Thursday, December 23, 2004

Merry Christmas 2004! Happy New Year 2005!

Just a quick blurb to wish you guys the best forthe holiday season.

I'm sorry for the lack of Finds lately, firswt work, and then losing my computer kinda distracted me.

It should be fixed by New Year, so watch out for new Finds then.

Have a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Hotspot: The Insularity of the Webcomics Community

As I write this, I feel compelled to admit I'm in a somewhat furious state right now, and I'm breaking my self-imposed rule of not writing when in a state of anything other than moderate calmness.

But this is my blog of sorts, damnit. Once in a while, I'm going to pull an Eric Burns and write what I damn well like on it.

That important confession out of the way, I shall proceed to start my first Hotspot, which I think can be classed as 'Polemically Moot Sessions". I'm sure that must be gramatically incorrect, and neither is it important right now. And no, the acronyms are not a coincidence.

A few months ago, I shared an observation of mine about the webcomics community in general to another person who shall remain unnamed. (unless they don't mind going public, then by all means, go ahead) The exchange in question was brief and the circumstances that led to it were a direct result of this blog, but what is important that in that exchange, I made the observation that:

The Webcomics Community is Deeply Insular.

This should come as no surprise. With the vast reach of the Internet, it's only natural people would confine their interactions in a limited scope, and stay where they feel comfortable and established.

An example of what this insularity is the little grouping of webcomic communities we currently have. My personal breakdown of the webcomic groups, in no particular order, they are:

  • The Keen Family

    • Keenspot
    • Keenspace

  • The Modern Tales Family

    • Modern Tales
    • Graphic Smash
    • Girl-a-matic
    • Serializer
    • WebcomicsNation
    • Talkaboutcomics
    • Graphic Novel Review

  • Drumbrella
  • Drunk Duck
  • PV Comics
  • Wirepop
  • Buzzcomix
  • TWC

  • The Independents

I'm sure I'm missing out a few collectives, but these are the ones that first came to my head at first thought.

"The Independents" are the webcomics that don't belong to collectives, and are usually self-hosted. Some of them have their own domains, and the big guns of webcomics (PvP, Penny Arcade, Megatokyo etc) form this loose association of non-associated comics. Dizzy yet?

Anyways, in the majority of cases (not all) the people who make these communities are deeply insular. That is, there's not much mixing. Most webcomickers (or webcomic fans) will stay in their respective circles for most of their webcomicking life.

The thing about this is that one person who may be well-known in one circle may be virtually unknown in another. For example, I don't expect everyone in Keenspace or Drunk Duck (No disrespect intended, and I said everyone, not anyone) to know who Barb Lien-Cooper, Steve Bryant, Joe Azabel, Derek Kirk Kim or Xavier Xerexes is. Heck, at one point I didn't even know WHAT Modern Tales or Graphic Smash was until one of the comics I read moved there. (And eventually, when T Campbell recruited me, but that's another story.)

Similarly, I don't expect anyone from the Comixpedia or Drunk Duck or PV comics to know who Mr. Bob from Keenspace is (Incidentally, Bob Oosterwijk has his own... erm... worshipful following now, and is one of the few people to has his own theme song). Nor I do not expect anyone who isn't in Keenspace to know why "customer" is a considered deadly insult.

Back to the topic, on realising the existence of this insularity and my own inclusion, I have tried my best to break out of it. In a typical month, I go through as many different sources of webcomic information as I probably can. Most of them are web-zines and news/creator blogs, The forefront of which is Eric Burn's excellent Websnark, Comixpedia and Sequential Tart. Other sources like Silver Bullet Comics and The Webcomics Examiner, Joey Manley's blog also deserve mentions, although those are more periodical things that I read every once in a while but not regularly.

I trawl various forums, and lurk in many more. I read people's posts, discussions. Sometimes I contribute to them.

I also started the Webcomic Finds blog in an attempt to break out of the reading cycle of the same few comics over and over, and try and explore more comics that I wouldn't read otherwise. I liked to think that unlike the sedantary others, I was a traveller, exploring new frontiers, going where few people have bother to explore. (Sorry for paraphrasing TSG. You'll forgive me, I'm sure)

And in all honesty, for all my attempts, I am still insular. I may know quite a bit about webcomics by doing what I do, but I will never know enough of it. And travel the web though I may, the comics I read will still be only webcomics. I will know little of print comics. I will know little of newspaper syndication, the manga-movment or the indie and mini-comics rebellion.

My 'travels' are still contained within a limited sphere, although the sphere changes shape and expands I'm still stuck on the goddamned same planet.

And thus I have no right to look down my nose at the 'sedantries', and pride myself that I'm more well-travelled, less squestered, more open-minded than they are. I'm not going to stop 'travelling', but I'm going to stop thinking I know more just because I do.

Why am I saying all this? Because I have to be responsible for my mistakes.

I'm learning the valuable lesson that it's easy to start a meme, and much harder to stop it later. On my forum trawls, I'm beginning to see my own words, mouthed by someone else, being thrown at other people, in the form of an insult.

The meme has spread. And this hurts me deeply. I can make observations. And with all my heart I believe those observations are accurate. My intention was to use this observation to improve things. Maybe integrate communities and spread awareness. I never intended it to be a form of derision.

People have a right to do what they want to do with their lives. And 'travellers' and 'outsider observers' have no right to feel superior just because opinions differ. In Alex Garland's novel The Beach the main character felt he was superior to the people who never travelled. But he was wrong in the end. And so was I.

So, the next time someone tells you you're insular prat who stays closeted in your own zone, even though if you're not, then you know who to blame for planting the idea there in someone else's head the first place. (Or maybe it's just arrogant of me to assume they wouldn't have thought of it on their own. Well, I'm at least responsible for speeding up the process and helping it spread.)

No doubt I'll regret this when I wake up in the morning.

Ah well, a little bit of spice won't do this blog too much harm. I'll just go get the fire extinguisher ready.

Friday, December 10, 2004

Stopover at Keenspace Forums: 188 Lines about 99 Spacers!

Yes, Elsie Hooper on the way. It's a particularly bad time for me right now, the last two weeks of term before Christmas ALWAYS are. I don't even get to celebrate my 21st birthday (Monday) because everyone will be too busy.

But this is just too cool to not mention here:

Phalanx was a girl of action
Don't mistake her for a man!

Nice fanart, isn't it? Now imagine 98 more of the same. All by the same guy. Staggering? Yes!

188 Lines about 99 Spacers!

For those of you who don't know what this is about, Spacers are generally the denizens of the Keenspace Forums. The above list is pretty much (unintentionally) a character guide to the Keenspace Forum regulars.

Even if you're not interested in this kind of thing, the fact that Mr. Bob churned out 99 pictures should still raise an eyebrow or two. And not crappy sketches either. This is honest to goodness full-on art.

Bob Oosterwijk, you are amazing, and I'm not saying that just because I'm in there.

(Although that might have influenced it a bit... maybe) ;)

If the fanart is this good, I can't wait to see what happens on the second episode of Star Bored.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

Stopover at Digger: Oh my Ganesh...

I hate pigeons. They stalk my kitchen window, and if the window is open anything bigger than a crack, they sneak in the moment I turn my back. After they've wrecked the loaf of bread or my home-baked cookies (SACRILEGE!) or whatever food's around, they leave unwanted offerings on the table and floor that require me and my flatmates disinfecting the kitchen afterwards.

In short, they're rats with wings.

Except that I've never seen the inverse called a pigeon... until now.

(Actually, I don't think I've ever seen the inverse either, now when I come to think of it... heh)

But the CUTE! First oracular slugs and now winged temple-rats... what wonders will that woman unleash next?

One thing's for sure: if Ursula Vernon makes a shirt out of that, I know where my next Graphic Smash paycheck is going...

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Stopover at Magellan: Hey, if someone thought my dad was sexy, I'd feel freaked out too!

I originally discovered Magellan through Loxie and Zoot, which is a comic for discussion for another day. But as the reason I started reading Magellan was because it was done as the same guy as the one who did Loxie and Zoot, it's somewhat ironic that I like Magellan more than Loxie and Zoot now.

Generally, I'm not crazy about superhero comics. It might be because I had minimal exposure to them during my childhood (a few X-men episodes, maybe some Fantastic Four, Spiderman and Batman, and none of them complete series.) and that wasn't enough to really turn me into a full fledged-fan. I mean, I don't even know what Rogue's real name is, now when I think of it.

So I think I must have been a bit on the oldish side when I finally moved to an area where there were actually comic shops and I had the freedom to peruse them. Now the problem is, I look at these comics through the eyes of a semi-adult, and not as a kid. As a result, I see mostly the flaws and loopholes instead of what presumably people call "The Magic".

