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Do you suppose Jeff Darlington wishes I'd just "you had me and you lost me" GPF and be done with it? Alternately, do you suppose he even knows I exist?

(From General Protection Fault. Click on the thumbnail for full sized ENORMOUS SHOES!)

So. We're still on a Nick and Ki storyline with GPF, which means I still don't much care. Only there's more to it, and it kind of crystalized for me while reading today's strip. Or more to the point, looking at today's strip.

I should point out for the record: I liked the Fooker plot that came before this one. And I'm hopeful that there's Fooker, Sharon and/or Dexter goodness to come. This is why I'm still here. But while we're treading water through the "Nick and Ki enact the transparent sitcom plot" storyline, I've been trying to analyze just why this doesn't just bore me, but actively bothers me. And then it hit me.

Darlington made a play for the Cerebus Syndrome. But when it failed, it didn't devolve into First and Ten Syndrome. It went somewhere else. I need a new crappy pop culture reference.

(You can pause for a moment, and check the Lexicon for definitions of "Cerebus Syndrome" and "First and Ten Syndrome." This will also give those who hate these terms a chance to do some deep breathing exercises, then decide they still hate them. I might not be responsive to criticism, but at least I'm willing to give a moment to let it fester. All set? Cool. Carry on.)

The incumbent danger of failing at Cerebus Syndrome is, rather that developing your formerly Funny-based strip into a delicately nuanced and sophisticated Story-based strip, you end up making it cheap pathos because cheap pathos is easier than maintaining the Funny -- which we call First and Ten Syndrome. (Despite my continued love of Queen of Wands, QoW is the strip most in danger of First and Ten Syndrome these days. You don't know how much I dreaded seeing we were going into another flashback sequence, this time from the last character who's designed more to be fun than unhappy left. But hope springs eternal.) And GPF certainly took a shot at Cerebus Syndrome. A very palpable shot. The extended news posts and FAQ entries during Surreptitious Machinations insisting that the Funny would return, he swore, just give it some time was testament to that.

Well, Darlington didn't pull it off. He didn't reach Cerebus Syndrome. Which is fine. Most people don't when they try it. Only you can't call him in First and Ten, either. He doesn't throw in cheap pathos to avoid trying for the Funny. But what he has reached doesn't work, and today's strip really epitomizes why.

On the surface, it's an innocuous enough strip. Oh, sure, my Idealized Geek Girl senses start tingling when we discover that the easily-mistaken-for-a-supermodel-unix-hacker-gamer-grrl Ki is also an expert golfer, but what the hey. Golf is moderately esoteric for the geek population (Gabe notwithstanding), so that could be chalked up as interesting character development. Or, you know, uninteresting character development. You milage may vary. And yes, we have the continually scowling father figure there, to provide us with "chances for big comedy," because God knows this whole "oppressive father makes his daughter's life a living Hell" schtick is Big Funny. And then we have Nick. Seen full figure, next to the other two.

With his enormous pontoon boat feet.

And it hits me. Nick looks ridiculous drawn next to Ki and her father here. Not disjointed, not funny in an intentional way. Ridiculous. He looks like he's a theme park employee wearing the cartoonish "Nick" suit out on the golf course with a couple of tourists. And he absolutely epitomizes the problems I have with GPF in that single panel. Nick is a cartoon character, born of a cartoonish tradition. But Darlington has been introducing more and more characters -- by his own admission -- born of a cartoon take on the superheroic tradition. Some of his characters, like Ki, have undergone some physical evolution to meet the changes. But Nick hasn't, and he looks goofy next to the more realistic Ki and her father.

And we can move this from the practical to the conceptual. Darlington is still trying to hit that Cerebus Syndrome -- he still wants there to be the serious Story and the increasingly complicated and nuanced characterizations. But he's also wanting there to be the simpler gag-a-day Funny. That comes out most cleanly when we deal with characters we either had on hiatus for a while -- like Fooker -- or more recent creations -- like Sharon and Dexter. When we take the older, more gag-a-day-born characters without complicated personalities -- Ki, Nick, the slime molds, Dwayne -- and toss them into these environments, the result is disjunction. You don't know what to expect. You don't know how to feel when you read it. Is this Story, or is this Funny? How can we tell.

