I’ve already talked a little about Homestar in the first entry to this blog-thing, but it bears repeating. Homestar is a good “main” character. I can understand why he became overshadowed by Strong Bad, but that doesn’t make Homestar any less likeable. Like any typical “dumb oaf” character, Homestar is pretty well-known for spouting weird phrases at inopportune times, though he’s not exactly the master of that. Fans of the site probably know who I’m talking about.
Your standard idiot character is usually blissfully unaware of his surroundings and others’ perceptions of him, and Homestar is no exception to this. Homestar gets along with nearly every main character, and yet at the same time, barely gets along with any of them. It’s mostly a one-sided relationship in most of these cases, most especially with Strong Bad. It’s this near-constant optimism that really makes the character work. And when he does get angry with someone, the sudden shift in tone is funny in itself.
I won’t be discussing the actual design of each character, but in some cases, I feel as though I must, and Homestar is one of these cases. Homestar, quite simply, doesn’t look like anything else I’ve ever seen. From his derpy little hat to his underbite to his lack of arms, Homestar is just a really fun character to watch. Just looking at him and listening to his goofy voice is usually enough to make me smile.
Coach Z is a complete train wreck of a character, and I enjoy watching every second of it. It’s hard to explain what exactly happened to the poor Coach. He started out the way his namesake would imply – as a sports coach (what sports exactly is somewhat unclear), mainly to Homestar, who is “a terrific athlete”. As Homestar’s character trait of being a dumb jock sort of faded into being just plain dumb, Coach Z’s coach-ness sort of faded as well. And now we have a wannabe rap artist who gets drunk off Listerine and has more than two problems including gender identity issues and general creepiness. What the crap happened?
I’m not complaining about this, by the way. Coach Z, along with Bubs, is one of those characters who rarely shows up in a lead role, or even as a sidekick to anyone (except for Bubs, and there aren’t really any toons where they as a duo are the main focus). And this is a good thing, because too much Coach Z at once could easily become really, really dumb and bad. He’s best used sparingly, to pop in, make some sort of bizarre remark about butt-patting, mispronounce a few words, and then pop back out. There’s a bit of debate among fans if “Creep Z” is preferable over the original Coach Z who actually did act like a coach and mainly just offered bad advice to people, but I think both work in their own way.
In the cartoons that I’ve covered so far, The Cheat hasn’t really been seen doing much. He will get a much larger role once the era of Strong Bad Emails begins, despite the fact that he kinda can’t speak English (and this character video is the only place where you’ll see subtitles. Kinda like Island of the Giant Pokemon, actually.) Out of the three characters that don’t speak English (not counting the several others who have really odd speech impediments), The Cheat is definitely the one with the most personality.
The Cheat (and yes, the “The” is mandatory) is a being of mischief and trickery, hence the name. He’s often used as Strong Bad’s faithful lackey, but has operated as a free agent on many occasions as well. When not messing around with the rest of the cast, The Cheat is often working on a new Flash cartoon, which are notoriously poor in quality of animation and voice acting, but amusing nonetheless. He also fills the “cute but troublesome pet” role present in many cartoons, which is an easily exploitable niche, but I believe his other personality quirks allow The Cheat to grow beyond that role. The difference between Gary the snail and Perry the platypus is that one is clearly a member of the main cast, and the other is sort of forgettable. The Cheat is definitely a Perry.
And as with Homestar, I have to draw some attention to The Cheat’s design, because seriously, what are we looking at here? Strong Bad’s description of “He looks like a … a cheese. Or maybe an anvil” is pretty accurate. Personally, I don’t see the resemblance to Pikachu, and yet somehow, he always gets compared to it. I enjoy drawing The Cheat because he’s immediately recognizable to anyone who knows the series, and an absolute “what the crap is that thing” to anyone else.
As I’ve stated before, I wouldn’t consider Strong Bad to be my favorite character, but I can’t imagine anyone else being the king of the website. Homestar does come close, but where Homestar excels in stupid statements and niceness, Strong Bad does even better with his quick-witted remarks and (often unwarranted) mean behavior. As Matt Chapman said in an interview once, “everybody loves an asshole”. Whether he’s responding to emails or just chatting with the locals, Strong Bad always has something funny to say.
