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I'm not just saying this because I'm a proud Mac user either. Well, not completely, anyhow.

pvpbrentsnark.pngFrom PvP.

Every so often, I'm struck with the levels of characterization that Scott Kurtz brings to PvP. You've heard me on these thing before, both in terms of Jade Fontaine vs. Miranda Fontaine as characters and the infamous Max Powers snark. There's usually more than meets the eye going on in PvP, and that's pretty damn cool.

Well, there's something that's been bubbling under the surface in my mind, when I read PvP. Specifically, in what I think's going on with the character of Brent Sienna. Something I couldn't really name or quantify. But the Unsinkable Wednesday White figured a good chunk of it out, and in a post to Snarkoleptics she explained her own frustration. And that post absolutely crystallized my thoughts. I reproduce it here (with her permission):

I'm totally feeling for Brent in PvP at the moment. It's not even been a week since he got dragged out to Blade: Trinity, and already someone else is ragging on him for being critical.

For god's sake, maybe he doesn't like popcorn movies. Maybe the only way he can stand to watch stuff like CSI is to make running commentary (and what's snide about making what sounds like a reasonable point? I'm not familiar with the show, but if that's what they do, then... what's the problem? Sheesh).

I realize the other staff must find Brent's preferences somewhat grating, and I know he can be a bit of a git, but do they honestly believe he'll change his tastes and reactions on a dime to make them happy? Does Cole seriously think Brent can make himself enjoy something because he's told to? (My partner points out, incidentally, that, since Cole is evil, of course he'd do that.)

God, it ticks me off when people do that. I don't see Jade or Cole or anyone else bothering to see "some art-house film" with him. I'd have paid money for Brent to turn round and say, "just for once, could you stop worrying about my attitude and let me enjoy what I want to enjoy?"

I read that, and it hit me. "Holy crap... she's right. Brent's friends are being total bastards to him, pretty much all of the time."

Now, don't get me wrong. Brent is a pretentious git. He really is. And he can be as selfish and self serving as everyone else at Player vs. Player Magazine. (PvP -- where we're all a pack of self-interested jerks. Well, except for Skull. He's a nice guy.) And that's fine -- that's a big part of the Funny in PvP, and Scott Kurtz is absolutely great at Bringing the Funny.

But as self-absorbed as Brent is... there's a lot of ways that his friends are vastly worse to him than he is to them.

Take Cole. Cole absolutely delights in trying to make Brent do things Brent doesn't like to do, because Cole likes to do them and is in charge. He makes Brent (and the rest of PvP) have a Thanksgiving Dinner in the office (finally luring them into it by promising violence and danger). He gives Skull's Thanksgiving With Brent the force of Office Law each year, even though Brent actively doesn't want to have to take Skull every year. He forces Brent to try and get in the Christmas Spirit, when Brent doesn't believe in it and doesn't like it -- and clearly he's enjoying Brent's pain in the process more than he really wants Brent's heart to melt.

Heck, when Brent finally finds a game both he and Jade like to play, Cole jumps in with teasing him as mercilessly as Francis does. Now Francis is a kid. You expect that from him. But you'd expect better from Cole, wouldn't you? Brent doesn't, of course -- all that turned out was Brent was right in not wanting to tell his friends about the virtual date.

By the way, take down notes on that whole Christmas Spirit thing, will you? We'll be coming back to it.

Jade, on the other hand, has demanded vastly more from this relationship than she's given. This goes back to the year long epic storyline of Jade and Brent having broken up. What was Jade's primary complaint about Brent? She was annoyed at him because he wanted too much of her time. What was Brent's complaint? Jade was spending all of her time playing Everquest and gaming on their vacation to Vegas, then getting unreasonably jealous when Brent was kissed on the cheek by another Everquest widow. This is absolutely crucial to understanding the entire breakup of Jade and Brent -- Jade was entirely at fault. Brent might have been sarcastic and annoyed, but for Christ's sake, his girlfriend had chosen chatting with her guild over spending time with Brent on vacation. Frankly, he should have let her stay dumped.

But not only didn't he... and not only didn't he ever get an apology from Jade for what she did... and not only didn't he ever demand that she not see others (including Max Powers, when he took her out dancing)... but he started playing Everquest himself -- a game he hated, on a computer he hated -- entirely so he could build up to a hopelessly romantic moment with her in Vegas. That's right. He sacrificed to put them back together. Jade didn't. And though I believe she does love him -- and was about to walk away from her online boyfriend when she realized she did love Brent (though of course, it was Brent) -- she didn't have to truly sacrifice or apologize to get him back.

