Penny and Aggie
It’s perhaps a tad ironic for me to say this (given the generally-upbeat nature of most of my reviews), but I think I’ve become perhaps a tad too cynical in regards to certain webcomics. T Campbell’s school drama webcomic Penny and Aggie is one such example, and when I glanced through my archives (or at least the handful of P&A reviews that have made it to WordPress) I found that for the past several years I’ve basically been reading the comic because it’s on my reading list. Once the initial antagonism between primary protagonists Penny and Aggie transformed into friendship, I felt that the heart had fallen out of the comic.
While the past storyline concerning young sociopath Cyndi Kristoffer’s disappearance hasn’t reignited my old enjoyment of the comic, the most recent comic presented an ending for the young sociopath that was far different than I’d expected. Rather than having our young duo and their band of misfit friends work together to prove Cyndi’s evil to the incompetent adults around them (in true Mary Sue fashion which fortunately were not indulged in), we got to see the authorities portrayed intelligently and realistically; the signs had been there all along. I’d just been too blind to read them.
There were little hints, such as the FBI agent having a firmer understanding of Cyndi than Penny, and the Feds going through Cyndi’s laptop (which led to the Feds finding some rather incriminating evidence). These were interspersed in a larger story, with Campbell bringing his readers along for a psychological horror story where we got a good dark look at two very damaged young women… our young sociopath, and the abused ultra-conservative Christian Charlotte (whose portrayal during her discussion with the Feds led me to praise Campbell and hope that perhaps the comic could regain its early spark).
All this time, I’ve been lamenting the loss of the early rivalry between Penny and Aggie. I felt that their conflict was a driving force in the comic. Fortunately, Campbell is an experienced enough storyteller to realize something I’d forgotten in my fondness for the past: a story that doesn’t change risks stagnation. P&A could easily have gone down the “Tom and Jerry” route, with Penny and Aggie retaliating against one another in a perpetual cycle of silliness and idiocy. Rather than go that route, Campbell risked alienating fans of that early conflict (such as myself) and started telling a story of two young women in high school who are in the process of growing up.
Cyndi’s story and the psychological horror in the confrontation between Charlotte and her is just one part of the greater whole that Penny and Aggie has become. While we’re sure to go back to the general banality of high school drama and in the odd friendship that has grown between our two primary protagonists (along with the occasional “schoolgirl lesbian” bits that Campbell enjoys teasing readers with), this story shows that the comic has grown past its early roots and become something that, while I may not enjoy it as I once did, I definitely respect far more than if it had remained what it had been.