fredag 31 juli 2015

The Meaning of Pluggers, part 5

Pluggers, 20150731:
Today, "Plugger" means "Man whose majority of reading consists of technical manuals".

This is some classical, sexist Pluggers that relates to what I imagine the creators originally intended with the strip, before they started playing with the definition as a goal in itself (rather than tell jokes), in order to gain a grunt of recognition from the widest readership possible.

And the message today, accordingly, is the noble blue collar worker has no time for frivolous escapism or higher education as he steadily erodes his body, his mind and his soul to feed an unsustainable capitalist system, but as long as we laugh about it instead of revolting everyone wins.

(Hey, I've never heard of a real person sharing the name of my favorite character in Community season 6, Frankie Dart. That makes her even cooler.)

Your humble critic's plugger status: Negative

torsdag 30 juli 2015

A Homestuck reread 1: In which our hero successfully exits his home, ironically

Homestuck title page, screenshot
Wait, 1982 pages before we get to the opening? Well, not quite that many, there's a number of numbers missing in between 000001 and 001982. But it does feel like we've followed our hero John through a near-epic struggle of indecipherable and counter-productive inventory systems, cryptic IM conversations, the looming threat of Dad and a small disaster involving Nanna's cremated ashes in his quest for the mythical "Sburb beta", before making it out the front door and into this heavily ominous vista of a lifeless suburban neighborhood, laden with portent and the sounds of whistling winds and distant little bells.

Funny story, I took a walk in the rain late last night, down the fields by the river where you can walk for hours without seeing another person. (All I saw in 30 minutes was a cat, from far away.) I like this town. But anyway, at exactly 0:04, I heard bells from far away. Seemingly from the direction of this several hundred years old church a little further from town, where my grandfather lies buried.

I have no idea what that was about.

So anyway, what we get so far is that this is a world with several videogame elements already in it, that John is a goofy earnest kid who loves movies and pranking and has an apparently ordinary for a teenager apprehension towards spending time with his parents. And he's not worried about how he's just accidentally locked in his Strife Specibus in Hammerkind strata. It's probably less harsh than in Scott Pilgrim, where Scott can't even own a skateboard because he thought it would be cool to pick Longsword proficiency instead.

I can't wait to get this action-packed, science-fantasy, young-adult-ensemble horror-comedy-drama-tragedy-mystery-metafiction-romance-coming of age superdimensional rescue mission on the road, can you?

I can't leave the house until my Homestuck reread is done

Homestuck, page 000001
Let's just dive right into this, while author Andrew Hussie promises "a good while" until the next update.

So, right away we're introduced to several of this comic's particularities. The utilitarian standard art style. The single-panel-with-some-text baseline format. Loyal readers immediately recognize this as well as the animated .gif art and the command line-looking prompt to proceed to the next page as the standard built up in Hussie's previous comics/interactive text adventures. The fact that the main character is about to receive a name now, on his 13th birthday, also seems like a familiar touch of whimsical surrealism.

Little do we suspect how fast and how far all of this will change. The naming convention turns out to be a surrealistic but valid and integral part of this world's culture, the nominal allowance of reader input on the story progression will soon be dropped, the function and style of the comic will fluctuate wildly.

Homestuck has been called, with care taken to specify not in the commonly used laughable sense but in the literal sense, a "multimedia experience". It uses all the tools the Internet age affords it, from Google image search to crowdsourced art and music to Flash animations - some, in fact, little videogames - to hidden links with bonus content, and a myriad of different art styles, in order to tell a story riddled with chat logs and kids who carry with them five or more computers wherever they go, while they play a very silly videogame seamlessly integrated with their absurd reality in a struggle that turns out to be a vital part of the reproductive cycle of the universe.

And then it gets a little weird and very serious.

That's my summary of the story so far. Now let's see about the details.

The Meaning of Pluggers, part 4

Pluggers, 20150730:
Today, "Plugger" means "Hoarder".

