Let me clarify that title before I move on. I have nothing against James Rallison’s comic or video work, nor am I hear to directly talk about said work. This isn’t a review, it’s a response…just one that doesn’t feel harsh enough to give it the BW Vs. title. I did try to watch some of his “storytime” videos but for whatever reason it didn’t grab me the same way Jaden Animations or Let Me Explain Studios did, and I only have so much watch time, as my huge YouTube backlog would easily demonstrate. Heck, given my uncoolness the fact I even know about him says something as there are a lot of YouTube celebrities I’ve never heard of or only heard of in someone else’s video. I do three articles a day and a weekly comic, and nap a lot lately so you’ll forgive me if I don’t subscribe to everyone, and even people I subscribe to I occasionally pass on an episode if only to get some control in that backlog. Obviously he does good work and is good friends with Jaden but I didn’t make that connection. I’m sure he doesn’t miss my viewership given how popular he is and he has earned his success.
This leads in to a recent article by Rob Salkowitz over at ICv2 sparked an interesting thought process. It seems like every time he gets mentioned on this site it’s me responding to something I disagree with but I have used him for Article Link posts as well, and as things go this is kind of mild. I’ve seen far harsher critiques before and after the video I posted this morning on YouTube’s animation enthusiasts in general and TheOdd1sOut specifically I wondered about his own comments about Rallison’s work. For those of you who missed the video Rallison started the TheOdd1sOut webcomic, struggled to work on it, changed to a more minimal art style with the characters, and gained huge success as a comic creator and an animator. While the comic archive seems to stop at 2017 his videos have continued on, and I though Salkowitz represented a mindset of those who can’t accept the new way comics are created, or at least was a bit harsh to Rallison’s work. Allow me to demonstrate and note I’m not railing against Salkowitz either. I have little experience with this myself but I know a bit more and wanted to comment. Also I needed something to talk about tonight and this won.
Salkowitz’s first exposure to TheOdd1sOut came when one his friends, who knew he writes about comics, asked him to get the autograph of her son’s favorite cartoonist…because of course those of us who write about comics knows every comic creator in the business. Look, I’ve been lucky to meet more popular creators than I am (only in comics and YouTube…I don’t know anybody in TV, movies, or even novels) and that’s awesome but it’s not like I can call up Bill Waterson and ask him to autograph a Calvin & Hobbs comic. Still that led him to investigate Rallison’s work and here are his conclusions.
As the parent of none, I was immediately flummoxed. A quick search revealed a modest archive of webcomics from 2012-2017 that are… not especially awesome, and a couple of illustrated sort-of-comics books published by TarcherPerigree, the most recent of which, released in March, 2020, was still doing well on Amazon.
I looked through the comics and they are mildly amusing at best, but sometimes that’s a good thing. We don’t always need a bellylaugh but just need a small smile on our faces to ease the day. His focus now is his YouTube series of “storytime” cartoons, comedic exaggerations of events in the creator’s life set to funny animations. Rallison’s style is definitely minimal, but if you saw this morning’s video you know that’s not the style he started out with.
This is one from 2012, when he was posting to Tumblr. In the description he writes:
Here’s the comic where I almost gave up doing comics.
I spent a lot of time making these and hardly anyone would read them. And what was the point of it all? The art’s not any good and there was no way I could make a career out of this. I guess people don’t like my comics. I should just go back to video games.
But being a cartoonist would be so cool. I could attend panels at comic-con, people would ask me for comic advice. That would be so nice.
You know, I always have these dreams of making it big, but never actually do anything to achieve that. I gave up on my YouTube dream after one video.
I’ll just finish this comic and see if I still want to do this.
As you go through the archive you’ll see him work with different art styles until eventually he came on a very simple style, but at the cost of the characters the comic had originally been about. And yet it worked. Rallison became more popular and it led him to making animations and artcasts, and now he’s a huge success. Maybe not on PewDiePie’s level but he’s doing far better than I am. He didn’t give up and soon that determination paid off. That mindset’s been helpful to me as well, as this year alone I’ve picked up a lot of new subscribers, my read stats are around 100 when I used to struggle to get there, and I’ve made friends in the reviewing and online comic community. I’m not doing as well as he is but after 12 years of doing this site it does seem to be worth it. Now if I could just get some action in the comments more often…
Anyway, back to Salkowitz:
Those are big numbers in YouTube land for anyone not peddling beauty products or conspiracy theories: enough to make the 24 year-old Rallison a mega-superstar: just not one you’re likely to have heard of if you don’t have tweens in the house.
