You had me, and you lost me: General Protection Fault

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gpf.png(From General Protection Fault.)

I work with teenagers, in my day job. (That's right -- the action packed world of blogging doesn't actually afford me the financial freedom to indulge my passions and intellectual pursuits. I actually need to 'work' for a 'living.') And sometimes, I have a hard time explaining what the world of technology was like back before they really understood it. Back in 1999, I taught a class on Computer Platforms and Philosophy to a summer session of students. I had to explain to them that it had been just seven years since there hadn't been any World Wide Web at all. That all we had was green text on a black screen (amber on black if you were lucky), and sending pictures to your friends involved UUENCODE and UUDECODE and an hour and a half on Kermit -- and it's not like people had scanners anyhow.

I made them a prediction, then. "Seven years from now, you're going to look back on the tools we're using now, the online world we live in, and be kind of amazed that the world was ever like that. You're going to have trouble remembering it to yourself, much less tell people who are seven years old right now about it." They didn't believe me.

Well, it's going on 2005. We still have a couple of years to go before we see if my prediction bears fruit, but there's a lot of evidence to suggest that I was right. If nothing else, look at games. Look at MassMMOGs like City of Heroes and Everquest 2 and World of Warcraft. Look at Halo 2. Hell, look at the X-Box in general. Look at the ways we've learned to entertain ourselves.

A year before I taught that class, in November of 1998, a man named Jeffery T. Darlington started a new online comic strip. The online comic landscape was pretty barren in those days of six years ago. Kevin and Kell had been around for a little while, and the prehistoric entries (Argon Zark, Dr. Fun, Helen (Sweetheart of the Internet) and the like)... but it wasn't like today, in our vast world of strips. It was still a very new medium. It was still a very new take on sequential art, on distribution... on everything. PvP was less than six months old at the time. Penny Arcade was itself just two weeks from starting. And User Friendly, perhaps the closest antecedent to the strip Darlington was putting together, was less than one year old.

And unlike J.D. Frazer... Jeff Darlington could draw.

As a sidenote. I don't mean to pick on User Friendly's art. However, I think the brilliance of early User Friendly was in its uniqueness, its understanding of its core audience, and its writing, not its art. I don't think anyone would disagree with me. However, in Darlington, we had another member of the cognoscenti -- a computer scientist for IBM Global Services, Darlington understood the world of information technology. And in 1998, the majority of comic readers on the internet had more than a passing interest in information technology.

Darlington named his strip General Protection Fault -- a computer in-joke that more and more kids today need to have explained to them, which seems like a healthy trend for computer engineering to me. And, if User Friendly's theme was "those idiot users who don't know Unix from emasculation-victims," GPF's theme was "We're Geek, We Eke -- get over it!"

Eke. It means "to barely make a living." Seriously.

And that's how it worked for our heroes. It wasn't workplace humor like Dilbert (generally). It was relationship humor. These were coworkers and friends trying to make a living and have a basically good life. There was Ki, the cute (the Supermodelesque looks would come much, much later) if surly programmer. (Described as "not bad looking, but almost like one of the guys -- a quiet harbinger of storm clouds to come), there was Fooker, the systems administrator with no grasp of hygiene, personal space or 'comfort zones,' Dwayne, the self-described "uncreative" boss. Fred, the slime mold that evolved out of the garbage pit Fooker called a home, and Trudy, the beautiful, puppy-kicking marketing director. Hijinks ensue.

It's worth noting that back in my Superguy days, the character I wrote who meant the most to me was named Trudy. She wasn't really a good fit for GPF, though. My Trudy was more of a Something Positive kind of person. It got to the point that a friend of mine said "Eric, your inner child is a twisted little girl named Trudy," and that was frighteningly accurate. It's also worth noting that if you tell an anecdote like that to your mother, she makes assumptions that really weren't the point of the story. But I digress.

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. I liked it. Everyone liked it. While not Sluggy Freelance, it had a solid fanbase and good word of mouth. It was a charter strip on Keenspot, and became one of the fixtures of all things Keen. When Keenspot experimented with Keenspot Premium, GPF was one of the few strips to develop content quickly... and became one of the few strips to develop premium content at all.

In short, General Protection Fault had the goods.

