The Webcomic Overlook #151: No Cash Value
In the climactic sequence of Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, or main character (played by Mike Meyers) confronts his nemesis, Dr. Evil (played by Mike Meyers) in the evil conference room. Nonchalantly stalling for time, Dr. Evil sneers, “There’s nothing as pathetic as an aging hipster.”
To me, this comment makes little sense. First of all, Austin Powers wasn’t an aging hipster. He was just unfrozen and in the prime of his life. He was simply just acting his age. Secondly, while Austin was a fish-out-of-water in the first movie, subsequent movies (where we can assume Austin was more aged) showed that he was more awesome than all the button-downed squares. And finally, his dad, played by Michael Caine, was the best thing Austin Powers In Goldmember, and he actually was an aging hipster.
Had Dr. Evil said, “There’s nothing as pathetic as an aging gamer,” then perhaps he would be on to something. Austin Powers would nod in agreement, Dr. Evil would be happy someone appreciated his opinions, and they wouldn’t have to wait for the last movie to discover that they are indeed brothers. (Whoops! Spoiler alert!)
Matt Thompson’s No Cash Value takes a look at gaming from the perspective of an older gamer. The writer and the comics’ stand-in, a bespectacled fellow ridiculously named Alan Spectre, are both in their mid-30’s. The days of hyperactive caffeine-fueled gaming are for a younger age and have passed him by. In a way, this is a departure from other webcomics, which have always were written from the perspective of ….
What’s that you say? Scott Kurtz is in his 30’s? And the Penny Arcade guys?
For some reason that is likely both misguided and masochistic, I’ve always tried to keep tabs on video game webcomics. What can I say? It helps keep me grounded in the much maligned filed that got me into webcomics in the first place. One valuable resource is Joystiq’s Weekly Webcomic Wrapup.
The latest entry, as of this writing, boasted an “embarassment of comics” … a whole nine video game entries! That seems rather short, since I’m almost certain that the entirety of the internet contains at least a hundredfold that number. And not just obscure DrunkDuck stuff. For example, Ctrl+Alt+Del is missing… though, to be honest, no court in the world will convict them for that omission. I mean, come on.
The selections turn out to be an intriguing cross-section of the gaming webcomic genre. You have the Usual Suspects with Penny Arcade, VG Cats, and Dueling Analogs; the webcomics catering to Nintendo fanboys and fangirls with Awkward Zombie and Brawl In The Family; a webcomic for anime/genderswapping fans with Nerf Now!!; and some sort of unholy fusion of Ballard Street and gamer comics called Extra Life, which, I imagine, caters to gamers who live in retirement villas. Then you got a couple of oddball smaller offerings who don’t have as big an audience than the rest… one of them being the subject of today’s webcomic review.
No Cash Value gets off to a pretty good start with the first strip. I mean, you can’t go wrong with a Mass Effect joke. Sure, it’s a gag everyone’s done; Shepard is a total manslut (and also everyone ends up hooking up with Miranda). But it’s decently drawn, and the pacing doesn’t feel too unnatural.
Everything afterward, though, goes downhill faster than Human Target Season 2.
It all begins with the introduction to our main character, Alan Spectre. One of my biggest gripes about video game comics lately is that most of them are nothing more than character says a gag, then gag is illustrated as absurdly and as drawn out as possible. It’s basically Family Guy‘s “Holy crap, Lois, remember the time when…” joke, but done with only one-tenth of the wit (which wasn’t that witty in the first place).
Our version of the played-out joke starts with Alan Spectre facing the reader and saying “imagine… that video games are like senior prom”. Oh boy. My sides are splitting already. It turns out to be an excuse to draw Kratos from God of War and Dante from Dante’s Inferno as cross-dressers. This is seriously the whole gag. That’s too little material and too flimsy a premise to structure an entire three-panel webcomic around. I imagine it could be improved by eliminating Alan Spectre entirely and condensing the whole thing into one panel… but perhaps that would get you flagged by the sequential art police.