That last part may tell you where this is going. Oh look, minimal animation. Clearly it’s for kids.
TheOdd1sOut sits at the top of a YouTube genre called “storytime,” which features 5-8 minute chunks of droll slice-of-life commentary from a GenZ or GenZ-ajdacent perspective, on top of something between basic illustrations and very rudimentary animation. On these clips, Rallison riffs on anything that annoys or delights him (mostly annoys, though), including roommates, wrong numbers, childhood memories, life during the pandemic, and his stint working the counter at a Subway sandwich shop (a recurring theme). Each moment of the fast-paced routines is punctuated by a vignette featuring the pale, blob-like, circle-two-dots-and-a-squiggle characters done in Rallison’s signature primitive art style.
“Primitive”? That seems a bit harsh. It’s certainly not very detailed, but reducing the details is what allows him, a lone creator with maybe a few helpers on the video, produce content every week. Creating for YouTube is different than creating for TV or Netflix. Again I point to this morning’s videos, where unique animation as a genre nearly suffocated under YouTube’s ever changing algorithm. Just when you have it figured out Google changes what they’re looking for and the process starts over again. That’s why I gave up and now just use it as a part of this site, though I do want to find time to make more video content because it’s fun.
Though the themes of TheOdd1sOut tend to focus on the problems of young adulthood, the audience is half a generation younger, and younger still for other storytime series that focus on more kid-centric topics. Seriously, I feel old just describing this.
Kid-centric, huh? Here’s the video that comes up if you aren’t subscribed as his sampler.
How many 12 year olds are watching 90 Day Fiance? Please let that me a low number. Getting that wrong on Card Sharks would make me smack myself with the oversized cards. By the way, ABC’s Card Sharks was a good example of the revamped gameshows they’ve been doing the right way. That’s another article. Maybe Friday. Maybe. I don’t think Rallison is targeting tweens, but his content is at most kid-friendly. He also doesn’t list as a kids channel, as evidenced by the fact I can actually save his videos to a playlist, something you can’t do given YouTube’s poor reaction to getting hit by the government. I know the art style may look like something geared to kids, but considering how many adult shows and plays use Muppet-style puppets (usually for satire) you need to rethink what makes something for kids versus kid-friendly versus YOU ARE A HORRIBLE PARENT FOR LETTING YOUR KIDS WATCH THIS YOU SCUMBAG!!!!! It can be a fine line in subversive culture, but TheOdd1sOut appears to be in the second category, not the first.
Is it comics? Well, Scott McCloud would say no, but it’s as close or closer than some of the digital hybrid forms we’ve seen presented as comics over the past few decades. And it is ridiculously popular.
Unless Salkowitz is talking about the videos and non-comic merch (the books on Amazon are illustrated books but he links to the webcomic archive on Rallison’s site) they are comics. They’re four panel (most of the time) webcomics, but unless Salkowitz thinks McCloud is anti-webcomic (despite having actually made his own webcomic) I can only assume he means the books on Amazon.
Because they are so ubiquitous and accessible, storytime videos are shaping the aesthetics and expectations of the youngest audience just as surely as Saturday morning cartoons and other on-ramp media did for earlier generations. It’s worth paying attention to as an early warning system for what these kids might gravitate toward as they get old enough to buy or borrow books from stores or libraries.
Maybe I should have made this a BW Vs article after all. An “early warning system for what these kids might gravitate towards”? I’m not the only person in the world with regular American comics, manga, and comic strip collections, am I? What would be wrong with reading Rallison’s work? Not every comic has to be serious, action-filled, deep character examinations with superpowers and laser guns, and whose to say kids won’t be drawn to both? Modern US superhero comics all but push kids away. Where are they supposed to go?
Rallison’s approach in TheOdd1sOut is also notable in that he, in his late teens and early 20s, is speaking to a much younger audience about stuff that is not yet part of their life experience, something that is very much against the grain of how kids graphic novels are now being manufactured by the big publishers. His blob-like characters lack much to identify them as any particular age, so they seem universal, but a lot of his humor derives from a weary frustration with the absurdity of the adult world, in a way that gives kids permission to not take grownups especially seriously.