Comic strips need conflict if they're going to be something other than basic gag-a-day, and Darlington wove several into the strip right from the beginning. The Ki-Nick-Trudy love triangle. The fact that Ki knew Trudy was evil, Fooker knew Trudy was evil but was so paralyzed by lust for her that he did whatever she wanted anyway, but Nick and Dwayne were clueless. ("She gave me a nice card" was Nick's all purpose answer to any suspicions Ki raised). Fred trying to stay hidden. The company trying to flourish. Trudy trying to take over the world. It was light hearted conflict, but it was conflict. Darlington began to develop more intricate plotlines. Ki began manipulating Nick through an anonymous IRC identity, then lying about it to him. (Ah, romance.) Trudy began blackmailing Ki. But no matter how much depth the story got, it remained pleasant. (In the middle of this period, Trudy one day thinks to herself "I think I will devote my entire week to making someone miserable! But who will it be...." This is not a sign of angst or darkness, just so you know.) And, despite the fact that there were a lot of relationship strips and a lot of geek strips and a lot of business strips and a lot of "my pile of crazy friends have adventures" strips, there wasn't anything like GPF. I read it every day. I looked forward to it every day.

I should say something like "it couldn't last," but to be honest it could. Other strips have done it. But Darlington fell into the most seductive trap a lighthearted story/funny strip can fall into: drama.

I rail about this over and over again, but the reason I do it is because it's true, and because it breaks strips. It breaks them badly. And then those strips don't recover. It's time to go to the Lexicon link again, kids... because General Protection Fault went for the Cerebus Syndrome, and fell into First and Ten Syndrome.

The fast recap for those who came in late: Cerebus Syndrome refers to the desire to take your light, satirical comic strip and add depth and darkness and sophisticated story -- to evolve out of humor and beyond humor, though without eschewing humor. It refers to the Dave Sim comic book of the same name, which started as a Conan the Barbarian parody and became something vastly more. (Well, until Sim lost his mind, but that's another snark.) You can tell when a creator wants to go for the Cerebus Syndrome, when the jokes begin to thin out and the plot points begin to mount -- when tension is supposed to build and people stop being funny, because there's nothing funny about this.

The problem is, it's astoundingly hard to do successfully. In webcomics, the champion of Cerebus Syndrome is Sluggy Freelance. It managed not to lose the core of what it was, while evolving into something much more, and becoming very interesting all the while. It's a testament to Pete Abrams that he pulled it off -- and not everyone agrees with me that he did. And when someone fails at a Cerebus Syndrome, it's an ugly, ugly sight. As long time readers know, we call that "First and Ten Syndrome."

First and Ten was a frothy, mindless, tits and ass comedy series on HBO back before shows like The Sopranos redefined what HBO could be. First and Ten was the collective realization by programming executives that unlike network television, they could have naked women and use bad words, and that would bring a certain demographic in droves. And it seemed to work. Now, it was always offensive at best (the high concept of First and Ten was that a woman -- a woman -- won her husband's football team in a divorce settlement, and was now going to -- get this -- actually try to own the team! It starred Delta Burke, who at the time was a sultry siren generally in flimsy outfits. It aimed low. Very low. But it hit its target.

And then, out of nowhere, First and Ten switched gears entirely and became dramatic instead of comedic. In fact, it became melodramatic. Comedy is hard, you see, and ratings were slipping. The bare breasts weren't enough to pull people in any more. So, they figured they could get a more sophisticated audience interested in the drama while retaining the old audience. Only the 'more sophisticated audience' wasn't interested, because they associated First and Ten with offensive stereotypes and gratuitous nudity, and the old fans weren't interested in drama, so they left. It was a monumental failure. You will note that you can't buy First and Ten: Season One on DVD today, which given the incredible proliferation of archives for sale means it really tanked.

General Protection Fault went for Cerebus. They got First and Ten.

We first knew we were in trouble during the Flood storyline. There had been weirdass quasicosmic storylines before then (featuring an oddly realistic big chinned cosmic being named... I swear I'm not making this up... "the Gamester," and his leather clad pixie-like sidekick "Mischief." Who... um... have never really done anything. Except make pronoucements). 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. It was one long exercise in depression and anger, and what dregs of poignancy could be eked out (there's that word again) didn't make up for the fact that this was a solid month of our lives we wouldn't ever get back. And what's worse, Darlington was convinced it was a tremendous success. And it was just a precursor to what was to come.

