When Cyberpunk Meets Noir: Penny Arcade’s Automata

Penny Arcade is the webcomic, That Which Came Before All Others, and the likes of which we may never see again.  Although its references and humor may only apply to the gaming subculture, the satire and eloquence of writer Jerry Holkins and animator Mike Krahulik that rivals much of what you might find channel-surfing these days.

Last year, and again this year, the creators behind Penny Arcade decided to host a few out-of-the-box strips.  One of them was a series called Automata.  And lo! the Rhapsodist looked upon it and thought it good.

Automata is a brief webcomic strip set within  a world where film noir detectives meet sci-fi androids, where “Prohibition” refers to artificial intelligence rather than alcohol, and where futuristic automatons blend seamlessly with the classic melodies and fashions of the Roaring Twenties.  Our main characters are Regal, a hard-bitten private eye, and Carl, his robot counterpart.  In the first Automata strip, they attempt to solve a series of murders regarding club singers, while in its recent successor strip, Blood and Oil, we see how their partnership began and read a little more into just how these sentient machines are treated in the alternate 1920s.

The whole thing is just well-written.  It has the dark atmosphere you’d expect from a noir piece, but its issues are from the twenty-first century and beyond.  The dialogue between Regal and Carl is an excellent blend of dry cynicism and synthetic vocal patterns (with just a hint of some deeper humanity).  And though the stories are short, they’ll leave a strong impact and leave you wanting more and more.

You can read the first panel of Automata below and the rest of the series here.  Its second series, Blood and Oil, can be found here.  Penny Arcade can be enjoyed here.

Copyright © 2009 by Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins

Bibliography: Holkins, Jerry.  Krahulik, Mike.  “Automata.”  Penny Arcade.  June 12 – August 10, 2009.  July 23, 2010 – August 2, 2010.  http://www.penny-arcade.com


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