Schlock Mercenary is a comedic webcomic written and drawn by Howard Tayler. It follows the tribulations of a star-traveling mercenary company in a satiric, mildly dystopian 31st-century space opera setting. Since its debut on June 12, 2000 the comic has updated daily, begun to support its author, and been nominated for two Hugo Awards.
Over time, Tayler's work improved from, in his words, bad to "marginally less bad." Jean Elmore served as colorist for the strip from February 9, 2003 to the spring of 2004 when she developed a repetitive strain injury from her work.
On March 3, 2003, the comic reached its 1001st strip. Tayler marked the milestone by "re-launching" the comic. With the relaunch, the strip was slightly reoriented for publication, organizing the comic's ongoing story into "books". Each book has a fairly self-contained story, although they are still chronological and connected.
On December 2, 2005, Tayler published the comic's 2000th daily strip since the series' debut. On June 6, 2010, Schlock Mercenary marked ten years of uninterrupted daily run, a feat matched by few other webcomics.
In March 2006, Tayler published Schlock Mercenary: Under New Management, the first book-based collection of Schlock Mercenary comics. This collection features stories printed from March 9, 2003 through August 23, 2003, plus five pages of new material including a foreword by John Ringo, a feature explaining how Sgt. Schlock "got turned on to plasma cannons", bonus art, the author's biography, and architectural deck plans to Tagon's third ship Serial Peacemaker.
In December 2007, Tayler published Schlock Mercenary: The Tub of Happiness. It features stories from the beginning of the webcomic to October, 2001, as well as the bonus story "Baggage Claim," explaining the circumstances around Schlock joining the Toughs. There are numerous pieces of fan art throughout the book, as well as early concept art drawn by Tayler and notes to the reader from both Tayler and his wife, talking about the characters and Tayler's early cartooning efforts.
On June 15th, 2019, it was announced with last strip of Book 19, A Function of Firepower, that main story of serial comic strip's (mega-arc) story of Schlock & Kaff Tagon would end with Book 20. However, that Howard Tayler said that he will continue make stories/comics in the universe, but not just focus on original set characters he been publishing for last 20 years.
January 5th, 2020 Taylor would post on his blog update of his future plans and conclusion of the Webcomic's 20th year in continuous publication. Noting that series will have final ending, but the ending would leave openings for future stories based in the Schlock's universe not before he takes a long sabbatical from doing the comic. He plans to go into further detail before series concludes before October 2020. The series would end in third week of July, ending on July 24th, 2020. A blog message and ending picture left day after the final comic makes it unclear when Howard Taylor would begin new stories set in the Schlock Universe.
June 12th, 2021 on Twitter, Taylor would post he still working on telling more stories in the Schlock Mercenary Universe despite being year since last comic came out. He outlines briefly that Schlock Mercenary is still his income, he is going finish the remaining collection of works as well tell new non-daily stories.
The story primarily centers on Captain Kaff Tagon and his mercenary crew, Tagon's Toughs. Notable members of the crew include Munitions Commander and resident mad scientist Kevyn Andreyasn; title character Sergeant Schlock, who is a carbosilicate amorph with no easily definable limbs, organs, or moral compass; Petey, a former artificial intelligence and now Fleetmind and pseudo-God; and the wry AI and former boyband, Ennesby.
Many plotlines revolve around the jobs Kaff Tagon and his mercenary crew have accepted, preferably involving as much brawn as necessary and as little brain as possible (although resident mad scientist Kevyn Andreyasn can pick up the slack if need be). Other times, the crew is swept up in a galaxy- or universe-spanning conflict.
In the distant future of Schlock Mercenary's setting, many changes have faced Terran society. Faster-than-light travel has been attained, alien races have been contacted, and technology has undergone radical improvements.
Alien species have varied from fairly humanoid to almost unrecognizable. There have been carbosilicate amorphs with no easily definable limbs or organs (the eponymous Sgt. Schlock), ten-limbed Gatekeepers, two-bodied Uklakk, and the unknowable Pa'anuri, beings made of dark matter.
The number of sapient species descended from terran stock has increased as Earth's genetic engineers refined their craft. Enhanced chimpanzees, gorillas, orangutans, snakes and two species of sentient elephant now have citizenship. Genetic enhancement of the human population has resulted in the purple-skinned photosynthetic "Purps", along with more general improvements to the population.
