Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Lookouts - Conclusion

So the final page of Lookouts, my guest comic for Penny Arcade, is now online. It was an absolute blast (and an honor) to write these and my hats off to Becky Dreistadt who did an amazing job with the art. I gave her a shit-ton of stuff to cram into those panels and she rocked it!

This final page really spells out what was going on with Aerden (the master) this whole time. My basic take for this whole story was that "May We Die In The Forest" wasn't just a motto, it was a god-damned commandment. This is the lesson that boys must learn -- not just that sometimes you go into the forest and don't come out, but that sometimes sacrifices have to be made. Obviously this is a pretty fucked up way of living and I imagined that this very thought had been weighing on Aerden's mind for some time. When he saw the boys fighting as bravely and valiently as they did in page 4 (at at time when many men would have just thrown in the towel) he decided that it was time for a change and jumped into the fight.

It was this act that made the elders angry and has apparently set in motion what will be a problematic time for the entire Lookouts community. Aerden's act is what Philip K. Dick calls "a quiet refusal" in his speech "How to Build a Universe That Doesn't Fall Apart Two Days Later." There's one paragraph in particular from this speech that really blew me away:
The authentic human being is one of us who instinctively knows what he should not do, and, in addition, he will balk at doing it. He will refuse to do it, even if this brings down dread consequences to him and to those whom he loves. This, to me, is the ultimately heroic trait of ordinary people; they say no to the tyrant and they calmly take the consequences of this resistance. Their deeds may be small, and almost always unnoticed, unmarked by history. Their names are not remembered, nor did these authentic humans expect their names to be remembered. I see their authenticity in an odd way: not in their willingness to perform great heroic deeds but in their quiet refusals. In essence, they cannot be compelled to be what they are not.
For me, that seemed to really sum up the Lookouts universe. It's a universe in which childhood is extremely fleeting and a result looses the authenticity that comes with it. There's something about the innocence of a child that says, "yeah, I can kick a basilisk's ass". When Aerden saw that, it brought out in him another childish/innocent/authentic sentiment -- "even if it's for the 'greater good', leading boys out into a forest to be devoured by monsters is just plain wrong."

So in a way, this story wasn't so much about the coming of age for these boys, but the return to childhood for Aerden. At one point his final line was something horribly cheesy like "Then let us prepare for war!" but I dropped it instead for the "I have seen far more bravery from boys of late." Basically Aerden believes, like the Lookouts, "yeah, I can kick a basilisk's ass." In fact he believes he can kick the whole forest's ass if others join in his way of thinking.

So there you have it, that's my view into the universe of Lookouts. Hopefully it won't fall apart in two days time. Thanks for reading.


Unknown said...

Thanks for the explanation. No offense, but the story was very hard to follow broken into segments like that. I'm glad for this analysis though, it really helped me understand what was going on.

I've gone back and reread the whole thing and now "Get it." It's a great story, even though I don't particularly like stories that have to be reread to be understood.

Anonymous said...

This sounds like a cool story. I would like to read it as a comic.

Anonymous said...

>This final page really spells out what was going on with Aerden (the master) this whole time.

On the contrary, it just confused everyone.

I like what you're saying about 'authenticity' but it really doesn't work in the context of this story, and especially not when it's so poorly articulated.

You didn't even depict Aerden as stepping in and saving anyone, he just kind of piled on when the boys were apparently already winning.

Worm said...

It was horrible. That you needed to do so much explaining in a blog entry makes it even more horrible. You're making all the douchebags who refuse to buy TVs retroactively right by being such a hack.

Anonymous said...

