SPOTLIGHT – Penny Arcade: Lookouts, Thornwatch, The Tithe

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Spotlight on Fantasy is a new segment I’m bringing to the blog that is meant to call attention to pieces of work in the fantasy genre that are not novels and outside of the typical “mainstream” of media consumption (movies, books, video games). To introduce this segment I’ve decided to take a look at the Penny Arcade series: The Lookouts.

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Penny Arcade is an online webcomic that was formed in 1998 that focuses on video games and video game culture along with the exploits of Gabe and Tycho, characters that are very loosely based on the creators Mike Krahulik (illustrator) and Jerry Holkins (writer) respectively.

The comic is updated on a Mon, Wed, Fri schedule that is accompanied with regular updates to the blog on the website. In the 15 years since its inception, the Penny Arcade brand has grown tremendously. There are now 3 massively popular video game related conventions that Penny Arcade puts on – PAXPrime, PAXEast, and PAXAustralia. They also organize and run Child’s Play, a charity that organizes toy drives to children’s hospitals. It is meant to help dispute the perception that gamers are violent and antisocial by mainstream media. Since it began in 2003 donors have sent in more than $12 million in toys, games and books to children’s hospitals.

It was early June of 2009 that Penny-Arcade, one of the titan’s of the online comic industry, introduced a series of three potential comics that they would run while they were at the San Diego Comic Con. Amongst those three candidates was The Lookouts, which came to be known as a fantasy equivalent of the Boy Scouts. During the initial post that accompanied the inaugural comic, the artist, Mike Krahulik (a.k.a Gabe) described the Lookouts as follows:

“The world of the Lookouts is a wild one. The majority of it is covered in a dense magical forest called the Eyrewood. Human settlements are few and far between. Learning to navigate and live alongside the forest is a necessity. Men must protect the few roads they have through the woods and as the Lookouts’ creed says, “What men must know a boy must learn.” Young boys in this world join the Lookouts and are taught the ways of the forest.”

 Initial Proposal Strip for Lookouts

The Lookouts received so much love and appreciation from fans that although it didn’t win that initial polling it was something Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins couldn’t abandon. They asked Becky Dreistadt to  illustrate the rest of that story in July of 2009. It wasn’t until nearly a year later in April of 2010 that The Lookouts would make another appearance in a six-strip series titled “A Boy Must Learn.”

Lookouts Comic Archive at Penny Arcade

July of 2012 brought the world of the Lookouts into full comic book form. A six-issue series available at ComiXology broadens the depth of the Eyrewood world that couldn’t be contained in 3-panel strips. The story itself is an intriguing one and there is plenty of bonus content at the end of each issue explaining some of the badges you can earn as a Lookout. It’s definitely worth the price of admission and I would wholeheartedly endorse the purchase of each issue.

Lookouts Comic Books at COMIXOLOGY

The Eyrewood has been fleshed out since 2009, growing to include two more segments that are set in the Eyrewood and work in tandem with The Lookouts series. Each of these are able to stand on their own and offer the possibility for a magnum opus their own. The folks at Penny Arcade have instead opted to stack each of these segments and let them inform and enhance one another.

Thornwatch was the second segment readers were introduced to in 2012. Thornwatch was originally devised as a card game that is a tabletop RPG (role-playing game). The members are each represented by a deck of cards and the player would use these decks in order to duel others. Krahulik spent time devising the game mechanics and had a series of news posts that focused on the process while he play-tested with friends. It was on September 16, 2013 that Krahulik (Gabe) announced Penny Arcade was exploring options and hopes to see it available next year for distribution.

The story behind The Thornwatch is that they are a group of oathbreakers and criminals in the eyes of the boys of the Lookouts. They are men and women that have left their duties and instead travel the Eyrewood waiting to be summoned. Krahulik explains the spell as such:

“They are summoned by tying a wreath of thorns around a birch tree. The knot you tie (and the blood you shed) finishes the spell that summons the Thornwatch and also informs them of your particular problem.”

Krahulik likens the Thornwatch to the A-Team, drawing parallels between the two groups and showcasing that while they might not always follow the rules, their intentions are generally good. A three-strip series ran that showcased the group and officially introduced the concept.

First Strip of Thornwatch Comic

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The final segment of the Eyrewood world focuses on the Girl Scout equivalent to The LookoutsThe Daughters of the Eyrewood have been hinted at since the very beginning but information hasn’t surfaced until September of 2013.

Penny Arcade is running an extended series of strips that focuses on Hanna, a young girl who wakes up one morning with flowers growing in her hair (pictured above with the Thornwatch). She is called away from her home and deep into the Eyrewood to discover what being a Daughter means.

Holkins has spent time crafting songs and poems for the Eyrewood world, in particular for Hanna’s story. One particular poem is as follows:

“Secret a coin in your travelling show,
Fasten your half-cloak, better to roam;
Shake out your tallboots; make sure you have two,
And you’ll never have to go home.
Dance, though your mother and father be weeping,
Pull on your hood, you’ve no need of a comb;
Walk while the worst of the forest is sleeping,
And you’ll never have to go home.”

Daughters of the Eyrewood Comic – The Tithe

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The Eyrewood has grown since it’s initial concept was revealed in ’09. The Lookouts, Thornwatch, and the Daughters each crafting a portion of the triangle that makes up this world. There is so much to look forward to, Holkins has even mentioned the possibility of his crafting an entire novel based in this world, something that sounds remarkable for the worldbuilding and character development that only a novel can afford such a strong narrative.

EDIT: Gabe pointed on his website a quote from the forums from user PedroAsani that sums up the Eyrewood groups perfectly.

“From what I understand, based on the comics on the site and the Cryptozoics, the three factions have loose affiliations based on their mandates.

Lookouts: protect the village from the things in the forest.
Daughters: protect the forest from everything. Sometimes that means the people in the village.
Thornwatch: protect the vulnerable from the village and the forest.

So sometimes their goals align, sometimes they are opposed.”

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*All images are owned by Penny Arcade*
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