It was called Surreptitious Machinations, and with it, Darlington's trip to First and Ten was complete. Here's his own description of this plot from his archive page:

Year Four is very different from previous years, as it is primarily composed of a single, far-reaching story arc we call Surreptitious Machinations. Filled with lots of drama, action, plot twists, and the usual GPF humor, this tale is guaranteed to be the ultimate GPF masterpiece. (Note that it is highly recommended that the reader be familiar with the events of the past three years before reading this story, as it ties up a lot of loose threads.)

If this story was guaranteed, I'm waiting for my refund.

Surreptitious Machinations lasted a full year. A full year. Seven days a week, for three hundred and sixty three days (November 4, 2001 to November 2, 2002.) In this sequence, Darlington broke up the cast and scattered them "to the four winds," to use his own chapter break. GPF went bankrupt and was burnt to the ground, with Trudy framing Dwayne for insurance fraud and arson. Fooker was framed for mass murder by an robotic double from the future. (I swear to Christ -- a time murderous robotic duplicate from the future named the Fookinator -- not played for laughs.) We saw a vision of the future where Trudy is absolute empress of the world, Nick has been killed, and she hunts down and takes out the last of the resistance, even as Nick and Ki's son travels back in time to change history. (That's right -- it's not just depressing and morbid and totally not what we came to the GPF dance with, it's a clich»!) Unfeasibly complex plots interwove seamlessly. We had the return of Fooker's secret agent identity, permanently (yeah -- Fooker was only an unhygienic slob with no concept of social skills during his day job. That's right). Finally, it culminated in a huge fight scene in New York where Nick and Dwayne were finally forced to confront the fact that gosh, maybe every one of their friends and coworkers were right about Trudy and they were wrong, and then... *snif*... good won out. Nick and Ki were reunited. CRUDE and Trudy were defeated. Empress Trudy lost.... (only she managed to escape despite being eliminated from history, because... well, because resolution would make Darlington melt into a puddle, I guess). And then an all new GPF could be formed.

It was over. It was finally over. And don't make any mistake -- it was a major blow to GPF. It got bad enough that Darlington actually had to post disclaimers swearing that the funny would be back, give it time, this was the payoff to the whole series, no honestly. Just have faith. And if it's just too much and not why you're here, then just drop GPF for a while and come back in December!

Guys, when you have to tell your fans to stop reading until your plotline is over... you've lost. You have completely lost.

I was one of those to drop it and then come back afterward. I wanted to have faith, you see. I wanted to believe. I liked General Protection Fault, very very much. And I wanted to believe the horror was over.

Sadly, what came back, while much better than the year long suckfest that was Darlington's "Masterpiece of GPF," just wasn't General Protection Fault. Instead, it was a mishmash of elements that tried to recapture some of the whimsy, compassion and caring that was a hallmark of the strip's original strengths. However, Trudy was gone, Fooker was gone, and just like you can't become a child again, we couldn't just forget the very, very unfunny, dramatic evolutions the characters had went through. As a result, General Protection Fault developed a fatal cancer: inconsistency.

One hallmark of this is art style. If you look at the more recent characters in GPF -- Ki's parents, Mercedes De La Croix, and even Trent -- they're done in a cartoonish/Superhero style first seen in the Gamester and CRUDE. If, on the other hand, you look at Dwayne and Nick... and then go all the way back to the very first GPF strip, back in 1998... they look exactly the same. No pupils, wide circle eyes, Nick's ridiculous pontoon boat feet.... as a result, it looks like General Protection Fault is currently set in Toontown, where realistic human beings walk by Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, and we're supposed to just accept that this is the way things are. For another... critical stupidity on the part of the cast that we could forgive when the whole thing was just a lighthearted romp becomes criminal in the post-CRUDE battle world. When Dwayne, whose willing blindness over Trudy literally cost him his business, got him thrown into prison for insurance fraud and arson, and who ultimately had to fight for his life and the lives of the world, decides to hire Trent -- an equally unctuous marketing director who once literally tried to drop a safe onto Dwayne's head, it doesn't make the reader think comedic hijinks will ensure. It makes us think that Dwayne is retarded and has no business owning a business, and one day his daughter Sydney will be wandering the streets, destitute and doing horrible things to survive. And sure enough, Trent is now suing GPF pretty much because he's a bastard, period. We leap over to Trudy on the run, and God help me it's compelling. It's sometimes beautiful -- one really gets the sense of a dark soul reaching for the light, living in the Hell she has created... and then we have a series of strips that parodies the Matrix for no good reason.

