by Marty Demarest
Back in 1998, two teenagers in Spokane created a comic strip sounding off on their favorite subject: video games. A few years later, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins' creation had its own, much-visited Web site, and the two were actually making a living at it. The site's still around, and the strip -- with several new editions a week -- is still popular. Enough interest was generated, in fact, to result in the publication of Year One: A Penny Arcade Retrospective, which collects the first year's strips along with commentary from the creators. Over the course of the dozens of comics in the book, Krahulik's art moves from hesitant sketches to bolder, more stylized drawings, and Holkins' dialogue evolves a sharper edge.
Most of the strips are about games. Krahulik's and Holkins' alter egos snipe at each other for their choice in systems -- one is a computer aficionado, the other prefers console systems. They eagerly anticipate upcoming releases, and mercilessly ridicule bad games.
But the most fun tends to happen in the comics where the two gesture at the world at large, and their unique perspective on it. In a comic strip commemorating a bachelor party, a group of video game playing boys sit around a room eating pizza, trying to figure out how to get one of the game's characters to reveal her cleavage, while a real woman pops out of a cake, ignored, behind them. In another, they discuss the possible dangers of actually going outside to play softball for a company event, asking questions like "Aren't there bears outside?"
There are other charming moments. The book reprints the full text of Mike's marriage proposal to his girlfriend, which he presented to her -- and the rest of the world -- online as a comic. And occasionally the comic delves into making fun of itself, such as a strip where the characters exchange bits of dialogue like "Veiled or direct insult" and "Witty response."
But ultimately, the emphasis is on video games and popular culture. While the topic itself is nothing special, it's the very sharp humor and the clean, stylized look that make it something unique. Not everyone will get the jokes, but for the target audience, Penny Arcade's lampooning is a brilliant take on the material.
The book is available via special order at Auntie's or at www.pennyarcade.com.