Category: Story Pile

Here’s where you’ll find the blog entries that are about examining – specifically – TV, movies, and other forms of participatory media that interest me. This is the space you’re going to find talk of characters in TV shows, or specific moments in greater narratives, or why you might want to watch a particular show or why I love – or hate! – a particular movie.

Story Pile: Hello Rockview

There’s this joke, about ska.

The joke is that not many people like ska, and people who do like ska, are funny, and to be laughed at.

It’s not a really good joke, but it seems to be the only way ska music gets brought up. Hey, remember ska? Some people like it! Hah! You do sometimes see the variant ‘I can’t believe there was a time where we thought ska was good,’ usually in reference to the late 90s when a handful of ska bands got a few songs on the radio, which represented, of course, an invasion.

Also it got to be in the Digimon soundtrack because it was cheap, which is probably where a lot of people heard it the first time.

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Kamen Rider W Week 4: Sincere

When regarding any production made for Japan by the Japanese without an explicit eye towards translation and distribution – so, you know, lots of stuff – there’s a temptation towards an orientalist lens. The typical weeb view that Anime and Manga and such things are so much deeper than the tawdry production of the west, that these shows aren’t for kids, when they very much are for actual kids.

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Kamen Rider W Week 3: Rubber

There’s a physicality to the Kamen Rider W universe that you don’t get even in big-budget superhero stories. That’s because a lot of the time when Robert Downey Jr is waving his hand at a table, he’s acting the heck out of interacting with an empty space. Thor talks to a head on a stick. Ian McKellan sits in an empty room made up of 100% greenscreen and cries to himself about the technical emptiness of a craft that started on a stage. These are the restraints on the implementation of computer effects as the foundation of a scene.

In Kamen Rider W, as with other Kamen Rider shows, the baddies are made outta rubber.

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Kamen Rider W Week 2: Hardboiled

In Kamen Rider W, they use the term hardboiled a lot, and they directly, by name, invoke the idea of hardboiled detective fiction. The books are shown in shots, around the home and office that Sokichi made, and Hidari later inherited. Sokichi names Phillip after after Phillip Marlowe, the character central to Raymond Chandler’s series of novels. It’s repeatedly invoked in the case of secret catboy Hidari Shotaro, where he explains why he does something as being the essence of hardboiled. The series’ theme –

which is awesome

is called WBX for DOUBLE-BOILED EXTREME.

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Kamen Rider W Week 1: Patterns

Kamen Rider W is my first Kamen Rider Series and it owns bones. It is a high-energy series about loving a place, about wanting to live up to your potential, about found family, about the stories we tell one another, about legacies and respect and love and fear and about kicking baddies in the face and refusing to give up and there’s a motorbike which changes parts and there’s a truck that drives the motorbike around and –

I really like this show.

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Story Pile: Cul De Sac

We’re going to do something a little bit different this time.

This Story Pile is going to be about the newspaper comic Cul De Sac, a comic I really like, but which is also, unlike other media I cover, actually kind of already represented online in its entirety as it is. Like, if you want to go read Cul De Sac, you can… just… do that. The other thing we’re going to talk about is Calvin and Hobbes, which Bill Watterson, the creator, has been similarly archived online, but also crucially, not by me.

Normally I break up these essays on media with pictures from the media in question, or youtube embeds or whatever, but GoComics lacks that functionality and while I could always take the strips, upload and offer them in the context of my own work and you know, review and educational purposes (which it is), I’d still feel just a bit of a dick about it. This is much as with the work of Gary Larson, who has asked that people not circulate Far Side strips online, and, well, they do anyway.

With that in mind, I’m making the conscious decision to not put any of the comic strips here in this blog post. Instead, I’m going to try and keep it short.

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Story Pile: The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai is a 2003 American history-drama movie where Tom Cruise The Space Pope reprises his basic conceptual role in Dances With Wolves* and goes to Japan to learn of these strange, exotic natives and their wildly different ways. It is a story regularly lambasted for a variety of reasons such as its grotesquely understated depiction of Tom Cruise’s alcoholic soldier going completely teetotal without any seeming ill effects (which is very fair) to its claiming that Tom Cruise becomes ‘the best Samurai’ in the narrative (which is not) to the marketing which literally puts TOM CRUISE THE LAST SAMURAI directly adjacent one another suggesting that no actually, yes, Tom Cruise does become The Last Samurai in this story (which is extremely fair).

BUT WE’RE NOT GOING TO TALK ABOUT THIS MOVIE, HA HA

We’re going to talk about Samurai.

