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Monthly Archives: December 2013

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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Shipping Off

Just a heads up, today’s comic is NSFW. I won’t link to any overly risqué strips but they might have NSFW dialogue. Which is a shame because all the best examples of some of my points would be very borderline.

I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the comic Ménage a 3. On the one hand, it’s a good comic with some solid writing and a good art style. On the other hand, the excessive female nudity really drags down both of those qualities in some places. Personally, fan service has never added or lessened my enjoyment of a comic, to me it’s just something that’s there. However, when a comic heavily relies on it as a crutch, rather than focussing on proper storytelling, then I have no interest at all as there’s nothing keeping me there.

Having said that, Ma3 does have interesting and charming characters as well as story lines that take a shift I don’t normally expect. The most recent one being the main character, Gary, leaving the comic without notice and ending up in Paris, to join the cast of the spin off comic, Sandra on the Rocks. It’s eventually explained in flashbacks how he got there, but it’s an arc that came out of nowhere and yet, in the comic’s universe, makes absolutely perfect sense.

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One Punch Reviews #87: Battlecroc

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Battlin’ animals seem all the rage these days. And the more inappropriate, the better. Pokemon probably started the rage, what with its rats and lizards and … um … mimes all bread for battlin’. The trend has spread to webcomics as well. 2012, for example, saw the Eisner Award go to Battlepug, which, as its title suggests, is about a pug that battles. That, of course, is part of its humor. Who expects a pug to battle? They look like sad little children, more likely to be begging for handouts than to be bathed in the blood of war.

And cuddle unassuming animals are once again at the forefront in Bryan Fleming’s Battlecroc. That’s right, thouse friendly long-snouted fellows that Steve Irwin used to pal around with (until his unfortunate demise at the end of the frightening tail of the stingray) are portrayed as unlikely warriors in a world that hoas gone to the birds.

(That’s right. Again with the bird-bashing. Hasn’t the Angry Birds franchise done enough damage by portraying these feathered hacky-sacks as being in a permanent state of utmost surliness?)

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Because He Can

I was hesitant about writing this column because I was worried about becoming known as the guy who hates on Blind Ferret Entertainment. I’ve commented on a few of their decisions that I found questionable in the past, but I don’t really hate them. I think a lot of what they try to do are good ideas. The problem is the way they go about those ideas.

Last year, BFE launched a kickstarter for a show called Con Season. In the vein of the Penny Arcade Series, a camera crew would follow around the team at various cons and record their adventures, mostly Sohmer’s. It failed, and many people pointed out their reasons for not donating. The main one being that they tried to do a kickstarter during December, when everyone was spending their money on gifts rather than donating to KS projects.

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So when Sohmer announced he would be repeating history, many pointed out this was going to also be a problem again. And it would be worse because now he was asking for an extra $100,000 to fund an animated pilot for Looking For Group. And Sohmer listened… to the people who told him to do it. His explanation for this was that the animation studio would not be free to make the pilot until October 2014 and so it was now or we would have to wait another year.

Which leads me to my big question: Why not wait?

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Webcomics and the perils of social media

So what happens when someone takes your webcomic and decides to propagate it all over social media? Sounds like a great way to get free publicity, right? Not so fast, homes. With the rise of Twitter, Tumblr, Buzzfeed, Reddit and other applications with names so silly you’d swear that George Lucas made them up, it’s much easier for someone else to get all the publicity while the creator gets bupkis. Shaenon Garrity writes about Rachel Dukes’ experience over at The Comics Journal:

It’s common for Internet denizens to share favorite comics and illustrations without paying much attention to the source. But some go further than that, actively deleting names, URLS, and even artists’ signatures from the work before passing it along. Most cartoonists, when they discover their work floating around the Internet without attribution, groan with resignation or possibly make an irritated blog post. But when cartoonist Rachel Dukes discovered that this had happened to a strip titled “Life with/out a Cat” from her journal comic Intentionally Left Blank, she crunched the numbers and shared the results in a blog post, “On: Image Alteration and Theft on Social Media.”

With a little detective work, Dukes determined that the strip first went viral when, on the same day she posted it to her website and Tumblr account, it got shared (with attribution) on the megaforum Reddit. The next day, it was posted to an image-sharing site called 9GAG with Dukes’s URL and copyright removed. From Reddit and 9GAG, the two versions of the strip—one with attribution, one without—spread throughout the Internet. A few months later, BuzzFeed, one of the major hub sites for links and images throughout the Internet, posted the uncredited version of the strip with Dukes’s URL printed underneath. Unfortunately, this meant that most people who reposted the strip from BuzzFeed did so without bothering to give it any attribution.

Using Google Image Search to track as many appearances of her strip as possible, Dukes estimates that the version of her strip with her name attached has been viewed 81,595 times. Nice numbers—but the uncredited version has had over half a million views. The credited version has had 10,700 Facebook shares; the uncredited version has had a staggering 347,984. The credited version hasn’t made it onto Pinterest at all, while the uncredited version has been shared 6,000 times.

So what’s the solution? Well, it seems that one must resort to that most intrusive of methods:

Dukes suggests that webcartoonists put watermarks on their art and/or place their signature and URL inside the panels to make them harder to erase. Some cartoonists incorporate their name and the title of the comic into the art in decorative ways that can’t be removed without making the edit obvious. But ultimately, the most effective ways to curb attribution-scrubbing are to educate Internet users about the problem and crack down on the less ethical image-sharing sites. Most people, says Dukes, share uncredited comics “simply because they don’t know any better. And that ignorance is exactly what 9GAG is banking on.”

Ultimately, Dukes remains enthusiastic about the connectedness of online communities and the experience of making webcomics. “More than anything,” she says, “I think it’s important that creators keep creating despite image theft and alteration. But if we want to stop the complacency directed toward sites like 9GAG it’s important that we act as a community—creators and readers—to preserve artist rights and integrity.”

Frankly, I am personally no fan of watermarks. I think they’re effective, true. But they do tend to interfere with the aesthetics of any art piece, whether it’s a photograph or a comic strip.

EDIT: I wrote this as a response to one of the commenters on the above article. It’s still awaiting moderation as of this writing, but I thought I’d share it with y’all. It was about whether anything could possibly stem the tide of information sharing.

Technology has gotten pretty good at being able to parse out data, though. Just think of apps like Pandora or SoundHound that can detect what song is being played after a few bars. That same technology is what’s being used on YouTube to track down embedded music that’s being used without permission.

So why can’t something like that be used for webcomics? Sure, there are weird little spots on the internet that will always thrive and survive (I’m sure there are less scrupulous sites that will allow embedded music). But there ARE hubs. A few are mentioned in this article. Reddit, Buzzfeed, etc. It is not impossible to come down hard on these sites the same way the RIAA went down hard on YouTube. Install the same software to detect which images are being used illegally, and then forward on a cease and desist if it’s detected.

Now, that opens up another can of worms — namely public domain issues — but I think methods to stem sharing of images without author credit is very, very possible.

Love and QC

Many of you have probably noticed a trend in romantic subplots when it comes to webcomics, and in fact most fiction. At first you have the initial lovers, who are mostly there to be the temporary objects of affection for one of the main characters, though this sometimes isn’t the case, but then they either meet the right person or fall for another main character and their romance becomes a big part of the story. They occasionally have their issues but it’s pretty much guaranteed they’ll be together forever once they hook up.

And that’s one of the main reasons I love Questionable Content. Specifically, for the way that the Marten and Dora romance was handled. It was done in a unique and realistic way that honestly, I’m struggling to think of anyone else who has done it before.

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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.

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