The first challenge of Penny Arcade’s new webcomic reality show, Strip Search ended yesterday. And while I was really on the fence regarding the existence of this idea from the moment it was announced, feelings of judgment have subsided and terms with the fact that websites need content, PA has money to spend and industries need validation no matter how niche they may be have been come to.
In episode 1, we are introduced to 12 cartoonist hopefuls. Brought together in a pacific northwest lakeside house to compete for $15,000 and a year of business support from Penny Arcade. The two faces I recognized immediately were John K acolyte, Katie Rice, who’s, let’s just face it, a little too cute for words and fulltime cartoonist/parttime lesbian, Erika Moen. They are grouped with a handful of journal comickers (ick), art school dropouts and cardboard cutouts. Most notably, student/barista/cocker spaniel, Alex Hobbs, Abby Howard, who likes hair bows and using terms like “life comic” and Brooklynite Maki Naro, who defines himself as a “jack of all trades”, which… I think means porn.
The villains of the show are Lexxy Douglass, who reminds everyone that she’s famous from the forums and the emotionally bankrupt Amy Falcone, whose cruelty knows no bounds. I’m surprised Lexxy even had time to show up for filming, considering how busy she is with her freelance schedule as a fantasy and science fiction illustrator. And I will give Amy some credit; she did soften when she saw that she’d be competing besides Erika Moen, whom she respects. Cut to: halfway through the season when Amy is dancing around the house wearing and loincloth and the flesh from Erika’s face.
The introductions are awkward as gatherings of webcartoonists often are and we are quickly reminded that these are, for all intents and purposes, real people who probably aren’t very comfortable in from of a camera rather than the egomaniacal opportunists of reality television. The creepy ADR’d voice of host Graham Stark announces that they will be playing a game to get more familiar with each other, Lexxy doesn’t really care for ice breakers but she knuckles down because, after all, competition shows are just a series of high production getting-to-know-you games. All goes well, and the mysterious redraw ticket makes it’s first appearance, awarded to Maki.
The team is then given one hour to design a t-shirt that will be sold in the PA store. The PA design team, Kiko, Erika and Levin, are called in for judging – I have a sneaking suspicion that this show is just a game that Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins are playing with their friends. I’m sure at some point they’ll all be forced to come up with a stand-up routine for Scott Kurtz and Kris Straub or learn to deal with Internet haters by getting bullwhipped by Robert Khoo. The designs are a swirling mass of word bubbles, magnifying glasses and Nazi references and Amy emerges with the highest score and Abby with the lowest.
So, with Amy declared the winner, everyone learns the twist: the winner decides who goes up for elimination. Amy focuses her cold eyes on the group and sends Alex and Katie away, despite the fact that Katie was highly praised and was sort of the runner-up. That’s some cold shit, Amy.
Alex and Katie are sent to a dark room with Mike & Jerry and an army of cardboard cutouts (real cutouts this time, not Mackenzie Schubert) and are given 90 minutes to draw a comic based on two randomly chosen ideas: “space” and “table tennis”.
Mike & Jerry, who have the timing and sense of humor to spoof their roles as reality show judges really manage to blend in some genuine supportive moments into their naturally intimidating presences. While Alex and Katie draw, they ponder Amy’s elimination choices and comment on the fact the Alex’s work is highly influenced by Mike’s. When the 90 minutes is up, the work is judged, the catchphrase is uttered “I’m sorry, this is not the strip we’re searching for” and the winner is sent back to the house where everyone is just sitting around in their pajamas staring at each other.
Episode Highlights: The show is chocked full of the comical reality showisms you’d expect like: the wastebasket of broken dreams, the shame hole and the exclamation: “Ready. Set. Art!”
Most Instructive: When Mike Krahulik tells Alex that he’s flattered that he would copy his style but “what’s interesting is seeing you copy my mistakes”.
Guess at Final Three Based entirely on accuracy of self-portraits: Erika Moen, Lexxy Douglass, and Nick Trujillo
Countdown to Scott Kurtz: Four challenges (I’m guessing)