It's a shame, but as a result the superhero genre didn't really hold any appeal for me, except maybe the challenge of seeing if I could do better.

Magellan is a superhero comic. But the reason I really like Magellan is that it defies the conventions of traditional superhero-ism, and actually tries to make sense scientifically. Stephen Crowley has really worked things out in the background, and the characters are believably portrayed. Flawed. With quirks and habits. Human despite their inhumaness, you know?

Most of all, the main character, Kaycee is a norm (person without superpowers) trying to keep up with a whole bunch of people WITH superpowers. Of all superheroes, the ones I like most are the ones without powers (i.e, Batman). Most superheroes tend to be defined by their powers (The energy blasting character, the speeder character, the powerhouse character etc).

A super-hero without powers is special, not because of he/she was born with abilities other people don't have, but because he/she worked for and gained abilities people don't have. They start off with the same attributes we did, but somehow they pushed themselves into doing much more. Yet because they don't have god-given (or not god-given), powers, they're still as vulnerable as the people they strive to protect.

And despite all this, they do what they do. It's compelling. And for me, that justifies the 'hero' in the 'super-hero'.

Oh, and today's comic showing at Graphic Smash:

Gotta side with Charisma on this one. If someone my age thought my dad was hot, I think I'd feel freaked out too.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

20th Leg: Buttercup Festival

Let's start with something off topic: I declare Toad-In-The-Hole the best example of British cuisine ever! Roast beef and Yorkshire pudding come close as second best, but Toad-in-The-Hole has the funnier sounding name. ;)

And no, we're not eating frogs or anything like that.

Comic: Buttercup Festival
By: Elliott G. Garbauskas

Genre and Setting: Quirky, Surreal, Commentary

Art Style: B/W inks, Minimalistic, Simplified. Occasional forays into different media.

Is About:

To be honest, I'm not entirely sure. We have the main character, which appears to be a little grim-reaper fella. And he uh... does things. And comments on them.

Frequency: Mondays
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The website is nice and cleanly minimalistic.

The art on the comic displayed on the first page seems intriguing though. To be honest I don't 'get' what "Remember Nick" means, but I presume it's an internal reference I'll get later.

Navigation is a bit confusing. There's a "previous" button, but no "start from the beginning" button. Looking through the archives, there's a listing of each strip from several volumes, but oddly enough, none for volume one.

I guess I'll start from volume two then.

The Concept:

Erm... I'm not sure what exactly the concept is, except that Buttercup Festival apparently strives to bring new levels of subtlety into comic punchlines. Similar to Cat and Girl, there's some social commentary, and the occasional satire.

The Art:

Deceptively simplistic, but the kind of simplicity that only skilled artists are capable of producing. Everything is minimalised, yet it works wonderfully. There's never backgrounds unless they're required, but when you do see them, they are stunningly detailed.

Can't say that the artist is lazy, though. In most cases like this most people would have cut-and-pasted. But Elliott doesn't, and draws each frame by hand.

Occasionally, Elliott dabbles in alternative media, ranging from watercolour, what looks like crayons, milky-pens on coloured paper and even post-it notes and lined pads. Sometimes you get awesome compositions like this. Sometimes... well, you don't.

I'm particularly awed by the artist's skill in doing landscapes though. Amazing. I suspect the artist comes from a fine art background.

The Writing:

The humour for buttercup is like doing cryptic crosswords. For each comic, you have to decipher the punchline.

The general structure of a Buttercup Festival comic runs thus:

First panel: Main character comments on something.
Second panel: Supporting character comments back.
Third Panel: Something seemingly unrelated but apparently has a hidden connection to make the punchline

Sometimes it's easy to make the connection, like this one. But more often, I find myself going "huh?" and sometimes less politely: "W T F?"

All though sometimes, the ones I do get make me feel convinced there's something worthwhile I'm missing in the ones I didn't get.

And some are just brilliant. I particularly like the alternative punchlines. Especially when all of them are funny.

I'll be honest and admit that I probably understood 25% of the jokes in the entire archive.

Most of them I suspect I could figure out if I thought more about it. And then there are some that I simple cannot understand at all...

I understand that subtle humour is an art and toning down would probably ruin it, but if you're planning to give this comic a read, be prepared to be frustrated at not being able to figure out what comic after comic is supposed to say.

Definitely interesting and unique in delivery. Exasperating at times. Brilliant at others.

Try this one if you have patience and feel like something bizarrely different.

Don't try it if you need to have your punchlines delivered on a silver platter. Or if you REALLY like hamsters, gerbils and cute fluffy animals and have absolutely NO sense of humour regarding the mistreatment of them.

The Next Leg:

I was planning to just pick the middle link in the list of links in the links page, but as it turned out, it was Scary-Go-Round, which I've already done.

So let's take the one below that.

Elsie Hooper. Hmm...

Monday, November 22, 2004

Stopover: PowerPuff Girls Doujinshi

It's been bothering me a lot that my busy schedule lately means I won't be able to update Webcomic Finds as often as I want to. This is also bad, because occasionally I get interesting bits and pieces of news that I have to wait until the next leg to put up. Which could be as long as a week. Which is bad. Stale news is always a worthless, as news should be well... new.

So I decided to come up with the idea of the Stopover.

Stopovers are basically just quick notes in-between journey legs. Actual content may vary an update on a previous find, the happenings in webcomic-dom, or maybe a new comic that I came across, but not through Webcomic Finds.

Anyway, the first stopover is something I just found through a friend today (who in turn got the link from Megatokyo) :

Everyone reading this blog:
Cartoon Network's... PowerPuff Girls... Fan-Manga? You've got to be kidding me!

*takes Webcomic Finds off their read lists*

Now when you're done shaking your heads and thinking that Ping has really hit the rock bottom, I'd like have my say on why I thought this was worthy of a stopover:

Firstly, a picture is worth a thousand words:

(Thumbnail of comic by Bleedman. Click on the image to see the comic in its full-sized glory)

Oooh and aah over the spiffy art. Then start counting how many CN series you can spot in these two pages alone. (I count The Powerpuff Girls, Courage the Cowardly Dog, Dexter's Laboratory and Samurai Jack). Then note how ingeniously they've been converted into manga form and yet retain their original recognisability. Drink in the glorious and subtle details of the characters and background...

"What the hell is going on?" you think... so you hit the 'first' button to find out... Now it's too late! You're sucked in!

I know I was. I read this over lunch today (when I should have been working) and laughed my head off. I'm not sure if it's the concept of Cartoon Network toons in Manga, or the "your own colour uniforms" remark or seeing Samurai Jack as a gym teacher with his own fanclub, but I haven't enjoyed a fan-comic this much since... pretty much forever.

The PowerPuff Girls Doujinshi is a prime example of how style and substance overwhelm a concept that is both genius and (in the case, due to copyright issues,) doomed. Take several well-known characters, plunge them together into a single coherent story... and you get something like The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen or No Rest for the Wicked. The PPG Doujinshi follows the same formula, and succeeds splendidly.

Unfortunately, being a fan-comic, it will probably never get any further than being a labour of love. But WHAT a labour of love it is. The first page is lovingly dedicated to "Genndy (Tartakovsky) and Craig (McCracken)" and the entire work shows meticulous attention to detail to the original series.

Bow to Bleedman. Fan-comics don't get any better than this.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

19th Leg: Cat and Girl

Yes yes. It's been a long time. I'm not going to apologise for having a life and obligations. Some things are just more important.

In the news, Eric Burns dropped General Protection Fault from his list of reads recently.

Now some of you will be wondering why the hell anyone would care why some guy with a blog stopped reading one of the longest running Keenspot comics. The answer is because the blog in question is WebSnark. And unfortunately, Eric's snarks have a domino effect.

I've been a longtime reader of GPF. The very first webcomic I ever read was PvP. I then progressed to Sluggy Freelance and next.. GPF. So it's probably the third webcomic I discovered. That's even before I discovered one of the comics that prompted me to seriously start webcomicking, The Wandering Ones. So that was probably around 2000.

I remember GPF throughout my years in high school. I identified with Ki when I was the only girl in Computer Science class and the guys were taking bets on how long it would take me to drop the subject. In fact, thinking back, I can remember which storylines related to which part of my life.

However, Eric's snark got me thinking. Most importantly, it got me reevaluating the strip I'd been reading for the past 4... (or was that 5?) years. If I had stumbled across GPF now through Webcomic Finds, instead of all those years ago, would I have rated it the same way I did back then? Most of all, has reading GPF become something I do out of habit?

