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Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

XEREXES: I CLEANED OUT THE SPAM FROM THIS THREAD AND I'M PROMOTING IT TO THE FRONT PAGE. This thread is/was a great discussion of the Cerebus Syndrome until it got hijacked by spam - maybe now we can pick it back up again.I am doing research for a paper I am writing about webcomics. The specific topic is based on the "Cerebus Syndrome" described by Eric Burns of Websnark. For those of you who don't know, the general concept is that a strip starts out light, funny, and fairly shallow, and then eventually adds depth, characterization, and dramatic story to become something that is a complex amalgam of comedy and drama. A "Cerebus Syndrome" can either succeed or fail. However, what exactly "success" or "failure" means in this context is not at all clear. What I am attempting to do is to develop a rubric for judging the success or failure of a "Cerebus Syndrome" attempt and then use it to judge several example comics. The comics that I am specifically looking at are "College Roomies from Hell!!!" by Maritza Campos, "General Protection Fault" by Jefferey Darlington, the original "Roomies" by David Willis, and "Sluggy Freelance" by Pete Abrams. What would be very helful is if anyone who has an opinion would post on any or all of the following things: -What makes a successful Cerebus syndrome? A failed one? (I have my own ideas, but I am interested to see what others think) -For each comic mentioned above, is it a successful Cerebus syndrome attempt? A failure? Not an attempt at all? Somewhere in between? -Do you know of other particularly good examples of Cerebus syndrome attempts, either successful or not? (I know some others, but I thought these were the most distinctive.) If you do not have anything more to say than yes this is a success or no it isn't, that's still useful, so feel free to post anyway. Also, if you would not like me to quote you, please say so in your post. Thank you all in advance for your help.

Trainee strips and Megatokyo

panvaneer's picture
I think we can see a way that webcomics can elude the first and ten syndrome.
A number of webcartoonists have scrapped their original 'trainee' webcomics because they couldn't fit their new vision in to the old strip's paradigm:

Bobbins= ScaryGoRound
Ghostcat= Rob and Elliot
When I grow up= Wigu

An unsuccesful version of this is Shaw island's attempt to smarten up. Road Waffles has had numerous overhauls. Mitch Clem is already expressing doubts about how people view nnts in comparison to Rock City.

I think another point is that Sluggy Freelance always contained the seed for narrative expansion it's just that Abrams still can't gell together adventure time with normal 'goofoff' time.

I also think we're missing out Megatokyo here, I know the critical consensus is against the comic because of the usual genre bias (Think Ghastly's and Something Positive'sÂ
pisstake of the comic) but regardless of the overburdened prolix narratives I think Gallagher has actually pulled off a Cerebus.Â
When you read all the archives at once you canÂ
see an emerging intensity of focus

http://zhi100.blogspot.com

Currently building an evil robotic cat to take over the world!

http://zhi100.blogspot.com

As Tangent pointed out, I

Jamie Robertson's picture

As Tangent pointed out, I started Clan of the Cats in a plot heavy format and it continues in that direction today. Still, I did rely on the �punch-line� quite heavily in the beginning, but not extensively. One of the most important decisions I made in the beginning was to allow myself NOT to be funny all the time. The story was more important that the joke. I still remember the first strip I put up that had no punch-line. It was the first or second week and I was nervous about it. I wasn�t getting any mail about it back then, so it wasn�t because of disappointing readers. ;) I was nervous because I was going against everything I had been taught about comics and cartooning. I think it paid off. And now I get mail every once in a while. ;) Of course the fact that we have archives is the main reason we can do this plot heavy stuff in the first place. :) Take care, Jamie http://clanofthecats.com

Jamie Robertson's picture

scarfman wrote:
Of course it's a matter of personal interpretation, but what seems obvious to me about M*A*S*H isn't that it tried to be something it hadn't been before but that, when new people were put in charge, they tried to maintain what the people before them had made it and they weren't as good at it. I can see how certain experimental episodes might give the impression that they were trying to be something different; but there were experimental episodes in the Gelbart/Reynolds years too, just, the experiments were different. On the whole, the post-Gelbart/Reynolds creative team were doing their sincere best to propagate what'd been handed over to them; their style was just not as stylish.
The thing of it is M*A*S*H* started out more complex than most people remember. Most just remember that it was hysterical in the first three seasons and it was. Still, it had its deep moments. I seem to recall that part of the later "issue episodes" came from complaints that the show was making fun of war. Go figure. What about the Mary Tyler Moore Show, a half-hour sitcom, which spun off Lou Grant, an hour long drama? And I remember Archie Comics actually getting serious for a while and started chasing ghosts and monster ala Scooby Doo, but the monsters were real. This was way before the �Archie Kids� or when he got �saved�.  Take care, jamie

