Because sometimes, you just can’t beat overkill.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized red alert.)

For me, one of the most confusing parts of Homestuck came shortly after I started reading it (as in, at the exact time I wrote and posted my original review of it), when Karkat voiced his worry that, by skimping while creating it, he “gave your whole universe cancer”. That much I could follow, at least as a pun on his astrological sign. But then he claimed that Jack Noir quite literally was the cancer (as opposed to, say, the bomb actually called “the Tumor”), alongside a preview of his “Red Miles” attack on the universal frog from the end-of-act flash, and he lost me there. Jack Noir is a game construct, one Karkat himself worked with in his own session, who showed every desire to carry out the most important action he did in the kids’ game – kill the Black Queen and take her ring – in that session. What, exactly, changed that turned him into the cancer afflicting the kids’ universe while he himself was in the Medium?

There may be a clue in the revelation that the “Red Miles” attack – which has been compared to swollen blood vessels in a tumor – is, in fact, a power inherent to the ring itself, not any of its prototypings in the kids’ session, indeed something the Draconian Dignitary can carry out when the ring can’t be prototyped at all. If the original Red Miles attack was in some way emblematic of Noir’s status as the cancer, perhaps that suggests that that status is in some way related to his possession of the ring – and perhaps it also points to what that way may be. Perhaps in sessions from cancerous universes, Noir is successful in obtaining the ring, while in non-cancerous ones he isn’t; perhaps the ability to use Red Miles is only available in cancerous universes; perhaps both, or something else entirely. Certainly there’s no reason to think the Scratch magically erased the universe’s cancer in any way.

A quickie, I know, but I wanted to point out something that might be more insightful than it seems.

And the winner for baseball’s new Wild Card games is…

TBS!

At least for the next two years until the new contract kicks in. Not exactly a surprise, given how much of the postseason it airs already, including any tiebreaker games.

What is a minor surprise is that TBS is trading in two Division Series games for this, which will go to MLB Network. What sort of division series games isn’t clear at the moment – will they be early games, or will MLBN take on a similar role to NBA TV and air games TBS doesn’t have the space for, which used to air on TNT? If the latter, given the way the Division Series schedule is laid out now, MLBN would get a Game 1 or 2 and a Game 3 or 4 from the weakest series, but the latter is dependent on two series not ending in sweeps, and the press release doesn’t suggest that the number of games MLBN gets is in any way dependent on the length of series. Are we in for another change to the Division Series schedule, perhaps with the first two games of both series taking place on the same two days? And will local carriers be able to pick up MLBN games, or will they be exclusive broadcasts with fans of the local teams needing to get MLBN to see the games? If the latter, that’s a humongous leap forward for MLBN; these games could be considered completely ignorable otherwise.

Not updating the Sports TV Wars count because it’s basically a gap-filler until the new TV contracts can be penned out in full.

Zach, if you’re not going to include the red-button panel on the RSS feed, at least provide an alternate feed with just comic links.

(From Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal. Click for full-sized reality.)

I don’t have much more to say about Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal than I did back in March. I was trying to avoid saying too much about it then, to avoid giving away too much about the review now, but what is there to say? It’s a modern The Far Side crossed with xkcd, to the point that, while the comic I reviewed in March may have been xkcdlike, I have since found a number of comics in the archive that are out-and-out the same as an actual xkcd comic; compare this SMBC, only a year old, to this xkcd. But that’s not necessarily a knock against it, and in fact I’m about to say something that may come off as blasphemous:

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is, in fact, a better comic than xkcd.

xkcd is the vanilla ice cream of webcomics (much as I hate how “vanilla” has become synonymous with “plain” when it isn’t, it just doesn’t change the color of ice cream): it’s safe, inoffensive, and wholly middle-of-the-road and unremarkable. It plugs out a new comic three times a week without affecting much of anything whatsoever. In this analogy, Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is more like chocolate ice cream: just as middle-of-the-road, but with significantly more flavor. Zach Weiner isn’t afraid to go with off-color humor in every other webcomic, make his opinion on religion very, very clear, or be far nerdier than almost any xkcd comic I’ve ever read. SMBC simply has more bite than xkcd ever had, and the result is that it’s more consistently funny than xkcd. Few comics have had me giggling as much as SMBC did while I was reading it.

