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"The Splendid Magic Of Penny Arcade" Is Honestly Splendid Magic

by on August 6, 2010

Over a decade ago, two gamers sat down on a couch and played video games together. This act has been going on for years, but these two guys started a revolution. On one hand, they ignited the concept of webcomics, challenged the gaming industry, and defended it at the same time. On the other hand, they created a world inhabited by drunken DivX machines, a samurai who wields a cardboard tube, a blender that has its way with fruit, a manager who will demand your pants, and two noms de guerre, constantly clad in blue and yellow. They’re both Tycho & Gabe and Jerry & Mike, and they’re some of the most influential people in the gaming world.

The Splendid Magic Of Penny Arcade (a.k.a Nearly 12 Years of [word censored here but not on the book]: Penny Arcade un der the slipcover, features a cover that is iconically [i[Penny Arcade[/i]: Gabe, ecstatic, rides a unicorn while Tycho begrudgingly joins him. On one day, the comic is unabashed absurdity: the book features strips featuring Jesus anxiously awaiting a round of Mario Kart Double Dash (because he throws down those blue sparks, naturally). The next publication date could easily have scathing criticism: Jack Thompson’s calls to the Penny Arcade offices could be straightly recreated, complete with “pissant” remarks. If you’ve never read the strip and have an interest at all in the nerd culture, please, go to their website and read it. Just Google “Penny Arcade”. The first nine links revolve around the comic in some form.

Seriously, go. We’ll wait. It might be hours, since you’ll be sucked into it, but we’ll wait.

This book doesn’t collect the strips; there are books already that do that, complete with commentary on every strip. They’re worth collecting. (See below.) This book, instead, chronicles the story of Penny Arcade itself. Chapters range from recalling how the pair met, to how they nearly lost everything in an accidental sale, to how they created one of the biggest conventions for gamers ever. Interspersed between the text is some of their favorite comics, clippings from letters decrying their legality, snapshots from PAX, Q&A, homages, and other miscellany things that have happened over the course of a decade and wouldn’t really fit anywhere else. It’s a companion guide and a celebration to the franchise.

Rarely, but worth mentioning, does the book hiccup. Sometimes, you’ll find a few of the same strips duplicated; while they’re great for illustrating a point in one section, and go down as Mike and Jerry’s favorite strip to boot, it’s something you’ll catch in the scant hours it’ll take to finish the book. And while undoubtedly biased (as any series of words dedicated to celebrating something would be), at worst the crew come off as lovable goofs who just accidentally sold all rights to their series at one point, and when they start a huge charity just to prove that gamers aren’t inherently evil, you just take it for granted that Mike and Jerry are sincerely good people. They most likely are, and since this book is a celebration of them, it seems right, if only a little disconcerting. (I’m pretty sure the book never even mentions a squabble between the two; openly arguing between friends is something you almost expect out of any healthy relationship). Maybe it’s the fact they focus their ill-wishes upon such public critics such as Jack Thompson, and secretly mangle the overwrought opponents in the webcomic field by turning them in to L. H. Franzibald. Either way, it jives in line with the writings and rantings you’ve seen from them from the past decade.

If anything, the book features memorabilia that you wouldn’t likely expect to see the light of day, primarily due to legal reasons. The Strawberry Shortcake/McFarlane Toys parody that was taken down within hours due to a potential lawsuit is reprinted here, alongside letters of threat from Jack Thompson, lawyer-turned-videogame-anti-advocate (pro-tip: if you really want to tick an attorney off, call them a “lawyer”).

There are a few sections of Penny Arcade‘s history that are only glossed over and could definitely be fleshed out; most notably, there’s barely any mention of “On The Rain Slick Precipice Of Darkness,” their adventure game released for digital distribution that ended after two chapters. While they mention that the game didn’t go where it wanted to and was summarily ended, some sort of focus on it would have been nice. Likewise, there may be one single mention of the Cardboard Tube Samurai’s inclusion in an actual fighting game, but no screenshots or models.

Meanwhile, the recently released Penny Arcade Vol. 6: The Halls Below collects the strips from 2005, alongside a chunk of the “Epic Legends of the Hierarchs: The Elemenstor Saga,” one of the craziest crowdsourced projects online. (From only a few strips, the pair created a Wiki that has burgeoned into an insane amount of fan-created articles, all commenting on a fictitious work.) The strips are presented with the usual commentary, pointing out things that you might not have caught about it, or otherwise condensing the related news post. Given that these collections are the only way to get print versions of the comic, they’re required shelf material, next to any Calvin And Hobbes or Scott Pilgrims.

If you follow Penny Arcade on a regular basis, chances are that you’ve seen or read about many of the facts presented in The Splendid Magic Of Penny Arcade. If you’re new to the story and company, it’s a great supplement to the strip. Ironically, they’d probably rip this review to shreds for being written by an admitted fan who’s spent the last decade loading the site up every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday.

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