Saturday, January 29, 2005

Stopover at Darken: Possibly the Lovechild of Zebra Girl and College Roomies From Hell?

My stopovers seem to be reading like "I Read Keenspace So You Don't Have To!" lately, but hey... that's what this blog is here for. Finding the more obscure (but still all goodness) stuff.

I came across this one via our previous stopvers (Nahast, if you recall). They had an amusing end-of-year crossover that was actually good (As opposed to the done-to-death A meet B, fight erupts between A and B, A and B call a truce and then join forces to whop the ass of C etc.). Anyway, it piqued my interest.



I must say, the art for Darken is deliciously distinctive. The closest I can come to describing it is what I have written in the stopover title: a cross between Maritza Campos' College Roomies From Hell (art style and colour) and Joe England's Zebra Girl (Use of crosshatching). Yummy I say!

Oh yes, I should tell you what kind of comic it is. It's basically action-adventure set in a fantasy world. Yes there are elves and drow and all that... and it IS about a motley band of adventurers on a quest.

"What's this?" You say? "Weren't you groaning about how unoriginal and cliched that set-up was a few posts ago?"

"Hah!" I reply. "But there's a twist here! You see, our motley band of adventurers are on a quest to... wait for it...

TAKE OVER THE WORLD!.

And presumably enslave the population and all that. And kill lots of things on the way."

Try beating that for a twist!

It makes me fall in love with the fantasy 'genre' all over again.

Friday, January 28, 2005

22nd Leg: Dinosaur Comics




Comic: Dinosaur Comics
By: Ryan North

Content Type: Satire, Humour, Philosophy
Setting and Elements: The Same Comic Page

Art Medium: Digital
Art Style: Semi-Realistic, Pixellated. Full Colour.

Is About: T-Rex, Dicro... Dichno...gah *looks up* Dromiceiomimus and Utahraptor. Everyday they go through the exact same motions and talk/interact. Every day T-Rex stomps on things and talks to Utahraptor about seemingly everything and anything.

Website: http://www.qwantz.com/
Frequency: Daily (Now do you know why it took me so long to finish this review?!)
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
I'll be straightforward and admit I'm not very enthusiatic about this one.

To be fair, the reason for this is as I mentioned before, dinosaurs freak me out. A little. The prospect of reading an entire webcomic with realistic-looking dinosaurs isn't really my cup of tea. Even if I have heard good things about Dinosaur Comics. Phobias are not rational, I guess.

The website is plain and spartan (or uncluttered, of you prefer). As a matter of fact, it's just slightly more modified than the Keenspace default template. (Sorry, drifting off-topic here) The stark whiteness of the page serves to emphasize the flourescent colours of the dinosaurs, and with most of the page plain text, your attention is focused on the comic itself.

Minor gripe: The lack of a 'first comic' button. Call me lazy, but I like to be able to jump right in from the beginning from the front page without have to start from the archive.


The Concept:
Unlike most webcomics which make use of the unbridled freedom of the web, Dinosaur Comics purposely restricts itself. Imagine one of the "Write you own joke" comic contests. Now imagine pounding out two year's worth of comics using that exact some page. That's what you get in Dinosaur Comics.

The idea for this is more ingenious that you would think, actually. I've always believed that creativity can flourish astonishingly when you limit what you can work with.


The Art:
The art, with the bright colours and pixellation, looks quite passable as something from one of those computer games. One thing the reader will realise after the first few pages is that every single page has the exact same art. Sometimes the comics get flipped or some of the panels are switched around, but other than the occasional Guest strip, the art is always the very same panels:
Panel 1: Panel with Picture of T-Rex.
Panel 2: Close up of T-Rex's face.
Panel 3: T-Rex stomping on a log cabin with a car parked in front and Dromiceiomimus (Bloody hell, how do you spell that?!) in the background.
Panel 4: T-Rex stomping on tiny woman in a pink shirt. Utahraptor comes up from behind.
Panel 5: T-Rex turns around and stands face-to-face with Utahraptor.
Panel 6: T-Rex is standing alone with a comical look on his face


There are no backgrounds whatsoever in the comic, which actually works in its favour in this case as it allows for more freedom for the setting of each strip.


The Writing:
The writing of Dinosaur Comics has been probably been praised to the skies by various people. Personally, I thought the writing for the first year was somewhat hit-and-miss. There were some great strips (The movie synopses ones were great!), but there were also several that just made me go "Eh? or "Meh."

Starting 2004 a lot more of the strips started clicking with me. Though mind you I didn't realise it until I found myself stopping and thinking about one of the more philosophical strips and how it applied to my own life. I also found myself laughing out loud more and more often.

It's terms of story there's very little continuity in the comic... There are some recurring themes, like Utahraptor's sexuality and T-Rex losing a baby, but this a gag comic, not a story comic.

In short, the writing style of Dinosaur Comics is somewhat reminiscent of that of Cat and Girl, but less preachier and easier to understand to the everyday reader. It doesn't take itself as serious as well, and is not afraid to just be plain silly from time to time.


