In October 1999, a two-page comic appeared on the pages of Electronic Gaming Monthly. That comic, by Jeremy 'Norm' Scott, continued to appear in the magazine for nine years, continued on a blog on 1Up.com, and even got eight issues and a compilation published by Slave Labor Graphics with a ninth issue announced.
The comic follows the misadventures of the brothers Hsu and Chan Tanaka, two American video game designers of Japanese descent. They created a company called "Tanaka Bros. Game Development" that releases "top quality video games and occasional cheap knockoffs as the situation dictates." Together, the titular brothers have released such mildly enjoyable titles as Roller Death Derby, Fist of the Dark Elf, Lord of the Trousers: a Japanese dating sim, and The Incredible Simulated Box Turtle (he poops!). Their misadventures usually show them trying to market their new game with humorous results, putting up with the antics of their non-human employees, and competing with their rivals at Yamamoto Games, known as the "Most Evil Video Game Company in the world" (though there wasn't a lot of competition for that title at the time). The comics are known for their style of humor and the wordiness of some issues, especially the Slave Labor comics.
Sadly, since there has been no print collection and the author refuses to archive the comics, it is nearly impossible to find a great deal of them outside of buying old issues of the now-defunct Electronic Gaming Monthly. Though it was rumored that the comic would continue in EGM's revival, the magazine has only mentioned the comic once since its revival (though blog posts suggest that the editors and reviewers stay in contact with Norm). Most of the Slave Labor Graphics comics are available in a TPB, however.
After the EGM and 1UP series ended, Norm refocused the series on his website, Spookingtons Media. This included several new comics, a short lived series of newspaper comic style strips and, most recently, an animated series. In 2016, the series went on a long unannounced hiatus. However on December 8th, 2016, Norm launched a Patreon. In less than a day, its first two goals were met, promising a return to the monthly page long strips like the EGM run.
New episodes of Hsu and Chan, older strips, and some of Norm's other works can be found here. The animated shorts, as well as Norm's other animations, sketches, and "Let's Not Play's" can be found here.
This comic provides examples of:
- All Just a Dream: The final comic in the Hsu and Chan 1up.com blog revealed that all the characters in the blog's comics were robot duplicates.
- All There in the Manual: Norm explained in a Fan-Mail segment on his old website that the reason Chernobyl is no longer in his evolved form is that Mr. Stephenson devolves back to his base form when exposed to enough reality television.
- Arrogant Kung-Fu Guy: Akira Yamamoto
- Artistic License – Physics: Subverted and lampshaded in Hsu and Chan #8 during a scene where Chan and Gila Mobster are attempting to elude a pack of werewolves. Gila Mobster tells Chan to drive by several barrels full of gasoline and begins to shoot at them while they were driving past them, causing Chan to panic due to their proximity. However, rather than explode, the bullets simply put holes in the barrels causing the gasoline to leak from them. After witnessing this, Chan remarks:Chan: If you can't trust video game physics, what can you trust, you know?
- Attention Deficit... Ooh, Shiny!: In Deep, Hsu tries to think of distractions to throw in a game he was working on to keep the player's interest. However, rather than add sidequests or extra missions or pointless collectibles like the most real life companies do when trying to employ this trope, Hsu just included a roll of bubble wrap with the game.
- Author Appeal: Or rather, Author Anti-Appeal— Norm's views of the Tomb Raider games and movies which is reflected in the comics quite frequently.
- Author Tract: Norm spends massive amounts of panel space in any given comic expounding on his views vis-a-vis video gaming. One comic was devoted entirely to how action RPGs were inherently better than "obsolete" turn-based RPGs and how fans of the latter were just scared of anything new.
- Bears Are Bad News: The killer bears from Brand Loyalty.
- Beware the Nice Ones: After hiring a peace loving hippie to reenact a scenario from a first person stealth based game they were designing, the brothers watch in horror as multiple guards are murdered after the hippie is driven mad from being beaten within an inch of his life.
- Spoofed in another issue where the brothers do test to see if video games really make people violent where Hsu begins asking the reader to consider the possibility that the cute little child standing next to him simply had a hidden dark side, long awaiting the chance to rear its ugly head. When he looked back at the child, he still appeared to be an adorable, innocent little boy. Irritated, Hsu orders security to drag the kid out and begins a regular test with a clearly unstable teenager.
- Biting-the-Hand Humor / Take That Me: As the brothers decide to review official game review websites and magazines who review their games, one particular offender really stands out to Hsu.Hsu: GOOD LORD! This is the worst of the whole lot. A magazine so pathetically desperate for readers that they've stooped to the lowest common denominator imaginable — A cartoon! We can only hope it's some kind of veiled eugenics experiment where the fans are singled out, rounded up, and- (Chan whispers to him) Oh! And get ice cream and otter-pops, the smart little dickens!