And then, there's Nick and Ki.

God help me, there's Nick and Ki.

There is no longer even the slightest glimmer of tension between Nick and Ki. There was once, when there was Trudy in the mix. But Nick made his choice. Tension over. Back before Surreptitious Machinations, there was a truly ham handed attempt to add "sexual tension" when Ki, seeing Nicole pregnant, had her "womb twinge" and nearly went nuts trying to get Nick to fill her full of baby. (Yeah. I think I read that story on Alt.Sex.Stories when I was twenty-two too. It disturbed me then, too. And that was... Jesus, that many years ago?) Now, they're virgins by choice (well, at least they're not having sex with each other. Ki used to go without panties while wearing skirts -- I have to assume she wasn't a nun) and have settled into the most boring routines of marriage -- sexless, joyless connection for years and years and years. This culminated, as you the readers know, with Nick finally asking Ki to marry him in the most pathetically afterschool special-ist plotline ever conceived in a webcomic. Ki's father, who has been a stubborn xenophobe all her life (he still calls her by the name he wanted to name her) proves to be a racist bastard, literally assaulting Nick when he asks for Ki's hand and sending him to the hospital. Then, Ki goes in, has about five minutes of arguing with her father... and he completely reforms, apologizes to Nick, gives his consent and blessing and accepts Nick into the family. It was literally minute twenty seven of a television sitcom and we needed to have Jan Brady learn the true meaning of being a sister, in time to be all better!

(Through this whole plotline, Darlington protested to people responding badly to Oshiro's literally terrible characterization by saying that the plot wasn't over yet -- give it time! Honestly! Only the payoff was simply a setup to let Trudy see Nick propose to Ki... and then leave, in tears, without even swearing revenge. In other words, it was Surreptitious Machinations all over again -- "come on back when the plotline is over! You'll see then!" Only we didn't see anything.)

I kept hoping that getting back to the fresher, more interesting characters would revitalize my interest in GPF. Fooker was back, and there were hints of something cool on the horizon with him. I like Sharon. I like Dexter. I like Mercedes. There was hope. I just had to make it to the next plotline....

Well, we're here.

It's literally about how Sharon and Ki, good friends and long time professionals, can't cope with Sharon being Ki's project lead on a project. (Nick, the level headed and very male uberman, being too busy.) It was set up in an implausibly bad way, with Dwayne literally talking to Sharon and Ki, saying that Ki had the seniority and project lead chops and (unstated) should be in charge, but he needed her database skills for this so Sharon would be. (If Dilbert came to work for Dwayne... he'd be begging the pointy haired manager to take him back in a week. Which admittedly might be funny, which would be novel for Dilbert these says.) Cut to Trent, sliming some repulsive theory that ambitious men work just fine together because hey -- one of them's the alpha dog and the rest fall into line (note to world -- this is a hideous lie. I worked in the Corporate and Education worlds. This Does Not Happen), but that women, being such excitable creatures, butt heads and just can't deal with each other. Not if they're both strong willed! Not like men could! And then immediately jumped to Sharon and Ki trying to bite each other's heads off! Because it's true! Hah hah! Those uppity females!

My boss is a woman. She's a great manager. (And doesn't read this, so I'm not sucking up.) Several of her peers are female. Several of them are "strong willed." But any head butting that goes on is almost exactly like the headbutting that the men do. I don't say men and women are the same, but the idea that you can't have two confident women on one team without them going for each other's throats is beyond sexist and into repulsive.

Today's strip features Ki ranting at Sharon's back. And then Sharon turns around, and we cut to a panel of a tiger about to attack a cougar. Get it? They're going to catfight! Whoo hoo! Maybe they'll tear each other's clothes off.