Huh. Until I looked at the forums and eventually wandered my way here, I really had no idea what the hell was going on. Suddenly, these elders came out of nowhere and said, "the boy" and my first thought was "why didn't they say "boys"? So which one are they talking about" It was actually the lack of a plural here that confused me the most, because now when I looked back I was trying to pinpoint one boy, and I couldn't figure it out at all. The scoutmaster didn't make it obvious which one it was. The story events up until now seemed to flow as complete fighting accidents in a normal story, not that he got knocked out on purpose, or that the blonde kid was pinned on purpose, or the scoutmaster changed his mind on purpose. I didn't even know a "change of mind" was occuring, I thought he was knocked out, got up, saw the unhappy predicament, and got back to work. So now suddenly, one was supposed to die evidently? I finally "get it" now, I suppose (I guess what I've gathered from everyone else is right?), but without the help of others I would have written it off as a story that felt as though it was not filled in. "What men must know..." was so confusing of a line to me I simply ignored it. During that section of the story it held no meaning to me, and even when the end appeared it didn't become immediately apparent. I suppose he means that he wished he didn't know what the true fate of the boy(s) was/were to be? Or that he wished the order of things wasn't this way? I feel that even one more page might have made this story pull together in a more cohesive manner.

Man am I longwinded. It's just my thoughts on the matter. I feel pretty dumb for not being able to figure it out, and that's likely one of the worst everyday feelings for me. This almost never happens to me, so it was double my unhappiness.

tuffy777 said...

thanx for the post about the authentic human
~~ Tessa Dick

Anonymous said...

Yeah, when I saw references to "the boy", I thought it meant the guy had been supposed to make sure one specific boy meets with an accident and dies, maybe because of a prophecy or something like that. So I was confused when suddenly, the comic was over. It felt like a prologue. And I was wondering which boy it was all referring to, because during the story, it was hard enough to tell what was going on at all, so... I don't know? I also don't think this story is really worth trying to figure out. I am sure it was a good story in your head, Oliver, but nothing of this could be found in the final version.
Kind of like Heroes, I guess...

Tim said...

Whatever goals you may have had, I think most would agree that you didn't really achieve them. Still, it is good that you've posted this to clarify what you were aiming for.

It's always difficult to work with somebody else's idea, and this is what we see here. The art has its own problems, but there is a very obvious change in the style of writing from the original pilot page and the follow ups.

What was important here was the setting, the world in which the first comic was set and there was simply too little in the follow up comics (this may have actually been a mandate from Team Penny Arcade, I don't know), but it is all rather disappointing.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the explanation but I wished you put your blog thoughts more into the comment. It was so tough to follow and way too vague. I think next time you should run it by 10+ people and get honest opinions. Ask them what they think. If they aren't getting the message right (without you explaining anything) than you have to rethink your approach as a writer. Best of luck!

Anonymous said...

Hey, hey. Yuk, don't be mean. There's no need to be mean.

The comic was bad, sure, but Oliver obviously cares about his craft and is trying to make something good. There's no need to pull any punches with your criticism, but there's no need to be a dick about it either.

Oliver Grigsby said...

Thanks for your comments everyone. I always appreciate well thought out responses (including criticism). I'm sorry that some of you didn't "get it" at first reading. I feel that it's all basically there in the text/subtext of the comic if you dig a little bit and I've read plenty of comments of people who had no trouble following it. My intention here wasn't to "explain" the comic, but rather provide some insight into the psychology of what I felt was already there.

But I certainly understand where people are coming from and they're largely valid points. As a reader, I'm someone who likes to have questions to think about and mull over as I'm involved in a story. Try to figure things out. That's what I tried to do here, to setup the question in your mind of why Aerden wasn't initially helping the Lookouts. It's a fine line to walk as a writer, and clearly it worked for some and not for others.

Someone said thy thought Lookouts would have read much better all at once rather than split up by the Mon-Wed-Fri schedule and I think that's right on. When I first wrote the script I didn't know that was the format it would be in. The guys just asked me for "four more pages of Lookouts" picking up from the first page they did. But to be honest, I doubt I would have structured it much differently. I think Lookouts lends itself to a longer form (unlike a strip comic) and creates a much better overall story if treated that way. What I tried to do here was establish a world and take a small step into it.

Again, thanks for reading and taking the time to really think about it.

jasonb said...