But when I started reading it as it came out, I found that there, it had the same problem as xkcd. It doesn’t provide enough bang for the buck for me to consistently follow it every single day. Often it’s just a single panel, or a short progression of panels, and there just isn’t enough there to make an impact.

This may partly be because the comic is read better several at a time, but it may also be because the comic is pretty hit-and-miss, and may in fact have declined in quality just within the last year. It may also be a comic you can’t have too much of. Certainly if you’re the sort who hates Ctrl+Alt+Del, there’s certainly ammunition here for you, as the vast majority of comics will generally hit one of a few points: jokes about naughty bits, religion, academia, “graph jokes”, and at least for a while, out-of-order jokes, with the chronologically earliest panel moved to the end to change the experience of the comic. So you could say the comic is repetitive and that Weiner falls back on a few crutches.

On the other hand, it is a daily comic, so you probably can’t fault Weiner for resorting to those crutches, especially since it’s a strict gag-a-day comic with no continuing characters or storylines, meaning for all its repetitiveness, it can still shift topics on a dime. Besides, it still has those moments of humor that can reach a higher level than xkcd. I wouldn’t say SMBC is for everyone – if you get offended by certain sorts of jokes about God and religion (especially Christianity), SMBC isn’t for you, and the same goes if you’re offended by jokes about certain parts of the human anatomy. If neither of those weeded you out, and you happen to already like xkcd, I’d give SMBC a shot and see if it’s right for you.

That may sound like damning with faint praise, and you may have noticed that this post reads substantially shorter than other recent reviews. Well, I never liked xkcd that much, though my opinion of it has softened as time has gone on, to the point that I’ll admit that SMBC never quite reaches the sublimity that the occasional xkcd comic can. As such, I find I don’t really have an opinion about SMBC that much and I’m not confident of the opinion I do have. I’m conflicted about it, because I certainly enjoyed it, but I’d certainly never read it on a regular basis. It’s not really for me. Maybe if it’s for you, you’ll enjoy it and have a new favorite comic, but I’m going to go back to reading Order of the Stick, becoming addicted to Questionable Content, and trying to finish Erfworld before it comes back from hiatus.

I originally published this without a title and realized it just a few seconds too late, and now I’m too pissed off about it to come up with one.

(From MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck. Click for full-sized diamond ring.)

Is it possible that the Condesce/Betty Crocker is actually, or at least about to become, a sympathetic figure?

She wouldn’t be the first post-Scratch troll to have doubts about her race’s culture, or even the first to do so while gleefully embodying it (let me introduce you to a little someone named Vriska). Even if it were merely an “enemy-of-my-enemy” situation, the very notion of allying with her against anything, even the specter of Lord English, would be a pretty substantial change from most of the bits and pieces we’ve gotten from Dirk and Roxy (and to some extent, Doc Scratch), which have portrayed her as nothing less than the absolutely ruthless, genocidal ruler of Earth.

The first sign of this came in the intermission, when Rose suggested that “the forces opposing these players are clandestinely working toward the same goal as we are”, embodied by the Courtyard Droll destroying the post-Scratch Battlefield, a move which on its face, suggests that the Condesce would be trying to completely screw over the post-Scratch kids while inadvertently helping the pre-Scratch ones. Even then, though, I wondered whether the Condesce knew that the pre-Scratch kids would be arriving and was intentionally setting the stage for their arrival. Rose’s dialogue seems to suggest this as well, while also suggesting she might have nefarious motives, perhaps trying to turn the pre-Scratch kids against the post-Scratch ones.

