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.