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Stolen Pixels #89: Left 4 Dumb: Part 11

By Shamus
on Tuesday May 12, 2009
Filed under:


The latest comic is up. Also note in the side-text are some notes about how I plan to run the series. Now, allow me to indulge in some naval gazing:

Left 4 Dumb is turning into an interesting project. I realized a couple of nights ago that a lot of my comic-making time is spent location scouting. Since the original Left 4 Dead levels aren’t available in Garry’s Mod, I have to find someplace suitable for making a particular comic. I decided early on that I wanted to avoid using the Half Life 2 levels as much as possible. This was partly because their Euro-style buildings would be jarring in a story supposedly set in western Pennsylvania but mostly because those levels are so famous and so familiar that it would be confusing for readers. “Hey, this looks like Black Mesa East. Is it really supposed to be Black Mesa East, or is this just the same set? Now they’re running to safety down this hall, but I know from experience that the hall is a dead end. Is that part of the joke or an oversight?” And so on. It would put the focus on the setting instead of the story, and would probably ruin a lot of punchlines for HL2 fans.

Since I can’t use those levels, and I can’t use the real levels, I have to look elsewhere for someplace to set the comics. This is turning out to be more challenging than I expected. Counterstrike: Source and Half Life 2: Deathmatch are pretty good, although limited in use because my comic is set at night and most of those levels have daytime lighting.

I notice I’m running into many of the same problems I encountered with DM of the Rings. I can either tell a joke or move the plot forward, but not both at once. Today’s strip advanced the plot, (Louis is rescued) reiterated the character’s goals, (going to the safehouse) and recounted what happened to Louis (he “died” and inexplicably returned to life via a hero closet) but the “joke” is lamer than Steven Hawking and FDR trying to play hacky sack. That’s the way it goes sometimes.

I’m actually a lot more relaxed about lame jokes than I used to be. A lot of the tepid DMotR jokes paid off in later strips as unintentional setups for running gags or to simply nudge the story in the right direction. And often even ones that didn’t amuse me would make people really laugh because the joke connected with them in some unexpected way. I used to think that weak jokes were a terrible crime, but now I see you can strike out on a regular basis as long as you hit a home run once in a while. And to be fair, even Bill Waterson and Bill Amend had the occasional “meh” strip, and those guys are widely recognized as deities of comic brilliance. I’m just a guy who vandalizes videogame art, so I’m no longer wracked with guilt if every strip doesn’t cover everyone’s LCD screens with nasally propelled coffee.

As promised, here is the aforementioned naval gazing:

Photo by Elsie esq.

Comments (28)

  1. Christian Groff says:

    Yay! I get first comment after all this time!

    I think your comics are KILLERZ, Shamus. I am never going to play Left 4 Dead, but reading these comics where you mock the gameplay makes me smile.

    Keep up the good work. ;)

  2. Strangeite says:

    Congratulations. I have noticed that on a regular basis, you are getting more comments over at the Escapist than your are getting for the “Comic is up” post here.

  3. Telas says:

    Shamus, your geek-cred is already well established.

    There’s really no need to publicly over-think and over-rationalize your decisions just to prove it again. ;)

    Seriously, thanks for some of the “behind the screen” insights. They’re like the “GM to GM” notes in the better PnP RPG books.

  4. Rehtul says:

    Caught yourself on the spelling error, nice.

  5. Mari says:

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, the mental image of Louis locked in a closet sucking his thumb and whimpering softly to himself made me nasally propel coffee onto my LCD monitor.

    And just to cap your awesomeness, my husband will be jealous because I saw the big pretty boat before he did. Naturally he’ll have a clue what the big pretty boat is while I can only classify it as a large sea-going vessel, but that’s ok. I still win because I saw it at 9:30 in the morning and he won’t see it until after 7 tonight. Yes, I am easily amused.

  6. moswald says:

    Groff, why aren’t you going to play Left 4 Dead? It’s fantastic.

  7. Eathanu says:

    For a second there I was expecting a picture of your navel, and the likely horrors that would bring to me at night. Crisis averted.

  8. DaveMc says:

    Naval gazing! I roll on the floor, laughing out loud. I bet some poor Word Usage Monitor got halfway through a message before they saw the picture of the ship.