- Blatant Lies
- Breath Weapon: Parodied with Gila Mobster (initially created as a Charmander rip-off) when ordered to use flamethrower. His version of the attack involves drinking alcohol and blowing into a lighter.
- Brick Joke: In the second EGM comic Meet Hsu and Chan, Hsu and Chan laugh at a convenience-store clerk when he says that he dreams of becoming a video game designer just like them. Many years and many strips later, the clerk comes back in the final EGM strip The Great Giant as a successful game developer who's now working for Microsoft. He is predictably punched in the face.
- Bond Villain Stupidity: Lampshaded in Thunderblarg.Chan (as a Dr. No expy): Um... you sure you don't have any questions? About my nefarious plan maybe? Some people like to ask, for the sake of stalling their execution... You know, we're at the mercy of tradition.
- Butt-Monkey: Arnie the Ground Squirrel
- Chuck, a fanboy who appears in the second EGM strip and the final EGM strip. In the second strip, after telling the brothers that their games inspired him to pursue a career in game development, both responded by laughing in his face. In the final strip, he tells them that he got a job at Microsoft's game department and that the brothers were still what inspired him. Chan punches him in the face in response.
- Calling Your Attacks: Played with in one scene:Hsu: JUDO CHOP * judo chops a man in the face*
Chan: SWEEP KICK! * sweep kick's a thug*
Gila Mobster: * Stabs a thug with a knife*
Gila Mobster: Unannounced Seat-of-the-Pants Jab!
- The Cameo: The first Halloween special features the cast of Norm's older comic, The Otters as trick or treaters. They return in the Patreon promotion comic claiming to be Batman and Spongebob in order to attract doners.
- Cartoon Creature: Gila Mobster. He has virtually no similarities with a gila monster and Chan struggles to determine if he even has a real animal equivalent. Justified in that he was created in a lab experiment.
- Comically Missing the Point: From the animated short, Spacey.Hsu: In the past, Call of Duty single player storylines have been criticized for being cliched, or shallow or dumb as all get out. Well Activision has heard your feedback and this time around they sincerely want you to know... that they can afford Kevin Spacey.
- Deadpan Snarker: Many many characters fit this trope as a result of the fact that Norm himself is a Snark Knight.
- Didn't Think This Through: A lot of the Tanaka's game ideas and marketing schemes tend to end up like this, such as in Hsu and Chan's All-Star Gala Zombierama when, as part of a publicity stunt for their upcoming Resident Evil rip-off Zombies Bitenote , they unleash a real-life zombie outbreak and quote the trope directly once they see that free-range zombies are, well, dangerous.
- Egopolis: The setting of the brother's MMORPG, Tanakapolis, where all fees must be paid in the form of large sacks of money placed at the feet of two giant statues of Hsu and Chan under penalty of being tarred, feathered and placed in stocks.Random Player: Oh mighty brothers Tanaka, we offer this tribute that you may not smite us for another thirty days.
Hsu's statue: Louder!
- Exploding Barrels: Subverted in Hsu and Chan #8. See the quote next to You Fail Physics Forever below.
- Fluffy the Terrible: Most the killer bear minions from Brand Loyalty whose names are mentioned have cutesy names like Hickory P. Cuddlesworth and Angus the Pooh. The other named bears had average, non-threatening human names like Kyle.
- Follow the Leader: In-universe, a very common part of their business strategy.Hsu: We need something that looks vaguely like a Pokemon, stat!
- In their E3 2017 issue, Yamomoto Games very blatantly copies the Tanaka's medieval tavern themed both at E3. They point out that they did this specifically to piss off the Tanaka's by invoking this since the game they were pushing used a cyberpunk setting.
- Genre Savvy: When the boy's car breaks down and they need a phone, one of their options is a creepy mansion with a Leatherface expy out front. Chan decides not to, because "they are neither incredibly stupid nor traveling with Scooby Doo".Creepy Guy: Wait! Come back! Theres still some room in the crawl space!Chan: Eek.
- Heroic BSoD: Hsu seemingly shuts down when he realizes that the year 2000 was over 13 years ago.Chan: I think that's all you'll get out of him today.
- Hook Hand: In the comic book series, Hsu's right hand was replaced with a prosthetic claw after losing the hand in a sword fight with their rivals at Yamamoto Games. This carries over to the EGM comics and all of Hsu's appearances since.
