Tuesday, April 20, 2010

The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade

Penny Arcade is, of course, the decade-plus long "webcomic" (actually around for 11.5 years as of this volume's publication, hence the subhead "the 11 1/2 anniversary edition"), started by writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Krahulik.

With the help of eventual third partner/consigliere Robert Khoo, they spun the sharply-honed strips and staggering web traffic into several other enterprises, notably the "PAX" gaming con (for "Penny Arcade Expo" -- a Comic-Con with a heavy-on-the-games slant), and the "Child's Play" charity, which reaches out to gamers to provide toys to hospitalized kids the world over.


"Splendid Magic," recounts much of the "backstage" story of the improbable rise of "Tycho" and "Gabe" -- comic alter-egos o creators Holkins and Krahulik. Their story is a good one, since they started out in the "who'd be crazy enough to put comics on the web?" era, and profited mightily by doing so. Still, this is more a book for those who are already fans -- the "making of" feature on the DVD, as it were, more than the feature itself.

Those new to things "Arcade"-ish may just want to pick up some of the earlier collections from Dark Horse (this volume is from Del Rey) and start reading through the years' worth of fairly savvy takes on pop culture in general, guy culture in particular, and games, comics, movies even more particularly.

Along those lines, the samurai "parody" The Wandering Age is included here, which is welcome, because in some instances, this represents some of the duo's strongest work. Not that their three-panel trenchant comments on the world around them aren't welcome, but here, in this story-within-a-story (in the manner of any long running comic strip worth its salt), the wanderings (natch) of the "Cardboard Tube Samurai" are captured, many in long, wordless sequences.

Originally a kind of spoof of samurai and martial arts tropes -- as well as a spoof of their own guy culture spoofing ("hey! let's use this as a sword!") -- the longer, full panel sequences, in gray and brown tones, show that Holkins and Krahulik have a very interesting storytelling future ahead of them, if they choose, in the comics medium.

Now that they've gotten the whole "success" part out of the way.

(An earlier version of this column appeared at in the Nexus Graphica column at SF Site)

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