. It slid back into the middle for a while, before it was dropped entirely.
  • Satan and Me starts out as a slice of life where Natalie is mildly inconvenienced by Satan but around the Run Arc it quickly becomes more of a high-stakes drama about the apocalypse.
  • Questionable Content provides an unusual example, as a general plot has been running since the first strip along with the usual gag-a-day format of jokes; however, a deeper storyline was hinted about main character Faye's life prior to the start of the comic. Comic # 500 started an arc entitled "The Talk" which, in Faye's own words, was "like interrupting an intricate waltz with a sledgehammer to the knee." Despite handling the arc and its fallout with realistic seriousness, the comedic element was retained in nearly every strip in the arc and since then.
    • The small, sentient robots known as AnthroPCs were originally just for comic relief, but later strips started discussing seriously what it means to have actual sentient A.I.s in the world, and how they are treated by humans.
      • Which also leads to some Fridge Horror when you realize how Pintsize was treated in early strips.
      • Faye's alcohol consumtion was a Running Gag at first, which led to her talking in a Southern accent and spouting haikus. Then Angus left to seek his fortune in New York, and Faye went from Hard-Drinking Party Girl to full-blown alcoholic, got fired from Coffee of Doom for drinking on the job and drank herself into the hospital. While things have lightened up significantly since then, Faye has been on the verge of relapse several times, and exactly none of these incidents have been played for laughs.
  • Parodied a few times in the Stick-Figure Comic Stickman and Cube. The first comic has Stickman assure the audience that there will be no Cerebus or First And Ten Syndrome, because "adding drama would probably involve more drawing". Then, this comic has Stickman guarantee that there will be no Cerebus or First and Ten, only to have Cube then announce he's pregnant. Stickman is not amused.
  • The now-defunct Life of Riley suffered from this, starting out with the requisite author-and-his-friends characters in offbeat gaming-related hijinks and ending with an imminent final battle between the arch-demon Lilith and the reincarnation of Christ (in the person of the main character) over an artifact which could literally kill God. Sadly, a series of personal issues and server crashes left the comic drifting in the ether before the insanity could come to a head.
  • Dresden Codak started out with a series of gag strips with intricate art, until the author decided to introduce continuing characters and then do an ongoing story arc about them. There have been a few more gag strips since then, but the continuity has not gone away.
  • 1/0 originally started out as a nonsensical gag-based comic without a fourth wall, and eventually developed into an entirely serious affair full of symbolism and metaphor.
    • ... which (almost) entirely lacked a fourth wall. Very unusual in this.
    • Its also worth noting that despite all of this it still stayed pretty damn funny.
  • DMFA has mostly kept the syndrome out of the main comic, limiting it to side-stories. Recently, it seems to have crept in, particularly when Hannah is Killed Off for Real by Dark Pegasus in a flashback. The story in question did have its funny moments, although it kinda depends on the reader's sense of humor. The event that preceded it were also rather funny, since Dan's moral-guidance animal got into the liquor cabinet and proceeded to get drunk. Given that it's also poisonous...
  • Newshounds began as a comedy strip comic, but as years progressed it started to contain a growing number of more serious plotlines. However, the comedy was still kept as the main point of the comic while the same author explored more serious content in the spin-off comic Manifestations. Newshounds ended temporarily in 2006 and was revived in 2007 as "Newshounds II". This time, the format changed from a 3-panel strip to a larger comic while also turning the series more serious (though not devoid of comedy, now just lacking the obvious punchlines). Fittingly, another new comic by the same author, Something Happens, was launched during the same year; it's the author's main comedy output now.
  • Nip and Tuck started out as a gag-a-strip comic about two young brothers, but became more serious as the two brothers grew up.
  • Venus Envy, probably due to either a particularly blatant case of Writer on Board or a Creator Breakdown.
  • Yet Another Fantasy Gamer Comic made the jump, complete with a previously humorous villain gaining sudden competence.