I think this sequence is supposed to be bringing the Funny. But it doesn't come across. It's Ki and Nick and there's tension, so we think "ooo! Story!" And so we step away from Funny expectations. Minus those expectations, Ki's father isn't humorous or endearing, he's an actively spiteful character with no redeeming features whatsoever. And, as a result, I don't expect there to be any consequences from what's happening. If he absolutely forbids Ki to go out with or marry Nick, I expect Ki to tell him to go take a flying leap. If Nick decides that he can't marry Ki without her tyrannical father's permission, then Ki needs to dump him. But I don't expect that to happen. Hell -- Ki's mother jokingly asked if the pair had already eloped. If Ki's father forbids the marriage, that's clearly what they're going to do. There's no way I can foresee that the pair will come out of this except together. So there's no dramatic tension here at all.

So. This is clearly all supposed to be Funny. But he's using the more realistic models, and his pacing and execution are Story-oriented, not Funny-oriented, so we aren't embracing it as humor. And smack in the middle of all of it we have Yoshi (another "not my favorite character" though I enjoyed his interaction with Trudy, and think there is possibility there) actually apparently pushing the Story along....

There's a phrase I've stolen from Robert Reed, before. It's clearly entering the Lexicon, because it describes this to a tee: this is Batman in the M*A*S*H Operating Room. Batman, the goofy and silly and camp 60's version, could not work with his style of humor and storytelling on M*A*S*H, which used a blend of satire and realism (well, for the time period) to tell its story. If they showed up together, one or the other would have to break or the viewer simply would not accept the result.

Nick, with his clown feet and simple sketching and lack of sophisticated motivation, does not work next to Ki's father, with his more realistic design and serious demeanor and more sophisticated motivation. The slime molds and Dwayne's simplistic solutions and Trent's $1.98 "Evil" personality don't work next to nuanced relationship humor or Mercedes de la Croix's motivations or the weirdass evil twin thing going on with whatsername or....

I've said it before and I'll say it again. Darlington should have ended GPF with the end of Surreptitious Machinations and started a new strip with his new modified cast. He should have either left Nick and Ki, now united, there and brought them back only after a hiatus where they could simmer and mature the way Fooker did, or not brought them back except for guest shots. As it is, he's trying to blend his first year's expectations and motivations with his fifth year's (true -- GPF turns 6 on November 2), and it's just not working for me.

Well, sooner or later we'll get out of this and hopefully back to the interesting characters. I just need patience. Maybe this needs to go back onto the "Sporadically Checked" list. Maybe.


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See? It'd be way better if they were goinking!

But at this point, it'd be like Dilbert was goinking one of the girls from Apartment 3-G. Do any of us want that?

"I'm a Unitarian." But anyhow.

See, the thing with Ki being able to golf like that is, it's not just IGG sense tingling, it's total bullshit. A precise, effective and powerful drive takes much more practice than she has time to commit to; even if she was good back in the day, if you slack for even so much as a few months, you start to lose it. Being raised by golfers and occasionally being taken along for a few holes will not cut it, no matter how skilled you are (trust me when I say I know this situation all too well from the golf orphan side of things). Either this would have come up before as a relationship/ball-hitting time management issue, or Ki would have hooked or sliced that ball horribly.

Ki just crossed the line from being an IGG to a wet dream for me. (Er. Not my wet dream.)

As for the look of Nick, I think Darlington could have gotten away with just shrinking the shoes down a bit. I can accept the rest of him next to these pseudorealistic characters for some reason.

The basic problem with the IGG syndrome is this: in the nerd community, the gender ratio being what it is, the women have the pick of the men. Therefore, you're much more likely to see a homely geek girl hook up with a hot geek guy than the other way around. My own experience as a female nerd has more than confirmed this. And yet this situation seldom appears in webcomics. Instead, you get a thin, large-breasted Asian babe who can easily pass for a supermodel AND is a genius hacker AND goes for all the standard male nerd hobbies (no shojo manga or goth cosplay for her; it's all about tabletop gaming) AND is a skilled athelete AND a perfectly saintly human being pairing off with a pudgy Dilbert clone with bad skin.

It kind of reminds me of an old Dilbert strip where Dilbert, despite having no romantic prospects, starts listing all of these increasingly absurd prerequisites for his girlfriend: "And she should be a ballerina..." A lot of the love interests in webstrips seem to be designed through the same process.

Incidentally, I think you've hit on the reason Nick and Ki haven't had sex. As a cartoony cartoon character, Nick, unlike most of the rest of the cast, has no genitals.

I do have a soft spot for GPF, though. I think it's one of the best strips on Keenspot.

Apparently Aeire was somewhere near your wavelength. Chalk one up for "Hope". :)

Eric -- you bet. :) Aeire nailed me with that one. Clearly, I need to have faith.

Though it's worth noting faith won't get me readers.

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