Predictability is No Cash Value‘s biggest enemy. For example, there’s a Super Mario Galaxy comic whose punchline is that Mario can’t breathe in space. Seriously, if that joke hasn’t been done in at least 20 other webcomics, it’s because most webcomic creators are savvy enough to figure out that this is easily one of the most obvious jokes to make about Super Mario Galaxy. In the same vein, there’s a strip about how The Internet Implodes because everyone loved Sonic Colors. This strip is so generic that you could literally use any other game on the same comic template.
There’s one strip where Alan Spectre takes the viewer aside to tell us how he doesn’t like Mario Kart or Super Smash Brothers … after which he his killed by a crazed fan dressed up like Pikachu. This strip bugs me on several levels. The first, obviously, is that there clearly was on punchline, so we had to have some sort of “wacky random violence” gag tagged on until the end. Second, why should we care that someone who’s over 30 doesn’t care for some cutesy Nintendo product? I mean, they ARE designed for little kids. Not liking those games should make the most sense in the world.
Thirdly, why should Alan Spectre even care what a bunch of kids think? We’ve established that Alan over 30. Should he even be talking to gamers young enough to be his kids about how he doesn’t like Mario Kart and Super Smash Brothers? That would like be me writing a blog post going, “Well, I’m not ashamed to admit that I don’t care much for Ben 10 or Total Drama Island,” then acting out a small play where a pre-teen fanatic Cartoon Network fan decapitates me. Wait a minute … that actually sounds like a great idea!
Finally, that third panel exemplifies a major problem I have with No Cash Value: the rigid-looking art. All the movements are drawn stiffly and unnaturally… as if the characters were all like Indonesian shadow puppets. Everyone has rigidly jointed arms and legs capable of barely two degrees of motion. This is a big problem for a comic that relies heavily on sight gags.
While we’re on the art, I should point out the design of Alan Spectre himself (and, by extension, the kid who looks exactly like him who is either his son or his younger self). To put it the most gentle terms possible, Alan Spectre looks totally unappealing. If you look at it one way, I suppose it’s a good thing that he’s not depicted as a dapper young man. However, Joe Dunn from Joe Loves Crappy Movies is drawn with similar characteristics (disheveled hair, thick glasses, rotund face, bad complexion), and he doesn’t look half as unsettling. The entire design of Alan Spectre conveys sweatiness and grossness. He’s not the sort of character you’d want to spend an entirety of a gag-a-day strip with.
I mean… Good Lord… is it just me or is Alan’s head absolutely huge? It’s like a pumpkin with eyes. Looking at that again, though, maybe I’m taking it the wrong way. Perhaps the heads of all the females from No Cash Value are really tiny instead? I suppose you could defend it as some sort of legitimate artistic direction… but if you were going to the Pablo Picasso route, I’d suggest going whole hod with the uneven eyes and the Bird-of-Paradise fingers.
Eventually No Cash Value steps out of its video game comfort zone and covers subjects best describes as “Not Ready for Joystiq’s Weekly Webcomics Wrapup.” I suppose that’s a good thing, since focusing solely on video games gets incredibly myopic. Sometimes it works, like when Scott DeWitt navigated away from the strip’s gamer roots in Fanboys. But… complaining that I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter tastes like feet? Whoa, whoa, whoa… I thought Alan Spectre was in his mid-30’s, not a cranky old man his mid-60’s. There’s also a bizarre plot where Alan marries and then divorces his HD TV, which makes as much sense as it sounds. (Note: one of those contains a joke about a ribbed HDMI cable “For Her Pleasure.” Groan.)
There are signs that Matt Thompson does have different tastes and perspectives than the creators of the average gamer comic. I feel that he’s got some good comics in him based on that one fact alone. For example, he does a comic about the obscure iPhone game called Game Dev Story. He deserves recognition for the attempt, even if the end result is yet another interchangeable strip. And while I can’t stand by his opinions on Seanbaby, I can at least respect that he doesn’t worship the man (unlike every other gamer, including myself).
At the same time, No Cash Value also tries way too hard to be part of the crowd. The gags feel generic. There’s an over-reliance on wacky violence as a punchline. It has not personality of its own. If this No Cash Value continues to go down that path, it can’t win … simply because most other gaming comics are already doing the same thing but are funnier and feature much better artwork.
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)