Gutter Space #17 by Leslie Salas
Metacomic Case Study: Cyanide & Happiness, by Rob DenBleyker
It’s been much too long since I’ve written a review about a webcomic, so just in time for Thanksgiving let’s put our lives into perspective with Cyanide & Happiness’ “Depressing Comic Week” comic 3373. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with Cyanide & Happiness, these comics, by Rob DenBleker, have a reputation for their often surprisingly dark humor. DenBleker pushes boundaries for acceptability, often cartooning what many people may consider inappropriate or outrageous. Consider it part of his charm.
Similarly to xkcd (which I’ve talked about here and here), the art style employed in Cyanide & Happiness is that of slightly-detailed stick figures, and the comics often transcend the space of their panels and website, utilizing the tools of the Internet to enhance their storytelling.
In comic 3373 (I refer to it’s number because there are several “Depressing Comic Week” comics—in fact, there’s a whole book of them), an optimistic protagonist is interrupted from his excited, “I’m gonna go do something great with my life!” by the creator of the comic, who responds with, “Seems unlikely.”
The Creator then goes on to utilize panels of 500 x 500 pixels, zooming in to the center pixel of each to illustrate the scale of the Universe, the solar system, and the insignificance of a single human being, especially with respect to the billions who have already died. He showcases this on an impressive visual scale, even scaling one drawn person to represent 1,000,000, because, as he says, “[H]onestly this comic is getting kind of tall. Let’s not overdo it.”
This raises the audience’s awareness of the comic—that it is indeed pixels projected onto a scrolling screen in a web browser. And so we, the audience, are made more aware of our own existence. As we scroll, our understanding of our insignificance only deepens.
The ending—well, I’ll save that, for you to read yourself. But I’m left with an unsettling awareness of DenBleyker’s deliberate use of metafiction to drive home a point.
It’s this use of the Internet, the scrolling function, pixels, and the author’s intrusion on the comic that I find fascinating and wonderful. DenBleyker has turned a comic into a depressing infographic that is both thought-provoking and humorous. And he makes it look tongue-in-cheek and effortless. Impressive work.
Leslie Salas writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.