This carries through in the recent "online date" strip, by the way. Brent's avatar gives Jade a flower, because he loves her and because... well, I think that's the appeal of these things for Brent, when he does play them. He's a romantic. (Heck, even when he burnt her apartment to the ground, it was entirely to do something romantic and nice for Jade. When Jade did the exact same thing -- a romantic homecooked dinner -- it was to break the news to him that she'd installed Everquest 2 and he'd better get used to not seeing very much of her. How sweet.) Jade accepted the flower... and immediately started crafting it. Because that's what you do with flowers in online RPGs. It's a good thing she's willing to dress up as a bikini elf, because there has to be something keeping Brent coming back.

Brent's relationship with Skull is the cornerstone of Brent's own assholishness. He treats Skull terribly, and no one can claim otherwise. Hell, after he got foisted with Skull for yet another Thanksgiving (and for Christ's sake, why didn't Jade volunteer if she didn't mind Skull coming over for dinner, rather than forcing Brent to be something he doesn't want to be), he kenneled Skull. But when push comes to shove, Brent's the best friend Skull has. Look at last year's "let's give Brent the holiday spirit" campaign by Cole. Francis took in a free cat to try and inspire Brent, then was ready to dump the cat when it didn't work. (Jade just tried to get Brent horny to get the cash prize Cole was giving out, and Cole flat out admitted he just liked making Brent uncomfortable -- merry Christmas to you too, jerk.) But when Cole refused to pony up the money for the cat brought in because of Francis trying to win his stupid prize, and Skull's heart was breaking... who gave up the prize money so Skull could keep Scratch Fury?

That's right, Brent. That hug he gave Skull in the elevator, years back, really speaks volumes.

So I'm with Wednesday. If Brent doesn't want to get in the holiday spirit... leave him alone. He's not asking you to give him presents and then refusing to give them to you, is he? And before you sniff at Brent for not liking cheap popcorn movies (I've seen Blade: Trinity, and while I had a good enough time I could see Brent absolutely hating it) even though he's always happy to go along to blockbusters with you, why not go to a few god damn art films with him? And Jade? If you don't want him snarking (okay, I couldn't resist) during CSI, don't watch it with him, okay?

Of course, they won't stop trying to change Brent, and won't stop poking him with various sticks to make him react. And of course, we don't want them to stop trying to change Brent -- because... well, because this is funny, and conflict in a comic strip is a good thing.

But I appreciate that the joke is actually on two levels -- the surface joke of poking the pretentious git with a stick... and the deeper joke that Brent Sienna is generally a better person than the rest of these bastards.

Scott Kurtz does this stuff well.


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Then again, it's really fucking annoying when someone (especially a significant other) constantly makes snotty, superior comments about something you're trying to enjoy. I mean, if Brent thinks CSI is stupid, he can go read a book. Or he and Jade can agree to watch something they both enjoy.

But, hey, they're all assholes. That's the fun of it.

Are you sure that Brent is mean to Skull? I mean, yeah, he insults him, and yeah, he plays tricks on him, and yes, he's not always willing to put up with Skull's shenanigans. But then, look at Skull. He's a little kid. I mean, he's NOT a little kid, he's a troll who's over 400 years old (or something like that, I honestly can't remember). But he has the naivety of a little kid, and he worships Brent as a best friend and as a hero. So, how does Brent repay Skull?

He treats him like a little brother.

Tell me, how many of you who have had a younger brother can relate to this? You pick on the kid, you're mean to him... sure, you love him to death, and you'd take a bullet for him without hesitation, but you'd never ever admit that. And, even though your justification is that tormenting him merely amuses you, the truth is that if you looked deep down inside yourself, you'd find that the reason your so cruel to him at times is because you're trying to toughen him up. Think about it. Skull is naive, he's over-trusting, he's not very bright - in other words, he wouldn't last five minutes in the real world (assuming the real world would even notice him). Brent is rather fond of the big blue lug, so what's his instinctive reaction? To try and toughen him up. The subconscious mentality is "yeah, sure, I'm being an asshole, but I don't really mean it. If you can learn to handle it from me, then you'll be ready for the real world". Nowadays they call this "tough love".

If you still think that Brent is mean to Skull, then I want you to take a look at how Cole and Jade treat him. Do they treat him with respect? No, their just as condescending as Brent is; just in a different way. They mollycoddle him and talk down to him like he's a little kid. Now, as noble as their intentions may be, I ask you: who's really doing the disservice here?

