MS Paint Adventures
Years ago I did a webcomic called "The Anarchy Bears!" where the gimmick was that readers would send in their plots and I would draw them. What a terrible idea that was. Almost every idea I'd received was sophomoric at best, and most of them could be boiled down to two-word sentence where the first word was "kill."
For a few months I tried to create strips that would be interesting to me while staying true to the reader's original concept, but it didn't take long before I just didn't care anymore. At first, the Anarchy Bears just started dispensing with the suggestions in single panels, but soon that evolved into openly mocking each suggestion or even doing the exact opposite of what it asked for.
Strangely, I found this adversarial approach a lot more artistically rewarding than my original idea. It was liberating, and it didn't hurt my readership at all. So I'm a bit relieved that Andrew Hussie's MS Paint Adventures seems to have settled into roughly the same approach (though he does it much better than I ever did).
For those of you who aren't familiar with MS Paint Adventures, it's a simple single-panel comic with a line of text beneath it describing what's going on. It isn't actually drawn in MS Paint, but it keeps a crude un-aliased stick figure aesthetic to help retain its homey feel. Not exactly comics according to Scott McCloud, and piss-poor comics according to Bart Beatty. Here's the fun part, though — at the bottom of each strip, readers can enter simple commands indicating where they'd like the plot to go next, as if it were an old Infocom text adventure or LucasArts SCUMM system game.
For his first serial, "Jailbreak", Hussie simply drew the first suggestion he received every day. For his second serial, "Bard Quest", he experimented with branching decision trees but things quickly spiraled out of control. In his current serial, "Problem Sleuth," he seems to be picking several of his favorite suggetsions from the current bunch, and stringing them into a sequence.
Oh, and he never passes up an oportunity to screw with the readers' heads.
The story starts off simply — you're one of the city's top Problem Sleuths, and all you have to do is get out of your office. Except your office door is locked and the only key you find doesn't fit it. And when you do manage to get it unlocked there's a bust of Ben Stiller blocking it. That telephone on your desk? Doesn't actually work. That window behind your desk? It's actually a back-lit picture of a street scene. And that safe? It's a painting of a safe hung in front of another painting.
Oh, and there are all sorts of important details hidden because you think there's only one camera angle.
It only gets worse. Characters retreat to the realm of the imagination, which it turns out can also be accessed through those window portals. Objects change from deadly weapons to useless doodads, usually just when characters need them the most, and some (like pumpkins) disappear whenever you turn to pay attention to them. Large numbers of strips are wasted posing in a hard-boiled fashion or riding objects like mechanical bulls. Puzzles become bizarrely elaborate an increasingly nonsensical until the point where an in-game cheat code machine is needed to bypass them. Bizarre concepts ripped off from JRPGs are incorporated into the story without warning, just to frustrate characters who need to fill their power honeycombs with pang nectar to perform some simple tasks.
Eventually the Problem Sleuth winds up teaming with his neighbors, Ace Dick and Pickle Inspector, to escape the building. A series of of weird events involving imaginary duplicates and an in-game cheat code machine leads to no less than three (real and imaginary) copies of some characters running around — more if you count their feminine alter egos or their foppish gentleman avatars. By the time one of the characters splits himself into seven duplicates, one of whom ascends to godhood, all real-world logic has gone completely out of the window.
Eventually all of these characters find themselves locked into a battle with the imaginary demonic Mobster Kingpin who's locked them all in their building and his real-world counterpart, who has increased his gravitational field to the point where he now has a Schwarzchild radius. Well, except for those characters who aren't locked into a game of Hungry Hungry Hippos with Death.
Despite (or perhaps because of) the nonsensical twists and turns, MS Paint Adventures is actually really compelling. If nothing else, you keep returning just to see how your commands wil be perverted into something completely different. But it doesn't hurt that Hussie also has a wicked sense of the absurd which is damn funny in its own right. It'll be interesting to see how long Hussie can keep it up, though — the problem with this sort of adversarial releationship is that the longer you string it out, the more frustrated your readers become. They can deal with a little frustration, but when it seems like you're stringing things out just to spite them they will start to abandon you in droves. There seem to be signs that the current story is approaching the end, but then, it's felt that way for almost four months now.
Still, it's a great read, and one well worth checking out if you haven't already.