In Case You Believe I Am Universally Loved

Please note the reaction to yesterday’s Penny Arcade guest strip in the PA forum area. The commenters there are not falling over themselves with applause, shall we say.

My thoughts? I’m fine with it, of course. I am the fellow who encourages writers to embrace their one-star reviews, and accept the idea that one’s work will never be universally loved, remember. The fact the strip was not universally loved is not exactly tripping me up. C’est la vie. It’s part of the gig. If you’re not ready to accept that this sort of thing will happen — especially when trying something new, in front of a different crowd than you usually have — then this probably isn’t the best line of work for you. As I’ve mentioned here before, you just put on your Big Writer pants and deal with it.

Personally, I had a blast with the strip — it was cool to get the invite, good to work with Jeff on it, and I wrote a strip I would find amusing as a reader. Would I do it again? Hell, yeah. I had fun.

93 thoughts on “In Case You Believe I Am Universally Loved

  1. I think that one hit the gaping divide between gaming nerdy and computer nerdy. There’s overlap, and I liked it, but meh.

  2. Did you draw and ink it? Because the artwork was really good. The joke, alas, fell flat and the commenters are correct that the third panel doesn’t fit with the other two. Take it as constructive crticism of your first putting doing a comic strip, not that you were “hated” on.

  3. I suppose I’m *in* that gap… I liked it. I can see some of the commenters’ criticisms.. but, de gustibus non est disputandam. I have a dear, dear friend who doesn’t like Firefly. I know, that’s almost heresy amongst fen… but there you go, and she’s still a wonderful person.

    And, so John doesn’t get to quit his day job and go be a web comic writer. I’m good with that… I rather like what he’s doing with his day job. :)

  4. Don’t sweat it, John. It’s probably not the best strip that PA has ever done or anything, but it wasn’t bad. They can’t all be home runs. Personally I think it’s a cute story. Keep on keeping on.

  5. I thought it was funny. I can understand if some people didn’t really care for it, but I don’t get the need they feel to get publicly whiny about it. Good thing you can take it in stride.

  6. Scorpius:

    If you actually read the site, for example, the post where I noted the strip was up, you would know the answer to your question.

    Likewise, please read this entry more carefully, since at no point have I suggested I was hated on. I noted some people didn’t like the strip. There’s a small but telling difference there.

    From the feedback I’ve seen, lots of people found the third panel kicker perfectly funny, while others didn’t. Which, shockingly, goes to my point that not everyone is going to like every thing.

  7. Now, I thought the comic was both cute and funny, but then I like your writing style. And I’m a big fan of XKCD, so I didn’t have to guess at what the joke meant.

  8. The amusing thing? I only read Penny Arcade for the geek cred, so I get references when others make them (for example, the other day on Twitter when I saw someone say they were expecting to run into Desert Thirst in a campaign). I don’t particularly find it funny most of the time. On the other hand, as my son is only a year younger than Athena, this gave me a chuckle.

    Guess it just goes to show there are no universals. :)

  9. Definitely not hated on. Most of the comments seem rather mild, considering the seething morass of hatred the Internet can turn into.

    I did find this comment amusing though:
    “I like how the Dad looks like Kevin Smith though.”

    I found the strip amusing, but then I read Whatever on a regular basis and have a basic familiarty with all the “characters” involved.

  10. I liked it. I got it. And to the others who didn’t – oh well. As long as the criticism is constructive, instead of Scalzi-bashing, it is all good.

  11. K.W. Ramsey -
    I assume you saw the modified comic later on in the comments then? It was kinda funny, too.
    I think that it’s interesting to notice how many commenters, even the ones who have heard of John Scalzi, didn’t see that “my kid” was a girl.

  12. Well, John, they don’t know you. There’s nothing there to refute that to know you is to love you! Also, I’d point out that not liking the strip is not remotely equivalent to not loving YOU, especially when they diss the artwork, which you didn’t do.

    The punch line isn’t funny if you don’t read xkcd. Some people are dorky enough to diss jokes because they don’t get them.

    And some of those commenters are idiots. For heaven’s sake! “That boy has three arms”? Wow, that’s just really stupid.

  13. To be clear, I didn’t see many comments I thought were just patently hateful. Most were of the “I didn’t like this and this is why” sort, which, again, is perfectly fine.