- Idiot Ball: In Horrors from Beyond the Rec Room, Hsu, after preparing for disaster thanks to Medium Awareness (the text box guy was being smug again), immediately forgets the ominous foreshadowing when he learns that their living room sofa may be a gateway to Hell, sealed only by the cushions. Curiosity overcomes him and the gateway is opened. He did, however, prepare for the potential wrath of the demons for disturbing the gateway... by offering the neighbor kid $5 to move the cushion for him and serve as a scapegoat.
- I'm a Humanitarian: When discussing their survival plans for if the world were reduced to a post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland, Hsu notes that he would pretty much immediately resort to cannibalism regardless of whatever food supplies he had. He also proceeds to go into disturbing amounts of detail on the subject of preparing human meat for consumption and speaks as though he actually wants a nuclear holocaust to happen so that he could consume human flesh without having to deal with the societal taboos associated with it.
- Just Between You and Me: Played with in Brand Loyalty where the Tanakas hide in a tent plotting how to escape an army of killer bears while two of said bears stand just outside listening in. After a minute, one of the brothers admits that the whole thing was a ruse to buy more time since they could see the bears' shadows through the tent.
- Lampshade Hanging: Many tropes and cliches are called out or questioned when they occur, for example:Chan: Hsu, our problems have just intensified. He's found the secret munitions cache on the second floor!
Hsu: ... Since when do we have a secret munitions cache in the office?
Chan: Since '95. Door-to-door munitions dealer dropped by and you know how I am with salespeople.
- Mon: Since the initial purpose of their creation was to rip off Pokemon, the recurring characters Chernobyl and Gila Mobster, as well as the one-time characters Chiasaur, Uselessbug, Rock Lobster, Scangar, and Decapatops all qualify as mons.
- New Job as the Plot Demands: Addressed in Fantasy Life Fantasy Ethic as Hsu tries to imagine the structure of the labor unions in the 3DS title, Fantasy Life, to allow anyone to switch careers in a moment's notice. The short then jumps to the game's Paladin Guildmaster questioning why one of his workers seemingly vanished while on guard duty.Carlson: Yup... been a woodcutter for about 4 hours now. Been going pretty well... You're not mad are you?
Palidan Guildmaster: No... because now I'm a chef.
- New Media Are Evil:
- Parodied hilariously when Hsu does a test to see if video games really do make people violent. His test subjects include a stereotypical 90's teenager and another teen who is clearly mentally unstable. For the test, the 90's stereotype plays MDK 2 (a Dreamcast third person shooter) and the other plays an educational game for the ColecoVision. Guess which one goes on a murderous rampage.
- Later revisited in the animated short GTALERT!, in which Hsu and Chan study the Grand Theft Auto series and its potential effects on the human psyche via Arnie (with restraints and regular cattle-prodding on him for safety). They learn that 1) Tennis is what triggers homicidal rage in gamers, and 2) They shouldn't go cheap on the restraints when Arnie escapes and holds them at gunpoint.
- Nintendo Hard: Apparently, a lot of the Tanaka's original games are very difficult. Chan claims they make the games difficult, not to challenge the players, but so that they will give up faster and go buy another one of their games.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: Most notably, Jerk Simpkins, a very obvious parody of Jack Thompson mixed with Phoenix Wright.
- No Fourth Wall: The brothers sometimes spend whole episodes addressing the reader.
- Non-Human Sidekick: The Tanakas seem to have a habit of hiring these. Their sidekicks include a chipmunk, a gila monster and a ground squirrel.
- Not Allowed to Grow Up: Averted with the brothers' niece, Hanabi, who aged in real time from her birth up to age 16. Hsu suffers from an existential form of confusion when he notices this since both he and Chan play this trope straight and remained somewhere in their 30s since the first strip.
- Obnoxious In-Laws: Hsu and Chan are this to their brother-in-law and sister's white husband, Deke. While Deke is rather friendly to his in-laws, the brothers don't like that he shows his friendliness with painful bear hugs and idiotic stories. Nevertheless, Deke loves his wife Hiroko and is a good father to their daughter Hanabi.
- One-Winged Angel: The Mummy from The Mummy's Tooth. The Tanakas themselves in Curse of the Ancients.
- Subverted in Wrestlemania Yarrg! by Satan, who transforms from an ominous looking man in a white suit into his true demonic form... a harmless looking, skinny, red-skinned guy with horns and pantaloons.
- Our Dwarves Are All the Same: While explaining the time/resource saving method of just recycling Tolkien fantasy race archetypes in various settings, while wizard and (especially) elf had plenty of variety on his illustration, the dwarf variants basically amounted to "Space Dwarf", "Teen Dwarf", and "Cowboy Dwarf".
