(From Questionable Content. Click on the thumbnail for full sized avoidance of unnecessary drama.)
Juxtaposition is difficult to pull off, sometimes.
One of the hallmarks of comic strips -- more than most other media, though you see some of this in animation too or, very rarely, in television or movies -- is the casual blending of the realistic and the fantastic. There's a term for this in the literary world. Magic realism. The sense of the fantastic, the wonderful, the horrific, lurking in everyday life. And men and women just accept it. Sean Stewart is a master of magic realism. Sure, momma got possessed on a regular basis and predicted the future. Sure, one of the local businessmen got rich off her predictions. Still, come on. S'not like we don't have to pay the mortgage, mister.
Questionable Content is generally described as a slice of life comic, or a relationship comic, or a romance comic, and these are fair enough descriptions. But there is also that edge of the fantastic. In ways, it's been a kind of 'deniable' fantasy. We don't know that Pizza Girl is actually a super hero, with powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary Dominos Drivers, or just a chick in a demeaning workplace gimmick who went overboard with it. In a way, it doesn't matter which it is.
And yet, there is fantasy here. The AnthroPCs are more than just cute Sony Aibos gone one step further. They are artificial intelligences. Pintsize can accidentally have a black market death laser mounted in his chassis and we simply accept it. And more to the point, the black ops secret agent who shows up to wipe Pintsize's brain and take the laser back turns out to just be Alan Turing, who Dora used to beat up and steal cigarettes from. It's not just that it's fantastic -- it's that it's the fantastic integrated into the mundane. The fantastic elements become the mechanisms for the human stories being told.
Oh, I know. It's "science fiction" tropes being pulled out. Robots and shit. Fine. But for these purposes, the distinction is artificial. A living race of PCs so developed that they not only have their own message boards but they get together for parties and steal chocolate cake? That's magic in a thermoplastic case.
In a way, Jimbo, the construction worker/romance novelist who acts almost as the comic's sage figure reflects this same concept. Of course Jimbo was able to make a living off of writing romance novels, and possess both an earthy wisdom and an odd sophistication despite his rough exterior. It's not that he's concealing education or is a prodigy never allowed to flourish before. It's that this is a world where the everyday person is capable of remarkable things, almost casually, if they put their mind to it.
Today's a juxtaposition. Faye is resorting to alcohol to cope with the thought of getting therapy and sweaty makeouts between Dora and Marten. Raven is calling her on it. Faye has begun to crawl out of her shell but it's not an easy process, and she's more than happy to anesthetize herself during it. And of course, the total lie about how she's okay with Dora and Marten is being revealed.
And then we have the last panel, with Deathbot 9000. Who's pissed off at Pintsize, but as he says, he'd just rather avoid internet drama. The fantastic in the mundane.
And the Surreal and Funny buried within the structure of pathos.
I'm not convinced it fully worked, today. I'll admit, I want to see what happens next in both stories -- the endrunkened Faye coping with sex and doctors (or is that 'doctors and sex'), and the giant robot with the missiles come to score his apologies. But it's almost too disingenuous. Too disjointed. Meant to be too out there. "Oh no. They're not having makeouts. There's just a giant killer robot there because his feelings were hurt on a forum." However, it's not out of place, regardless. This is a romantic comic, and a relationship comic, and a slice of life comic and all the rest, but it's all of those things inside a universe where magical things not only can happen, but do happen with enough regularity that no one really notices.
I wonder if we can define a subgenre around it. There's a number of examples of it. Overcompensating is magic realism within a journal comic structure, for instance. Even Joe and Monkey has a touch of it. (Though at this point, talking animals in a comic strip are just accepted on face value. Animals talk. It's a comic strip. Get over it.) On the other hand, some of the obvious examples don't really count. Narbonic isn't anything realism -- it's straight science fiction. The same with Nukees or other mad scientist strips that begin with the letter N. Maybe a mad scientist built the AnthroPCs in Questionable Content, but in the end they're set dressing for the relationship humor. That's the distinction.
If that makes sense. Or even if it doesn't.
Regardless, Jacques has done a good job interweaving the fantastic into Questionable Content. Good enough that if things seem a little out of sorts in today's comic, it's less that it's a giant killer robot and more that it goes from pathos to wacky in the span of one panel. It would work (or not work) exactly the same way if a gigantic bruiser were standing there instead. Or if the one eyed ogre from recent PvP stories was. The fantastic is the mechanism, not the point.