    I’d say that my assumption that xkcd and Penny Arcade have a substantial readership overlap may have been incorrect, if in fact the PA forums are indicative of the overall readership. A shame, if true, since I like them both.

  14. @Scorpius:

    A Penny Arcade strip wherein the third panel does not fit with the other two? Surely this is a thing which has never happened!

    (Which is to say, I see that as being more a feature of PA’s style than a bug.)

  15. I thought the strip was funny. I found the comments about the strip hysterically funny. The folk that comment at “Whatever” have been soooo out geeked. Saying that with great love of course.

  16. I’d be surprised if the commentariat is representative of the readership. IIUC that’s pretty rare. Only the people with the strongest feelings comment, and usually the ones with the strongest negative feelings (because the ones who think it was the BTSSB just share it on Facebook or whatever).

  17. …wrote that post before actually reading the comments – bad me. So the criticism is not all constructive – need a mallet-operator over there.

  18. Having lurked here for awhile I find your quirky humor very funny. So naturally I really liked the strip as well. However some of the responses where down right hilarious. I LOLed so hard I split coffee on my keyboard on this one..

    WMain00: “Clench your buttock cheeks tight and hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy ride.”

    Any chance of more comic strips coming around? You could always use it as a backup in-case this writing gig doesn’t work out for you. :-D

  19. Though I read Penny Arcade regularly, I have no gaming experience, so I often miss the joke. But xkcd I get most of the time even without any coding background.

    Can Munro draw? Who cares? He’s a hell of a lot funnier than Scott Adams, who can’t draw at all either.

  20. I didn’t like it, but I rarely like comics so probably shouldn’t be counted.

    People that don’t like it are more like to say so than people who do, which will skew the comments, but it looks to be a near unanimous thumbs down, which certainly qualifies as “hated on” for me. (Defining ‘hated on’ less literally (taking the stick out of my ass) and more broadly, as in a fair observation of, ‘you suck’.)

    I did wonder if enough thought was given to the audience with the last panel.

  21. I too would have thought Penny Arcade readers would also read XKCD. Hm. I would have also guessed that PA readers would likely know what sudo means.

    but I guess we didnt really have the notion of a ‘gamer’ when I was a kid like we do today.

    I think the strip was OK. If it hadnt been a ‘mostly true story’ it probably wouldnt have the same umph that it did. Kind of like how ‘Blair Witch’ is more interestimg if the viewer can entertain the idea that it was based on real events.

    I was a little surprised that the guest comic didnt feature the usual characters, just drawn by a different artist. Not a requirement, but a bit of a norm for the other webcomics I read.

    I think the reaction of a few of the critics is over the top.

  22. goddamn this phone….

    also wanted to say:

    Sorry some of them gave nasty reviews. Sure its good to be able to accept one-star reviews with big boy pants. But that doesnt mean it feels good.

  23. To be honest, I think that if you’re a self-respecting geek father with at least one daughter, and don’t find the third panel simultaneously funny and chillingly accurate, you’re fooling yourself!

  24. I guess part of the issue is how much “in” knowledge does the writer/artist expect the readership to have. Perhaps the PA fans are deep enough into it that they know what “sudo” means. I figured it was a reference to some trendy neighborhood in New York although I was glad that I was culturally aware enough to understand the Star Trek reference. Strips like this are generally written/drawn to make readers smile and nod, not to slap their knees and guffaw. I smiled and nodded. I save my guffaws for Pearls Before Swine when someone gets kicked in the Oompa Loompas. Sophisticated I’m not.

  25. I read so of the comments on the PA strip and I had to laugh.
    They just don’t like change.
    QC runs guests strips frequently and they are always “wrong” and always fun and interesting and an introduction to other comics!!!

    Most of the comments seemed to be of the sort “go away, we want our regularly scheduled PA!!” or “I dont get it and am too lazy to google sudo and/or I dont read xkcd.”

    -My group is better than your group!!

  26. It’s actually fairly surprising to me that there isn’t as much of an overlap between xkcd and PA, though I suppose, in thinking harder about it, it’s rational, as they generally tackle different topics. Moreover, though, I think my social group has lulled me into a false complacency that gamers know/want to know more about computers than others, whereas a lot of the people on the PA site might just be casual xbox-livers instead of people that actually know what Ubuntu is.