  • Adventurers!! started out as one of those Gag-per-Day Webcomics that eventually gained a plot. It still remained comedic, though, never getting more serious than an Affectionate Parody.
  • General Protection Fault started as a light-hearted comic with weirdness and humour, but eventually transformed into a complex story arc with angst, character death, and betrayal. Sometime after the first story arc, the comic designer declared an upcoming arc "even better than the last one".
  • A Modest Destiny had continuity and all that goes along with it from the start, but as time went on the story got progressively Darker and Edgier. The first turning point would probably be the dinner party, where the silliness was interrupted by the murdering of a bunch of innocents, a whole lotta backstabbing and the near-death of the main character. It just kept going from there.
  • Equinox, Defender of the Horde started out as a light-hearted romp, but progressively became darker and more drama-prone; at the same time, the (deliberately silly) titular character faded into the background.
  • Jackie Lesnick's Wendy took a straight nosedive into unexpected drama territory after its first "part" was finished, and according to the post-series epilogue was going to get even worse had it finished the way the author originally intended. Thankfully, this change was not without a bit of lampshade hanging.
  • Dub This! Quirky anime in-jokes and satire quickly falls to melodrama by the buckets.
  • Ctrl+Alt+Del has been accused of this, leading to backlash. While the comic has always been more character-based than gag-based (except for the actual gag strips), everything post-miscarriage has swung a lot more to the dramatic than pre-miscarriage.
    • It's possible that the author started the entirely gag-based "Sillies" sub-comic shortly after that to satisfy people that feel it's getting too serious.
    • The post-Continuity Reboot comic appears to have returned the comic to its roots (or close enough to it) - said reboot followed a whopper of an arc that started with the X-Box robots (characters who, up til this point, had been played entirely for laughs) going rogue and killing Lilah, and ended with Ethan getting Killed Off for Real. In a comic that used to be nothing but silly video game humor!
  • God Mode did this twice. Plot slowly took over the comic, and after a while the creator just said "Screw it". The comic then continued on as if the plotline never happened. It got serious again, and another reboot was needed. The comic got a new artist/writer after each reboot.
  • Goblins transitioned from a deconstruction of fantasy RPGs in general and Dungeons & Dragons in particular to a more serious story when the original antagonists were discarded in favor of a truly villainous Big Bad. (Three Big Bads, actually, and that first probably has a Man Behind the Man.) The comic arguably got better, as killing off or discarding most of the cast allowed the main characters to become more well-rounded and the strip retained enough humor to keep it from getting too dry.
    • Also potential Fridge Brilliance when you realize this is an accurate representation of the progress of many roleplaying groups as the players get gradually more invested in the story.
  • Elf Only Inn started out as an online chat room and, after a year-long hiatus, came back a complex RPG story.
  • Nana's Everyday Life. So hard. It starts out as a random collection of off-color jokes using the cast of some anime, predominantly Elfen Lied. Then, around strip twenty-something, it suddenly drops the jokes almost entirely, to become one of the most tragic webcomics in existence.
    • Strip 27, where she drops off of a bridge. Her continued living after this event just serves to highlight her misfortune.
  • Goats went from basically being Dilbert with beer, to a sprawling, dadist, universe hopping epic about the nature of reality.
  • Fuzzy Knights. As with Cerebus itself, it went on to become seriously weird.
  • The Last Days of FOXHOUND begun as a ridiculously over-the-top parody of hilariously exaggerated (and violent) versions of the bosses of Metal Gear Solid. As the strip went on, it slowly turned into a story-driven, over-the-top parody of the hilariously exaggarated, violent and filthy-mouthed versions of the bosses of Metal Gear Solid, with an overarching, compelling and deep plot.
    • Not to mention the immense Downer Ending. Although, given its status as a Prequel, that was only to be expected...
  • Spiky-Haired Dragon, Worthless Knight periodically flips between somewhat humorous strips about a knight who can't touch weapons and a dramatic story about the curse of a family that is tied to dragons, starting at strip 275.