I enjoyed the hell out of it while I read it, but going back and re-reading it I enjoyed it even more. It yielded so much more value and I really "got" it.

The unconventional storytelling frame work established by the Penny Arcade guys as well as some incredibly experimental storytelling by Ollie and Becky makes it a tougher read than most spoon-fed comics.

God forbid we have to work a little to appreciate some real art. I really recommend going back and reading it again.

Anonymous said...

I suppose my problem with "getting it" was basically that I couldn't tell that the scoutmaster wasn't helping them from the get-go. Even if I HAD realized that he wasn't helping them from the beginning, I would have chalked it up to, "The boys have to learn on their own."

I'm not sure who is at fault for this, the artist or the writer, but either way it didn't come across to me at all. If I had seen that he wasn't helping them and realized that it wasn't due to tough love, I'd probably have gotten to the last page and gone, "AH-HA!" Instead of, "Um?"

Anonymous said...

Must agree with Yuk Yuk here, especially re: you being full of shit (painfully). I guess your Heroes writing is meant to be viewed without weekly episodes or commercial breaks huh? I'm sure you knew the comic was as unclear as it is, or else you wouldn't have felt it needed any explanation. I'm glad to see you're acquainted with the lessons of Philip K. Dick, but I recommend going back over them. You seem to have missed the point.

Anonymous said...

On a technical note, I think that Oliver's pacing needed some work. Sure, he started with a premise that was conceived by another writer, but that's no excuse for screwing up the pace of the comic. Also, the typo at the end (boy versus boys) shows me the lack of attention to detail.

Anonymous said...

Since Mike and Jerry never respond to unsolicited e-mails - Here's an e-mail I wrote to them regarding Oliver's attempt at look-outs. Feel free to comment on this.

Mike and Jerry,

I take issue with Oliver Grigsby's attempt at scripting "Lookouts".

His command of voice is strong but his pacing needs work. Although, when considering what I know about the constraints he was working under (i.e. limited pages, working with a new artist, and a starting point/concept written by another writer), I shall apply the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principal to my assessment of his work. Which basically means that I couldn't possibly know what he went through in order to present what he did... so, I'll give him that much... However, I can only hope that he takes my comments, which I hope you'll pass along, and grows from them.

I digress to a finer point. Personally speaking here, I think that his writing lacked the theological and philosophical edge that the late Philip K. Dick conveyed in his works. Sorry to trample all over the Penny Arcade parade (and the alliteration) - but I think that he took what the late author said out of context – (considering his youth) - understandably so.

I assume that you know Philip sought to understand "reality" as he experienced it. His idea of the authentic human was more akin to what the pre-Socratic philosopher, Parmenides postulated, in that he believed that we are all experiencing our own versions of "reality" whilst living in an alternate time and place that lies underneath those perceived “realities”. Dick's prose sought to broaden and expand his understanding of the “reality” he experienced, and in a way, he imparted nuggets of his "reality" unto us all. What I take away from Grigsby's take at your concept is a superficial attempt to edify Dick's beliefs, which I think was immature of him.

As he grows, I hope that he looks back on this experience with fondness... Personally, I think you both took a risk in allowing Grigsby to guest write for Lookouts. Like all humans though, I hope that he learns from this experience and halts his attempt to imitate the giants that went before him – regardless of the medium. I hope that he learns to lay his own foundation and seek edification from whatever he holds his faith in.

I hope you pass my comments along to him with my well wishes.

Cheers and best of luck in all your future endeavors.

Anonymous said...

I'm just disappointed that instead of taking the cool and perfectly straight-forward premise handed to you (fantasy Boy Scouts) you instead chose to interpret "May We Die in the Forest" as a command and go off on some weird human sacrifice angle that didn't even come through until the final "gotcha" page.

Fantasy Boy Scouts and boys learning to be men is a really awesome idea. Not to mention pretty well suited to three pages. "Deeper" doesn't always mean better, and your idea seemed like an episode of 'The Scary Door' from Futurama: twisty for the sake of the twist.