    I liked the comic, but of course, I’m on this site and probably biased towards you, John :P

  27. Question: was Athena making XKCD references at age 8? I can imagine it’s possible, and if so, I wouldn’t change a thing about the strip. If that was an addition to the real-life story, then you were depending on the overlap of readship…worth the risk. I personally understood the gist (because I’ve used UNIX) but didn’t get the direct reference (although I like XKCD).

  28. Well, maybe ‘sorry’ is the wrong word. Condolences? No, that sonds like someone died. I get that you may be fine, just sorry the response wasnt the sort that would make you ecstatic.

    Bah. The english language has some holes big enough to drive a death star through…

  29. I got the sudo joke even though I didn’t remember the XKCD strip until I saw someone post it in the comments. I thought you were just being computery-clever rather than comic-referency-clever until someone helped me make the XKCD connection. Funny either way.

  30. I do love you, John, but I have to say…

    Haters got a point.

    Not only does the second punchline make the final panel seem crowded, it seems like you forgot who your audience was. Penny Arcade readers aren’t general-purpose geeks like you and me. They’re video-gamers, primarily console enthusiasts. They’re not going to get a Linux/Unix joke, and a lot of them don’t read XKCD either.

    Even neglecting the audience, though, I don’t feel like it really worked.

    Now, that said, I don’t usually think Penny Arcade is funny either. You had a low bar to clear, and I think you did okay for a first outing.

  31. The comments over there seem to be an example of how insular some forms of geekiness can be.

    It’s also illustrative of how many people confuse “I didn’t get it” with “it’s not funny”. (And then there’s the subset who jump from “I didn’t get it” to “it’s stupid”.)

    duskfire, I noticed that one of the commenters was bothered by the fact that he couldn’t tell what gender “the kid” is. Kinda sad when gender role baggage is heavy enough to interfere with getting humor involving a parent and a child, and that’s taken to be a problem with the humor. Self-awareness fail.

  32. Well, *I* liked it. I very much enjoyed the reference to xkcd, so perhaps I fit into the overlap area of the PA/xkcd fan Venn diagram (and perhaps that overlap is smaller than I would’ve thought).

    Whatcha gonna do?

    I don’t get the impression Scalzi will be curling into a ball and crying himself to sleep over this anytime soon, so he’s likely to be undeterred from future Super Sekrit projects. Thankfully.

  33. I had fun doing it too! And thanks Scorpius, glad you liked the art. And gilmoure and everyone else who liked it too. :)

    Anybody hates it over there? Meh, no worries. No accounting for taste.

  34. Did ‘sudo make me a sandwich’ originate from xkcd? I actually thought it started before xkcd, but xkcd sort of made it official.

  35. As an XKCD fan I liked it, but I have no trouble seeing how if you aren’t familiar with the reference, the strip might be stronger without the last four or five bubbles.

    I find myself wondering the same thing as John Tilden– was it the XKCD reference that made this a mostly true story?

  36. John Tilden, Mike:

    Everything happened in real life except the xkcd reference. However, last night at dinner, my daughter turned to me and said “sudo get me something to drink.” So she definitely catches on quick.

  37. “Would I do it again? Hell, yeah. I had fun.”
    Hopefully for a more receptive audience.
    When is XKCD doing guest panels?

  38. Bozo the Clone:

    We don’t know that the entire audience was unreceptive, just the ones who commented in that thread. That leaves tens of thousands of Penny Arcade readers unaccounted for.

  39. It was a huge hit a my office yesterday. However, the guys I work with all use UNIX and are big SciFi geeks. These guys weren’t going to go out and comment though. If that was the target audience, SCOOOOORE!!!

  40. However, last night at dinner, my daughter turned to me and said “sudo get me something to drink.” So she definitely catches on quick.

    So she’s a sudointellectual? (I’m probably not pronouncing ‘sudo’ right to make that one work.)

  41. I liked the first two panels, and didn’t think it needed the third. But the reactions in the forum are disturbing. They seem to take that comic a wee bit too seriously.

