Shiny Shelf

Penny Arcade 25¢

By Mark Clapham on 10 December 2005

…or 20p, if you live in the UK.

This special low-price preview to promote the first trade paperback collection of the incredibly popular webcomic ‘Penny Arcade’ demonstrates Dark Horse’s commitment to taking the property seriously. As well they should – so popular is the comic strip online that a link from it can spell death to a lesser server within the hour, and its creators have been able to not only employ themselves gainfully just doing the strip, but also have other employees to manage their affairs. Oh, and set up the charity Child’s Play, which has helped raise cash and provide toys for sick children and their siblings. All this from a webcomic, not a medium known to bring riches and lead to great philanthropic works.

Not too shabby, and if Dark Horse can bring the masses of PA faithful into comic shops to buy the book, and simultaneously turn the direct market readership who may not have heard of the web strip on to the property via incentives like this cheap issue, they could have a publishing phenomenon on their hands.

So, what’s ‘Penny Arcade’ about? Well, videogames and gamers. Tycho and Gabe (alter egos of writer Jerry Holkins and artist Mike Krahulik) are two flatmates and games obsessives, and the strip as a whole is a commentary on videogames, the geeks who play them and, well, geeks in general. As such, it’s struck a chord with internet surfers who don’t play games, and should hit an equally familiar chord with comic book readers who may well be neither big net users nor game players. Like Nick Hornby’s earlier novels, the chronicling of male obsession in ‘Penny Arcade’ is near-universally recognizable.

Unfortunately for Hornby, unlike Holkins and Krahulik he never had the sense to combine the relationship of his two main characters with surrealism and insanely sadistic, gory slapstick: Tycho gets savaged by a rabid dog, Gabe gets mauled by a rabid wolverine, Nemesis squeezes Gabe’s head in one hand, Tycho gets set on fire… and so on. Sometimes games characters are just part of a game, sometimes they’re real and exist alongside Tycho and Gabe. Sometimes Tycho and Gabe aren’t in the strip at all, and it’s set entirely in a gameworld (like the fantastic FPS cocktail party scene, where red and blue flag carriers are embarrassed to find their wives talking), or somewhere else altogether.

Whatever, these mostly three panel gag strips are funny and inventive. Even in the relatively primitive early strips showcased here (the leaps Krahulik’s art has made in recent years can be seen on the lovely covers to both this issue and the first trade), with their minimal backgrounds and less stylised characters, and even bearing in mind that some of these are old strips about games that most of us have long forgotten, ‘Penny Arcade’ is always worth reading, and virtually never delivers a dud gag. The Dark Horse collections will be worth buying, even for readers who have been with the strip all the way or who have diligently worked their way through the online archive. As it is, this sample issue is pretty much an essential read for the uninitiated.

Those unwilling to spend a whole 20 cents/pence can read Penny Arcade in its original online form, and while they’re at it visit the children’s charity set up by Holkins and Krahulik, Child’s Play, and make a Christmas donation.

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By Mark Clapham

Mark Clapham is a Devon-based writer and editor. You can find out more about him at the egotistically named

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