I suspect that the answer may be closer to the former than the latter.

In retrospect I think that the reasons we read the comics we read because they're the only ones we know of. And they are on hand and familiar.

And because we don't know that others exist.

When we go to webcomic directories like Onlinecomics or Buzzcomix we're faced with such a daunting list of choices that we never know what to pick. So we rarely pick any of them.

And thus we stick to the same group of comics and rarely explore anything else. Like I once told someone else, insular little groups.

The question is, how can we change this?

Comic: Cat and Girl
By: Dorothy Gambrell

Genre and Setting: Surreal, Modern Life, Social Commentary

Art Style: Simplistic Cartoony, Inked, Black-and-White

Is About: Cat, a giant humanoid cat and Girl... a girl. Basically they ramble, comment and try to make sense of the world.

Frequency: Mainly Wednesdays, according to The Webcomic List
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:

The website design is plain, simple and functional, although having the navigation bunched up at the top caused me to miss the whole thing when I was looking for the author's name.

I'll be honest and admit the art didn't impress me straight away. I know it's unfair because I've been on a straight run of comics with fantastic art... Cat and Girl's minimalistic art style shows up badly in contrast, but I'm being honest.

However, on reading the comic on the index page:

Ping: Ho-kay. This heavy stuff...

I can tell already this will be no ordinary webcomic.

The Concept:
Well, you have a kid and the imaginary(?) animal companion. Even the character poke fun at this themselves. Some people might say that the derivation is a bad thing, but personally, I don't find a problem with it. Cat seems more human than animorphic to me.

The Art:
Not exactly the comic's best selling point. The art style is simplistic and minimal.

However, I feel obliged to point out that this minimalism actually serves a purpose, as the characters of Cat and Girl are highly symbolic. Their very names reflect this. As Scott McCloud explained in Understanding Comics, for symbolic characters, the lack of detailed features help the reader project their perceptions onto, and thus, identify with the character.

Dorothy tends to use a LOT of cut and paste though. Most of the time it works, especially when the strip utilises repetition to get a point across. But at other times... she's sneaky!

And at other times, she's damn cool!

One thing I'm surprised to note is that for a comic that started five years ago, the art style has remained consistent. Most comics tend to show variations is style over time. Some to a starling degree. But except for some tightening of lines, the art of Cat and Girl looks pretty much unchanged from day one.

This is actually a good thing. As much as I love webcomics, sometimes the rapid change of styles annoy me, especially if the comic in question is a story comic, and Character A ends up looking totally different by the end of the storyline.

I have this problem myself, but let's not go into that. ;)

The Writing:

Thought-Provoking, but in a passive way.

In general I greatly dislike politically themed comics. But that's becasue in general they tend to shove their opinions bluntly down your throat and expect me to swallow them.

For this reason Cat and Girl ought to be modelled as "How to do a political comic". Instead of the in-your-face approach, Cat take a more back-seat approach: In fact they have their own formula. But it works most of the time. I'm compelled to think about the issue at hand instead of feeling like I'm the victim of a brainwashing-attempt.

One thing I should also mention. The relationships between the characters, while not the central part of the strip are compelling. Boy has a crush on Girl, but is never able to express it other than later when the opportunity has passed and he's alone in his room. I'm not sure what the relationship between Cat and Girl are... Cat seems to be some sort of Guardian, but still is dependent on Girl. Girl appears to be the child, yet is an adult and breadwinner at the same time.

In the end I tie all this down to symbolism. Cat and Girl are whatever we perceive them as, and what we can relate to them as.

Well, as someone else already said, it's sometimes a bit preachy.

I'll also be honest and admit a lot of the strips I don't 'get'. but I think that might be due to my ignorance of the issues over the atlantic more than anything else.

The plain art won't serve to pull readers in, but recommendations the writing will get will.

Comics like Cat and Girl are all too rare on the internet. It's distinctive in it's own right, and has a niche that it has created for itself.

And it makes you think without you getting annoyed that it makes you think.

It's not a comic I can fall madly in love with, but I'll come back to it every now and then when my mental state gets stagnant and needs some stimulating.

The Next Leg:

Hmm, I've never heard of Buttercup Festival before...

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

18th Leg: BeeComix

Firstly, I'd like to introduce you to WF-tan, or to give her her full name: Webcomic Finds-tan. She's the personalisation of the Webcomic Finds blog.

Since WF-tan is a traveller, I thought it be appropriate that she'd dress as a backpacker. The pen she has in her hand is a walking-stick, and you'll notice it's in a revolution, like the Lonely Planet logo.

Although I've already been introduced to the OS-tans by one Alan Medlar, I blame friend Rodrigo Pin Nitto for starting up the webcomic versions... the stuff he came up with was so awesome I just had to join in!

Of Pin's stuff, my personal favs:

There are loads more, but I didn't want to wait for permission to post them so you'll have to go to the linked thread to check them out.

Looking at the comparisons between WF-tan and the rest, you can so tell that as much as I try, drawing 'cute' and stylised stuff doesn't come naturally to me. I keep lapsing back into 'realistic'. The more astute of you will also have noticed that WF-tan bears a snarky (sorry Eric, couldn't resist) resemblance to yours truly. The reason for that is fairly straightforward: This blog has sometimes been referred to as Ping Teo's Webcomic Finds, so it's in a way an echo of myself.

WF-tan is by FAR cuter though ;)

Edit: Oooh, more last minute permissions. Just in case you're interested, more Webcomic tans!

FYI, the last tan (the one) is done by TheLoserHero, whose comic, Twice Destined I reviewed waaaay back in Leg 4!

Now, A couple of other things I want to mention before we go onto our latest Find:

Firstly, I've been told by one happy Spell & Whistles reader that S&W is BACK! (Thanks Nicole!) Checking out the site I was surprised to find that Tauhid Bondia has joined the ranks of the webcomic artists who have dumped their day jobs to make webcomics full-time (and earn a living doing so).

Personally I earn a bit of money from my Graphic Smash paycheck, but I'd be lying if I said I made a living with it. I recouped the cost of my WACOM graphics tablet from it, but currently that's about it. I can't imagine how Mr. Bondia is going manage, but I salute him for being brave enough to take the plunge. He's certainly good enough skill-wise.

I'm beginning to see a trend. And as I write this, I wonder... for the remaining two months of 2004, how many more webcomickers are going to take the plunge?

Secondly, a moment of silence for Captain Kaff Tagon, who became the latest casualty for Schlock Mercenary's Schlocktober fest. Howard Tayler has a rule about his writing that I both fear and like: killing off main characters. Popular main characters.

In this case, the character he's killed off is one of the main cast, who has been in the comic since the very very beginning. It'd be the equivalent of me killing off Jade Lanner from The Jaded (which is silly, since he's IN the title, but I digress).

It took me ages to forgive Howard for killing off the first doctor in Schlock Mercenary. And although I'm sad that Tagon bit the dust, I'm getting used to it. I must say though, Howard Tayler must be a really happy man right now. Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying Howard is happy to get rid of Tagon or that he loves playing with his readers' emotions. What I mean is, he must be happy that people can care enough about his creations to mourn them. That must be the ultimate compliment a creator can get.

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (attempted to) kill off Sherlock Holmes, people actually went into mourning, wore black and armbands and all that. I'm not going to be mourning Tagon, but I'll will call a moment of silence.

Provided Howard doesn't bring him back in a year or two ;)

And now finally, the latest leg:

Comic: Bee (Shutterbug Follies)
By: Jason Little

Genre and Setting: Modern-Life, Mystery

Art Style: Cartoony, Semi-realistic, Full colour

Is About: Bee, a spunky young woman who works as a 'photo-finishing technician'. When an odd series of corpse photos start popping up, Bee, who hasn't quite learned that curiosity killed the cat, decides to investigate.

Frequency: Unknown
Availability: Free samples, the rest published

First Impressions and Presentation:
Well, the website feels professional... but cluttered. There's so much going on I get slightly confused where to start. Eventually I do click the 'Comix' link and find myself with a selection of more comics. (Seperate series). More confusion as to where to start? Hell yeah.

I take it that the comic with the redhead is the main one, and the rest included are seperate short stories.

Unfortunately ShutterBug Follies appears to be a published comic, and only a free preview is available. However, I'll do my best to review the comic from what I can work with.

The Concept:
Has definitely been overlooked by a lot of others. Most of us never think about what happens to our photos when they are taken to be developed. The obvious one that most people should realise is that the person who developes them sees them. In this case, Bee, the main character, does.

I like the concept, it's certainly something refreshing!