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Story Pile: Arrested Development, Part II

After the first series of Arrested Development, seasons 1-3, they revived it. Who’s they? The wizards, I dunno. The point is, thanks to the neverending zombie franchiseland that is Netflix and the endless well of relaunch fever for people who were noticing we were approaching or in middle age desperately tried to head back to the mid eighties, Arrested Development was brought back to life in 2013.

It’s not very good.

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Story Pile: Why Cap Ain’t Supe

The comparison between Superman and Captain America is very much like the comparison between tractors and trucks. They’re not an unreasonable comparison to make, especially when you only know of either thanks to movies, but the more you know about either the less the comparison works. The two have some very broad similarities, but when you start to talk about the kind of stories they can tell, things start to break down.

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Story Pile: Deadthor

One of the reasons I shifted this particular blog feature from ‘series or movie’ to ‘media’ to ‘story’ is that some things don’t neatly fit into a constrained form like that, and I still want to talk about them.

Comics are a good example. If you want to talk about a comic story, you really have to go with this is a good place to start, because even the most contained comic is still part of and reflects a greater historical context. Things that are old enough to proceed no other comics like them still have to explain where they got some of their base ideas, like why Superman wears his underpants on the outside. If you want to talk about a comic story in like, 1990 well, good grief, you need to explain why then is different to now, what characters have moved on, all that stuff. Really, if you want to give a comprehensive rundown of comics you have to start a few thousand years before comics began and just kick it off with Enkudu and Gilgamesh.

Nonetheless, we are in a time where interconnected media interests allow us to see and partake of media that spreads far and wide into a deep and weird comics history and with that in mind, now we are finally in a place where, through staggering coincidence, people are generally aware of Deadpool and Thor’s Loki.

And to that, I want to tell you about my favourite page in all of Deadpool.

Here’s your basic starter point. Deadpool has found himself stranded on the moon, with Loki, who tells him that he, Deadpool, is his son, and that he knows the secrets that Deadpool knows. Continue reading

Story Pile: The Blues Brothers

Okay, hold up.

I watched this movie kind of. Back in the fundamentalist church, there was this thing some families with VCRs would do, where they’d record a movie from TV, pause at points they knew the movie would get bad, then unpause afterwards. Think of it like cutting the ads (which they did as well), but for swearing and sex and music.

Yeah, music.

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Story Pile: There are Crocodiles

Okay, it’s like this.

Press Gang was a short British TV show from the late 80s and early 90s that centered around the running of a school-then-more Newspaper connected to a comprehensive school, a sort of state public school that doesn’t get choosy about who they take. It was the debut show for a guy called Steven Moffat, and if I’m being honest, the work of his I have the least contempt for.

Content warning; Suicide.

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Story Pile: Batman V Superman

I don’t need to talk to you about this movie. General wisdom is that this movie is bad and you have a bunch of different sources giving you different reasons for it to be bad, and there’s even a comprehensive, thoroughly done, four hour long video essay breaking down a whole host of the problems I had with it.

Honestly, if you’re into movie criticism it’s a very engaging, thoughtful and thorough examination of the movie’s failings, complete with a very reasonable perspective on Zack Snyder’s work, and a recognition of some of the movie’s virtues.

That’s if you want to go look into the movie. It seems pretty unnecessary though.

What’s interesting to me, though is the people who love this movie.

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Story Pile: Rounders

I normally try to set April aside to talk indulgently about stuff I really like, because it’s the month with my birthday in it. You know, a theme is as good as any other theme. I haven’t really done that this month, like I didn’t dig down to make an ostensible show of picking out five of my absolute favourites I wanted to babble about self-indulgently. Still, this is the last Story Pile for April, so why not.

Let’s talk about a movie that I freaking love.

It’s also kinda bad. Continue reading

Story Pile: Altered Carbon

When you get down to it, Altered Carbon is a series that doesn’t so much need recommendations as much as it needs content warnings. Up front, the series features gender, race, and general body dysphoria (being in a body that’s ‘very wrong’), graphic torture, death, murder for pleasure, torture for pleasure, sex workers, sex worker abuse, sex worker marginalisation, realistic and sympathetic AI death, sensory overload, sensory deprivation, descriptions of nightmares, depictions of trauma, hetero bonking, consent-comprimised hetero bonking, nudity, violent nudity, cutting and –

Good grief, what isn’t in this series.

I feel a bit bad about this because the avalanche of things to warn people about in this show are all reasonable things. It paints the picture of this series as gaudily, grindingly nasty and full of vile indulgence. It’s not like that, I promise – it’s more that the series has such a breadth of nasty things it deals with that to have one leap out of you in the story as a surprise is like finding a razor blade in your ice cream. It’s not only unexpected it’s also extremely bad if you weren’t expecting it. The emotional punch is all there, I just don’t want people going into this series blind, especially since, for all of its content warnings, I really liked Altered Carbon.

