There's enough Grace for everybody
July 31, 2015 1:35 PM   Subscribe

Today's Penny Arcade comic is the last in a 1 2 3 4 5 6 part story that starts here. Set in the world of Nightlight where children's fears come alive and must be dealt with, Grace has to grow up and take her mother's place as protector of the family. Mike Kahulick (aka Gabe), the artist of PA, wrote a nice piece about his father seeing behind the curtain for the first time that discusses some of where this story comes from.

If you are interested in other "long" PA projects, may I point you toward: Sidenote, it's been really interesting to see how parenthood has changed this comic's sensibilities. One of the first comics they did that felt really different was about Mike's kid playing Minecraft online.
posted by macrael (45 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
don't grow up.

Ahh, Ultima Online. Where I learned never, ever to trust another human being.
posted by Drinky Die at 2:08 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Becoming a parent is a trip, seeing a little person grow up and wondering in turns "how did you become such a little clone of me (or my partner)?" and "where the hell did that come from?" Sometimes I about some future gap between my kids and me and my wife, when they see the world in a way we can't comprehend, like when I read the link about Mike's dad seeing Mike at work.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:08 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


*psst* Paint the Line actually starts with the previous strip.

And I'm glad for this reminder of how good Gabe and Tycho can be when they bring their A game. To be honest, I quit reading PA as much because even they seemed bored with it as for the drama, e.g. the Dickwolves fiasco.
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:14 PM on July 31, 2015


Am I the only one who rolls his eyes whenever PA takes over their main strip for this stuff? It's always so portentous and heavy, while being almost completely nonsensical.

It's like every one of their side projects is scripted by M. Night Shyamalan, then executed to be as confusing, cryptic, and weirdly lain-out as possible.
posted by skullhead at 2:17 PM on July 31, 2015 [21 favorites]


Yeah, these side comics generally make absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Automata one was particularly bad. Writing for comics in a way that preserves a sense of narrative flow is pretty hard, as it turns out!

I think I still read PA out of inertia (but then I think that's true of all my webcomics reading. I am apparently doing life wrong). I do enjoy Gabe's art, though.
posted by selfnoise at 2:21 PM on July 31, 2015


Tycho and Gabe has opened up quite substantially in the past as well; this is not the first time we get a glimpse of their lives and feelings.

I'm sure you're not the only one who roll their eyes, skullhead, but personally I like seeing what they come up with when they let loose from time to time. And these side projects are never that long, and often have great ideas. (And different ideas! Compare Automata to Lookouts....)
posted by Harald74 at 2:24 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


[Fixed the Paint The Line link.]
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:24 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


BTW, I just realized I've been reading them for much of my adult life...
posted by Harald74 at 2:24 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Rereading Paint The Line today gave me chills, so I guess there's that.
posted by macrael at 2:26 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


BTW, I just realized I've been reading them for much of my adult life...

My local Half Price Books started having print books of theirs show up (basically, just printed versions of the strips, in order) and I realized that I'd read them all, years and years and years ago. Crazy. I don't love every strip but I like a lot of them, and I'm glad they are making a living at it.
posted by RustyBrooks at 2:26 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Yeah, these side comics generally make absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Penny Arcade comics generally make absolutely no sense whatsoever unless you've played whatever The Hot Game of the Week is.

I'm glad they are making a living at it.
Making a freaking good living. I've said it before and I'll say it again. The Garfield of Webcomics. In every way.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:33 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


The Garfield of Webcomics. In every way.
Ironically, I think this post is sort of a showcase for how wrong that accusation really is, i.e. they demonstrate a consistent interest in using their strip as a vehicle for work well outside the scope of "typical gaming webcomic."

Garfield never messed with its formula once in all the years I...well, not exactly read it, but failed to avoid seeing it, positioned as it was at the very top of the comics section. I've been reading Penny Arcade since comic #2 or 3 on Loonyboi's site, and it would be the odd few months where they didn't try something that qualified as an experiment.

They may not be to your taste, but to deny that there's growth is to basically miss the entire point of why people keep coming back to them.
posted by Ryvar at 2:52 PM on July 31, 2015 [20 favorites]


I love PA sometimes and are indifferent to them others. Their longform stuff is always interesting, even if I don't like it. I really like Automata, but things like CTS got tiring after a while.

