Sometime you should get me drunk and have me explain how Hannalore is the Mary Richards of Questionable Content. But not today. I'm driving, today.

| 31 Comments

Questionable Content

(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.

Magic realism.

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.

31 Comments

okay, yeah, talking animals...
but satan the delivery man & kleptobot?

From what I can tell, the temptation to add a slice of the surreal to slice-of-life comics crops up more often than not.

Which isn't to say that's a bad thing. I mean, robots, space ships, witches, whatever - it's all wicked cool. But finding a real genuinely down-to-earth strips seems to be more of a challenge than expected.

I remember when I first was introduced to Real Life comics, at one of the very early WCCAs, wherein it won for 'Most Realistic Comic.'

And so I went and read it, and was like, "Hey, that's a cool comic."

"But wait, time travel and shit... how'd that win for realistic? That's totally bogus, dude."

"But wait... it was a kick-ass comic. Does it matter?"

Then I stopped talking to myself, and went and read some other comic.

From what I can tell, the temptation to add a slice of the surreal to slice-of-life comics crops up more often than not.

In fact, I'd say it's all but impossible to avoid. After all, one of the big joys of writing a comic is that anything you can imagine can happen inside the world of your comic -- it's limited only by the boundaries of what you can conceive and what rules you put into place.

I'm having trouble thinking of comics with quasi-realistic people that don't have their own additional oddities.... There'sFor Better or For Worse,,, Frazz, and Devil's Panties... You'll Have That.... Unshelved maybe? Least I could do is unrealistic but not necessarily fantasy-related....

Not many, at any rate. Not as many as have their touch of fantasy, that's for sure. Are you sure "realistic" isn't the subgenre?

Hm... Something Positive has a tinge of that- Pepito, the sex midget who couldn't speak English everyone just sort of accepted. The Trapdoor Alligator (was that what it was called?). Aubrey's various schemes, like the live-action tentacle rape hentai and Nerdrotica are treated as, if not commonplace, not particularly unusual. The ultraviolence dispensed by cute Asian girls. And of course, Choo-Choo Bear.


CRFH and Sluggy Freelance might have a little bit- there is a lot of weird stuff that's sort of accepted calmly. Except that in those two strips, the weird stuff is the focus of the strip (CRFH's various mutations and the Devil are often a main plot point, as opposed to being in the backdrop. Sluggy is basically ONLY about how the cast reacts to the Next Weird Thing). In QC and Something Positive, it's kind of just accepted in an otherwise normal world.

What's the old saying? Any sufficiently advanced science is indistiguishable from magic? Or was it a rigged demo? I can never remember which.

The sad thing is, I had a harder time buying Faye's suddenly drinking on the job than I did the killer robot in the living room.

Sometimes it is the reactions that seem unrealistic, not what comic strip character are reacting to.

It completely boggles my mind that I can't read QC at work. I can read, oh, say, Jack or Chopping Block (not that I read such things at work due to their being massively NSFW!), but not QC. Apparently, hip young people in coffee shops and witty repartee are B.A.D. or something.

Annnyway... the actual point I was going to make here is that life is sometimes surreal. Perhaps adding a taste of The Weird to a slice-of-life comic is simply one way of including such delights as The Guy Who Argues With Himself On The Train, or The Mutant Squirrels in Ursula's backyard. I know *my* life is weird as hell, anyway, and that's not even counting the humans (all kinda .. well, unique).

I used to have a beta who liked for me to put my hand in his bowl; he would come over and sort of lean into my hand. Only me, mind. But I have witnesses to this weirdness. In my life, a talking cat wouldn't be all that bizarre. Boy, that statement kinda freaks me out. I think I'm going to go catch the train home now. It's been a looong day.

I think that the thing that keeps me reading QC is that surreal attitude. The 3 panels of drama only to hit the punchline in the last panel.

But I think I'm most impressed with how the artowrk has changed since the beginning. I've only been reading QC for the past couple of months, after reading the entire archives in one evening (NOT recommended) and the artistic change is incredible. That's one of the things I love about following webcomics -- the ability to see an artist grow as an artist, and mature stylistically.

Wait... that secret agent's name was Alan Turing? How the hell did I miss that?

Overcompensating is on something like a tangent to reality, I think. Or maybe it's more grounded in that most of the characters are real people.

My kingdom for a bottle of John Stark and a podcast.

Actually, that's probably about what it's worth...

And thus, Esoteric Wombat admits to having failed the Turing Test. Well, *a* Turing Test.

Man. Burned by a Doctor Who reference. I lose so hard

Personally, I'd expect more out of the Raven's welchian (sp?) name. I mean, if we're fascinated by Hannalore, there's got to be something in Raven's closet. Like maybe she passed the SAT with a perfect score, perhaps?

i certainly think there's more to Raven than meets the eye, and i really hope Jeph pulls some of that out in comics to come.

and, taking Pintsize into account, is it REALLY that strange that Deathbot 9000 is standing at the door demanding an apology?

and is it weird that i was actually WORRIED when i saw Faye drinking at work? like, not just concerned, or detached...but WORRIED.

mr. Jacques has his tentacles in me.

A friend of mine took a course on Magical Realism last year. Her final paper was on Batman.

I believe she got an "A" on it.

"mr. Jacques has his tentacles in me."

