15 September, 2005

Traveling back in time to 1999

(click on the comic for full-sized oldness)

I've been reading the archives for General Protection Fault, and they're actually not that bad. I've taken a look at GPF several times in the past, but each of those times I've read the first few comics, and it's seemed like another User Friendly rip-off. However a recent post by the creator got me intrigued once more.

At a blog I read often (Websnark), GPF has been criticized quite a bit as a failed attempt at the Cerebus Syndrome. The Cerebus Syndrome is when a comic is a gag-a-day, and attempts to move to a serious storyline. Eric Burns of Websnark was quite critical of GPF, because in his opinion it failed to be a good comic after the Cerebus Syndrome began. A few small snippets from an article by Eric Burns on GPF:
It was relationship humor. These were coworkers and friends trying to make a living and have a basically good life.

GPF was good. It was funny, and fun, and cheerful, with good characters who had funny situations grow out of their interactions. It was a geeky strip and a human strip all at once, and it didn't take itself too seriously.

But with the Flood, we had a wholesale abandonment of humor and lightheartedness. There was a terrible storm, there was a terrible flood. Dwayne's wife was having a baby. Nick charged out into the storm and dove into the flood to save someone even though he couldn't swim (an event rife with humorous possibility, but it was played morbidly straight). Darlington stated publicly that he intended for the Flood to say something about how each of the principals dealt with a crisis.

It sucked. I mean, it sucked hard.
You can read the full article here.

When I first read this, I actually got interested in it. Sure, he was saying it was bad, but I didn't see that. What I saw was him saying that it changed beyond the first few strips I had read. So it was definitely enticing. However school and laziness tend to get in the way, so I never did get round to it (except for reading a brief story in it's later years which was, okay. Nothing great, but not too shabby).

However recently I saw a thread on Comixpedia by someone doing a school essay on Cerebus Syndrome, and of course GPF was mentioned. In that thread, the creator of GPF Jeff Darlington made a post defending his "Cerebus Syndrome", here are some quotes:
One is the artist's perception of their own work, while the other is the average reader's perception. Obviously, these two views are very different, because the observer in each case comes to the artistic work from two different directions and sets of experiences.

GPF was meant to be from the beginning a work of growing depth and complexity. I cannot say that from the very first instance I drew my first sketch of the cast that I knew exactly where the characters would be now, years later, and in the future. However, I did spend over a year developing the strip and its concept before it went online, and during this time I scripted what ultimately became the first two and a half years of the comic.

In fact, if you care to really put time into such analysis, there are only two weeks in all of the GPF archive of purely "miscellaneous" strips not associated with a story. Everything else builds on what has gone before, if only for the establishment of a character's personality.

Of course, the true "Cerebus" instance that everyone thinks of (including myself) when they speak of GPF is Surreptitious Machinations. It was a bold experiment, and one I enjoyed, despite the occasional complaint from readers. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was the culmination of four years of planning (five if you count that initial pre-Web year), of carefully placing plot thread upon plot thread, characterization upon characterization. Yet many readers saw it as a "abrupt change," a "sudden shift" from the comic's "true focus." But how could this be? I had carefully hidden hints in the strip for years before this, and I certainly had done many long, involved, and even dramatic stories before. To me, this was what GPF was meant to become. Was I too subtle? Was I being too gradual in building the story?
This was the last push I needed to get me to start reading GPF. The fact that he had planned for it to be serious, and had tried to drop plenty of hints was the last bit of incentive I needed. Partly to see if with my foreknowledge I could see if he had left plenty of clues, but mainly so I could see if I'd like it.

What have I found so far? Well, the stories so far are a little like what I'm planning for The Queen's Land, a collection of humorous situations with a cast of characters. However the big difference is that he planned to eventually move to a serious comic (with the humour, while still present, downplayed), whereas with The Queen's Land, I'm firmly making it a gag comic only, with little continuity. But aside from that, I'm not minding the story archs. Sure, it's a little like User Friendly, but the resemblance is actually fairly superficial.

I'm enjoying the Ki and Nick relationship, which is one of the obvious recurring story archs so far, which is where I'm up to at the moment. Eric Burns kinda ruined the ending for me, and the one storyline I read from 2004 also ruined it for me, but I'm still enjoying it. I'm looking forward to see how it gets to where it is now. At first I thought Ki manipulating Nick was a terrible storyline, but it isn't. How it came about was just a little careful playing. A light joke. But it eventually developed into something deeper. Which I guess is what the whole comic is, on a much smaller scale.

The only other obvious recurring story arch (so far) is Trudy being evil. And I don't like it very much. Sure the gags were funny at first, but now she's just coming off as two dimensional. But fortunately I found out in a forum post that Jeff develops Trudy's character. She does eventually become three-dimensional, which is good. Because I wouldn't want to read the entire comic with her being flat.

I'm only up to 1999. But so far, it's okay. There are hints that the comic will eventually deepen into something more. And all indications are, that the deepening will be a good thing. Sure people may have fallen in love with with the comic as it began, and didn't see the signs (which aren't very obvious and you do have to look for them), but I'm not one of those people. I knew from the get go that it would deepen into a story, and I'm chomping at the bit to get up to Surreptitious Machinations.


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