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Good Read Column for May 4, 1998

Bruno the Bandit

By Ian McDonald
online comic strip, ongoing, FREE

(of a possible five)


Most online comics I've seen are amateurish. Some of them are simply dreadful. Almost all of them leave you with the feeling that you know very well why they are online and not being sold in the comic shops or syndicated to the newspapers.

I think I know why Ian McDonald can't sell his comic strip, Bruno the Bandit, and it has nothing to do with quality. I discovered it a few weeks ago, and checked back a few times until I had read everything that was on the site, and now checking on Bruno is now one of my daily rituals.

As a relatively new reader, I am just discovering the anticipation of waiting each day, as I once eagerly awaited Doonesbury and still go crazy sometimes waiting for my monthly Cerebus fix. The current chess storyline is the first one that was not completed when I started reading it, and each day I can't wait to see what outrageousness he'll come up with next.

So why is Bruno only available on the Internet? Why can't this wonderful strip make money for its creator? It's just too esoteric for a daily newspaper, and it's not political enough for the alternative weeklies. The only place I can imagine it running in the print world is a gaming magazine.

It takes place in a pseudo-medieval sword-and-sorcery milieu, and the "hero" is, as the title suggests, not exactly a hero. He is, however, tall, dark, handsome and dashing, though also something of a bungler. His sidekick is a miniature dragon named Fiona. The story of how they met is part of the very first storyline, which is always kept on the site with a "start here" tag for newcomers.

My favorite strip (besides the current one, which you really should go check out right now) is the one where a magic mirror put Fiona in Bruno's body and vice versa. Fiona kept threatening to shave off Bruno's mustache, while Bruno discovered that Fiona was thinking of teaming up with another bandit.

The main reason I like Bruno is that it's hilarious. But McDonald also tells stories, some taking only a week or so and others running through 20 or 30 strips. He has a talent for developing real storylines while keeping each installment funny that few of his richer colleagues in the newspapers can match. The strip is also very well drawn, much better than most newspaper strips, much less the online competition.

There are probably hundreds of online strips, and most of them I've never seen, so I can't say this is the best or even in the top ten. But it's certainly my favorite of the dozens I've seen so far.

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