GAZE UPON WHAT YOU HAVE DONE.
One of the most mockable aspects of anime is when the characters have a big brother/little relationship when the two characters are not actually related. (And, let’s face it, sometimes when they are.) There’s usually a sizable age difference. The girl will be barely into her teens, and the guy will be college age or older. The girl is typically portrayed as somewhat infantile, especially when mewling something along the lines of “onneeeeeiiiiisaaaannnn!” (Alternately, “neeeesannnnnnn!”) The guy, on the other hand, is some aloof, emotionally distant dude who appends the heroine’s name with “-chan.” While this is typically portrayed as sibling closeness, there’s a little bit of creepiness in the subtext of how that same closeness can easily translate into something more serious. (And it can get really weird when it actually does happen.)
In Strays by Samantha Whitten and Stacey Pefferkorn, we’re introduced to a young 12-year-old girl named Meela. She’s homeless and trying to survive in the big outdoors by herself. Suddenly, a fight breaks down nearby, which destroys her rickety lean-to. She meets the 28-year-old Feral. Feral, while being a silent badass, takes some pity on Meela and decides to let her tag along.
So many alarms were going off in my head.
So many alarms.
(Incidentally, I was writing this on the day before Easter — a huge shopping day, due to the many sales at the mall — while sitting at a window facing an American Girl doll store, which is abundantly populated by many tiny girls. I imagined a terrible scenario where someone called security, and they confiscated my laptop which currently has the first paragraph written up without any further context. I think that chances were high that I would’ve had to register my name on a list of not very nice people. These are the sorts of sacrifices I make for you, dear readers. Blogging is more dangerous than it sounds.)
All Night, by Brittney Sabo, is only 11 pages long as of this writing. It seems to be about a spellcaster living in the Wild West who does some magic extermination on pesky spirits. There’s little plot as of now. But, wow, is the art gorgeous. The beautifully textured line work is accentuated by a lovely red, blue, and brown palette. Some comics, I read for the story. This one, I just want to luxuriate in the visuals.
Last time on Strip Search – T-shirts are serious business! Bu now we get to the even more serious business: the first elimination. On Episode 4, it’s going to be between the longhaired and Bearded Alex vs. the non-glassed Katie. So we begin with this precious exchange where Tycho shows his comedic prowess: “Alex, I understand that your shirt design featured hateful, anti-Semitic imagery. Tell me, what is your favorite thing about Hitler?” Ehhh… it works better when spoken by a cool cartoon guy. At least Alex is on the ball enough to respond: “efficiency.”
Katie doesn’t know why she’s here in the bottom two either. Tycho actually thought the design was excellent. I’m going to guess this is going to play into how Amy’s been promoting herself as the show’s villain. How dare she lay waste to great T-shirt designs! To settle who gets eliminated, Katie and Alex have to select ideas from crumpled papers n a wastebasket, and they have one and a half hour to make webcomics out of them. Friggin’ finally. Something about webcomics. The ideas are “space” and “table tennis.”
The guys get to work on some fantastic-looking electronic tablets to draw up their toons. (Thought I was disappointed that this wasn’t totally old school. I would’ve loved to see a drafting table with T-squares, rubber erasers, and twelve different kinds of inking pens. Technology makes things visually boring.) Gabe and Tycho try to ramp up drama by goading Alex and Katie and asking them who they thought should’ve been eliminated, but the two of them are so polite that no drama is stirred. Alex comes closest, though, by saying that he agreed with the judges on their assessment on which T-shirt design was the weakest. Hey there, buckaroo, don’t be stirrin’ no hornet’s nest! You kiss your mother with that mouth?
GAZE UPON WHAT YOU HAVE DONE.
I think we are entering a somewhat mature era for webcomics. Not necessarily “mature” in the sense of “growing up and getting a job” or “mature” in the way cable channels like Starz and Cinemax use it. (Though there are examples of both if you’re looking for it.) I mean mainly that it’s been around a while. When CAD aped the style of Penny Arcade, there was plenty of hoo-ing and hah-ing that somebody was getting their style ripped off. We’ve reached a day, I think, that if someone copped the same style these days, you could say, rather, that the comic was “influenced by” it’s more well known predecessor.
Can we seriously fault any new webcomic if it builds upon the precedents set by Penny Arcade or Kate Beaton or Scott Kurtz or Pete Abrams? After all, they were the ones who proved what worked and what didn’t. They’re the ones who know the safe route to success. Sure, it somewhat puts the limits of creativity. However, while a very few of us can be Pablo Picassos, most of us would be happy being Norman Rockwells: low in pizzazz, but just high enough in appeal for the masses at large.
