pictures for sad children is a webcomic by Janet Harbinger.note The comic's original website was taken down (along with Harbinger forfeiting on her kickstarter) on February 27, 2014, but as of May 2018 has since returned.
The comic features a minimalist style of art, humor, and grammar. Originally, the comic also featured character-driven stories about a ghost and some other people.
The two main characters were Paul and Gary, although sometimes the comic would follow the other minor characters for a little bit. Paul, who was a ghost, who was wearing a bedsheet, died just before the first strip. He wore the bed sheet to look ghosty of course. He hated everything and didn't care. Gary was a grad student who worked at a call center that took the overflow of Indian help lines. People called him and hilarity ensued.
After 226 pages, the story of Paul and Gary came to a very abrupt and inconclusive end. After that, the comic continues as an unconnected series of surreal one-shots with occasional story arcs but none as long as the big one.
The world of Pictures For Sad Children is cynical. Most of the characters are depressed even though they know that they have no real problems. The main characters also resign themselves to a life of unfulfilled dreams and crushing meaningless jobs. There are many magic realist elements to the world as well, like an iPod that plays you your regrets, a family that has the powers of Jesus, and passive-aggressive post-it notes that seemingly come from no one.
In February 2014, Harbinger tore down her entire webcomic page, and burned the unshipped books (encapsulated dead wasps and all) that she promised to her Kickstarter backers. (In May of that year, Max Temkin of Cards Against Humanity fame managed to obtain and ship all of the originally promised books.) She has since re-established the website, however, and copies of the classic Pictures for Sad Children/Sad Pictures for Children books are available for purchase in PDF form.
This webcomic provides examples of:
- Aborted Arc: The original Pictures for Sad Children storyline. A supplement comic was posted later featuring what happens to Paul, but that ends even more inconclusively.
- all lowercase letters: The comic's characters (and Harbinger herself) speak this way.
- Alt Text: Most of the comics featured an alt-text gag in their original form, but these have since been lost due to transitioning from a private domain to Tumblr, which doesn't support this feature. The comics are now only available in PDF form, still without alt text.
- And Now For Something Completely Different: "up the mountain to see the dead man" was the first of several comics to experiment with medium blending and employ a significantly more surreal tone.
- Art Shift:
- One comic is a sunday strip from a fictional syndicated version of the comic, done in full colour (and complete with King Features syndicate small print in the margins).
- During the comic's later years, Harbinger posted comics made with other assorted media.
- Barred from the Afterlife: In the original and abandoned storyline, Paul, who is a ghost, being unable go to Heaven is the main plot.
- Bedsheet Ghost: Invoked: Paul is dead, and wears a bedsheet so he looks more like a ghost.
- Crapsack World: It's not after the end or anything, everybody is just kind of bored and unfulfilled. Also, gravity is just because atoms get lonely too.
- Death Is Cheap: Best shown through Paul, who is killed by a car hitting him and simply becomes a ghost, and otherwise continues to live his day-to-day (un)life unchanged. Then when his time of haunting is up he is forced into hell but ends up escaping it very easily.
- Deus Angst Machina: One strip features "impossibly tragic grandma", whose tragic backstory combines multiple mutually exclusive tragedies and historical events.
- Embarrassed by a Child: Played for surreal black comedy in one comic. A child points out a man on the street who has a large misshapen head and sharp teeth. The kid's mom just says not to stare at him. The man kills and eats a person right there in public and the mom insists the child continue ignoring him.
- Episode on a Plane: "we are all going down together" is a guest strip where Paul gets annoyed with passengers on his flight and simply throws himself out of the emergency exit. A particularly stupid passenger is inspired by Paul (who is a ghost and will emerge from the fall unscathed) and his lack of hesitation and jumps as well. To his death, obviously.
- Hell: Apparently it is a hotel in Latin America. Underwhelmingly, the ironic punishments are pretty lax; the worst part is that the wi-fi is slow and you have to pay for it.
- Imagine Spot: Gary imagines his horrifically unfulfilling future with a girl.
- Island Help Message: One comic features David Foster Wallace trapped on a desert island, writing a help message in a humorously over-complicated style.Pilot: i ain't got time to read that.
- Mundane Afterlife: Hell is a hotel somewhere in Latin America.
- Product Placement:
- A small series of strips supposedly sponsored by fast food chain Long John Silver's feature such ironic horrors as a frycook holding his arms in the fryer until they burn into "long john"-shaped crisps, and also the ennui that pervades the rest of the comic.
- Another series has a woman working for an ad agency and includes nonsense like Purina Dog Chow that makes your dog vomit up ads for Purina as well as inversions where chewing gum companies hire homeless people to advertise for their competitors.
- Racist Grandma: Two characters visit one's racist grandma, but she simply does normal politically correct grandma things. This leads the pair to leave abruptly, as "if she is not being racist, then she is just boring".
- Running Gag: A character calls for help and reaches Gary instead of who they're calling.
- Self-Deprecation: One comic's alt text is Harbinger insulting her own comic.i can almost see something mediocre. it says pictures... of small children??
- Suddenly Ethnicity: Everybody is normally drawn as an identical stick figure, so this pretty much happens by default. Paul (who is a ghost) is revealed to be Chinese upon removing his bedsheet to wash it, while Gary's ethnicity is "brown. ish." The latter is lampshaded with a comment from Gary daring Paul to guess what his ethnicity is.
- After Paul resurrects himself into the dead body of Gary's roommate, Gary starts making jokes about Paul being privileged due to now being white.
- Talkative Loon: One strip has a bird-man and his bird-son journey across the world to glean wisdom from a gigantic hermit in the mountains, but he turns out to be completely incoherent and rambling about folk music EPs when they find him.lacking the hazy hooks of their debut, a pleasing middle ground between lo-fi and club, this folk ep will be making year end lists for the east coast shitgaze tropicalia no wave dubstep sxsw bedroom split single
- The Singularity: Paul's long rant towards Gary presents a rather cynical take on it.it's flying car bullshit: surely the world will conform to our speculative fiction, surely we're the ones who will get to live in the future
- Writing About Your Crime: A serial killer discovers that he's the subject of a media firestorm, so he takes advantage by writing a book about his killings. It's a non-fiction, self-help book, encouraging readers to follow in his footsteps. The media thinks he just wrote it as an elaborate prank, but he's quick to point out that he's completely serious.