The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade is, like its writers, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins, many things.
It is an autobiography of the writers; a chronicle of how posting a web comic strip back in 1998 led to a company that publishes the web comic; has set up a multi-million dollar charity, and created the most important annual gamers’ convention in the world. All because Mike and Jerry created a web comic that allowed them to give their opinions on all things video game [and anything else that crosses their minds] form and substance.
Like the web comic it celebrates, The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade is concise and sharply written. Essays contributed by the likes of Robert Khoo – who is just crazy enough to quit a good job to work for Penny-Arcade.com for free and takes the company into the black in a very short time – and Kristen Lindsay, whose tireless efforts enabled the company’s Child’s Play charity to succeed.
Just to keep the timeline straight, key events are noted, in orange blocks, at the bottom of each of a number of pages thoughout the book.
The Penny Arcade story is fraught with unexpected peril [they accidentally sold the company!] and mayhem [they accidentally sold the publishing rights for their book!] – as well as love [Mike and Jerry get married – not each other, of course], and legal fun [being sued and doing the suing!].
Even if the book didn’t contain enough examples of the Penny Arcade strip to win over the least likely of fans, it would be a great read. Bit… there are all those strips! There are chapters that deal with the creation of such popular they guys’ alter egos, Gabe and Tycho; The Cardboard Tube Samurai; Twisp and Catsby [masters of the non sequitur]; and a host of others.
Each strip is a piece of editorial art that pokes [and not gently] whatever is ticking off Mike and Jerry on that day. The art is bold and increasingly textured, yet as simple as possible. The dialogue is blunt and frequently vulgar, but also incisive and hilarious. Gabe and Tycho are characters who are both the alter egos of Mike and Jerry, and stand-ins for us.
Everything we’ve ever thought of saying – about games and/or everything else – comes out of their mouths completely uncensored. Gabe might be more of an innocent enthusiast and Tycho may be the cynic, bit neither is the least bit shy about airing their opinions. It’s easy for readers to identify with that.
For me, though, the best part of the book is the story of how Mike and Jerry responded to statements that gamers were lazy, selfish bums by setting up a charity [Child’s Play] that now generates millions of dollars for games and toys for hospitals around the world, so that hospitalized kids have something that will make their stays a little less frightening. Now that is an inspirational thing.
The Splendid Magic of Penny Arcade is a beautiful, entertaining book. If you love games, comics or any related genre, you will enjoy this it. A lot.
Final Grade: A