Team-ups can be a mixed bag. Wolverine and Daredevil: awesome. Squirrel-Girl and Dazzler: decidedly not awesome. You have to get the right combination of talent and intelligence, ability and skill. So a webcomic team-up between artist Paul Southworth (Ugly Hill) and writer Bill Barnes (Unshelved) should be awesome, right?
It should be but, sadly, it isn’t.
Not Invented Here is the story of two friends/coworkers/roommates named Owen and Desmond who are a program manager and developer, respectively. They can best be described as slackers who aren’t very good at their jobs, writing and developing code for some company. Still have you? Ok, well throw in a supporting cast of mostly uninteresting characters and fill each strip with jokes that are only appealing to IT workers, slap a title on it and call it a comic.
Now I should qualify something first: I LOVE PAUL SOUTHWORTH. Love. Ugly Hill is one of my all-time favorite comics and his art style and writing abilities are considerable. And the art in NIH is fantastic; Southworth’s style has matured considerably since his days writing Ugly Hill. I am not as familiar with Bill Barnes, but I’ve enjoyed Unshelved (a comic that has been running for over eight years now) when I have read it. So what goes wrong here? Why isn’t this the dream team of webcomic-y goodness that I so want it to be?
I think it comes down to the narrowness of the strip’s appeal. As I mentioned, IT folks will enjoy the constant string of coding and developing jokes, the million references to upper management’s inability to understand what a coder does, and the fun being poked at marketing and testing departments. The rest of us, however, are lost without that frame of reference. We understand the joke, but we don’t understand the humor, not from our own experiences.
NIH wants to be Dilbert, so badly, but that comic is appealing to a wide audience because the titular character could be any person in corporate America. His company could be any company, and the product they make could be any product. Anyone who has worked in corporate America can identify with the tedium and gross incompetence that Scott Adams is making fun of. But with NIH, the characters have very specific jobs and make very specific jokes that just don’t (in my opinion) resonate outside that very specific world.
Now, I should mention that NIH is a relatively new comic and it is more than possible that it hasn’t found its legs yet. And there is definitely something to be said for creating something simply because you, the creator, enjoys it, which might be the case here. I know I will continue reading it (for a while at least) in the hopes that Southworth and Barnes can turn this thing around.