I recently had the pleasure of marathoning through the entirety of the Strip Search web series on YouTube. Put together by the folks behind Penny Arcade and Loading Ready Run, StripSearch is the equivalent of Project Runway for web comic authors. Last spring 12 entrants entered the competition, and only one of them emerged victorious. The winner will now work from within the Penny Arcade offices for an entire year alongside comic moguls Scott Kurtz (PVP Online), Kris Straub (Chainsawsuit), Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins (Penny Arcade). I won't spoil the ending, but I will tell you that you need to watch this show.
I can say with honesty that Strip Search is the first long format show on YouTube that hasn't annoyed me immensely. Don't get me wrong, I love what channels like Geek & Sundry and Nerdist have been producing, but I always find myself wishing that their content was available through other venues besides YouTube. Although YouTube is available on almost every device, I can't really watch it on the go without burning through my substandard Canadian cellular data plan. Even from home, my internet isn't quite fast enough to make HD YouTube an optimal experience. I love Wil Wheaton's TableTop, but to watch I always rip the episodes from YouTube using KeepVid.org, and then transfer them to my phone or Xbox 360. Strip Search was amazing enough that I was distracted from many of these problems. (Also, check out the SmartVideo extension for Chrome. If you're on a slow connection like mine it allows YouTube to cache the entire video before you start playing it.)
Every part of Strip Search is so good that I don't know where to start. The 12 competitors could not have been better selected by the Penny Arcade staff. The group was incredibly talented, each artist having a unique style of illustration and writing. I had my favorites throughout the whole competition, but beyond the 2nd or 3rd elimination I was kind of sad to see each person get sent home. It also proved that you don't need a ton of drama to make a show like this interesting. For the most part, everybody was polite and the artists got along with each other really well.
The work done by Bionic Trousers Media for Strip Search is nothing short of remarkable. They are a bunch of people that you probably recognize from the Loading Ready Run sketch comedy site, as well as the Desert Bus for Hope charity events. They headed up production for Penny Arcade on StripSearch, doing the shooting, editing and even hosting of the show. The production quality of the show is outstanding, easily rivalling any similar shows on broadcast television. I can't imagine how much work it must have been to capture so many hours of footage and compress them into compelling ~20 minute episodes. Each activity was captured by multiple camera operators as well as strategically mounted GoPro cameras. I was especially impressed by their work on the StripSearch GrandPrix episode. As the participants competed in a GoKart racing challenge, Bionic Trousers captured action from all angles, even utilizing helmet and car mounted GoPros. The amount of raw footage must have been totally daunting. However, the team pulled through and delivered an episode that was easy to follow and exciting to watch. I'm so happy they were able to get the little things right, like elegantly displaying challenge progress with little avatar representations of the competitors.
As the judges of the show, Mike Krahulik and Jerry Holkins are a joy to watch. They inject a ton of zany humour into the elimination stages of StripSearch, and their deadpan delivery makes it even more hilarious. The way they designed the various challenges is so brilliant. Each episode wasn't necessarily a drawing or design challenge. The competition encompassed every part of what it takes to be a great web comic author, including interacting with fans, running a successful expo booth, staying on top of the business end of things, and being a ping pong master. This variety added the element of surprise to seeing what the gang would be up to on each episode.
Possibly the best thing about Strip Search is that it's an experience that doesn't end when you stop watching the show. After being exposed to all these talented web comic artists, I have a ton of great new strips to follow online. I'm especially excited to read the winning strip, which will be launching on the Penny Arcade site very soon. All the episodes are still available on the PennyArcadeTV channel on YouTube. Here is a link to the playlist where you can watch them all in chronological order. You owe it to yourself to click that link and watch them all right now.