Lookouts was a lot of fun though.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 3:04 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


When I first heard of this I expected it to rip my heart out.

My best friend, one of those people you meet where your soul rings like a bell and you just know them, is dying. Her daughter is best friends with my daughter. I cried watching Elastic Heart the other day with my daughter because she asked me "why can't the daddy get out of the cage?". I can't even imagine watching a Pixar film. I'm raw right now.

But nothing.

I can't work out if it's the strip itself, or the fact the moment I see the PA style the emotional hangar bay slams its door shut.
posted by geek anachronism at 3:14 PM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


I do like PA, but I also think they're incapable of putting out good serious comics. This is another example of that, unfortunately. I'd like them to keep trying but the results just aren't good!
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 3:26 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who rolls his eyes whenever PA takes over their main strip for this stuff?

Me too. Well, I would if I still read Penny Arcade. They lost me around the time of the whole dickwolves fiasco. (BTW, I noticed a few days ago that there is an actual author going by the name of Dick Wolf. Apparently unrelated to PA, thank glob.)

Garfield never messed with its formula once in all the years I...well, not exactly read it, but failed to avoid seeing it, positioned as it was at the very top of the comics section.

I don't know how long you've been tracking it out of the corner of your eye, but it is not true that they've never messed with their formula.
posted by JHarris at 3:33 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I still have no idea what was happening in this series. There's a monster. And a girl. And she's young. Or old. And it speaks French. Spiders? Was the monster a spider? Dad is going crazy while painting something? Someone randomly dies of cancer. The girl shoots energy out of a toy on the floor. I don't know. I have absolutely no clue what was going on here. This was like watching a French movie with the subtitles set to Dutch.
posted by fremen at 3:40 PM on July 31, 2015 [7 favorites]


Yeah, these side comics generally make absolutely no sense whatsoever. The Automata one was particularly bad. Writing for comics in a way that preserves a sense of narrative flow is pretty hard, as it turns out!

Which Automata strip did you have trouble making sense of?
posted by straight at 3:43 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Without commenting on their overall objectives, the value of family, fighting fear, or any of that stuff, I simply have a hard time figuring out what's happening in a lot of these big/active PA event things. PA started out as a talking heads kinda strip, and I think Gabe kinda struggles as he moves away from that. It's like seeing a fight scene in a movie that's not directed by an action movie director- it can be really difficult to tell what's actually happening in a physical/plot kinda way.

E.G. "showing feet" is a thing in comics. In fight scenes, or big action pages, you always want to show a character with their feet on the floor roughly once per page. Otherwise, everyone's just floating in space, and it can be really difficult to tell the spacial relationships between characters. Here's Page 6 of the story. So strip 5 established that we were in someone's bedroom, and then strip 6 starts. First panel is a face close-up, second panel shows Grace through the monsters mouth. Ok. But where is grace standing? Is the monster looking down at her? Is she still kneeling on the floor? This page breaks the "show feet" rule*, and so it's really hard to tell what stuff is where. The distance between the two characters is unclear. Then there's the last 3 panels. Because we don't know how the characters are situated or moving, I can't make out what's happening there. Is the monster swallowing her? But then she escapes "out" of the monster, in some sort of analogy representing the Bene Gesserit Litany Against Fear** by way of Hercules killing the hydra in the Disney film? That's what I read it as the first time through.

But on the second read through, I don't think the monster actually does swallow her. It misses completely from a distance of 2 feet away? Or maybe she dodges out of the way as it travels across the space of the room? And then she...stabs it? Explodes into hope-light-magic and does away with the bad guys?

I don't know, and neither do you. Because writing and drawing action in a comics page is a totally different beast from writing and drawing joking talking heads.
---
*Ditko messes with this "rule" in Dr. Strange comics, it's part of how he indicates varying degrees of soldity and firmness within the astral plane.

**I will permit [fear] to pass over me and through me//And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.//Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain."

posted by DGStieber at 3:45 PM on July 31, 2015 [4 favorites]


I still have no idea what was happening in this series. There's a monster. And a girl. And she's young. Or old. And it speaks French. Spiders? Was the monster a spider? Dad is going crazy while painting something? Someone randomly dies of cancer. The girl shoots energy out of a toy on the floor. I don't know. I have absolutely no clue what was going on here.