This section of the article is called “Winning By Pissing Off Parents”, and I don’t see how this would piss of parents. Again, he isn’t talking to kids but his own generation, using a style that’s fun for him to draw which allows him to focus on the writing without being bogged down by art he thinks is ugly and can’t commit to. Unless he knows something I don’t, and I don’t think either of us has talked to Rallison about his work, that’s it. The next paragraph does offer praise for the humorous commentary, comparing it to Mad Magazine, though TheOdd1sOut in both comic and video form don’t seem quite so angry about it. (I think that’s why I preferred the comics in Cracked magazine and was disappointed when Cracked the website dropped the comic parodies for list articles and videos they eventually dropped.)
Parents who pay attention have mixed reactions to this. “Odd1sOut is one of the few YouTubers that doesn’t drive me nuts,” writes one representative of the pro-Rallison faction in the Amazon reviews of his latest book. “I love that his videos are clean and kid-friendly and honestly I think he is funny and often find myself listening in while my kiddos are watching. My 9, 10, and 11-year-olds all really wanted this book so we got it and they all took turns reading it immediately. They enjoyed reading it and said a lot of the stories were new and not on his YouTube channel (which was something I was concerned about). In less than a week they all three read it and said it was super funny and they highly recommend it.”
Not everyone is a fan of his style. Rallison has come under criticism for his representation of special needs kids and for his frankness about certain subjects. “I hope your kid doesn’t believe in Santa if they read this,” wrote one one-star reviewer. “And have you talked about STD’s yet? Well get ready for all that if you purchase this book. As someone who values raising children who are kind, inclusive, and responsible, I regret that I didn’t research better before my kid got into this guy. So, I’m hoping to save someone else the trouble.”
Not having read the book I can’t comment on the content. However I again state that tweens are not the target audience. I’m sure it’s fine that kids like the comics and video but they are not the target of his work, which you can tell based on that subject matter and some of the humor I do know about. And yet Salkowitz is bringing up the review but not giving any context as to how correct he thinks the reviews are because I don’t think he actually read the book. At least I admit I’m not completely familiar with all his stuff.
The production values of the genre are modest by design, which means the barriers to entry are low. That, in turn, leads to a lot of bad work coming online, all appealing to consumers with undeveloped tastes. Some of the work is worse than bad: it promulgates the same kind of stupidity and insanity rife elsewhere on YouTube, except targeting kids. Sturgeon’s Law is definitely coming into effect with a vengeance.
With very little budget, a crew of at best maybe five people (and that’s just going by Jaden Animation’s staff…I don’t know what help if any James has available to him) he still manages to put out maybe a video every two weeks. Salkowitz knows that a comic takes months to get made but doesn’t know animation on the level of those old Saturday morning cartoon takes longer? And that’s with a large staff of character modelers, in-betweeners, keyframe animators, writers, directors, and that’s just for starters. TheOdd1sOut is at least a one-person operation. This isn’t Filmation or Spin Masters here.
Another troublesome trend is that some ethically challenged producers are ripping off other artists from Instagram and elsewhere for character designs, or outright tracing their art to pump out content in hopes of getting on the gravy train. I hope they get a handle on that; in the meantime, it’s left to the YouTube community to police itself by calling out miscreants.
That is a problem, though sometimes they’ve used what they thought was professional art because the artist was so good it looked like professional art. I can’t speak to the case in the video he links to but it is a problem both accidental and far too often on purpose without so much as credit. Then again, let’s not ignore that Disney and other big name animation and even video game studios have pulled the same shenanigans.
Even with those caveats in place, the success of TheOdd1sOut and the other legit top performers in the space show that Storytime videos can be a springboard for books, games, licensed merchandise and other media – all outside the view of most of the adult world. If folks in the fan culture business think they are smarter than an 11 year-old, now might be a good time to prove it.
The problem is too many adults are like Mr. Salkowitz and ignore animation doesn’t have to be a kids only medium. Anime has proven this, subversive culture has proven this and I wish more Western animation studios would remember this as well. Adult-targeted animation outside of anime has been reduced to parody and pornography while comics seem to be trying to exclude kids more often than not and TV cartoons not on Adult Swim or Fox weekends (one of the companies that ruined syndicated animated programing by taking over the afternoon block along with Kids WB, then abandoning afternoon and Saturday morning TV) seem to be only for kids (or say they are…yet another topic for the future). We’re both making assumptions on who James Rallison is targeting with TheOdd1sOut. He’s basing it on the fact that kids enjoy the stuff and his introduction was a friend asking for an autograph for her eleven year old son. I’m basing it on the discussion topics and that his channel isn’t listed as a kids channel. In the end you’d have to ask him but all I see is another way to tell fun stories to his target audience using a method he enjoys drawing and animating in. I don’t see anything wrong with this.