-Well, other than the fact it takes place at a paintball store, virtually all the recent principal players (except Cara, Miki and the firedogs) are regular players, two of whom were last seen wearing their ubiquitous paintball jerseys and reading (or sleeping under) a paintball magazine.
"Would TWB benefit by advertising istelf as a furry character driven comic rather than a paintball driven one?"
-And how would we do that? There's already hardly any mention of paintball on the comic page, and all the mentions are "below the fold", so to speak, below both the comic and the navigation buttons.
"I love his art and passion, but redefining his art and passion may bring greater audience to it."
-Redefining TWB means it isn't TWB anymore. Based on the popularity of Dilbert and many TV shows based around office workers, we can assume office gags would possibly be more popular than the paintball stuff. But would it have worked if Watterson made Calvin grow up and take a data-entry job?
Maybe, maybe... but it wouldn't be Calvin & Hobbes anymore, would it?
"I suppose my "critique", if you could call it that, is in the advertising of the product rather than the art itself."
-TWB is what it is. I never intended it to be a mass-market "product". Mass-market comics are fu*king boring. I want to draw something I, myself, find interesting, and I want a readership that reads it because they find it interesting.
"I find things in TWB now to connect on a more human level than paintball- relationships over the newest gadget or gags about them."
-We've been visiting some of these characters for fifteen years now, and they can't always remain two-dimensional parodies. In those fifteen years, we had exactly one strip- one- where Doc even tried to go on a date. Adding a relationship also means adding more story opportunities, another locale to set the story of the day in, and a reason to add some backstory.
"The big question: Is paintball the focus, or a pastime for the characters, and for us?
Are we the same group of people, maturing and finding the people around us more captivating and important than the game that brought us together?"
-Single-mindedness is boring. If I had the guys doing nothing but playing paintball all day, each day, every day, not only would that eventually get boring, but some reader would eventually ask when we were going to see some of their "at home" time. Why don't we see more of the players doing something besides playing paintball?
It's the same reason I don't have the guys blowing up the shop twice a month. Do it too often, and it gets expected, boring. Staple Swampy to the ceiling every day, and it's just another ho-hum gag. Staple him to the ceiling once every three or four years, and the reader knows Swamps did something really bad to deserve it.
"I'll always wonder how long Sandy puts up with Swampy's shit, or what she sees in him."
-He's a nice guy, treats her right, and make her hit E above high C with just his tongue?
"Whether Pirta and Jake can make it work, or whether Doc's reality works for her at all?"
-I thought it was pretty obvious that Jake and Pirta are very much in love. Dealing with Doc is a different matter, but there's nothing holding back her relationship with Jake.
"I suppose I mentioned the political stuff because it stuck out compared to the rest of TWB- not because I ever thought "oh god why I better never go to that url ever again"- the introduction of subtle political advertising doesn't go unnoticed, no matter who you "root" for."
-That's why I made the formerly-red hat, blue. I like the parody aspect of it, but I suspected that perhaps a few readers might take it as an endorsement. And I have come to hate political aspects shoehorned into an otherwise-non-political comic. So much so that I dropped three comics over political endorsements this last election season.
Yes, I've had political comics in the past, and no, I don't "regret" them. But nonetheless, there will be fewer in the future- I still like to recognize holidays that most other comics ignore, like Memorial Day- but I'm making it a point to keep politics out of TWB.