And it broke me. So help me Christ, it broke me.

I could deal with the failed Cerebus Syndrome. I could deal with the slog through First and Ten. I could deal with the discontinuous art style. I could deal with the inconsistent levels of sophistication in the characters. I could deal with the racism. I could deal with the sexism. I could deal with the toxic level of boredom Nick and Ki (either or both) instill in me. But I can't deal with all of them. I can't hold out hope any longer that the things that drive me insane will go to the background while the things I like come to the foreground.

Darlington does do many things right. His art, while schizophrenic, is solid and shows evolution. He is rock solid in updates -- I don't know that he's ever missed a day. Whether or not you like his convoluted plotlines, he does balance them simultaneously and he does eventually pay off the ones that aren't relationship based. And he can write engaging and poignant pieces when he isn't fighting with himself. And he clearly loves what he's doing, and there's no better reason in the world to write and draw a strip. Seriously. It doesn't matter what I think or anyone else thinks -- if Darlington is happy than power to him. And he still has fans who adore him, and that is good. I don't blame them for liking GPF at all. But that doesn't mean I can stick around for the ride.

The smartest possible move Darlington could have done, having committed to Surreptitious Machinations, would be to end GPF with Ki and Nick kissing in the sunlight, and started a new strip, with a different cast (with maybe some crossover and cameos), setting up without expectations or without a yearning to be what GPF once was but couldn't be again. He could still do it, but there's no sign he will. He's in this for the long haul.

I hope he's successful in that haul, but I won't be hauling along with him. He had me, and he lost me.

20 Comments

To paraphrase one of my daughter's favorite cartoons:

"Go Eric! Go Eric! It's your birthday! It's your birthday!"

I've been feeling this way about GPF for some time, but haven't been able to make myself drop if off my list. Maybe I should - Murphy knows there are plenty of other, better strips out there.

Once again, you've hit the nail on the head. I started reading GPF somewhere before the love-via-IRC-deception storyline began. I stuck with it through the whole "Surreptitious Machinations" fiasco (though I don't read the GPF forums, so I wasn't privy to Darlington's response to disappointed fans) and I gritted my teeth during the recent prelude to Nick and Ki's engagement. Now we're back at the office, where so often in the past funny things have happened, but - I swear - it hurts to read this strip anymore.

Ek-fucking-zactly.

I dropped GPF during "surreptitious machinations." Even at that time, I had a rule that if any webcomic which I liked for the funny suddenly started talking about "year-long storylines" it was off the read list.

Sluggy aside, what comics do you think have pulled off "Cerebus syndrome" well? I would propose College Roomies from Hell and perhaps Dominic Deegan, although the jury is still out on the latter.

yrs--

--Ben

Good lord. Both of my managing editors at Viz are women. They're very different people with very different managerial styles, and they're both great at what they do. They have a lot of "strong-willed" women as subordinates, and we all get along fine. This isn't "The Apprentice."

It must be annoying to be a female employee in a workplace where women are such a novelty that you never see two people with ovaries working on the same project, and the men think all the female staff members are two Midol tablets away from a catfight.

Man, that Trent guy is weird-looking.

Wow. Reading this essay, several things come to mind:

(1) Your NaNo output is going to *suffer* for this one. That's got to be 4,000 words, right here.

(2) But labors of love take time. And I know how much you loved this strip. It's still obvious that you miss what it used to be.

(3) Of course, you know that Mr. Darlington is breathing a sigh of relief that this is the last time you'll be complaining about his strip. :)

I'll second CRFH. I think it pulled off Cerberus with flying colors.

I recently got back into GPF after about TWO YEARS off and read the whole archives. I started reading it daily before I realized how much pain the dramatic dialogue was causing me. I think I'm done.

Great essay and analysis. Although it made me kind of want to read all of GPF from the beginning so I can track the changes you're talking about.

I believe that Schlock Mercenary may be going through Cerebus Syndrome right now, what with the death of a major character and ownership of the Tagon's Toughs being handed to a less than sympathetic character. I can only hope that Howard Taylor can keep pulling it off.