Jamie Robertson's picture

TCampbell wrote:
For an even better "WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ?" feeling, try "Garfield: His 9 Lives." Some of its chapters are typical albeit wittier Garfield fare... and others are... not.
Oh yeah. I remember that thing, but couldn't recall the title. Thanks, T. Some of the stories are actually quite disturbing. I think, for me anyway, this was Garfield's swan song.  Take care, Jamie

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

David Wright's picture

I think I may have managed to do it ok. I went from Todd and Penguin as a gag a day comic to having Todd and Penguin be young, to going to a 'Todd in a near death coma', for almost a month!! I was scared I would alienate half my readers, before coming full circle, and the comic got very VERY serious,going into topics such as death and regret of life unlived, before coming back to where I started, though I now weave more serious storylines and depth into the comic. To show my seriousness, I was actually going to kill off my main character. Didn't do it, but almost did. Eric commented on the storyline once, though not sure if he thought it was a full fledged Cerebus or not.

Also, there seems to be this

Also, there seems to be this weird idea with webcomics that you just do ONE comic, so that comic has to be all things, instead of doing several different ones. I think that contributes to the idea that a funny comic can go all serious and epic. It certainly seems to happen here more than in print comics or TV. -meaghan

I thought "The Cerebus Syndrome" was when you turn over half of your comic to long essays about how women are all life sucking subhumans.

[url=http://www.acidkeg.com/][img]http://www.acidkeg.com/akbanner.gif[/img][/url]

Uncle Ghastly's picture

joshl. wrote:
I' just being weird. Don't mind me.
<points to sign on the wall which reads NO BEING WEIRD> So... do you want to pay the fine, or will you chose the punishment behind the curtain or what's in the box. CHOOSE!

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Wednesday wrote:
(So, if characters from secular work suddenly find religion, what syndrome is that? Circle Square? Flying House? I have a horrible feeling it's about to come up.)
B.C. How the fuck can Cavemen be Christians? I mean, even if you're one of those Young Earth nutjobs you'd still have to accept that Cavemen lived before Jesus.

Oh, YEAH! Garfield's "Last

Oh, YEAH! Garfield's "Last Man on Earth" storyline! Otherwise known as "the last week Garfield was actually interesting." I thought it had great potential, which it blew to smithereens in its last three panels, bringing everything to a pat conclusion and trying for typical Garfield schmaltz after the intensity of what went before, which doesn't, you know, jibe. For an even better "WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ?" feeling, try "Garfield: His 9 Lives." Some of its chapters are typical albeit wittier Garfield fare... and others are... not.

I think it is like Ghastly said. If it feels like a natural extension of what went before, then the shift to higher drama works. If it feels like the writer "is trying something," "is finding himself," "is having a life crisis," etc., then it is terrible.

This doesn't just happen in comics. I'm thinking about all the bands that break up after their frontman "realizes" he's the real artist here, and that all the band's old albums are just kid's play, so he goes solo with some pretentious neo-Chinese-African jazz-rap-rockabilly fusion to push the envelope. Also he gets a dramatically different haircut and a nose stud.

So maybe that has something to do with it too -- it'll be a failure if the new stuff feels like it's saying "the old format you all liked was amateur and stupid."

Kristofer Straub www.starslip.com

jamiecotc wrote:
This was way before the �Archie Kids� or when he got �saved�.
The Spire continuity is ex-canon anyhow, I believe. You can tell because, among other things, Big Ethel isn't a complete social pariah. (So, if characters from secular work suddenly find religion, what syndrome is that? Circle Square? Flying House? I have a horrible feeling it's about to come up.)

Sometimes the Kerberos syndrome is a matter of the artist forming a very complex idea of what their comic is about... but the idea is in their mind, and the readers know nothing about it. The change in tone will make perfect sense to the artist, but it will hit the reader like a ton of bricks. Trust me, I know.
Sometimes the author will make it work, but it hasn't happened often in webcomics, to be honest. A lot of the fault lies with the author failing to make the shift in tone palatable to their readers, because like I said, they're too close to their work.

I call it the "Kerberos syndrome" 'cause I don't really like Cerebus that much. Also, I don't like the phrase "Cerebus syndrome" either. It should be called the "M*A*S*H Syndrome".

...Anyone remember that time when Garfield did the week-long story arc that was dark and serious?

It's interesting to note

It's interesting to note that this syndrome seems to manifest itself in a lot of net comics. The lack of a heavy handed editor may be the reason for this. Very few professional comics will suffer from cerebrus syndrome, simply because the artists/writers have someone looking over their shoulder, keeping them in line whenever they stray too far off course.

