Sinfest

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I would rather die a thousand deaths than serve them.
—Tats on his fans.[1]

Sinfest is the story of how a once-successful cartoonist wrote and drew a critically-acclaimed comic for nearly twenty years before he went off the deep end and starting publishing insane rants in manga form. It is one of the longest-running webcomics on the entire internet, having started in 2000[2] and being updated almost daily to this day. The comic's creator is Tatsuya "Tats" Ishida, who originally created the strip for the UCLA newspaper and continued it online.[3]

The comic started out fairly benign as a comedy strip that would sometimes poke fun at politics and religion, however, as the years went on the strip would become infamous for having not one but two abrupt radical changes in tone. In 2011, the comic strip changed from a comedy gag strip with occasional storylines to a tract that Ishida would use to advance his views on radical feminism, with most of the comic's earlier characters moving into the background or being forgotten about. Then, in 2019, Sinfest changed to a far-right conspiracy theory-promoting webcomic that endorsed QAnon and the anti-vaccination movement, with the transphobia, which had previously only been in the background, cranked up to ten thousand. All this resulted in Sinfest receiving a reputation on par with StoneToss and Ben Garrison,[note 1] which is sad, since unlike those webcomics, Sinfest actually used to be good.

When it was actually good[edit]

What the comic was like before everything turned to shit.

When Sinfest first started out, it had a lot of dark humor with little regard to storytelling, but over the next few years, the comic mellowed out a little and started experimenting with storylines as well as some political humor, with 2008 to mid-2011 being considered the comic's golden age as a result. The strip revolved around the duo of Slick, a sex-obsessed teenager always trying to pick up girls, and his friend/rival Monique, a hippie girl who frequently flirted with men (but never Slick), with other important characters including Squigley, a stoner pig who was Slick's best friend, Criminy, a nerdy bookworm who was another one of Slick's friends, and Seymour, a parody of religious fundamentalists. The webcomic was also famous for its portrayal of religion, with many religious figures having major roles in the comic:

  • God: He spends most of his time doing things like putting on puppet shows, and can sometimes be a jerk to his creations,[4] but he's overall a force for good.
  • The Devil: Portrayed as a rich corporate executive, he is very hedonistic but is ultimately shown to be very lonely.[5]
  • Jesus: A powerful, handsome,[6] morally pure action hero. Interestingly, he has something of a brotherly rivalry with the Devil.
  • The Dragon: Supposedly a representation of Eastern religion, he mostly just likes to snark at the conflict between God and the Devil.[7]
  • Buddha: An incorruptible pacifist, who is nonetheless one of the strip's most powerful characters.[8]

The comic had a tendency to poke fun at some of the confusing aspects of religion. For instance, in one strip, the Devil wonders why he has to do evil deeds when God responds "I cast you in that role". The Devil then concludes that the reason God made him was so that He could look better.[9] The comic also sometimes got into politics, being critical of George W. Bush[10] and supportive of Barack Obama (who is called "Barack Star" in the strip).[11] However, the core of the comic remained on the relationship between Slick and Monique, with other well-received storylines like Criminy falling in love with Fuchsia (a succubus who becomes inspired to turn good), the Devil gaining prominence as an antagonist, and the back story of a character named "Lil E" being explored.[note 2] At this time, Sinfest was one of the most popular webcomics on the Internet, even rivaling the popularity of others like xkcd, but that didn't last…

Shift to radical feminism[edit]

In 2011, Ishida apparently saw the light and the comic completely shifted in focus to promoting feminism starting with the "Sisterhood" arc in 2011. This normally wouldn't be a bad thing, except that Ishida promoted a brand of feminism that was hardline anti-pornography, anti-sex work, and anti-third wave in general,[12] which completely overshadowed any potential positive messages the comic might have otherwise had. It can be noted despite the author's dislike of sexualized characters; he tends to draw them in suggestive attire and poses. The comic abandoned its old themes, and characters that didn't fit in with the new direction, like Criminy and most of the religious figures, were forgotten about, while other characters, like Slick and Squigly, devolved into unlikeable strawmen, the first representing general misogyny, while the latter representing sex-positive feminism (which Ishida does not consider to be real feminism). Monique was retconned into being a lesbian despite showing attraction to men throughout the previous years of the comic, ending the dynamic with Slick that was originally the core of the comic, and she has pretty much turned into being only a mouthpiece for the author's views. The Devil, who was the only religious figure to stay around, went from being a nuanced and sometimes ineffectual villain to becoming a pure evil force responsible for the patriarchy (and also another straw character). The new de facto main character became Xanthe, the The Matrix-inspired leader of the "Sisterhood" who is always on a tricycle. All these radical changes to the comic alienated old fans, which wasn't helped by the author making comics that made fun of his old fanbase.[13] At this point, Sinfest was in the awkward position of having lost its original fanbase and pissed off the growing "anti-SJW" movement while failing to gain a feminist audience due to Ishida insulting any feminists who disagreed with his hardline positions on sex work and pornography, and while it briefly became infamous, it eventually faded to obscurity…

Things get even worse[edit]

What the comic has unfortunately devolved to.

