Was… was Marten originally going to ask Tai to join him?

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized exit, stage left.)

By the middle of last week, I was fully expecting to write a post expressing my severe trepidation at a storyline that would clearly serve the purpose of teasing a Marten/Claire relationship, which I’ve already gone on record as opposing. Besides teasing a relationship that would make me uncomfortable on multiple levels, it’s also becoming abundantly clear that Claire is the new intern that’s becoming most fully integrated into the larger QC cast, which I suppose is better than if it were Emily, but which I’d be more comfortable about if it weren’t for Claire’s secret.

I’m a little more okay with it since it looks like Marten and Claire are probably in primarily for some Wacky Roadtrip Hijinks(tm) that would more happen to them than in any way involve the relationship between them; at the most it would probably serve to highlight Claire’s personality and little beyond that. That’s not to say we’re entirely out of the woods yet; besides the potential for a road trip to serve as a “bonding experience”, there’s also the potential for Claire to be mistaken for Marten’s new girlfriend left and right at the wedding itself, and the mere fact this is the next storyline Jeph is putting Marten and Claire through is not a good sign for his thought process regarding their relationship being the same as mine. I’m hopeful that even those two possibilities could be used to further Claire’s storyline down the track I thought and would prefer it go down, especially since this is a gay wedding, but I will certainly be reading this storyline guardedly.

(Hey, cut me some slack, this is my first real webcomic post of the new year. I still haven’t caught up with what’s happened in Homestuck since, what, the very start of Act 6 Act 5? Let’s just say my Comic Rocket/Archive Binge experiment is… not going as well as hoped, though it may actually produce better webcomic reviews than I otherwise would produce.)

I already warned you I was as sensitive as an atom bomb. I take no responsibility if my coverage of this storyline drives anyone away from Da Blog.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized brotherly love.)

I’ve been reading the Questionable Content strips following the recent revelation guardedly, not because I worry that Jeph won’t handle the topic well (there’s no reason to think he won’t), but because I worry that I won’t be able to handle his handling of it well, for reasons I’ll expand on if those fears prove founded.

It might be a good sign that this comic gives me a reason to post that relates to said revelation only tangentially, but in a way that intrigues me rather than pushing me away. Up to this point, Claire and Clinton have been weird natural foils for one another, almost perfect opposites and yet perfect mirrors at the same time. They’re both incredibly weird, hopeless dweebs and geeks, yet in such ways that perfectly complement each other that they’re clearly embarrassed by and, so it appeared, can’t stand each other. My hunch that they hated each other because of their similarities wound up being shot down in the very next comic, so it seemed that their antagonism was rooted in their polarized differences made even more polarized by their similarities, and that that idea of them as opposite-sex counterparts and foils was the essence of their characters and little else, especially the substantially newer Claire.

The recent revelation, however, suggested that that wasn’t the whole story. Robert A. “Tangents” Howard suggested that one reason for the antagonism between the two might have been the result of Clinton revealing Claire’s secret against her wishes, but subsequent strips, particularly this one, have shown that precisely the opposite is the case: that Clinton is incredibly protective of Claire’s secret, fearful of the exact scenario Howard speculated about, and that for all they may get on each other’s nerves, this shared goal strengthens their sibling bond beyond all of it and ensures that, underneath it all, they will always love each other as brother and sister.

(I really struggled not to put “sister” in quotes. You see some of the problem I have with this topic. If you really can’t wait to see whether or not this drives me away from the comic, you can read my comments to that Tangents piece.)

Howard wonders if the similar bond Claire has created between herself and Marten might lead to them eventually dating, but unlike a number of QC fans I have never seen any of the new interns as potential romantic material for Marten or virtually any other existing character; considering Tai is their boss, any age issues I saw between Dora and Tai would go double for them. This is especially the case for Claire, given both the nature of her secret and that the bond she’s created with Marten seems to be a little more parental in nature. If anything, I could see a rift grow between her and Marten if Marten blabs her secret to his own friends he feels he can trust to be open-minded about it, such as Faye, Dora, Hannelore, and Tai.

Then there’s the implication of this for Clinton’s character development. Up to this point, Clinton has been one of the least sympathetic characters in the entire comic, as pretty much all we knew about him was that he was a weird, creepy nerd with a robot hand that we knew only through his attempts to stalk Hannelore. Now, however, we have not only discovered his soft spot for his sister, but he must now unavoidably become a part of the QC “family”,  bound through their shared friendship and unique connection for Claire. While the relationship between Clinton and Marten was still antagonistic with only a reluctant thawing in Wednesday’s comic, I think it’s inevitable that, as it is with Claire and Clinton themselves, the shared protection of Claire’s secret will ultimately lead to Clinton and Marten slowly moving towards something closer to “friends”, and through that, Clinton’s assimilation to Marten’s larger circle.