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

Joe England's Zebra Girl is another good example. It started off pretty facetiously, with fairly 2-D characters; Jack the jerky slacker, Crystal the chirpy airhead, and Sandra the straight-guy and magic-victim. It's still very funny, but Joe's taking the characters a lot more seriously, giving Sandra her own "journal strip" to vent in.

Garfield pulling a Cerebus... you know, however bad it was, that still clashes ultramegaviolently with everything I've heard said about that strip lately. Unless one of Davis' Cat-Factory employees went on a creative rampage when Management had their eye off the ball...

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

you know, i had heard Ceberus Syndorme used before but had never looked into what it meant. Now that i know, i realise that i'm most probably in the process of doing it (or at least planning it). I've told myself that even though this storyline will have dramatic elements, i'll try and keep the funny as much as i can.

T has a point. Most of the time i don't think it's so much a conscious decision. Characters evolve as the writing and art evolves. They may have started off doing quirky things and maybe being stereotypes but over time they usually mold into something more and the writer then approaches them differently. In the end it probably comes down to how characters evolve. No matter what situation you throw characters into, they'll all react their individual ways. Some characters will take serious things seriously, others will take them in stride or with a sense of humour. I think by typing that i realise that at least one of my characters lives in his own world, even in a dramatic situation, there will be plenty of room for humour. I think Maritza Campos has done that really well with crfh. The strip has gotten quite heavy in a lot of places but it's the way that the characters react and interact that adds the humour and relieves the tension somewhat.

So yeah, i think a ceberus can succeed if one sticks to their characters. If you started off funny, at least one character should be keeping that trait of humour when you go dramatic. Aside from the opposite of how i think you can succeed, i really have no idea how one would fail. :/

Pretentious aspirations

Uncle Ghastly's picture

Pretentious aspirations combined with skilless hackery spell certain failure. When the writer seems to lose respect for what his own creation was it's almost certain that the shift in gears is doomed to suckage. It shouldn't feel like the author is saying "Look at me. Look at what I'm doing. See how deep I am. Look at the drama. This shows I've grown as a writer because I'm doing drama and before I was just a mere gag-comic. Look at me and bow!" which is what seems to be going on oh so many times when an author suddenly changes gears like that. You start getting self indulgent like that and you're heading for the $1.99 suck-bin. What writers need to understand is that drama is not greater than comedy (or vice versa). Switching gears in a work to show off what you think are evolved writing skills does not mean you're producing better work. Good comedy writing is every bit as valid an artform as good dramatic writing and bad dramatic writing is just a heap of suck, period. The other problem is, if the characters were not interesting in the comedy, putting them in a drama won't make them anymore interesting. What's even worse, though, is when the characters were interesting in the context of a comedy but become much less so in the course of a drama particularily when it's the result of the writer throwing all internal consistancy out the window. Consistancy is important. People are the way they are and by and large they don't change. They may mellow perhaps but big life-altering change, that's pretty rare without either a significant catalyst setting off the change or some serious self reflection. Even with such events a lot of people will only experience temporary change and soon fall back upon old habbits. Understand who your characters are and if you shift gears make sure you understand how they would respond to this shift. If you're going to start changing characters 180 degrees for no damned reason other than the fact that you want them to be different then you're best off just starting a whole new series or at least adding a new character who is the way you want him or her to be. I can't stress enough how important it is to understand your own creations and what their motivations are. The other problem is some people just arn't cut out to be dramatic writers. There's no shame in that. It's like drawing. Some people can draw really great buildings but can't draw people worth shit and vice versa. Some people can write drama but can't tell a joke to save their soul and vice versa. If you have a successful comedy series and you want to shift gears into drama with those characters it might be a really good idea to first find out if you've got what it takes to write drama before you forever taint your cherished creation with the stench of your pretentious failure. Create a little dramatic mini-series or two. Just like you need to practice before changing from a lifetime of oil painting to painting with watercolours, you'll need to practice dramatic writing before you switch gears if you expect to be able to produce some presentable work. So, if you want to succeed: 1) Practice writing drama before butchering your own creation 2) Know your characters before you switch gears. Know their motivations. Know how they will react to changing situations. 3) Cliches can be comedy gold but they reak of pretentious hackery in a drama. Be creative and original. 4) Respect your original work and its characters. 5) Don't become self indulgent.

