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.

Website: http://rts.lunistice.com/
Frequency: Sundays, whenever Vera is free
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
Wow?

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.


Problems:

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.


Overall:

*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.
Website: http://www.boltcity.com/
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.


Problems:
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...


Overall:
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!

Website: http://www.thejapanesebeetle.com/
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.



Problems:
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.


Overall:
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 Dictionary.com 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.

Website: http://www.fuddafudda.com/
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.


Problems:
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.


Overall:
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:
AHA!

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.

Website: http://www.haikucircus.com
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.


Problems:
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.


Overall:
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.

Website: http://www.voicesinmyhand.com/
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?


Problems:
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.


Overall:
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.

Website: http://www.funnybonecomics.com/
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.


Problems:
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.


Overall:
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?

Monday, October 04, 2004

10th Leg: GigaWhut?

Today's leg is kind of a random pick. If you recall, I closed my eyes and clicked on a random button back at Spells & Whistles... which brought me to the website of GigaWhut?

By the way, since this is the 10th leg and all, it might be interesting if I explained how I write these review things a bit.

I have a set template for each leg of the journey, each with its own set of fields. The first field I fill for every review in is NOT Comic Name, but rather, the First Impressions and Presentation field. Why? Well... I think first impressions are very important. A lot of people judge by first impressions... thus I'm curious to note how accurate first impressions are.

As I proved in the review of The N00b, first impressions can sometimes be inaccurate, but it's fun shooting my mouth off at what I think the comic will be like.

Anyway, after I fill in the 'First Impressions' field, I READ the comic and review it.

Like I shall commence doing now.



Comic: GigaWhut?
By: Brian Maze

Genre and Setting: Real-Life, High School/University Story/Humour

Art Style: Stylised Cartoony, Black and White, Inked(?)

Is About: Some kid in university, apparently.

Website: http://www.elevatorfish.com
Frequency: Thursdays, but actual updating appears random and erratic
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
Okay... let me just be honest and admit I wasn't very impressed by my first look. There shouldn't be any reason, really. The website design is sleek and professional... and the art while vaguely familiar is quite adequate...

Familiar? Ok. I retract my previous statement. I understand why this comic disturbs me now...

The art style and website design look like PvP clones!

Geez. Now I'm in a moral dilemma. I shouldn't judge a comic just by a resemblance... but HNTRAC sense, tingling... I have a baaaad feeling about this...

...which turns out to be justified. The first comic is a broken image dated last year, and the second one is a 'Coming Soon in two weeks' strip...

*blinks*

Holy Crap!

This comic is only threee (proper) strips old!


The Concept:
Can't really see much of it yet, but seems to me like another typical university story involving the wacky adventures of a guy and his wacky pals.

Or so I think.


The Art:
I said adequate, and so it is... nice clean lines and easily readable text...

But it lacks individuality because even if the artist did not intend it at all, the entire art style seems to scream: "I wanna be like Scott Kurtz!". In fact it reminds me of this How Not To Run a Comic strip by Digital War.

I guess I really value individuality, huh? But I don't think I'm imagining this one, folks. The art is eeriely close, down to the way they draw torsos... It's like Penny Arcade faces on PvP bodies!


The Writing:
Let's be realistic. There's been a grand total of three strips so far. I really am in no position to comment of the state of the writing.

I will say it seems passable, although forgettable. Narration done is first person seems to be smooth enough. There are no mistakes in the dialogue although I feel inclined to point out that 'Slogan' is spelled with an 'A' and not 'Slogon'.

Edit: I've been informed that the banner with the misspelled word in fact, belongs to another comic. My apologies on the mistake.

There really isn't enough for me to judge, really.


Problems:
Feels too much like a PvP clone, not enough strips in archive to disprove it yet.


Overall:
I'll reserve comment on this because it's not fair as it hasn't really gotten started yet.

Although if I were a casual reader I suspect I'd be tip-toeing away from this site before I even read the comic just because of the front page impression.