Until 2019, that is. Despite his hardline SWERF views, Ishida generally avoided trans issues, but eventually he released a series of comics that mocked HRT and compared trans people to zombies, essentially coming out as a TERF.[14] However, this would end up being only the tip of the iceberg, as Sinfest had shifted seemingly overnight into ultra-conspiratorial conservatism and complaining about "woke" things, with the comic's bashing of sex work being the only thing remaining constant between this and the previous era. He became an open anti-vaxxer, negatively comparing vaccines to a religion.[15] Ishida also had the gall to compare Antifa to fascist protesters, just days before the Capitol attack.[16] Shortly thereafter, the comic began to pick up christofascist overtones, ironically for a webcomic that used to criticize such extremists.[17] By 2022, the comic went full QAnon, complete with conspiracy theories about child sacrifice.[18] Ishida also defended Ye, after his major anti-Semitism controversy.[19] Then in the very next comic, he promoted the "gays are groomers" conspiracy theory while using the term "cuck" unironically.[20] By 2023, he was promoting the Great Replacement conspiracy theory.[21] Eventually, it got so bad that Ishida got booted from Patreon for "sentiments of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation".[22] At this point, all the previous characters were basically abandoned, and the comic became nothing more than a vehicle for Ishida to post his unhinged conspiracy theories.

What the hell happened?[edit]

You may be wondering, how did this happen? How did a relatively progressive comic that was anti-Bush and supportive of LGBT people turn into one that was defending the Capitol rioters? While Ishida is notoriously reclusive, it may help to consider the period in which Sinfest came out in. Sinfest came out around the same time as many similar webcomics like Penny Arcade and Questionable Content that were all targeted towards the nerd community.[23] When Sinfest started out, it was heavily influenced by South Park and had a lot of edgy humor, but by 2003, the comic, like many others at the time, came out against the authoritarian policies of George W. Bush in response to the Iraq War, due to understandable concerns about freedom of speech.[note 3] Correlating with the rise of movements like NoFap, Ishida's self-insert characters would start to spout out the evils of pornography, and this seeming self-loathing of dependence on pornography would gradually devolve into hate towards sex work.[23] It has been noted that, throughout the radfem era of the comic's run, Ishida would be very harsh towards men, even male allies of feminism, and portrayed them as unable to change their inherently misogynistic ways, which reads like more than a little projection on Ishida's part.[24] Add to this mix Ishida exploring various online conspiracy theories in the comics starting in the 2010s, such as the illuminati and the Bilderberg Group,[25] and you have a toxic mix that caused Ishida to fall down the rabbit hole. Ultimately, the fall of Sinfest is a cautionary tale, and it mirrors how a lot of similar nerd communities have fallen into similar rabbit holes in the same time frame. Since October 7th, Tatsuya has taken to embracing antisemitism theories disguised as antizionism,[26][27] using terms like ZOG [Zionist controlled Government] and that Israel is actively blackmailing both Republicans and Democrats.[28] One can view Sinfest as a living example of the Radical Feminism to Swerf n' TERF to Alt-Right fascism pipeline. If you observe the comics (I recommend getting very drunk beforehand), you can see the slow process of radicalization.

See also[edit]

  • Notch — Dude went from stating that Steve from Minecraft was non-binary to becoming a gynophobic QAnon nut.
  • Scott Adams — A cartoonist who went from taking the piss at corporate culture to worshiping at Donald Trump's feet.

Notes[edit]

  1. And possibly even worse than them, since Ishida had already alienated any potential right-wing fanbase.
  2. (Spoilers for a comic that is over a decade old and is no longer good) He's the Devil's son.
  3. "Freedom of speech" was often conflated with edgy humor in those days. Furthermore, the Bush era resulted in a rise in conspiracism for both the right and the left, with Alex Jones becoming prominent during this era and many people believing in 9/11 truther theories.

References[edit]

  1. Ishida, Tatsuya, Demand 16, Sinfest 15 August 2018.
  2. Webcomics, Part VIII: Sinfest, Matthew Pardue, University of North Georgia University Press 5 September 2012
  3. Tatsuya Ishida Speaks on Sinfest, Jesus, and Fans, Johanna Draper Carlson, Publishers Weekly 24 January 2011
  4. Why Did You Make Me Like This 2, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 14 January 2009
  5. Grand Prix, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 18 November 2007
  6. Bishounen Jesus, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 27 December 2010
  7. Devilzilla Versus Ultra-Jesus, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 9 December 2007
  8. Noble Path 10, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 20 September 2009
  9. I cast you in that role, The Greenbelt 26 August 2007
  10. Free Speech Zone, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest
  11. Barack Star, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 14 September 2009
  12. Third Wave Feminism 2, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 31 July 2012
  13. Patriarchy Blockers, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 30 January 2013
  14. So, about these last Sinfest comics..., ResetEra
  15. Unperson 19, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 10 October 2020
  16. Reckoning 72, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 4 January 2021
  17. Character 3, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 30 April 2021
  18. Non-Bonery 47, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 19 October 2022
  19. Twitter Jail 12, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 7 December 2022
  20. Twitter Alternatives, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 8 December 2022
  21. Illegals 6, Tatsuya Ishida. Sinfest 21 September 2023
  22. Patreon removed my account for promoting "sentiments of discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation." And their guidelines "extend to content elsewhere online." So they can ban you for things you say or post anywhere online., Tatsuya Ishida, Twitter
  23. 23.0 23.1 The Long, Strange Journey Of Sinfest, Ryan Broderick, Garbage Day 29 April 2022
  24. in an attempt to understand its evolution from dude bro comic to terf Q horror vacui screed, i am reading the entire 20 year run of sinfest right now and you know what it's not very good, bitterkarela, Twitter
  25. Office Assistant, Tatsuya Ishida, Sinfest 30 November 2010
  26. https://sinfest.xyz/view.php?date=2023-11-16
  27. https://sinfest.xyz/view.php?date=2023-11-19
  28. https://sinfest.xyz/view.php?date=2023-11-02