It seems that whenever this

It seems that whenever this topic is brought up lately, invariably GPF gets mentioned. I still haven't decided whether or not this is a good thing; after all, publicity is publicity, although I would never willingly become a fame vulture to seek it out. However, I do feel I've received more than my share of scrapes, bruises, and black eyes in recent months, and I'm a little tired of feeling like a cartoonist pinata. So while I firmly believe my work speaks for itself, I think it might be wise if I put my two cents in. I think there is a possible disconnect in most of these discussions, and that's because there's really two things being discussed. One is the artist's perception of their own work, while the other is the average reader's perception. Obviously, these two views are very different, because the observer in each case comes to the artistic work from two different directions and sets of experiences. It helps when one side can understand where the other is coming from; in fact, a truly mature artist must learn to step back and look at their work as a reader would if he or she has any hope of being able to communicate effectively. But the viewpoints are not the same: the artist can no more completely remove themselves from their work and be completely objective than the reader can truly get inside the author's head and fully grasp the author's intent and purpose. The artistic work is the act of communicating what the author is trying to say to the reader. This communication can break down at either end, with either the author's failure to express their intent (i.e., the artist does not adequately render a character's facial expression, so the emotion is lost) or the reader's failure to comprehend it (1 in 10 readers don't get a certain obscure joke). In some cases, it's the author's intent to make things specifically vague and thus open to interpretation; I like to do this myself periodically. As to GPF's "Cerebus" eligibility: As scarfman pointed out, GPF was meant to be from the beginning a work of growing depth and complexity. I cannot say that from the very first instance I drew my first sketch of the cast that I knew exactly where the characters would be now, years later, and in the future. However, I did spend over a year developing the strip and its concept before it went online, and during this time I scripted what ultimately became the first two and a half years of the comic. By that point, I had already laid the foundations of Nick and Ki's relationship, of the potential love triangle with Trudy, and of Trudy's evil plans and their culmination. I already had the kernels of early "mega-stories" like The Space Con, Nerdvana, and even Special Delivery, all before a single comic went "live." This was the point of true evolution of the comic, where it changed from gag-a-day humor to character-based situational comedy and drama. All of this occurred before a single GIF was transferred from server to browser. So to me, from the outset, I had an outline established of what I wanted to accomplish and what I wanted the characters to become. I decided to build this complex structure slowly and carefully, pulling pre-written stories from my cache of strips and padding them with more humor, character development, and additional "throw-away" situations. I would establish the characters and their personality quirks with early humor laden stories, then slowly build upon this foundation to fashion more and more intricate yarns. In fact, if you care to really put time into such analysis, there are only two weeks in all of the GPF archive of purely "miscellaneous" strips not associated with a story. Everything else builds on what has gone before, if only for the establishment of a character's personality. Of course, the true "Cerebus" instance that everyone thinks of (including myself) when they speak of GPF is Surreptitious Machinations. It was a bold experiment, and one I enjoyed, despite the occasional complaint from readers. I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was the culmination of four years of planning (five if you count that initial pre-Web year), of carefully placing plot thread upon plot thread, characterization upon characterization. Yet many readers saw it as a "abrupt change," a "sudden shift" from the comic's "true focus." But how could this be? I had carefully hidden hints in the strip for years before this, and I certainly had done many long, involved, and even dramatic stories before. To me, this was what GPF was meant to become. Was I too subtle? Was I being too gradual in building the story? Here's where I pull back the concept of multiple perceptions. Obviously, my view of where the comic was going was no longer in sync with the readers' view. Was this a failure on my part, a failure to communicate my intentions? Perhaps. I'm far too close to the material to make that determination. I know only what I have done in the past and what my plans for the future may be. I have been true to my vision of the material, and in that regard, I consider it a success. A number of readers did not, and they were extremely vocal about it. And they were certainly free to express that opinion, and a mature artist (as I consider myself) should be open to such critique. But the server logs didn't lie; the vast majority of readers must have decided to stick around and see what this "new" direction would be, and GPF's readership continues to grow to this day. In fact, its readership grew considerably during the year of Surreptitious Machinations. Even if all the forum posts and e-mails said I was doing something wrong, somehow, somewhere I must have been doing something right. Looking at the comics you've chosen to examine, Igmund, I would personally count them all as successes for a "Cerebus" test. Obviously, I cannot comment on GPF as a reader (and I've certainly commented enough as an author as it is), but I can comment on the other three comics, and I think they show exactly how a comic can grow beyond humble roots to become something far greater. Perhaps I am biased in my analysis; after all, Maritza and Willis are both Keenspotters and have a great deal of my respect, and I like to count Pete as a friend and colleague that I have come to know very wll over the years that we've communicated. But I know I've had my moments when I've shouted at my monitor and wondered just what the heck they were trying to do. I've been frustrated at the length of a given Sluggy story, or wondered just how long Dave, Mike, and Roger could really be away from school before anyone noticed. But I've also been able to step back and look at these stories as a whole, and realize the beauty and depth in their creation. This may be because I am a fellow artist and since I've been there, I can sympathize with their position. But I think that any reader who seriously steps back and looks at these comics as a singular whole and not just a sequence of individual images can see their elegance of growth. Perhaps if webcomics were more like movies and television and we didn't have to wait an agonizing 24 hours between small installments, admiring an entire body of a webcomic's work might be easier. Igmund, while I certainly do not want to discourage you from your project, I strongly advise you to remember that all art is subjective, whether it's humor, drama, characterization, or even critique. While you may develop a measuring stick by which you may think you can judge a comic as a "success" or a "failure," bear in mind that people are going to disagree with you. To me, the success of my comic doesn't depend on the opinion of one arbitrary person's analysis or review; it is the opinion of the readers, whether there be 50 or 50,000 of them, that determines whether I fail. And believe me, when they think I slip, they let me know about it. But overall, they like what I do, and thus I keep doing it. And that's all that matters. Good luck.