  • Deliberately averted by Exterminatus Now, which started out as a merciless lampooning of the authors' Darker and Edgier Old Shame. Eastwood himself has stated literally that Cerebus Syndrome is one of his top signs to start murdering his co-authors.
    • Which is ironic, considering that the story has had several dramatic plotlines.
    • In a recent interview, East elaborated on his plan to murder his co-authors in this case:
      Virus: Never turn a funny comic into a serious epic drama. We have a murder-suicide pact that says if we ever turn into a drama, we're going to end it all rather than inflict that on the world.
      Eastwood: No, I said I was going to murder the rest of you, change my name and spend the rest of my days as a painter in Brazil.
    • One can attribute this to the nature of the comic itself: EN's setting is, for all effects and purposes, already dark and edgy enough. This means the authors can stretch the drama a bit without it being detrimental to the comedy (as seen in the Morth Arc).
  • Twisted Kaiju Theater, although (a) the sophomoric humor refuses to stay completely out of the more serious arcs, and (b) the series continues to have strictly-for-laughs one-shots between arcs. Despite this the comic does stray into dark territory at various points and ends up dealing with mature themes like death, betrayal, morality, sacrifice, and political ethics.
  • Zebra Girl has undergone this transition.
  • And Shine Heaven Now underwent this, although it is justified in this case: the creator intended her comic to lead to the darker canon manga.
    • Actually lampshaded a bit: When Millennium asked when they would make their comic appearance, Erin had said that she couldn't go on to the main (canon) storyline until the identity of The She was revealed. Indeed, with her identity as the remains of Mina Harker revealed, Erin proceeded to head for the main plot.
    • Of note is the "Shine or Die" storyline, which marks the transition from gag a day strips to plot-driven action dramedy.
  • Wapsi Square undergoes a transition from a light-hearted slice-of-life comedy, to a dark, supernatural drama where the main character has to save the world from a quasi-apocalypse; dropping nearly all of it's supporting cast in the process (although a few do pop in for cameos from time to time), and leaving a large number of unresolved subplots. Aspects of this were hinted at early in the series; but were mostly off-hand comments prior to the appearance of the "Golem Girls"; whose addition to the cast denote the transition point (although it takes a bit longer for the change to really manifest).
  • Applegeeks started out — and is still described on this wiki — as "a Slice of Life comic with a few surreal elements," primarily Cloud Cuckoo Lander Hawk, straight man Jayce, and various friends. Then Hawk turned out to be a tinkerer/inventor who made Robot Girl Eve, Jayce turned out to have a military-industrialist father who was interested in the technology, Gina had martial-arts champion parents, and even the seven-year-old Alice babysits for wants Hawk dead and has a mother who might be a witch and who caused a Freaky Friday.
  • 8-Bit Theater, while remaining a comedy strip, has had a few of what could be called "Cerebus Arcs". It dipped into it during the battle against Lich, and went quite a bit deeper into it during the battle against Kary, which resulted in Black Belt's death. It seems to be there again, although in 8-Bit Theater's case, it tends to abandon the Cerebus arcs abruptly. It's also been known to tease and then not deliver Cerebus arcs, such as the "battle" against Kraken.
    • Though another possible example could be the Light Warriors themselves. They change from being relatively harmless characters who are comedic as result of extreme character flaws, to THE worst people their world has ever seen. Fighter goes from merely being stupid to an enabler. Red Mage, originally so deluded regarding the power of D&D rules that he was too incompetent to implement his terrible plans, has become more powerful, but not smarter, resulting in brilliant train-wrecks. Thief has remained relatively the same throughout the strip, but was always a greedy sociopath; the only difference later on is that he manages to convince Red Mage, Black Mage and sometimes even Fighter to assist him. Then there's Black Mage, who was always hell bent on destroying everything in existence, but was previously too weak to harm anything, as exemplified by his only powerful spell which he only has the strength to cast once a day, and even then with horrible aim.
