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Eric: Perfectly consistently characterized doormat

Questionable Content

(From Questionable Content. Click on the thumbnail for full sized grand pussing out, there, Marten.)

It is not outside the realm of possibility that Marten is just plain spineless. Or, what once was called a milquetoast.

Seriously, a milquetoast. It came from a comic strip that ran from the twenties to the fifties called "His Timid Soul," by the seminal American cartoonist Harold Webster. Webster's strips were sneaky -- they seemed very mild and gentle, but they were inevitably downright brutal, especially to the lead character, Caspar Milquetoast, who was a meek little doormat who was more than happy to capitulate rather than make a fuss, even if it meant he got beat down.

And here we are, eighty years later. Hi Marten. Meet Caspar. You two have a lot in common.

Ellen has moved to a new role in the pantheon of Jeph Jacques characters: the full on bitch. Which likely stems from her youth and inexperience compared to the rest of the cast, mind. If you came in late, Ellen broke up with Steve, Marten's friend, rather callously. Not long after that, the Vespavenger showed up to exact violent vengeance against Steve -- only to be disturbed to discover that Ellen had in fact broken up with Steve, and not the other way around. And now, the next day, we see that Ellen (who if the timeline is as I think it is, from above, made her date the same day she dumped Steve. When she was called on this, she equated it to the laborious Faye/Marten/Dora situation -- Faye told Marten she would not be going out with him, so Marten went with Dora -- and called Marten a hypocrite.

And Marten agreed.

Because he is a milquetoast.

It goes almost without saying that the situations are nothing alike -- it's not Apples and Oranges, even. We're talking Apples and Formica here. Marten didn't dump Faye. If anything, he had his heart broken and moved into the rebound. He then discussed it with Faye. And then Dora discussed it with Faye. And then Faye went home, and Marten and Dora talked for days while she dealt with things back there, and then she came back, entered therapy, and there was lots more discussing of the situation on all sides. Not only wasn't Marten callous to Faye, he treated her so gently in the situation that he practically encased her in a plastic germ free bubble.

Now, Ellen's vastly less mature than the other cast members. We saw it before, when she got so clingy with Steve she was naming children. We see it here now. And it wouldn't surprise me in the least to learn Ellen intentionally called upon the Vespavenger for some imagined slight.

As a side note? This is why vigilanteism doesn't work. Especially when it's two-stroke engine powered.

The problem isn't Ellen being a bitch, however. The problem is, Marten just curled up and took it. He was so ready to be in the wrong and feel guilty that he totally folded his hand and slunk off. And has the audacity to call her smug self-justification 'uncomfortable-truth-jitsu.'

Well, sorry. This ain't truth-jitsu. This was Ellen making random gestures she saw on a Jackie Chan movie and Marten mistaking her for a ninja. More to the point, this is Marten so ready and willing to be wrong that he'll fold not just on himself but on Steve, on Dora, and even on this new guy Chris, who's no doubt going to end up in the same kind of crap Steve was.

Is this a knock on Jacques? Not in the least. It's actually pretty hard to write a character who in one sense is a pretty cool dude and in another sense is a total milquetoast. Marten's being perfectly consistently characterized here. So's Ellen for that matter.

You know. He's just a perfectly consistently characterized doormat.

Harold Webster would be into this.

Posted by Eric Burns-White at October 24, 2006 10:30 PM


Comment from: Abby L. [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 12:15 AM

That's definitely true. Martin definitely has a problem with not having a spine, but it's something he doesn't seem to notice, especially considering the kinds of people he associates himself with. Although Dora seems to be doing him at least a little bit of good, trying to get involved with Faye, especially at the time, was just a horrible idea.

But I do find it impressive how realistic his characters are, I know people just like that in real life. :)

Comment from: Klein [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 12:33 AM

It's really too bad that Jacques basically said the exact same stuff you did, in a comic posted mere hours afterwards.

Even up to using the apples and oranges line.

Comment from: Aerin [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 12:33 AM

It's not really surprising that Marten doesn't have much in the way of spinage. When his mom (a professional dominatrix) came to visit, Dora commented that he tends to surround himself with strong, confident, and often domineering women. Marten doesn't really stand up for himself, because Faye will beat anyone who wrongs him into a bloody pulp. (Remember when she threw milk in his ex-girlfriend's face?)

