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L33t Pixelz by Q-Tip, reviewed by Shaenon Garrity

Nerds need to learn how to spell. L33T-speak is the single most annoying mode of discourse in human history, narrowly beating out the otaku patois created when American anime fans pepper their conversation with broken Japanese. While reviewing L33T Pixelz, I am afraid to speak the title aloud, for fear that the sheer irritating geekiness will cause jocks to spontaneously generate out of thin air and beat the crap out of me. And I’m scared of jocks.

Nerds also need to learn how to draw. Sprite comics are fun for about five minutes, but in the long run, pasting the same badly-rendered figures into the same badly-rendered backgrounds for week after week results in a visually stultifying comic. Q-Tip, the creator of L33T Pixelz, gets some bonus points for actually having a story-related (as opposed to laziness-related) reason for using sprite art. He also gets points for using original sprites, not figures illegally copied from 16-bit Nintendo games. However, he gets points off for making his sprite figures so generic that it’s hard to tell them apart. The biggest physical difference between the two main characters, Max and Silas, is that one has green eyes and one has orangey-brown eyes. Damned if I can remember which is which.

L33T Pixelz is, as mentioned above, about Max and Silas, lifelong friends who have bonded for years over their shared obsession with video games. Now that they’re in college, Silas wants to ease off the gaming and get a life, while Max remains as devoted to video-game excellence as ever. When Silas’ girlfriend throws Max’s console out of an upper-story window in a fit of rage, Max jumps after it and winds up in the hospital. He awakens convinced that he’s a video-game avatar, and wanders the hospital corridors in search of mini-quests. The strip has been running for about a year, but it hasn’t gotten far beyond establishing this premise, because Q-Tip takes a lot of hiatuses and draws a lot of filler strips.

The idea of a pixilated Don Quixote who thinks he’s in a video game is pretty good, and so far Q-Tip has gotten some decent material out of it, with Max wearing an underwear bandana and talking to a potted cactus. The newer strips set in the hospital are a marked improvement on the early college-humor strips, which make it painfully clear that character humor is not Q-Tip’s strength as a writer, and that plot humor may be where he should continue to focus instead.

The female characters are particularly one-dimensional: hanging around the heroes’ dorm room are Raechel the Girlfriend, Misti the Slut, and Makoto the Japanese Girl (included because “it’s kind of mandatory to have a Japanese character”). I probably only think this because I’m a girl and we get all uppity about these things, but it seems pretty jerky for a cartoonist to constantly describe a girl as a “ho,” even in her own character bio. A lady’s character bio, at least, should be sacred. No decent female characters show up until the hospital, where Max teams up with a deranged tattooed woman who throws Chinese food at him. This relationship shows promise.

At this stage, L33T Pixelz is still undergoing the mini-quest of finding itself. It seems to be in the process of transitioning from a standard college strip with video-game in-jokes to an adventure comedy in which the gaming references are woven more thoughtfully into a running story. There are some moments when Q-Tip plays with his format in interesting ways, as when the characters see themselves as non-sprite “human” (actually, manga-like) characters. So far, the shift in tone is an improvement, but, given the glacial update schedule, there aren’t enough pages up yet to make it clear where it’s all going.