The Trenches

First off, I’d like to thank everyone who gave their input to my comic last week, thanks a lot. I was happily surprised at the amount of detail you all went in to. What I’m also happy about is for the first time in way too long, my websites are now clean and google has taken down the Malware warnings. So why not take a look at Living With Insanity and Domain Tnemrot to see what my writing is like when done by someone who can actually draw. And feel free to review those two if you want. While I review a comic by people who actually know how to make a living off of it.

So back in 2010, Mike Krahulik, Jerry Holkins and Scott Kurtz made an announcement at PAX that they would be collaborating on a comic together. I was intrigued, like many of their fans. After all, these three are considered pioneers of the webcomic industry, so imagine what they could create. Plus, these guys are the experts, one even helped write a book on making webcomics. It’d have to be one of the best things ever.

You might be guessing the above is sarcasm. You would be correct; I have been quite underwhelmed by this comic.

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Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t have incredibly high hopes that were shattered from the first strip. Honestly, PA and PVP are pretty ‘meh’ for me, I read them because they’re on my list and occasionally have something I like. I’m a bigger fan of the stuff from ten years ago for both of them, actually. I find both comics to be okay and so figured that this would be too, which it is.

But it also has a lot of very amateurish mistakes.

Let’s start from the beginning. The Trenches is a long-form story comic that updates twice per week with only three panels per strip. Right away, we’ve hit a problem. Six panels per week is not enough to fully develop a story at a rate to keep the readers invested unless you have a backlog of archives. Which they did not, despite the comic taking a year to debut after it was announced and according to the PATV episode on it, they had some of the strips written since April. This is easily one of my biggest pet peeves. You may point out other comics like Order of the Stick and Megatokyo, which update even less, but they usually more than eight panels in each update, the smallest OotS goes is around 12 or so. Plus, both have very large archives.

To get my point across, let’s take a look at the first two strips, which make up the first week (The comic updates Tuesdays and Thursdays, another pet peeve of mine. It’s okay to spread out a little people). Now, using only those strips, what do you know about the comic aside from the main character’s name, Isaac Cox, and that he’s looking for a job?

Okay, the first week may not be fair. Let’s look at the first month then, up to this strip. We now know that Isaac is looking for work in an office of some sort. But we don’t know what type of job or even the industry it’s in. Let me just emphasise this, the central premise of this comic is about working as a video game tester… and after a month they still haven’t bothered to bring it up. You may point out it’s only been nine strips, but the first rule I was told when I got into this years ago was that the audience has to know what’s going on by strip eight.

It takes, I am not kidding, three months, before it is finally made clear that he is working in the game industry, in which we see a box. Now this may seem like nitpicking, and a few may point out the Tales below and also the promotional blogs on PVP and PA give the information. However, I am not here to review those, I am reviewing the comic solely on its own merits.

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Sad thing is, this is pretty much what my first manager was like when I was a teen.

The other problem with the update schedule is how many filler strips there are. When we get a glimpse of the Law Star cartoon, this strip introduces it, followed by this one. However, the campiness and poor writing are easily conveyed in the latter strip, meaning the first one could have easily been cut. There are dozens of strips like this. In a comedy, that is fine, jokes don’t always have to advance the plot, but that first strip didn’t even have a punch line to make its inclusion worthwhile.

When you’re telling a story, especially as slow as these guys are, you can’t really afford to have filler.

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Eventually, the first season ends with the game being launched full of bugs, the higher ups getting rewarded and the underlings suffering. Okay, that’s how it is in the real world and this comic is more about the reality of the job than glamorising it. Actually, when you think about it, it’s almost a deconstruction of PVP’s happy office family dynamic. I was actually starting to think the comic was finding its feet and gaining some momentum.

But then they go on break for a month with only 64 updates in the bag. When I did my re-read of it, I breezed through the archives in half an hour. That is including the loading times for each page and copying links for my review later on.

