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El Santo on Robot 6: Webcomics are for the children

New article at Robot 6 is up! Here, I discuss Stripped‘s subtext about comic strips and childhood, and I theorize how Penny Arcade‘s recent moves may be steering things that direction in the world of webcomics.

EDIT: Also they decided to publish my review of Pole Dancing Adventures, a webcomic about pole dancing. On the same day I did that piece on kids’ webcomics.

WHEEEEEEEEE!

WCO #236: Camp Weedonwantcha

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I have a startling confession to make: I’m a pretty big fan of the probably cancelled NBC series Siberia. (I was also a fan of The Cape, so maybe I’m just attracted to failure.) Siberia starts off by fooling viewers into thinking that they’re watching a reality show. Contestants are dropped off via helicopter into the forbidding wilderness of northern Russia. Like all reality shows, they start things off with a silly challenge. Race to the cabins! The last two get eliminated! The trappings are familiar to anyone who’s watched TV in the last decade. There’s filmed confessionals to flesh out character personalities, alliances being formed, and mugging for the unseen cameramen.

Show’s true format and statement of intent reveals itself by the end of the first episode, though. One of the contestants is presumed dead. Brutally mutilated. It slowly dawns on the characters (and the viewers) that nothing on the show is as it seems. Slowly but surely, the safety net disappears. The characters arrived in Siberia with the assumption that, no matter what goes wrong, there’s a support team hiding just out of view to deal with the really serious stuff. Like food rations, medical care, or keeping away dangerous animals or people. Scary moments are initially brushed off as just being part of the show. The real horror creeps in when the characters suddenly realize that nobody is in control, and they are all at the mercy of whatever dark, unspoken mysteries lurk just beyond the campgrounds.

The same sense of primal eeriness permeates Katie Rice’s difficult to spell webcomic Camp Weedonwantcha. (“Weedonwantcha” is a play on words: it’s both a parody of camps that takes on Native American names and what Avengers director Joss Whedon says when he wants to pick up chicks.) The encroaching sense of desperation isn’t at the forefront, though. This is primarily a humorous comic about kids having adventures at camp. One that they seem to be unable to leave. And not because the crafts classes are super fun.

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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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The Webcomic Overlook #234: Penny Arcade (2013)

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I have a set of unspoken rules about this site. One is don’t write reviews of outright porn so this site doesn’t get flagged as an adult site. (Also, it’s kinda hard to criticize what people get off on. I mean, who am I to judge, really?) The second is to never write a review of webcomics that I would give the mythical zero stars, i.e. comics I hate so much that I would never want to give any extra publicity ever.

The third rule: don’t write a review about Penny Arcade. I have so many reasons why I don’t want to do it. So many reasons. First and foremost, I tend to review an entire run of a comic. Sure, there are exceptions (and I’m making one now). But what kind of value is there to go back and look at a comic that once looked like the worst sub-1000 pageview garbage ever accidentally discovered on Drunk Duck?

Secondly, it’s a video game webcomic that manages to stay current. People, if you’ve read as many video game webcomics as I have, you start to notice that they are 50% about Mario, 30% about Link, 20% about Final Fantasy, 10% about Street Fighter, 5% about Sonic, and 5% about rape for some reason. No joking, people, the math checks out! The downside: it makes it had to get the references because, while I do play video games, I sorta also don’t have time to spend more than three hours a month perched in front of my XBox. So most of the references would likely go over my head.

And third: what hasn’t been said about Penny Arcade that hasn’t been said a hundred times already? There are sites everywhere dedicated to the damn thing. Seriously, do you need the opinion of an anonymous webcomic reviewer in a luchador mask telling you whether or not you should read what’s probably the most successful webcomic of all time?

And yet, here we are with a review of Penny Arcade from the last year. I know, right? So what ultimately changed my mind about the damn comic? Long story short… this ridiculous strip:

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Penny Arcade to focus on webcomics, which is somewhat surprising

Tycho, who is one of the Penny Arcade guys (the bald one, right?) was very reflective on Friday. It may have something to do with Penny Arcade being a decade-and-a-half old. It may be because it is December, a time of solemn reflection of past accomplishments. In any case, he made a declarative statement that Penny Arcade was going to be about the comics again.

There was never a lot of time to think about what we wanted Penny Arcade to be like. It’s like us, I guess, by default; sort of a mess. We just tried to make the best decisions we could, any time a decision was called for. It doesn’t always work out. And sometimes, you do things because “that’s what you do.” You “grow your business,” for example. You “extend verticals.” I honestly don’t know about the second one. I’ll ask Robert. But at 15 years, we’re taking a minute to figure out what we want to be when we grow up.

Child’s Play and PAX have lives of their own, now. They’re vital, and they need an obsessive level of care. We will do everything in our power to ensure that these things outlast us by a wide margin.