    • The final arc of the comic manages the remarkable feat of completely undoing any and all acts of Cerebus that had previously occurred, first by having Sarda de-level the Light Warriors, effectively pressing the Reset Button on their capability to commit atrocities, then having Sarda turn into Chaos, the original Big Bad of the game and comic, and finally by having Chaos defeated in an anticlimax of epic proportions. But this is Brian Clevinger we're talking about here, who firmly believes that the best joke is the one played on the reader.
  • Sequential Art Twice the artist has taken a few months to due long arc stories involving our plucky characters combating dangerously powerful adversaries like the Denizens or Oz, only to have that conflict resolved and go right back to the "Gag-A-Day" Format.
  • Slightly Damned started out as a lighthearted, comedic story about Rhea and Buwaro's adventures in hell. And then Sakido died.
    • This was the author's intention all along. The first arc of the comic was meant to get the reader attached to the characters, and Sakido's death was planned from the very beginning. While certainly more dramatic than it had been up to that point (and getting even more dramatic recently), the comic is still very humorous and lighthearted in tone for the most part.
    • To put things in perspective, the hooded archer shot the comedy with an arrow, but Devenol shot it with an arrow, electrocuted it, and then stomped on it for good measure.
  • Schlock Mercenary appears to have done this on purpose: the author started light and fluffy (with a side of BLAM, a little OMINOUS HUMMMMMMM, and a bit of THOOM), and quickly got dramatic once the characters were introduced. It got really serious in October.
    • And for several Octobers afterward.
      • In 2007 it got even darker. A light-hearted storyline about getting paid eight times for the corpse of an archenemy and wearing party hats to his funeral ends with the Toughs mind-wiped and made to think Petey abandoned them, as an upbeat ending — the UNS and Admiral Emm were perfectly willing to murder all of them and hand Schlock over to a Mengle-esque Fleet doctor for ongoing torture to hide the existence of Project Laz'R'Us from the public. The only ray of hope in the ending is that Schlock remembers everything due to his bizarre alien biology. It gets no better in the 2008 story arc, where the Toughs are sent on an obvious suicide mission to deliver food to an anarchic space colony. Brad dies in a hovertank accident, Tag murders thousands in an antimatter explosion to save the lives of millions, and then formally resigns and later commits AI suicide over the matter (including the fact that it was done without orders, since waiting on the Captain would have taken too much time and doomed the entire station),the Touch and Go is wrecked beyond repair from bouncing around inside the space colony without power, and the Toughs wind up accidentally installing an untested rogue AI as supreme overlord, who later turns the colony into a hyperspace cannon superweapon. It's a statement of how dark this arc is, when Schlocktoberfest is a relatively light-hearted breather from the action.
      • But then came the chaotic Massively Parallel book with its hilarious return to original Perpetual Poverty and Toughs getting in the middle of Gambit Pileup. In the end a rogue AI saved them from the mafia and Petey offered to restore their memories. Next book was fun too despite its Body Horror moments.
      • Then in the 2012 storyline Toughs again clashed with UNS and were completely outclassed. They lost their ship, allowed most of their clients to be killed and barely survived themselves. In hindsight evacuating the artifact and letting the battleplate be massacred by the dark matter entities would've been their best course of action. As of early 2013 they've got no ship, they are on the run from the UNS (yet again) and Petey is hesitant to help them. But some alien wants to hire them.
    • Word of God says that this was caused by the author learning to write bigger, stronger, plots and rely less on gags and fourth-wall breaks as in the Early months.
  • When Lint began it wasn't the least bit serious. Now it is chock full of drama, romance, and lots and lots of angst. Humour is still incorporated into the story, albeit at a more infrequent rate.
  • Happens in Material Girl around half-way through the comic.
