On Unlikeable Characters

I find it curious that, when I ranted about Sluggy Freelance a couple months ago – or more specifically, about how unlikeable the characters had become – I heard quite a few others putting forward College Roomies From Hell as having a similar problem.

And since then, I have heard this again a few times over, and I can’t deny that it is true – but the interesting thing is that the two comics have ended up in similar situations for completely opposite reasons. For Sluggy, Pete seems to desperately want to retain a light-hearted tone with the characters. Character development threatens the classic formula of the strip, of a bunch of wacky kids – or rather, twenty-somethings that refuse to grow up – constantly getting into absurd hijinks and acting as dysfunctional as possible around each other.

He seems to have even become aware of it, in recent strips, but still unable to resist having them all act like idiots – the last few months have been filled with moments where the characters say, “Wait, why are we acting like this?” … seconds before they engage in even more juvenile behavior. Caught in this perpetual realm of immaturity, it becomes harder and harder to remotely care about their eventual fate – a death knell for a strip based on long, elaborate plotlines.

With CRFH, on the other hand, the characters have become unlikeable as an intentional part of the plot, as the early humor of the strip has given way to darker storylines and heavy bouts of angst. The characters have been driven apart from each other, and even become enemies after a fashion.

Opposite direction, same problem.

For myself, CRFH hasn’t lost me yet – while I have a hard time sympathizing with the characters, there is an overall plot to follow, and one that seems to be heading for the endgame. Even beyond that, for all that I’m not entirely sure of how I feel about the plot, it has resulted in some pretty fantastic individual scenes.

It’s a really bizarre situation. Character wise, I certainly much preferred the entire crew when they were (mostly) friends, and the petty relationship drama seemed to actually lead towards some sort of resolution. But… the path the strip has gone down was not an entirely sudden one. It might not have been obvious early on, but the elements were being set in place for the strip’s eventual focus on the fight against Satan, and the fact that such a fight wasn’t going to involve the characters remaining bright and cheerful and silly throughout.

I mean… it is right there in the name of the comic itself.

So I have to respect that. But even so, that isn’t what is keeping me reading the strip – while it may have been inevitable, the direction of the plot does somewhat rub me the wrong way at times, and it is rough seeing everyone act so… ugly, towards each other.

But the little moments make it worth staying around. There have been some very nice, very concise moments of drama, accompanied by some of the most gorgeous imagery seen in the comic – and interestingly enough, regardless of my feelings on the characters and the plot, those moments alone are strong enough to keep my attention.

There are few comics that can pull that off. I even seem to recall that this was my introduction to the comic itself – a pretty powerful newsbox led me into a certain scene in the “Gone With the Storm” arc, and that moment was enough to engage my interest. I’ll point out that it is extremely rare for me to remember exactly when or how I started reading a given webcomic – which stands as even more of a testament as to how well CRFH can make certain moments resonate in a reader’s mind.

2 responses

  1. It might be because I started reading CRFH rather late- just before the Spring Freak storyline started, I believe, but it’s actually one of my favorite comics right now. The new characters, true enough, are generally more likable then the core six. Blue is probably the most likable. And having new characters is part of it- stuff changes, people die, people go crazy. All of these elements that have been beneath the surface since day one are coming out, and now I want to see what happens next. Even if the characters aren’t, like, people you’d want to know in real life, they’re still likable and interesting. You can really know who they are, all the elements that go into their personalities, all the stuff that has happened since the script began, and understand them. Even those who might not LIKE April or Margarate these days can at least feel sorry for them.

  2. For the life of me I cannot understand why people are still reading this monstrosity of a comic. And I’m usually quite generous about comics… perhaps it’s because I’ve been here since 2000, when the comic was fun and enjoyable and even silly at times. It lost that innocence… and in doing so it lost me.

    It’s funny. I can forgive CotC its drama. I can forgive Megatokyo its drama. Heck, I eagerly forgive Girl Genius its own. But somehow… perhaps because I’d invested so much into the characters at one time… I can’t read CRfH anymore. I found I didn’t care about the characters anymore, and indeed despised what they’d become. I already disliked the way the story had gone. But with nothing else to keep my interest… I moved on.

    Rob H.

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