I'd have to say Schlock Mercenary has already gone through Cerebus Syndrome. Howard has shaken things up repeatedly and managed to keep the strip interesting. I feel the storyline that culminated with Petey's death really established that Howard could handle bringing the drama as well as the funny. Also, with Tagon's very off-screen death, I wouldn't be writing the last chapter of his Bio just yet.

Precisely. Having only just finished re-reading the archives, I would say Taylor's done an astonishingly superb job of keeping an even tone throughout the years - always about the same mix of drama and humour, getting a little darker around Schlocktoberfest, but then pulling it right back out again.

Also, I dont see Kevyn as unsympathetic at all - in fact, I always liked him better than Tagon. He's funnier.

The thing about Howard Taylor... he established his penchant for dipping into darker storylines earlier on so we already knew what to expect after he offed the first doctor.

Besides, darker storylines make more sense when you're dealing with a bunch of space mercenaries instead of you know... office geeks.

I mean, what are the chances of your average office geek getting involved in something like Surreptitious Machinations? Saving the world?

I'm going to point out one more syndrome that Eric missed. The 'Fate-of-the-world-revolves-around-them' syndrome. Self-explanatory.

I loved GPF in the beginning. Ki was something of my hero when I was slugging it out as the lone girl in computer science.

But nowadays... :(

Another successful Cerebus (to my mind) would be Roomies!, which turned into It's Walky! partway through its seven year (and recently concluded) run.

When you can take a comic about college roommates and their relationship foibles and turn it into a comic about fighting alien invasion and saving earth... it ended up as a very complex comic, and had some serious drama and depth as well as comedic moments. But I think it pulled it a Cerebus rather than turning into a First and Ten.

Considering that Walky was one of Eric's "You had me, and you lost me." strips before Websnark went up (or very shortly after, I forget which), I'm not sure he'd agree with that assessment. :) But then again, it's not in quite the same category, because there really was a fairly clear demarcation where it stopped being Roomies and started being Walky. For quite a while, Joyce was the only main character to cross over(and arguably Sal, although I never quite considered her a main character of Roomies), even if everyone else was eventually dragged back into the new strip.

I always had mixed feelings about Roomies' first attempts to "go dark." I should mention I came to the strip after it had become Walky, so I read all of Roomies long after it was over. What struck me at the time was that the shift seemed abrupt and uneven.

I felt Willis got much better at that when he shifted to the Walkyverse. I get the impression from his "YHMAYLM" entry that Eric saw the switch as a return to light-hearted. I saw it as an intentional decision to pursue darker storylines, and to be able to weave them into the overall story arc more deftly. I'd say Walky never underwent Cerebus or First and Ten because it was designed from the beginning to bring the drama with the funny. Then again, it was already fairly well into the dark when I started following it. Maybe I'd have a different impression if I'd followed Walky from an earlier point.

While I wasn't a die-hard fan by the time it ended, and agree wholeheartedly with Eric's observation that often you felt you were missing part of the story somewhere, I couldn't really say it ever entirely "lost me" either. It just wasn't a strip I read for funny. The occaisional funny that arrived was an added bonus to what was, for me, a drama strip (or maybe an action strip).

That's what I get for not rereading the full entry, even after I went to the trouble to link to it. After doing so, I realize that Eric's views on Walky were much more in line with mine than I remembered. The only difference is that I never quite reached the "you lost me" point.

Am I the only person who finds this kind of destructive commentary leaves a sour taste in their mouth? Whether or not Jeff Darlington's year-long experiment with a serious storyline was a success or not, to attempt to do something that you yourself acknowledge will alienate portions of your audience is both brave and creatively adventurous. So what if it didn't work? How is someone like Mr Darlington going to expand his creative horizons without trying?



Diversion into serious storylines from a background of pure comedy usually represents a paucity of ideas, but unlike network TV or cable, (an executive-driven area which seems a fairly mindless comparison), the comic strip is a personal journey and any number of life experiences can trigger a wellspring of new stories and ideas.



Mr Burns, your entire post reads like an over-written testimony to your own creative and/or personal insecurity. Why you continue to laud certain strips which recycle the same tired set-ups on a near daily basis yet take a heavy stick to someone who decided to try something different - whatever the result - is inexplicable. This is the work of a bully.

"This is the work of a bully."