....I hope this ties in with your theme of "Brent's really the good guy here and everyone else should go suck an egg"

I guess I really never thought of Brent as that much of an ass. I also thought of the Brent/Skull relationship as more of a older/younger brother relationship. Then again, I tend to identify with a lot of the habits that others find annoying. Then again, maybe I'm kind of an ass. Could this be why I've never understood the problem some people have with Scott Kurtz?

I do think it's interesting that the others might not be as well mannered as it appears on the surface. It makes a lot of sense, and is just something that never occurred to me before.

I think you're missing a crucial piece of this puzzle. As you said, Brent's pretentious, and his attitude is largely superficial. What's more, he seems to have a slight superiority complex. When he bitches and makes snide comments about things, he does it at least partly out of a desire to keep that super-cool facade going. The rest of the cast knows this all too well, and doesn't miss an opportunity to knock him back down a peg when he gets a little too full of himself.

The enjoyment Cole gets tormenting his friend is not really sadistic. It's borne out of a genuine desire to get a little reality out of Brent, when so little is forthcoming. As you point out, Brent was the one who had the heart to give up the prize money so Skull could keep the kitty -- there is some justification on Cole's part there because what he really wanted was to see that side of his friend, a side that apparently doesn't come out all that often -- at least, not in front of other people.

I do agree that they give Brent more flak than he deserves, and too little credit (to be fair, I personally identify more with Brent than any other character). But where does the real Brent end and the superficial attitude begin? He deserves a little needling now and again. And that's what friends do. The reason Brent doesn't turn around and tell them off is because he's not that committed to the facade, because deep down he knows he kinda deserves it.

Now that I think of it, a recurring theme of PvP seems to be that some characters (like Brent) never do anything objectively wrong, but comport themselves in a way that irritates and upsets other people, whereas others (like Jade) do bad things, but don't get in trouble because they have the social skills to smooth over any difficulties they cause. Sure, you can argue that Brent's only crime is constantly bitching and moaning and making sarcastic comments. But eventually that's bound to get on people's nerves no matter how quantifiably nice a guy he is.

This is pretty subtle social observation for a geek strip. The fact that Scott Kurtz himself is a decent guy with an often abrasive personality probably ties into it.

Still, it was pretty mean of the other characters to make Brent see "Blade: Trinity."

What do you want to bet Scott Kurtz takes a glance at this and says "What are these guys talking about? I didn't intend that at all."

Good snark! Really made me think about the characters in a new way. I definately agree about Jade, for all of Brent's crude comments in the end he does keep sacrificing and going the extra mile to keep his relationship going with her.

I'm not so sure with your characterization of Cole though. Yes he does clearly use the power of his office to his advantage, but he strikes me as the slightly less funny of the two friends who've been making cruel jokes at each other all their lives. After all the panic at telling Brent "I love you" was because he knows that he won't stop hearing about it for days to come rather than just until the end of the strip. Brent gives as well as he takes, the fact they're all really close to each other gives them the comfort to be assholes to each other while knowing that they actually do really care about each other.

Likewise with Skull; Cole knows that nobody at the office is dying to spend Thanksgiving with the troll and that Skull will only be happy with Brent. That's why he allows Skull to cheat and pick Brent every year. Sure it's unfair to Brent but it's not like Cole could dump him off on Francis and telling Jade to take him would be functually the same thing except without Skull gaining the happiness of getting to be officially "with Brent for Thanksgiving." Yeah he could take Skull himself, and it's selfish that he doesn't, but the man already has two kids... I think we can cut him slack for not wanting a third.

Another classic Skull/Brent momment:


As you said, Brent's pretentious, and his attitude is largely superficial. What's more, he seems to have a slight superiority complex. When he bitches and makes snide comments about things, he does it at least partly out of a desire to keep that super-cool facade going.

See, what finally got me was thinking, "hey, maybe he's not pretentious. Maybe it's not a facade. Maybe he just really is like that." It's not impossible that someone might actually prefer arthouse cinema, using Macs, whatever. And it's downright insulting to the aficionado when fans of more populist fare assume that their tastes are shared by everyone; it's just as insulting and frustrating as Brent's remarks can be to his friends.

If I was in Brent's position (and, in the interests of full disclosure, I have been on several occasions), I'd be bored out of my skull if I just shut up and took it the way Brent's effectively being instructed to. That's not healthy either; it's probably worse. Shutting up gives the staff the mistaken impression that he likes that sort of stuff; that'd be deception. When Brent bitches about Blade: Trinity, Cole is telling himself that Brent would enjoy it, really, if he'd allow himself to -- that's self-deception, and Brent can't be faulted for it. (In fact, that makes the "you only like [bla] 'cause you're pretentious" argument even more insulting than I've played it above; they're not only castigating Brent for his tastes, they're accusing him of lies.)