The Art:
Very professionally done, inked and brightly coloured. I particularly like the use of the flat colours and two tone shading... somehow it reminds me of Herge's stuff.

One thing I should also mention, there's some fun variation of faces and body types. A lot of comic artists have this bad habit of drawing characters who could be interchangable if you swapped hairstyles. The characters in Bee definitely do not qualify for this dubious honour. The main character herself departs from the generic heroine body-type. She's short, slightly plump, wears glasses and sports short hair... and manages to be attractive despite... or because of it.

There some detailed backgrounds, and with them quite a few background jokes.

All in all, the art is something you can't complain about. It doesn't have the dazzling quality of some other comics, but it does look good, and like what I keep finding myself saying: It just works so well you never think about it.

The Writing:
Like all good graphic novelists, Jason Little tells a story by showing, not telling. It's a subtle kind of storytelling that takes a lot of work to master but makes SUCH a great improvement in terms of readbility.

The story setup is good and the plot is intriguing. The mystery peels off in layers, and the more you find out the curioser and curioser it gets. I found myself drawn into the mystery like I should be.

Nothing much, except for maybe the navigation and site layout, which seems to splatte the reader's attention all over the page instead of focusing it.

For, all the good attributes of the comic, it somehow doesn't quite click with me. It's a good comic. I can tell you that. I suspect that it's just because I know I'll probably never find out what happens next that the keenness is gone.

There's some other cool stuff besides the Bee comic though. some of the short stories I liked, especially the 3D comic that made me glad I never had problems with seeing Magic Pictures or whatever you call those things that you have to cross your eyes and half-uncross them to see.

The Next Leg:

Whoops. There doesn't seem to be a links page. You know what that means: BACKTRACK!!

I'm tired, so I'm just going to pick a link at random.


Friday, October 29, 2004

17th Leg: Return to Sender

Well... at least it's been less than a week since the last Find ;)

I've been bitten by the drawing bug lately, so I've been spending more time drawing my own comic The Jaded than writing up on stuff. I've really been pleased at the developments of my recent colouring style...

I think this is the closest I've ever had to having it look exactly like I see it in my head.

Before I started The Jaded, I've never comicked seriously before. In fact I had no particular ambitions at all, other than practising my art. No great project, no special goals to achieve, not even getting popular or seeing my comic in print one day.

In fact, if T Campbell hadn't popped out of the blue one day and recruited me for Graphic Smash I suspect I would have still been happily pottering away in Keenspace and drawing my comic as long as I got the feedback and criticisms I needed to improve.

But things changed that one Sunday afternoon I got that mail.

It may seem strange that one person's opinion can change another's so much, but it was as though someone had lit a fire in my head and I couldn't put it out. And I couldn't go back to being content with just pottering with no direction in mind. For the first time, I gained ambition. For the first time, I knew what I was going to do and why I was drawing comics.

I have another project in mind. A dream project that one day I hope to get good enough to do. I already know the name for it. I also know how it will end. I already know what I want to do with it.

I won't rush. I'm not even 21 yet. I have plenty of time to learn and practise and get good enough to do it right.

But the day when I can consistently produce something like the little snippet above will be the day I consider myself good enough to start on Exeat.

Comic: Return To Sender
By: Vera Brosgol

Genre and Setting: Mystery, Horror, Adventure, Modern Day

Art Style: Stylised inks, semi-cartoony, blue-shading

Is About: Often, who has just moved into his own place, realises that the low rent may not be entirely due to the fact the previous elderly tenant died in his sleep there. Mysterious mail keeps coming from the mail slot set in the wall, and undercover monsters keep trying to get in via the front door.

Frequency: Sundays, whenever Vera is free
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:

I believe I actually said that out loud when I first saw the page. I'm not sure if it's the way the comic blends with the elegant page design (Or the way the elegant page design blends with the comic, if you want it put another way) but... Wow. I can tell I'm going to like it already.

There is no comic on the main page, but the pages are listed instead, archive-style. They are clearly labeled and in order, so it's not so much a problem to figure out where to start.

The page to page navigation links are hard to find though. The fact that they're miniscule and powder blue against white probably doesn't help either.

The Concept:
Chalk one up for Pretty Darned Original.

It's so good I really don't know where to begin. Mysterious letters with instructions that drop from nowhere... Odd things that happen if you don't carry out the instructions. Odd things that happen even if you do. Plus monsters that keep trying to come in but can't if not invited. All on a backdrop of a guy who's just moved out of home and trying to get used to it.

Chilling and amusing at the same time. So good.

The Art:
Pretty much cinched it for me at first glance. It's fantastic inkwork... simplified but still expressive. There's some remarkable use of line thickness and colour for shading. Plus some stunning crosshatching for texture.

I'm not sure how to classify the art style... The characters have large eyes and small mouths... (well, at least Often and most of the other characters do. Colette certainly does not ;) ). The hairstyles are also spiky and rather stylized. One would automatically make the connection to call the artstyle Manga, but for some reason I hesistate about doing so.

Mainly because I don't want to give people the wrong impression. The art style might have been sightly influenced by it, but when I read it, I don't think 'Manga!' and so I do not consider it so.

Whatever you may call it, it's good. See the detailed backgrounds, the fantastic perspectives, and the pure prettiness of the whole thing. The page compositions are excellent and although the hand-lettering can be slightly messy and difficult to read at times, I like it. It gives the whole comic character.

The Writing:
There are few pleasures greater than finding a comic with writing that lives up to the art.

Vera has a uncanny ability to pace her comics. She doesn't drown her readers with information (I'm sad to report your truly still has a bad habit of doing this), knows when to pause just before a joke, knows when to spring a horror or surprise on the reader when they least expect it.

The dialogue is also exceptionally realistic. In day to day conversation, people don't give gramatically correct speeches: the words they use are short and to the point. Whatever gets the gist of the message across. (Please don't kill me, Lynn Truss!)

The characterisation is spot-on. Often and Colette feel like real people to me. The goons over at the where Often works remind me of people I know in real life. Often and Colette are best friends, but they have their moments of friction. And I care about the chracters and whatever happens to them. When a monster menaces Often, I get alarmed. When Colette does something silly, I roll my eyes and slap my forehead. When Colette saves the day, I forget myself and clap in delight.

As I mentioned back in my review of Flatwood, comics that can draw emotions from readers have the hallmark of good writing.

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a frigging good comic.


The first problem I noticed was the navigation. Like I said, the arrows are miniscule. And blue against white... it takes a lot of squinting to see them.

The second one can't be helped: Irregular updates. I symphatise with Vera though. The woman's got her priorities right.


*grin* This is silly, but two things in the comic really tickle my sense of humour:

  1. The main character's name is an adverb
  2. The mysterious mail slot goes "PING!!!" when a new letter appears.
    I know it's lame... but I can't help it!

Clock another Find to go in my check every-now-and-then list.

I've really hit a streak of good comics lately. You'd think that hitting them one after another would make me get a little less impressed at each successive one, but so far it hasn't happened yet.

The Next Leg:

Webcomic Finds is all about creator recommendation. So when I see something like this in the links page for a comic:

Beexcomix - Wow, says Vera. Funny, beautiful, suspenseful, and drawn by a New Yorker. One of my very favorites. The book is now OUT (and it's frickin' everywhere), so go buy it!

I know where I'm going next leg!

Saturday, October 23, 2004

16th Leg: Copper

It's been a week since my last Find, I think. Almost a week. But I've been busy.

Trying to updating Finds very frequently is a bit more difficult than if it were a news site, really. While it'll highly unlikely I'll ever run out of comics to read, every post is a review, which does take time to read about, digest and write

Sometimes real life just gets in the way. but like I learnt after a partially webcomic-induced nervous breakdown of trying to do too much, sometimes you just gotta know when to not do something when there's something more important.

But enough of rambling, I'd like to introduce you to this gem of a comic:

Comic: Copper
By: Kazu Kibuishi

Genre and Setting: Present-day, Imaginary World, Introspective

Art Style: Stylised Cartoony, Inks, Awesome Digital-colouring

Is About: The musing and adventures of Copper and his faithful canine, Fred in both real-life and imagined dreamscapes.
Frequency: Monthly
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The link to Copper from the previous site was directly to the archive page, which led to some considerable confusion to how I should start. Instead of the traditional "First comic here" style of navigation, we get a page full of thumbnails. I did immediately note the distinctive art style. And the simplicity of the page only serves to enchance the breath-taking beauty of the art.

Of course, eventually one figures out to start from the bottom-most comic.

The Concept:
The premise behind Copper is relatively simple: You have a boy and his dog. And you have a boy and his dog and the boy's imagination and what he does in them.

