Sunday, January 24, 2016

Where the bots have no name

"The city's a flood and our love turns to rust
We're beaten and blown by the wind, trampled in dust
I show you a place high on a desert plain
Where the streets have no name"

U2 - Where the Streets Have No Name

Jeph Jacques did something very interesting a few days ago over at Questionable Content. He skipped time. Noteworthy first because webcomics tend to dip rather more often in the other direction, dedicating dozens upon dozens of pages to each day in the characters' lives, and second because after three thousand pages QC's cast has grown so large that a few months of Faye's life could easily have passed while the audience catches up with everyone else. That little montage seems not only a very conscious choice but a somewhat gutsy one, and to me achieves more than the author might have intended it to.

QC's a daily comic. Relatively light on plot, heavy on banter and fart jokes and relying on relationship drama for instantly accessible intrigue. Also robots. It's not particularly dark... okay, not compared to some of the other stuff I like anyway. Suffice it to say that one of the main characters, Faye, a barista who also happens to sculpt metal, has gone through a rough patch. The audience sees the conflict, sees her start a new job working with robots and then...

Time Goes By

The story then continues the way its author wants it to, for however long he wants it to. However, I was intrigued by the experience of reading that page, alone, as the end of a line segment. We see Faye moving on or drudging on, getting snarkier or more bitter. She's doing a good job, doing well, isn't she? Isn't she? Her appearance changes, becoming rougher, tougher, condensing, purifying, becoming more fully her pugnacious, torn persona. My guess is that the author intends this passed time as a period of recuperation for Faye. She's a bit more calm. She's dealin'.

But if I were writing things from that point, she would not. There's a quantum divergence here, a truer to life alternate universe in which time goes by but wounds don't heal, only scar. I see Faye retreating, settling, forgetting, digging in, defeated, forgotten, in the warehouse full of robots. Work goes well at first, then compresses her life into the slow grind of commonality. After a while she just moves in. Why commute? The rest of the cast pairs up, moves on, moves out, moves past her. The robots come and go one by one but she remains, a more solid fixture than they, in the crumbling warehouse until the bulldozers push her out. There we have Faye, years and not months afterwards, wandering off, reeking of machine oil, a few hairs grayer than the dust on her clothes. So, after so long, she lets her feet stumble her into the nearest bar. Maybe Bubbles the robot is there every step, stalking grandiosely after Faye, observing impassively.

It's probably a good thing I'm not writing QC. Then again, if I did it would've never made it to thirty pages much less three thousand. I'm not even a hack - I aspire to hackdom, and not very decisively at that. Still I do like the array of possibilities opened up by that one page in that precise spot in the story, the way it sets a long-time reader's mind racing to keep up with imagined plots. Lyricism is often in the eye of the beholder.

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