  42. So if my back-of-the-envelope analysis is correct, persons who post in the PA forums are likely to read PA but not xkcd.
    Persons who post here on Whatever are likely to read both PA and xkcd, and a large number of us are startled to realize that the intersection is smaller than we thought, which is itself a contradiction. So how many people read Penny Arcade, xkcd, and Whatever? I wonder if there’s any way to find out.

  43. I read Penny Arcade but to be honest, only understand what they’re talking about half the time, such is my lack of gaming nerd cred. As far as telling a story in 3 panels though? Nailed it. Sure, it’s not everybody’s cup of tea but so what? There’s only so many halo and WoW jokes to be had.

  44. I liked your comic, but I’m not a regular reader of Penny Arcade.

    Has Athena ever used a command-line interface? When I was that age, I was used to CLIs, because we’d only recently obtained a computer capable of running Windows. I’m guessing that Athena is young enough, though, that for her the CLI has always been a specialty tool rather than the default interface.

  45. I don’t think not knowing Unix/Linux is necessarily a *console* gamer thing. In fact, I’d guess that someone who knows Unix/Linux is *less* likely to be a PC gamer than someone who doesn’t.

  46. I liked the strip. I’m a regular reader of the Whatever (certainly enough to know that the “kid” in the strip was Athena, who’s very much a girl), a frequent reader of XKCD (and have dabbled in Linux enough to know what “sudo” is//does), and an infrequent reader of PA (I generally read it when it is linked elsewhere, like here). So basically, I got all the references, which definitely helps.

    However, last night at dinner, my daughter turned to me and said “sudo get me something to drink.” So she definitely catches on quick.

    Plus, I’m a big fan of smartass kids (of either gender), being a former child and lifelong smartass myself.

  47. The hand i panel two is weird and the sudo joke is bad tempo, and you have alredy told the story before.

    But hey, I smiled and sent it to my wife so I guess I liked it.

  48. Argargh. What annoyed me was the PA forumites interpreted the comic as “main Star Wars joke” + “tacked-on xkcd joke”, in which interpretation, indeed, the comic is not all that great.

    However! The better interpretation and the joke I read was, and I am conscious this is not the safest forum to make pronouncements on authorial intent, was a joke of underestimation (panel 2) and realization (panel 3): we are given something that seems a small thing (the Jedi mind trick imitation), and we are shown the father character reacting accordingly (also grudgingly; ice cream!); and then we’re shown that the small thing was only the tip of an icebergful (the much more obscure sudo line), making the reaction to the small thing appear ridiculous. (Much as in an action movie or a comedy a character would express concern over a Small Problem, only to shortly realize it’s a Big Problem, actually. Or in a horror story, a character would dismiss a small scare, only to realize it is the tail of a much more serious scare.)

    Indeed, to use a Star Wars line, the reveal suggests the roles of master and apprentice might be much more in flux than the father character assumed. The narrative encounters a discontinuity: we, along with the father character, fall from one interpretation to another, and comedy results.

    Then again, I usually overthink things.

  49. Given that these are the folks who think it’s adorable when Mike goes and stirs shit in feminist circles I can’t think of anything I’d find more personally encouraging than being disliked by them. Yours is the first PA cartoon I’ve looked at in 10 months; I’d deliberately cut them out of my life after the Dickwolves response (as opposed to the Dickwolves comic itself, which I had no real problem with).

  50. Put me in the “Cute story, meh comic” camp. Too crowded maybe, or the timing was off, or something along those lines.

    Also, John had way too much hair.

  51. I’m assuming that Athena did, in fact, get the ice cream?
    I think the strip is pretty darn cool, and mostly I find Penny Arcade “meh”. But the strip reminds me of the comic strips my sister-in-law had an artist friend do for my brother for Father’s Day, of amusing incidents involving his daughters, who also are smart-aleck geeklings.

  52. Is Athena an XKCD fan? “Sudo make me a sandwich” is an very obscure reference. I’m also guessing that a lot of PA’s fans are “hardcore” gamer types who hate small children. Whether it’s fair or not, the girl in your strip was to PA fans what Jake Lloyd was to Star Wars fans and Wesley Crusher was to Star Trek fans.

  53. Blinking with complete astonishment here. I thought it was great. Of course, I did catch the xkcd reference right away, so I’m not sitting around trying to insist that the part of the comic that I didn’t get must suck.