Somewhat evocative of Calvin and Hobbes or the early strips of Alice, but much much much more beautiful, wistful, thought-inducing and profound.

The Art:
Exquisite. The art for Copper is so beautiful that after I've read the comic, I stop, go back to panel one then go through it again just to admire the art. There's not much use of fancy gradients in the fantastic colouring, but flat colour in wonderful backgrounds and soothing compositions are such soothing eye-candy that you can't help but fall in love within the first 0.5 seconds of glimpsing it. I'm especially astounded by Kazu's use of colour to depict form and motion. Awesome!

The drawing is excellently stylised: simplified and with clear, minimal ink lines. I love the way Kazu draws everything, from the extremly adorable Fred to the scary looking smiley slaves. Somehow everything works, and is so right that you never think about it because you have the feeling that that is how it's supposed to be.

There also some beautiful and subtle use of camera angles, moving horizons and perspective.

In short, some of the best art I've ever seen, and this is NOT hyperbole.

The Writing:
There isn't really much of a plot continuity, but that's is not what Copper is about anyway. The writing's main purpose seems to be to catch those fleeting notions, fancies and dreams we once had and forgot we had; those things we see in dreams and can't remember when we wake up.

There's some beautiful philosophical meaderings as well.

I really like a comic that makes me think.

The schedule is probably the main problem. A page per month is a little difficult to pull off. For all good things there's patience, but sometimes there's also impatience...

Reading Copper is like coming in from a grimy, rainy day in some urbanised, crowded city and walking into your living room to be transported into a beautiful and peaceful garden. The air smells sweet and the only sound you hear is soft lapping from a pool of clear water.

Such beauty in perfection that it makes you want to cry and be happy crying.

Copper may be an element in the periodic table, but it's a rare gem for webcomics.

The Next Leg:
There's a nice list of comic. Not sure what to pick.

Return to Sender rings a bell though. I think there was a recommendation for it on the Copper archive page.

Who am I to refuse a recommendation? ;)

Saturday, October 16, 2004

15th Leg: The Japanese Beetle

While doing my post-Find checkups (that is, going back and checking up on how previous webcomic Finds have been doing) I was rather surprised to see a reaction on the latest strip of Gigawhut?. If you recall, I didn't exactly praise it to the high heavens, to put it mildly.

Anyway, shortly after the review was posted and resulted in a further Websnark comment, I received an email from the creator himself. This was not entirely unexpected, but to my surprise, Brian Maze was quite civilised about the whole thing. I have a habit of expecting the worse case scenarios for everything, so it was a relief to find a creator who didn't react by mouth-frothing attack just because I did not praise his work. In fact, he was very fair and honest, raised a few points, and admitted if I had given a positive review, he probably would have reacted differently. In turn I clarified a few points and apologised for the banner error (which belonged to another site, but appears to have magically righted itself all the same ;) )

In short, the outcome of the exchange was: Gigawhut? didn't quite gain my respect yet, but Brian Maze certainly damn well did.

There are very few things I admire more than an artist who can take criticism gracefully. When it comes down to creative work, most creators are act like obsessive parents over their babies. Anything remotely critical is met with draconian and ferocious counter-attack. As a poster by the name of ChaosBurnFlame astutely observed in this forum post:

People that dislike their comics being critiqued or comics that they read being critiqued deploy five basic defenses against the criticizers.

1) Accuse Jealousy: This is the most baseless defense. It implies that the criticizer cannot be objective or is being purely spiteful in the process. This case CAN be true, but has to be examined on a case by case basis and more often than naught in a forum of other artists is baseless.

2) Ask for Credentials: This defense is based on the idea that only ‘certain’ people have the right to be a ‘journalist’ or a reviewer. For the case of comics, its standing is a very slippery slope. The Layman has the right to decide what he likes or doesn’t like, what looks good or looks bad. Asking for a portfolio before you say something sucks is the same as asking for movie reviewers to direct Oscar winners before giving a ‘thumbs down’.

3) Proclaim All Art is Subjective: This just doesn’t work for a comic book. Declaring Ed McGuiness warrants the same obscure artistic considerations like Picasso, Monet, or Van Gough is just loony. A comic book is some of the most commercialized art in the world. The artists work not from their own ideas (there are exceptions, but they are the exceptions!) but from a pre-written script on a pre-selected page size on a schedule on a per page commission. This proclamation is a slippery slope. If given the leeway, someone can proclaim all forms of entertainment is ‘subjective’, thus one cannot say a TV show or movie sucks anymore because it’s ‘all good in its own way’.

4) Proclaim it’s popular, thus it MUST be good: Popularity can sometimes indicate quality, but remember, take ratings with a serious grain of salt. The idea that something is ‘popular’ merely means that X-number of people find it amusing or entertaining. I must admit that I myself find some things like watching a guy getting hit in the groin is hilarious as heck, but that doesn’t mean a show that showcases nothing but people getting hit in the groin is the most well-written entertainment ever. It just means it appeals to the biggest amount to get the highest X-number. In fact, recently we’ve seen on television an inverse relationship in X-number of viewers and quality.

5) Proclaim that Criticism is ‘mean’ and stunts creative growth. On the contrary to this defense, I see it the exact opposite way. That if you are told your faults, you have to acknowledge them, improve, and grow. One of the first things I was taught was to get a thick skin as an artist. It’s a good lesson that every artist should learn. If someone’s drawing a comic that people buy, it’s a lesson that should’ve been long learned. Trust me, if they’re living off their art, they can take a few criticisms.

There's also some interesting discussion of this topic in that thread if you'd care to check it out.

Now some of your will note that I took of the review of the 5th Leg, Saturnalia down. A lot of people got the impression that this was due to complaints from the creator. This is not true, but since it has been persisting so long, I feel obliged to provide a clearer explanation.

Some time ago, there was a review of a certain comic called Sexy Losers on a certain webcomics news site called Comixpedia. The review of the said comic was a mixed one, but mixed enough to be taken as a negative by the creator.

And the aftermath...? It was a nasty one, which pretty much degenerated into a chaotic mass-argument, of which I'd rather not go into. I will say there were two schools of thought involved... one being that webcomic reviews were useless and pointless and served no purpose, and another which disagreed with this.

The relevant fact in all this is that in that mass-debate, the creator of Saturnalia, Space Coyote made her position on reviews quite clear to the public (she didn't agree with them) so when I flipped a coin and found myself faced with Saturnalia as my fifth leg of Webcomic Finds, you will understand that I was rather apprehensive. On one hand there's the thing about journalistic intergrity, and on the other...

Well... if I wanted to be left alone, and made that clear, but still had people hounding me, I think I'd be a little annoyed as well. Likewise, Space Coyote had made her position quite clear beforehand, and if I were to ignore it it just would not be... very nice. So on advice, I asked her for permission.

The review I did for Saturnalia was a very positive one, and I've been told by a lot of readers that it got them starting on Saturnalia themselves. However, Space Coyote asked me to take it down. Not because she disapproved of it, but because she felt it'd be inconsistent of her after all she had said about reviews to accept one just because it was positive. And since I did ask... I did so.

It may sound odd to some, but it made sense to me. Basically it all boils down to this:

If you don't want people's criticisms... then don't be a hypocrite and accept people's praise as well.

Everything is a balance. Praise and criticism are complements of each other. On their own they can both be deadly poisons to the creative soul, but together they are the best teachers any artist or writer can ever have.

Comic: The Japanese Beetle
By: Dave 'The Knave' White

Genre and Setting: Second-Generation Superhero, Futuristic, Alternate realities

Art Style: Manga, Inks. Earlier strips greyscale, latest iteration in full-colour.

Is About: Ken Watanabe is The Japanese Beetle! He's a super-hero who fights crime and protects his city for fame, money and chicks!

Frequency: Every other day
Availability: Free (Formerly pay on Graphic Smash)

First Impressions and Presentation:
I can tell I'm going to like it already.

The website is nice and bright- the art on the front page is in lovely colour and the art looks downright yummy. I don't remember the Japanese Beetle being in colour, but I'm not complaining.

The navigation is confusing though. Apparently JB keeps going through rebirth cycles. One does get rather confused which one to pick. First button takes to the first strip of the current rebirth... which leaves you wondering: Did the previous run of JB get kicked out of continuity?

At any rate, I'm going to go through just the 2003-2004 strips, since I take the earlier stuff was more of 'college-paper' experimental.

Really like the header, by the way. For some reason, the phrase "In Glorious BEETLEcolor!" just cracks me up.

