CategoryKristofer Straub

The time, the distance and the price

This post contains spoilers for Constellation Games up through chapter 30, but it’s not really a Constellation Games post; it’s about Starslip, and contains spoilers for its ending.

I’ve connected the work of Kris Straub and Leonard Richardson before, and not just because they both wrote serialized stories that trade heavily on the importance of artwork in space, calling things into being with poetry, and a pure-thought immortal hivemind end-stage of all life protected by a group of mortals. I could do that thing where I try to assert that they both take place in the same fictional universe, but I’m not going to, in part because the idea of hopping around between infinite possible universes is kind of the point of Starslip.

But I do think they have one thing in common, across all of those:

The One True Pairing phenomenon is real, but it’s a curse. Any two parties so affected are the Keymaster and Gatekeeper of a door that opens into stark, existential horror.”

“Wherever there is a Memnon Vanderbeam and a Princess Jovia, the former seeks the latter. And they never get together. It just. Doesn’t. Happen.

The last Starslip is bittersweet, and a lovely conclusion to a long story. The subtext of the whole conclusion arc, though, is incredibly dark. Out of all infinity, there is exactly one timeline in which Vanderbeam saves Jovia, and he has to make enormous sacrifices to do so, including his own life. The comics we saw in Starslip depict that timeline, but what happens to them in the uncountable others? Uh, this kind of thing.

That’s what I think Jenny and Ariel understand when they kiss. Ariel sees the horror, the mind-destroying vastness of possibility in which they will always be apart. Jenny sees the hilarious impossibility that maybe this is the right timeline, and Copernicus is wrong, and they are the center of the universe after all.

I think that at the beginning, Starslip’s daily punchlines masked the weight it carried in its core, but it carried it all the same. The impact of that weight landing, seven years on, was incredible. It deserves assessment, and I hope to be able to give it some as it restarts its run from the beginning as (!) a syndicated comic. Re-read Starshift Crisis.

TETSUO MILK

This is a Constellation Games post, just so you don’t get too deep into it without realizing that. There are spoilers, but only for the chapters that have already gone out to subscribers.

In late 2001, I spent far too much time on the forums for my favorite webcomic, Checkerboard Nightmare. They were hosted on EZBoard, a free/paid service that allowed you to assign custom titles to forum members based on how often they’d posted. Kris Straub, the strip’s creator, innocently filled these in with names from the comic; one of the upper ranks was Doctor Hot, a gag character who had appeared in exactly one panel. I think I was the first one to hit that rank, which tells you a lot about my priorities in college.

I embraced Doctor Hot the way a defensive tackle embraces an unguarded quarterback, and so did the rest of the forumoids. There were even fan-created spinoff characters, including his nemesis Professor Cold and their lovechild Profoctor Hold, whose title I would eventually steal for Davey (did I mention the forums are where I first met Stephen Heintz?). Kris’s reactions wavered between resignation and outright fury, which was his response to everything on the forums, but still.

The point of the foregoing: this was my first encounter with what is now called a “fan favorite” character. A link on Checkerboard Nightmare also led me to crummy.com, which is how I started reading Leonard Richardson’s writing, which of course leads to Constellation Games and its breakout star, Tetsuo Milk.

Leonard likes Tetsuo Milk more than Kris liked Doctor Hot, because Tetsuo is a real character and also Constellation Games doesn’t have a forum to ruin everything, but you can still read a little exasperation into his chapter 11 commentary. Rachel put it to me the other day that Leonard likes to examine the emergence of agency in his characters; Ariel’s struggle to become an adult is the obvious Campbellian case, but we’re already seeing subtler examples, like Krakowski’s little independent assignment, or the way Dana (a friggin’ phone app) has started to assert her needs in a way that forces both Bai and Ariel to take significant action on her behalf.

But Tetsuo already has agency. Tetsuo has too much agency, which is how he’s able to (per Leonard) grab the plot and “run off in some weird direction.” He also has too much optimism, in contrast to Ariel (and uptight Jenny, and cautious Ashley, and fuck-the-system Curic); he’s the kind of person who actually does see every problem as an opportunity, which of course drives everyone around him crazy. The worst part is that he inhabits a postscarcity megacivilization with near-limitless resources, so he’s usually right.

Much as with the bad Doctor, I love Tetsuo Milk without reservation, and not just because he gets most of the good non sequiturs (“Hot!” would be a pretty good Tetsuo line). He’s the book’s mascot, and the recurring reminder that in spite of all the friction and pitfalls and broken partnerships, in the world of Constellation Games things do get better. Gifts fall from the sky. Refugees get rescued. You don’t even have to ask to walk on the moon.

My favorite comic strips always go away

BUT SOMETIMES THEY COME BACK

The joke was about a fish

I have been such a big fan of Kris Straub’s for a long time that, when I fondly reminisced about a joke of his from 2001 today, Stephen told me I was the creepiest person he knew. Anyway, I sort of assume you all know that as soon as Straub produces anything new, I want you to get it. But that is not how the Internet actually works! I have to keep reminding you fuckers!

First, he restarted F Chords! Like, five-days-a-week restarted it! While preparing to get married! I think he wants to kill himself with work, but I like it better in its new incarnation already.

Second, I read through my copy of Starslip 4 last night, and wow, it works way better on the page than on the screen. I’d forgotten how big a leap he took art-wise when he rebooted the strip, and almost perversely, the vector sharpness really looks excellent in ink. Being able to read through big chunks of the story sequentially makes it easier to get involved, too. Buy it!

