It’s shocking to realize that it’s been a decade since an unassuming humorous comic strip, based on the world of Half-Life 2 and created with a fun little physics-based mod, debuted. Since then, a lot has changed and its heyday of popularity is long gone, with even its author having moved on to other things, but the comic itself, thankfully, stood the test of time, both in terms of quality and in remaining online when so many others got lost as the years went by.
Today, on its tenth anniversary, I’d like to invite you to join me in revisiting Christopher C. Livingston’s Concerned: the Hλlf-Life and Death of Gordon Frohman, arguably the most popular Garry’s Mod comic of all-time and, in my personal opinion, the very best, too. As I’m sure there are people who would be better qualified than me to give you the hard facts on the development and rise in popularity of this seminal work (such as the creator himself, who now contributes his wit and humor to PC Gamer), I’ll just focus on giving a personal overview on why, even after all this time and so many other comics, I still find Concerned to be the absolute magnum opus of its type.
Of course, it’s important to note before we start that you can find Concerned by clicking here. If you’ve never read it, I recommend you do so first; if you have, then I recommend you re-read it. Again. Many, many times.
It can be hard to pin down just exactly what made Concerned so special that, even after so many years and so many other comics, it still stands up as arguably the very best. Naturally, nostalgia probably is a big part of that, seeing as it was one of the very first and still, to this day, one of the few that got completed, spanning over 200 issues. At the same time, though, it’s a combination of various factors that make it fairly unique not only as a Garry’s Mod comic, but also as a webcomic.
Concerned set a consistent tone from the very start, a humorously casual take on the dystopian Half-Life 2 setting, eager to break the fourth wall and parody some of Valve’s quirks in the process. Somewhat strangely though, #000 (the second version of a joke originally meant for #001) doesn’t immediately introduce Concerned‘s other enduring factor, right there in its subtitle, and possibly its biggest influence on Garry’s Mod comics in general as well as one of its most beloved factors: the protagonist, Gordon
With a recurring joke for a name (thankfully used sparingly and cleverly, where in lesser hands it would be overdone to the point of annoyance), Frohman marked another departure from the early norm, sadly diluted over the years through countless copycats. Blissfully and ironically unaware of the grim nature of the setting, Frohman’s endlessly endearing nature makes all the absurdity even more enjoyable, and was so popular that a great majority of protagonists in GMod comics were later modeled after him, either in personality and/or even in looks. Even today, despite many attempts to create other memorable characters with the same base appearance, “male_07” (Valve’s official designation for the character model) is still just Gordon Frohman to many people.
At the same time, whereas just dropping a character as quirky and amusing as the haplessly Combine-loyal Frohman into the Half-Life 2 setting would’ve worked for a funny comic series, the brilliance of Concerned is in how it twists the game’s story in various ways in service of itself. From in-joke references to the game’s story (including the title itself) to the portrayal of the Combine as an ineffective bureaucracy and more, Concerned revels in altering things, but at the same time creates its own consistent take to play in.
Of course, arguably the most particular (and effective) humor tool in its repertoire is in giving characters a degree of self-awareness that they are, in fact, in a video game. Everything from other games to infinite resupply boxes and catchy boss fight music is played upon for laughs, with characters never batting an eye when talking about tropes they should not be aware of at all. Obviously, breaking the fourth wall is not exactly exclusive to Concerned – I’m looking at you, Marvel’s Deadpool -, but it did it really well and cleverly, rather than relying on it for cheap jokes.
On the other hand, somewhat uncommonly for a humor webcomic, Concerned also put a lot of importance in its own story. Rather than just aimlessly roaming Half-Life 2‘s settings for laughs, Gordon Frohman actually has motivations and goals that he strives towards by… well, by aimlessly roaming Half-Life 2‘s settings for laughs. That said, the comic always keeps in perspective that Frohman is a man on a mission, which leads to perhaps the greatest plot twist in the history of comedy webcomics, that I dare not spoil for those unfamiliar with it. Suffice to say, Chris Livingston goes as far as parodying his own comic by turning the first 144 issues into one big setup for a punchline.
The fact that Concerned was fairly story-driven for its type also grants it a level of pacing and structure. This worked both for and against it – while it means that the comic is always switching up scenarios and events, preventing it from becoming stale or repetitive, it also means that the author can’t go back to a previous setting if he thought of a great joke that would work there. That said, Livingston’s creativity and sense of humor managed to carry the comic through all of Half-Life 2‘s plot, never once losing steam. Of course, the fact that it is a story and not just episodic comedy also had the bittersweet consequence that, as much as it had a beginning and a middle, it also needed to have an end.
While most of us comic makers have the flaw of never seeing things to their end, Concerned had an amazing year-and-a-half run, rarely missing release dates for a whopping 79 weeks (with the very occasional help from guest contributors). Even though it broke many hearts, it also had the good sense of ending conclusively, rather than drawing it out as long as possible or stopping in-between – particularly good for a comic that, as aforementioned, had an actual story to follow. Thus, instead of petering out like many other comics that tried to string readers along, Concerned is consistently great throughout, and it’s always a joy to revisit the (half-)life and death of Gordon Frohman from start to finish.
Also, much like Half-Life 2 itself, it’s hard to name favorite parts, but I personally would go with the short “job interview” story arc between issues #015 and #019. Not only does it serve as the setup for some equally fantastic jokes and plotlines (he ordered how many explosive barrels?), it’s also a great parody of the Combine and a hilarious look at real-life experiences. Heck, I’d go as far as to say that it taught me a few things about job hunting, years before I even started worrying about that!
So, to sum it up, I find Concerned to be the very best Garry’s Mod comic because of what all the things it did so well: it was hilarious, extremely popular, had one of the best fan-created protagonists ever, cleverly mocked conventions every time it could (including its own), and had the good sense to follow its plot to the end, never once faltering. As evidence of all that, it also aged extremely well, so it’s still just as enjoyable to read now as it was a decade ago.
I hope you found this article entertaining and informing, and hope I didn’t sound too pompous while discussing a videogame-based webcomic – but it is the best one, after all, at least in my opinion (whatever that’s worth). If you haven’t yet, I invite you again to read, or re-read, the whole series in honor of its tenth anniversary. Believe me, you’ll have a great time.
Rest in peace, Gordon Frohman, and thank you, Christopher C. Livingston, for entertaining so many people and inspiring many of us to try the same.