  9. Mark says:

    No worries, Shamus! Your comic with its allegedly “weak” joke was the bright spot of my day so far…

    Have a good one!

  10. Dys says:

    I was that Word Use Monitor, and the naval gazing gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. I thank you for that.

  11. Graham says:

    I’m afraid I must express my (and my fiancee’s) disappointment at the thought of the Left 4 Dumb comics taking up the majority of Stolen Pixels for the foreseeable future.

    I was first enamoured with the comic because it was funny and varied, taking potshots in all directions at a variety of different games. The huge amount of focus on one game (especially one that we do not play ourselves) is… well, it’s wearing a bit thin.

    Besides which, the focus of the comic, according to the Escapist page, is “the webcomic that flings abuse and ridicule at beloved videogames and chattering fanboys through screenshot vandalism.”

    These days, you’re making a story comic about a single game. I think you’ve lost sight of that initial focus, man.

    So just how long do you expect this story arc to run?

    As a thought, have you considered making fridays “Left 4 Dumb day”, while having tuesdays as regular comic day? That way you still get to tell your L4D story, but the comic isn’t 100% taken up by a single game.

    Please consider it.



  12. TehShrike says:

    Twice as many comics! DO IT, SHAMUS!

    j/k. Also, bonus points for your awesome naval gazing pun.

  13. Derek K. says:

    Graham took my suggestion. Spin L4Dumb off, basically, and do double work!

  14. Sydney says:

    I actually liked this one better than the past few. The formerly-dead guy’s angry-face was great.

  15. Magnus says:

    That is some good looking Battleship Grey.

  16. SiliconScout says:

    I say do twice as many left for dumb!

    HA… I don’t play the game, and likely never will but imagining a horror movie made this way gives me the chuckles.

  17. Telas says:

    Dys @ 10: “…the naval gazing gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside…”

    Fuzzy Naval?


  18. Sesoron says:

    Fantastic. I was enroute to see if anybody had commented on the “naval gazing” before I read the whole thing, and luckily the big, obvious picture of the ship caught me first. You know your readers, Shamus.

  19. toasty says:

    I thought the humor was quite good this time around.

  20. A fan says:

    Not funny.Sorry, but since you started being payed by that site you’ve lost your humour and could you please quit with the “left for dead”?There are other games too.

  21. Ishmael says:

    You’re going to hell for that one, Shamus. Straight to the Circle of the Punsters.

  22. Confanity says:

    I’m a fan! Just an argumentative one. ^_^;

    For the record, even the standard spelling is vulnerable.

    …Am I stuck with this psycho icon forever?

  23. Harvey says:

    I believe it’s better to use lame jokes on occasion just to get them out of your head, then you can get past them to better material.

    Remember: diamond mines are 99% dirt.

  24. RTBones says:

    Naval gazing…nice. I’ve enjoyed this series muchly. Funny, though, when Zoey has her face in her hands, I could almost hear her sobbing, “I hate this campaign!” :)

  25. Uncle Festy says:

    *cracks up at Navel Gazing*
    EDIT: And it would appear I used a different Email this time, as I have a different avatar.

  26. Nazdakka says:

    I have to say that I prefer the gag-a-day Stolen Pixels format to Left 4 Dumb. Jokes are, IMO, what you do best.

  27. Huckleberry says:

    @ Shamus. At the Escapist, you wrote:

    The language thing could also simply be hand-waved by saying the ARE speaking some European language, which is simply depicted as English so the game doesn’t need to be subtitled. For example, the movie Enemy at the Gates is about Russians in WWII, but rather than have Jude Law and the entire cast try to act while speaking horribly accented, mangled, and subtitled Russian, they just show everyone speaking English and trust the audience to realize they’re really speaking Russian.

    Let me just say: YAY!

    For some context: what you say describes perfectly a phenomenon that I’m working on in a literary studies project, though I’m looking mostly at literary texts and at examples where the “surface language” (in your example: English) is used in a way that somehow evokes an impression of the language that is “really” used. For lack of a better term, I call these cases “pseudotranslations”. It’s just great to come across it here!

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