joshl. wrote:
Sometimes the Kerberos syndrome is a matter of the artist forming a very complex idea of what their comic is about...
Actually, the "Kerberos syndrome" is a convenient way to have single sign-on access on networked systems. I think I can say with certainty that GPF has never tried that; but I think that's another kettle of fish. ;)

Couldn't agree more. That's probably the REAL reason people stop reading superhero comics. Not because they don't like superheroes, but because the epic storylines never mean anything, and the comic writers take themselves too seriously to go any direction other than "epic".

I really want to read that Garfield story!

chuckcomics.com

You also have to take in

You also have to take in account a daily reader feels a different experience from a reader who reads through a months-long story in one sitting. Usually, when lots of your readership are pulling their hair out in frustration at the current storyline, they will be others that later notice nothing wrong with it. Maritza CRFH.net

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

Does a comic fail if it doesn't change to story driven comic for a gag a day?

Uncle Ghastly's picture

jamiecotc wrote:
. This was way before the Archie Kids or when he got "saved".
Oh god! One Way Archie Comics. How I loathed those comics as a kid. I remember the barbershop I used to get my haircut at only had fishing magazines, deer hunting magazines, and One Way comics and the hunting and fishing magazines were always taken by the old men who seemed to just go there to hang out ever day. Even though I was eight years old and still believed there was a magic dead jew on a stick that granted wishes if you prayed to him just right and would take you to paradise when you died I still couldn't help but think that the writing in the One Way comics was the most bland pap ever to spew from the pens of the worst Christian hacks. Who knows maybe it was those born again Archie comics that planted the first cynical seeds of doubt in my young mind that eventually lead me to abandon religion as a Santa Clause myth for grown-ups. I tell you, when the writing is so horrible that it can't even captivate a child who already believes, man that's some massive heap of suckage. I'd say the bible passage that best describes the One Way comics is the one that says god wants you hot or god wants you cold but if you are luke warm god will spit you out. One Way comics were oh so very luke warm.

scarfman wrote:
I don't know about that. The coiner of the term Cerebus Syndrome meant to evoke, and the term's usage in this discussion does suggest, not a serial work that went sour partway through doing what it had always done, but a serial work that got more ambitious partway through attempting to do more than it had done before but all the same things too. M*A*S*H falls into the former category, not the latter, and it's debatable whether it even falls into the former category (it's debated on alt.tv.mash all the time).
Errr... I don't see how MASH doesn't fall in the latter category, but that being said, there's actually no real reason I said "Kerberos". I' just being weird. Don't mind me.
scarfman wrote:
What was the plot?
Garfield wakes up in the distant future somehow, and finds the house abandoned. He gets all lonely and cries out in despair, which returns him to the present somehow. Uh... yeah... it was really epic. It happened about 10 years ago.

Well, I can say that Sluggy

scarfman's picture

Well, I can say that Sluggy Freelance is the only webcomic about which I've seen an is-it-past-its-prime poll. I think that was here on Comixpedia, when I had only started reading, a year ago now. Failure of "Cerebus Syndrome" is like "jumping the shark": it's a value judgment that each audience member makes for him/herself. Lots of people say M*A*S*H jumped the shark when Gelbart left or when Burghoff left (I've said both in my time), but lots of people prefer the post-Gelbart post-Burghoff years too. I'd suggest General Protection Fault is ineligible for consideration as an example of Cerebus Syndrome. In Darlington's discussion of his work he pretty much says he meant from the start to go the depth route, and I think that's evident from the work. I've never read Roomies. College Roommates from Hell!!! seems to me a candidate for successful Cerebus Syndrome. If transitioning from gag-a-day to serial was what Campos meant to do all along - like Darlington - I don't know it. Nevertheless I think I recall that she did it very early in the strip's history. It appears from the work to have happened because it's where she's naturally more comfortable and talented, even if it didn't happen till after she'd been on the other road awhile. What Campbell said above is applicable here. I hesitate to put up Sluggy Freelance as a candidate for failed Cerebus Syndrome, because I don't think it's failed. But I know that when Abrams has been away from and goes back to strips featuring his four stooges locked in their house together (or, as at present, locked out of their house together) I just like it better. I guess I'm complaining that Abrams hasn't been paying enough attention lately to enough of his core cast that I can tell whether he's maintained his cerebus or he hasn't.