  • Homestuck quickly develops several intricate story arcs during the second and third acts, and by the time the Big Bad is revealed in Act 4, the series has gotten much, much darker and more dramatic than when it first started. Though, it hasn't lost its sense of humor entirely - the Disc-One Final Boss IS A DOG WEARING SUNGLASSES.
    • Indeed, Hussie maintains that every "serious" dramatic event in the story is profoundly silly upon examination: an example of such events include an ersatz Harry Potter murdering a girl that comes back to life as an ersatz Twilight vampire who murders him in turn and a Juggalo (who's crazy from going cold turkey off a Fantastic Drug) murdering a Cat Girl.
    • To put it all into perspective, the beginning's problems were fake arms, cake, the creepiness of Lil' Cal, stone wizards, and elusive pets. After they all started up Sburb? We've seen more onscreen deaths than we can count, seen the slaughter of an planetary army, seen the assassination of royalty, seen the Disc-One Final Boss given god-like powers, watched nearly all the main characters die AT LEAST ONCE (if you count watching their dreamselves die), see WV be scarred for life and him slowly go crazy because of it, and met the creators of the universe. Of course, we also watched them die. But yes, the silliness doesn't go away. We have references to SBaHJ often (but even that has been depleting in frequency), watched Jack be tempted by Snausages, been given John's derpiest face ever, and a fundamental chunk of the plot comes from 'Con Air''.
    • This is particularly noticeable in the contrast between the beta kids — the heroes at the beginning of the comic — who despite trading plenty of snark and banter are all basically good friends who get along with each other; versus the alpha kids — introduced 2.5 years into the story — who have complex relationships full of angst and drama.
    • Probably the height of Homestuck's Cerebus Syndrome, though, happened when Bro Strider's terrible parenting, which initially had been played entirely for laughs, was retroactively acknowledged to have been seriously abusive and psychologically damaging to Dave, somehow.
  • The Avatar went from being so random it screwed with your head to insanely serious while still messing with your head. The turn happens around comic 200 (or when you have "Avatar Psychiatrist").
  • Untitled follows the initial description exactly. It began as a low-continuity slice-of-life comic featuring thinly-veiled representations of the author and her friends, and over some years morphed into a dramatic redemption saga. One particularly illustrative example was an attempt to rationally explain an earlier pure-gag, fourth-wall-breaking character who was invisible, and had been initially introduced as "living in the gaps between the panels." Turns out he's really some kind of inter-dimensional alien plainswalker.
  • Triangle and Robert, a webcomic about a triangle and a rhombus went from jokes about how a geometrical shape can eat to an epic fight to stop the universe from turning into pudding. Or something like that. And became all the more hilarious for it.[1]
    • Triangle and Robert's wackiness was amplified by the seriousness it ended up taking on. For example, declaring a new and weird food group is moderately wacky. Declaring it in order to gain tactical advantage and thus secure a crucial victory is VERY wacky.
  • Looking for Group broke a record in this category - it started as a random parody of World of Warcraft, but right after the first few pages the writer decided to go for a fantasy action-comedy (reason was that he was commissioned at first then decided to keep going after the comission was done and elaborate the universe). This has not stopped the constant parody elements and reference jokes thrown in, though only that people stay dead instead of needing a healer.
  • Death and the Maiden starts out as a Magic Realism romantic comedy, before the main characters life began to be seriously threatened.
  • Yosh! started out as you standard webcomic, with a bunch of weird stuff. By comic 60, the serious starts to set in (although there is a note in comic 59 that said he warned us). By 120, it's pretty obvious it won't be humor even a majority of the time.
  • Collar 6 went through a period of this, but is now going back to comedy.
  • Bittersweet Candy Bowl started out as generally plotless fun, and now has developed into an epic tale of lovecrossed kitties with a recommended minimum introduction of 191 pages. The humour's still there in abundance, though.
    • Lampshaded in a Project Wonderful ad featuring the characters with the word "ANGST" flashing in the background.