But I don’t think I want to “grow my business” anymore; I sort of want to do the opposite. And I’m tired, sick to death, of saying “Maybe Someday” when it comes to the things we really want to make. So, we’re not going to do that anymore. The next year is going to be a pretty big one, one of the biggest yet; it’s the year the previous fifteen have been leading up to in the literal sense but also in other ways. I think they’re going to be “big years” from now on, frankly. And it hurts pretty bad, but I don’t know where PATV as a “channel” for third party shows and The Penny Arcade Report fit into that. We’ll be shutting those things down at the end of this year.

It isn’t mentioned in the post, but I guess with PATV gone, this means the end of Strip Search, too? I suppose. But with the video channel and the news/opinion arm gone, where does that leave Penny Arcade?

… it’s time to start making good on some of the promises we’ve made in our work. Recognizing that things like the Pins or The New Kid or Daughters of the Eyrewood or Thornwatch or The Lookouts or Automata deserve every ounce of our resources. Novels and albums, too – all these things that got put off in the interests of Empire. Essentially, we’ve decided to be Penny Arcade.

So there you go, boys and girls… Penny Arcade is all about the webcomics! which is… kinda unexpected.

Soooo… now that there’s some distance… that PAX East thing

From the Producer of Law and Order

You know, I debated a while on if I should report this or even bring it up. I missed the controversy for a couple of days as I was off doing something that weekend. Also, I was a little brained by my Homestuck marathon. But… this being a site that does report on the big going ons in webcomics and this being perhaps the biggest thing to happen in a while… something happened last week at PAX East.

Rachel Edidin discusses things in her Wired piece, “Why I’m Never Going Back to Penny Arcade Expo” (which should clue you in as to what this is going to refer to):

… on Monday at PAX, in front of an audience of thousands, Krahulik told business manager Robert Khoo that he regretted pulling the Dickwolves merchandise from the Penny Arcade store — merchandise he had created as a “screw you” to rape survivors who had had the temerity to complain about a comic strip. While the audience burst into applause, Khoo nodded sagely and said that now they knew better; now they would just leave it and not engage.

This prompted quick response from online types (from who I understand were primarily from Tumblr, but this is second hand knowledge and I have no energy to do a search on this). There was even a response from fellow webcomic creator Rich Stevens from Diesel Sweeties who called them “bullies” and “Rush Limbaugh with tattoos”:

Cartoonist Rich Stevens of Diesel Sweeties reached out to WIRED when he heard we planned to report on the PAX incident. “It’s just so disappointing to see people I’ve known since we were all new and broke turn out to be such tone-deaf, old man bullies. He’s Rush Limbaugh with tattoos. I could get over the original comic if they’d just moved on or apologized, but they had to make merchandise out of rape just to poke back at people and then encourage fans to wear it to a convention that supposedly has pro-woman policies,” said Stevens.

“It’s like he never got the point of growing up having been bullied as a kid. You’re supposed to get older and not repeat it … I wish more people in our field would be open about this, but I think there is a lot of social and economic pressure not to be… I really want to let them know that not everyone in webcomics is scared to stand up to them.”

Again, I was willing to ignore this, but the core of it is a debate that I think will affect webcomics for years to come: free speech vs. responsibility. Penny Arcade, and — let’s face it — a lot of webcomics hit the big time because they were unencumbered by the censorship issues that tamp down the creativity in the more mainstream print fields. The early jokes were how Garfield had been reduced to Monday and lasagna jokes because that’s all he was allowed to do.

But now we’ve reached the point where, while webcomics aren’t exactly mainstream, they’re mainstream enough to garner attention. Most don’t seem to have a problem with the original comic so much as the follow-up responses from the Penny Arcade guys have been really rather cruel.

And, well, compounding that issue are that Krahulik and Holkins aren’t young guys trying to make it in the world anymore. I mentioned during the Strip Search reviews that attempts at being edgy just seemed forced. On the other hand, if Penny Arcade were somehow neutered of that edge? Well… then it’s not Penny Arcade anymore.

Again, there’s no easy solution, as the “free speech vs. responsibility” thing easily boils down to “young and wild forever vs. grow up already.”

On the other hand… I really should’ve gone to CafePress and made a bunch of these shirts for realsies, dontchathink?

Strip Search Episode 31: Finale, Part 2

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And now we finally get to Part 2 of the Finale! Now… I do understand that some readers had some issues with how I viewed the first part of the finale. I make no apologies. However, I will say that Part Two? I thought it was a pretty strong one, mainly because pretty much everything focused on what I tuned in to watch: what makes a webcomic succeed, and the potential within all the artists. Perhaps if I’d seen more episodes like this, I would’ve liked Strip Search much more.

The show starts with some lightweight banter. Gabetycho all of the sudden notice Abby’s hair, namely how it’s shorter on one side than it is on the other. Abby, who seemed very nervous in the initial episodes, is far more comfortable now with snarking back and forth with the Penny Arcade guys.

Katie, on the other hand, seems very nervous. I mentioned that she seemed a little edgy in the first part of the finale, and that continues here. I think there’s far more riding on this for her than the other two contestants. She has a current job in the animation field, but the show she was working on hadn’t been picked up for another season and there seems to be a lot of uncertainty. Still, out of the three contestants, her illustrations are easily the most polished.