It was, I believe, the most clumsy attempt at drama ever.

It was not only weird and awkward, it also didn't make any friggin' sense at ALL.

Maritza
CRFH.net

The title says it all.

The title says it all. Before Christ. B.C. B.C. discussion aside, I don't see why one character can't try to find some spirituality in life. It IS part of life. What doesn't work is when it gets preachy, i.e. when suddenly "it's like having the answer to everything." With religion come some doubts. It can be done interestingly, but it IS a touchy subject.

scarfman's picture

joshl. wrote:
I call it the "Kerberos syndrome" 'cause I don't really like Cerebus that much. Also, I don't like the phrase "Cerebus syndrome" either. It should be called the "M*A*S*H Syndrome".
I don't know about that. The coiner of the term Cerebus Syndrome meant to evoke, and the term's usage in this discussion does suggest, not a serial work that went sour partway through doing what it had always done, but a serial work that got more ambitious partway through attempting to do more than it had done before but all the same things too. M*A*S*H falls into the former category, not the latter, and it's debatable whether it even falls into the former category (it's debated on alt.tv.mash all the time).
joshl wrote:
...Anyone remember that time when Garfield did the week-long story arc that was dark and serious?
Huh? You're kidding, right? Seriously.
Maritza wrote:
It was, I believe, the most clumsy attempt at drama ever. It was not only weird and awkward, it also didn't make any friggin' sense at ALL.
What was the plot?

scarfman's picture

joshl. wrote:
Errr... I don't see how MASH doesn't fall in the latter category,
(of a serial work that tried partway through to become something different)
joshl. wrote:
but that being said, there's actually no real reason I said "Kerberos". I' just being weird. Don't mind me.
Of course it's a matter of personal interpretation, but what seems obvious to me about M*A*S*H isn't that it tried to be something it hadn't been before but that, when new people were put in charge, they tried to maintain what the people before them had made it and they weren't as good at it. I can see how certain experimental episodes might give the impression that they were trying to be something different; but there were experimental episodes in the Gelbart/Reynolds years too, just, the experiments were different. On the whole, the post-Gelbart/Reynolds creative team were doing their sincere best to propagate what'd been handed over to them; their style was just not as stylish. But M*A*S*H was That Thing That Got Me Through Adolescence so I have trouble letting go of a discussion about it. Don't mind me.
joshl. wrote:
Garfield wakes up in the distant future somehow, and finds the house abandoned. He gets all lonely and cries out in despair, which returns him to the present somehow. Uh... yeah... it was really epic. It happened about 10 years ago.
Thanks. It sure raised no blip on my radar.

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

Eric Burns's picture

(Oh, like there was any chance I wouldn't reply to this. ;) )

The cornerstone of the Cerebus Syndrome -- and what makes it a Syndrome, to my thinking -- is the process of transformation. It literally goes from pure humor and gags -- whether story-based or not -- to much deeper characterization, coupled with (often) a lot of angst and sadness. When it succeeds, it's really very, very good and exciting. But it's hard to do well, because in the process you have to retain an audience who came for the fart jokes, while making everything a lot harder for casual fans to start reading (because the backstories are so elaborate).

I think T's insight, not surprisingly, is apropos. When you work with the same characters day in and day out, eventually you want to plumb deeper depths. You start caring more. You start going more deeply into them. And you (sometimes) reach a point where you just don't want to do fart jokes any more. I think that happened with Sluggy, for example, and I think Abrams pulled it off. One of the signs that it succeeded is he can still do silly storylines about cloned toothbrushes and cloning companies coming with guns to take the house and have it work. Others try to go back to the silly, and it falls flat on its face.

I don't know if this helped at all, or not. But by God, I... um... made a comment.

Eric Burns's picture

jtdarlington wrote:
Of course, the true "Cerebus" instance that everyone thinks of (including myself) when they speak of GPF is Surreptitious Machinations. It was a bold experiment, and one I enjoyed, despite the occasional complaint from readers. I would do it again in a heartbeat.
As the guy who started this, let me just say this, Mr. Darlington. If you enjoyed it, and you would do it again, then power to you. Whatever I think about it couldn't possibly matter less. And it's clear there's plenty of readers who agree with you. So sincerely -- good for you, and enjoy.