It's also worth noting that Tai completely calls him on his bullshit in today's comic, using exactly the same reasons that Eric does.

Also, Oh No Robot makes it so much easier to track down the proper links for these comments.

Comment from: Eric Burns [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 12:45 AM

It's really too bad that Jacques basically said the exact same stuff you did, in a comic posted mere hours afterwards.

Too bad? I'm psyched. ;)

Seriously -- if I came away from yesterday's strip with that reaction, and he then validates it in today's strip, that means more than anything else that Jacques is telling exactly the story he's trying to tell, and he's conveying his intent really, really well. And it always thrills me to see someone doing this that well.

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 1:04 AM

Man, it's great when I feel a certain way about a comic, and then I find other people who felt the exact same way, too. I got to the end of this comic thinking, "uncomfortable truth? Bullshit!" Marten's been spineless before, but it's usually been regarding Faye, who, well, had problems of her own, and would inevitably need to hurt someone until she decided to face them. In that situation, Marten's accommodating nature (to put it in a nice way) probably saved his friendship several times. Now, though, Jacques seems to be putting Marten's back to the wall. The worst thing about people like Marten is that if they are insulted, not only will they take the insult, they'll believe it. It's going to be interesting to see what this comic does to his relationship with Dora.
One other thing this comic made me realize: Marten and Faye are attracted opposites, people whose personalities are so extreme in different ways that only they could be compatible with one another. Yeah, I know, I should have seen this awhile ago, especially in a comic that runs the gamut of Romantic Comedy Cliches, right down to the main characters having jobs they attend basically whenever they feel like it, but my attention was elsewhere, and sometimes I need stuff spelled out for me. One other thing I realized, however, is that Jacques is not going to keep it that way. Marten and Faye are going to have to progress to some kind of middle ground before anything is able to happen between them, and the knowledge that they're just starting to do that 700+ strips in has me excited about where Jacques is taking this.

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 1:07 AM

And one other thing I just realized is that I begin sentences with the phrase "one other thing I realize" way too often.

Comment from: Dave Menendez [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 2:24 AM

I don't know how much of a bitch Ellen is being. Maintaining a long-distance relationship from a deep-sea submarine sounds like it would be tough, and Steve did say some nasty things to her (and she to him).

Sending the Vespavenger (if she was responsible) would be pretty bitchy, though.

I guess I'm just making excuses because I liked Ellen in her previous appearances.

Comment from: Prodigal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 2:30 AM

I liked Ellen in her previous appearances, as well, but the way Not-Steve was hanging off her waist indicates that she was probably seeing Not-Steve behind Steve's back even before she dumped him.

Comment from: Ford Dent [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 6:59 AM

Not only that, but Not-Steve's reaction to the news of there even being a Steve implies that Ellen didn't bother telling Not-Steve about Steve.

Comment from: Merus [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 7:20 AM

Oh, now you're in trouble, Burns. You keep 'updating your blog' and 'writing intelligent thing about webcomics' and bam! People will be all over you expecting you to do it again.

(Because we are flies to your sweet, sweet honey.)

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 7:44 AM

I had a whole bit about how Marten may be a milquetoast, but I didn't think this was an example of it, because Ellen gave Marten a guilt NMI...but then Jeph beat me to it.

So I'm just posting this because I like the phrase "guilt NMI."

Comment from: Zachary [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 11:35 AM

This inspired to re-read some old QC strips, and within the first 34 strips I found some very interesting things! The first is how well Jacques can create humor through consistent, realistic characters: http://questionablecontent.net/view.php?comic=30
What a wonderful insight! What a fantastic setup!

I also found a delicious bit of foreshadowing regarding Sarah:

He knew where this story was going since almost the very beginning of the strip. Amazing.

Comment from: Pooga [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 11:44 AM

A "guilt NMI"?

A guilt Neuromagnetic Imaging?
A guilt Nautical Mile?
A guilt Non-Maskable Interrupt?
A guilt N-Methylimidazole?
A guilt NSF Middleware Initiative?
A guilt No Middle Initial?

I'm going to NMI (Need More Information).

Comment from: siwangmu [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 3:13 PM

A guilt Nutbar Monkey Indigo! I love those things.

