Stickler and Hat-trick, in association with Comixpedia, present…
Stickler and Hat-trick at the Keyboard
This week, they review Christopher B. Wright’s Help Desk
(Tonight’s show is sponsored by FOPTASTIC!™ Give your hair that 17th century French aristocratic look with the spray that whitens as it curls back behind your head. Get two free ribbons with every purchase! )
Stickler: Welcome back to Stickler and Hat trick at the Keyboard!
Hat Trick: Well, let’s get to business. Help Desk is a computer tech webcomic by Chris Wright that is hosted by Keenspot. It usually appears five days a week. Usually.
S: This comic strip is for a specific audience – those people that like computer- or technical-related jokes, and humor involving sarcastic customer service. It’s one of those webcomics that doesn’t apologize for being genre-based, and expects people that read it to know the background info. It focuses on employees in the tech support division of Ubersoft, an evil computer company. The employees know that their products are faulty, yet they never admit to it, often finding creative ways to place the blame on someone else.
HT: Sounds like a particular couch-dweller we know, doesn’t it?
S: Ha – I hadn’t thought of that.
Editor-in-Chief: *slithering out from beneath the sofa* Thought of what?
S: Umm… err… the multitudinous potential uses of industrial-grade french fry grease in the rubber baby buggy bumper industry?
E-i-C: Really? I think about that all the time. Almost as much as I think of firing both of you for being smartasses when you’re supposed to be reviewing something instead.
E-i-C: Nothing. Go on with what you were saying, Hat-trick.
HT: Umm, yeah. Well, most of the strips are Talking Head comics (usually with one particular head) showcasing discussions between a tech rep and the never seen customer. The other strips deal with employees’ interaction with each other, making jokes about tech-related humor and general work frustration. Characters include Alex, the main tech support guy; Mark, another tech support guy; and Monk, yet another guy, but different if only because of an odd hair cut. The list goes on with more of the same, actually, distinguishable only by their various hairstyles or accessories. There’s also the evil lord of Ubersoft, the Boss, who constantly has the word “BOSS” floating around with him. I found that mildly amusing.
E-i-C: I like him the best by far. Very admirable fellow.
HT: You would.
E-I-C: What was that?
HT: I said, umm, "Yew wood". Apparently it err…. goes great with french fry grease, too?
E-i-C: You know, I’ve heard that. Never tried it myself, tho.
S: If you don’t mind, boss, I’d like to stay on topic here since you only pay us by the review-related word?
HT: Wait – you actually get paid?
E-i-C: By all means. Please go ahead.
HT: But… but…
S: There are some relatable moments of sarcasm and wit that are brilliantly executed. The meat of the jokes are focused on tech specifics, which might cause the punchline to be lost to the layman reader. However, the strip remains clever with jokes about corporate dominance, work frustration, and "avoiding the problem". There are also some obvious parodies of certain products with names like Uberquest, and Nifty Doorways 5.0.
HT: Personally, I feel like I was missing half the joke most of the time. I know about computers as much as the next guy, and I’ve called customer service maybe twice in my life. They helped me out, and that was that. Maybe I’m biased because I don’t have a negative tech support experience. I mean, I did enjoy some of the strips that weren’t so tech-based. I like that Alex is this wiseass you love to hate. In a way, the readers of the strip are the people on the phone, and we want satisfaction from people like this shmuck and his company. I enjoyed seeing him and his co-workers in moments of peril, like losing his job to automated tech support.
E-i-C: Hmm… I wonder how an automated reviewer would work…
S: One of the better storylines features Mark dressing up as the company mascot, the Ubersoft Moth. When he’s too grumpy, he gets reconditioned by Binky, the talking Paperclip. The rest of the story is spent trying to de-condition Mark before his happiness spreads to the others.