If so, though, I really hope he doesn’t end up hooking up with Hannelore. We already had Angus send the message that you can start a relationship with an ice queen like Faye by getting in-your-face and antagonizing them. If it happens again with Clinton and Hannelore, it’s going to say some disturbing things about Jeph Jacques’ view of relationships and human nature.

Come to think of it, has QC ever been explicitly for any form of “inclusion” that didn’t involve sex/gender politics or robots?

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized interrupted escape.)

In the news post for this comic, Jeph Jacques indicates that this is “something [he’s] wanted to do for years and I really, really want to do a good job of it”, noting that the idea of “inclusion” is one that comes up a lot in QC and so including a character of this sort is important for completeness’ sake, and reassuring us that “I have given it a lot of thought and done a lot of research, so hopefully I won’t screw up.”

If so, this is not a very good start.

Let’s be honest, you could quite literally swap in any word in the second panel and have exactly the same comic, maybe a better one. It comes off as just a buzzword, as some random, arbitrary group, delivered matter-of-factly and out of nowhere, not as a term with an actual meaning. For someone who professes to be so for “inclusion”, it comes off as a decidedly fake form of inclusion, of slapping a label on a character so you can boast about how “inclusive” you are, like a committee-designed character on a kids’ TV show.

What makes this worse is that Jeph is doing this to an established character, albeit one that’s only been in the cast for a few months, leaving me wondering whether Jeph designed her this way from the start. I can understand the notion that members of some group can be “just like everyone else” whose membership in that group doesn’t have to be all-consuming, but in this particular case – as much as this might betray my own biases, prejudices, and stereotypes – it’s hard for me to imagine how it wouldn’t have come up a lot sooner. And while she hasn’t been around for very long, I’d be hard-pressed to find a worse character to do this to than Claire, part of whose character has become “the opposite-sex mirror to Clinton” (though none of the Smif students would work very well).

Add it all up, and this comic doesn’t seem to make any sense. It doesn’t make any sense in itself, where it drops something without seeming to have any context for its implications, and it doesn’t make sense in terms of the framework it asks us to accept. It begs for further elaboration, yet it seemingly plays out in a way that precludes said elaboration by being seemingly ignorant to the need for it. Were it not for the date, I might think it was an April Fool’s joke. If Jeph Jacques really wants to seriously take on this issue, he’s really put himself behind the eight-ball right out of the gate.

Warning: this is an extremely sensitive issue, and I’m about as sensitive as an atom bomb. On a totally unrelated note, I can neither confirm or deny that this post was an excuse for me to stare intently at images of fictional women.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized self-dug grave.)

I want you to take a good, long look at the comic to the right, clicking on it to see it full-sized if necessary, and telling me how you would describe Marigold’s appearance, especially outside the first row of panels when she’s just wearing the bikini.

Now, I want you to take a look at the previous comic, and think about how you might describe Marigold in that comic, particularly in the first panel where you can see below her waist.

Now, if you’ve never seen Questionable Content or Marigold before, your reaction to the first comic, especially if you’re a heterosexual, perhaps subconsciously sexist male, was probably, “Wow, that is one fat chick.” Regardless of your familiarity, you were probably still struck by how flabby she looks. But if you’re like me, and you compared the bikini-clad Marigold to the one in the first row or the one in the previous comic, you probably realized that you were struck more by her flabbiness in the former compared to the latter.

I’m not trying to accuse Jeph Jacques of drawing Marigold fatter to capitalize on her insecurities about her weight. I don’t intend to compare each version of Marigold pixel-by-pixel, and certainly I can see how the looseness with which her shirt fits her might hide her body shape. Nor do I intend to go on a spiel on how we perceive how people look, even before we assign value judgments to them. What I do want to point out is that, for whatever reason, in the transition from the fully-clothed Marigold in the previous comic to the bikini-clad Marigold of this one, the word “fat” moved far closer to the forefront of words that come to mind when looking at her, in a way that some people seem to be taking offense at.