    On the other hand, I’m not a regular Penny Arcade reader, so I had no expectations to be blighted. Maybe they aren’t used to writing that’s compressed enough to deliver two jokes in three panels.

  54. OK, am I the only one who’s suddenly seeing all Scalzi’s own comments in dark gray on a black background (which is about the hardest to read short of off-white on white)? Eye hurty. Hard for elderly person (me) to read, even with reading glasses. Owwies.

  55. >I’d say that my assumption that xkcd and Penny Arcade have a substantial readership overlap may have been incorrect, if in fact the PA forums are indicative of the overall readership.

    I read them both, but never wander into the forums on either site. *I* think xkcd and PA have a broad overlap, but I could be wrong. The comic was cute, but I personally didn’t like the art work. I had a chuckle at the last panel.

  56. ok, the critique here and on pa about the artwork has me … wondering. i went back and looked at the strips on pa. gradated background, dead line, flat color. yawn. the scalzi strip had depth, beautiful living lines, color that made the subjects pop. classic comic art, not wrightson level, but good. what gives. question mark. my android does not believe in capital letters, nor puncutation beyond periods and commas. sorry. someone school me on the art, because what i saw was quality unusual to that site.

  57. @Robert Enders
    Your vision of the typical PA’er si a bit off. Penny Arcade does regular reader surveys, and I’m a pretty typical PA reader. (For the record, a certain somebody known around these parts also seems to fit the bill).

    30-something. Male. In a relationship/married. Kids are not uncommon. And yes, we tend to be hardcore gamers, but often hardcore gamers, with a lot less time to game than we’d like due to the increasing responsibilities of adult life. And kids are far from hated. We talk about our kids quite a bit in the forums. Tycho and Gabe reference their kids in the blog and strips a lot. One of the most popular characters in the strip is Tycho’s 12 year old niece, Annarchy. So, yeah, no kid hate. And believe me, when the forums hate on something, you know it. In reality, it’s a pretty civilized outpost in the sweltering cesspool of most Internet forums.

  58. Wait, you waited until Athena was EIGHT before showing her Star Wars? Holy crap. I don’t think either I or my daughter (or my newborn son, for that matter) can wait anywhere near that long. She’s already curious, and she’s only three. But hey, I saw the thing in theaters when I was 5, and I turned out OK except for the 1200-odd action figures I own, so no harm done, I guess.

  59. Xopher: You’re pronouncing sudo right in “sudointellectual.” ;) At least, for about 80% of unix folks. A few people rhyme it with, oh, “Sulu.” A very few people “S-U- do.”

  60. long time Whatever/PA/xkcd reader here, i liked it. Though I would have left out the actual conversation modifier at the beggining. =) (everyone is a critic) <3 SPAAAAAAAAARKLEPOOOOOOONYYYYYY!

  61. Unless my memory is on the fritz (again), John recounted the story on which the strip is based not very long ago in this September forum. Despite previous exposure to both sources, I quite liked the fusion of the two elements. (My housemates may have been less appreciative, perhaps because my guffaws put paid to their late morning’s slumber. Que lástima, all awoke. O the embarassment.)

    I also wish to thank Mr. Zugale for the Unicorn Pegasus Kitten cameo (most easily seen in his original inked rendition, currently on auction). Therefore…   *ahem*

    John, Jeff:  THANK YOU both very much!

  62. Whatever/xkcd reader – never saw PA before this. I got the jokes, but didn’t think it was a great cartoon, it was cute, certainly not unfunny. The comments make me think PA readers (or at least those who commented) are not technogeeks at all, probably gamers & either young enough to not have dealt with clever kids or not gifted enough to have produced any.

    Considering it was a first attempt I think you get a lot of credit. Replace the sudo line with some trek/wars/pop culture line & this would run under Dilbert in 137 papers every day.

  63. Can none of these complainers figure things out from context? I had no idea what “sudo” meant (neither here nor when I read the joke on xkcd, but now I am educated), but it was pretty clearly some sort of command-you-must-obey, rather like a Jedi mind trick. The comic was funny to me, as Athena was mocking her dad’s insistance that he couldn’t be bossed around by her (and her cuteness at assimilating Star Wars) by continuing to boss him around. It’s funnier now that I realize it was also a callback to an xkcd comic (which I’d forgotten).