I’m not going to talk about the greater universe of the story, though, I’m not going to run down the plot or its themes or its meanings. The story is a neon noir cyberpunk dystopia that uses income inequality as its most intense theme, its central character is a jerk, and it weaves together his history and his present. That’s all good and I might talk about them another time, but instead, we’re going to talk about one thing.

We’re going to talk about Poe.

Don’t worry, we’re also not going to spoil the plot!

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Story Pile: The Zombie Apocalypse Of The Author

I’ve written about the idea of ‘the death of the author,’ but to crash course it: The concept of death of the author is the idea that the interpretation of a story is about the person doing the interpretation, not about the person who made it. That is, there is no ‘author’ who can be said to truly represent what the story means in any and all circumstances. There’s a lot more to it, but it’s mostly cigarettes and sadness. That’s your basics:

The Death of the Author is the idea that the Author does not have exclusive rights to define interpretations of their work

This is a great idea and its most obvious modern application is fanfic and fan media. The story says Snape is an ugly snooty jerk, but that doesn’t matter, because you read the book and your interpretation involves no such thing, and the image of these characters interacting in your mind is perfectly valid. You don’t get marks for how the story works in your head, nobody’s grading you. If other people can grasp what you’re expressing when you share it, then that’s all that matters.

The thing is, thanks to Twitter and the Web 2.0 era of produsage, one of the groups of people getting involved in further creating fanfiction for these works and they are most annoyingly, the original authors.

Thanks to the unprecedented access we have to authors these days, we have a whole host of authors who are actively and aggressively attempting to insert into their own texts things they didn’t bother to try and put there the first time around. I’ll always kick at the Harry Potter franchises for any reason, but specific way that Rowling has claimed that Dumbledore is gay will always bother me. This has recently come to a head – again – with the upcoming Fantastic Beasts 2 movie that wants to have Young Dumbledore but also is ensuring to absolutely not show any of that icky gayness that the story isn’t about at all.

What this means is that any given reading of the text, these days, is not taken as a reading, with people willing to examine it, but as with all things in nerd cultures, we bury it under the toxic intention to prove it. Work must be tested or verified to be acceptable, interpretations must be justified to our satisfaction, and thanks to the availablility of certain authors, and their willingness to pontificate on what their work really means, we are now facing Zombie Authorship.

The author lies not still in their grave but shifts and moves, ever tumultuous in their position, expanding the work a tweet at a time – Werewolves are AIDS, the nudity is justified, you will e’re love the story for its manifold purpose. Tarantino, Martin, Rowling, Kojima, they each inflate their work not for its art but to remain alive a word more, to continue, to consume.And so the zombie slough flows over us all, and we do not engage with or interpret or study art, but we see it all as grey slurry that washes over us. The nerd cries out, be canonised, be purified, be true, and our eyes grow dull and dull and dull.

As for the Death of the Author, the sad thing is it contains within its own explanation; we bring out experiences to bear interpreting work.

The act of creating the work is one of those experiences.

Story Pile: Kakegurui

It’s not often people approach me and suggest anime to me. I’m pretty fidgety about anime these days, because I watch it subbed (for no reason I can adequately explain) and I don’t like watching TV shows I can’t watch while I work on other things. Still, it was in Netflix, it was easy to get, and what they hey, it looked kinda interesting so let’s check out this anime.

It opens with a character losing a poker hand based on an Amazing Hand, which is a huge red flag for me about people not knowing how poker works. This was not an auspicious beginning for a series that I later heard described as Death Note For Money.

Anyway, I quite liked Kakegurui.

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Story Pile: The Good Place, Season 1

Let’s not talk about spoilers.

The premise of The Good Place is a pretty good one, a robust hook they serve at you in the first episode. We’re introduced to the character of Eleanor Shellstrop, as she comes to consciousness in an afterlife, which the story then underscores is not ‘Heaven.’ It is, to simplify, ‘The Good Place.’ The drama of the narrative comes then from her revealing, in private, to her first potential friend, that she isn’t the person they think she is, and that she doesn’t belong there.

That’s our basic premise, and it’s a strong hook. Rather than a whacky situation comedy, where there’s this good scenario and the story repeatedly dumps into this status quo a new strange setup, and the story refreshes around it, you get a really interesting story that’s also very funny that builds on the premise of the story established in this opening. It’s strongly continuity-driven, and that means that you aren’t really tuning in for an episode as much as you are tuning in for a few at a time.