That's all there is to it really. I know hoarders, and I know people who have a sense of drama when opening presents, and I know people who appreciate good giftwrapping (the operative word being "good") and like to be careful with it, and there is a little overlap between those things. But if you need more time than your average family member to open any presents for no reason other than because you just can't spoil that five cents per yard paper with pastel colored dots on, then you're a hoarder and you should listen to the warnings of your loved ones, even if they care about your feelings so much they can only speak those warnings with smiles on their faces.

Your humble critic's plugger status: Negative

onsdag 29 juli 2015

Great comics: Saga

Saga vol. 1, panels
Saga is not the best thing Brian K Vaughan has written. After Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, expectations were sky high, and Vaughan did his best to subvert them, I believe, by going so far out of his wheelhouse he ends up in outer space.

It's a bold experiment, a hot mess. I'd even call it a glorious failure, except it doesn't actually fail on any level. Once we see it completed, it may very well surpass his masterpiece to date, Y.

I'm really just cranky because it takes so long for the books to come out.

So we've got our standard lovers-from-warring-clans Romeo & Juliet-ish scenario, except with cool spaceships, and an entire galaxy deadlocked in an unwinnable, pointless, manichaean conflict between two sides who both define the others as "animals" and cite their unforgivable transgressions as the only reasons for the war.

It's very sad and very understandable and true to life.

Especially as every single character gets portrayed as a human being, with reasonable, considered goals based on circumstances and personal history that's neither unlikely nor trite, who has ideals and hurt themselves when they fail to live up to them.

(Well, other than Marko. We have yet to find out why this trained-from-birth-by-his-fanatical-bloodthirsty-parents-and-then-the-army battlemage, who in his weaker moments reverts to chanting "kill all feathered fucks", suddenly gave himself up to the enemy as a "conscientious objector" and started preaching (and even trying to practice) pacifism. It does smell like double agent bullshit, but that's probably just what they want us to think.)

But really, there's so much great character writing going on here it's sad that these people can't get along better. At least stop killing so many of these sweet people.

My hope is that the comic will end with Hazel, the lovers' hybrid child, bringing peace to the galaxy, at least for a little bit. Though even that will probably require enormous sacrifice. This story is just not going to have a happy ending

In comic reviews it's not unusual for the critic to make an awkward segue to talk about the artwork, and that's what I'm going to have to do here. Staples' delicate lines don't really do much for me. It's commendable work, certainly. It brings the story to life and makes all its amazing space cars and monsters and sex and stuff real. Her grasp of anatomy and body language and expression is faultless; her compositions and POVs never get tired. All of this is skill we don't see enough of, even in the widest mainstream of this industry.

But sometimes she favors a more scratchy, sketchy style of linework, and I wish the whole book looked like that. It seems more personal. Give me the loose and rough and wild over the smooth and polished any day.

Final score: Ten cum-soaked first pages out of eleven.

Further panel

The Meaning of Pluggers, part 3

Pluggers, 20150729:
Today, "Plugger" means "Human person". Or so Paul Entrikin seems to think, anyway. But he also seems to think it's a mystery why someone with a stiff, worn-out back has trouble bending over, so who can really tell?

All I know is people's spines don't get shorter with age.

Anyway, please, Paul, lift with your legs. Before it's too late.

Your humble critic's plugger status: Theoretically positive

tisdag 28 juli 2015

The Meaning of Pluggers, part 2

Pluggers, 20150728:

Today, "Plugger" means "Old".

In the Pluggers hyperdictionary-in-motion of the single word "plugger" (I don't really want to call it a comic strip), the unpredictably shifting meaning often tends towards "old".One might even think of it as a default state.

But in my ongoing efforts to understand Pluggers, I've come to think it's more subtle than that. It's never just "old", or "Generation X working class" or anything so unspecific. Today's definition, for instance, implies that particularly advanced state of oldness where all one's old friends seem to die left and right.

