Friday, August 24, 2012

Game Changing

I'm fully recovered and ready for another article, finally.

Comics, both in newspaper and book form, generally don't change too much.  Garfield, as a character and comic, hasn't changed much in the last 30 years.  Peanuts has changed so little that reruns from 30 years ago go completely unnoticed.  Even comic book characters like Batman don't really change in any dramatic way, and if they do, it's never for long.  The great reset button eventually takes hold and the universe goes back to how it had always been.  Why?  Well I'll get to that in a bit.  The point is they don't change because they can't, or can't easily.  Webcomics, however, CAN radically change their stripes, and sometimes they do with a game changing event.

Game changers radically alter the fabric of a comic, changing it forever, either in tone, direction or even structure.  They can be very obvious, highlighted by a single act, or a gradual change, but one that can be pointed to having a start point.  Changing the game can either be very good for a comic, revitalizing a floundering strip, or bury an otherwise good strip.

The most recent one I can recall occurred in Girls with Slingshots.  Hazel (main character) and her beau (Zach) broke up.  Now one might not think this is much of a game changer, but the effects of this event are still just being felt, specifically in Hazel going dry.  Let's be clear that the "slingshot" part of the title is an alcoholic drink, and Hazel's nickname in the cast page is "The Lush."  Yeah, this is a big change for the character and will have repercussions for some time.

A comic a bit further along in it's game changer was the same thing, a break up.  Punch 'n Pie's main characters, Heather and Angela had been dating and living together for sometime prior to the comic starting, and sometime into the strip (relatively early) they broke up, in a dramatic fashion that needed full color for a normally black and white comic.  The result is that Punch 'n Pie is now actually two comics, one following Angela and the other following Heather, and neither ever quite meeting.  Oh there are characters that move between the two stories, but Heather and Angela have yet to cross each other.  I was of the opinion when it happened that they would be getting back together, however, I'm not so sure that's the case.  That game changer has changed both characters so much, when they do finally meet again, they may not get back together at all.  And that would be perfectly natural for them.  Neither is the same person they were at the beginning, so for them to come together in the end, it may not fit, at least not yet.

The last game changer is actually the one whose changer is the most subtle, most stand out, and most far reaching.  After years of setting up certain relationships and ideals, Tatsuya finally flipped the first domino down on his comic Sinfest and things changed throughout the comic.  From Monique abandoning her It Girl ways, to Fuchsia leaving the devil for her bookworm boyfriend.  These events, and more, all kind of happened at the same time, changing the landscape of the comic and while it still retains many of the old elements, they are looked at under a new light or with different characters involved.  It's a different comic now, but at the same time, still very familiar.

So why can these comics get away with such major changes?  Oh that's easy, and I will do this by pointing to a comic that had the opportunity to do a game changer, but didn't:  Sluggy Freelance, once again.  At the end of the 4U City storyline, there was the distinct possibility that Zoe would be left "dead" at the end.  Tangent, whom I've mentioned before, bemoaned when it when she was returned very much alive, as it was a game changer if she died.  Such a change would have radically altered the comic, but Abrams didn't do it.  Why?  Because he likes to eat.

Unlike the other 3 comics, Abrams LIVES off the money his comic brings in, and raises a family on it.  Killing Zoe, a very, VERY popular character, could have hurt his bottom line.  From his Defenders of Nifty subscription program, to the basic ad revenue on the main page, the fans would have revolted and he'd be out of green in a very short amount of time.  Yes, killing Zoe would have changed the very nature of the comic, forever, and would have been a bold move, but bold moves are not always the best moves.  It's why none of those other comics make changes like that, or keep them for very long:  People want the same old thing over and over again.  Remove it, and they stop buying.  Zoe lives because Abrams wants to continue to eat, and if some people, like Tangent, bemoan that he didn't do it, I'm sure there are a hundred people for each Tangent that applauded quite loudly when she appeared again.

Game changers are chancy.  Knowing when to change things up and when not to is important, if not vital, to the long term survival of a comic.  One day I might write an article on when it should happen, but today is not that day.  So until next time kiddies.

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