  • The Apple of Discord has also gone this way, in spite of the fact that the comic started as (and often is) mostly a "gag-a-day" comic with no continuity.
    • Which is even funnier when you realize that Ralph and Bimbo (from the aforementioned Exploitation Now) joined Apple of Discord's cast right after the shift started to happen.
  • Nedroid parodies the tendency for gag-a-day comics to develop Cerebus Syndrome here.
    Beartato: I can't think of any funny jokes.
    Reginald: So why do you need jokes all the time? Turn your comic into a serious drama!
  • Fanboys aimed for this after posts on Something Awful criticized it for being too generic. It went too far, irritated its original fanbase, and toned back down again, trying to find an intermediate stage between shallow humor and angst. The process was lampshaded in what's currently the page picture.
  • Concession started out as a furry comic about the workers of a movie theater, but eventually half of the characters become gay, quite a few die, and Joel and Artie have supernatural powers. Chaos ensues
  • Housepets! follows this trope slightly. While there are still funny talking pets, there is a lot more drama, especially involving Peanut's crush on Grape, Pete turning Joel into a corgi named King, Tarot's psychic powers, and Sasha and her owner.
  • Castlevania RPG started as an extremely light hearted action-comedy that managed to stay lighthearted even during the more serious arcs (Blacula's rise to power, the alternate world, etc). Then, towards the end of the second major arc, they party accidentally unleashes an Elder God. Long story short, Alec, Princess and Darkmoon die horrible, painful deaths, Katrina's CatGirl curse mutates and turns her fully cat with absolutely no hope of reverting back, and Angel is possessed by the Elder God, who then states his plan to subjugate the world. Damn.
  • Bunny went through something that... is closer to this than anything else. It has always been a gag-a-day strip with no storylines, but as it progressed, hints of continuity started to creep in, as the comic started to slowly paint a portrait of the surreal world The Bunny and his friends inhabit rather than just making isolated jokes.
  • While it still is largely a comedic strip, PvP is sometimes accused of this. Mainly, this is due to its decreasing reliance on game-related humor, the increasing importance of the character relationships within the strip, and the development of long-term dramatic storylines. This has been going on so gradually and for so long though that, combined with the tendency for the strip to still use one-off gags from time to time, it sort of underwent this process so subtly that it's actually debatable if it happened or not.
  • Oak Fable parodies Ceberus Syndrome by setting a new record in how quickly comedy succumbs to drama: It takes effect in the second issue.
  • User Friendly started out as a comic about life behind the scenes at a small Internet Service Provider. The latest stories have dealt with Sid getting cancer, and A.J joining the army, being sent to Afghanistan as a combat medic, and getting shot in action.
  • Freefall was a hard sci-fi comedy. It gradually got more dramatic. Then this happened.
    • The interesting thing is that Freefall has been able to keep the individual strips funny while making the overall plot more dramatic.
  • Darths & Droids has been shifting this way during the Episode III story arc, as the players' personal lives (Jim and Annie's in particular) start impacting the way they play the game and causing fractures within the role-playing group. There's also a nasty air of Foregone Conclusion hanging over the whole thing, since Darths & Droids loosely follows the plot of the Star Wars movies and Episode III... didn't end well.
  • Zig-zagged in the defunct comic Alice!. While it did feature gag-a-day like random newspapers, it started to get some dramatic storylines in place such as Alice's conflict with her dad's girlfriend, Joan, and Dot having an out of body experience. The story would resolve, but then go right back to gag-a-day strips and the title character's Calvin and Hobbes like imagination.
  • AsLAN, Leo the lion's comic-within-a-comic in Skin Horse. Originally a poorly-drawn gag strip about lions telling a Strawman antelope his opinions on technology are wrong, and then devouring him, it's now about a lion with a drink problem, another with father issues, and an antelope whose imminent death is a matter for serious concern.
    Tip: This is ... different than I remember.