As in many science fiction stories, technology forms a large part of Schlock Mercenary's storytelling framework. Several story arcs revolve around the political conflict surrounding rapid technological change. When a particularly complex or interesting new system is introduced to the comic, its in-comic explanation is often supplemented with a footnote.
Travel between the stars is accomplished through the use of "wormgates", large wormhole generators controlled by the enigmatic F'sherl-Ganni Gatekeepers. Within the storyline of the comic, wormgates are largely supplanted by the "teraport", a device that allows for near-instant travel between any two points, as long as neither point is within range of an interdicting device. In that case, the teraporting object is destroyed.
The F'sherl-Ganni also constructed several buuthandi, Schlock Mercenary's take on a Dyson sphere. A buuthandi is a balloon of solar-sail material around a star. Light pressure and solar wind offset the star's gravitation to keep the balloon inflated, while habitats and maintenance facilities dangling from the inner side act as ballast to keep the sails in check. Despite their tremendous surface area, a buuthandi provides a disproportionally small amount livable habitat. "Control cables, millions of square kilometers of slack sail material, and some very clever engineering allow the 'balloon' to compensate for (and in some cases mitigate) the mood swings of the contained star." In the Schlock Mercenary universe, a buuthandi is about 300 million kilometers in diameter.
Medical technology is based on nanotechnology or artificial replacements for damaged body parts. One important item that is featured in the comic is the "magic cryo-kit", an illegally modified device that has the capability to rebuild an entire body as long as the brain is intact. In the strip this has always been shown as "from the head down" but presumably nothing more than the brain is actually necessary. It appears that conventional, legal medical technology is also capable of full-body regeneration, though at a much slower pace and dependent on your HMO insurance options. The Toughs employ various technologies to protect survival of heads until their owners can be regenerated. An example of this technology is the comedically ubiquitous "head-in-a-jar", which permits a character to interact in a storyline despite an otherwise-fatal injury. Another is the "nanny-bag", which maintains the severed head and/or entire body of an otherwise mortally-wounded teammate for an unknown length of time. (Evidence as to the duration of a nanny-bag's preservation varies; the head of Kevyn Andreyasn was sustained for several weeks, whereas in a past storyline his companions worried about his head going "gamey" after less than an hour. Though the latter may have simply been Sergeant Schlock's opinion.)
In addition to medical benefits, nanotechnology gives the ability to "boost" soldiers to high levels of physical performance. Minor enhancements are legal, but the more extreme military modifications are highly regulated. The most significant examples of soldier-boosting within the strip are the mercenary grunt Nick and the bounty hunter Doythaban, along with the extreme boost of Kevyn.
Computer hardware has progressed to the point where true, strong artificial intelligence is common, and several artificial intelligences have been characters in the story.
Weapons technology has been drastically improved as well, and a mercenary's arsenal can include railguns, lasers, non-lethal nanomotive "goober" rounds, and plasma cannons. Old-fashioned bullet-firing firearms are still in use as they continue to be effective against unprotected targets and are less likely to rupture a hull than a plasma bolt.
Energy is a resource literally too cheap to meter. Anything that cannot be powered by miniaturized fusion reactors (which, in the 31st century, are so advanced they can operate solely on atmospheric gasses), is easily fueled by massively powerful neutronium-annihilation "annie-plants" - spherical devices that generate massive amounts of power by gravitationally converting mass to energy, a means of power generation made possible by ubiquitous gravity manipulation. One-shot devices (and bombs) are often powered by fullerened antimatter, a carbon-based powder which contains antiprotons at the parts-per-thousand level, and should never be incinerated.
Gravity manipulation is a process as commonplace as modern electronics, employed not only in starship propulsion and artificial gravity, but also weapons and shielding against weapons. Controlled/artificial gravity is referred to as "gravy." Gravitic weapons in particular are both common and well developed due to their dual purpose—not only are they potent weapons, they can compress matter into neutronium which can then fuel an annie-plant. The degree of this control is dependent on the number of projectors. For example, the Battleplate Tunguska was able to manipulate not only individual limbs but individual digits of crew on board the Serial Peacemaker while the much smaller ship can only create nodes of gravity in a few points on the ship and without the same level of control. However, the generation of gravity is beyond the capabilities of the sophonts of the Milky Way, necessitating ships to be constructed around annie plants as sources of gravity to manipulate. These devices and more are built using fabrication technology, or "fabbers". While rare and expensive, possession of one of these portable factories and the appropriate designs allows for the cheap mass-production of any physical item. Several of the mercenaries are trained in fabber design, allowing the company to cheaply produce and repair their own gear.
