Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 168 (7/21) -- Penny Arcade, Vol. 6 by Holkins & Krahulik

It might not seem that way sometimes, but I do actually try to keep the length of my post titles from getting ever-longer. For example, I could have called today's post Book-A-Day 2010 # 168 (7/21) -- Penny Arcade, Vol. 6: The Halls Below by Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik, but I didn't, thereby saving about thirty characters. So don't say that I never do anything for you folks....

Penny Arcade is critic-proof; it'll stay vastly popular until that moment when it suddenly seems old-fashioned and its host of readers stop taking it seriously. That may happen tomorrow, or not for thirty years, and it entirely depends on Holkins and Krahulik remaining connected to that audience -- thinking like them (only smarter), playing the same games as them (only for longer hours, and caring more), and making the same kind of jokes (only better). Luckily for them, Holkins and Krahulik clearly have an exceptionally strong work ethic when it comes to playing video games and posting JPEGs about them to the Internet. (And a sense of humor about it, since they regularly say that their job is playing video games and posting JPEGs about them to the Internet.)

I've reviewed Penny Arcade books in the past -- the recent Splendid Magic anniversary coffee-table book earlier in this Book-A-Day stretch, and the first collection about two years ago -- so I'll try not to repeat myself.

Halls Below collects all of the strips from 2005 -- I still have no idea why the reprints are so far behind, or even if it's a deliberate strategy or an accident -- with about a paragraph of annotations/comments/thoughts by Holkins, the writer for each strip. Opinions vary widely on the efficacy and usefulness of annotations like that -- I've seen near-knifefights about the worth of author afterwords in SFnal circles, and I expect similar high spirits reign in the even more enthusiastic world of comics -- but I'm firmly on the side of wanting more background detail, so I enjoyed these annotations a lot. (Though they do make this book take much longer to read than it would appear to -- again, this will be a feature, not a bug, to most people.) Also -- and this is no small consideration -- a Penny Arcade strip is usually very tied to the geeky obsessions of the moment, and can be deeply opaque several years later even to people who cared deeply about that issue at the time, so the annotations serve to explain exactly what the joke was supposed to be about.

There's also a concluding section about the world of the horrible fantasy series "Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elmenstor Saga," mostly consisting of excerpts from the extensive wiki about those (utterly nonexistent) books. This shows, once more, the fiendish intelligence by which Holkins and Krahulik harness the restless energy of their fans -- not just to buy their products and increase their traffic, but to actually write content for them. When you get to the point when you can have your fans telling jokes to each other, and paying you for the privilege, you know you've made it.

I hope Del Rey manages to speed up the publication speed of the Penny Arcade collections; it would be great to have the book of 2010's cartoons on sale (for example) sometime in mid-to-late 2011. And, selfishly, wishing for that also means that there would need to be three more new Penny Arcade books in quick succession to catch up, which would be a damn good thing.
Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

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