    Of course when you have to explain these things, they become less funny.

  64. I agree with some of the PA commenters: it would have been better to end the text at “this is only going to work once”, letting the visual joke be her sitting there eating ice cream. That would have been funny *and* not confusing to people who are gaming nerds but not computer geeks.

    Also, “of course, daddy” didn’t sound like Athena to me, and yeah, I had the same thought someone else expressed – why would she want a sandwich? She’s got ice cream!

    Definitely smacks of wanting to do too much of the load-bearing of the humor in the text. In your next attempt, try to let the visuals do more on their own, (says someone who reads ~10 webcomics on a daily basis)

  65. Kudos on letting the one-star reviews slide. My first piece of hate mail is framed by my desk.

    The only addition I would make would be: consider the source. It’s Penny Arcade commenters. These are the same group of people who defended a rape comic.

  66. @Jedibear

    Penny Arcade readers aren’t general-purpose geeks like you and me.

    I am a Penny Arcade reader, a PA forums member, and I am a general-purpose geek.

    I believe the mature retort is “So there, neener neener boo boo!”

    I don’t participate in a lot of in depth public character criticism, however, either of PA or any other media I consume because I understand my own biases, culture, and experiences color things a lot. For example, I could totally see a precocious 8 year old making coding references. Since I used to, back in the early 80s. But again, colored by my own experiences of being a precocious 8 year old daughter of a programmer back before everyone had a computer in their home or pocket.

  67. As both a lifelong unix admin and star wars geek, the joke was fine. I can see where the general PA readership base wouldn’t get the sudo punchline. Can’t win ‘em all!

  68. I’m going to have to agree with the critics that the “sudo” line was not funny as a punchline. In the previous panel you emphatically stated that it was her bedtime, but you caved on giving her the ice cream. Then in the last panel she is holding a gigantic bowl of ice cream and now wants a sandwich also?? It makes no sense! Who eats a sandwich as a late night snack? And right after a gigantic bowl of ice cream?
    Maybe if it was like a cookie then sudo get me a glass of milk it would have been passable.

  69. Your strip was funny, I liked it. The one after it, published on Friday, had a rape reference and no comedy whatsoever. Goodbye again, Penny Arcade.

  70. @Mary Sue,

    I took anthro 101 about a decade ago, and part of that course involved making comparisons between “our society” and other societies. Every once in a while, especially early on, a student would speak up about things that made them differ significantly from the baseline he was using.

    My professor’s response, which he only explained once, was to silently walk to the chalkboard, draw a bell curve, and make a mark well to the right (as I recall, it was always to the right) of the graph’s center.

    “PA readers” and “PA forum readers” are a pretty large group. I know a lot of them, and they’re all coders. That’s because I just spent a decade going in and out of computer science programs. What remains to be demonstrated, if you want to falsify my claim, is that PA-reader/coders are typical.

  71. I’ve seen a lot worse – even from Tycho and Gabe. I’ve seen better too – but I could say the same of just about any comic strip. Except maybe Calvin and Hobbes or Bloom County. But they are outliers.

    I’m a big PA fan but I stay away from the forums. Too many gamer kiddies, and I don’t begrudge them their fun and culture, I just can’t relate as an adult.

    I think your mention above that this only tells us the opinion of a small subset of the readership is dead on. There are a lot more readers out there like me – who will have a wide set of reactions to the strip – but wont ever post about it in the PA forums.

  72. I’ve been following Penny Arcade longer than Whatever, and I thought your strip was great. Even though I’m a gamer, I don’t follow half their references. Therefore, Google. Which is what I did to learn what “sudo” means. And then I laughed again. You should keep doing comics, at least once in a while.

  73. I liked John’s comic. It doesn’t surprise me a lot of the PA readers didn’t like it or didn’t get it. I’m a regular PA reader and I don’t get at least 50% of their stuff.

    I did think the dialog on the 3rd panel was a little loose by 3-panel comics standards, but I’ve seen WAY worse from guys that do it for a living.

    I wish John had doubled down on the 2nd joke and gone with “Sudo make me a BACON sandwich”.

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