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What is it about retail and food service that makes for so many comics? Perhaps it’s the shared experience of working harder than you should for deplorable human beings? It’s an experience that is etched into every mind that wasn’t born into money, comic artists included. Questionable Content has the coffee shop, Shortpacked is all about a toy store, and ninety percent of Multiplex takes place in a movie theater. However, none of these comics are actually about the locations; their jobs only act as a framing device for social interactions. It’s kind of like how zombie movies aren’t really about the zombies, they’re about how the survivors interact with each other. Which brings us to Between Failures, a comic about people working in a general merchandise store.
I can’t really pin down why I enjoy Between Failures. I suppose I like the way it’s written; the jokes are clever and concise. Drama occurs, but not in a way that’s overbearing. The plot strands come and go relatively quickly, which allows for many less-developed stories rather than a couple of over-developed ones. That sounds like a point against it, but stories that are a bit light on the details and fresh will always beat out the stale and overblown.
So it’s well-written, a phrase I’ve probably used somewhere around 300 times on this blog. Here’s the thing, though: I kind of hate the characters. Specifically, I don’t like the (arguably) main characters, Thomas and Carol. They seemed like normal main characters in comics, ignoring Thomas’ off-putting way of being a bit too competent at everything. I couldn’t really figure out why they bothered me so much compared to the otherwise decent cast, at least until I read the about page. I accept the fact that making characters is difficult, but those two are pushing Author Insertion to its limits. Thomas is based around how the author sees himself, and Carol is his “ideal” woman. While they are in no way badly created, I can’t shake the sense that their romance is a large part wish fulfillment. Specifically, the kind that makes you want to wash your hands afterwards.
Oddly, despite being created by similar tokens, the other characters are much more compelling. You can certainly play Spot the Trope if you want, but there’s nothing wrong with creating characters for a specific personality as long as you put them in an environment where they can play to their strengths without being worn to a nub. Failures accomplishes this well by being more than happy to leave a character behind for a while if they don’t really fit into the story, unlike *some* stories that has to 5-man band their way through everything. Not naming names, of course.
Also, I credit Wohlenhaus with not making Reggie into a Shortpacked Faz. They might be similar in style, but at least Reggie has personality.
Is it a bit author insertion-y? Yes. Is it bad? Absolutely not. A decent recommendation is what I have for you, served up on a dragonscale platter. It doesn’t break any new ground, yes, but it does its job well and that’s all you can really ask.
(And that’s just fine. Remember, 5/10 is an average score. 6/10 is above average. Get your head out of the Gamespot four point scale, please.)