HT: Still, the storylines and jokes of Help Desk aren’t entirely original. They’re emulating the other comics that the creator reads (Dilbert, User Friendly). The comic suffers from the same problem that comics with massive storylines face. Because of the fairly complex details presented on the surface in any given strip, the reader can be intimidated to get involved. There is no draw to the comic and it’s not, shall we say, "user friendly." And if they do somehow get into reading Help Desk, it might amuse readers until they find another tech/geek comic that’s doing the same thing, except much better. They’ll find a comic without spelling errors, with professional looking word bubbles instead of harsh directional lines, and they won’t come back. They certainly won’t come back for the art.
E-I-C: To be fair, though – like most Talking Head strips, the art is never the vehicle for humor. It’s all about the writing.
S: That’s very true. Unfortunately, if you don’t like the humor found in the writing, that means that you won’t be finding redemption or humor in Help Desk‘s artwork. The visuals consist of repeated vector-based characters, drawn in a crude style and never improved upon throughout the entire run of the strip.
E-I-C: But Wright makes no pretensions of being an "artist", right?
S: Yeah, very true: the creator admits to re-using graphics and that the process is a cop-out, which I can admire. At least he knows that the art sucks.
HT: It’s really too bad that a little more effort isn’t put into the art, though. If you are going to use stock images, that’s fine. Get somebody to do some kick ass clip art for you, and use the hell out of it. Look at a comic like Get your war on. It’s essentially well-drawn clip art, with jokes that deal with complex political issues, but it’s accessible to a wide audience!
S: There is something about the character design that’s tongue-in-cheek though. All of the regular employees seem to be sporting these multicolored visors like the Mongo flunkies in that Flash Gordon movie. Binky the Paperclip is a clear jab at the Disney saccharine machine, with large cute eyes. Even the Boss, who consists of a shroud covering a glowing green orb, wears nerd glasses.
HT: Glasses with a scowl though… because he’s evil.
E-I-C: Hey – evil makes ANYONE look good. No matter how nerdy the glasses.
S: So if you can get past the remedial artwork, and the intimidation factor of technical jargon, Help Desk is the strip for you. Beyond its cold exterior, Help Desk has a warm, if not sarcastic heart. This strip is a smart parody of how computer companies dictate the public, and how they don’t care about the public at all. With clever jokes and work frustration situations, the jokes can be familiar to the average computer user. And if you are already reading webcomics, you’re halfway there.
HT: I will say that it’s smart of Keenspot to have a tech/geek strip to cater to that crowd. I can see why they want to have that audience to draw from, and maybe get some of them into their other comics. It’s just too bad that Help Desk is not more approachable, or let’s face it, attractive.
S: To paraphrase Linus, “All it needs is a little love.”
HT: …or maybe a roll in the hay with Lady Quality.
S: Shh! Don’t provoke the editor.
E-I-C: Are you saying I’m not attractive?
S: Please, let’s not go there today. I’d like to keep my job this time around.
HT: And speaking of – one more thing before we go. As you probably did not notice or care about, we’ve been gone for a while. For that I apathetically apologize.
S: Yes. The success of our Penny-Arcade review gave us several big money opportunities that we couldn’t pass up.
HT: You know, book signings, commercial deals, grand openings of convenience stores…
S: But things recently went a little south.
HT: We got into some legal trouble involving a hotel room fiasco and an NBA player. He didn’t like our room service.
S: So, we lost all of our endorsements. Luckily, Comixpedia has been kind enough to give us our old jobs back.
HT: but, we don’t get paid for this.
S: Well, at least you don’t.
HT: bite me.
E-i-C: *on the phone* So you say that you can get that automatic review-bot over here by next week? Excellent.
S: Oh crap.
E-i-C: And what about that neon floating "BOSS" sign order? I’m willing to pay double if it can hover with some extra ominosity.
S: *whispering* Uh-oh. Here he goes again…
E-I-C: *screaming into the phone* Yes, ‘ominosity’ is a word. I am an editor, you know. Now do I get the floating sign or not?
Stickler and Hat-trick are staff contributors for the Comixpedia. The editor-in-Chief is just a scary, scary fellow.