Anonymous said...


If you are reading this please go back and look at the first Lookout's strip (the one done by Gabe and Tycho). Then look at the look at these others. They aren't even in the same league. Gabe's colors are muted, and natural it feels like a forest. Notice the close-ups on the character's faces? Their faces are soft, expressive and childish, while the environment is more complex, creating a somewhat-welcoming but mostly oppressive alien place. The pacing is just right, and the composition of the panels is gorgeous. Like a stained-glass window almost.

Now look at the second abomination. The background is white, and the trees are blue and the grass is friggin' PINK. It doesn't look like a forest anymore, it looks like a goddamn field. Is it night? Is it day? Is it dusk? We don't know the color changes from panel to panel. Now look at the characters. They look like Samurai Jack threw up on Wind Waker. This makes the kids and the background appear excessively alien. Instead of childhood innocence being forced to confront a dangerous and magical world we have strange inhuman characters hanging out in an inhuman, completely inhospitable world. Where before we felt the forest itself was an entity, Becky has reduced it to a mere background.

Now on to the writing. I could write a freaking dissertation on how fractured Oliver's storytelling is. Let's start with the panel composition. Panels don't just spatially separate the story, they indicate time. Larger panels indicate more time passing. However, in this story, things which should take a long time have been forced into tiny panels and things which should be over quickly are set into big panels. Also, the Borders have been removed, we just have pictures and gutters. borders aren't just for aesthetic reasons, removing them indicates a timeless quality in a panel, however, there's nothing in the strip to indicate this was the intention, and since none of the panels have borders it's pretty clear that you just decided to take them off for no reason. Right at the end of the second strip the Basilisk reaches out from the panel it's in and strikes the Guide. I assume Oliver and Becky thought that this indicated the events in the last two panels happened at almost the exact same time.

However that is not what those last two panels say. By removing the borders from the panels and having one character reach from one panel to another and strike them, indicates the ability to bend time and space.

Basically the monster just pulled a Deadpool and broke the fourth wall. That is one hell of a hit.

Now you may think this is nit-picking, but it's a clear indicator of how little our respective storytellers know about the medium of comics, and let that be an indicator as to how the rest of this story will proceed.

(Continued in next comment)

Anonymous said...

(Continued from last comment)

Lets go to lookouts 3. The guide is down and the battle commences. Besides the colors and the art, I don't really have any complaints here. That is until we see the guide nearly instantaneously back on his feet, looking fine, with his arms casually folded. When the hell did he get up? and why is a blow WHICH CAN BEND SPACE AND TIME so easy to shake off?

Then he looks all sad and starts to say his creed. At least i think he's sad, with that twisted Ren & Stimpy mug it's hard to tell. I guess this is supposed to be the beginning of his dramatic inner conflict.

Now on to page four: After the boys throw stones we see a self-assured guide say "You are boys but one more day!" and then he rides the cock (heh). Ummm Story? Did you forget about that whole "Inner-conflict" thing? Oh I guess you did, because now the strip seems to be all about telling the boys they're gonna be men and thrusting things into the cock. (Innuendo aside Killing the rooster does look cool) moving on:

Strip # 5: Wait, wait, wait? They have badges now? Why the hell do they have badges if the boys were intended to be sacrificed? For that matter, Isn't it a pretty damn big waste of time to found an organization, make matching uniforms and train them in the art of Basilisk slaying if it's all just a front to let them die?

A fatal snipe hunt is an interesting twist, but it flies against the internal logic of the world which you have set up.

Lets be frank, these four strips do not work at all. The pacing is off, the composition is terrible, the colors are completely inappropriate for the type of story and environment you are working with, and the storytelling itself both visually and plot-wise is at best clumsy and confusing. This is a poor, fumbling attempt at what could have been a very, very good comic.

Anonymous said...