In every family, there's someone with the power to kill the monsters under the bed. In this family, the father is an artist and the ladies kill the monsters. ("Spider" is a euphemism.) He's crying because his wife is dying of cancer. On her death bed, she bequeaths the duty to her daughter.
posted by straight at 3:46 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


DGStieber, I think you're overstating the illegibility of the action. The monster snaps at her, she dodges to the right, readies herself to strike, says her one-liner, then charges forward and through the monster, destroying it in a blaze of, yes, hope-light-magic.

I think the main problem is that, based on the previous panels, it feels more like she should have been drawn moving right to left to charge through the monster (since the monster is on the left in the top panel and she dodges to the right of it in the fourth).
posted by straight at 3:59 PM on July 31, 2015


Doesn't seem fair to criticize PA both for trying these stylized and experimental strips and for being the Garfield of webcomics. Since those seem mutually exclusive. But then PA is one of the few webcomics I haven't gotten bored with even after all this time. They have mediocre stretches but boy when they're on they're on. If you're not a gamer you'll just be bored, though.
posted by Justinian at 4:00 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


Mike gave the official interpretation in the forums.

I think Sand is a great example of their style working well. They jump around, they don't tell too much, and they introduce a pretty big world and history in a short amount of time. I think they care more about conveying the idea of the world they have imagined than they do about telling a particularly legible story.
posted by macrael at 4:12 PM on July 31, 2015


I have to admit I had a little bit of eldest daughter emotional hangover going to, with a bit of "fuck you this mantle is too heavy and will destroy me/someone step up ffs she's just a child".

Because I'm unlikely to read 'mama dies and daughter takes over' as just a monster hunting narrative, not with putting her sibling to bed as well, and I know it's probably also dinner and caring for herself and blah. So yeah, the emotional resonance is slightly shifted for me I think.
posted by geek anachronism at 4:48 PM on July 31, 2015 [3 favorites]


I didn't have any trouble following the plotline, myself. It seemed perfectly clear. Biggest jump was the second strip because I thought it was Grace in the painting and not the mother, so I didn't realize the timejump and that Grace was older until I reread it a couple of times.

(I might have had a slight advantage in identifying the narrative arc, though.)

I'd also like to chime in as someone for whom PA's dickery sometimes annoys and for whom their "serious" comics are a little hit or miss, but I always enjoy seeing them show up because it means they're trying and they're doing things they enjoy, and I think that's the right way for any artist, professional or sellout or whatever, to work.
posted by Scattercat at 5:37 PM on July 31, 2015


Google did return anythint, but is this based on a video game? Like a few other people, I can mostly get what's going on, though I feel like I'm missed the other 10 pages or some sort of background on Nightlight.

Normally I can figure out PA's inside joke punchline, but even with Gabe's article it's not quite clicking.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 6:01 PM on July 31, 2015


It's not a punchline? It's just a magical-realism depiction of family struggles, with actual monsters lurking under the beds instead of just inchoate fears and mental/emotional problems.
posted by Scattercat at 6:35 PM on July 31, 2015


I had happened to see this because I linked to a strip from years ago (I Can't Stop Talking!!!, a 3-panel takedown of Scott McCloud's I Can't Stop Thinking). And whenever I look at Penny Arcade these days, it reminds me that I liked the art much better a decade ago. I think the strip peaked with Twisp and Catsby, which was six years after it started and eleven years ago now; but I don't play video games these days, so I'm not in the audience, and their rather foot-in-mouth tendency to get into controversies has kept me from going back much except for a few classics.

All of their long-form stuff has left me uniformly cold, both when I was a fan and now long afterward. "Grace" is no exception, and it's a clear case where the art does the story no favors.
posted by graymouser at 6:52 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


I simply have a hard time figuring out what's happening in a lot of these big/active PA event things
I find it helps to just ignore them until they're half done, then binge read. "This doesn't make sense" followed a minute later by "Oh, now I get it" is fun. Followed a week later? Not so fun.
posted by roystgnr at 6:58 PM on July 31, 2015


Am I the only one who rolls his eyes whenever PA takes over their main strip for this stuff?


