Friday, February 29, 2008

Brace Face

So -- decent dialogue, solid video game reference, nice art, a working punchline (Head Gear) -- it's a solid PVP.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Rules of Integration

I think today's strip (The Rules) is pretty good. But, how old do you have to be to understand a Red Dawn reference? (I'm guessing at least 30, but I could be wrong; are Cold War-era teen dramas hot amongst Gen Y-ers? )

I would have appreciated it if it had gone a little further and shown Brent and Cole bumping fists in the last panel, which might have helped the joke a little for the non-Gen X-ers. Not that it would have explained "Wolverines", but the "True dat" line would have benefited from the extra context.

[Update: According to comments, I am under-informed as to the staying power and penetration of Red Dawn. For the record, I don't mind pop references, even if they turn out to be obscure, but I think anything you can do to help them along is worth it for the folks left out.]

I notice that here is another new character in the new style. I like it, he looks good. But I have a fairly random question:

Notice brent and Cole have dark lenses while the new guy has clear ones. Can we chalk that up to Brent and Cole wanting to look cool? Or is it that drawing their eyes under the masks have been too weird looking? (Since they would have been wearing glasses under the masks and all...)

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

On Reggie

So, I've had some thoughts about the black and blind character, Reggie, who is apparently based on a friend of Kurtz' from college (?). I've read various comments here and there bemoaning the frequency of Reggie's appearances (or lack thereof).

FSM Thought One: Reggie is a good character and we don't see enough of him.
It's nice to see him because he brings a fresh point of view to the strips he's in. That's not to say that black jokes or blind jokes are what he's good for. On the contrary -- Reggie usually acts as a foil, taking the usually predictably droll strips and giving us refreshing new drollness.

FSM Thought Two: That's ok with me.
While it would be nice to see more of him, I think diversity for the sake of diversity is rarely a good idea (college admissions notwithstanding). Artists (or anyone) do best when they write what they know, and social circles tend to be mostly homogenous. (Tend to. Mostly.) The results of trying to write an "ethnic" or otherwise "diverse" character if/when you have no exposure or access to that culture are often disingenuous at best, insulting at worst.

FSM Thought Three (and my point): Kurtz did himself a disservice by only creating one character based on his friend.
How easy is it, really, to write for a black and blind guy? I think we could see him more frequently than we do, but for frequent usage, a character has to be able to be used as a general player, not just a featured one. The difference being the difference between the person who plays the morgue attendant on a cop show and the person who plays the suspect. You have to write for the latter, but you can just write anything for the former and cast whomever you want.

(Of course, I say "have to" but it's not really true -- you could have a black and blind morgue attendant, but as soon as the option comes up the director is all "Won't the audience be distracted wondering why this guy is black and blind?" It's annoying, but that's usually where it ends for the black and blind guy.)

If Kurtz had created a black character and a blind character, I bet they would both get more play than Reggie does.

You know -- that gives me another thought...

FSM Thought Four: Has there ever been a "Crisis on Infinite Earths"- or "Year Zero"-level event in a web comic?
DC and Marvel occasionally (infrequently but regularly) shake up their universes to weed out week characters, refine strong ones and introduce new ones, mostly in the name of selling their titles more effectively. Have any web comics experienced such an event?

A Predictable Complaint

PVP uses any number of formula-based jokes, and today's strip (Blue Shield) is one that I'm particularly tired of; not only is the punchline predictable, it gets repeated!

In this formula, there's always a happy/naive character (Skull), always an aloof advantage-taker (Brent) and a bystander who sees what is actually going on (Jade). The set up is so transparent that although it's absolutely clear what the joke is by the second panel, you can easily infer it in the first.

Plus, in this case, the punchline is fairly insulting to Skull, which makes it hard to accept the premise. I know he's not the brightest bulb in the forest, and I know insults are often funny, but don't you think even he might figure out what Brent meant when he said "meat shield"?

(What does he mean, by the way? Once Skull gets shot once, he'd have to leave the field, right? Not a very effective shield.)

