Consolers offers a fresh spin on the tried-and-true “video game gag comic” format.
Video game-oriented webcomics have been around for a while. Arguably beginning with Scott Kurtz’s PvP in 1998 and continuing with Jerry Holkins’ and Mike Krahulik’s Penny Arcade the same year, Scott Ramsoomair’s VGCats in 2001, and Tim Buckley’s Ctrl+Alt+Del in 2002, video games have since become quite a popular topic for aspiring webcomic artists to cover. It’s no secret why: video games and webcomics have both historically been considered geeky pursuits, and the two tend to enjoy a sizable shared audience. Unfortunately since the mid-2000s, the video game comic genre has developed somewhat of a poor reputation: a slew of cookiecutter amateur webcomics popped up, all of which set out to replicate the formula that carried the originals to stardom, but with none of the innovation.
Consolers, started by Norwegian comic artist Zanreo in 2013, absolutely bucks that trend. Rather than relying on tired “gamer on a couch” formatting and lazy, obvious gags, Consolers takes a deeper look—sometimes biting, always affectionate—at the console market and the gaming industry as a whole, representing the best and the worst of gaming companies by embodying them as characters.
Consolers may be named after console manufacturers, but in the comic all manner of gaming companies are personified. Nintendo, Konami, Valve, and Atari (clockwise) are four of them.
There are a lot of video game companies out there—almost too many to even keep track of—and quite fittingly, Consolers has quite the ensemble. The main players, however, are arguably the “big three” console companies: Microsoft (makers of the Xbox), Sony (developers of the PlayStation), and Nintendo (creators of the Wii/Wii U and later the Switch). Other regularly-seen cast members include companies like Valve, EA, Atari, Capcom, Ubisoft, and far, far more.
The humor in Consolers is obviously oriented towards gamers, but it’s still accessible to those who don’t identify as such.
It is this massive and ever-rotating cast that provides Consolers with its main strength: it has literally an entire industry’s worth of comedic material. While “gamer on a couch” comics like Ctrl+Alt+Del also have an abundance of jokes to crack, the characters of Consolers allow for material that is much more direct, immediate, and in-depth than usual. And each of these characters feature traits in both their appearance and personality that keep them funny and identifiable: Valve, whose hat bears a prominent Steam logo pin, proves to be an incredibly lazy writer (a play on the company’s seeming inability to release a complete trilogy). EA’s frat bro look and referee-styled T-shirt are callbacks to both the company’s strong history with sports titles and its consistently scummy, unethical behavior. Meanwhile Atari—whose shirt is modeled after the company’s distinctive tridential logo—is regretful, ethereal, and ghostlike, a shadow of a person who constantly tries to innovate and restore themselves to their former glory but fails each and every time.
Many, many gaming companies—like Capcom, in this example—star in Consolers, where they are parodied, mocked, satirized, and lambasted… all of it in a clearly affectionate manner from an author whose first love is gaming.
Games have always been a relatable topic for fans, but even non-gamers will find great value in Consolers. Zanreo’s MS Paint-styled art looks very rough and amateurish, but in a way that accentuates the comic’s humor and presentation instead of detracting from it. The entire comic feels fun and fresh with very few low points or stale jokes, and while there are no shortage of running gags, they never feel overdone: it’s hard not to chuckle at Atari’s cheerful nihilism, EA’s constant, shameless scumbaggery and mistreatment of other characters, and Capcom’s over-the-top, devil-may-care attitude.
From start to finish, Consolers is simply a blast. And if just the thought of reading another gaming comic is making you lose all your lives, then Consolers may very well be the powerup you’re looking for.
Thank you very much for taking the time to do this! How about we start off with a quick rundown of Consolers‘ main characters?
- Zanreo: Considering the type of comic it is, the “main character” can vary a lot, but the closest to main characters would be the “main three” Consolers—companies that make consoles!
Nintendo has been around for a long time, starting out as a hanafuda card company in 1889. Though she’s one of the oldest games companies, it can be hard to believe sometimes… She’s usually happy and not too serious, unless you look down on her or underestimate her skills. Kind of stubborn, she doesn’t always want to keep up with the new industry trends but also invents all kinds of new, strange gameplay choices that often turns out to be huge successes. Despite her rivals at first mocking her for her strange choices, they tend to imitate these after they get popular.