Eric Burns's picture

cdc wrote:
Very few professional comics will suffer from cerebrus syndrome, simply because the artists/writers have someone looking over their shoulder, keeping them in line whenever they stray too far off course.
"Suffer" is probably the wrong word. The Syndrome is the attempt. If the attempt is successful (for my lights, both Sluggy and CRFH represent successful Cerebus Syndromes), then it's a very good thing. That's why it's attractive. I do think that GPF represents a Cerebus Syndrome attempt. Certainly, I believe Mr. Darlington when he indicates he intended to have the more serious, deeper, heavier characterizations from the beginning, but the tone of the first several storylines -- in my opinion -- didn't presage the ramping up of the seriousness that came later on. What struck me about GPF when I stopped reading it was the shift between very early style silly storylines and serious and nuanced storylines. Again, purely in my opinion, the dichotomy didn't work. Others have told me (sometimes in rather scathing language, I would add ;) ) that they disagree. In the end, it's always a personal decision. This is what we call "critical discourse." The best part of it is, we all get to be right!

I would like to start out by

I would like to start out by thanking everyone who's posted in this thread so far. You've all been a tremendous help, and I very much appreciate your time and attention.

There are a couple of points that Mr. Darlington brings up that I would like to address.

Quote:
Igmund, while I certainly do not want to discourage you from your project, I strongly advise you to remember that all art is subjective, whether it's humor, drama, characterization, or even critique. While you may develop a measuring stick by which you may think you can judge a comic as a "success" or a "failure," bear in mind that people are going to disagree with you.

I would like to take this opportunity to agree wholeheartedly.

After reading what you wrote, and thinking about it, I realized that I have been approaching this topic in something of a wrong direction. I have been assuming that there is some concrete thing which defines whether a webcomic "succeeds" or "fails."

When it is written out like that, I can see that it is obviously false. There are of course many factors involved, and furthermore it is not only impossible, but pointless to try to determine if a particular webcomic sequence succeeds or fails as a whole. This is too black and white of a judgement.

That is not to say that I think that the critical analysis of such a sequence is impossible. I think after reading what you said that it would be more apt to try to critique specific elements of the comic. From these elements a more complete and nuanced view of the whole could be created that is not simply success or failure.

To me, the success of my comic doesn't depend on the opinion of one arbitrary person's analysis or review; it is the opinion of the readers, whether there be 50 or 50,000 of them, that determines whether I fail.

To be honest, part of my reason for starting this thread was precisely that. I did not want to simply make judgements on my own in a vacuum. I wanted to get the input and opinions of others who read these comics as well.

That said, I still think it is important for individuals to make analyses or reviews, if for no other reason than that it helps others to begin to think critically about a work, whether they agree or not. (Not critically in the sense of looking for things that are "wrong," but critically in the sense of being an active reader.)

Again, I would like to thank everyone who took the time to post here and help me with this topic.

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

For many of us cartoonists, what seems like a conscious attempt at Cerebus syndrome is actually just a development of emotional ties. When we start the strip, its very existence seems like a joke to us: "Wow! I just became Charles Schulz, only without all the experience!" The characters are light sketches, the theme a mere background. Jokes flow easily.

After a year or two of emotional investment, our attitude begins to shift. We want to stretch ourselves as artists and see if we can fly without the safety net that constant humor provides. Characters like Trudy, Joe, Torg and Margaret become people we care about, and it gets a little harder to drop a safe on them, then point and laugh. We think less day-to-day, more month-to-month or even year-to-year.

Some of us recognize that this makes our strip more inaccessible to new readers (free archives or no), and try to fight that trend so our readership can continue to grow. Others damn the torpedoes. A pattern that seems to show up most often is an alternation between light, "easy" stories and dark, "heavy" stories. With one hand, the cartoonist tries to maintain the quirky fun that drew him or her into cartooning in the first place, with the other, the cartoonist explores these new frontiers.

We're greedy like that.

T Campbell
http://www.tcampbell.net

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

As a fiction writer, going from purely humor to a strip that relies heavily on the story and characters was just a natural step. I know I have lost some readers in the morphing process, but I think I have gained more *loyal* readers. It is easier to hook readers with a story than with a gag-a-day strip. As for my audience numbers, they are steadily -although slowly- up, month with month, since my strip started, back in 1999.

I'm not familiar with Cerebus so maybe I miss the real implications of "pulling a Cerebus". I only hope that CRFH is entertaining, in one way or the other, and that people enjoy it. I do feel that I'm reaching my readers in a more personal and deep way now, but of course, I can be delusional :)

There's a related discussion

http://forums.keenspot.com/viewtopic.php?t=73508&start=0

Maritza
College Roomies from Hell!!!
CRFH.net

RE: Cerebus Syndrome: What Makes a Success or Failure?