The Concept:
The Japanese Beetle is based on a genre which I like to call 'Second-Generation Superhero'. A good example of this take at super-heroism is the brilliantly-conceived and poorly-executed movie Mystery Men. It's when you have superheroes jumping out of of the woodwork and fighting crime and super-villians for reason less than noble. Or as the Japanese Beetle Ken Watanabe eloquently put its: "For fame, money and chicks!".

Kinda like a lot of webcomic artists, really.

The Art:
Slick an spot on! The early stips are very heavily manga-influenced, while the latest offerings seem to be a drawn more in the style of typical American comics, although in all phases they retain the manga-influence to some degree.

I really like the style- It's not cookie-cutter manga and has its own distinctive look. Most of you will get by now that I'm picky and a comic having an individual artistic look scores big points with me.

Dave get big points for the dynamic structuring of the panel. Rotating camera angles, varying close-ups and pan-outs... I also dig the stylised shading of the comic. Big flat areas to suggest form, inked textures for shading, plus white lining to suggest light, varying line thickness for angles. Somehow the inks feel 'lively'. I'm not sure if I'm making sense...

But anyway, if you want to know more about Dave's creating process, he has a cool rundown here.

Lastly, the way Dave draws noses is cute. It makes those already expressive faces a whole lot more expressive.

The Writing:
Is generally wacky, fun and funny. I certainly laughed a lot. I also really like the character of The Japanese Beetle, who despite being relatively normal (no awesome super-hero powers) manages to be a superhero, and a relatively successful one at that. Overpowering always did spoil heroes for me; the characters tend to get categorised by their power types and not themselves.

Plot-wise, some episodes seem to be missing some explanations though. The earlier storylines (like the zombie-salsa one, for example...) left me wondering why Ken didn't get turned into a zombie as well, while at the end of the previous relaunch, I'm left wondering "since when did the JB have his own squirrel-eared manager. And is that the plant-girl??"

Oooh! let me just comment on one thing I found fascinating- there was also some interesting integration of Ken's dual Japanese/American identity. This is really good characterisation, and something a lot of writers don't have the courage to do for fear of being branded 'racist'. In fact a lot of comic have multi-racial characters in their strips, but gloss over their actual heritages as 'it shouldn't make any difference'.

Which is downright silly. Acknowledging that a person of Japanese origin had ancestors who originated from Japan is perfectly sound. Denying that ethnicity exists is just sweeping things under a rug. Which is almost an insult in its own way.

There's nothing racist about recognising ethnicity. It's only racism if you treat someone differently because of it.

The aforementioned plot-holes are probably the biggest thing, really.

There's nothing much otherwise, except that the various relaunches of the Japanese Beetle makes it confusing to 'get' which is the real one.

The Japanese Beetle is a light and downright entertaining read. I absolutely enjoyed myself with this one...

And I think I've found another comic to add to my read list... if only I could figure out how to integrate 'every other day' into an automatic tabbing schedule...

The Next Leg:
When I first announced my intention of my next leg being The Japanese Beetle, I was faced with the possibility of having to do a backtrack as the links page wasn't yet operational. However, in the space of the few days it took me to read and write this leg, Dave seems to have gotten it up. Which is excellent timing on his part.

Since we're going by recommendations, I'm only picking the bolded links.

I would really have liked to do Narbonic, but Sequential Tart has reviewed it already... I'm not sure if I should.

Copper, on the other hand, I've definitely never heard of. Sounds interesting.

Hmmm... Keep to the trail or get sidetracked? Decisions, decisions...

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

14th Leg: Deathworld

The new issue of the Webcomics Examiner is up. You'll recall I said it hadn't quite clicked with me yet, but I gave the new issue another go anyway, just to see if the feeling would change.

Wow! I see that this month's issue really seems to be dominated by the Modern Tales family. I spot James Kochalka (American Elf), Dylan Meconis (GirlaMatic), and Gene Yang (Modern Tales).

There's also a surprise review of my friend Ryan Kolter's comic Reasoned Cognition on the line. The surprise is because being pre-occupied with his impending nuptials I think he doesn't even know about that existence of the review yet. In comparison to the other two reviews, the review for Reasoned Cognition is short and sweet, just the way I like it.

Speaking of the reviews, the WCE reviews sure are heavy stuff! When reading them, I couldn't help but feel the contrast between theirs and those on this humble little blog. They sure live up to their name of 'Examiner' and scrutinise those comics to the last inch! Whereas I just hammer them out from the point of a reader.

It got me thinking: Do these things I write on this blog really constitute as reviews or am I just classifying them? Looking up on the definition I found:
re·view  v. re·viewed, re·view·ing, re·views v. tr.

1. To look over, study, or examine again.
2. To consider retrospectively; look back on.
3. To examine with an eye to criticism or correction: reviewed the research findings.
4. To write or give a critical report on (a new work or performance, for example).
5. Law. To reexamine (an action or determination) judicially, especially in a higher court, in order to correct possible errors.
6. To subject to a formal inspection, especially a military inspection.

I guess I do fulfil the criteria. A bit. Not in the same way, but oh heck...

On to the 'review'!

Comic: Deathworld
By: Rudi Gunther

Genre and Setting: Sci-fi, University-life, Humour, Story,

Art Style: Cartoony, Inked, Early strips B&W, latter strips in full colour.

Is About: Matt Blaster, a futuristic space marine whose squadron is decimated in a failed assault. In the afterlife, he is placed on the Deathworld (Or the U of A, wherever that is), a planet where all being exist just for the amusement of its caretaker. During the course of time. Matt meets other characters in the afterlife and constantly battles both a mad scientist and a bunch of paranormals... apparently just for the heck of it.

Frequency: Tuesdays and Fridays. Given that the archive size is currently almost 600 strips, I'd say it's pretty reliable.
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
With a name like Deathworld, I was subconsciously expecting something along the lines of Flatwood or Voices In My Hand. You know, black and white or greyscale art, creepy atmosphere, chilling story/humour... those kind of things.

Instead I was quite surprised when the page loaded and I found myself looking at a cartoony page drenched in very vibrant colour. Let me emphasize the vibrant colour part just so you know how startling that particular detail was to me.

The most curious thing about this whole leg is, I actually muttered: "Wha... Superosity?"

Which is silly at the second take because the art is quite different, and the premise for the story doesn't really seem to be the same. Of course, I've never actually read Superosity. I mean, yeah it's a comic by one of the Fab Four (In case you're not familiar with that: the four Keenspot founders) but I never could bring myself it actually start reading the 2000 pages or so that constitute the archive.

So I guess I'll have to admit that my only impression of Superosity so far has been... lots of bright green... and hand-lettering.

Which suddenly explains why I associated Deathworld with Superiosity based on just the superficial similarities I noticed first. Isn't it odd what the human subconscious registers?

Anyway, the site navigaation is mercifully standard and the buttons are clearly labelled and easy to navigate. The vibrant green do make it easier since it makes the comic and buttons stand out against the dark background.

The Concept:
Well, I found the concept of the afterlife being a puppet on a SIMs-like planet and in a university amusing. It's certainly something slightly away from the norm.

However I was sometimes confused by the constant veering between the sci-fi/adventure and university-gag jokes. And how the simulated world doesn't even try to make sense...

The Art:
Pretty consistent throughout.

It looks like ink-work with very little variation.I wouldn't say it's blindingly good, but something in it does remind me a lot of Schlock Mercenary. I think it's the way they draw eyes.

The latter parts of the comic where the colour comes in are actually pretty cool.

The Writing:
Personally, I quite liked the beginning, where the space troopers storm the alien planet and get butchered by the stereotype Aliens Aliens, Matt gets killed, and is told that his version of hell will be getting plonked on a senseless planet for amusement of the caretaker of the planet which happens to take after some university called 'The U of A'.

So accordingly, Matt ends up on Deathworld, and the story all but goes rapidly downhill from there. For some reason, Matt becomes obligated to shoot pretty much everything that crosses him. Oh, and he makes an arch-enemy out of the resident evil mad scientist-professor, who in return wants to kill him too. And the stereotypically named Prof. Von Rudenstein proceeds to do so, using a bunch of pretty much useless inventions.

Being swallowed by one of these, Matt meets the fellow space trooper Alison (who is pretty much the geek idealised woman. You know, hot babe, engineer, wears silly armour and kicks major ass to boot). Why exactly Alison is in the stomach of a monster is never quite explained, but I presume there should be a reason that I didn't catch on. Or maybe the Caretaker put her there to make things interesting

Anyway for the next couple hundred pages, yours truly was trapped in a ever worsening cycle of maddingly boring action scenes. All of them were senselessly violent. The worst part of it was that the violence and swearing were being set up as the punchline. Look, people swear in stressful situations. It's a fact of life. But having to hear it every other sentence is rather grating on the nerves, just so you know.