I believe what makes Strong Bad really work is his ego. On a subconscious level, he realizes that he isn’t as cool and awesome as he claims to be, but that’s just it – he claims to be the expert on basically everything, the pinnacle of physical perfection, and has to beat the ladies off with a stick. And you’ve gotta give the guy some credit, he does at least attempt to fake it, and watching these failed attempts at gaining everyone’s approval is exactly what makes us like him. Of course, not everything that Strong Bad does is some bullcrap he made up – some of my favorite emails involve observational humor on some mundane aspect of life.
A lot can be said about Strong Bad, but most of it doesn’t really need to be. Even in just the few cartoons that I’ve covered, you can already pretty much tell what sort of character Strong Bad is. I think everybody knows someone who acts like this. He talks a big game, but has very little evidence to back up any of his claims. And when someone calls him out on this, he just continues to act like a jerk, because he already knows he’s awesome, and what anyone else thinks doesn’t matter.
I don’t know what it is about writing female characters that men have so much trouble with – myself included (not that I write, but … shut up). In a lot of cartoons, the majority of the cast is male, and the female characters have very little of an identity outside of being the token girl with maybe one or two exaggerated character traits. And for some reason, female characters are usually written as the “normal” ones. They’re not allowed to be goofy or stupid (because that would be sexist, oh noes), and rarely make jokes.
Marzipan unfortunately does sort of fall into this stereotype. I don’t think many people would consider her to be their favorite character, because her appearances are usually overshadowed by others, who tend to steal the scenes they’re in. This is not to say that Marzipan doesn’t have character, though. She’s sort of your typical hippie, always preparing for some sort of nonsensical protest or writing equally nonsensical songs with her guitar, Carol. Her humor is a lot milder than the in-your-face craziness that the other characters exude, but once you realize that Marzipan really isn’t all that smart, and that her environmentalism is often taken to extreme and often counter-productive measures, you may gain more appreciation for her character.
One other issue with female characters in fiction is they are very often defined by their relationship, or lack thereof. And indeed, Marzipan is Homestar’s girlfriend. But the relationship they have is one of the most bizarre ones I’ve ever witnessed. Neither one of them seems to have any respect or attraction to the other, so it’s unclear why they put up with each other. I guess when there’s only one girl, you take what you can get, and Homestar probably makes a better boyfriend than Coach Z or Strong Bad.
One thing you’ll start to notice as we get further into this series is the fact that Pom Pom will show up less and less. He was one of the first characters created, and was originally designed to be Homestar’s inseparable best buddy. But when said best buddy only communicates through a single sound clip of bubbles blown into a glass of milk over and over again, it becomes difficult to do anything worthwhile with the character.
It is possible to make a silent character funny. The Cheat manages it (well, he’s not silent, but you know what I mean), but he also fills some roles that Pom Pom does not. When writing a scene and deciding what character should be accompanying Homestar, choosing one who can actually speak makes things a lot easier, I’d imagine. Pom Pom’s humor usually comes from what is not heard (and seeing others’ reactions to it), or occasionally a bit of prop-based humor (suggesting the gun in Yello Dello, for instance), but again, most other characters can pull that off just as easily, so it gives him a bit of a disadvantage.
The one personality trait that Pom Pom does have, which becomes greatly exaggerated over time, is that he’s the “cool” character with a lot of money, connections, and girlfriends. Basically, he’s everything that Strong Bad wants to be, but these facts are just sort of stated without any proof of their existence. And unlike with Strong Bad, where the fact that these are false claims is the reason why it’s funny, here we’re meant to actually believe it. Overall, not the most interesting character, and probably the most “normal” out of the entire cast.
As some people may have already guessed, Strong Sad is my favorite character. If I was a character in the Homestar Runner universe, I would totally be this guy’s friend. Maybe we wouldn’t see eye-to-eye on everything, since I’m not much for poetry or some of his other interests, but I love his dry, often depressing sense of humor, and I think he just really needs a friend. Except then I’d probably get beat up by his brothers simply for being associated with him. Strong Sad has it rough.
For the first couple years of the series, Strong Sad pretty much existed as his namesake would imply. His only defining character trait was his constant depression, and while it is funny (in a very pathetic sort of way) for a while, it does get old pretty quickly. But over time, it became apparent that Strong Sad is the only truly intelligent (speaking) character in the entire series. Now, rather than becoming the standard annoying geek character, Strong Sad actually behaves in a way that makes sense based on his environment. He’s not depressed because he’s written that way, it’s because you’d be depressed too if everyone else around you was extremely stupid and bullied you on a daily basis.