Sony got into the game industry after a failed collaboration with Nintendo, and had instant success with his own PlayStation console, to Nintendo’s annoyance. While he tries to act cool and serious, this act is quickly dropped when he messes up… which is quite often. He’s skilled with all kinds of electronics, but also ends up working with too many projects at a time to properly focus and can’t always tell bad ideas from good ones until it’s too late. Aside from gaming, his hobbies include movies and music.
While Microsoft started out making games for his own computers, he decided to make his own console after feeling threatened by Sony’s PlayStation console. He can be rather arrogant and tries acting tough, and considers both Sony and Apple his biggest rivals. He’s skilled in online-based features like multiplayer, though he’s known to go back and forth on decisions lately and sometimes doesn’t think them through properly before presenting them.
From start to finish, how is a Consolers character made? What’s your approach to representing and personifying gaming companies; do you try to symbolize the companies in personal appearance, personalities, or both?
- Zanreo: The exact design process might vary a bit from character to character, but in general I start thinking about the company and their series (typically their most well-known and iconic series, or if there’s a specific genre they focus on, specific themes associated with their games etc.) Sometimes the idea for a new character even hits me out of nowhere when I just happen to read something about the company! For a recent example, when I read interviews of early Toaplan developers, the development of their games and the company culture… I suddenly was hit with inspiration regarding how this could be made into a character and what this company’s character would be like!
I tend to think about the “concept” first – their skills, personality, interests ect. Sometimes I’m inspired by what I associate with the company’s games and characters, the company’s actions (good and bad) and sometimes even their fanbase, sometimes I’m inspired by interviews or other things said by significant people at the company… and sometimes I just add traits I think would make for a fun character. After figuring this out, I draw a design around this, though I often have parts of or ideas for their design ready just from what I know about the company and their games The designs are typically inspired by significant game series and iconic characters from those, like how Nintendo’s hat looks like a mix of Mario and Link’s hats, and Platinum looks almost like a mix of Bayonetta and a Wonderful 101 hero. Other times it’s more about “looks” associated with the company – I knew from the start Square Enix would wear a lot of belts and zippers! I also like including “symbols” of the company itself when I can, like how Capcom has a Yashichi on her headband – a symbol found in a bunch of Capcom games and associated with the company itself – and how Konami’s design is partially inspired by the old mascot Konami Man (she wears the same kind of winged red helmet and has a similar color scheme overall) I also always include the company’s logo, either a symbol or a letter or two (depending on the logo) somewhere on their clothes. Character relationships are often based on companies’ past interactions or sometimes fanbases – the “main three” Nintendo, Sony and Microsoft can go anywhere from friendly rivals to outright enemies, based on “console wars” arguments between fans of the different consoles, and Namco and Atari are (or at least used to be) good friends because Namco and Atari worked a lot together in the past.
Overall, I think the appearance of the characters are important and when it comes to personifications in general, I like to be able to tell “what” they are just from their appearance.
Interesting… so if you were to design a character for, say, Gearbox Software, what would that character look and act like?
- Zanreo: Gearbox… interesting question, I’d first have to do a bunch of research about them especially since they’re not one of the companies I know the most about, and find out what kind of stories I could use for them… They started out making Half-Life expansions, so the character would be starting out working for Valve until they decided to do their own thing. Borderlands are one of their more iconic series, so their visual design could be partially inspired by that… and then there’s Battleborn, a shooter that got infamously overshadowed by Overwatch shortly after its release. So regarding that, they’d try desperately competing against Blizzard, promoting and supporting their own game while always being in Blizzard’s shadow. A character that would be trying their best against a bigger competitor, kinda, and still with a sense of humor and trying to make jokes (even when they aren’t always the best).
And let’s not forget how they finished development of and released the infamous Duke Nukem Forever after taking over and buying the IP from 3D Realms after years of development hell – while a lot of jokes have been made about that game already, maybe the character can also sometimes have trouble separating good ideas from bad ones? That’s just some initial ideas and concepts though, but it’s what first comes to mind.
Let’s finish the interview with a behind-the-scenes view… what were some of your original ideas for the comic?
- Zanreo: My initial idea for the characters actually came from the old “fandomstuck” meme on Tumblr, where people would make characters representing various fandoms and franchises. I had already loved personifications for years before that, so I drew some characters representing the “main 3” of console gaming: Nintendo consoles, PlayStation, and Microsoft. I’d later draw a few more game company characters and get into making game company personifications in general… and later I decided to draw a comic with these characters, parodying some recent news at the time. I enjoyed this and just kept making comics… and that’s pretty much how the comic was born!
Can’t get enough of the console crew? Was this article over too soon? Hopefully the following links can offer some console-ation.