Problems:
Too much text squashed in a page... the too small text size only prompts me to skip the page.

As aforementioned, the humour is rather hit-and-miss the beginning, but later on it just gets more consistent.

While some of the guest strips were brilliant (See Justin Pierce's 'beat 'em up' guest strip! It had me laughing helplessly), some of them I could have done without.


Overall:
Surprisingly, I liked Dinosaur Comics. I'll admit it wasn't my cup of tea for the first few hundred pages, but it sort of grew on me after a while.

Once you get used to the concept, you stop seeing it as a normal comic, but more like a giant archive of complex, alternate strips. I must add though... some of this stuff is heavy... It tooke me ages to get through the archive because I couldn't read a lot of pages at one sitting because my brain would get overloaded with information that needed to be digested.

It's also an interesting point to note that Dinosaur Comics is the first comic I've come across that succeeds because of, and not in spite of its use of cut-and-paste in the exact same sequences. The predictablity of the layout is what makes the strip memorable. If you changed the page layout, it's just not Dinosaur Comics anymore.

Oh, but they get bonus points for a very cool strip search feature!

Tip: Hover your mouse pointer over the comic image to read the alternate text for an extra punchline!

The Next Leg:
The links page is interesting as it randomly picks three links and their associated link panels and forms them into a 'sort of' link comic. This changes every time you view the page.

Initially I picked Owly, but much to my chargrin, I couldn't find the comic featuring the adorable owl on the site.

Backtracked and picked Creatures in My Head (which looked interesting). And while I was initially wowed by the awesome web design and cuteness of the drawings, realised it wasn't so much of a comic as a collection of artwork featuring various creatures and monsters. (Very cute though)

Backtracked yet again. I was beginning to get a little frustrated at this point, so I just randomly scrolled and clicked the first thing that I came across:

Whoa! It's a small world after all.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Why yes, something might look a little different...

And about time too! That blue tic tac template was beginning to really annoy me.

There's bound to be a few bugs around, so DO let me know if you find any!

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

Stopover at Nahast: So good that I keep visiting the website and refreshing the page!

I remember my first fanmail.

Some of you who have webcomics may hate me for it, but it arrived barely a day or two right after I started The Jaded on... wait for it... my Onetel ISP webspace. I lost the mail long ago due to computer death, but one line in that mail has always remained in my head:
"I like the comic so much I keep visiting the website and refreshing the page, hoping for an early update."

While this may sound like hyperbole to some of you, let me assure you it really happens to people.

Me, for instance. I read a lot of comics, and some I like straight away, some I dislike at first but grow me on as time passes and some I initially like but get disenchanted with after a while.

And sometimes... very rarely... but sometimes, I run into a webcomic that I like so much that when it makes me do what the quote mentions: Keep going back to the site and refreshing the page.

It's sad, I know, but hey... don't any of you dare tell me you haven't ever felt the same way about something at one point in your lives!

Anyway, this happened to me yesterday... The comic that did it?

Nahast: The Lands of Strife


With a line like that, he pretty much had me hooked from first look. Generally I'm not a big fan of fantasy comics that are derivatives of Tolkien (That includes the DnD derivatives), but this just takes the concept and it doesn't just run with it... it soars like a Skrii'qek through the skies of Beldatz!

Alejandro, I'm sorry, but if you noticed an unsual spike in your pageviews yesterday... but yeah, that was me. *shamefaced*


ps: And here something cool... fellow webcomics bloggers Daku and Zampzon are doing something of an Internet Webcomics Talkshow/Podcast. I love the idea and definitely will be listening in every week! (And by some curious coincidence, it covers 4 webcomics I happen to read, and even mentions Keenspace at the end!) Oh and while you're at it, don't forget to check out the rest of the blog!

ps again: I'm almost three thirds of the way through Dinosaur Comics! Yay me!

Monday, January 24, 2005

Stopover at Comixpedia: "The Essence of..." debuts

I'm down with food poisoning, so don't really feel like talking much. Just a quick heads-up to check out Comixpedia for my odd little column-comic: The Essence of....

It was never my intention to start yet another project, but Xerexes tracked me down ;) Initially I wasn't keen on doing more reviews, but then I happened to have a brainwave that I wanted to try out... It should be obvious the first 'Essence' is a prototype, and the later ones will be quite different.

Anyways, YES, I am working on Dinosaur comics, just so you know. I'm about halfway through the archives now, but that archive is HUGE and the nature of the writing does not allow me to whizz through them like I'd be able to with a story comic.

Ok, I shall return to cussing cafeteria operators now.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Hotspot #3: There is no Genre.

This is a follow-up to my previous Hotspot, where I argued that Manga wasn't a genre but a style. Kudos to Malakhim who left an insightful comment that really made me rethink this statement. In fact it caused me to rethink what a 'genre' was exactly.

