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Something to learn from

Eric Burns of the fantastic Websnark posts a long and devastating critique of the recent storylines in General Protection Fault which raises some concerns that I also have about my own comic, Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan. Pinpointing the start of what he sees as GPF's decline, he writes of the storylines "The Flood" (which I read at the time) and "Surreptitious Machinations" (which I'm afraid I still haven't read):

We first knew we were in trouble during the Flood storyline....with the Flood, we had a wholesale abandonment of humor and lightheartedness. There was a terrible storm, there was a terrible flood. Dwayne's wife was having a baby. Nick charged out into the storm and dove into the flood to save someone even though he couldn't swim (an event rife with humorous possibility, but it was played morbidly straight). Darlington stated publicly that he intended for the Flood to say something about how each of the principals dealt with a crisis.

It sucked. I mean, it sucked hard. It was one long exercise in depression and anger, and what dregs of poignancy could be eked out ... didn't make up for the fact that this was a solid month of our lives we wouldn't ever get back. And what's worse, Darlington was convinced it was a tremendous success. And it was just a precursor to what was to come.

It was called Surreptitious Machinations, and with it, Darlington's trip to First and Ten was complete. Here's his own description of this plot from his archive page:


Year Four is very different from previous years, as it is primarily composed of a single, far-reaching story arc we call Surreptitious Machinations. Filled with lots of drama, action, plot twists, and the usual GPF humor, this tale is guaranteed to be the ultimate GPF masterpiece. (Note that it is highly recommended that the reader be familiar with the events of the past three years before reading this story, as it ties up a lot of loose threads.)

If this story was guaranteed, I'm waiting for my refund.

Surreptitious Machinations lasted a full year. A full year. Seven days a week, for three hundred and sixty three days (November 4, 2001 to November 2, 2002.) In this sequence, Darlington broke up the cast and scattered them "to the four winds," to use his own chapter break....Unfeasibly complex plots interwove seamlessly.... Finally, it culminated in a huge fight scene in New York...and then... *snif*... good won out....

It was over. It was finally over. And don't make any mistake -- it was a major blow to GPF. It got bad enough that Darlington actually had to post disclaimers swearing that the funny would be back, give it time, this was the payoff to the whole series, no honestly. Just have faith. And if it's just too much and not why you're here, then just drop GPF for a while and come back in December!

Guys, when you have to tell your fans to stop reading until your plotline is over... you've lost. You have completely lost.

I was one of those to drop it and then come back afterward. I wanted to have faith, you see. I wanted to believe. I liked General Protection Fault, very very much. And I wanted to believe the horror was over.

Sadly, what came back, while much better than the year long suckfest that was Darlington's "Masterpiece of GPF," just wasn't General Protection Fault. Instead, it was a mishmash of elements that tried to recapture some of the whimsy, compassion and caring that was a hallmark of the strip's original strengths. However... just like you can't become a child again, we couldn't just forget the very, very unfunny, dramatic evolutions the characters had went through.

Unlike Jeff Darlington, I didn't set out to make a huge long epic that went on for years and put the characters through the emotional wringer. I thought "The Rite of Serfdom" would be a longish storyline of about 80 or so episodes, instead of the 309 and counting it's at now. It's like a 1969 Deep Purple live performance: if you were lucky, "Wring That Neck" would last 8 minutes and have only one drum solo, but they could never remember their cues for the end of the jamming section so they would often drone on for 30 or 40 minutes.
But I did end up with a huge long epic, and whether it's Cerebus with naked faeries of First and Ten with naked faeries (read the full Websnark piece to for a recap of what these references mean. Hilariously, Eric recaps them every time he brings them up) is something that I'm in no real position to discern anymore. So far, I haven't had to say "it" though. I haven't had to say to readers "come back when it's over and it will be fun again", but that's only because no one has complained, and my readers appear to be quiet, introverted folks with the patience of saints. I've tried to balance story content, drama and humour, but there are several grim passages, and it is the sort of story after which a comic is irreversibly changed.
For better or for worse, I'm going to have to face it. Whatever I do after "The Rite of Serfdom" had better be very good, be very funny, and avoid the mistakes Eric attributes to Jeff Darlington. That's a big challenge!
When I'm done — and it really, really, REALLY is around the corner now — I'll have to take my time, reread this long article to refresh my memory, and surprise you lot. I may need some time out. But surprise you I will, if it's the last thing I do.

Comments (3)

So far, you're nowhere near First and Ten, as far as I can tell.

But then, I might be being distracted by naked faeries. You know, for the record.

Smilodon:

I don't think you've even began to approach that sort of total collapse. ROCR is still fun and interesting and is if anything a better strip than its ever been. I think there are some problems with the current storyline but none of them affect the enjoyment I find in reading it. GPF though, I have to say is just really bad now. Not enjoyable in the least anymore. I just pulled it off of my bookmarks today after reading today's strip. And I can tolerate a lot, hell I read Its Walky until the end.

The current storyline in RoCR seems like it's been running FOREVER, but I have yet to feel like it's dragging (let alone grow tired of it), and I eagerly await each new installment.

So far it seems to be running the same length all stories should run, but usually don't - As long as it needs to.

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This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on November 16, 2004 8:48 PM.

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