Ever feel like you're not getting the whole story?


New Leisuretown!
2001-11-01 03:19:28

Net Flotsam
No more Task Force Smiths!
-- The Compulsive Splicer


Giraffes, rabbits, and dipshits. The beloved internet photo-comic Leisuretown is back -- in a big way!

The main page has been covered with a crazy quilt of new features -- like, 11 different storylines to click on -- and a few even have fake comments from readers. ("Maybe if you pulled your head out of your ass just one inch, it would help you identify the crucial components of life and allow for some follow-through with the appropriate action!") And even though all these comics just went up last week, this week brought still more new content. Today's feature, "Rhapsody in Yellow," was sort of like "The Red Balloon," except with traffic accidents -- and there's also "The Big Book of Jokes", a new experimental format where each picture in the cartoon materializes over the previous one!

But it's not just that there's more comics on the site. The re-design even included some new technical features. "There may be times when displaying these articles in your environment might be considered inappropriate, inconvenient, or embarrassing," a manual explains. Clicking the "W" in town pulls up a white-out window, and the "O" pulls up a fake "debugger" page of computer jibberish. Just like an old-school computer game! This is a major overhaul, and there's hints about a new-content-every-week schedule. (A piece called "A Winter Solstice Party" is still planned for later in the week.) Yay!!! No more waiting a year for the next installments!!!

In fact, it's a little disorienting to have so much new Leisuretown to wallow in after four years of intermittent publishing. Let me see if I can explain this. I once found an interview with Tristan A. Farnon, the one-man geekmeister behind the site -- and it freaked me out. Not because he said anything particularly unsettling, but just the opposite. Because the stories on Leisuretown can be so disturbing already that they almost seemed more appropriate coming from the dark unknown beyond the other side of the web browser. The plastic bendable animals were trapped in dark stories, traipsing recklessly across social boundaries, mocking dipshit obedience and voicing cutting-edge dispair. And we loved them for it. Some of the stories -- like "Winter Pageant" and "Q.A. Confidential" -- sprawled close to 100 pages each. But whatever was wrong with them just enhanced their angsty catharsis. Reading it was like a ritual, like the toy animals were totems channelling an unacknowledged id.

Now, even with a new personal statement on the site written by the webmaster himself, there's still uneasy dark hints and ambiguity about what's happening on the other side. Every page now features two sentences leading to the author's statement (which solicits Paypal donations.) But the two sentences are always different, usually a non-sequitor, drawn from an apparently inexhaustible database of come-ons, most written in capital letters. ("MY WEB-BASED SOAP OPERA WAS A WEB-BASED DISASTER." "IS THIS AD ENOUGH OF AN IMMERSIVE EXPERIENCE FOR YOU DUMBSHITS?") At least half of them are blatantly misleading. ("ONLY NICE, CUTE GIRLS UNDER 21 SHOULD CLICK HERE." "Click here for your free Pepsi One Infotainment calendar! *BLAM* dead forever.") But while every link is its own slice of Leisuretown random, the pitch itself is a work of inscrutable art. Maybe Farnon felt it would have been too self-serving to say "This site was nominated for a Webby in the year 2000" or pointing out that it made the personal Top Ten list of Scott McCloud, the author of the Understanding Comics. Instead, Farnon couched his plea in words that are just as dark as the rest of the comic strip. "The characters in Leisure Town have nowhere to go. They’ll never be immortalized in print or make that leap to the silver screen.... They lie awake each night staring at the ceiling, afraid of their dwindling bank accounts and afraid of tomorrow."

"They hate themselves. They consider suicide at least once or twice a day. At no point do they ever stop wondering if there might be a kind, conscious force at work somewhere at the universe, a god or a goddess like yourself willing to bear witness to their lives."

Er, is this a web page or a cry for an intervention? Readers may have already asked themselves that question after following some of the comics' homicidal, suicidal, and sexually frustrated misanthropes. Sometimes you have to wonder if the characters are acting out personal demons that the cartoonist is fighting. "I could pull my pants down right now and my entire career as an independent content provider would be over," one character exclaims.

But that kind of blunt shock is a good thing in ways that aren't easy to articulate. Deep on the site I found another interview with Tristan A. Farnan, this one by the Comics Journal. But I'm afraid to read this one. Maybe this is the highest compliment I can pay Leisuretown. I've decided that for me what's special about the site is probably best left in its own crazy world of irreplaceable anti-social animals, ignoring orange traffic cones and always crossing the street against the lights.

Over.  End of Story.  Go home now.


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