But then there’s the information we’ve gotten about her pre-Scratch counterpart from Aranea, the spider-troll Jake met in the previous sub-act who has since been confirmed to be the pre-Scratch version of Mindfang. Although Meenah has come off as a complete asshole in her interactions with Roxy and John, Aranea paints a more nuanced picture, especially in her conversation with Jake. Apparently she had no interest in becoming the ruler of pre-Alternia, mostly out of not wanting the responsibility associated with it, and it was fleeing that responsibility that led her to discover the game. As Aranea tells Terezi, it was her plotting that allowed the others to survive in dream bubbles, as opposed to facing complete oblivion, upon the Scratch, and she rejoices when she realizes she’s in a dream bubble, since “it means my plan worked”. It’s apparently the first dream bubble she’s ever been in, and Aranea is “gather[ing] a small group of travellers for a meeting” to “orient [her] to the afterlife” (presumably including Jake, Terezi, and possibly Dave, Karkat, and maybe even dream-Roxy), telling Jake: “She’s not all that 8ad though. Well…….. When you really get to know her. And when she’s unarmed. Which is…….. pretty much never, now that I think a8out it.”

Now there are obviously some substantial differences between the pre- and post-Scratch trolls, as evidenced by Aranea herself, who’s very much unlike Mindfang (let alone Vriska), though she does tell Terezi she fantasized about being someone like Mindfang. What’s more, even the bits and pieces we’ve gotten haven’t painted the most flattering picture of Meenah; in fact, one could argue part of the reason she may have abdicated the throne was because she felt the planet was too nice (which might also explain her willingness to play the game). But the reason Aranea cites is one you would expect to hold up across the Scratch, especially considering she (and possibly Feferi) probably had the most unchanged upbringing of any of the trolls. It’s entirely possible our Condesce once had little interest in ruling and the responsibilities that go along with it – maybe even less, given how much more stressful it must have been in the world Scratch molded. Perhaps Meenah’s plan was little more than to allow the pre-Scratch trolls to survive in ghost form after the Scratch, even if it involved (as seems most likely) killing them all first – an approach that seems to be in keeping with the Condesce destroying the battlefield, disguising assistance, even altruism, as opposition.

If the Condesce was always a reluctant ruler, you can imagine how she might have reacted to being pressed into a few more centuries of rule, right when she thought she didn’t have anyone to rule anymore, and you can also see why, as evidenced by the most recent comics, she’s apparently surrendered her ring to the Draconian Dignitary, the significance of which isn’t quite clear (it has no prototyping orbs so it grants DD no physical power), but could be seen as her performing her own abdication in an odd shadow of pre-Scratch Noir killing his Black Queen. If her pre-Scratch counterpart wanted, as seems apparent, autonomy without responsibility, you can see how she might still chafe over having to follow Lord English’s orders, and how Jake’s grandma might have seen taking the English name and imagery as a good way to piss her off. (It’s also worth recalling Scratch’s explanation that “[t]he Condesce will be rewarded with the power and immortality her new service entails, and punished by the grueling slavery for which it is synonymous.”) Perhaps she would love nothing more than to gain some sort of revenge over Lord English, something his nigh-unlimited power makes seemingly impossible, but which the new session may give her an opportunity for.

Aranea has suggested that Jake is destined to, not quite destroy, but at least defeat Lord English; if this is intended to refer to Jake in particular it’s an odd choice that it would be anyone from the post-Scratch kids’ session, given how little we’ve been with them compared to the others, but I’m getting the sense that the final battle that is starting to take shape is going to take several groups to bring English (who’s fast becoming the face of the enemy) down. I wonder if we might see Jake being approached for the Condesce’s more direct assistance against English, with Dirk and Roxy being vehemently opposed and Jane in favor, with the others potentially split as well.

