Where’s the laughs?

So, I was somewhat startled by a post over at MightyGodKing wherein he calls PvP to task for the hypocrisy of indulging in a drama-laden storyline after previously mocking other strips that do so.

Now, his previous commentary on PvP, which was a spot-on piece of criticism about the strip’s current lack of focus and reliance on desperate in-jokes and pop-culture references, was a very nice piece of work – and, in fact, helped fully delineate a lot of the elements that had been bothering me about the comic.

Which is why it is startling to see another post about the comic wherein I disagree entirely in pretty much every regard.

Now to be fair, there isn’t all that much to disagree with – the recent post isn’t very detailed, just a juxtaposition of two strips from the comic (one current, and one four years old), with the apparent goal of pointing out the hypocrisy of the current storyline. If that isn’t truly his intention, then I apologize in advance for assuming otherwise – see the usual disclaimer about it being hard to get a sense for what people are actually saying over the internet.

But, on the assumption that he is attempting to take Kurtz to task… well, I have to object with the examples he is using to do so.

Exhibit A, above, is where Kurtz is presumably putting down how some comics in the so-called funny pages wander into serious storylines, which can be grim and even downright depressing. But here’s the thing – while Kurtz has certainly not disguised his disdain for the majority of the newspaper comic strips, that disdain has usually fallen on the ones relying on tired, formulaic gags… comics that haven’t changed or evolved in decades. The above comic was posted back when For Better or For Worse was still considered one of the true comics of quality in the paper, when the Boondocks was one of the few to challenge the status quo.

Even beyond that, Cole puts forward in the strip the opinion that there can be a time and place for serious storylines. Not a surprising opinion, given that for all of PvP’s own reliance on gags, it has also often been driven by some significant stories built around drama and relationships – in fact, it becomes even more amusing considering that Brent (and his situation with Jade) has usually been the one at the heart of such storylines. Brent just sort of ignores the point, but it is still out there providing a voice of reason despite’s Brent’s ranting.

Is Kurtz seriously saying that comics should be nothing but simple jokes day in and day out? That the rest of the funny pages – the ones he rather universally loathes – are the ones to aspire towards?

Of course not – he’s poking some simple fun at the serious strips, sure, but doing so firmly tongue-in-cheek.

Exhibit B is the current storyline, wherein, as you can see, Cole’s marriage is falling apart. Even worse – it is happening right while Brent and Jade are in the midst of planning their own wedding. Sure, this is drama-heavy territory… but I also would contend it is the best Kurtz has been in months.

Despite the drama, the punchlines have actually been funny. I mean, sure, Brent finding out he has no legitimate reason to be pissed at Cole, and thus becoming all the more pissed, isn’t some powerful new form of humor than will redefine the genre – but it is rock solid in characterization and easily got a laugh out of me. And most of the strips in the storyline have been the same – competent and humorous strips that have also advanced the plot. As compared to just another round of pop-culture references, or trying to find yet another way to work in a panda attack, or a well-meaning but ultimately weak storyline about Shecky the troll.

Honestly? The time to take Kurtz to task for any supposed hypocrisy about “serious issues” was in 2005, when we had Jade suddenly worried she might be pregnant, and Brent trying to deal with the possibility of being a dad.

Which – guess what – despite only being two weeks long, was possibly the best storyline PvP has ever had.

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13 responses

  1. It’s funny, I’ve always linked Cole to be closer to Scott’s voice than anyone else in the script, so, reading that first strip, I even see it more as ‘It’s perfectly fine for a comic strip to do this’ while Brent, who I never really heard as Scott’s voice, either a friend or possibly just Scott’s inner child coming out, thinks that ‘No, these are called funnies, they should be funny, and all the serious stuff reminds me that the world itself is a serious place with both funny and serious.’

    But maybe that’s me.

  2. The time Brent though he nocked up Jade was way more dramatic and lacked jokes. This at least has jokes and Brent telling Jade to be naked and holding his dinner when he comes home.