And so as the series goes on, Strong Sad develops an interest in various parts of geek culture. He’s a very creative person, and expresses this in various ways such as really pretentious poetry, fan fiction, and amateur films. As much as I did enjoy the old, whiny Strong Sad, I do prefer the newer, incredibly cynical one who isn’t afraid to speak his mind about the other characters. He’s simply exasperated that nobody appreciates his genius. And one day, they’ll pay for that.
We haven’t seen very much of Bubs yet. He’s not a particularly complex character, but he doesn’t really need to be. Basically just combine every money-obsessed character you can think of (Mr. Krabs, Eddy, etc) and the outcome will probably be pretty similar to Bubs. He sells basically everything you could think of, whether it’s something you’d actually want to buy, some sort of shady black-market item, or some cheap piece of junk that he passes off as the greatest new thing.
Honestly, there’s not much more to say. I don’t dislike Bubs as a character, but he really is sort of a one-trick pony. Generally when he makes an appearance, he’ll be working in the Concession stand, performing some sort of shady business practices, which is always funny to watch, but doesn’t provide much in terms of intelligent, thoughtful review. So I guess we’ll just move on to the last few characters.
If you think I didn’t have much to say about Bubs, I probably have even less to say about these last three. Strong Mad is the oldest of the Strong brothers, but also the least interesting, as you can probably tell by his particularly short character video. At first glance, it seems like he’s the epitome of “brawn over brains”, and … well, yeah, that pretty much describes Strong Mad in a nutshell. Whenever he speaks, it’s by yelling, usually in pretty short and simple sentences, and only on rare occasions does he say anything remotely intelligent.
However, Strong Mad isn’t always the violent hulk that he appears to be. When not being ordered around as Strong Bad’s muscle, he does actually get along with the majority of the cast, and he is best friends with The Cheat. Strong Mad will never tolerate anyone hurting his little buddy. And although his efforts still yield pretty childish-looking results, he does have a creative side just like his two brothers, having dabbled in various arts and crafts and even movie-making. I guess to summarize, you could say that Strong Mad is very passionate about everything he does. The guy just doesn’t have a volume button or the ability to handle anything gently.
And thus we come to the living embodiment of toilet humor. I’m not sure why The Poopsmith exists as a character, to be quite honest. Remember the King of Town DVD, and how Homestar questioned all of the King’s men? The Poopsmith was just one of the bunch, and other than being the one that was quite random and out of place, it’s not as if he did anything to step out of this role. And indeed, he’s one of the three “silent” main characters of the cast, but in Pom Pom and The Cheat’s defense, at least they do speak in some kind of language, as intelligible as they may be. The Poopsmith has for reasons unknown taken a vow of silence, and so he’s just kinda… there. Shoveling poop.
No, really, there’s not really anything else to be said about this character. He does sort of work as a gag in and of himself, but as I don’t find scatological humor to be funny, I can’t say it’s particularly effective. I can’t think of a time that I’ve laughed at The Poopsmith, and his only real positive contribution to the series is when another character acknowledges his general uselessness, or when he does something outside of the norm. Which is very rarely.
We’ve saved the worst for last. Well, not really, because I firmly believe that The Poopsmith is by far the worst character in the main cast, but Kingy here isn’t all that great either. I already mentioned that the only time the Poopsmith is funny is when someone is making fun of him, and the King operates in sort of the same way. Strong Bad in particular will never turn down an opportunity to point out how he’s the least popular character, and he never does anything other than eat and pretend he has any authority over anything.
Now, like I said with Bubs, I don’t actually dislike this character. If I did, that would mean I think any cartoons he appears in would be better off without him, and that’s not the case. But I would have to agree that yes, he is kind of a waste of space, and his particular brand of comedy is extremely simplistic and almost never expanded upon. But hey, a lot of shows have a “butt monkey” that everyone loves to hate, and The King of Town fills that role fairly well.
Good lord, that was a long one. But now that I’ve finally talked a little about all the main characters, I can focus on going through some more actual content. And since I know many long-time fans of the website are probably wondering, yes, we’ll get to the twelfth main character later on. New people, don’t worry about that too much, it’ll make sense eventually, I just don’t want to ruin a good joke. So next time, I guess we can look at some more of the cartoons added to the website in 2000. There’s not too many left, and if I have to go out of order to break up the boring ones with something actually funny, then I may do that. I guess we’ll find out soon enough. And just for the hell of it, here’s my personal ranking of the 11 original main characters, from favorite to least.
- Strong Sad
- Strong Bad
- Coach Z
- The Cheat
- Strong Mad
- The King of Town
- Pom Pom
- The Poopsmith