Yes, we are talking about three men with two websites that get a lot of traffic, both of which link to the comic, and they also have diehard fans who will read anything they put out, but for anyone less successful, this would kill any chance of gaining a large audience. Back when Paul was drawing LWI, he went on break for six weeks. When he finally came back, we’d lost a third of our readership. And the constant down times recently have not exactly helped me keep an audience.

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Blown up panels from old strips should keep the fans sated for a month, right?

But really, there’s not much else I can say about the comic. It has a few interesting moments and some quirky characters who come in later, but really not much is different from PVP, aside from the writing tends to resemble Penny Arcade more. But it’s still very sitcom style and in all honesty, really boring. I actually found it hard to pay attention halfway through the second season. Thankfully the comic isn’t anything complex.

The first time around, I actually gave up on the comic around this point, and didn’t go near it for a few months, until I accidentally clicked on it. And then I noticed a change in the art. It was more stylised, there were nicer colours and actual angle changes. This is thanks to Mary Cagle, Scot Kurtz’s former intern and protégé, who has managed to outstrip her master in a few short years. Cagle’s style is actually better suited to the character designs and her sense of gesturing and poses adds a lot to the conversations.

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Look, actual shading. And yes, I am aware of the hypocrisy.

Unfortunately, without even bothering to wait for the third season to end, they switch artists again to Monica Ray of Strip Search (There’s also a credit in the artist’s section for Ty Halley, another Strip Search contestant, but it’s unclear what he actually does. Maybe he’s the new writer?). And while not a bad artist, her style is really jarring compared to Cagle’s and also just does not have her charm. Though it does get a bit closer to Kurtz’s so maybe that’s what they wanted.

The only thing I can really recommend about the site is the tales section below the comic, which is full of stories from people who have actually worked in the industry. Some are funny, some are horrifying, some are a little of both, and some can make you cheer that justice, for once, has been met.

I finally cracked one major bug to this problem and proceeded to merge my code into the code base.  I downloaded the code base and in an instant completely overwrote all the changes and work I’d done that week.

- The Rose Bed, Anonymous 22/11/2011. It got more emotional investment out of me in five paragraphs than the comic did in two years.

Aside from that, I just find it too slow to be invested while waiting for updates, and too boring to be engaged when I do an archive trawl. While I didn’t find it painfully bad or infuriating, I cannot recommend it. I can see a few elements that would cause some to like it, but I am just not one of them.

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Posted on January 20, 2014, in 2 Stars and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Just a quick thing – I think it’s actually Monica Ray who does the art for the comic now, while Ty Halley handles the writing. (Hard to say with absolute certainty, though, since neither one is credited on the strip itself.)

    As for the comic… yeah, it’s just dull, dull, dull. I completely agree that the most interesting thing about it – heck, the only interesting thing – is the “tales from the trenches” section.

    • Was not aware. Will change that. The problem is that Halley is listed in the about the artist section, followed by Monica Ray (Only just noticed it when I went back to check, thanks) without clarifying what either of them do.

      Honestly, it doesn’t surprise me that they’ve handed over the reigns to someone else, I got a feeling they were getting bored of it.

  2. I like your reviews, But I would love if you focused a more where the santo left during his last trenches review,

    Also its kinda of weird that there is no book merchandise at the penny arcade store

    • Well he only did an aside when it first started, so I just decided to do my own thing.

      And I wondered about that too, but I think it’s because there aren’t enough strips yet. If they’re going to do the books similar to the Penny Arcade ones, there’d be two strips per page. Season 1 would only take up 32 pages. You could pad them out with some more commentary from them and concept art, but who knows if they even plan to bother.

  3. In the latest strip of Ty Halley’s Journal Comic he said that he got hired as the new writer.

    So in which way are the PA/PVP guys still involved in the project? I kinda got the feeling that they lost interest after the first season.

    But your review nailed it, David.That’s exactly how I feel about the comic.

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