Man, I have been putting way too much time working on an anime con. That's all I have to say.

man, that was wrong.


tentacle attack!

damn, you probably can't post images on here. gar!

You know, I'd expect tentacles to be something you'd more likely to see in Scary Go Round. I mean, if we're equating webcomics to anime, Questionable Content is more like FLCL in potential for magical realism running amok.

Also, I'm not sure if I should be pleased or disappointed that QC has not made a spoof off of those pc vs. mac commericals. Because I was just thinking, I could see Pintsize and Winslow doing something like that. (Really, it should be pc vs. unix.)

Interesting what some workplaces manage to block out. I seem to recall that Misfile cannot be read by the armed forces, and that's a very endearing, harmless story. There's nothing offensive in it (except, perhaps, the depiction of Heaven(tm) as bogged down by red tape).

Venus Envy isn't heavy on the magic, but it does have an honest to god chicken teaching physics. And it's latest update shows utter despect for the fourth wall.

Cortland is primarily slice-of-life and workplace humour. And then all of a sudden it's taken over by Apple-based AIs trying to take over the world. And then it goes back. Matt Johnson has just forfeited the Daily Grind &c, but his is one of the few strips I follow, and'll keep following.

Pintsize, incidentally, didn't apologise.

well, it probably wouldn't be that funny in a QC setting. Tim Buckley over at CtrlAltDel did one, and it was ok, but his comic is much better suited to it.

just in format, QC would look too contrived.

Amusingly enough, today's QC involves the aforementioned Jimbo, who's moving into doing fantasy novels now. :)

Indeed. He seems to have the same sort of insightful grasp on the details of the fantasy genre that he does on the romance genre.

Personally, I'm curious about his take on SF now...

I think that the key to Magic Realism (without having actually heard of the phrase before today) is to use the fantastic elements to represent "mundane" things. PintSize is just a convenient way of combining a semi-destructive pet and an annoying roommate into the same character.

Well, yeah. The fantastic elementions in a magic-realism setting still fit into the same slots as mundane things - that's the whole point of the "realism" aspect. The interactions between characters, and between characters and the world, are substantially similar to those in real life, but the details (a robot instead of a destructive roommate, a troll instead of a goofy coworker, etc) are varied from reality to result in the fantastic setting.

Hold on. Hannelore as the Mary Richards? Hannelore? The one who's most literally crazy or at least wacky, the one who vacuums at four in the morning in hard hat and respirator? I would have figured Marten for that, just because he does seem like a normal guy. No huge issues, except of course Women Troubles. But who can blame him.

Hm. Come to think of it...I suppose I can see it, in a way. It's part of the surrealism of it, in that she's the most crazy, but in a way she's the most stable, and certainly she's the most able to say "are you crazy? Is that your problem?" Because she knows the answers to those questions for herself, and she deals with them as best she can. Everyone else is repressed.

QC as FLCL? I don't see it. FLCL is far more "out there". It doesn't even bother with the realism that much.

I was about to ask if FLCL is the one with girl with the huge sword, and the monsters that come out of nowhere. Then I realized that probably describes half of the genre.

I don't quite see the comparison between FLCL and QC, as FLCL madly hops into stylistic anarchy and QC has maintained a pretty solid grasp on its own mechanics of presentation. And while FLCL is very definitely metaphorical in its condensation of experience and everyday agonies into giant flying robots and nineteen-year-old aliens, there is still floating the possibility that it very definitely isn't metaphorical. That's where I'd sink my chips were I to go on at length about the vagaries of FLCL vs. QC.

Hmm. I'll return to lurking now, as I have a nice stock of beer in which to drown my inner nerd.

Well, really, QC is almost like Tenchi Muyo! except Martin isn't asked to fight anyone (or rule an mythical country) and Pintsize doesn't transform into an rocket ship (althrough that couch in Tuesday's episode (06.20.2006) might). But it has that sense of wackiness that FLCL really captures. (Well, I think there's a lot of wacky moments in Questionable Content.)

FLCL was a story about a young teen-aged boy who finds himself intrigued by a rather older girl (19) and his unnatural ability to produce stuff out of his head, a la Zeus giving birth to Athena. Between, the boy, his perverted father and at least two girls who seem to have a fancy for him, it's just plain weird.

Something Positive has the same level of emotional intensity as QC and the surrealism doesn't intrude on the story the way it does in Sluggy Freelance, Sluggy goes back and forth from 'adventure time' to 'normal goof-off time' and it has never really adapted to this imbalance.

Yeah, FLCL is purely fantastical while QC doesn't go overboard on the Magical Realism, aka Marquez supernatural style. If anything Gunnerkrig court does it quite well. I don't think Girl genius does, it's just steam-punk.

Leave a comment

Logo: Sleeping Snarky

Recent Entries

By the way? The Soonr™ web services ending in 'r' stop dropping the 'e' before that r, the Bettr™.
The people who brought us Pirate Bay -- the very best in organized intellectual property theft -- have launched…
Charting a Course: Star Trek Online moving forward
It's been a while, yet again, and this time I have no good reason for it. It's not illness…
I suppose this means the U.S.S. Fort Kent needs to have natural lighting in the light panels
(All pictures are screenshots taken by me while in Star Trek Online. Click on the thumbnails to get full…