This doesn’t quite explain the Condesce’s behavior in relation to Earth, and it’s worth wondering how much of her behavior has been to keep English off her back. Perhaps there was some aspect of conquering worlds that she did enjoy, an aspect English gave her the capacity to continue to engage in. But it’s also worth wondering if there are more elements to her rule not unlike the destruction of the Battlefield – namely, recalling Roxy’s claims that she wants everyone to play the game, even if only to further her nefarious whims. That would explain why the game files were left completely unprotected on Crockercorp servers, and it might even explain the drone attacks against Roxy and Dirk, to goad them into playing the game. It doesn’t quite explain the assassination attempts on Jane, as she’s quite enthusiastic to play the game already and the attempts might run the risk of succeeding (depending on how much the Condesce knows), but it’s possible that it’s an attempt to present a face to English of working against them… or some other force we haven’t become acquainted with yet.  (Or maybe it’s Roxy, but given what we now know that would just make causality crawl into a corner and die.)

And given what we’ve also learned about the Condesce’s power, it’s also worth wondering if we should look back at Act 6-2 and determining how many of God Cat’s actions were made as the Condesce’s proxy…

Catching up with the state of Kickstarter

(From xkcd. Click for full-sized recursive fundraising.)

You know Kickstarter is catching on when Penny Arcade and xkcd are talking about it.

How big has it gotten in the time since I stopped keeping track? According to Wikipedia’s top-ten list, there are now five million-dollar Kickstarters, two of them finishing after I stopped, plus two more top-ten projects that finished earlier this month (which apparently had PA‘s help towards the end), plus another ongoing project that’s cracked the ten-million-dollar barrier. Wikipedia isn’t even keeping track of ongoing projects that would make the top ten like they did when the OOTS drive was ongoing, only the highest-grossing ongoing drive (though that may just be the only project slated to cross the threshold). The #10 project when I was tracking drives was a little over $350,000; now it’s more than twice that.

Before, the main categories that contributed the highest-grossing projects tended to be Design and Technology, and to a lesser extent Film and Video. Now Games seems to be fast becoming another big-money category, maybe more than any of the others. Much as I’d hate to say it, I’d say this is definitely the Double Fine effect, not the OOTS Effect, at work; even the benefits to the Comics category aren’t really webcomic-specific any longer. OOTS may have raised more money than anyone thought possible, but Double Fine is completely reorganizing the economics of independent video-game production, and I suspect you’ll see, if you haven’t already, a bunch of people with nothing but a dream and a vague concept start Kickstarters they have no business of doing, possibly with the sole aim of “getting rich quick”.

Which brings us to the concern both of these comics seem to have. Kickstarter does not enforce the completion of any project promised; several people have noted that it’s a mechanism based on trust. The beauty of it is that, so far, people have trusted each other and delivered on that trust, and paranoia about the worst of human nature hasn’t borne fruit. But it’s easy to wonder whether people might read stories about the Double Fine crew or Rich Burlew becoming millionaires on Kickstarter and getting the wrong idea, that they can just beg for money and rake in the dough, or even whether that’s already started. I’d like to remain cautiously optimistic, and I’ll check in in a few months to verify my suspicions, but it’s hard not to wonder whether Kickstarter might not be submarined by its own success.

Could CBS Sports Network add NFL programming, including Sunday morning pregame?

NFL Network reporter Jason LaCanfora is headed to CBS, in all likelihood trading places with Charley Casserly, who has appeared on NFLN’s draft coverage. That’s all well and good. But arguably the lead was buried in this piece on the move:

La Canfora also will work on the CBS Sports Network cable channel and cbssports.com. CBSSN, says [Sean] McManus, “will relatively shortly be doing greatly expanded NFL programming” — with a Sunday pregame show “a possibility.”

NFL studio programming is huge for ESPN and a big pipeline of content for NBC SportsTalk. CBS Sports Network doesn’t do much of any NFL programming, aside from maybe a fantasy football kickoff show. Creating NFL-focused programming is a good way to fill out the programming day and attract eyeballs unlikely to come for any other reason except Jim Rome. It furthers CBS’ quest to build CBSSN with sports talk and big names if they can’t do it with games.