Oh, and just because I don't want my site attracting the wrong search strings, I'm going to attempt to reproduce the language without actually duplicating it.

*readers become confused*

Anyway, this is a typical story-arc:

*The bad guys grumble at how much they hate Matt and send their latest minions/inventions/super-weapons after Matt*

Matt: Whafu¢k?

*minion/invention/super-weapon tries to eliminate Matt, never quite does it*

Matt: Suck this. you fu¢kwad!

*fudda fudda fudda* (sound effect of guns)

*After some measure of battle, bad guy dies*

Matt: *some cheesy wise-crack*.

Now repeat several times, with infinite variations (i.e. Different monster, different character involved. Maybe different way of killing monsters). All this repetitive and mind-numbingly boring. Oh, in-between storylines you get something like this. Or you get the hated Beerman character trying to explain something and be funny at the same time. Or you get crass or Fourth Wall breaking jokes and 'Deathworld is the most hated comic' strips. (I whole-heartedly agreed with that one then.)

You really really got the impression violence in Deathworld, at least, is the answer to everything.

The sad part was that the random violence didn't strike me as funny... and it was being set up as the punchline.

(Reading the comic)
Ping: GAAAAAAAAH!!!!!!
*nearly tears her hair out*
Ping: All right, who wrote this bloody crap?!

Anyway, just so you know, I was quite close to giving up. There were many many moments when I seriously considered just stopping altogether and writing a review that would have put the one I did of Gigawhut? to shame.

Then something miraculous happened. The comic suddenly changed directions. The name of the storyline was The Dark Heart. And for the first time... or so it seemed to me, we had a plausible storyline, moderately realistic character development and a plot instead of random violence and crass jokes. Granted, it built on stuff that was lightly touched from the previous massacre storylines, but suddenly it all fell into place.

I'm not saying the entire comic suddenly became palatable over the course of a few strips, but you could feel the difference. It had a direction. And it gained character.

At any rate, for the first time since the beginning of the strip, I actually found myself enjoying the read. (As opposed to hoping desperately for it to end soon. Always a bad sign, that.) It was also around that point when the strip went full-colour too, which was a definite plus. The characters got developed out of their stereotypes (That silly goth boy, for instance. Even Beerman became bearable), Rudi cut down on usage of the word fu¢k, and we had less of the very unamusing random violence.

Over the course of the next 400 pages or so (I did mention the archive was quite substantial, right?) the various storylines kept getting better and better, the characters interacted, changed and developed... we saw some interesting plot twists and a violent storyline that wasn't boring (The one where Matt got abducted by the aliens).

And I was actually surprised to find at the end of the read that I had developed what could only be called a fondness for the characters of the comic.

Sometimes a light surprises.

Roughly most of the first 200 strips. Minus the beginning part. Please don't make me go through them again *cries*

The the sad part is, most people trying out the comic will probably never make it past the 197th strip to get the where the comic stops being some university self-insertion and inside-joke riddled strip, and instead matures into the real Deathworld.

This comic holds the unique postion of being a comic I absolutely HATED in the beginning, and quite liked in the end.

Yes, it is possible to do so. Like I said, there's an insane number of pages in the archive. You could say it became an acquired taste.

I really could have done without the horrible beginning though. *shudder* I think I need a break after reading almost 600 pages in one afternoon too. Thank God I have broadband now.

The Next Leg:

Looking through "Webcomics I read" page, I spot an old Graphic Smash neighbour of mine. Clue: The name of my comic is The Jaded. The other comic was always listed after me alphabetically.

Watch out, Dave! I'm coming in!!!

Saturday, October 09, 2004

13th Leg: Haiku Circus

Firstly, because someone requested it:

It's nowhere near my best, but I'm kinda starved for time at the present. Originally I wanted a backpacker, but I couldn't fit it in the banner.

Next, if you guys are familiar with Keenspace and the myriad comics that exist on it, AND if you're feeling adventurous, you might be interested in this post which presents this Random Keenspace Sampler. Like what it says: it redirects you to a random Keenspace comic.

In 9 cases out of 10 you'll probably run into something bizarre or horrendous (sprite, stick figures, MS-paint) but sometimes you can get a good find or two. For example, my last 10 attempts:

Entertaining indeed. Sometimes depressing and a tad hazardous, but ultimately fun. (Thanks to Mercury Hat of Gunmetal Annie for the initial heads-up!)

Anyway, for something else a bit on the unusual side: Today's Find.

Comic: Haiku Circus
By: Ken Sakamoto

Genre and Setting: Surreal (?)

Art Style: Various, ranging from digital art to pencil/pen line drawings. Greyscale.

Is About: Modern haikus... done in comic form.

Frequency: Unknown
Availability: Free. Comic has been published in various university papers.

First Impressions and Presentation:
Interesting. This has to be the first comic I've ever seen that has uh... tomatoes as the main characters.

The description for the site reads:
A comic strip that combines drawings with haiku poetry (5-7-5 syllables)

The navigation for the site is a bit different... There's only a previous button (but no first comic button) and an archive page with a list of all the past haikus on the site. Strips are group according to month, so clicking each button gives you a page full of successive strips. There's also this little box under each haiku asking you to rate it. (1-10, Awful - Hilarious/Enlightening)

Yep. Like I said, whatever else this comic might be, it's definitely interesting

The Concept:
According to the 'About' page, a haiku is form of Japanese poetry consisting of three lines, where the first line has 5 syllables, the second has 7 and the last has 5.

Haiku Circus takes this a step further by combining Ken's original haikus with sequential art. so imagine a series of comics, all in three panels, and each panel depicting a line of poetry.

You know, I don't think I've ever been floored by sheer originality before, but this concept is genius. And in my experience, absolutely unique.

And I don't think I've ever had this much difficulty trying to classify a comic before either.

The Art:
Is not exactly the best part of the comic.

I'm rather confused by the quality of the drawings, sometimes they look all right, sometimes the lines looks rather shaky and amateurish (you know, short scratchy lines, off poportions, scary looking eyes). In fact if I didn't know better I'd say they looked traced. But that's just conjecture on my part, so don't take my word for it. The digital stuff doesn't look very finished either, there are a lot of sharp jagged edges that should have been aliased.

I also notice a very high usage rate of 'cut-and-paste'. While in some places it works, at other times it makes the author look lazy.

But for most part the art, while not as easy on the eyes as the last few comics I've found, does what it's supposed to to, and that is: convey the message they are supposed to.

The Writing:
I'm no expert at japanese poetry, so I don't really know whether the haikus are good or bad, but I can tell you some of them are really funny. The following strips made me laugh out loud: Filthy cockroaches, Lunch Special, Whining Crosswalk, Triangles.

Like I said, I'm not sure of the value of the haikus literature-wise, but in terms of how funny they are, they vary. Some of them obviously have connotations that fly over the head of this humble reader, and some of them I didn't think were very funny. Like the previous comic it was mostly hit-or-miss, but the hits made up for the misses more often than not.

It's also interesting that there are no main characters or recurring themes, and the comic tend to focus more on interacting objects more than people.

By the way, having attention paid to the syllables had an interesting effect on the reading of the archives. I found myself subconsciously building up a rhythm (5-7-5-5-7-5...), so even when the particular haiku I was reading was a 'miss' the rhythm of the whole thing was so soothing I didn't really mind anyway.

I don't think I've ever read another comic that had this same rhythm effect.

One very bad problem I had with the strips was the level of JPEG compression used. The level is set far too high, resulting in a horrible fuzzy JPEG artifacts appearing everywhere and blurry text, fractured text that challenge my eyes.

It doesn't help that the overall dimensions of the strips are rather small too.

I'm not a big fan of this haiku thing, but I found myself charmed by the Haiku Circus because if its refreshing originality. It's not something I think I'd read daily, but I can see myself coming back next month to catch up on the strips, which IMHO are better read all in one go.

The Next Leg:
There's a small section put aside on the links page for webcomics. For no particular reason whatsover, I chose Deathworld.

Friday, October 08, 2004

12th Leg: Voices In My Hand

You'll notice that the individual comic banners are back up again. I just got the ok from Joey to link the images using my Graphic Smash WebComicsNation account. Which is great, as a picture is worth a thousand words: nothing beats having a sample of the art to go with a review, even if it is a teeny sample in a banner.