At the end of the last episode, she hit a mental roadblock while she was working in Photoshop. So, rather than continue, she decided to rough it out old school with a Sharpie pen and paper. Maki is the last contestant toiling away on a computer while Abby and Katie sketch it out with pencil guildelines and thick ink. And you know what? It’s a much more interesting thing to see on video than a guy on a computer.

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Gabetycho look over the submittals and remark about Abby’s natural affinity toward drawing creatures. While her style is loose, she clearly has a good grasp of anatomy. They ask her if she ever wanted to get into taxidermy, and she says she thinks about it all the time. Girl’s got moxie.

They’re less complimentary when looking at Katie’s stuff. There’s something in her comic that strike them as a teference for reference’s sake. “We don’t get to explore the idea that pop culture is a currency for kids,” say the two headed judges of doom. Katie sorta grunts in assent. I think she’s trying to make up for lost time and filing the white noise buzzing around the room for future reference.

Meanwhile, Gabetycho decide to do some weird visual gags with food. First, they eat some rotisserie chickens and egg the contestants on the moistness of it.

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I was actually wondering aloud to myself where those chickens came from. My gut instinct is someone picked them up from Costco. However, there’s a sign in the back that says New York City Comic Con. Would there be Costco’s at the Convention Center? Maybe there was a street vendor outside selling rotisserie chickens? I mean, that’s a New York thing, right?

And later, the bald one puts his face in a cake.

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Maki sorta disappears for a while, only being mentioned when Gabetycho start to speculate on which contestant they would’ve eaten. Maki does mention that Strip Search is good at marketing me as a character and winning would be a big reset button careerwise. But… well, given how little attention he’s been getting thus far in the finale, he shouldn’t get his hopes up.

Maybe he’d get more attention if he was more snarky like Abby? Gabetycho lampoon their early reality show baiting by asking her if anyone in the house was kissing. Abby just sorta rolls her eyes, makes a quip about falling back on old tropes, and then makes fun of her own weak attempts at being a reality show character. Clearly, Gabetycho are in love with Abby. And really, who wouldn’t be?

The clock winds down, the contestants stand together, and Gabetycho ponder their etchings.  I mean… no, not in that way.  Get your minds out of the gutters, guys!

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Both Gabe and Tycho agree that the drawings that Abby put together in four hours were better than the results that came out of her studio.  They wonder if maybe she’s better when she works under a constraint.  Next is Maki’s stuff.  Gabetycho look at it in a bit of a daze.  They are clearly not big fans.  Gabe, I think, mentions that it’s “anthropological in nature.”  I…. think that means he thinks it takes the character studies too seriously.  I have no idea why “anthropological” would be used in that context, though.

It doesn’t matter though, since, despite Gabetycho claiming that they love all three strips, the subsequent discussion is whether they should pick Abby or Katie.  Katie’s drawings were less great than her studio drawings.  However, the stuff she came out in four hours time was still pretty good.  They know that the winner’s going to be working in a studio environment, and Katie’s studio drawings were definitely up to their standards.  Abby’s, meanwhile, were not as good.

Gabetycho realized that that person they selected would have to be treated as a peer.  They wouldn’t feel confortable trying to give advice to a fellow cartoonist in the same way that they let Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub pretty much do their own thing without supervision.

And thus, Gabetycho make their decision.  The winner of Strip Search is Katie Rice.

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What can I say?  She definitely deserved it.  Katie’s drawings were easily the best illustrated, which should be no surprise given her animation background.  Even after switch from computer to pen an hour into the competition, Katie’s drawings looked far more polished and dynamic than either Abby’s or Maki’s.

Thus ends the first season of Strip Search.  While I can’t say I was the biggest fan of this show, I thought that the second half of the finale was especially strong.

Strip Search Episode 30: Finale, Part 1

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So followers of The Webcomic Overlook may know that I’m not someone who was too keen on Strip Search. From the standpoint of a reality show, I thought it was too boring. From the standpoint of a webcomic show, I thought it was baffling. (A t-shirt design show? Really?) So before they even got to the show that had to do with contestant interviews, I was out. I mean, geez, if I have to sit through people sweating why they need to get a paying job, at least I should be getting HR money, feel me?

It seems that I may be the only person feeling that way, though. A poll on this site showed overwhelming approval of Strip Search. Or… overwhelming approval of Shakira, perhaps? The YouTube views support it. As of this writing, Episode 30 has had 20K YouTube views. I mean, that’s not Game Grumps bank, but it’s still super respectable. Thus, I suppose it’s time to tune in for the last couple of episodes and see if the show has anything more to offer.

We are down to our final three contestants: Katie Rice, Maki Naro, and Abby Howard. Surprisingly, I’m actually kinda happy with these three. I mentioned in a previous review that Maki and Abby were my early favorites just because their personalities were so appealing. And I’m happy to see Katie Rice there, too. She’s the one who looks like Kate Beaton.
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