A mostly annual storyline that occurs during the month of October. The story arc always starts out typically, but soon develops a dark tone, usually involving gruesome events and often character death, before typically resolving itself at the end of the month. It is considered Schlock Mercenary's version of Halloween stories. However, Tayler did not continue this tradition in 2009 or 2010 and has stated that he is no longer doing it
The Seventy Habits of Highly Effective Mercenaries
The Seventy Habits of Highly Effective Mercenaries is a popular handbook in the Schlock Mercenary universe. The book's rules are often quoted by Tagon, as well as other characters.
The first Schlock Mercenary book publication was covered in Analog Science Fiction and Fact, which described it as "inventive and humorous." The comic tied for outstanding science fiction comic in the Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards in 2004, and was again nominated in 2005and 2007.The strip won for Best Cameo in the 2001 awards.
The ninth story collection, The Body Politic, was nominated for a 2009 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. The tenth story collection, Schlock Mercenary: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse, was nominated for a 2010 Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story.
Collections of Schlock Mercenary strips are published in book form by "The Tayler Corporation", i.e. they are self-published. The first published collection, Under New Management does not start at the beginning of the archive, but at the 1001st strip, when the strip was relaunched. The first 1,000 strips were published later in books 1 and 2. Announced book titles are as follows:
- Book 1: The Tub of Happiness (ISBN 978-0-9779074-0-3)
- Book 2: The Teraport Wars (ISBN 978-0-9779074-1-0)
- Book 3: Under New Management (ISBN 978-0-9779074-2-7)
- Book 4: The Blackness Between (ISBN 978-0-9779074-3-4)
- Book 5: The Scrapyard of Insufferable Arrogance (ISBN 978-0-9779074-4-1)
- Book 6: Resident Mad Scientist (ISBN 978-0-9779074-7-2)
- Book 7: Emperor Pius Dei
- Book 8: The Sharp End of the Stick
- Book 9: The Body Politic
- Book 10: The Longshoreman of the Apocalypse
- Book 11: Massively Parallel
- Book 12: Force Multiplication
- Book 13: Random Access Memorabilia
- Book 14: Broken Wind
- Book 15: Delegates and Delegation
- Book 16: Big, Dumb Objects
- Book 17: A Little Immortality
- Book 18: Mandatory Failure
- Book 19: A Function of Firepower
- Book 20: Sergeant In Motion
- The books were renumbered to allow for the release of The Tub of Happiness. Originally, they used Roman numerals, with Under New Management as the first book.
The game was published in 2017. The book was a oncetime roleplaying game which was motivated by fans of the webcomic. The game uses the Mayhem system, which add element of comedy to it. However it does not have art by Howard Taylor, but art with a more serious tone like elements of the book. A website was created to support the kickstart and the publication of the book. Supplements and other free pdfs can be found on the website. Its unclear if the game development remains active.
- Planetmercenary main website for news & free supplements for game, describing it's relation to the webcomic.
- Howard Tayler's June 15th, 2019 blog announcement the end of the original Mega-arc story and continuation of the webcomic with new focus universe.
- Howard Tayler's January 5th, 2020 blog post of status of webcomic and it's upcoming conclusion.
- Howard Taylor's final entry with fair-well ending art. Blog entry make uncertain when he will return if he does.
- Not Dead.
- My Plate is Piled High
- Planetmercenary main website for news & free supplements for game, describing it's relation to the webcomic.
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- Schlock Mercenary
- [https://twitter.com/howardtayler Howard Tayler's Twitter Feed (Active)
- Chupaqueso Recipes
- Howard Tayler's Livejournal Blog (not updated since 2011)
- Blog Entry Log for Schlock Mercenaries Website
- Schlockmercenary Roleplaying Game Website, Planet Mercenary
- Sandra Taylor's commentary on end of the Webcomic