This is the least useful blog entry I have ever posted

I finally figured out what delineates the podcasts I like from ones I completely can’t stand and want to punch in the mouth! SHUT UP I HAVE BEEN THINKING REALLY HARD ABOUT THIS FOR YEARS

Okay, here it is. The first podcast I listened to regularly was the Daily Affirmation, Kris Straub and Scott Kurtz’s little morning chatter that they would record off the cuff while starting work in their studio. I am a Kris Straub superfan, as is well established, and I like Scott Kurtz too (actually, I like Scott Kurtz more than I like PvP). I really liked it, and that led me to the Penny Arcade podcast, probably my favorite collection of nonmusical audio ever. I listened to both of those corpuses repeatedly; they kept me sane and amused during long, boring days of working from home or driving across the country. They’re much of the reason I started doing a podcast of my own.

Here’s the thing: Scott and Kris did another podcast called the Power Hour, which was also them just talking, taking callers, like a radio show. I tried listening to it a couple times, and I never liked it. This is much the same setup as the podcast Kris and David Malki ! have now, called Tweet Me Harder, which I listen to out of loyalty and don’t mind, but of which I’m still not particularly fond.

This contradiction repeats: I love Dan Savage, both in writing and persona, but the Savage Lovecast turns me off. I don’t read the webcomics Sheldon or Evil Inc., but when their creators (Dave Kellett and Brad Guigar) show up with Kris and Scott on Webcomics Weekly, I really enjoy it. I can’t stand any of that hip snarky bullshit on Jordan Jesse Go or You Look Nice Today (they engender the aforementioned desire for mouth-punching). I have a well-known affection for Mr. Glass and This American Life, but actually listening to that show is too much mental work on podcast time, which is almost always during work hours.

So maybe I just like podcasts about webcomics? Yet I love listening to some creator commentary on movies and TV shows, and in particular, I’ve listened to one episode of the old Battlestar Galactica podcast–where the creator, his wife and a large chunk of the cast got together and just talked about the show for hours–again and again. But when the commentary is just the director talking to himself (or when the BSG podcast was just Ron Moore) I don’t care.

This is my working theory right now: I like listening to people who care about their work talking to each other about how they make it. It’s fascinating, funny, educational and sometimes thrilling. But I can’t stand listening to people talk for the sole purpose of being listened to, even people whose work I admire. The fact that people who are talking about the things they make tend to be unself-conscious when they get into a dialogue helps avoid the potential overlap between those paradigms.

Anyway, this is why if you mention Jesse Thorn to me in any context I will throw something at you. I have a rant for another day about how much Put This On sucks compared to the late, lamented Manual of Style.

Wish I could be at Comic-Con. Well, not really.

Hugner is famous!

This will seem much less exciting in the archives

!!!

Mars needs pull quotes

What are some of the brightest lights in webcomics saying about Brendan Adkins and Ommatidia?

“I didn’t know about it.”

–Tycho Brahe of Penny Arcade

“Asshole.”

–Scott Kurtz of PvP, at the Emerald City Comicon

“Pretty slick, but my shout-out is not without motive.”

–Kristofer Straub of Starslip Crisis*

* Kristofer Straub was paid $50 during book creation for unrelated reasons

Days 3 and 4: Texas

Day 3 also included Louisiana and Mississippi, but even before I left Alabama, Taylor and her friend Cheryl were mocking my car for its filthy appearance. When I took a closer look, I discovered something intriguing: that wasn’t dirt on it at all! It was pollen! My poor little Fit was encased entirely in a light, even coating of tree jizz.

Like heaven sprinkles from unicorn flowers. See, a flower is a kind of penis.

Man, you know what’s going to be great? Not living in the South.

But after that: Texas! Things do not seem to be bigger in Texas, but Texas is definitely bigger than anywhere else. This photo should give you some sense of scale:

See, it’s like the star is Texas, and Hugner is Earth.

Kris and Erica were kind enough to put me up for the night, even under the stress of their still-in-progress move and its pipe-related disasters. While there I got to meet Oxford, who demonstrated that it wasn’t just Hugner, but all Jinxlets who make dogs want to chomp them. And snuggle.

Like heaven kisses from unidog peepee.

Like kissy kisses from kissface kiss.

That latter shot features not just Kris and Hugner, but the original Hieronymous B’Gosh himself. I’d label them but come on, they’re pretty easy to tell apart. (NO Kris is in the MIDDLE)

I spent the remainder of the day and most of the night trying to get out the other side of Texas. I made it just barely over the border before collapsing in Las Cruces, which is a little pilgrimage to me for Anacrusis-related reasons. Hugner was tired of the whole thing a mere five hours out.

You have to kind of work to make him look sad.

After that he went over to the fence and peed because there was not so much as a gas station for two hours either way on I-20. Bad Hugner! But how can you even try to yell at that face?

Day 2: Birmingham

Let’s out with it: in a blatant bid to grab some of that hot, sexy Starslip traffic, I am taking my new Jinxlet, Hugner, with me on the road across America. Now instead of trying awkwardly to take pictures of myself in different places, I can take pictures of the stuffed animal instead! No one has ever thought of this before.

Hugner passenging.

Hugner was delivered to Louisville, so I don’t have any pictures of him from Day 0 (Winston-Salem), but there he is the passenging position which was once my purview on Day 1. Pretty cute, right! Except after that I had to stuff him in the back so I could put my giant backpack where he is.

The next two pictures are going to seem similar, but only until I explain that Hugner has a clever defense mechanism that makes all dogs think he is a chew toy. I’m… I’m not sure how the defense works. Up top he’s with the famous Brenna, and on the bottom he’s with my friend Taylor’s dog, Lizzie.

Hugner and Brenna.

Hugner and Lizzie.

Once the trip is over I’ll put together a Flickr gallery of these, but even by tomorrow we should have a VERY SPECIAL Hugner road trip update! It’s a surprise, but I will say this: the next stop on our trip involves his home planet.

Of Texas.

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