It has always been the purpose of this site to celebrate the best – or at least the pretty good – in the “fun arts”, to give kudos to those succeeding and try to ignore those failing or not even trying. But when an endeavor that had the potential to do great things for comics, and specifically webcomics, bombs badly and very publicly, I have to sound off. And the first episode of “Strip Search”, the “Webcomics Reality Show” has arrived on the web with a resounding thud. No, wait, “thud” is a cartoon/comic sound effect, and “Strip Search” is so far removed from cartooning, a non-resounding bump noise would be more appropriate.
It is the policy of this site to embed any cartoon video or cartoon-related video into these posts, but the first episode of Strip Search doesn’t deserve it. So, before you click this link, be warned: if you love comics – and hate Reality TV – as much as I do, you will be disappointed, bored, annoyed and/or enraged.
For 16 excruciating minutes, I was subjected to watching the contestants coming to “the house” and meeting each other, talking about their expectations and their lives in the same way Plumbers, Proofreaders and Insurance Underwriters would. Not a single frame of video was used to show the artistic endeavors these twelve people do that is the reason they are in this competition and the reason they wanted to do this competition. Basically, the most UNanimated quarter-hour supposedly about “Comics” I have ever seen.
The 90-second ‘teaser’ released earlier this week had glimpses of the contestants’ self-caricatures and a few half-seconds of drawing that provided some promise… promise dashed by the first episode’s total decline into Reality Show Cliche.
I had reason to fear this would happen. “Penny Arcade” is the “Garfield” of webcomics, an incredibly successful venture that runs on autopilot, rarely lifting a finger to entertain its audience, because it doesn’t have to. Except unlike “Garfield” recycling a bundle of self-created inside jokes (Lasagna, Mondays, Pets Walking on Tabletops), “Penny Arcade” leeches off of the inside jokes generated by every popular video game (giving the illusion of variety). There is a direct relationship between how many PA jokes make no sense to you and how much of a life you have outside video games.
Based on this success, “Penny Arcade” has built many other enterprises, from conventions to worthy charities to making their own video games, most of which are qualitatively better than their core product, the comic strip. So maybe it really isn’t surprising that they have taken their eyes totally off the ball here. Maybe they would have had more skin in the game if the competition involved video games.
And the video producers they hired to put the show together are obviously just using it as audition material to try out for network TV gigs, showing how they can do the Reality Competition format competently with no concessions to whatever specialized field of endeavor is involved. Watch for their first big show for TLC: “America’s Next Top Insurance Underwriter”.
For example, I have followed the cartooning, writing and public speaking of Erica Moen for years, and pretty much the only thing their ‘introduction’ to her has given us is… her short-cropped hot-pink hair. When you can make Erika Moen look boring, you have achieved the ultimate in Reality TV banality.
Maybe “Strip Search” can recover from this stumble out of the gate, off the track and into a muddy ditch, and become a show about Webcomics. I hope so. I can also hope “Garfield” can someday make an important statement about global warming.