Also, I've always loved the term milquetoast and never knew its origin. Its origin is awesome! (so thanks)

Comment from: Will "Scifantasy" Frank [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 3:23 PM

Non-Maskable Interrupt, sorry. A priority override. Hitting way below the belt in a way that can't be ignored or overcome.

Comment from: Pooga [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 25, 2006 4:35 PM

Actually, as soon as I came to that entry in the surprisingly long list of choices, I was like "duh!", but I decided to be obtuse in the name of humor. :)

It's especially bothersome to me that I had to look it up because I used to have a licence plate that started with "NMI", and I always remembered it as "Non-Maskable Interupts 2, 3 and 7". It's the only plate # I've had that I could remember without looking at my car.

Sadly, after using their bicentennial plates for close to 20 years, the state has decided to issue new plate designs every few years. This means unless you have personalized plates you get new numbers. :(

Comment from: Dragonmuncher [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 26, 2006 1:41 AM

Hm... brilliant characterization, or did he post the milquetoast strip, see everyone going "Whaaaaa? Nuh-uh!" and then decide, "yeah, it IS pretty different! Never mind!"

I'm going to go with the former, if only because I have a soft spot for people with alliterative names.

Comment from: Kaychsea [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 26, 2006 5:06 AM

OOOOH! You dissed Batman!

Comment from: Snipergirl [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 28, 2006 1:51 AM

Actually, I totally disagree. Marten has no idea what Ellen's side of the story is- from the looks of things it seems as if there's more to that story than meets the eye... and he was well out of line jumping on her like that.

And what Marten did to Faye- immediately going and dating her BEST FRIEND for crying out loud after having her open up to him and talk to him about something very personal and traumatic and say that she couldn't deal with a relationship for now- was pretty inconsiderate and shit.

At the end of the day, Marten has a guilty conscience, and he knows that a great deal of what Ellen says is true. He jumped ship at a particularly inappropriate time because he couldn't deal with the idea of waiting- maybe that conforms to "relationship rules" but it's still not a nice thing to do at all.

Comment from: Thomas Blight [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 28, 2006 11:15 AM

Snipergirl: I disagree completely. Marten knows what Ellen said to Steve -that she was dumping him because she was stationed on a deep-sea research vessel the next semester- and he knows she then immediately went out with another guy. (The guy approached her though, so she's not as far wrong as she could've been)

Faye told Marten she didn't want him to wait for her to be willing to be in a relationship. She shot him down. Then her best friend made a move on him. You may say this is pretty hurtful to Faye and such, but it's of her own doing. She and Dora had already discussed it and knew that as soon as Faye stepped out of the way Dora would step in. How is this inconsiderate of Marten? One girl he likes can't be in a relationship with him. Another girl likes him. Would it be more considerate for Faye if he rejected Dora?

Yes, Marten has a guilty conscience, but that's because it's what Marten does; he feels guilty about getting what he wants. Jumping the ship because he didn't want to wait is different from being told not to wait. He was willing to wait for Faye. This is being told to jump the ship by the captain, not jumping the ship at the first sign of danger.

Definitely not the same situation.

You know it's going to be really awkward, considering Marten's in a band with her room mate, and they live in the same building.

Comment from: Denyer [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 28, 2006 7:46 PM

what Marten did to Faye- immediately going and dating her BEST FRIEND for crying out loud after having her open up to him"

...and say that she doesn't feel in any position to have a relationship with him, nor at all speculate on a timeframe. Because Faye's about a decade older than a lot of the QC readership, and wouldn't consider it fair to string someone along.

Over time, the thing people tend to want most for those they care about is to see them happy.

Comment from: Prodigal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 30, 2006 3:40 AM

And what Marten did to Faye- immediately going and dating her BEST FRIEND for crying out loud after having her open up to him and talk to him about something very personal and traumatic and say that she couldn't deal with a relationship for now...No, what she said was that she didn't know if she would ever be capable of a relationship with him. And that he shouldn't wait for her to be, either. So no, he had nothing whatsoever to be guilty about.

And Thomas? The only evidence for Not-Steve having approached Ellen is Ellen saying that it happened that way. And as her attack on Marten proves, her say-so and the truth are not necessarily congruent.

Comment from: nedlum [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 30, 2006 4:08 PM

Giving Ellen the best possible benefit of the doubt (which is a hobby of mine) is saying that Steve may have been less than forthright, which would hardly be Marten's fault. And while Steve may be an idiot at times, I don't think he's shown himself to being a liar.