It’s a good show to watch all of over the course of a weekend, that kinda thing. Good quality Netflix Content.

And I don’t want to talk about what happens in it. I want to talk about a joke. Continue reading

Story Pile: Sonic Boom

What right did this series, this series of all things, did this series, have to kick ass?

Sonic Boom is a tv series made up of ten minute shorts based around the adventures of a hedgehog named Sonic, his enemy Dr Eggman and his friends, Knuckles, Tails, Amy, and Sticks, and a host of other characters. And from there… what is it?

Let’s talk, real quick, and by that I mean the bulk of this article is going to be about it, about intertextuality.

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Story Pile: Shadow The Hedgehog is Queerness

In music theory there’s this understood idea that brasses sound heroic and powerful, and strings sound gentle and feminine, a theory reinforced by years of musicology in theatre. What happened is when movies were new, and attaching music to characters in a particular way moved out of the Musical and into just telling stories, a sort of language of music got started.

We already had it that brass music sounded powerful and forceful and heroic – something that John Phillip Sousa sort of ran into the ground as a theme. By comparison, strings sounded delicate and Not Like Brass, so the formed an obvious counterpart for the fragile and the frail. Then over several thousand movies and repeated use of these two ideas in movies where boys were strong and girls were objects, we wound up where we are now, where despite never actually being true, horns ‘sound masculine’ and strings ‘sound feminine.’

I mean, think about this: What’s the Superman theme sound like?

Anyway, this means that when we reach back into earlier, pre-movie theatrics, though, we still now see that same coding. The association with the music extends beyond the media it’s in. Now, marches that predate movies are seen as ‘masculine’ because the movie comes with them. This is the power of the archetype, where when you’re seen as relating to a thing, it doesn’t really matter what you are doing, because it’ll all be seen in relationship to the archetype.

What does this have to do with Sonic The Hedgehog?

Shut up I’m getting there.

The point is, movies wound up this way because they were being slowly but steadily built for bigger and bigger markets. The more people you want to get involved, the more you lean on those archetypes, on a frame of reference. Brassy heroic music is, archetypally, masculine, and so, when you want to signal a masculine dude, you use brassy heroic music. This means that lots of this media is full of signals that are more about telling you A Thing Is A Way It Is Because It Is The Way It Is. An archetype is, basically, lots of reinforcing, circular story stuff. It doesn’t have meaning of itself – it’s just a way of signalling a thing should be sort of like these other things.

And now we get to Sonic The Hedgehog, the media franchise. We’re not talking about the game character – Sonic doesn’t really belong to games any more. When you’re talking about cultural impact, Sonic’s been in twenty five years of comics, three manga series, six books, and five television series, with a live-action CGI movie in the works being financed by a man who’s also repsonsible for the XXX and Fast and the Furious franchise. Sonic is a transmedia property, and matters more as being Sonic than he matters as a game entity. And despite all of this, this enormous spread of media representation, when you go looking for an answer to the question who is Sonic the Hedgehog you don’t find anything, really.

You get an archetype.

But that archetype gives us structure – and that gives us a place to look at the Sonic the Hedgeverse.

What then, is Sonic? What archetypally remains around this character? Well, he’s a Cool Hero. He’s edgy, in a very generic, mid-90s kind of way, in that he thumbs his nose at authority, he likes speed and going fast and doens’t like rules, man, but at the same time you know he’ll never blow off something that matters because that plays against being a hero, so what you’re left with is this character who is simultaneously unreliable but also very reliable. This is reflected in Sonic’s writeup on Wikipedia, composed of multiple sources, saying that Sonic is

…”like the wind”: a drifter who lives as he wants, and makes life a series of events and adventures. Sonic hates oppression and staunchly defends freedom. Although he is mostly quick-witted and easygoing, he has a short temper and is often impatient with slower things. Sonic is a habitual daredevil hedgehog who is honest, loyal to friends, keeps his promises, and dislikes tears. In times of crisis, he focuses intensely on the challenge as if his personality had undergone an astonishing change.

If you sit down and cross out those sentences that mean nothing like ‘makes life a series of events,’ you’re left with a loose drifter without any fixed goal who is a staunch defender of freedom who always stands by his friends, easygoing until he doesn’t have to be, patient unless he’s not and is like the wind except he also always keeps his promises. In essence, there’s nothing there, but despite that you can still say you know something of who Sonic is. It’s even there in his visual coding – red, white and blue. Sonic is a Bold Hero Guy.