That CBSSN would be considering a Sunday morning pregame show is a surprise, in part because NBCSN’s future pregame show was announced alongside their re-upping of their agreement with the NFL, and so you would think that CBSSN starting a pregame show would be negotiated similarly. But perhaps this is related to an idea I had: CBS and Fox competing with NFLN, ESPN and NBCSN by giving their existing pregame shows a second hour on cable. The NFL Today would start on CBS Sports Network before moving to CBS, which would do much to build CBSSN’s cachet, while Fox NFL Sunday would hold its first hour on FX, possibly a Fox Sports network if Fox decides to start one. Then both cable networks would switch to fantasy football shows for the last hour (though Fox might do that only if they started an all-sports network) while the actual pregame shows played out on broadcast.

I would expect CBS to announce any expanded NFL programming sometime in August, maybe even within the next month, and we’ll see how it plays out from there.

Idle thoughts on the future of journalism

There’s a local story here in Seattle with tremendous import on the future of journalism. Publicola, a local news blog that was the first online-only site to be credentialed to cover the Washington State Legislature, will be shutting down with at least two contributors moving to another blog.

Because other similar blogs around here seem to be doing fine and Publicola was probably more popular than any of them, I felt that its failure suggested that they didn’t have a clue how to make money on the Internet. Then I read this comment that made me rethink it:

I always wondered how it was supposed to make money. To pay two full-time reporters you need at least, say $200 a day. To get to that, you may need a full-time ad salesperson which raises the requirement even further. That’s a lot of internet ads and a ton of traffic. They probably got just enough traffic to be relevant but not enough to make a living.

The other option would seem to be an NPR model, which they did not try, but would definitely require being a 501c3, which would limit what you could do politically (no endorsements, for example).

Is this the future of journalism? Are full-time reporters with full credentials and access no longer viable except at large scales? Will journalism become split between amateur “citizen journalists” with a tendency towards the “hyper-local” and the occasional opinion, and full-time reporters working for monolithic media organizations, either national or international outfits or one of only a handful of such large outfits in town, almost certainly a holdover from the old media, with little room for anything in the middle?

It’s possible Publicola tried to do too much too soon and couldn’t reach viability fast enough. Or it’s possible that there’s a blind spot in the current Internet viability model, one that, without additional revenue streams, could prove corrosive to the health of journalism, especially local-scale journalism, in the long run.

Yes, I’m fully aware of the problems with posting a review of a comic while it’s in guest strips.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized campaign progression.)

This is the first time all year I have posted anything other than once over the course of a single weekday (allowing for some fudging), and I am only praying that I have enough time to get it up while it’s still the current comic.

I just want to focus your attention on the single panel at right (because if I post the whole thing I’m stuck doing a bunch of filler for half the post).

“Sneak attack, bitch!” and making fun of bard uselessness? The day after I reviewed QC?

Even if it ends up being more Something Positive-esque than anything else, it’s like if Order of the Stick and Questionable Content came together to create two great tastes that taste great together.

Weregeek is one of those comics I have been avoiding reviewing, and I might never have gotten to it. I may have to move it up my review queue now. Curse you, Alina, I have been foiled again!

The Sports TV Wars Come Back to Life

There was a dead period of a little over a month in the sports TV wars, but some contracts are starting to get signed again.

CBS Sports Network is starting to become home to all the bottom-of-the-barrel detritus none of the other contenders want – both professional lacrosse leagues, and rumor has it the UFL will be looking to them as their savior. At least they share the PBR with NBC Sports Network. It’s even starting to spread to the college coverage that originally built the network and continues to provide its best programming; the Great Alaska Shootout, floundering since being abandoned by ESPN and putting together a patchwork of regional TV coverage, has gotten back on “national” television with the CBS Sports Network. As the Wars develop, I have a feeling you’ll see people start to say “that league is so far down they’re on the CBS Sports Network!” The challenge posed to CBS is if they can avoid that fate of becoming the network of last resort.