Admittedly, I'm not sure that Marten would have been justified in attacking Ellen, new beau or not, had the Vespavenger not entered the picture.

Comment from: Thomas Blight [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 30, 2006 6:11 PM

Ah, but Ellen never lies when confronting Marten, so we can assume at least a bit of truthfulness. She never says that he dumped Faye, just chose to interpret it in a way that paints Marten in the wrong (Also, she probably is not that well acquainted to the conditions of the Marten-Faye-Dora trifecta)

She says Chris (Not-Steve, as some people call him) asked her out. I admit, she could've been aggressively flirting with him and trying to get him to ask her out (Such a thing is commonplace in real life) but we can only make the best of the data we're given.

also, your blockquote got screwed up. It's a little confusing.

Anyone mind telling me what's going on with Dora-Faye-Marten right now? This "sneaky plan" of theirs is confusing me. (As to its possible purpose, I mean)

Comment from: Prodigal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 30, 2006 6:24 PM

I hate it when I don't close the tags properly.

As for Ellen? She might actually believe that there's any equivalency between her situation and Marten's, but if that's the case then the only thing it means is that she's fooling herself, rather than consciously lying about it. Either way, the parallel she's trying to draw does not exist.

Comment from: elvedril [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 30, 2006 7:24 PM


I don't know for sure, but I'm guessing that the idea is to draw out the avenger and confront her. I'm hoping that Faye has a more detailed plan that that, since as described the plan seems to end with Marten's face being beautified by tire marks...

Comment from: Doug Wykstra [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 31, 2006 10:37 AM

According to today's strip, you were right, elvedril. Faye is trying to lure out the Vespavenger and she is also prepared for it. Can't wait to see how this turns out.

And Snipergirl- I don't mean to dogpile on the reaction to your comment, but I would like to point out something that hasn't been pointed out before: You said that Marten "jumped ship at a particularly inappropriate time because he couldn't deal with the idea of waiting-" but that's incorrect. Marten was willing to wait. Look at Comic 508, panel 3 if you don't believe me. And in Comic 509, Faye made Marten say he would "Try [his] best not to keep [his] romantic life in a holding pattern" while Faye gets her problems sorted out. Considering that Marten is doing exactly what Faye asked of him (and is spending almost as much time with Faye as he was before he and Dora were dating), I don't think it's fair to say that Marten and Ellen's situations are anything resembling synonymous.

Comment from: Ferrous Buller [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at October 31, 2006 4:38 PM

In Ellen's defense:
- We've only heard Steve's side of the story; but, by his own admission, he didn't handle things very well. Ellen made what she thought was a sensible decision; Steve took it rather harshly, especially considering how he wigged out on her when she got too clingy. Rather than discuss things maturely, they have a big fight; seems to me there's blame enough to go around for that breakup.
- Marten was surprisingly (and IMHO unfairly) harsh with Ellen the first time he sees her after the breakup. You give someone that kinda treatment, you should expect the same in kind.
- Ellen seems surprised when Marten mentions the VespAvenger; and the implication in today's strip is that VA just prowls around looking for assholes to jump. So it's quite possible Ellen didn't sic VA on Steve, but that VA was acting on her own, in which case Marten owes her an apology for that accusation. [As does Eric, if I'm right. :-]
- We've already seen before that Ellen rebounds fast: whether you think this means she's resilent or merely shallow, no impropriety on her part has necessarily occured, apart from the rapidity with which she gets another date. And really, what's the mandatory grace period for rebound dates?

Bottom line: Marten was more than a bit of an ass to Ellen, she got angry and defensive and lashed out at him with the most obvious weapon lying around. Maybe she's wrong in her assessment of the Marten-Faye-Dora dynamic, but he was outta line for tearing into her without hearing her out. And trying to sabotage her date right outta the gate like that? Not cool. He earned himself a kick in the shins for that, as far as I'm concerned.

Comment from: Prodigal [TypeKey Profile Page] posted at November 2, 2006 12:47 AM

At the time that Marten sees Ellen with Not-Steve in the library it's what, two days after she dumped Steve? That goes past just rebounding fast, and into deserving everything Marten said, and more.

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