Thursday, September 30, 2004

8th Leg: Flatwood

A new find! "About freaking time!" you say? You'd be right. A month is a long time... but what can I say? I've been so busy i haven't had time to read my usual comics, much less find new ones.

Anyways on to the long-awaited find:



Comic: Flatwood
By: Zachary Parker

Genre and Setting: Surreal, Horror, Mystery

Art Style: Pencil, Greyscale, Stylized Cartoony

Is About: Alex, who wakes up in what seems to be a deserted motel. He has no memory of who he is and how he got there, but the Flat Wood in which the monsters lie waiting in the dark is the only place he can find his answers.

Website: http://flatwood.keenspace.com
Frequency: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. You might get an additional day if you vote a lot, though.
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
Firstly, I've got to say the art is impressively distinct. It looks like well done pencil-work, all in glorious greyscale. The text looks to be handwritten (?) but whatever it works!

The website is simple, black and functional. You can't really ask for more than that, really.


The Concept:
The 'wake-up-with-amnesia' plot device is a common one, but none the worse for being used here. In fact, Zachary's spin on it is indeed a great improvement. The fact that he wakes up in some kind of creepy motel that's crawling with creepy horn-mouthed things and that the motel is surrounded by an even creepier wood makes is great.

If I may say so, Flatwood really reminds me of this webcomic called Ancient Messages. It was a really old comic and I think it's no longer available on the net. The art was never really good, but the story was one of the few that could send a chill up my spine.

All in all, very good concept.


The Art:

The whole comic is beautifully done in pencil. Full use is made of pencil textures and large areas of flat black. The beginning few pages are ludicrously difficult to read due to the bad (miniscule) Arial Narrow font, but once Zachary switches to his own handwriting it all comes together perfectly.

I put 'cartoony' in the 'Art' field, and in a way it is... Large eyes and heads (but not manga-style), with disporportionately small bodies... but it works so well I never had any objection. The distorted porportions of the art really help to convey the nightmarish feel of the comic... it reminds me of Edvard Munch's The Scream and other similar work, for some reason.

I also like the fact that the entire comic doesn't have colours. It somehow seems just right... it's a dull and drab and dead world, somehow having colour makes it look wrong. As most of the scenes are partly in the dark, one can imagine backgrounds not being a problem. Not being one to be skive off, however, there's lot of nice background details to give it an atmospheric feel. From the rundown state of the motel to the spooky eyes in the the woods... creepy.

I should also mention there's some cool GIF animations used once or twice during the pivotal moments.


The Writing:
Possibly the best part of the comic. The story is sometimes confusing, but it's a nice kind of confusing, because you can tell the "clearing-up" will be dealing with that soon. There is a lot of obvious planning and foreshadowing... little things in the beginning make perfect sense later on... and I'm particularly tickled at how hitting a ball of light with a flaming racquet can make so much perfect sense!

The dialogue is is also markedly different for your usual webcomic fare. It uses what I call 'fairy-tale' dialogue, and you get phrases like "We have tarried here too long" and "We are ever and anon about our Father's business". I do notice, however, that the main character, Alex, speaks like a normal person (modern language) further emphasizing the fact he has been plonked in Flatwood from the modern world.

Most of all the story is succeeds in doing what every good horror story should do: send chills up your spine. I was postively going "OMG this is SO good!" when reading it, and shivering in horror... in a good way, of course.


Problems:
Mainly in the beginning. The horrible horrible teeny font in the beginning is nigh-impossible to read. In fact, after the first page, I gave up and skipped until the font got a bit clearer and bigger. I'm only 21, and if my eyes can't read it, it must be pretty bad for the older people. ;)

There are also some sequences near the beginning where the page layout and bad placement of the speech blocks had me reading the text in the wrong order.


Overall:
This one is a gem.

Horror comics are all too rare, I was incredibly pleased to find one that could make me genuinely scared. The art and story combine so well, I came to the end of the archives too soon and found myself wishing for more Flatwood. I can see this one going in my daily list of comics to read.

And yeah, I voted ;) The split screen voting system is actually quite ingenious.


The Next Leg:
There's no links page, BUT there's a handy-dandy set of button down the left side of the page.

There's a whole nice bunch of comics to pick from, but after the recent hoo hah about Scott Kurtz and this Tauhid fella, I'm curious about Spells and Whistles.

So Spells and Whistles it is!

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