"I love you, too, sweetie."

Speaking of Brent and trying to foist holiday spirit on somebody intellectually honest enough to resist the commercialization of the season, I'm still laughing about the kringling of the iPod:

Wednesday sez: It's not impossible that someone might actually prefer arthouse cinema, using Macs, whatever. And it's downright insulting to the aficionado when fans of more populist fare assume that their tastes are shared by everyone; it's just as insulting and frustrating as Brent's remarks can be to his friends.

I agree with this point. When I hear J-Lo spew quotes like "I just want to make people dance without any of that deep crap," I wonder what the hell happened to music as an art form.

Like Wednesday, I get pissed off when someone tells me I should enjoy something mindless. People tell me I should enjoy something for it's "fun" factor and ignore its lack of brilliance. That's just insulting. Being able to revel in the brilliance of art is what makes it fun for me. Whatever definition of "fun" someone might try to apply to the Blade movies does not hold for me. And it's insulting when someone tells me I'm pretentious, because that does indeed imply that I'm being dishonest.

HOWEVER. I'm still not convinced that Brent's too-cool-for-school attitude is entirely genuine. Proof of this lies in his giving up the prize money so Skull could keep the kitty, and then trying to pass off the kindness as self-interest in order to keep up appearances. There really was a heart under that cold exterior, and he really was trying to hide it. To put it bluntly, he really was being dishonest -- with himself, and with his friends, if only a little.

When you get right down to it, I don't think the characters are as complex as this post makes them out to be. Brent is pretentious. That's the joke. Kurtz's genius lies not in the complexity, but the simplicity of these characters. That's not to say they're entirely one-dimensional, but each of them has a pretty stable personality that can be called up to play a certain part in a gag. We've all got one friend who can't enjoy something on its merits (or if you're like me, maybe you ARE that friend), and Kurtz made a joke out of it. I really don't think the author's intent goes too much deeper than that.

In short, I think Eric's reading a little too much into things. ;)

Was it to keep up appearances, or to smooth over an internal discontinuity? Here we go again; I believe that a character can accomodate both states at once, but the staff would seize on that little chink and pick on it for all Brent's worth, and Brent wouldn't feel so good about it himself.

The joke, to me, is that everyone *thinks* that Brent is pretentious. Possibly even Brent.

Sage sez: In short, I think Eric's reading a little too much into things. ;)

I thought the same about Eric's Miranda/Jade and Max Powers snarks.


Shows what we know. :P


Oh dear edit button, why hast thou forsaken me?

Hit the link previously mentioned and scroll down to Tuesday, October 12, 2004.



I think that Scott may not have thought the relationships through as much as this snark does (emphasis on may), but he did invent characters that are deep enough and likable enough to go this deep and still be funny. PvP is character humor at its finest.

Late to the party with little to say ...

Happened to go back through the early archives of PvP today for a bit (computer was out of whack at work, so while waiting ... ). Here was one of Brent's early comments about himself:


Yes, he's a bit of a snob, but he knows it and realizes (at least in part) that it's a little silly.

Of course, one might claim that the 5th comic in does not yet have the different characters entirely nailed down =P

It's been a slow day for snarks and comments, so on a whim I decided to re-read the previous PVP snarks after reading the latest Max/Miranda one. This particular snark is one of my favorites, but that's not why I'm making this comment. This is just to point out that the new blockquote formatting has lead to an obstruction with the graphic and the quote at the top of the snark, and Those In Charge may wish to do something about it.

If you're talking in part about the different left margin on the first paragraph of the block quote, it's not the new formatting. TypeKey has always put a little indentation on paragraphs that have a p HTML tag fronting them that it doesn't put on other paragraphs. This paragraph is fronted by the p tag (even though it's the first paragraph in my post).

This paragaph is set off from the one above by two br tags.

I've forgotten exactly what TypeKey does with hardreturn-p tag-hardreturn (except that it doesn't show up in the preview panel the way it'll show up in the post...), so I've done that with this paragraph to remind myself (and everyone else).

And this paragraph is fronted with a p tag and no hard returns.

Huh. That did not come out the way I expected it to (to wit: the second paragraph's left margin father to the left, and the third paragraph with extra hard returns). Maybe the new formatting does have effects I've failed to observe. So much for what I know.

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