Once he’s the Bold Hero guy, everything else kinda falls around him. Tails becomes the Sidekick Boy, who has to be smaller and worse at everything than Protagonist Guy by default, so he can be rescued but also so he has some reason to aspire to being like Protagonist Guy. He can be sweet and kind (which aren’t edgy and cool), and he’s probably a tiny bit more femme than Protagonist Guy, in the vein of the nerdy friend. Tails fits this archetype pretty easily – he’s better than Sonic at machines, which builds in that ‘nerdy friend’ slot.

You can play this outwards; Knuckles is the voice of authority, with his stable position and opposition to Sonic because Sonic isn’t following the rules. There’s Amy Rose, the Good Girl who hangs around him and has an interest in him (which shows he’s desireable), but for some reason he never has to commit or dismiss this – Amy will want him regardless of what a doofus he is and she will usually be at fault for any discomfort he experiences. Rouge introduces a sexy other to Amy, again, a reflection of an image of Sonic, and then, finally… we get Shadow.

Note that up until now, none of the other major characters (Sorry, Big) introduced have been like Sonic. They’ve been explicitly unlike him – Shadow is the first opposite to Sonic (unless you count 1994’s Anti-Sonic The Hedgehog, which we don’t, and he didn’t come back as Scourge the hedgehog until 2011, well after Shadow’s appearance so don’t @ me). And when you’re dealing with archetypes, there is an identity that exists for the characters in movies and TV series like this. The place for a character who is the same type but not the same way. He is coded cool, but 00s edgy to 90s edgy, making him seem slicker, more fashionable, more aware, compared to Sonic’s suddenly oblivious-seeming 90s sort-of-surfer coolness. Shadow is angry, he is resentful, and that casts Sonic, for all of his quick temper, as almost a beach bum. What’s more, Sonic is surrounded by friends and is a celebrated hero – he’s the Protagonist Guy.

In a template where the Cool Guy is opposed by someone Equally Cool But More Distressed, we enter the cinematic tradition of The Other. He’s bad, but not that bad, he’s an opponent, but not a villain. That makes him a humanised Other, a character who stands to contrast with the hero (in a way that once, Knuckles did). The thing with The Other is, they take on a LOT of forms in different media, but if you’re queer, chances are your favourite character is a The Other. Camp LOVES them to bits.

In the greater narrative space of Sonic the Hedgehog, these characters are still mostly empty. They’re a description of a handful of traits in relationship to one another. In that space, Shadow the Hedgehog is a camp antagonist, an example of The Other, who can be – and sorta IS – All Queerness. What you see there is what you can pour into him.

Story Pile: Black Panther

There a lot of words being spilled about Black Panther. I do not believe that spoilers are particularly important to the enjoyment of a product, but I know that people dislike spoilers. So no talk of spoilers. I know that a specificity of information is part of spoilers – by avoiding spoilers I can sweep along without providing detailed examples, which has a nice side effect where I can talk about more stuff without having to bog down in reference points.

Still, everything else aside, everything else aside: Black Panther is a great hecking movie. It’s a fun ride, it’s kinda like a spy movie and a kung fu movie and it’s a really good hero movie, and really, you should just check the heck out of it, it’s great. Believe the hype. I am a nitpicky motherhubbard and I think that every complaint I’ve heard about this movie so far comes from a place of digging deep in an attempt to find something to complain about, or ‘I wish there was more of this movie.’

Oh, and racism.

On that note, I’m going to try and minimise whatever I have to say that’s basically about racism. This is  great movie and it’s very heavily anticolonial and it does a lot with African cultures and there’s language and clothing and worldview and a lot of stuff and straight up, I am neither qualified to talk about it nor do I have anything interesting to say. Colonialism is bad, slavery is bad, and anything I have to say on that topic is mostly only useful in light of how some white people talk to themselves about it. Don’t expect anything there.

Okay, enough preamble! Go!

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part IV

The comic that spawned the thread that became this month-long bollocking of a single piece of mediocrity in comic form is one of two late-2017 Penny Arcade comics that were being dragged around to show that these two millionaires who couldn’t care less about anything I have to say were Bad Persons. The other is… this one:

Now, I spent time criticising the first beyond all reason because well because I found it funny, but also because it’s boring and lazy and it uses a ton of space to make no reasonable damn point at all; Polygon dislikes thing; I’ll probably like it.

To me, that’s not a point, it’s just journalism. Polygon provided a useful context for Tycho. Like, that’s literally what Polygon should be doing: They give a clear, consistant journalistic voice, provide summary and context, and consumers can use that information to make reasonable and informed choices. People acting like ‘I always disagree with that journalist’ is a sign of criticism of that journalist are weird. If you’re always disagreeing with them, they’re at least presenting something consistant you can use.

