Friday, September 13, 2013

College Roomies From Hell !!!

Yes, the three exclamation marks are in the title. They are in fact utterly crucial.
I don't mean that entirely as a joke either. That triple-exclamation topper is a perfect example of the appeal of CRFH at its best, and of what it has lost in recent years.

Way-back-when, attempting to qualify myself as some sort of webcomic literatus, I laid out various categories of such works in all their fly-by-nite glory. They are most often started with no clear notion of where they're headed, and authors alternately lose interest or burn out or start looking for sharks to jump. Among these, CRFH was my example of college comics.
Unfair as such pigeonholing tends to be, it's a nice starting point in thinking about the strip. It started out as a string of college jokes. The characters try to get laid, eat cheap food and try their durndest not to flunk out.
Of course this wears thin pretty fast, so the author starts throwing random supernatural nonsense in, like giving the characters superpowers. And then the drama becomes more alluring. The devil gets involved, with hints of Armageddon. Hearts are broken, and mended, and broken again. Technology meets magic, everybody gets amnesia and key figures come back from the dead.
And if you're real quick on your feet as an author, you can manage to build something out of that mess, you can manage to even build on it. For a long time, Campos was eerily gifted in this. The humor, though it became so dark at times as to put Loki to shame, remained a major part of the daily writing. The overarching storyline grew and grew until anything seemed possible. The personal drama grew in love triangles and petty rivalries turned vendettas, and heroism invalidated by human flaws. And it was all fascinating.

No matter how ridiculous the content, it was always given meaning, or the story simply shifted so hard so fast that you had no time to look for plot holes. Even cross-overs, which most authors know enough to write off as alternate-reality happenings, were half-integrated into the story. This lovely trainwreck in the making continued for years, high drama mingling with farce and character growth, seemingly through Campos' determination to never look back. Whatever potential mistakes she made, she embraced and slammed right back into the story in defiance of logic, and to great effect.

It was always an unstable system. It begged for a climactic ending, and it was heading for one... and then it fell apart. The author seemingly lost her drive. She began to second-guess herself. She started holding back, trying to mend the seams in the world she'd created. She rebooted. She toned it down. She even changed her art style instead of continuing to build on her own development. The whole thing has largely fizzled.

One of the most interesting aspects of webcomics is seeing a creator grow and develop a project's identity as it goes, and CRFH is one of the best examples, from start to jokes to incipient drama through the wonderful escalation of its ballooning soap-opera plot. It was so over-the-top that it's a wonder it stayed interesting for so long, really.
Here's my favorite moment of the series, these two pages. High drama. Except high drama doesn't really happen with normal human beings. It's the artists, the idealists, the dreamers who are prone to it, and their ideas are grander than the reality of human relationships. Many I'm sure saw that moment as a low point in the series and those heartrending, overwrought declarations as out of character for the heroes but it was both as awkward and as necessary as the three exclamation marks. It was the "anything goes" comic-book spirit. CRFH was among other things also an example of Cerebus Syndrome ... but that contains no implication of a judgment on quality. The comic had always been heading down that path, from the moment it escalated from college jokes to pacts with Satan. Its best-case-scenario was a bitterly farcical Apocalypse, a tragic end for all involved. It wasn't the buildup which ruined CRFH but the compromise, the fear of an ending, the slow, hesitant dissolution in place of a decisive finale.

The center could not hold. Anarchy was always its fate.

But there could have been beauty in the breakdown.

I hold with those who favor fire.

CRFH shuddered and stopped over the abyss.

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