Of more substance, but not much, is the Ivy League expanding its relationship with NBC Sports Network, which already shows several football games, but will now show basketball and lacrosse for the next two years as well, and could sublicence some games to other entities.

Again, not a whole heck of a lot, but the big prizes of MLB and NASCAR are coming up very, very quickly. In fact, the NASCAR contract may be done in less than two weeks.

Sport-Specific Networks
6 9.5 4.5 3.5 0 1.5

Ladies and gentlemen, the only webcomic that can turn me into a gibbering fangirl shipper. Marten x Marigold and Dora x Tai OTP!

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized mind-scarring Internet memes.)

Since I’ve started doing these webcomic reviews again, I’ve been wondering if I’ve become a big ol’ softie. I was hardly ever John Solomon, but nonetheless one of the things I tended to do in my previous webcomic-reviewing life was to go against the conventional wisdom and have a lower opinion of the most popular webcomics. I wasn’t really a fan of Penny Arcade, PVP, Dinosaur Comics, or xkcd, and I absolutely tore into 8-Bit Theater and Scary Go Round, two comics that often seem to be cited as a cut above even the ones I mentioned before, and certainly the latter seems to have actually influenced a good number of (far superior) webcomics. Yet since returning to webcomic reviews, I’ve liked Homestuck and Gunnerkrigg Court, and next week I’ll talk about how I like Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal as well. Even Axe Cop I didn’t think was completely devoid of redeeming characteristics.

That’s gotten me wondering whether or not my tastes in webcomics have shifted, especially since I went through a substantial shift in my worldview around the same time my webcomics reviews petered out last time. It can’t be that, by some bizarre coincidence, the popular webcomics I reviewed last time just happened to be the overrated ones, whereas the ones I’m reviewing this time just happen to be the genuinely good ones – especially since both Gunnerkrigg Court and Questionable Content were on my docket for a review before I went on hiatus. I can’t help but wonder if I would hate Scary Go Round quite as much if I were reviewing it today, and I certainly can’t help but wonder if my opinion of Questionable Content would be different if I were reviewing it before the summer of 2009, and not because of any developments in the comic itself. (Then again, considering the reasons I’ve liked Ctrl+Alt+Del…)

That is not to say, of course, that the developments in the comic itself haven’t shifted my perception of the comic. In fact, Questionable Content represents the longest archive binge I’ve successfully pulled off so far (unless you count Homestuck), and I can’t think of another comic where my opinion of it changed so much while I was reading it, certainly while the comic itself changed relatively little.

Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat. The very earliest comics are absolutely terrible. They’re like if Ctrl+Alt+Del and Something Positive had a love child that had all their negative aspects and none of their positive ones. The art has the full B^U thing going on, the comic itself is at best generic and aimless, and there are quite a few vindictive shots at things Jeph Jacques hates. In fact, I’m going to save you the trouble and summarize the events of those earliest comics so you don’t have to suffer through them:

Marten Reed is a lonely, dumpy guy with a crappy, low-paying job who gets nervous around girls and lives alone with his “AnthroPC” Pintsize. One day a new girl in town named Faye walks up to him and his friend Steve and asks if they’d like to hang out with her, completely platonically; later, she invites him to dinner, and as time passes they bond over their shared love (and nerdom) of indie rock. One day Faye burns down her apartment and asks to move in with Marten, which leads to Marten constantly struggling with any attraction he might have towards her, made worse by the possible hints that the attraction might be mutual. Meanwhile, Faye’s coworker at the local coffee shop, Sara, has been nursing a crush on Marten but, when she finally works up the guts to say something, realizes she never crushed on Marten himself so much as what he represented to her. Oh, and Pintsize engages in various kinds of comic relief, including downing cake mix at least twice, the latter of which results in him getting a new chassis that shoots lasers. There, now you can start reading from here when the comic is slightly more tolerable, and you should know everything you need to know going forward, aside from Marten’s backstory (which gets expanded on later anyway).