The latter one however, got treatments like this, from Prequel-Liker and Games Journalism Thousandaire Harris Bomberguy.

My problem with the first strip was that reading it, I found it made a very, very simple self-evident point and used excessive space to repeat that point for no actual increased value at all. It was Comic Loaf, spackle of the soul. It isn’t this. It isn’t an inarticulate, confused rant from someone who doesn’t know what they’re doing. It even avoids the sins of the first comic by dint of actually using the camera of the frame to do something, it actually uses the visual elements of the medium.

Look at this without the text. There is a progress of expression; regardless of what’s being said, it is at its core just revival tent sermonics, a procession from Seeming Calm, High Dudgeon, Brooding Rage, but like, it is actually doing something. The transition between panels has some meaning to it. You can tell how he feels about what he’s saying as he says it.

There’s also the way the face grows in frame. You draw closer, as he leans on his pulpit, as he looms over you, the congregation, and you imagine him as the face of a vengeful angel looming in the demeanour of the unrighteous against whom he preaches.

For those of you who do not this genre of rhetoric, Tycho argues like a preacher. I don’t know for sure because actual hard prying into the man’s history seems to be deliberately tricky on an internet where a man has been a constant presence baring his soul for twenty years but I have a suspicion that at least at some point in his past, Tycho was subject to a revival tent, perhaps attendant to a church in some way. Either way this is the mode of his argument. He argues like a preacher: he argues one-sidedly, imbued with rightness, where the height and weight of his values will carry where rational proofing cannot.

I think that’s why I never feel lost when I watch him making points or rhapsodically lathering in his own rhetoric. I know the genre. It makes sense to me.

with that in mind, here’s the thing about the bomberguy edit.

It’s just wrong.

This is not a reasonable interpretation of what this comic is, or is saying, or is about. And this is in a moment that everyone I know hating on this strip was on the same side as Tycho.

Here’s that same strip, with the wording massively simplified. This is, as I read it, the message of this comic strip. I know nobody who would be against this position. I know nobody who wants to go into bat for EA putting hundreds of people out of work as ‘creativity.’

And yes, clearly a big part of this is on Tycho. The dude is a communicator, and communicating his point is his job. This strip is doing literally nothing but giving you a highlight reel of a sermon, a 2-minute hate at a worthy target.

But it’s not this:

He understands. He understands the rhetoric of an executive VP who is framing the destruction of a game studio as a ‘creative act’, and that upsets him. He made a comic strip about it, or at least wrote it.

I bring this example up not because I think Penny Arcade’s crew are poor misunderstood butterflies. I think they’re a pair of millionaires who don’t care what I think. I bring this up because what I’m afraid of, what I see people I care about indulging, is that the image of them is easy to hate.

This (not this one specifically, just my first hit) was my childhood. Comics that one-sidedly presented the ideologies and ideas of others so they could be wholeheartedly and absolutely destroyed as icons of utter evil.

And now here’s the kicker:

I know people who were sharing this, out of context, then explaining the context incorrectly, then explaining that they hadn’t read the comic.

This lying to ourselves.

This is an act of hyper-irrigation. We are encouraging ourselves to hate people we already hate for bad reasons, because it is easy to hate them. It is moral liberterianism and it is a bad habit to get into and a worse habit to enjoy.

No funny jokey jokes.

If we hate, let us at least raise to a higher standard of hate. Let us not lie about those we disagree with to justify lying to others about them.

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part III

Marshal McLuahn as any Canadian will tell you, codified the idea that the medium is the message; that modes of communication are greater than the ideas that we communicate with them, changing infrastructure around them. Consider this:

One of these is edited in some fairly inconsequential ways. One of them is the original. Any serious scrutiny will tell which is which. But could you, without the comparison, tell easily what was ‘wrong’ with the strip?

The comic panel is a visual medium that allows us to convey a wealth of information through single slices of momentary time, instances where we do not see animation but its cessation. A panel invites scrutiny and we construct time through the transition of panels.

A man opens a door, a wide panel showing much of the street; a narrow panel, showing little, focusing our attention. The second space becomes smaller, threatening, and the man becomes less distinct. We observe him then we become the observor he approaches.

Narrower still. A frame within a frame. We are observing the man moving away from us, within the building now (look at the stairs), a neighbour peeking out. He is not unnoticed. He is not unfeared – even as we know nothing about him from this. I am not, I want to underscore, saying that Penny Arcade needs to be Watchmen. But Watchmen has in it valuable lessons about how comics work, what comic panels do and how you can use them. Moore famously wrote entire pages of description about world, setting, tone and the space of each panel so that Gibson had the tools to actualise the right visual atmosphere.