Sorry, but that's the truth.

This must be my first negative review. I guess I ought to not trust random choice, eh?


The Next Leg:
There's a nice bunch of dinky links button on the right of the main page.

Just because it stands out from the sea of human faces, I picked the chicken.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

9th Leg: Spells & Whistles



Comic: Spells And Whistles
By: Tauhid Bondia

Genre and Setting: Fantasy, Parody, Humour

Art Style: Inked, Full-Colour, Stylized Realistic

Is About: E'los, cynical elven mage, sets out to gather a motley band of heroes to defeat the Great Evil that threatens to destroy all of Middle Ear... I mean, the world they're in.

Website: http://www.spellsandwhistles.net/
Frequency: Unknown. Currently on Hiatus
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
Well... I can tell I'm not going to be complaining about the art or anything, that's for sure.

The website design is nice and professional, with good use of colours... Navigation is obvious and simple, although I don't see the point of having the double rows of buttons, though.


The Concept:
Possibly the most cliche of all cliches: hero sets out on a quest to save the world blah blah blah gathers companions which span different races and classes with differing abilities blah blah blah defeat ultimate evil dark lord blah blah blah. I'm sure you can fill in those blahs yourself.

Actually, it's a slightly cliche take of a cliche... that is: parodying the fantasy cliche. These things have been popping up all over like mushrooms after the rain. I wonder why?

At any rate, there's nothing fantastically original about the concept, but then again I've always said, success also lies in good execution, not conception.


The Art:
Spectacular!

Expertly drawn, inked and the colouring is clean and purty! It looks good enough to eat!

There's been some hoo-hah over some of the characters looking a bit too much like the characters of PvP a few months back. I regret to say I never caught any glimpse of the art before Tauhid went over and redid the archives but I note the although some very faint (but undoubtable) resemblances remain, no one with any modicum (don't you love that word? Modicum!) of perception could mistake Rakne or Green Milton for Jade and Skull now.

All that said, backgrounds are rather simple and the majority are gradient fills. Nothing wrong with that... it does help focus the attention of the intricately drawn main characters.

Oh yeah! Elf Only Inn cameo!


The Writing:
Pretty all right. The strip aims to be funny, and although the majority of it is mildly amusing, some episodes did have me laughing out loud.

All in all, the joke writing fairly good, and there's some fun repeating jokes that are set up well in advance to make things funnier.

Story-wise it's pretty much the predictable arc of a typical fantasy quest story or an RPG game. I do get the feeling I'm going through essentially the same story I've read somewhere else before, but this time with much much more spiffier art! I guess this series really is all about the jokes.

Personal beef: Why is it, in every permutation of the fantasy genre, 'elf' remains 'elf' while 'hobbit'-esque races get called 'halfling', 'kender' or 'wanderling'? I'm really curious why fantasy writers don't stick to just one. Stop laughing. I'm serious!

Addtion: I forgot to mention, Mr. Bondia is quite the master at using panels to convey time and pace the story/punchline. Nice stuff.


Problems:
Some of the bantering the beginning gets a bit old, especially the poking fun at Lord of the Rings part. It's funny in it's own right, I know... it's just been done a tad too often by too many different people.

And yeah, I HAET BEING LEFT HANGING in the middle of a story!

Like my friend Chuck says, hiatus is the six-letter four-letter word. :(

Yeah, yeah... I know Mr. Bondia is busy with his syndicated comic Suzie View, and all the best to him... but I'm dying of curiosity in the meantime... *sniffles*


Overall:
I can see S&W's appeal to the masses. It's light humoured fun, great for unwinding after a hard day's work or something else. Would I recommend someone read it? Depends. Because of the hiatus it might be a cruel thing to do so, but generally I think it's something someone new to webcomics would love.

It's a well-done comic. I do like it.


The Next Leg:
Whoa! the links page is a solid mass of of teeny link buttons!

Do you know what this means?

*closes eyes and clicks a button at random*

And this is what I clicked.