Now, with a setup like that, you’d probably expect some sort of Three’s Company-type of situation with Marten and Faye constantly getting into uncomfortable situations with one another and dancing around their feelings for one another. But while there is a considerable amount of that in the early comics, as it goes along something funny happens: Marten and Faye eventually develop a genuine platonic friendship.

The comic is not so concerned with playing up the tension between them for our benefit so much as inviting us to follow them around as they go about their daily lives; it’s not even all that much of a humor comic except for what might be called “in-universe” humor, that humor that arises from the jokes the characters themselves tell that they themselves are in on. Potential comparisons between Marten and Ethan don’t go away entirely, but he increasingly seems to become more of a wish-fulfillment fantasy from a female perspective, at least one more mature than that of the typical sixteen-year-old girl with Justin Bieber and Robert Pattinson posters on her walls, a cute, sweet, sensitive young man who genuinely cares about his female friends rather than simply jonesing to get into their pants. It’s hard to tell whether it’s more comparable to Seinfeld or Friends (the latter of which would be very ironic considering the occasional early strip that takes a shot at it).

TV Tropes had spoiled both of the two major turning points in the comic’s development for me, so even before it happened, and even knowing what the result was going to be, I found myself actively rooting for Marten and Dora to work out. My enthusiasm softened when I saw how it ended up happening, with them up and deciding they’re going to be a couple now, without even knowing how much of anything there was between them. Maybe that’s just my personal preference against a more contractual model of love and relationships and for a more organic, free-flowing one. At any rate, for a while it seemed to work out pretty well regardless, to the point I think they could have made it work if they weren’t so neurotic about it. Pretty much everyone in the comic has their issues; Dora worries about whether Marten is still pining for Faye, Faye can’t open up to anyone out of fear of what happened to her father, Marten simply worries about his own shortcomings and whether or not he’s worthy of anything. For a while after Faye opens up about her issues, the most apt comparison for Questionable Content is probably a Woody Allen movie, with everyone constantly worrying about their various problems.

If I had reviewed QC when I originally intended to and my opinion of it isn’t affected by my shift in worldview, I might have considered it one of the three best webcomics I’d then read, right up there with Darths and Droids and The Order of the Stick, though of course there is no way QC could have possibly measured up to the sheer awesomeness that is OOTS. Certainly I’d cite it as an example of a comic that does a lot of things right that a lot of other comics don’t. Instead, I have to consider it one of the more frustrating webcomics I’ve ever read. There are a number of reasons for this, but perhaps the biggest is QC‘s propensity for flirting with PVP/Goats Syndrome.

It seems odd to say that when QC has never even really flirted with Cerebus Syndrome; if anything, it’s more like a reverse Cerebus Syndrome that ends up approaching something resembling PVP/Goats Syndrome from the opposite direction, adding ridiculous elements to a fairly serious, story-based webcomic (with the in-universe humor I mentioned earlier). Now, I didn’t have a problem with Pintsize and his fellow AnthroPCs; I thought of them much like Dogbert and his fellow collection of talking animals in Dilbert, a break from reality you just accept and don’t think about too much, and which ultimately doesn’t detract from the down-to-earth nature of the comic. QC was, at its core, a comic about a bunch of twentysomethings struggling with love, relationships, and life in the real world, and having little robotic mascots was just something you looked past.

As time went on, though, much like Dogbert opened the door for the Dilbert workplace to become infested with one-dimensional exaggerated cariactures of annoying coworker stereotypes, Jacques increasingly dropped signs that the QC version of Northampton was more than a little weird, the first of which was Pizza Girl, but which became overt with the storyline involving the VespAvenger. In and of itself, I didn’t really have a problem with the notion of a woman running around on a Vespa avenging perceived wronged girlfriends; after all, Seattle has self-proclaimed real-life superheroes running around. Nor did I have a problem, in and of itself, with the plan Marten and his friends hatched up to get revenge on her for attacking people who turned out to be innocents. But when her Vespa turned out to be a Transformer (and no, I am not making that up)… that tainted the whole storyline for me. At that point I was just wondering when Marten would start knocking the heads off of living statues with golf clubs.