Here now is literally every single thing that needs to be provided to convey to an artist the information in the PA strip:

here is that exact same idea:

Now here’s the funny thing. Penny Arcade know that this is a bad way to do comics. compare and contrast, 2000 to 2012

The first one is just the same joke held for three panels; effort was done to re-draw them but they only show a degree of animation, the enthusiasm for the Hat Of Money that, y’know, we’re all learning, I’m not going to complain and the line was pretty funny at the time.

The second one is, like the first, basically a monologue, but they use the cinematic space of the comic panel to do something. You get an implementation of the art: Setting, diner, public space.

Tycho’s haunted expression, closing in on the face.

That near-reverential moment where he closes his eyes

and struggles to vocalise what he has learned,

what he has experienced.

What this has made of him,

what he has become.

It’s a poop joke.

Now here’s a similar application of the idea: The camera conveys that this conversation is slow and peaceful, that there is a pastoral gentleness to this comic. It’s not funny but it is warm and nice and I don’t hate it.

Maybe this was just a lazy day. Maybe this was just one day where they decided they wanted to spend 68 words (not even nice) to make a 10 word joke. A 10 word joke they’d made before! It’s like the most basic of gamer jokes, following only after That Person Didn’t Understand Our Jargon, Therefore We Must Overreact Massively. This strip is just Genesis Does What Nintendon’t for arseholes who don’t like Polygon.

I don’t know what comparisons YOU want to make about Penny Arcade, but here’s mine:

They’re Garfield.

The comic as a medium is visual. You can do talking-head dialogue if you want, and lords knows a couple of millionaires are entitled to phone it in on a day to day basis. It’s only poor people who get graded on the quality of their work.

The strange thing is, that as a projection of its author, of the things that I feel this comic is trying to do, I feel this comic very deeply. I feel it because I know I want to do the same thing. I know that I love the feeling of a rolling avalanche of Oh BURN! of mocking someone over and over, with multiple hilarious off-the-cuff comparisons. You start with something small and dismissive, then you double down and then you double down again and again when the sheer depth and quantity of your endless riffing becomes, itself, a source of comedy. It’s an amazing moment!

Then imagine going home, sitting down, working all day on that rolling avalanche of burn, coming up with your list, then getting an artist to make a visual for it for which you had NO ACTUAL NEED, and put it before your audience

And it’s this.

L’esprit de l’escalier mécanique.

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part II

Last time, I took this Penny Arcade strip and explored how it conveyed its message, and what it was trying to say.  We wound up at this:  

Here’s that panel with like, the miscellaneous random crap and a bunch of weirdly unnecessary face lines cleaned up just because I find that strikingly different.

Penny Arcade as a brand is estimated at being worth $37,900,000. They do not, I am absolutely sure, care a whit about what I have to say about their work, unless I somehow catch one of them on a randomly spiteful day, which I am pretty confident I won’t. Plus they have the raftload of excuses – this is how they do things, this is their art style, this isn’t made for critics, they don’t care, they’re extremely not mad – that anyone can use when their webcomic is mocked.

The amazing thing about this clearly great, great comic, is that there’s so many ways it can be used to tell the exact same story, the ways it reinforces and multiples upon its own intricate, endlessly deep thesis.  Such a confidence and absoluteness in its message, so coherent and deliberate in its overwhelming reassessment of its meaning, it is the only work that knows itself, that knows what it is for, what it means to say. As art, it proves to us that it is real – and we, ephemeral.

When I am gone, this art will remain, perfect, unchanging, a message unto eternity, perfect in its affirmation of what it, more than anything else, knows to be true:

it’s like you get three individual comics at once! Then, wrapping it up, you’re presented with one big comic that is itself, made up of three individual comics each saying exactly the same thing of its own opinion. It is postmodern in that it challenges the assumption that a comic need have a structure, that comedy need be funny, that there needs to be anything else in life but spite and disdain for the other, and that you can use a position of media prominence to do nothing but snipe needlessly at things you assert that don’t really care about.

It is a russian nesting doll made of Pickle Ricks.

Which is a thing that exists.

Thankfully, we will always have the branding we can wear, with which we will adorn ourselves and show that we, more than anyone else, care about this art. Oh, how we care.

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Story Pile: My Two Pennies, Part I

I see some people are having a hard time interpreting this Penny Arcade comic, and so I figured I’d try and help you out here. I am, after all, an academic, exactly the kind of person that Penny Arcade love to bash for our difficulty understanding their intricate, street-level Derridan medium, so I figured it was best to conduct some study and provide a clear, explored version of their original text for other people to consume.

