Second on the list of today’s rants: Sluggy Freelance.
There are a lot of people that want Sluggy to go back to how it use to be – though, personally, I think that exact goal is a large part of the comic’s current failings.
There are also those who are frustrated with how far we’ve regressed from That Which Redeems, both in regards to the epic scope of events, as well as to the apparent maturation of the characters that has vanished like dust in the wind.
There are even those who think things need to head towards a conclusion, a tidying up of storylines and loose ends, and a culmination of all that has come before, rather than allowing things to die with but a gradually fading sigh.
Right now, I’m not too worried about that. Right now, my one true request of the strip – the one thing I really, genuinely desire…
Is for the strip to stop actively trying to convince me the main characters are the most unsympathetic beings in the universe.
Let’s dial back the clock a few weeks, and take a look at strips, and the punchlines thereof, one-by-one.
Oct 29: Gwynn is an idiot, and shallow.
Oct 30: Gwynn is an idiot, and shallow, and bitchy.
Oct 31: Gwynn is an idiot, and shallow, and bitchy.
Nov 1: Gwynn is… oh, you know, see previous.
Nov 2: Zombies are idiots. Hey! Score one for the good guys.
Nov 3: Random filler.
Nov 4: Random filler.
Nov 5: Gwynn and Zoe are shallow, and bitchy. Oh yes, and idiots.
Nov 6: See above.
Nov 7: Gwynn is really an idiot.
Nov 8: Changing the pace up by dragging back out a joke that wasn’t funny the first time it was made.
Nov 9: A bunch of exposition, followed by characters momentarily acting like decent human beings… followed by Riff and Torg acting like shallow idiots.
Nov 10: Random filler.
Nov 11: Random filler.
Nov 12: Characters briefly sharing a touching moment… followed by Torg being a shallow idiot.
Nov 13: Riff is a jerk. Aylee is a plot device.
Nov 14: Gwynn is jealous, and it is fun to laugh at blind people.
…look, I don’t ask for much. And I know that, in the end, the characters being idiots has been a time-honored tradition of Sluggy Freelance. I know that having characters with genuine human flaws goes a long way towards connecting with the audience, and has been one of the factors that has allowed the strip to go through some of its more powerful arcs.
But there needs to be something to sympathize with, too. And having day after day of being shown how wretched these people are… how much they fail as friends, as workers, as human beings… all it really does is push me away.
And, yes, it does sting worse because Torg has been through That Which Redeems, Zoe has been through Fire and Rain, Gwynn has been through The Bug, the Witch, and the Robot, Riff has had Dangerous Days – and I don’t think it is a coincedence that these are easily among the best Sluggy storylines, and also the ones that have featured genuine character growth.
Character growth that, unfortunately, gets thrown out the window as soon as it becomes convenient to do so.
I understand why. I mean, Pete Abrams makes a living off this strip. He was among the earliest webcomics to do so (if not the first), and the strip is a vital means of supporting his family. And the strip has, for ten years, been about a bunch of idiots who get involved in crazy adventures. And regardless of all the baggage they’ve accumulated, all the growth that they have undergone… he needs to preserve the strip the way it has been, all this time. Stick to the formula, to what he knows works, and it will continue to do what he needs it to do.
He got burned, heavily, with Oceans Unmoving… and I think he learned the wrong lesson from it. Don’t deviate, is what he heard, don’t experiment. But what people really wanted was to continue the story with the characters they liked before diving into something new and unknown.
I don’t think Sluggy Freelance needs to end. For a time, I did – but comics, just like characters, can grow without needed to come to an end. I think there are plenty more years of life left in the strip. I’d like to see some things resolved, yes, and I’d like to see characters that actually reflect the struggles they have been through…
…but right now, all I’m asking for is to be tossed a bone. I’m not even going to ask for Pete to make me like the characters again – just don’t make me dislike them! The punchline for every strip shouldn’t be how much they fail at being worthwhile human beings! That’s all I’m asking for – I don’t expect you to make them into geniuses or have them suddenly outgrow all their character flaws.
Just don’t rub my face in those flaws day after day, strip after strip, to the exclusion of all else. Temper the flaws with some understanding, balance the humor more evenly, overcome the need to break the characters down into one-note jokes.
I’ve always said that Sluggy, among all the comics out there, is the one I will always have faith in. This is a strip that has gone through dull stretches and come back strong. So I’m willing to keep reading, and keep waiting, and see where the strip is going to go… as long as you don’t make me hate the characters.
Because once I’ve lost all faith in them, and all the investment that has been built up with them after all these years… well, then there’s no more reason for me to keep reading, whether the story improves or not.