The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11 1/2 Anniversary Edition

Posted by on May 3rd, 2010 at 12:01 AM

The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11 1/2 Anniversary Edition
Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins; Del Rey; 176 pp., $24; Color, Hardcover; ISBN: 978-0345512260

The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade Penny Arcade has grown on me over the years, I admit it. At first I found Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins’ thrice-weekly Web-comic devoted to all things videogamish to be sporadically funny at best, amateurish and insular at worst.

Time has improved my outlook. A large part of that is due to the fact that Holkins and Krahulik have stepped up their game considerably since they first began the strip 11-odd years ago. Krahulik’s art in particular has become a lot looser, wilder and more expressive. His initially stiff, awkward line has given way to a rounder, much more expressive one. In addition, Holkins’ writing and gags have become wittier, sharper and a lot less reliant on the sort of sophomoric, over- the-top violence that used to be their stock in trade.

Regardless of your opinion of the strip’s quality level, however, it’s hard not to be impressed by its success. Few comics in general — let alone Webcomics — can boast the sort of devoted readership and financial reward that Penny Arcade can.

Celebrating that success is one of the central goals of The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade, a new coffee-table-styled tome from Del Rey (their latest publisher) that attempts to remind the devoted just how awesome the strip (and by extension the surrounding culture) really is.

As these sorts of anniversary books go, it’s a bit disappointing. Splendid Magic seems more like the sort of supplemental “bonus features” disc you get with most DVDs these days than a thoughtful, in-depth look at the comic and its creators. Not that I was expecting some sort of hard-nosed critical examination of all things PA-related, but most of the book’s contents come off as rather slight or all-too-familiar.

For example, a reprint of a Wired article that kicks the book off provides a nice biography of the creators and the strip’s history, but I remember that reading that piece when it first ran (it got linked everywhere) and I kind of chafed a bit at it being presented here again. Still, I can understand its inclusion. That’s not the case with the “greatest hits” selection in the back of the book, which feels like padding, as does the tribute art section featuring works by Becky Cloonan and Erika Moen.

The Q&A with the duo is nice, as is the essay on the popular Penny Arcade Expo, but by and large, there isn’t much here that devoted fans – the kind most likely to pick up a book like this – aren’t already familiar with. There’s little of that kind of pulling-back-the-curtain that would really have justified a project of this nature. I kept waiting to read something I didn’t already know: be it strips that never made it online, or even just a bit more info on how the PA business operated on a day-to-day basis. Instead I got a rehash of twice-told tales and a bunch of strips I had already read a dozen times over.

I suppose newcomers to the Penny Arcade world might value a book like this, if just to see what the fuss was all about (and didn’t want to have to sift through the various Dark Horse trades). But Splendid Magic feels incomplete and half-stitched together, and I think the curious would be better served simply strolling through the online archive.

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One Response to “The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade: The 11 1/2 Anniversary Edition

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