I have had some worry over the having posted my first relatively negative review (10th Leg: Gigawhut?) a few posts back. I've also been told by some of my readers that I need to write more negative reviews. Personally, I always prefer to give people good reviews, BUT I don't think it'd be fair of me if I wrote a good review for a comic I didn't like and didn't think people reading 'Finds would like. So, I'm not going to try and square the circle and make a comic that doesn't appeal to me sound like it did, but I'll try my best to be fair and certainly not rude while doing it.

I should make it clear that the purpose of Webcomic Finds is to tell people what a comic is like. So if you ever find me whining about a comic I don't like more than actually describing it to you, please don't hesitate to point that out.

By the way, an interesting update on a past Find. Do you remember The N00b all the way back from the 2nd Leg? It was the first comic I discovered as a direct result of writing this blog, and is currently one of the top favourites on my read list.

I'm happy to report the N00b continues to not disappoint. In fact the strips keep getting better and better. This recent strip in particular nearly made me spit my tea onto my PowerBook screen. The punchline is clean, but it's almost dirty humour if you get the subtle implication. The part that makes it hilarious that it's done in such perfect innocence on the part of the main character.

For those of you who don't get what 'suppository' means; try the Dictionary.Com definition.

Where the sun doesn't shine indeed... *snickers*

And now for today's review:

Comic: Voices In My Hand
By: Bill Charbonneau

Genre and Setting: Sci-fi/Horror, Humour, Satire, Commentary

Art Style: Single Panel, Ink, Greyscale, Stylised Cartoony

Is About: No particular theme except for the funny side of death and other issues concerning the darker side of human nature... There's a running gag on two earthworms who keep commenting on how the remains of various famous people taste though.

Frequency: Weekly
Availability: Free. Subscribe to get the comic in your mail.

First Impressions and Presentation:
Well, the website design is creepy... but cool. Instead of text links you have rusty chains holding aloft various objects ranging from a bucket of blood to the very clever symbol for the links page. Definitely original.

I regret to say I don't get the joke from the comic on the first page. No, I don't know who Rick James is. Hopefully I'll get the rest of the jokes.

I'm particularly pleased to note that this is a single-panel comic... they're something of an endangered species on the 'Net. In fact, I think the only other one that I know of is The Chopping Block.

The Concept:
Well... this is a hard one. It's something like those single panel comics you see in your newspaper dailies. You know, the single panel ones that usually get squeezed on the side beneath the horoscope or the crossword? Yeah. That one.

Except for the fact that the subject matter isn't anything any editor fearful of losing his job would dare to put up. However, according to the about page, Bill's stuff has actually made it to the paper, so I guess there are some sensible editors out there after all!

The Art:
Very professional, but very stylised to the point where Mr. Jackson doesn't really look like Mr. Jackson. But then again I doubt if anyone really knows what Mr. Jackson really looks like nowadays.

All in all the art is pretty good; though obviously geared towards newspaper publication so the lines are minimal, simple, clear and easily reprintable.

It's not outstandingly memorable, but it is good and does the job pretty well; which is the point.

The Writing:
If I could pick just one word to describe it, I'd pick subtle.

There's usually just enough of narration to steer you towards the punchline... it's left to the reader to make the jump to get to the punchline. This results in two possible things: The reader makes the jump and the punchline is all the funnier because the reader needs to do some thinking... or the reader invariably fails to make the connection and fails to be amused.

I'll admit that it was the latter case with me with the first strip. It's a brave thing to do, but the humour for me was either hit-or-miss. The ones that I missed I usually just shrugged off; but the ones that I 'got' were funny.

By the way, does this one remind you of a particular MTV Awards Parody or what?

The aforementioned hit-or-miss humour could be a problem... the humour sometimes feels a bit forced... and sometimes doesn't seem to be funny at all.

Not a bad comic. There are some gems among a bunch of mediocre strips (or maybe they're just funny but I don't get them), but it's a lot harder to be funny when you only have one panel to express yourself in anyway.

The Next Leg:
The links page contains a few buttons and a looooong list of text links. Anyway, I'm considering some bizarre algorithm or system to pick a link from the long list. How about the numerical value of the first letter of this blog entry?

Which is the letter "Y" = 25th letter of the alphabet.

Therefore the 25th entry in the list... which looks like something rather new, in my experience.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

11th Leg: The Fray

If the banners are not showing up, that's because my image host has exceeded its bandwidth. Yeah, I should find a better one... technically I could use my Graphic Smash/WCN one but that'd be an abuse of the account, wouldn't it?

Anyway, you'll notice I've added links to some other webcomic news sites and blogs. Of those four listed, I'm addicted to Comixpedia and more recently, Websnark. News at the 'pedia has been a little slow of late though, and the forums are down :( Websnark is extremely addictive, which is surprising when you consider that as someone else said "it's just some guy talking about webcomics". But I feel compelled to point out it's some very interesting talking about webcomics... and it updates multiple times daily!

I love Sequential Tart, although I usually visit around the beginning of the month when a new issue updates.

The Webcomics Examiner I don't really read, although I've skimmed through it a few times. Somehow it still hasn't clicked with me yet. Maybe it will when more stuff comes up.

With the pre-review the pre-amble done, on to the latest leg:

Comic: The Fray
By: Rob Niedojadlo

Genre and Setting: Sci-Fi, Humour

Art Style: Inks, Black & White, Stylised Cartoony, Newspaper Format

Is About: The Fray, the legendary 'Chosen One' of the (extremely adorable) aliens who are planning an invasion of earth. However, a lowly alien worker named Grugg has accidentally caused the demise of The Fray while he lies in hyper-sleep. In a panic, Grugg proceeds to impersonate The Fray, with disasterous (and hilarious) results.

Frequency: Unknown. Comic is released in chapters.
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
Deja vu. I've seen that cute alien on the right somewhere else before. Of course! Comixpedia. If I'm not mistaken, the artist did a cover for one of the issues of Comixpedia before... and there it is. (Name's misspelled as 'Niedojadio' there, though.)

There seem to be two comics (Confetti and The Fray) hosted on the same website. Judging from the news posts, the other comic, Confetti has just started, so I guess that leaves The Fray.

BTW, the website is nice, slick and clean-looking, although slightly generic.

The Concept:
I love the concept of these funny little anti-hero aliens invading earth and (attempting to) wipe out the human race. Especially when it's revealed the biggest obstacle they have to doing so is themselves.

I also found the 'The One in hyper-sleep' gone wrong plot point hilariousl. You would think that with all those cryogenic sleep stories, there'd be a case or two where something goes wrong. And apparently, something does.

A fun and original concept for a story, and most refreshing to see something different.

The Art:
Slick. Adorably cute.

The drawing style is distinctive, which always scores major points with me. And since we're talking about aliens here, the crazy porportions (imagine just a head, and then a jumble of little limbs beneath it) make perfect sense.

The comic looks great, with great use of large areas of flat black and white. I'm especially impressed at how Rob manages to merge the title of the comic (The Fray) with the comic itself by making it part of the dialogue.

Considering the comic is in a newspaper strip format (which you will agree, can be rather restrictive) The Fray employs a range of surprisingly dynamic angles and viewpoints when telling the story. The 'camera' closes in, swoops out, sometimes you see only silhouettes, handily leaving stuff that should be left to imagination to imagination.

Fantastic work, the art. It's heavily stylised, but not so that it loses its expressiveness, which is actually a harder thing to achieve than it sounds.

The Writing:
The Fray endeavors to be funny, and it is. The level of 'funny' isn't the side-splitting tears-pouring level of funny you might get on some other comics (Early strips from Sluggy Freelance come to mind), but it's more of an 'chuckle-heh' kind of funny. The good thing is that it's consistent: every time I get to the punchline of a strip, I find myself laughing or chuckling more often than not. The interesting thing is that despite repetitive reading, I still find the strips funny, which isn't a common occurence for me

One more positive point about The Fray is that it doesn't feel bounden to be 'funny' all the time. Some of the strips end on a dramatic (and slightly serious) note, which is refreshing. There's nothing I dislike as much as forced humour.

The story is actually quite commendable, and you do emphatise with poor Grugg as things get from bad to worse for him.

Oh, I should mention I was quite impressed that the aliens do have respect even for their lowest crewmen, as 'The Fray' was put to trial for allegedly murdering Grugg. I thought that was an excellent twist, considering he is the Chosen One and all.

I have no idea when this comic updates, or will update. It's kinda annoying as I want MORE FRAY!

Other than that, I don't really have any other gripes worth whining about.

An excellent and genuinely amusing comic. Ping likee!

And those aliens are just too darned irresistably cute.

The Next Leg:
Looking the links page, I clicked on the first button in the list of buttons.

Do I hear Voices In My Hand?