I think one of the key details of when a strip is going Cerebus or not is when storyline becomes more important than the joke. Certain strips, such as Clan of the Cats, started out with a storyline base. The humor in the comic was secondary to the story. And even though we'd have a week or two of constant gag strips... it would be like letting the steam out of a boiler before preparing for the next big storyline arc.

Few strips manage to pull off daily funny/gag-a-day formats while keeping to a storyline. Those that do more often than not undergo a Cerebus Syndrome, in that Cerebus means it is has dramatic and serious undertones while retaining the amusement factor. As an example, I'd show Dominic Deegan, which is currently building up one of its more serious storylines, but retaining quite a few smiles and laughs while going this route. (I'm not sure if DD qualifies for Cerebus Syndrome, as it was fairly early on in its inception that we started having more serious storylines... but it might just be a case of a rapid-start to Cerebus.)

So. What makes a successful Cerebus? In my opinion it's shifting from a gag-a-day strip format to a storyline format, while also growing more dramatic. While it does this, it has to retain its audience and keep its fans happy. It does not necessarily mean the strip needs to remain funny... but it is hard to keep your audience, who showed up initially for funny strips and are getting serious ones instead.

What makes for a failed Cerebus? Well... when the storylines just don't work, then I see it as failing. But I'm one who enjoys stories, so I don't look at the humor being as important as the story. Also... you have to keep the fans happy. Sluggy Freelance is forgetting this right now: the comic is struggling and has grown so large that Pete appears at times not to listen to his fans (to wit I point at the MitDo* strips which a sizeable contingent of fans want ended, and which Pete refuses to end). But... it's more than that. Afterall, there is also the "First and Ten" option, which I think Eric Burns meant to represent gag strips that become storyline comics but lose their humor along the way.

I think a failed Cerebus then would be when a gag-a-day strip tries to shift focus to storyline strips... but the storyline strips become too cumbersome or difficult to follow. "Surreptitious Machinations" in GPF is one of the strips pointed at by Eric Burns as having suffered this. If the plot becomes too confusing to follow... and it is no longer funny... then neither storyline fans nor joke-a-day fans will enjoy the comic anymore, and the Cerebus has failed. While a strip can recover from this... it is very difficult.

I hope this helps.

Robert A. Howard, aka Tangent

Naw, that's just clinical insanity.

Poor Dave Sim :( It's not fun going crazy. Even less when it's the unhappy, bitter, paranoid kind of crazy...

I just wanted to say that even if CRFH was not by design, in the beginning, supposed to have any dramatic parts -I thought it would have a really short run before I either got tired or just stopped having the time to do it- one of the reasons it had no drama from the beginning is that you need a certain level of craft to pull it off. When my art evolved, it allowed me to do it. I even delayed "The Adversary" -for many, the one storyline when CRFH jumped totally in dramamode for a long time- for many months, waiting to get better at drawing so I could pull it off with some level of adequacy.

Maritza
CRFH.net

TCampbell wrote:
Oh, YEAH! Garfield's "Last Man on Earth" storyline! Otherwise known as "the last week Garfield was actually interesting." I thought it had great potential, which it blew to smithereens in its last three panels, bringing everything to a pat conclusion and trying for typical Garfield schmaltz after the intensity of what went before, which doesn't, you know, jibe.
See, this is one example of what doesn't work when trying to go Cerebus. Chickening out. "It was all a dream". Resetting buttons. Putting characters through horrible experiences and leaving them unchanged and non the wiser. It takes courage to do it. The worst thing to do however is pulling your own punches.  Maritza CRFH.net

Spirituality and Syndromality

Aleph's picture

I think the issue is whether or not the spirituality goes against the grain of the person or the reality in which it's embedded. Pre-Christ Christians really irritated the hell out of me, but I always did get the sense that B.C. was being written by a Christian trying to get their message out in nonthreatening ways, sort of like Schultz's mild Christian overtones, so I wasn't at all surprised by it. I think spirituality makes people the most incensed when the characters are being hijacked by it, when it seems less like an epiphany the character's had and more like brainwashing forced upon the character by the uncaring hand of its comic-creating god. Strikes a little too close to the bone for readers who've had that kind of stuff forced on tem by people they've trusted or been helpless to earlier in life.

When it comes down to it, this syndrome works more or less the same way-- if things are getting complex and involved in a natural way, it succeeds because it's good storytelling-- taking a character that is carefree and oblivious, and suddenly turning it dark and serious, however, is going to upset people who vicariously experienced that carefree existance. If it would pervert the character to make it dark and serious, then it might be better to turn the world dark and serious around the character and have the character's carefree existance and light demeanor defy the darkness gathering around it. As long as the integrity of the character itself is maintained, the shift in tone shouldn't be too much of a problem.

Far as I can tell, anyhow...