I briefly worked at a Subway as a teenager, before the inept manager’s choices got the place shut down by the board of health. It was a hellish job, plagued by horrible customers, inane store policies, an absentee boss, and incessant top-40s radio that couldn’t be turned off. My only solace was the people who were suffering with me: my coworkers. Too bad the boss made us work completely alone most of the time.
Sandwich World was a comic that perfectly captured that hell, and I loved it for that. It did for fast food employees what Dilbert did for office workers, except that Sandwich World actually managed to be funny sometimes.
Phil doesn’t know what he’s in for when he applies for a job at his local Sandwich World franchise, although he probably should have when they made him sign his employment contract in blood. But despite his workday being plagued by literal demons, ambulatory vegetables, assassins from competing fast-food chains, and his own inept coworkers, the worst part of the job is still the customers.
It sounds inane, and it is, drawing too heavily on the early-webcomic tendency to just throw whatever in there. Field trip to hell? Gladiator deathmatches? God damn ninjas? Great, print it, there’s no editor to stop you. The jokes mostly fall flat, although there are a few clever punchlines in there if you go digging, and around late 2002 the writing really starts to hit its stride (such that it is) when Phil, having been made manager to protect the old manager from the homicidal health inspector, appoints a new manager to protect himself in turn, marking his complete desensitization to the horrors of the foodservice industry. In the final, abandoned arc, Phil is transported to an alien world and has to team up with a weird four-armed bird princess to survive. I’m not kidding. This comic might suck, but you can’t fault its ambition.
I’d be lying if I said my enjoyment of this comic didn’t stem primarily from Relatable Service Worker Feels. It’s certainly nothing to do with its representation of women, and there’s no queer characters or even people of color to speak of. And ultimately the central relationship of the comic is the macho competition-slash-comraderie between Phil and utter douchebag Zay, so that’s reason enough to give it a miss.
But Sandwich World is still interesting as a historical object, a representation of the weird world that early webcomics existed in. Mutant onions lurk in the
secret bunker walk-in fridge underneath the store, new hire Birdy builds robots while on shift, and an extra bathroom door appears in the wall that actually leads to hell. Literally anything goes, including crossovers with other webcomics. Continuity was so loose in those days that many webcomics could easily be said to take place in the same world as each other, creating an elaborate and confusing tapestry of bullshit ninja jokes.
Honestly though? I still prefer decyphering the lost artifacts of webcomics past to trying to figure out what the hell is going on in any given Big Two comic.
Ultimately, Sandwich World sucks, like, a lot. And like my tenure at Subway, which ended with me showing up for my shift and finding that my key didn’t work anymore because the store had been shut down and sold, some things are better off dead.
Final verdict: If you’re interested in webcomics history like me, the archives of this comic beckon like a grinning demon. If you hate your foodservice job, you might actually get a chuckle out of it. But if you want remotely convincing portrayals of women or people of color, best to leave this one in its grave.