- Overly Narrow Superlative: The boys' games aren't considered very good, and the only one EGM ever gave decent review scores to was "Bad Mileage 2000", since its "the only game that lets you jump the Grand Canyon in a Dodge Dart".
- Quote Mine: Done by the Tanakas in Review Back where they took a particularly wordy negative review for one of their games and cut and pasted to create this.Quote on the game's box: "Not... That... Bad!"
- Real Is Brown: Parodied in Monochrome Your Wagon where the brothers perform a play based on First-Person Shooters like Killzone 2 or Gears of War.Chan: What's this foolishness? You know the dirt harvest is about to come in! Without our constant efforts the planet would be consumed with rampant greenery. Flowers! Trees! ANARCHY!
- Red Oni, Blue Oni: Hsu is frequently portrayed as the impatient, reckless, and emotional brother, while Chan is often the quieter and more reserved brother.
- Refuge in Audacity: Rather frequent given how shameless the brothers' antics could get. For example, the main reason they hired Hanabi was because they were getting negative press from an unnamed writer at Polygon who claimed their company wasn't diverse (despite their claims that a team of 2 Asians and multiple non-humans probably makes them the most diverse) and figured they could spite said writer since he would be unable to complain about the blatant nepotism without coming across as a hypocrite for trying to get the newly hired female employee fired.
- Ridiculously Cute Critter: Chernobyl the radioactive chipmunk
- "Isn't he a marketable little dickens."
- But completely averted when he evolves into a fat, naked, flying IRS agent named Mr. Stephenson.
- Riding into the Sunset: Parodied.Hsu: Come, Chan, into the sunset! We ride!
Chan: It's 3:15.
Hsu: We'll ride slowly!
- Sealed Evil in a Sofa: Apparently the previous owners of the Tanaka's house tested occult magic on the living room sofa. Because of this, the sofa acts as a gateway to Hell which is only kept sealed by the cushions (specifically the right one). When Hsu releases the demons out of curiosity, the brothers begin to seal all the demons in various trinkets that they were planning on selling in a yard sale and lock the objects in a closet labeled "Evil".
- Shout-Out: Many. Norm has included shout outs to many movies, cartoons and video games including Evil Dead, Rocky and Bullwinkle, The Sixth Sense, The Boondock Saints and even some of his other comics, including one scene where the Hsu passes a car with "OTTERS" on the license plate (one of Norm's other comics is called "The Otters").
- Skyward Scream: In Ledger of ZeldaDirk Linkstrom: GANONDORRRF!
- Sorting Algorithm of Mortality: Lampshaded in Cave of the Tyrant Lizard by Hsu, who argues that by using a group of clueless teens on spring break to test the safety of a dinosaur infested park, the brothers are actually increasing the teens' chances of surviving.
- Spin-Off: The Game Critter Super Squad.
- Spoof Aesop: The Slave Labor Graphics comics especially enjoy the use of this trope.Chan: You suppose there's a moral in all of this?Hsu: Oh... probably.
- Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Thunderblarg has the brothers do research for a spy game by having them live out the roles of characters in a James Bond film. Hsu, who has the Bond role, gets so drunk on martinis that he can barely stand, and his "high speed romantic conquest" attacks him when he tries to ditch her. In the end, the main reason he succeeds is a) Chan (in the Dr. No role) didn't really plan far beyond killing the spy and was hesitant to rush ahead that far, and b) Hsu ended up vomiting on Chan during his gloating.
- Take a Third Option: In Punch Drunk, the brothers drunkenly enter an underground fighting circuit. Realizing that the winner of the fight between the two of them would go on to fight a feral Blanka expy to the death, Chan instead picks a fight with a random person in the crowd and concedes to him when the man retaliates.
- Take That!: A lot due to Norm's snarky humor.
- Towards Game Pro Magazine
Norm: ... although about six months after Hsu and Chan started running in EGM, Game Pro debuted their own comic strip. Ho ho! It sucked. Ho ho, again!
- In the end commentary to the Too Much Adventure collection, Norm points out how he submitted the comic to EGM, Game Pro, and Tips and Tricks. Apparently Gamepro was the only one of the three not to respond to Norm.
- In Hsu & Chan's Fall Preview-O-Rama! one of the desks in the EGM offices has a copy of Game Pro on it with the heading "Game news for infants!"
- In Review Back as they review the "Legitimate Gaming Press" who review their own games, the brothers take potshots at Game Pro for their use of cartooney Author Avatars. Hsu immediately follows this up by mocking EGM for including an actual cartoon in the magazine, but Chan quickly makes him reconsider.
- On Norm's old (now defunct) website, this was in the FAQ section.Q. How did you get Slave Labor Graphics to pick up "Hsu and Chan" as a comic book?