PLUS, to take this to an annoying extreme, Jade's expression in the last panel doesn't follow the formula. I'm not sure what she's saying here:

She doesn't really seem to be saying anything, when she should be expressing either surprise (at Skull's perfect willingness to play the patsy -- which she seems to be displaying in panel three, actually), fear (knowing what Skull is in for), or, more traditionally, the fourth-wall-breaking sardonic glare at the audience ("Wotta maroon."). I've tried to portray the latter option here, forgive my crap job:

I don't recall much fourth-wall breaking in PVP though, so perhaps one of the first two is more appropriate. I actually really like Skull's grin in the last panel, and either "surprise" or "fear" would have been a much better counterpoint on Jade than "poker face".


FSM Bonus Content: McSweeney's-style alternatives to "meat shield":

-- Bruise Collector

-- Paint Magnet

-- The Walking, Talking, Troll-Shaped Brent Protector

-- Chump

Monday, February 25, 2008

In Which I Hate the Game

So, as the comments come in to this relatively new blog, I've noticed that some of them are great, some of them are meh, and some of them are junk.

And some of them are fat jokes.

As many of you have noticed I've tried to set a somewhat high bar for myself in terms of objectivity and civility, and while I don't have any control over who comments and what they say (as it should be), I'd just like to be on the record as against personal attacks of this nature. If you have a gripe, go for the product, and the brain that produces the product, not the irrelevant details of personal lives.

Perhaps I am not in the right frame of mind.

I've been on vacation, and sick, so I just now read the last two weeks of the strip. Perhaps it's the lethargy brought on by constant sinus congestion, but I'm having a hard time getting worked up.

I will, however, let commenter Jai speak for me:

Feb. 16, Sister Act - This one was pretty good, until Rip's comment at the end. This seems out of character for him to say, especially considering the huge "They don't make married couples like this, anymore!" aspect that comprises 99% of his personality. I was hoping he would say something Miranda didn't expect him to, which would have been funny and kept him an admirable old-fashioned sort of man's man.

Fake Scott McCloud aside: Punchlines don't always have to be in character, which is what can make them funny. That said, this was totally predictable and, hence, not funny. Does anyone else get the weird impression that drawing Miranda is some sort of cheap thrill for Kurtz?

Feb. 17, Sound Advice - Wahahaa ha, whoo boy, a "Just don't screw it up!" punchline! HILARIOUS! Wow! *Grits teeth and tries to keep from tearing his hair out* For fuck's sake, this would have been more interesting if the final panel was totally devoid of dialogue. This is two strips in a row where Mr. Kurtz has an interesting and well-executed setup going on, only to (I feel) blow it as badly as he possible can at the last instant.

FSM: Agreed.

Feb. 18, Kitten and Stormy - Brent doesn't care for "pet names" and Jade doesn't care! Whoo-whee! Well, it works on the "arbitrary exposition" level. It seems like it could have been made interesting or even, gasp, funny if the couple had used some ridiculous pet names for each other, or if one of them had taken slight offense where none was intended over one of the sample pet names. Still, there's nothing to hate about this strip. It's just not interesting in any way (Sorry, Scott's parents. I guess we can't always get something worthwhile in the strip out of your actual lives).

FSM: If neither character cares about pet names in the beginning of the strip, the whole strip is a waste of time. To create humor, we need conflict. The strip would have worked better if they had started out jealous of their closeness and their pet names.

Feb. 19, Make War, Not Love - Well, this is a random direction to take. Brent is again assuming that Cole is going to "make" them play tabletop D&D despite there being no evidence of it? "Things have been stressful" lately, so "we all" could use a bit of a release? I thought that Cole was absolutely the only one under any stress lately. Oh, laff, now they're going to go play paintball. Ok. As an artistic aside, I'm getting REALLY really tired of how Cole's tie looks. I daresay it is the crappiest-looking thing in the entire history of PVP. You can't slap two black triangles together and make a good-looking tie, even in cartoon land (Wait, ok, yes you can. But it's called a bowtie). I've never cared for his bizarrely-shaped glasses, either, but what are you gonna do?

