Sandwich World

A comic by Tom Irony

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.

This is actually the third gladiator deathmatch in the comic.
This is actually the third gladiator deathmatch in the comic.

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.

Too real.
Too real.

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.

After Phil gets banished from Earth, the story has to introduce Megan as the responsible foil for all the wacky supporting cast.
After Phil gets banished from Earth, the story has to introduce Megan as the responsible foil for all the wacky supporting cast.

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.

That's a Zebra Girl cameo btw.
That’s a Zebra Girl cameo btw.

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.

3 comments on “Sandwich World

  1. I don’t remember how I came across this review, but I gotta say I was pretty surprised to find it at all, seven years after my last update of Sandwich World! Not to mention that this is, quite literally, the only review of Sandwich World I’ve ever seen.

    But more importantly, it’s a very accurate review. Sandwich World was my first foray into the weird, weird, wild frontier that was the online comics scene from the early 00’s and I didn’t quite know what I was doing. The advice that had pushed me into writing and drawing my own comic was when someone said “write what you know” and I happened to be working at Subway at the time.

    I was 19 when I started, so my writing experience was pretty limited. I had no idea how to write female characters and I was painfully aware of it. My experience with the female perspective was drawn straight from the media I consumed, which I didn’t even realize was overwhelmingly tailored for straight, while male consumption, so…

    Heather was a real-life co-worker at the time, so it wasn’t like I even did much digging for the one female character featured in the strip’s early days. My efforts into writing and including more female characters manifested itself as the rival store, with the introduction of Megan, Amy and Bronwyn (and the two male characters whose names I actually forget). Megan and Bronwyn, like Heather, were based on real people.

    Somehow, including people of colour or trans or queer characters wasn’t even on my radar. I consider it something of a mixed blessing that I never tried my hand at adding those characters because I have no doubt I would have made a mess of it. I cringe thinking about what horrible racist or transphobic tropes I would have relied on for punchlines including those characters at a time when I didn’t think anything was wrong or problematic with films like Ace Ventura: Pet Detective.

    Still, I’ll read through the Sandwich World archives once every few years and come away with a small sense of pride. For all its faults and shortcomings, it was still a tremendous amount of work and remains one of the longest-running projects I’ve ever done. Most of it is cringe-worthy, for sure, but some of it still makes me laugh and it did teach me a lot about writing and drawing.

    Since Sandwich World I’ve made an effort in my writing to be more inclusive and diverse. I’ve come to realize that writing characters that aren’t straight white guys isn’t the insurmountable obstacle I thought it was, it just requires a certain degree of awareness. I hope that gets reflected in all my future works.

    I always appreciate feedback on my works, the negative more than the positive because then I know where I need to improve, so this review was quite a cool find.

    Thanks for reading, and thanks for the review!

    1. Tom this absolutely rules, thank you for commenting and letting me know you read this review! I feel all this deeply; I was in a very similar place to what you’re describing when I was actually reading Sandwich World, and I’ve definitely grown as a critical thinker, writer, and person since those days. I’m interested to know what you’re working on these days, and where it can be found! Got a plug for us?

      1. Hey! Man, sorry for the lengthy delay between replies, looks like my update habits haven’t changed…

        But to answer your question, I’ve been more involved in the development of games than comics in these last 14 years. I’m launching a Patreon account that will have links to everything I’ve made on the internet, so you don’t have to pledge to see what I’ve done. You should be able to see it by clicking on my name!

        Oh, and Zebra Girl just ended! How crazy is that?!

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