I noticed, the other day, a rather cool fan-made video that Penny Arcade posted on their site. Specifically, it was the Armadeaddon storyline being put to music – which turned out pretty well for being a collection of still frame images.
The storyline itself is perhaps Penny Arcade’s greatest foray into continuity – being not only a whopping nine strips long (which is an entire epoch as they classify such things), but also containing all manner of references to characters and events from their past.
It also happens to be the storyline that contained the one single panel that I simply couldn’t read.
It wasn’t that it was too gruesome or violent or offensive in any way.
No, I simply couldn’t parse what it was trying to show me. The exhibit is to your right – a simple image of Tycho reaching into his pants (no, not like that) to withdraw a d20 with which to combat his foe.
I spent five full minutes staring at the panel, when first it appeared, without understanding what I was seeing.
Eventually the color scheme of his shirt and the context of the surrounding panels tipped me off. But until then, my mind simply couldn’t figure it out – was it a fist reaching out of the ground from below? A gaping maw grinning wickedly?
For whatever reason, I couldn’t make sense of it – and this was from Gabe, one of the top artists in webcomics.
In the end, images are just a collection of lines and shapes that are designed to evoke some specific image in our thoughts. And, sometimes, it doesn’t quite work. We see it with kids all the time: “My, what a pretty horsie!” “…it’s supposed to be a fighter jet, mom.”
And, occasionally, it happens to me in some webcomic or another. One image gets parsed as another, and even once I figure out what it is supposed to be, it is a challenge to get my mind to stop reading it as whatever form it originally decided the image represented.
And sometimes, even with the best of commics, it can’t parse the image at all, and can’t read it as anything more than a collection of shapes and colors.
Nothing more, and nothing less.