Perhaps no webcomic creator is more well-known for their treatment of women (excluding those who are simply mocked for overt sexism) than Jeph Jacques; we’re a little over a month away from the eight-year anniversary of Eric Burns(-White) asking “when did we become the No Fat Chicks club?” while defending QC‘s portrayal of women. On the one hand, Jacques has a very large cast of very well fleshed-out characters, male and female, and a very large proportion of his cast, indeed probably the majority, are women. And as much as QC fans like to joke about “Marten’s harem”, the fact is that none of these women are sexualized to the point of existing primarily for men, inside or outside the comic, to gawk at, not even the lesbians like Tai (with the possible exception of Marten’s mother, who exists partly for Dora to gawk at). All of Jacques’ women are extremely well fleshed-out and complex characters with their own motivations, and at least in the case of Faye and Dora, are anything but “delicate flowers” but headstrong figures who can go toe-to-toe with any of the men in the comic.

On the other hand… there are a lot of women, and they are very prominent, and while they aren’t overly sexualized they do live in a comic where sex and romance are key themes, one where the underlying conflict of the first 500 strips could be summed up as “Marten pines for Faye while she grinds him underneath his boot”, and so never completely free of heterosexual male fantasies, not to mention that the way they’re drawn tends to be rather… noticeable.

Marigold being fat has been a part of her character from the start, part of a larger portrayal of her as an ordinary-looking geek girl, cute but hardly a knockout, whose constant insecurities about her imperfections prevented her from coming out of her shell, seeing herself as she really is, and finding happiness in the world around her. The whole thing was just formulaic, just cliche, just male-fantasy enough that it’s resulted in a constant uneasy tension in how Marigold has been perceived by the fanbase.

For the record, this isn’t why I hate Marigold; as I said in my original review, I’ve been rooting for her to find that happiness ever since she first appeared. My problems have more to do with the way Marigold nearly took over the comic both literally and figuratively for a time after Dora and Marten broke up as the vanguard of a potential shift in its focus while her own personal plot that was her main attraction to me spun its wheels when it wasn’t ignored entirely. On her own merits, I’d take Marigold a thousand times over Emily (who thankfully has not been very prominent in this plotline at her own house).

In any case, however much Marigold may have come off as more of a cypher compared to the other women in QC, she did fit into (and perhaps even exemplified) one theme of the comic, however positive or negative you make of it, that the comic’s women tend to blow whatever insecurities they may have out of proportion, exaggerating their imperfections and blinding themselves to how good they actually have it. Marigold may be a bit curvy, but until now she was hardly what most normal people would have called “fat”. Nor are her concerns about her weight even unique within the comic; for a long time (especially after Dora showed up) Faye was regularly teased about her own flabbiness, despite the comic’s art style at the time making her look downright thin, and I’m actually a little concerned that Jeph has overcompensated as time has gone on, portraying Faye as fatter than she really should be to drive the point home among fans.

By the way? Take a look at this comic and tell me with a straight face that Faye’s assessment in the second panel isn’t essentially accurate. Then tell me with a straight face that you would call Faye in that comic “fat” by any stretch of the imagination, the end of the previous paragraph notwithstanding.

Jeph Jacques has pretty much earned a free pass when it comes to his treatment of women; he’s demonstrated more than enough his ability to skillfully write for the fairer sex (to the point I wouldn’t be surprised if QC‘s fanbase is more than half female), and in and of itself I’m finding it hard to find anything particularly offensive about this sequence. Anyone who thinks Marigold is being reduced to a fat joke has either never followed the character before (and thus grasped how this comic fits into her larger character arc) or is letting their own biases seep through more than exposing any of Jeph’s, maybe both. At the same time, his treatment of women has never been as completely respectful as you might think, and with Marigold in particular has come concerningly close to lapsing into tired and simplistic stereotypes, and this comic may have exposed that, inadvertently or not. Understanding this comic in its full context should help people realize just how ultimately unfounded any criticisms of it might be, while also suggesting that those same criticisms may contain within them the germ of a deeper truth.

Stupid browser cache.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized land of unlimited cartriges.)

Have you ever had an experience where something really weird and awkward happened, and then afterwards you just went about your business like nothing happened at all, never even understanding why it happened to begin with?

That’s how I feel about this QC after the two strips immediately preceding it (not counting yesterday’s filler art). I fully expected Jeph to be trolling his fanbase (who I suspect hate Emily as much as I do), though after he continued the setup for two strips I was fully prepared to renounce QC entirely if it turned out he was sending the comic headfirst into PVP/Goats Syndrome.

What I did not expect was for the succeeding comic not to even reference it at all, but to have the characters go about their business as though there was nothing odd or awkward about their arrival whatsoever, not even getting so much as a suitably crazy explanation out of Emily, her holding the mask in the first panel the only sign that anything happened at all.