  3. I just think the man is experimenting with his comic and pushing it’s boundaries, delving into each character. While this may be hit or miss with some I appreciate the effort and so far have been a fan. Also the more Francis becomes a secondary character the more I like it. Also this is why I like webcomics, the creators are usually willing to take a risk.

  4. The most serious storyline in PvP history was definitely Brent dealing with the possibility of becoming a father – and it was definitely the greatest storyline too (maybe close to the one where Jade and Brent get back together on 2003 New Year’s Eve, but better). But I would not consider it as an incosistent digression, rather as a momentary pulse of poetry that any artist must follow, even when he’s the comedy kind. It’s the same in acting, too: what turns a great comedian into a great actor is a deeper role. Take Jim Carrey, nobody would say he is not funny any more because he acted in Majestic – the same goes on with Pvp.

    I’d not even say that the current storyline is Pvp’s Majestic. It’s more a sort of Truman show, or Bruce Almighty: funny, punchy and laugh-until-I-cry while serious and deep at moments.

  5. It’s easy to hate on Kurtz, and roll your eyes at PvP. 99% of this reaction has been well earned.

    But, Kurtz hasn’t been done anything to earn it in this case… nor has he earned any hate for quite some time as far as I know… so it strikes me that it’s just some residual hate for one of Scott’s past transgressions getting aired out.

    On the web, attentions are short term, but hate is eternal since it’s so habitual.

    It’s the core nature of web “culture”.

  6. Yeah, I am in agreement with Baltch regarding Kurtz’s willingness to experiment – as a comic that does follow the same format as many of the formulaic newspaper strips, it could easily risk falling into that same stretch of mediocrity. (And, indeed, there may have been periods where it has.)

    But Kurtz seems one of the more determined webcomic creators to not simply resign himself to that fate, despite the fact his success could allow him to do so – he toys with the dynamics of the strip, the style of the strip, and occasionally with the characters themselves. While it isn’t as extreme as some other webcomics, managing to take those risks on something that is already a proven success is definitely worth recognition.

  7. William – while your words are certainly true, I’m not sure if this situation is really rooted in any residual fall-out from Scott’s past drama.

    On the other hand, I think you have hit rather close to the mark – namely, that once someone starts to view a comic with disdain, it becomes hard not to bash it. Even when, perhaps, it wouldn’t be legitimate to do so.

    Even if the hate isn’t personal, it is exactly as you said – habitual. I know I’ve been guilty of the same regarding certain comics – I have a hell of a hard time viewing Ctrl+Alt+Del or Least I Could Do in an unbaised light.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if it is the same thing at play here.

  8. Damn, I teared up a little re-reading that pregnancy storyline!

  9. Man, I can’t believe people need this stuff laid out for them…
    and I wonder why I don’t read blogs

  10. […] has been lately, and how blah this and blah that, and waaaah.  The two most relevant are this and this, posted in the authors blog on the PVP […]

  11. It’s really kind of sad how much time and effort people are putting into this issue. It’s a freaking web comic people. I look at them, maybe I laugh, maybe I don’t, then I close the window and get back to my life. The sun doesn’t rise or fall with PVP, Real Life, Penny Arcade or the multitude of other crap that is out there. If you’re looking for quality literature, art and entertainment, you might want to try a different medium than one that tries to get it’s message across in four panels.

    I’ve always been more than happy with PVP and Scott. Look, he’s occupying anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute of my life each day. Given the that is all the time that Scott has to make me laugh, and possibly think a little bit, and if he can achieve that goal 3 – 4 times a week, I think that’s a pretty good success rate.

    And MGK? Get off your high horse. Who made you the bastion of critical commentary?

  12. Hey, if you don’t think that a webcomic can be Serious Business, I suppose I can’t convince you – but I’ve definitely found some of them that would qualify as quality entertainment – and storyarcs like the pregnancy one above stand as a testament of that fact.

    Am I saying reading this comic is a life-defining experience? Of course not. But there are plenty of webcomics that do go beyond simple humor, and the entire point of this site – and similar ones – is to give some recognition to that fact.

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