Thursday, August 20, 2015

The Adventures of Roy (annotated)

Comedy is an odd thing. I found myself thinking about these comics I scribbled on a piece of lined paper in 2004. To me, they are one of the funniest things I have ever done, but I can see very well how I am likely to be in the minority with this opinion.

Did you ever listen to a DVD commentary and gain an appreciation of some obscure joke that only the writer or director noticed? I have, a few times. So as a fun experiment, here's a commentary on these poor neglected comics which I just dug out, scanned and tidied up. The worst thing that can happen is that your time will be utterly wasted.

There was a guy on my university course called Roy, only that wasn't his real name; it was a nickname based on a misunderstanding. 'Roy' took on a dual nature as the form of address for this individual, and as a separate, abstract, mythologised figure. That's the ostensible starting point for this comic, but it's not really part of the humour. I just thought it would be funny to have a character who never encountered any obstacles, dooming him to stories devoid of any interesting arc or conflict - just a straight line from beginning to victory.

Panel one establishes Roy as a confident figure. There is a stylistic decision at work in this strip, sadly absent in the subsequent ones, to draw Roy's head as a complete circle before drawing the shape of his hair awkwardly overlapping it. That's the other element to these comics - they are deliberately badly drawn to a childish level. In my mind the 'author' of this work is another fictional character distinct from myself.

By panel two the story is already over. As confidently predicted, Roy has won the 100km race. Second prize goes to a tall thin man, who seems to get less tall on the podium, almost as if I have failed to think the panel through before drawing it. I suspect that this was probably a genuine mistake and not part of the comedy. For the third prize recipient, the author does not even expend the creative energy to design a character that is recognisably human.

Establishing a theme which will run throughout, the comic ends with Roy receiving a material reward.

The second strip in the series probably marks its artistic peak. Panel one features a detailed background, and the only time Roy ever appears in a state other than facing the camera or in profile. He claims to be visiting a haunted house (or rather, 'the' haunted house - the definite article seems to tie in with the bluntness of the storylines) but it looks more like a castle to me. This is probably the most questionable starting point of the three comics - there is no particular reason presented for Roy to be doing this.

In panel two, the art style reaches its zenith and simultaneously its nadir. It is utterly inexplicable that the artist would draw such a detailed skull, and then adorn it with such an atrociously-drawn body. The garment (whatever it is) is shapeless and and has been shaded in the most perfunctory manner. And look at those hands. Circles with five lines emerging from them. Those are the hands a three-year-old would draw, newly possessed of the ability to observe and categorise body parts, but lacking in even a shred of artistic talent. Compare them with the bleeding skull. There is no plausible way that anybody would ever draw this picture.

In the next panel Roy swiftly resolves the plot by negating the central premise of ghost stories. If ghosts aren't scary then everything we know is wrong and all horror literature is meaningless. Interestingly, the upset ghost's transition from "boo" to "boo-hoo" is the closest thing in any of these comics to a traditional joke.

Obviously it is not enough for Roy to survive the night unscathed, he must be physically rewarded no matter how little sense it makes. It stretches credulity to suppose that an intangible spirit would be able to own a gemstone. Yet apparently one did, and chose to reward Roy for his fearlessness.

The third and final strip marks a decline in both art and storytelling. The definite article rears its head once more, with a reference to "the terrorists". Which terrorists? No frame of reference is provided, you are expected to just know. You have to remember that this was 2004 and Jack Bauer was at the height of his fame.

Just as vague are the terrorists' plans. The expository figure explains that they are "threateng the bridge". Firstly I want to point out that the misspelling here is a genuine mistake on my part which I have only just noticed. Secondly, what does this mean exactly? It seems from later visual cues that the terrorists are on the bridge itself - I imagine they are somehow holding it hostage until their demands are met.

Panels two and three have so little effort put into them that it is genuinely difficult to know what is happening. My recollection is that Roy's power up enabled him to go flying at the terrorists, knocking them away with the impact. But looking at it now I can see there's not much in the text itself to support this specific interpretation. It could just as well be that he was empowered to fire some sort of elemental energy beam at them from his bare hands.

Finally, Roy is rewarded by the mayor. But I think there's a subversion going on here. Roy has always been rewarded disproportionately for his actions, and so it is that in this strip, following his most heroic act of all, we see a massive step down in value from the previous bestowed gifts. His expression in the final panel is hard to read - he seems slouched forward. Is he pondering the meaninglessness of a life in which everything is achieved without expending any effort? Or just disappointed to receive a pedal bike after effectively becoming a national hero, when he already got a luxury sports car just for getting first place in a running race? It remains forever unclear.

Thanks for indulging me on this journey through the past. I'd like to revise my earlier statement - the first and last comics are in themselves fairly inessential, but the haunted castle one? Wow. I can find something to appreciate in every single panel. I hope that you can too, but if not, don't worry. It's still more than enough.

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