The end result is that, if you had that awkward moment with someone else, no matter how you try to gloss over it, it looms over the entire rest of that interaction. I can’t read this comic without thinking about the two prior ones, and I can’t help but wonder whether the start of the sequence is going to hang over it for the duration, seeking a closure that never comes. And yet, if we were given an explanation, wouldn’t the same thing happen in a broader sense, with no one willing to completely trust it?

I’m left utterly numb and wanting to both compliment and castigate Jeph, and not do those things, all at the same time. I don’t even know what reaction I even have other than “What?

I will admit, I am morbidly curious to meet Emily’s parents. I have a feeling they’ve got to be at least as eccentric as Hannelore’s.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized space constraints.)

Why is it that I was groaning when I was reading this comic?

Was it because this presages a lengthy storyline involving wacky hijinks among most of the cast which Jeph seems to specialize in? It shouldn’t; such a storyline should be fun and provide for some unique interactions between characters, including some character development for the new ones, advancement for the Dora/Tai relationship, and perhaps some new relationships brewing. Perhaps it’s because I have a sinking feeling that despite all of that, the storyline is ultimately going to amount to Marigold and Emily being shoved down our throats for weeks on end.

Or maybe it was because of what’s implied about the size of the house, which makes me wonder if this is going to be Space Station Arc 2: Electric Boogaloo. Even if Emily’s parents don’t live in the equivalent of a space station, if the arc focuses primarily on its setting, and perhaps on characters we’ve never seen before and will barely see again, that might actually be worse than having Marigold and Emily shoved down our throats for weeks on end.

I think Questionable Content is an awesome comic, at its best one of the three best comics I read, so why does it give me similar feelings to those I get while reading Ctrl+Alt+Del? My relationship with this comic might be even weirder: I absolutely love the comic, and yet I keep expecting it to fail and frustrate me at every turn.

(Damn you, exceedingly tall comic, for forcing me to flesh out every QC post I make, in this case while Jeph is livestreaming the drawing of the next one!)

The Zen of Toasterdom

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized ambitions.)

I bleeping hate Emily. Her “endearing” loopiness is fast grating on my nerves, and the fact she’s starting to supplant Marigold as the figure taking over the comic only makes it worse. If the two of them were ever to meet, I’m quite sure the universe would explode.

The only thing I might hate more than Emily are the occasional hints of robot racism in QC that constantly threaten to send it divebombing headlong into PVP/Goats Syndrome. And here’s a comic where the two meet head-on in the Large Hadron Collider.

And yet… there’s something weirdly sublime about Emily’s response here. Momo is presumably chafing at being compared to a mere tool, a machine to perform a task for humanity and nothing else, as opposed to humanity’s equal… and Emily would be perfectly fine with being a toaster. I actually wonder how the conversation might continue, with Momo pressing Emily on her seemingly self-degrading dreams; would they talk past each other, or would Momo at least recognize Emily’s train of thought even if she didn’t find it valid? While it’s possible to read it as a desire for a simpler sort of life (and I’d much prefer Emily as a toaster than as a sentient human being), one can’t help but wonder if Momo is wondering exactly what it is she aspires to be equal to.

Let me be clear: I don’t care how well Jeph Jacques would be able to write it if he made robot racism a focus of the comic, it’s still not what I and I suspect the vast majority of people come to QC for. But if he was able to surprise me with a more philosophical take on the subject than would otherwise be expected, the sorts of people who are interested in that sort of thing would certainly get their money’s worth, and I might wait just a little bit longer before bailing on the comic.

Pot, meet kettle.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized fangirlism.)

For those of you wondering if Claire had some special quirk that would cause even her… whatever-the-hell-relation-the-guy-with-the-robot-hand has to her… to find her weird, wonder no longer.

Nope, it’s just the old “what would happen if you encountered yourself” trick rearing its ugly head, as Claire proves to be every bit as gaga over Hannelore’s dad as the other guy.

Now I can’t help but wonder if we’re going to be subjected to a week of repeating the same stuff we got when the other guy first showed up (maybe even to the word), or if we’re instead going to learn enough about Claire to realize how different the two are after all, or if the subject is just going to be dropped as a one-off gag.

At the very least, the lack of a robot hand suggests that Claire’s interest is far more academic, perhaps seeing Mr. Ellicott-Chatham more as a great scientist than a great inventor. Perhaps, instead of a repeat of the other guy’s first appearance, we’re going to get a repeat of one of Claire’s own establishing character moments, with a refocused target. That may hint that Claire may come out of it as a more interesting, potentially lasting character than the other guy.

And hey, if it keeps us from getting Yet More Marigold, I’m all for that.