FSM: No comment. Except that riffing off of Edwin Starr's "War" should be an indictable offense.

Feb. 20, Let's shoot sumthin' - This strip is pretty good, and in fact my only complaint is that this appears to be an explanation for what's going on in the "Cole's marriage is doomed oh no" storyline. Apparently couple's therapy is driving Cole much more crazy than being in a doomed loveless (Or something?) marriage. TFSM has pointed out his disappointment over Cole's utter lack of an emotional response to his situation (Which I agree with). And now Cole is finally expressing quite a LOT of emotion . . . But, uh, it's over having to go to couple's therapy? Is that not what Cole wants? I'd give Mr. Kurtz the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe we're seeing the dark side of Cole, that Cole is in fact wanting to divorce his wife or something and everything that went wrong in his marriage is Cole's own fault and that he doesn't even care if he loses his wife. But this looks a lot more like it's only meant to be a quick chortle (And the actual punchline at the end is decent) that reminds us that Mr. Kurtz has not, in fact, completely forgotten the "Cole's marriage might be doomed oh no!" storyline. What an emotional rollercoaster.

FSM: What. The fuck. I can not express fully my distaste for how Cole's story is being handled. Every moment of it has either been too dramatic, or the opposite. If the resolution of the divorce story is this tangential reference... I don't know. I'll stop paying for it? (You see, that's a joke, because we get it for free.) It's just sad. I had no idea reconciliation was an option. Is it just me? I thought the divorce was the story, not a Three's-Company-style brouhaha that is resolved in 30 minutes. (It's the end of the world! Oh wait, here's some salve. Credits.)

Couples counseling. Please. Are we really supposed to believe that Cole is so immature that he didn't already try that? OH! And are we really to believe that it was the "talking to" Cole got from Brent's dad that sent him scurrying back home? Grrrr...

This is some weak shit, yo.

Feb. 21, Let the games begin - Since Brent apparently has absolutely no experience with paintball nor any apparent latent desire to play and learn about it, I'm not sure why he finds Miranda's far greater knowledge of the subject to be sexy. Except, of course, that he wants to bang her anyway and would do it in a heartbeat. Yeah, I can't get enough of that "joke", especially with his marriage coming up. As a technical aside, Miranda's question of "And we can use our own markers?" is awkward. "Can we use our own markers?" might have served her better.

FSM: Miranda again. Amiright?

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Skull was where now?

I've liked the past two strips -- I think the panda jumped the shark a while ago, but Brent's dad sniffing it out was a nice touch.

I am a little confused by the conversation with Brent's mom and Skull though -- is she remembering Skull or not? That is, is she actually mistaken? Or is she covering up? I'm not criticizing for once, I'm asking.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Chin Boy

While I'm sure Jade must be putting Brent on (Chins of the Father), at least a little bit, this panel of Brent is my favorite PVP panel in a long long time.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Witholding Comment

I haven't had much to say lately, especially with regards to this latest storyline. I'm waiting to see what unfolds. (FWIW, I would not agree that today's strip is a worthy follow-up to the divorce story. I'm waiting to see if it keeps going.)

The sudden end of the divorce storyline was ridiculous, I don't care what anybody says. The last strip actively signaled the end of the story, rather than leaving us looking for more. ("This is like the end of every Boston Legal." -- how does that not scream "I'M DONE HERE"?)

The previous strip would have been a perfect stopping place ("Can I please put off facing that just a little bit longer?"). It would have been a great segue into other content, while signaling we weren't done with the divorce.

The interstitial stuff I can take or leave. Actually, I can mostly take it, since it was nice to see other characters, and the one-off strips are where I think Kurtz' strengths lie. (Except for Bulldog and Cooch. If I were Kurtz' editor, I'd tell him to save those all up for longer stories; they aren't great filler. IMHO, they'd be a lot better if they weren't modeled on Brent and Cole -- that way they'd be true non sequitors. Then again, I'm not sure that's true. It's kind of a clever shtick to play dress-up with your regulars. It just doesn't work somehow.)

