Webcomics, TV and Kickstarter you say? Speak of the Devil.
STRIP SEARCH, the reality show about a house full of cartoonists competing for $15K and a year of “being embedded” at Penny Arcade, debuted earlier this week. You can watch the first episode above and the second episode is now up as well. The show is produced by the Penny Arcade crew, with Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins as judges. (They ran a half million dollar Kickstarter to fund the show last year) 12 cartoonists — six male, six female, are flown to a house in Seattle to compete for the prize, in the classic format. The 12, chosen from a thousand entrants, are mostly webcomickers, but more on that in a bit.
I’m not a reality contest addict, but I watch a few. American Idol (because you CAN’T be a nerd all the time) and I’m back watching the Ultimate Fighter this season. In fact I watched last night’s Ultimate Fighter immediately before I watched these and it was fun to see reality show staples transferred to the comics milieu with greetings, threats, and a big house stocked with alcohol at their beck and call. In addition. STRIP SEARCH has elements that will be all too familiar to anyone who is or is involved with a cartoonist:
• The cartoonist who cannot leave the house until she finishes sending a file
• A fridge stocked with hot pockets and soy milk
• Severe self doubts about being good enough to win
• Excitement about pudding
In the first episode we meet the 12 contestants and they travel to the house to see who they are up against. The female cartoonists seem to be way more established than the men, including Erika Moen, who I would say is a star already, and Katie Rice, who works on Kung Fu Panda. Not too much happens in the first episode, but it’s a good set-up. Surprisingly, unlike the MMA fighters who bodly predict victory until they end up lying in a puddle of their own blood, the cartoonists are all given to huge self doubts. Many don’t think they are good enough to win, and they all doubt their art chops. Yep, this must be a house full of artists all right.
In episode two, there’s a game of Fax Machine (artists take turns sketching based on sayings or writings sayings based on sketches) and it turns out they are all very talented, and able to turnout funny sketches pretty quickly. And the first character begins to emerge: Amy Falcone who had to quit her data entry job in Noank, CT in order to compete. Amy thinks she will clash with the other women in the house, and seems to be the most ambitious and insecure of the lot, based on the fact that she wears fingerless gloves inside while drawing.
Aw, see now, I’m doing it. I don’t know Amy Falcone. Her comics are cute. But already she’s fallen into the “reality show” jungle of viewers making assumptions about who she is as a person. I only know one of the contestants personally (Moen) but it’s going to be weird seeing them transformed like this.
The episodes are only 15 minutes long, but someone is going to go home on the very first day. I already feel bad for whoever that person is.
Production is competent if a bit sparse. I believe host Graham Stark (Loading Ready Run) is also the narrator, and here is where I wish hat they had the lady from Snapped or some other portentous voice. Even if it isn’t quite ready for The History Channel, STRIP SEARCH is well enough done, and the premise is engaging enough, that I’m going to be back for more episodes—if only to see mild-mannered indie cartoonists uttering reality show staple lines like “I didn’t come here to make friends!”
I tell you what would be great though, an Ultimate Fighter/Strip Search crossover. The fighters could scribble and the cartoonists could eat six hard boiled eggs for breakfast and see who felt more comfortable in the end.
And what do YOU think? Will you watch “America’s Next Top Webcomic?”
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.