These are the thoughts that flitted through my mind while ruminating over Citation Needed, by Christopher J. O’Brien and Amy T. Falcone. It’s a comic that stubbornly conforms to the established narrative as to what a webcomic should be. Namely it’s a roommate webcomic about wacky characters and totally random humor. Which means, bottom line, Citation Needed looks like pretty much every other webcomic ever.
So when we last left our contestants, the were led away from the Hotel Max with bras over their eyes to live in a house in blustery Seattle. Hopefully they all brought umbrellas. So now these bunch of strangers have to get to know each other. Our tenants in the Emerald City are a motley crew, who helpfully have a roster on the Strip Search site because other than Erika Moen, Abby, and Maki it’s kinda hard to tell them apart.
(Here’s another opinion piece brought to you by the always gracious David Herbert. Enjoy!)
So last week I made an idiot of myself by making a commentary on straw man arguments, while using an inaccurate definition of the term. My apologies. But now we dig into territory that’s a little harder to define since the term tends to be thrown around rather casually, especially on TV Tropes.
By the broadest definition, a Sue/Stu is an idealised version of the author who is universally liked, sometimes even by the antagonists, has powers/abilities far beyond any one else and always comes out on top. However, many protagonists have traits that fall under these categories and yet are never accused of being a Sue/Stu. And there are also many who have these traits but are unfairly labelled as one.
For example, Hermione Granger is a character I feel is unfairly labelled. Now yes, you can point out that JK Rowling has admitted she identifies most with Hermione and we are talking about a witch who can perform magic far beyond what is expected of her, but that doesn’t make her a Sue. (For the record, I’m only going by the books, not the movies). In the first novel, she’s introduced as being somewhat stuck up, a buzz kill, arrogant and these traits have alienated her from the rest of her classmates. She eventually loosens up, but the other characters still find her irritating at times.
The character is shown to be very neurotic; in book 3 she fails a test when the final obstacle, a creature that transforms into a person’s worst fear, appears as the deputy headmistress and informs her she flunked all her exams. She’s also only knowledgeable on textbook subjects, relying on Ron to tell her about wizarding culture as she didn’t grow up with them. And around book 4, she gains some white guilt over the plight of house elves, even going so far as to try and trick them into freeing themselves despite the elves being perfectly happy at Hogwarts, almost in an analogue of Islamic women who hate people campaigning for the banning of burqas. She refuses to accept that though since she’s very narrow minded and is routinely shown as this being a negative quality.
There’s nothing wrong with having a character based on the author, it’s always good to write what you know. And there’s nothing wrong with having a character that can be used as a power fantasy. It really all comes down to, as I said last week, framing and execution. If the character does something bad, are they punished for it? Are we shown or told how great a character is? How do they compare to the people around them?
Let’s take a look at some characters who can be seen as Stu/Sues and see if they fit the bill.
In a way, PAX TV plays in the same sort of online playground as the webcomic that launched the franchise. Network television — nay, all television, including cable and the premium channels — may be walking dinosaurs like newspaper comics. To get any sort of ratings, TV has to appeal to the lowest common denominator. Smart TV shows are routinely punished by low ratings. And then … sometimes they push out ideas that are absolutely baffling. Did you know that there’s a celebrity diving show? Are there people watching this? Online reports say the show got a 2.6 rating with adults 18-49, which is pretty decent.
I don’t understand you, viewers.
So it makes sense that there’s been some stirring on the online front. Shows are appearing on YouTube. Places like That Guy With The Glasses and Red Letter Media have gained decent followings. And, even more recently, Netflix has gotten into the game with online-only content. House of Cards has proven to be a modest hit, and the new season of Arrested Development is in the wings. Can this be the next bold, new frontier?
It looks like Penny Arcade has gotten in the game, too. Strip Search debuted on Penny Arcade TV some time ago. It plays in that lowliest of TV formats: the reality show. (Though there is a soft spot in my heart for these things. I’ll have you know that I might have been the only person to devote blog posts about friggin’ Who Wants To Be A Superhero?) This is of the more skill-based variety, a cousin to shows like Chopped, America’s Next Top Model, and Top Shot, where contestants are judged in skills based competition. The goal: to win a one-year contract with Penny Arcade to draw webcomics for them. In other words, this is the sort of show where you tune in to watch human resources at work in the hiring process. Fun!