Don’t worry, the webcomic reviews should return to Tuesday after this.

(From Penny Arcade. Click for full-sized infinite Tigers.)

Because of time constraints, low battery power, and the fact my first attempt at this post got lost partly because of my own stupidity, this post will be an experiment in shorter webcomic reviews.

Penny Arcade is, by almost any measure, the most popular primarily-web-based comic in history. Millions of people peruse it every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, and who knows how many of them have tried their own knockoffs of the PA formula. Jerry Krahulik and Mike Holkins often do promotional work for actual big time game companies and their actual games. “Gabe and Tycho” have created more memes than anyone this side of xkcd (Greater Internet F**kwad Theory, anyone?) and managed to channel their many readers’ efforts into their Child’s Play charity. They’ve even started their own gaming convention, the Penny Arcade Expo, on the backs of their wildly successful comic strip, further establishing their bona fides as among the most powerful people in the video game industry.

And for the life of me I can’t figure out why.

Now I’ve only read a couple weeks’ worth of strips and almost nothing outside of this year, so maybe the strip has jumped the shark and I just missed all the good strips. But Penny Arcade, in a lot of ways, reminds me of xkcd, in that I don’t know what to make of it. Many strips, like with xkcd, feel like little more than moments in time; Gabe and Tycho famously disdain continuity, and in fact are really the only two recurring characters. Often their strips are like editorial cartoons for the game industry, except they tend to be laden with injokes and sometimes are incomprehensible without the accompanying blog post. I don’t know if I’m in a position to appraise the writing, but the art… isn’t bad, and it’s certainly better than most PA knockoffs (then again, so is Ctrl+Alt+Del‘s art), but it isn’t spectacular either. On the rare occasions when the strip does dip into continuity, they can lack flow even with the blog post. (So, exactly what did happen to Tycho between these two strips?) Some strips feel like they’re missing a panel, or crammed into one panel too few, or fall flat for other reasons.

If you go to the Penny Arcade home page, you’re not taken to the comic but to the daily blog post. I can’t help but wonder if this is the real core of Penny Arcade‘s popularity; if most of the site’s readers come in not for the strip, but for Gabe and Tycho’s various musings on the goings-on of the video game industry, including the occasional video game review. Which makes it odd that Gabe and Tycho are so often held up by webcomic boosters as an example of All That’s Right with webcomics, when their strip may well be mediocre at best and probably isn’t the main draw to the site. Their praise may just encourage PA knockoffs who actually do a better job than they’re often given credit for of aping the PA style and quality, but don’t really get it, and don’t really grasp why PA is so popular, even having perfunctory blogs but letting the strip drive the blog rather than the blog drive the strip.

Of course, on the other hand, the geeknerd core audience of many a webcomic tends to like semi-surreal rule-breaking things. I guess it’s up to people like me to point non-geek webcomic shoppers to strips that are actually doing good things with the form like Order of the Stick.

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