The new styles I can mostly take as well. My knee-jerk reaction was that the new characters looked awkward next to the existing style, but I'm sure Kurtz realizes it, and I'm more than willing to put up with an artist's exploration. It's interesting to watch at times, in fact, and I really liked the Cartoonists Society strip. (Coming as it did after Bulldog and Cooch, it felt like reading the NYTimes right after a brochure for stereo equipment, despite the sour grapes odor wafting from it.)

And Iron Man Kid? I say live and let live. I'm a geek too.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

A Comment Response

I wanted to respond to this comment (by Scott Kurtz, we hope) outside of the comment thread, since my response deals with bigger issues that I started the blog to talk about:

(This will necessarily be the most defensive-sounding post I've written since I'm responding to comments made to and about me, but that's just the way it goes. Objectivity suffers sometimes, but I will do my best.)

I think I got you pegged now, Fake McCloud. At first I thought maybe you were just stretching at times to find something to write about.

Now I just think you may not be a very sophisticated reader.

Everyone single other PvP reader has gleaned that we'll be returning to this divorce in the near future but you.

I take issue with the statement that all (or even most) other PVP readers get it -- by which I mean I don't believe it. Is there a "Two weeks of story, one week of fresh stuff, back to the story" tradition I haven't noticed? (I'm really asking, I'm not being sarcastic.)

Perhaps I am not a sophisticated PVP reader, it may be true. However, I've been reading the strip since around the time the format changed from 2x2 to 4x1. I think it says something that someone who has been reading it for quite a few years hasn't cottoned on.

I'm not surprised there are more sophisticated readers of PVP than myself. While I respect the effort and accomplishments, I am obviously not a great lover of PVP, and surely there are those who would label themselves as such.

Perhaps, in this case, they are offering up the benefit of the doubt, or perhaps they are more closely tuned to the author's writing style, as the comment suggests.

Or, perhaps, the cues that sophisticated readers are picking up are too subtle for the more casual reader. Perhaps those cues only exist if you are a sophisticated reader. I don't know.

I stand by my previous post, especially my comments regarding Cole. A divorce story without the pain of divorce isn't worth reading, not if we're to take the strip and the characters seriously.

But, then again, perhaps we aren't meant to.

Wait -- that's it?

I just read the strip from Feb 1 (Sleep Over).

Really? That's it? The climax of the whole Cole debacle is "To good women"?

I'm going to read ahead for a bit to make sure nothing else has come up...

Ok. No.

At the risk of flailing, what the hell was the point? 12 strips of I-don't-know-what; it felt like we got the entire arc but no story. How the heck do you base a 12-strip storyline on Cole's pending divorce and then proceed to give us no information regarding the divorce?

Kurtz seems to thrive on running the emotional gamut of his characters, without giving them any meat to play with. We started with offended, moved to contrite, then sympathetic, comradely and indulgent, with a side of drunk.

In the final strip Brent and Cole are being very mature, which brings our emotional state count to 7. This is after 11 strips of entirely predictable behavior. So... what? The characters are normal people? Do we really read comic strips to observe normal people? Sure, we expect them to end up somewhere sane, but we expect a little insanity-slash-hilarity along the way,

You know what emotion we didn't see in Cole? Pain. He said he was in pain, and you would expect a man going through a divorce to be in pain, but he never once acted like it. A man in pain breaks things, punches people, throws up, buys insane gifts for himself, gets tatooed. He doesn't pack his things and write it off after one boozy night with his pal.

There is one exchange -- one -- that rings true:

It's a nicely complex experience, this. You want the truth, but it hurts. I expected this to lead into the story behind Cole's break up -- you know, the whole point of the arc.

"I HAVE PROBLEMS" is not a storyline, at least not one worth reading.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Coming Soon

So, contrary to popular opinion in the comments, I have a life, which is more important than my work in the field of criticism :)

I'll be back soon! Sounds like lots has been up!

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