    Leo: Yeah, but wait'll you get to all the miscarriages.
  • 200:20 is a great example of this, the series itself seems to want to keep a comedic tone but keeps getting drawn into a more serious subject matter as the story goes along. The creator didn't agree with this, and wanted to keep the story light hearted so it was rewritten. Three times. Although it is up to debate whether or not that the series won't take another turn for more serious subject matter, it would appear that for now the comic itself is keeping the drama within the story to a minimum successfully.
  • The World of Warcraft comic Equinox: Defender of the Horde was rather silly and light hearted at first, but near the end of the first series it starts getting more serious and dark, to the point where by the end of the last story it is almost completely serious.
  • They're getting faster. Modest Medusa began in January 2011, began its first serious arc by June, and lampshaded the drama influx by the arc's end in August.
    • Lampshaded here : "Hey. Do you remember when we used to do fun stuff?"
  • The Lounge: Originally a gag-a-day strip, inclusion of longer story arcs led to some more serious plots being incorporated, culminating in serious family conflict between Italy Ishida and her father, and the introduction of the children of her father's former business partner, hellbent on destroying the family business
  • Sinfest resisted for a long time, but has been creeping into territory for the last few years. It started with the story of Fuschia the Devil-Girl falling for Criminy and wanting to be human, and since has involved characters falling into various realms (Hell, The Reality Zone, The River Lethe) and angsting over character flaws that had previously been played for laughs. In particular, the arrival of a young feminist on a big wheel condemning nearly every male character for their chauvinistic ways and causing Monique to have the most seriously played character development arc yet caused fans to cry foul.
  • Princess Pi fell victim to this in the appropiately-titled "Princess Pi vs. Cerebus Syndrome". In it, Pi marries Cerebus, catches his syndrome, and subsequently speaks only in overly grim or sad stories. One of them details how she avenged her mother's death by killing her palace's invaders, the US Army, and America's dictator, all in one day, with her bare hands.
  • Narbonic shifted from "Harmless Villain Mad Scientists bickering among themselves" to "one man's inevitable descent into madness". The storyline that completed the shift also took the time to parody the concept.
  • Khaos Komix started as a cute, funny story about queer teenagers and has been slowly getting darker ever since, by this point containing abuse, rape, transphobia and lots of angst.
  • Played with in Sketch Comedy: Karen, Howard, the cartoonist, and even the strip's readers have their own opinions on just how serious the comic should be, and try to steer it in their preferred direction.
  • Sonichu sort of counts. It was never (intentionally) funny, but quickly derailed into Chris-Chan's horrible Wish-Fulfillment over the course of the series, topping it off in issue 10 where he bloodily murders four people just for parodying him and his electric hedgehog "heroes". All in a comic supposedly intended for kids.
  • Spinnerette is pretty light-hearted and humorous most of the time (albeit with a few points that hit you right in the feels), but it all changes in Issue 12 when Spinnerette is mutated by a blast from a C-K reactor and Universe chops off the multiple arms that keep growing from her body, which sends Spinney into despair until she reclaims her 4 extra arms, but it then causes Tiger to feel guilty of putting her in danger and leave the team. Then, stuff starts getting a lot more dramatic in the later issues including angst involving Spinney and MM's Relationship, as well as in issue 16 revealing MM's past and the death of White Heron.
  • Dragon Ball Multiverse: Chapter 6. Prior to then, all fights either ended with knockouts or fairly minor deaths and there was quite a lot of humor. In Chapter 6, U6 Bojack kills U16 Pan by breaking her neck with his bare hands while she was in Super Saiyan form. The official novelization of the chapter's events has the U18 fighters fully realize they need to take these fights much more seriously afterwards.
  • Roommates consistently shifted from comedy to dramedy, but still zigzags in tone like crazy, by actually not doing much just pushing its metafictional subtext into text and beyond. Earlier characters were hit with narrative inevitability as punchline, now it's more likely to the Story to gloat as they suffer.
