The webcomics blog about webcomics

Back Into The Swing Of Things

You know what today is going to be about? Not SDCC! Not even a little! We are free of that particular 362.874kg gorilla for another year.

Steve Hamaker is many things — longtime Jeff Smith collaborator, colorist extraordinaire, husband of comics historian/archivist Jenny Robb, and oh yeah, webcomicker.

From 2013 to 2015, Hamaker filled his copious free time with PLOX, a look at people who game, how they game, and how much they get under each other’s skin. You don’t have to be a gamer to understand PLOX, since the same type of people occupy many geeky pursuits and fall into the same behavior patterns wherever you find the intersection of hobby and obsession. Just about a year ago, Hamaker wrapped up the story and Kickstarted a print volume (subtitled Hell Is Other Players), the fulfillment of which was completed this past Spring.

But stories never end, do they? Despite wrapping up that print volume with a definite THE END, it was described as the first print edition, which left open the door for more. Enter PLOX Book 2 (subtitled Don’t Play Games), which launched on Thursday. Two years after his characters found their separate peaces, they intersect again and the old frictions arise again.

Here’s where I make a confession, which should double as an endorsement — I never read PLOX on its regular Tuesday/Thursday update schedule. Mostly this is because it’s one of those plot-driven comics that I have to read in big chunks. But partly it’s because the characters in PLOX are so sharply drawn (in the descriptive and behavioral senses, not purely a visual sense) that it’s difficult material for me — they are so real, so three-dimensional, that it’s actually uncomfortable for me to watch them behave in ways that counter their own interests. Stubbornness, egotism, petty behavior from them feels like you’re watching actual, breathing people screw up their lives.

I can get emotionally invested in wombats, cyborgs, hipsters, magical-realist boarding school students, post-hipster reluctant grownups, Spinozan werewolves, nonhuman imperial subjects and subjugators, amnesiac townspeople, space mercenaries, and Second Spanish Empire space explorers and enjoy the stories for what they are. When the characters are dumb, or in conflict they could avoid, in danger or even dying, I can feel along with them and then go about my day.

But PLOX, man. PLOX. When they screw up their lives, that one hurts. Every other story I mentioned that I get emotionally invested in, there’s at least some element of the fantastical that provides a safe remove; PLOX is so grounded in mundanity, so ordinary in its problems, I’m in some Uncanny Valley analogue of emotional non-distance. Hamaker has created characters so real, my brain trips all over itself to say Okay empathy’s good and all but maybe you should let those people live their lives over there and not get too involved because damn. They may be only lines and washes of color, but they’re almost too real for me to handle as entertainment.

And if that’s not the hallmark of a damn good storyteller, I don’t know what is.

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