A. This was pretty much the exact same process as getting them into Electronic Gaming Monthly, except that Slave Labor Graphics had actually (and wisely) rejected my work twice before. This goes to show that no matter how bad you are, if you're persistent and annoying enough, you can pester anybody into doing anything. Look at Rob Liefeld!
- Towards Game Pro Magazine
- This Loser Is You: Norm has a bad habit of drawing people who like things he doesn't like (Tomb Raider is a standout for this) as fat, ugly neckbeards.
- Trauma Button: Due to his own related incident, Hsu is very uneasy at the sight of graphic damage to one's hands in media. He ends a playthrough of Resident Evil 7 early on when the main character's hands are stabbed and chopped off.
- Traveling at the Speed of Plot: "One panel. That was quick."
- Token Evil Teammate: Gila Mobster.
- Updated Re-release: Parodied (like everything else) with the boy's online battle game Roller Death Derby. While playing it Chan notices some slowdown and suggests that if they work quickly they can fix it in a few days. Hsu, however, opts to leave it in, fix it later, and then in six months sell the fixed version as Roller Death Derby Deluxe.Chan: You are truly a master of the craft, brother Hsu.
- Vapor Ware:
- Back in 2004 when Norm released the Too Much Adventure collection, he commented that he was considering releasing a comic that contained a collection of the strips that have run in Electronic Gaming Monthly. Well over a decade later he seems to have made no effort to create such a book.
- The first comic to be uploaded on the 1Up blog, House of Miyamoto, has been left incomplete for half a year so that Norm could post many short comics rather than one large one. Despite its "ongoing" status, it will most likely remain incomplete for a long time as Norm is busy with his website and its VERY incomplete archive of the series.
- Norm has stated on his website that the chances of him continuing that comic are extremely slim.Norm: (on whether or not he'll complete the comic) Ha, I would say, conservatively... probably not. It ends happy, if you're wondering. Miyamoto gets his groove back.
- This is apparently due to 1up.com holding the rights to the comics which he made exclusively for them; considering the legal nature of Norm's stumbling block, it's probably permanent.
- Epicdemic was seemingly cancelled after part 3.
- Norm himself admitted that issue 9 of the Slave Labor series would most likely fall victim to schedule slip like issue 8 had before. No word on the comic has been made over a decade after #8's release.
- Video Game Movies Suck: Parodied in-universe in Hsu and Chan Go Hollywood.Studio Executive: It works like this — You get a fat check, we take complete creative control of the project, trample all over your established storyline and characters, then hand the whole thing off to an NYU film dropout with two shampoo commercials to his credit, who will most likely turn the film into a cross between a high school drama production and a Duran Duran video. It will then have a two-week theatrical run and then be forgotten forever.Chan: Deal!Hsu: We can cash these today, yes?
- Viewers Are Morons: The brothers believe this especially when it comes to RPG gamers who they consider too stubborn to admit they can't beat a broken game the Tanakas market to them. This trope is also employed when the brother's explore creating an illusion of depth and consequence in a video game.
- Wall of Text: There's a lot of em. Possibly the biggest complaint about the comics are their enormous walls of text. While the walls scare off new readers, fans of the series will usually claim that Norm's style of humor justifies the intense word count.
- Norm loves lampshading this on his website:Norm: (commenting on the strip, Deep) Oddly enough, nobody complained about the wordiness in THIS comic. It's possible nobody ever made it to the end.
- From a recent blog post:Norm: For anyone who was afraid that my new comics could never be as densely wordy as my old ones, I submit part four of Epicdemic — I think there's, maybe, one square inch of actual illustration in this one.
- Norm loves lampshading this on his website:
- With Great Power Comes Great Insanity:
- Happens to Hsu in Schooln' when he becomes the head of a graphic design school the brothers founded. As he rapidly goes mad with power, he makes chewing gum in class punishable by 30 lashes and demands that all students and faculty refer to him as "God-Emperor Hsu." At the peak of his madness, he holds a young child hostage because Chan is explaining his concern about Hsu's actions.
- Happens to both brothers in Curse of the Ancients when an artifact transforms them into a twin headed dragon beast and replaces most of their reason and self-control with bestial instincts. Eventually they managed to overcome the instincts and regain control over themselves... then celebrated this achievement by going on a destructive rampage.
- "You!" Squared: parodied when the titular Tanaka brothers encounter their lifelong rivals, Akira Yamamoto and his father, each of them says "YOU!" at least once, prompting a passerby to say, "...Me?". Chan slaps him upside the head and shoos him away so the confrontation can begin in earnest.
Until next time, tropers!