  • Commander Kitty, which starts off as a purely comedic space adventure, tries to inject some seriousness late in its run by putting some confirmed casualties on malfunctioning android antagonist Zenith's rap sheet. Not long after that (in-story), Zenith's incompetent creator Fortiscue gets cyberized and zaps Mittens with what looks like some kind of digitizer ray.
  • Deep Rise: Starts off looking like college drama (with Nobles), then spirals into madness.
  • But I'm a Cat Person: Not that the comic didn't have some dark shades from the beginning, but around the second interlude (Walker's Travels) those shades turned a pitch, sinister black.
  • Eight Cicadas already started off as a rather dark comedy about trying to fit into a small town. After its ninth chapter, it becomes a bleak, blood-splattered dramedy at its softest.
  • Swageon and Glacigeon started off as a Pokémon Widget Series that mixes the series with montage parodies, but later on the series became alot more serious, with a lot more character deaths including the death of the main protagonists. Doesn't stop the comic from being good though.
  • Subnormality: The comic's gotten far less lighthearted and more serious as it went on. Nowadays it is rare to see the campy style of the early comics.
  • Forest Hill began as a Slice of Life story about a family moving to a new town but ended up turning into a story about children recovering from the sexual abuse they have gone through. The author of the comic has said that they didn't originally plan for the comic to go in this direction when they started the comic. The reason why author did this is because they realized that Benni's violent and possibly sexual behavior could be a sign that he was being abused, and this plot ended up taking over the whole comic.
  • The first eight pages of Blue Moon Blossom (of a total of 31) barely show the reader anything about the adventure to come- it just appears to be the bunny and the dino enjoying the scenery in some unspoiled wilderness, until we start seeing vague traces of civilization. There are exactly two hints in those eight pages of what's to come, but the significance of only one of them gets made clear anytime soon.
  • Scoob and Shag started out as a nonsensical weekly gag comic. Then the two got lost in the woods, ran into Kermit the Frog, stumbled into a spooky mansion, and the whole thing turned into a bizarre Mega Crossover thriller/shonen manga pastiche.
  • Outsiders is a somewhat dramatic piece from the start, following the lives of same-sex lovers Siobhan and Ebony, and the general challenges they face for their relationship. However, things are taken Up to Eleven after Volume 11, when the two girls are beaten half-to-death by a pair of homophobic bar patrons, leaving Siobhan physically disfigured and Ebony emotionally unstable. This moment represents a significant tonal shift in the story, which had been, up to that point, much more lighthearted; but was now much colder and darker.
  • Learning with Manga! FGO is a comedic spin on the serious story of Fate/Grand Order in the first place, with the whole "destruction of humanity" thing being brushed under the carpet for a Heroic Comedic Sociopath abusing her power as the protagonist to bully and (sexually) harass her (mostly female) Servants. The comic proper invokes this trope and plays it for laughs... to some extent. In Chapter 77 of Even More, FBI Assassin finally fulfills her promise that the strip would shift into a serious battle manga that was made a year ago, as Jeanne points out, by having an unknown new Lancer impale the protagonist with a spear. The promised change doesn't take, and it's just setup for more Black Comedy since more "fighting" is just par for course.
  • Aisopos was a little depressing, starting with a young and cheerful child losing both of his parents and being forced to be a slave, but the third part is where the drama and the overly sad tone are more clear, with the protagonist continuing to be slave to his family's killer, being treated in a more awful way and almost dying from crossing.
  • Romantically Apocalyptic started off as a series of one-off jokes that didn't connect with each other in any meaningful way, and the first story arc (the Lemonade Cult’ was Played for Laughs and had no effect on the overall story. The second (Snippy being abducted by aliens) was Played for Laughs as well, only for it to lead to The Cancer showing up; as a result, the overall story became much darker and more continuity-based, and readers were treated to journal entries and flashbacks, making the story much deeper.


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