Me too.

I feel like this stuff is candy and they know it. It's not as good, really, but continuing narrative has a perverse seduction that makes people want it more than the merits justify. I think the creators know this about continuing narrative, and usually eschew it for exactly that reason. In fact, I suspect you can find Tycho hinting at this point in the text posts somewhere.

They know about all the junky long-form narrative comics out there, where a cadre of fans tunes in every (day, week, whatever) to find out the latest twist in their characters' lives. But for artistic and commercial reasons, that's not where PA wants to be.

Occasionally, they let themselves go, take a few days off the main event. But it's not what they're here to do.
posted by grobstein at 9:32 PM on July 31, 2015


It's awful. A million times better than anything I could do, but it's still awful. I do admit, however, that I've never been a fan of their long form work. Just not my cuppa.

Also, anyone else give up on PVP Online? Not sure what happened there, but it turned into a bland sitcom. Only Sinfest has kept things interesting, but it's become too strident for me to stick with.
posted by Beholder at 10:14 PM on July 31, 2015


Also, anyone else give up on PVP Online? Not sure what happened there, but it turned into a bland sitcom.

It was always a sitcom. Kurtz just ran out of ideas and jokes about a decade ago.
posted by mightygodking at 10:26 PM on July 31, 2015 [2 favorites]


Because I'm unlikely to read 'mama dies and daughter takes over' as just a monster hunting narrative, not with putting her sibling to bed as well, and I know it's probably also dinner and caring for herself and blah. So yeah, the emotional resonance is slightly shifted for me I think.

I honestly can't decide if it's giving them too much credit to suggest that maybe the monsters represent more than literal monsters. Which in itself is kind of disappointing, because of course that should be the obvious interpretation.

Google did return anythint, but is this based on a video game? Like a few other people, I can mostly get what's going on, though I feel like I'm missed the other 10 pages or some sort of background on Nightlight.

It's not about a video game, it's an original story in an original setting with original characters. I think they do a pretty good job of thinking up interesting settings and characters and scenes, but they often fall short in the execution. Some of it is I think a deliberate choice to only hint at the rules governing the world, but I think some of it is a genuine weakness at stringing things together into a solid narrative. I think their format doesn't do this kind of work any favors either; 20 panels is not a lot of space to introduce a new world and characters, never mind have any real plot. And spreading it out over two weeks also makes it harder to follow for anyone who's actually reading it as it comes out.

To me, their longer stories often feel like a trailer for a story or role playing game scenario that may or may not exist in a more complete form somewhere in their heads.

I like some of these longer stories more than others, but I'm totally down with one pushing one's own boundaries, even if that means failing sometimes.
posted by aubilenon at 11:17 PM on July 31, 2015 [1 favorite]


The Garfield of Webcomics. In every way.

So is it time we did "Penny Arcade without Tycho?" Or maybe replace Tycho with Garfield?
Hmm. Replace Tycho with Lying Cat. Hmm.
posted by happyroach at 12:00 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


I'm a fan of PA (to the point that the dick wolves imbroglio made me genuinely, if mildly, angry at their critics) but yeah, their long form stuff is terribly hit/miss. I think the key issue is they only ever post first drafts.
posted by Sebmojo at 1:07 AM on August 1, 2015


Another typo: it's Krahulik, not Kahulick.
posted by lumensimus at 1:15 AM on August 1, 2015


Am I the only person who remembers Garfield: His Nine Lives? It's not the strip proper, but it sure is experimental and weird.
posted by thetortoise at 3:37 AM on August 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I had it! I think I still have it somewhere. It kind of blew my little kid mind back then. Someone memailed me a bit of insider info about it long ago (you run into surprising people on MeFi sometimes) and said the project was basically Jim Davis' gift to his art department.
posted by JHarris at 5:51 AM on August 1, 2015 [3 favorites]


JHarris, that's awesome, and I somehow missed your link to the Halloween strips above when I read the thread. Those brought back fond memories. I get why Garfield is the go-to rhetorical example of phoning it in, but I love these little moments of subversion.
posted by thetortoise at 6:03 AM on August 1, 2015


I actually still like early-period Garfield, and at one time I had all the collections up to about 20 or something. (Hey, I was a kid at the time.) Jim Davis had a good sense of comic comic timing.