And yet Mrs Chicken here is young enough to still deny her own mortality. She rubs out the names of her childhood friends with the fervent desire to forget them and move on, clinging to, nurturing the certainty it'll never happen to her.

I mean my mom died in 2012 and I have since copied her cell number to two new phones. It would be, as Neil Gaiman put it, too final a farewell. To let the memories fade, to try so hard to stay alive you forget why you live, forget to stay human, no. I won't do that.

Your humble critic's plugger status: Negative

måndag 27 juli 2015

Striking close to home

Homestuck page 9859, Flash animation screenshot:
In three or so years of reading this comic as it came out in a single ongoing burst of creativity unparalleled in recorded history, and one year of waiting, and the last few months of trying to remember what was happening and who any of these people were while hungrily consuming each sporadic update, for the first time in the existence of this and several other universes, I'm suddenly afraid someone could die.

That's what those insanely bright cracks in the furthest ring from all imaginable universes do, right? It's Lord English tearing apart the absolute essential foundations of reality of this many-layered world, if I remember right? Breaking shit on a scale that is completely off the charts even in this world where everyone and their frog poops out universes.

I'm thinking (Hoping) that all the bullshit and infinitely redundant resurrection methods and sliding scales of character deadness have been building towards this climax where we suddenly find out people can die as unexpectedly and completely unarguably for real as, well, real life, and the stakes go up to make this, with an absence of hyperbole so extreme hyperbole can't even convey it, literally the biggest and most important conflict ever portrayed in a work of fiction.

Those were my immediate thought upon reading/watching/listening to today's update. We're watching who I think is real live Kanaya and who if memory serves is the original, long dead Vriska, who has changed so much since she died we may say the characters are meeting for the very first time. The ideas they have of who the other person is may be less important than the time and place of their meeting, where each of them are happy just to see another person.

And they embrace and watch super-outer space fall in pieces around them.

I think.

This has always been a problem with Homestuck, at least for me. It's really hard to keep track of what's happening and triple ultra hard to keep track of the characters and their relationships with each other. The long drought of '14 did not help at all, and the constant promise of Mr Andrew Hussie wrapping up the story soon has kept me from summing the enthusiasm to go on the full week, full focus, 24/7 archive tear I'm going to need to firmly plant the details of this massive, massive story in my short term memory.

And yet I keep coming back, for moments like this.

Moments where I don't understand anything but everything seems alive and vibrant with meaning and beauty and depth.

That is the least of what Homestuck does. It engages your heart without even trying. It's a lovely and fascinating and unlikely mess that makes demands on your time and energy like newborn quadruplets and twists your heart and blows your mind like a five year old. (Not that I've ever been a parent, but some of my best friends are.) And when it's firing on all cylinders? When you let yourself get in deep and genuinely understand it, genuinely care about it? I've been trying to find a way to write a cohesive review of the comic for the past year or so but it's just too much to take in. It's like writing about the world.

Except cooler.

So, it occurs to me now this blog format is perfect. I can do a Homestuck reread, like the cool people at Tor. You can expect some irregular updates, some mindblown gibberish, some mindless fan gibbering, some hopelessly clueless misunderstandings, maybe even some hard-hitting criticisms. Does that sound good, dear reader who's reading this in some unimaginable future where all these plans have already worked out or failed?

It sounds great to me.

I miss you, Marmaduke Explained

Marmaduke, 20150727
Marmaduke teaches young men to embrace the loss of all that is wild and free in the world to give place for more Pizza Huts because it means they get to pay premium for a hot, greasy pizza dinner instead of foraging for roots and berries, and a monstrous great dane to lead them instead of finding their own way. Damn, did I just become older than Paul Anderson?

The Meaning of Pluggers, part 1

Pluggers, 20150727:

Today, "Plugger" means "Person who gets told 'Don't shoot the messenger, but I have bad news for you' and then prepares to shoot the messenger, proudly, self-righteously, without a thought to Death's maxim that those who shoot the messenger in the end only gets less mail".

Your humble critic's plugger status: Negative