Nonsense. It's a bad review, nothing more. He didn't like something, he said so, he said *why*, and then proceeded to defend his point with examples from the text. Just because something is "brave and creatively adventurous" doesn't make it good.

Plus, exactly how would it be brave to try something new if negative feedback wasn't allowed? When you say "So what if it didn't work?" it seems like your opinion is that as long as a plan is big in scale and different from what came before, it's automatically good and worthy of praise. And that's silly; even setting aside the specific example of GPF, surely you can imagine cases where a "year-long experiment" could fail.

How is someone like Mr. Darlington going to expand his creative horizons if he doesn't occasionally receive honest, well-thought-out critiques of his work? It wasn't destructive commentary; the original work is still up for anyone to look at from the beginning. And really, this was in no way a cheap shot; it's a 4000-word critical review. He didn't just say "I don't like serious stuff in a formerly-funny comic"; he explained why it didn't work in this case, and why the attempt to return to the original format wasn't working either.

SC:

Jeff Darlington's personal journey is his own. He owes himself only the continuing effort to draw and write the strip he wants to draw and write. He doesn't owe us anything at all.

That doesn't mean I have to like the choices he's made. And this entire blog, at the end, is me detailing what I do and don't like and going into detail over why. That's what this post was.

I laud certain strips because I like them, and like their choices. And when someone takes a risk and succeeds -- a la Sluggy or many, many others, it blows me away. It excites me. It makes me glad to be alive and on the internet. When someone takes an experiment and fails, it makes me sad. It makes me sad for them.

Now, Jeff Darlington clearly doesn't think he failed, with either Surreptitious Machinations or his current plotlines. I respect that. He's doing the strip he wants to do. And nowhere in this post will you see me saying he shouldn't do it.

This post, in the end, is my saying goodbye to GPF, and explaining exactly why I took that step. To do that, and have it mean something more than me posting a one line post saying "TEH SUXX0R," means going into both why I cared so much about GPF in the first place, and why I can't stick with it now.

Further, it sure as Hell wouldn't be fair to Darlington for me to stick with something I clearly didn't like. There's been several GPF snarks, and while some of them have been positive (he even got one of the elusive "biscuits" in one), a lot more have been negative. There reaches a point where if I don't like the strip, I shouldn't be sending out negativity every few days about it. I list out my reasons for stopping, and I move on, and eventually everyone's the happier for it.

If Jeff Darlington reads this, he might get some use out of it. Or he might dismiss it wholly. Either way, he doesn't owe me a thing, and he's not going to sweat me. A lot more people read GPF than read Websnark, and next week that's not going to change.

But for the people who do read me... I deserve to give my best reasons for why something bothers me, why I used to like it, and why I don't, any more. So long as I continue to do this site, it's my responsibility to be straight with people.

As for my own creative insecurity... well, I think the record shows I don't have much of that. But you're free to think I do.

As for me being a bully? Nolo contendre. I get a lot of e-mail asking me to write more negative pieces, because the balance is so strongly positive on this site, but even after finishing this and posting it, I felt pretty crappy. Do I retract it? Hell no. I meant every word, and I stand by every word. But I know that if Darlington does read it, it's going to give him a pretty crappy day, and that's on my karma. There's a reason I've only written three of these things since starting Websnark.

But, in the end, there's also a reason GPF had to be one of them.

Spatchcock:

Ed Wood was "brave and creatively adventurous". His movies are also astoundingly bad.

I know this strip is lost you now (likewise to me), but a friend linked me to this particular daily of it, and I think it runs with your sense of humore. You don't need any continuity to understand the joke. If you get time, you might enjoy.

http://www.gpf-comics.com/d/20041203.html

OK, so I'm a few years late to this discussion... but I fell in and out of love with GPF myself, largely over the whole "Surrepetitious Machinations" storyline, and every bit of what you wrote here resonated with me.

I recently saw a banner ad for GPF again, and while I wasn't surprised that it had restarted, I was dumbfounded by the new storyline - a "hacker retelling" of the first book of the "Harry Potter" series, almost page by page and word for word. I read about ten strips, but it had two major problems:

- It was a parody that wasn't a parody, just a derivative.

- It was boring.

When the time comes that you can no longer make even the things you as a cartoonist find amusing to yourself, amusing to your audience, it's time to hang it up.

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