Thankfully Jacques dialed back the weirdness factor after that, but it was still apparent that the QC cast led… interesting lives (certainly compared to before), and ever since the second major development the comic has flirted with this variant of PVP/Goats Syndrome more than ever, for which I largely blame the character of Marigold. I liked Marigold as a character in and of herself, the cute geek girl who’s too socially shut-in to realize how much she has going for her if she’d just open up more (kind of a more realistic portrayal of a Lilah-type “gamer chick”), and rooted for her to at least open up enough to go on a date, but in retrospect her introduction seems to be heralding Jacques going more after the anime-style audience that’s flocked to Megatokyo and Homestuck, as evidenced by the fact that, while Faye and Dora are (for now) portrayed with full lips, Marigold (and now, even Hannelore) are portrayed more with straight lines that allow them to engage in more anime-esque expressions like the “cat smile” (which even Faye and Dora have flirted with).

The more direct herald of PVP/Goats Syndrome, though, is Marigold’s anime-styled AnthroPC Momo, who I originally didn’t really see any differently from any other AnthroPC… until she picked up her new chassis, which makes her look like a seventeen-year-old anime girl (who occasionally has the most SGR-inspired art I’ve ever seen from QC) and makes the comic seem like an anime waiting to happen at any moment she’s on screen. Then there was the recent really extended storyline on board Hannelore’s dad’s space station; even though her dad living on a space station had been established before, it still felt awfully sci-fi for what had heretofore been, at heart, a straight-up slice-of-life comic, especially since it felt like Marten, Marigold, and Hannelore were just along for the ride through all the weird sciency stuff, despite, or perhaps because of, their having their own subplots.

I’m still going to add QC to my RSS feeds on a provisional basis, but I continue to reserve the right to pull out if the comic’s descent into PVP/Goats Syndrome continues, and I have a feeling if I had reviewed it when I originally intended, it would be an epic “you had me and you lost me”-style breakup now. What makes me all the more apprehensive about it is that I kind of feel like the comic is losing its soul, the reason I liked it so much to begin with. Part of that is because of the encroaching weirdness, but part of it is just that there are so many characters that it’s hard to care about them all, especially with the addition of the Secret Bakery crew, who seem to be becoming regular cast members despite not being all that much fleshed out. (It didn’t help that Tangents described them as being “Mirror Universe Opposites” and “Bizarro World Twins“, which since I wasn’t reading the comic myself at the time, made me worry that they were part of the comic’s PVP/Goats Syndrome somehow as well, like there was an extended storyline in which the cast went to a literal mirror universe. In the end, though, my biggest problem ended up being that it didn’t make sense we wouldn’t have encountered them before now, at least until I started thinking about what they represented about the comic.)

It all makes me wonder if QC is starting to reach its twilight, starting to jump the shark if you will, if Jeph Jacques may be starting to run out of ideas so he’s throwing a bunch of silly concepts at the wall and seeing if they stick. I’d call it Dilbert Syndrome if webcomics criticism didn’t have enough “syndromes” already and “Dilbert Syndrome” couldn’t describe a number of different things. (Maybe this is what I should use “Goats Syndrome” for.) I’m willing to stick with it because of how good QC can be at its best, but you may want to stop reading after this comic and imagine that everyone lives happily ever after. That’s not a good sign when someone says “the comic’s okay if you read within this defined start and end point”, but even a QC off its peak is better than a lot of other webcomics. Even if QC goes off the deep end while I’m reading it, we’ll always have the days when a snarky little slice-of-life webcomic about a boy from California, his female friends, and their myriad relationships was one of the best on the Internet.