After reading that, I feel that the major failing of the comic's writing/pacing/what have you was that it never really articulated that the leader was standing back to let the boys be killed. Instead, it seemed as though he was standing aside because the boys had to learn on their own. That's how I interpreted the "What men must know..." line: it was hard to watch the kids flounder and the leader wanted to help, but he knew the boys had to do it for themselves to pass the test and achieve manhood. Once the boys had begun to win against the basilisk, however, he felt free to jump in and help them finish the job - "You are boys but one more day".

I feel this impression could have been corrected in a fairly simple manner. Some direct sign of grief or remorse - turning away, burying his face in his hands, saying "Oh god, what have I done?" - would have changed the tone entirely and demonstrated that he had never expected them to survive. The leader could also have been shown backing away and sheathing his weapons during the fight, rather than saying "I'm sorry, boys" and being knocked unconscious, which instead gave the impression that he was out of his depth and was apologizing for his hubris.

As this anonymouse says, had those things been done, I'd probably have gotten to the last page and gone, "AH-HA!" Instead of, "Um?"

Anonymous said...

First of all, I want to thank you for a free cab ride. You'll understand why in a few.

I voted for Lookouts just before my London trip. When Gabe & Tycho announced that they were having guests finish the story... I was skeptical. I finally had a chance to read the comic when I landed at JFK and I have to say that I was REALLY DISAPPOINTED! The art, although unique, wasn't my cup of tea. But the writing WAS HORRIBLE! I usually reserve my rants for the forums, but I just had to vent my frustration directly to the source. I literally couldn't stop saying "What the hell happened to the story?" to myself on the cab ride home. The cabby even asked me why I was so mad the whole ride home and I told him that I was pissed about Lookouts on Penny Arcade. No word of a lie, turns out the cab driver is also a Penny Arcade fan and he also thought that the writing for Lookouts sucked! He and I talked for 10 minutes in front of my building and at the end of it all, he was so mad about Lookouts that he waived my meter! I did a double take and after a couple of, "Don't worry 'bout it!" I went home. At the end of the day, your writing pissed me off, but gave me a free cab ride home. So, thanks for that. But before you do anymore work - take a writing class man... 'Cause you really need help.

Anonymous said...

You know, I really hope IF Gabe ever does do a Lookouts Graphic novel he doesn't work this 4 strip mini into the series's regular continuity.

Oliver's "twist" was freaking ridiculous. The appeal of Lookouts was that it was about humans delving deeper into the forest. It was about exploration (or at least it seemed to be).

This story railroaded Lookouts into a pretty lame and cliche'd Man VS Nature scenario.

The appeal of Lookouts was that the Forest WAS the world. Humans didn't control it, nor could they ever hope to. Nature itself dwarfed humanity.

Now, because of these four strips, the world of Lookouts is suddenly about a war between man and nature, and a war which man most likely will win.

It's a damn shame.

Anonymous said...

Haha, free cab ride. That's hilarious. At least some good came of this.

Anonymous said...

You are to the written word what B^U is to art.

Anonymous said...

I love anonymous comments on blogs!

Tim said...

You guys really didn't get it?
I had to read through the comic twice to really understand the story, but it was great after that.

Really the only thing I missed was the very last panel, which you explained in this write up.

I say bravo

AHW said...

I agree with Tim. I read it through twice and understood it perfectly. I think that those who didn't understand it should go back and read it again before jumping on it. If the people who wrote such negative comments about not understanding it spent half of the time re-reading it that they spent typing up their comments...I think they'd be a lot more satisfied with it (and happier people in general). Something- especially ART- is not "bad" just because you didn't understand it the first time you read it. I understand that you are frustrated but writing a letter to Mike and Jerry about it is overkill. Seriously. I'm sure they had a nice laugh at your expense. I would have too, if you weren't so needlessly negative. Your points would have been much more persuasive if you didn't personally attack the author. But I won't write a dissertation about how and why your comments were flawed, because frankly, that would be a waste of my time, just like writing those immature, repetitive, insulting comments was a waste of yours.

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