I’m returning from my week off with a bunch of ranting on a few things that have been bothering me. Tomorrow, I’ll get back to posting some of the highlights I’ve recently been impressed by in webcomics, but for today, whining is the word of the day.
First off: PvP. The latest story-arc dealt with video games. I don’t have any real problems with this, and while the storyline itself didn’t really blow me away, it wasn’t terrible, either. What bothered me was the fact that the strip can’t do anything involving video games without mentioning how it’s no longer about video games.
The problem is this: pulling out the same tired jokes you’ve made a dozen times before? Not funny. Look, I understand, I really do – coming up with new, interesting and entertaining jokes day after day for ten years is, strangely enough, a difficult task. But you need to resist the temptation to just phone it in, and lately, Scott Kurtz seems to be doing just that.
There are only so many times you can use a joke before it gets old. The funny thing is, this is a lesson he seemed to have learned some time ago, with the Giant Panda. The joke went as follows – Brent is tricked into saying the word Panda in some fashion, and a Giant Panda appears from nowhere to maul him. A decent gag the first few times, then it grew tired – so Kurtz switched things up. He kept the Panda around, but produced him in clever new situations, changing the rules of the game as needed to keep it interesting.
Unfortunately, now he seems to be dipping into his bag of tricks at every turn – and often this ‘meta-humor’ commentary on the strip itself – and it really just falls flat.
I mean, what the hell is this?
Some folks apparently complained about Kurtz drawing himself as skinnier than he used to be, but I’ve got no problem with that – keeping his avatar’s appearance dynamic and updated is all to the good.
But in what universe, rather than actually writing the strip, is a remotely acceptable alternative to call someone up and jot down the ensuing conversation? That’s bogus. Even if the first and last panels were remotely funny – which, really, they aren’t – take a look at panels two and three.
It’s simply small talk. Not small talk being used in an interesting fashion, or to reveal something about the characters, or anything else – no, he just wrote down some chatter with his dad, and felt it was a reasonable replacement for a strip.
(And I suppose there is the possibility this isn’t a transcript of a phone call at all, but instead was deliberately written by Kurtz. Which, frankly, would be in many ways worse.)
I mean, I get the feeling Kurtz himself thinks it must be hilarious, so I’m willing to let it slide when he throws up his latest anecdote about something his father said. But when he actively goes in search of some artificially funny humor – and pads it with what might as well be a discussion of the weather, then I feel he’s letting his readers down.
In the end, I’m tempted to say the problem with PvP is that it updates every day of the week. I know Kurtz can be funny – I wouldn’t be reading the strip if that wasn’t true. But I get the sense he’s burnt out with the pace of the strip, and has no excuse but to resort to the same tired old laughs day in and day out – whether they are his own running gags or a reliance on inserting movie references.
And I know that trimming the strip down to three updates a week isn’t remotely an option – he’s built up an expectation for a certain level of output, and it is hard to step back from that. The momentum itself gives the strip strength. Penny Arcade once said, regarding another webcomic I have never actually read, that “people will pass up steak once a week for crap every day.” And they are right – even the most brilliant weekly comic has trouble finding an audience, compared to those that can produce a regular update every day.
I respect Kurtz’s work, and I like his strip, but I think he really needs to find something original, something that can revitalize what he’s doing, or he’s going to go straight down the same route of all the strips in the funny paper he has so often disdained.