(Hey, get off my case at forgetting the other guy’s name. It’s semi-late, I have a morning class, I can’t be bothered to look it up, I’m a little antsy about another comic going up, I’m just trying to continue The Streak, and yesterday’s Girl Genius post made me forget how long QC can be in height so now I’m just trying to fill out the page. Yes, that’s probably too many excuses.)

I think comic 2261 pretty much lays out Dora’s feelings for Tai before this whole thing started pretty clearly.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized coaches needing coaching.)

Somewhat cleverly, Jeph Jacques had the first date between Dora and Tai result in the two of them hitting it off but with no shortage of awkward moments to confuse anyone looking for signs as to the direction of the relationship. That said, it’s by now apparent that most of those awkward moments were the result of Tai’s uneasiness about the entire notion of the relationship; she revealed in the previous strip that, even as she was asking her out, she was worried that Dora would say no. (By the way, I felt it was somewhat abrupt the way we cut to Tai and Dora starting their date from the day they decided to start a relationship, and when combined with this revelation I can’t help but wonder whether we skipped a week of strips somehow. I certainly would have loved being able to break down exactly what happened when Tai asked Dora out.)

I get the sense that Tai almost doesn’t feel worthy of a relationship with Dora. She’s constantly worried, looking for every potential portent of bad tidings, worrying that this might be too good to be true. As much as Dora’s own dating history (and the circumstances of the start of the relationship) may be hanging over her head in this relationship, just as likely to bring it down, if it does, is Tai’s own neuroses about the relationship and whether or not it’s actually real – a sort of turnabout of what ended Dora and Marten’s relationship, which would make a nice bookend to their respective starts.

It makes her decision to run to the coffee shop and wring an answer out of Dora all the more head-scratching; she was strong enough to take control of the situation and get Dora to agree to the relationship in the first place, yet doesn’t have the confidence that Dora would accept an invitation for a date when she’d already accepted the notion of a relationship? Tai’s character is turning into an interesting case study; she’s clearly a take-charge kind of person who’s enough of a leader to be Marten’s boss to begin with, and those qualities have remained at the forefront with Dora multiple times in recent memory, yet she’s a complete bundle of neuroses in terms of navigating the actual relationship. Part of that, as she reminds Marten in this strip, is her own experience, or lack thereof, of meaningful relationships, but still, I can’t help but wonder whether her pep talk to Dora might as well have been directed at herself.

What a time for the RSS feed to stop working.

(From Questionable Content. Click for full-sized sober confessions.)

This comic really says a lot about where both Tai and Dora are right now.

I have to say I’m kind of shocked by Tai’s actions here. At least her conversation with Dora the previous night happened while she was drunk, and it’s made clear that at least when she woke up, she would have much rather forgotten about it. Yet not only does she have the confidence to come forth with her feelings while sober, she actually demands that Dora not string her along and give her an answer now, despite waiting for pretty much her entire time as a member of the cast. Of course, Marten gave her the green light to pursue Dora earlier in the night, but it’s apparent that at some point in the day, perhaps after Emily spilled the beans about Marten’s conversation with Dora, she must have had some sort of epiphany, that if she wants something she should simply go out and get it. It also makes what I said originally about her demeanor all the more interesting.

As for Dora, she hasn’t been the most forthcoming on where her thoughts are, aside from her being conflicted about it, and thus I still don’t know how much she knew about Tai’s crush beforehand. Faye badgers her about her feelings despite not getting any on-panel hints that anything happened at all; it’s suggested that she thinks Dora already had a crush on Tai of her own.

Re-reading Dora’s conversations with Faye and Marten, I can’t help but wonder how much of what’s been going through Dora’s mind is less about Tai’s confession itself and more about the possibility that Faye might be right, that the blush in the last panel of their previous conversation was the equivalent of the little pink hearts floating up in The Sims games. Marten explains that for her to accept Tai’s advances just because they’re there “wouldn’t be fair to her.” So now, Tai puts her on the spot and effectively forces her to decide not merely whether she’s willing to return the favor, but whether she actually reciprocates her feelings.

The result is that this is a bit better played and a little more organic than how Dora and Marten got together, and more than a little reminiscent of how Haley and Elan got together – and when I’m comparing you favorably to Order of the Stick, you’re doing something right. On the other hand, I can’t help but wonder where the comic goes from here and what Jeph has in mind for this relationship, if anything. Dora told Marten not to say anything to Tai about their conversation to allow her to sort her own feelings out, but Tai ignored Marten’s admonition to that effect when running out to confront Dora, so I can’t help but wonder if Dora will spend the whole thing wondering how sincere she is in the relationship, and that if and when it ends, it’s going to wreck Dora’s confidence in her ability to have a relationship even more.