I tend not to believe reports that Garfield was made specifically to be marketable, at least at first. For starters, no one expects a new comic strip to be instantly successful. No one goes into drawing the funny papers looking to be set up for life, too many strips fail, and too many cartoonists never get picked up by a syndicate. For success to happen you have to please three different masters: syndicate editors who want something inventive without being too inventive, newspaper editors looking to attract and retain readers without getting too many letters from notoriously defensive comics readers, and readers themselves. The word (from the back page of an early compilation) is that Garfield was actually cancelled early into its run, but letters from readers brought it back. That could just be corporate mythmaking, but maybe it's not.

And have you seen the very very early Garfield strips? Here is the first. That is not a marketable character. Garfield's body is large, slablike, almost square, and his eyes are tiny. You're used to huge-eyed modern Garfield, but the characters did a lot of morphing in the early days. This strip came from a month and a half later. The round-eyed look stuck around for a few years, in fact, until his eyes became the ovals we're familiar with today. Four years after the first strip and he finally looks cuter, but his eyes are still circles. Five years later. It's not until six years after the strip began that his eyes are their familiar ovals. And it makes sense that Garfield was designed strangely in the early days: Jim Davis's gig before Garfield was assistant on the stylistically weird (and racially insensitive) Tumbleweeds.

This isn't meant to suggest that Garfield was ever high art, especially after the holy triumvirate of The Far Side, Bloom County and Calvin and Hobbes raised the bar far above the likes of Blondie and Beetle Bailey, but I think a lot of people tend to misremember the early years, when it was still tame yes, but at least somewhat funny, in its 80s newspaper comic way.
posted by JHarris at 7:00 AM on August 1, 2015 [5 favorites]


I get frustrated by these exercises because they're not stories, they're story prototypes. They're about fleshing out a setting and concept, and narratively testing it a bit, but then they don't do more with it. I'm not sure I'd like to see them pick one and do it instead, but they could do something like run a long form in parallel to the weekly strip, over a year, say, and thus develop one of these into a fuller work relatively safely. If Megatokyo can drag less shit out over a much longer period, surely some of these deserve more attention.
posted by fatbird at 8:32 AM on August 1, 2015


Also, anyone else give up on PVP Online? Not sure what happened there, but it turned into a bland sitcom.

It was always a sitcom. Kurtz just ran out of ideas and jokes about a decade ago.


QFT. I probably stopped reading it about ten years ago, when Kurtz's obnoxiousness (particularly with regards to any other cartoonist that he thought was doing anything remotely like PVP) only highlighted how increasingly mediocre his own strip was.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:33 AM on August 1, 2015 [1 favorite]


"The Automata one was particularly bad."

WHAT.

That so many people here claim their experimental strips "make no sense" or are "hard to follow" is really, really disappointing. They certainly don't spoonfeed you, but that's not the same as not making sense.
posted by uberchet at 10:24 AM on August 1, 2015 [4 favorites]


PA's experimental mini-series all have a common property: They are very, very in media res. If they were doing longer form fiction, I think there wouldn't be so many "I don't get what those are about"s in this thread. There would be space to fill in the back story. But as it is, none are nearly long enough for that. They don't even fully fill in the story, sometimes; show just the last 10% or so of it.

Going in with that understanding, I've enjoyed most of them, and I especially enjoy that they keep trying this periodically. In as much as they create fiction, this is their style. And just as I understand why some people bounce off Neal Stephenson or Gene Wolfe, I get why some bounce off these.
posted by seyirci at 6:21 AM on August 3, 2015


Neal Stephenson is a pretty good comparison. He's tried several times to end a book like Douglas Adams ended Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency. And failed every time. But I'm glad he tries.

I don't think these Penny Arcade bits are wildly successful, but I really love what they're trying to do. It's a much, much more interesting way to try out story and setting ideas than to just do a bunch of Chapter One origin/introduction stories.
posted by straight at 10:42 AM on August 3, 2015


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