Review of the Vork Comic: Generations of Storytelling
January 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
When I first read the Vork one-shot, I was disappointed. I’d been so stunned by the extent to which the Codex backstory had enriched the mythology of The Guild that I’d had high hopes for Vork’s story to do the same. I really enjoyed his appearances in the third issue of The Guild‘s first comics series, particularly the way in which he cast the social component of MMORPGs as a technological advance, that, as a gaming lifer, he felt obligated to take part in. Particularly when I saw the preview pages for the comic, I’d been hoping that Vork’s backstory would take us back through some of his history, explore how he came to be a full-time caregiver for his grandfather, and then offer some of his moments of his initiation into the MMORPG depicted in The Guild. In other words, I was hoping his origin story would take on a scope at least as large as Codex’s, and preferably delve even further back into history.
Alas, his story opens once the guild as we know it have been playing together for over a hundred hours — admittedly, they likely reached this point in their first week together, but still. The acceleration from the last comic to this one jarred me, and was coupled by what seemed at first like a disappointingly bawdy take on the grandfather character. Sure, I enjoyed the way in which Jeff Lewis and Felicia Day translated Lewis’s mundane-camp comedy to a new medium, but in terms of storytelling, I felt shorted. It would be like hearing only a series of Clara’s one-liners about being a bad mother, without capturing any of the surprising tenderness of her marriage, or finding out about her college experience as a sorority recruiter. However, on re-reading the comic, I’ve found that Vork’s relationship with his grandfather actually does go deeper than their Odd Couple shenanigans, but the clues are located in a section I flew past.
When I saw the preview pages, I was excited, because I thought that the Vork comic was going to take on an American Splendor approach to depression and working-class life — maybe we’d see Vork at a former job, maybe buying lottery tickets, maybe dealing with his grandfather’s medical bills. We kind of see these things, but they’re all so successfully filtered through Vork’s hyper-logical moral system, that it’s tough to grasp their emotional weight. And sure, this could be intentional, but I think there are ways to gesture toward feeling without implying that the character himself is seeing things in the same way the audience is invited to do.
But there is one moment that can be taken as a definitive indication of the intended aesthetic of the Vork comic, and it does appear at an emotionally crucial turning point. Vork’s grandfather has decided to live the rest of his life at the Rolling Cliffs Senior Home, because Vork was cramping his style by denying him alcohol and junk food, and Vork has decided that he can’t live with this decision. He’s realized that, now that he’s alienated his guild and his only close family member with his stringent moral and organizational code, he must reach out to someone in order to regain control of his emotional life. Fortunately, his grandfather is receptive, and agrees to go home with him. As he’s done at several moments before, his grandfather then digresses into telling a story about “the good old days.” Like his previous stories, this one centers on women and romance, and the man’s glory days as a mid-century stud.
However, this story is different. For one, the telling of it doesn’t lead to the grandfather sexually harrassing an employee of the Sam’s Club-like emporium Vork visits in the name of free samples. Rather, it seems like it’s a story that’s actually about love, which might be something that can connect the two men across their major difference, which seems to be sexual. Indeed, in the panel before the story begins, his grandfather asks Vork what his problem is, to which Vork responds, “I don’t know, I’m overanalytical, spend too much time gaming, and have a questionable lack of sexual direction?” I enjoyed this line my first time through the comic, because it reminded me why Codex and Vork are indeed kindred spirits in so many ways — although Codex has had multiple on-screen/in-comic sexual and romantic pairings, her relationship with a gay man and her ambivalence toward her own body betray a deeper anxiety. Vork, by contrast, can only see sex through the lens of the completely practical terms of marriage, and has as yet not demonstrated a believable sexual interest in anyone, despite a few awkward comments about women who’ve rejected him.
His grandfather was clearly very different, capable of and interested in both sex and love. And so he tells his story, in washed-out panels of history, colored in pink and framed by fantasy cloud lines. He remembers himself as a soldier on the beach at Normandy, surrounded by beautiful women, one of whom, in a bakery, gave him a croissant. As he strode out of the bakery proudly, pastry in hand, a red heart appeared over her head. Vork cuts him off at this point, assuming to the story will now turn to him “bang[ing] her up against the oven,” but his grandfather remains wistful. It’s a nice moment, and I admire its subtlety. It’s not that I needed Vork to have a traumatic experience with an ex-girlfriend, or come out of the closet, or have any information so definitive revealed in this story. But this particular exchange nicely reveals the layers underneath the man’s moral code, and the ways in which its cracks reveal themselves under the weight of extended social interaction.
I think this moment reveals something about The Guild‘s generation of storytelling, too, however obliquely. To Vork’s grandfather, stories are tinted and dramatic, about love and war, and worth re-telling in order to cement social bonds between people across difference. In The Guild, the bonds are more collaborative, less centered on the “high” concerns of virile masculine subjectivity and international travel, but instead concerned with sustainable, transparent structures of social group formation, which enable the exploration of universes like those produced in MMORPGs. This is Vork’s lesson: while at the beginning of the comic, he sees himself as different from his grandfather because he does not share his interest in reckless sex or drug abuse, he still carries the remnants of his belief that to become a worthy subject is to become a warrior who goes on quests. What he learns from playing the game, however, is that warrior means something different in this generation/incarnation of storytelling than it did to his grandfather. Fortunately, it turns out that his grandfather’s stories also relied on relationships more complex than that between conquerer and conquered — something fundamentally social without a purpose.
In any case, I’m excited about the next comics produced by The Guild, and please, PLEASE, give me a 5th season.