I hope this deciphers this intricate political statement and is worth the years of study. It’s a difficult puzzle to solve, and you can see here how they’ve cleverly used the rhetorical device of repeating themselves three times to ensure that we clearly understand their joke. Now, conventionally, comedy would dictate that you don’t belabour your joke – that you make your point, deliver the joke sharp and smart (like a ‘punch’ line, as it were), but the Penny Arcade magnates are proud and above such things. They instead opt for this very advanced form of comedy where they restate their joke repeatedly.

Some people have argued the original third panel was actually mocking the idea of people caring about politics, which is kind of true, but only in that it’s meant to be mocking Polygon for its daring to care about this as it relates to clearly ridiculous things. That is, they believe that the source, Polygon, is wasting its effort and energy on things it shouldn’t be doing. Like this.

Now, when I see things like this, I think we all recognise that the true greatest genius of 90s comics, and genesis of most webcomic as a genre was the work of Gary Larson in the newspaper single-panel comic The Far Side.

Of course, Larson was a believer in, and advocate for active minimalism in comedy.

It stands to reason when you’re working for an editor and need to turn around your comics quickly for quick redraws and re-works, you might favour a style that’s very clean, and avoids excessive extra lines or notes, and makes the small space you have maximally expressive.

As you refine the process, you realise how little of what you need is useful. You start to appreciate how much you can express with a small number of narrative and visual tools. The chaff you thought was essential melts away and you’re left looking at what you’ve chosen to present, and how, in its purest form.

Anyway, I think we’ve all learned something today.

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Story Pile: Minna No Boku No Hero Academia

Curious what you think of the permeability of shonen anime into the general consciousness, as seen in Everyone Making BNHA OCs. – Casey

First things first shonen anime is and has been part of the general consciousness for about thirty years now. My dad knows who Tobor the 8 Man was even if he didn’t, at the time know it was Anime, and Astro Boy is an institution world-wide. What’s more Goku, from Dragonball Z has the cultural cachet of Superman, which puts their general awareness in public attention around about the same level of, literally, Jesus Christ.

That said, there is something interesting about Boku No Hero Academia, a name that I feel it’d be a bit tired to make fun of at this point, and how it relates to Everyone Making BNHA OCs. Specifically, the thing that’s interesting isn’t that Everyone Is Making BNHA OCs…

… its that people feel okay talking abouti making BNHA OCs.

OCs are a really interestingly contentious part of culture. For a start, all creative characters both have them and don’t – the nature of all creative culture as a gigantic remix machine where things we experience become part of the things we create and how it’s all part of this greater framework generation and what we see as originality is really a shift in perspectives or a paradigmatic repositioning and oh god you’re falling asleep – but the other thing is, OCs are seen almost inextricably as embarassing. We use the joke ‘OC, do not steal’ as an inherent joke to describe something people shouldn’t care about, where the speaker is meant to care very much. The Sonic OC is a whole psychosexual bazaar at this point, something most people observe from the outside and awkwardly step around.

Fanart is an interesting mill of media where people often have very one-sided relationships with the work; they do not care about the artist and their opinions or input as much as they care about the other media work the artist invokes. Artists can use fanart as a stepping stone but there is a lot more fanart that goes nowhere than anything else, and the nature of the decontextualising internet means it’s often appreciated by people who have basically no connection to the artist, because they have connection to the media it flows from. Typically speaking, fanart is not a space to get creative – if there’s a character in a lineup from a show that didn’t come from the show, people will almost always see them as not appropriate.

Yet, BNHA has this strange phenomenon where people aren’t just making OCs for it, they’re also comfortable labelling them as such, sharing them, and then, within the framework of the series, using those characters to make fanart of the series. Here, check out this character, who I’m using to show off the way that powers in this really weird and interesting and cool universe could work out!

I don’t think BNHA is uniquely suited for this; you could have seen the same thing back in Ranma 1/2’s heyday, where characters all had ridiculous martial arts and possibly their own ridiculous magical spring. Heck, there was a ten year long roleplay thread on a newsgroup called GRIT that was just about people’s Ranma 1/2 OCs (at first – it spiralled off, as anything would).

What I find more interesting – what I find exciting – is that we’re at a point now where showing off your BNHA OC isn’t seen as inherently ridiculous. We’re reaching a place where when people say I care about this thing, and here is my inclusion in it, nobody says get that out of here. There is a welcoming in this concept space, and…

well, I find that exciting. I wonder how much stuff I’d love better, how much better I’d be at some things if I didn’t feel I was constantly being told I wasn’t good enough.