The second and third semi-episodes of Penny Arcade’s Strip Search are available for viewing and I, as a service to the community, watched them both, despite my low opinion of ep.1. The ‘getting to know you’ episode was better, in that it involved some actual drawing and a little actual writing – you know those things comic creators do. The “fax machine” game, a variation on “telephone” that requires drawing and writing. The ‘chain-of-events’ nature of the game was not served well by the show, which jumped around randomly with the kind of disregard you expect from Reality TV Competition’s need to create its own Reality. Fortunately, much of the actual creative output is on display in the “Strip Search Spoilers” page, which is probably what I am going to end of accessing instead of the actual show before long.

PA’s Gabe has now officially declared “I’m a HUGE fan of reality TV.” Which I consider a personal flaw. There is no other entertainment sub-genre, except for pr0n, that better signifies the “race to the bottom”, seeking out the absolute lowest common denominator of audience. There are a few exceptions (in both genres), but it’s obvious that Strip Search isn’t going to be one of them.

Episode 3, the first competition, was… well… Jamie Noguchi, creator of the excellent ‘slice-of-creative-life/business-life’ comic “Yellow Peril” is doing some excellent recap/analysis, that, for this episode, illuminates most of the problems without being quite as negative as I would, so I’ll just quote him from here:

The premise of this first challenge is that somewhere along the line in every webcartoonist’s career, you will need to design a shirt. … An hour isn’t a whole lot of time to design anything, but it does force you to spew out ideas quickly. You can stumble on moments of brilliance when it’s just raw scribbles on a page. Unfortunately, a number of our strippers fell into the logo trap. Strip Search already has a logo, kinda, and a lot of our strippers took their cues from the magnifying glass icon. Even the winning design incorporated the magnifying glass.

I don’t necessarily think designing logo shirts is an exercise in failure. But I believe that your logo has to be strong enough to justify a shirt design. The Strip Search logo just doesn’t do that for me. The magnifying glass icon on its own doesn’t say shit about comics. Certainly, it communicates the idea of searching. But searching for what? The next great food truck? A place to recharge my smart phone? Fansubs of Kamen Rider? The icon depends on the words for context. And honestly, the text treatment makes it seem like we’re looking for pole dancers. There’s certainly humor in that, but it’s not strong enough for a shirt.

As for the winning design, while I think it’s certainly one of the strongest of the bunch that clung to the logo, you have to know what the show is about to understand the meaning. … I just don’t think it says anything about webcomics. I guess for branding Strip Search, it’s a success. But for comics, it’s a fail.

Now for the fucked up twist. The winner gets to choose two artists for elimination. Talk about manufactured drama. I suppose there is something to being judged by your peers. You have to be able to give and take honest criticism of your work. Otherwise, you’re no help to anyone and you can’t really grow. In a non-competitive atmosphere, getting crits from peers is awesome. Sometimes when your head is in the weeds of your work, you miss things that may be obvious to others. It’s awesome to get that outside perspective.

In the setting of the competition, I can foresee choosing artists for elimination becoming part of the game. It’s a bit early in the process to see how our strippers will choose, but it could easily degrade into strategic gamesmanship instead of honest critique. Which I guess is the point of a goddamn reality show. Ugh.

BTW, the “Strip Search T-Shirt” created by the winner of the first competition is now available for sale ‘for a limited time’, which ends well before the end of the competition. Is that saying something significant? I think it is. Personally, I’d never buy it, but I’ve never seen any of their shirts I would (except maybe “Photoshop Hero” which I would only wear ironically), and I already own too many webcomicker-designed t-shirts.

Episode Four gave us the first Elimination, between two cartoonists selected way-too-quickly by the winner of the first challenge. Katie Rice is co-perpetrator of one of the best parts (and THE longest-running) of the group-comic-site Dumm Comics: “Skadi”, while Alex Hobbs does the comic-most-resembling-Penny-Arcade of the group, Wanderlust Kid. So you can imagine who I was rooting for and what I was dreading.

SPOILER: It ended well. I’m even going to link to the episode, that’s how much it is “less awful” than what I saw before. you-tooned-in

The challenge this time was to draw a comic strip in a limited time (1:30:00) with The Penny Arcade Guys in the same room making occasional distracting conversation. Two topics were picked at random that the comic had to include. This was the kind of thing I have been waiting to see on this show. As always, they showed too little of the work-in-progress, but some of the chat was actually about the comic-creating process. Finally. They did try to pump up the “competitiveness” angle in true Reprehensible Reality TV style, but the participants didn’t play along well. Especially the eliminated Alex who was just happy to get the chance to meet his obvious idols and have them compliment him on how much he was like them (except for the ‘being one person’ part) when their webcomic was new.

Shockingly, I came out of this episode feeling better about Strip Search than Jamie Of Yellow Peril (who I previously blockquoted here) did.