In times of doubt, the best reference is the dictionary:

Webster defines 'genre' as
1 : a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content
2 : KIND, SORT
3 : painting that depicts scenes or events from everyday life usually realistically

Dictionary.com on the other hand, and describes it as
n.
A type or class: “Emaciated famine victims... on television focused a new genre of attention on the continent” (Helen Kitchen).

A category of artistic composition, as in music or literature, marked by a distinctive style, form, or content: “his six String Quartets... the most important works in the genre since Beethoven's” (Time).

A realistic style of painting that depicts scenes from everyday life.


Pay particular attention to the Dictionary.com definition.

If this is accurate, then it appears I am mistaken. A genre is actually a loose term to refer to either style, form OR content. So if manga is a style, then it is a genre. And if a story is about people in a fantasy land, then it is of the Fantasy genre. So if it's a manga AND in a fantasy, it's Fantasy manga. Sounds about right?

But wait a minute... if we were to follow my earlier analogy, does that mean we can all group crates, fruits and fruit species together and classify them interchangably? (Yes I am being sarcastic here.) Is it just me, or is this a rather poor way of classifying something?

If you had told me a genre was defined by a combination of style/form/content/setting, then it'd make sense. But this really looks to me like genre is simple a loose word substituted for 'story type', 'setting' and 'style'.

...


Which are three separate categories for a reason.

...

Then why is a genre a genre at all?

...

And why are we classifying content with it instead of sticking to the original classifications?

Until I find the answer to what a genre really is, I think I'm going to drop the use of 'genre' from my reviews now on.

So expect to see future Finds being classified by a new system:

Setting and Elements: Fantasy / Sci-fi / Real-life / Surreal ...
Story Type: Adventure / Humour / Parody / Horror / Auto-biographical ...

Art Medium: Digital / Pencils / Inks / Full-Colour / Monochrome / Photo ...
Art Style: Stylised-Cartoony/ Stylised Semi-Realistic/ Realistic ...

Or something like that.

Ow my head.

Friday, January 14, 2005

Stopover at Real Life: Webcomic Proposals must be coming in to fashion...

In case you missed this yesterday:

I think the first time I ever saw an online proposal was when Gabe of Penny Arcade did it.

And while technically Greg Dean didn't do it the same way (proposed first, asked question later) I'm beginning to wonder if a trend is beginning to develop.

Regardless, something to keep in mind for those of you who are dating webcomic artists, since it's something that's highly likely to happen if you're dating one and one of them proposes. ;)


Oh and I forgot. Congratulations to Greg and Liz are in order ;)

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Stopover at Pirate Queen Marianne: Well... how can you NOT like a comic about a smart, spunky, space pirate queen?

This is a relatively new comic I'd just stumbled across. The credit for me actually actually getting around to reading the comic was the spiffy Keenspace newsbox art that caught my eye. There's just something deliciously charming about that stylised artwork:



Check out that mastery of positive/negative space! I'd caught a few glimpses of Stephen Henderson-Grady's (more realistic) artwork before, but this is the first time I've sampled Katie Henderson-Grady's writing. I must say it's promising: mostly light hearted, with some gung-ho action and the occasional (but not overdone) dramatic moment.

There's some slight problems with choppy transitions and unanswered plot holes that may confuse the reader a little in the beginning, but starting from the second chapter things start to smooth out and the art just keeps looking better and better. I'm not sure if they're making full use of infinite canvas just yet, but all in good time I guess.

An interesting aspect of the comic is that it deliberately shuffles the story so it's not told in order. This could either be refreshing to the reader, or it could just plain annoy the conventionals to heck. Either one or other, you might want to decide for yourself.

The navigation could be better handled though. A calendar or comic index would go a long way to help us poor readers who aren't just reading from the beginning to backtrack them pages ;)

It's hasn't started long, and hasn't gone very far... but definitely worth keeping an eye on, this one.

Friday, January 07, 2005

Hotspot #2: I thought Manga was a STYLE, not a Genre.

Just to prove that I'm really back, BAM! Two posts in one day. I can't remember when was the last time THAT happened.

My hotspot topic for today was triggered by a forum post (click on the title for the link). The thread topic was "Manga Versus Everyone Else". As you can guess, it certainly lead to a great deal of discussion... well you can read the topic for yourself. (Don't worry, almost everyone was pretty civil in the discussion.)

Anyway, post discussion, there's something about that discussion that's been really irking me , and I have a shrewd suspicion similar discussions are probably going on everywhere else, I might as well talk about it here.

Is it just me, or are comics being split into, or at least perceived as a few two narrow categories nowadays? You have the traditional comics, which is usually taken to mean the american (and european) super-hero/newspaper humour comics...

...and then you have 'the new japanese wave of comics'. Manga.

Much has been said about Manga. That it will rejuvenate the comics industry. That it will destroy it. I don't care for any of those discussions. I'm sure most of you are sick of all that by now.

What I'm curious is why Manga is being treated as a genre? Maybe it's just my ignorance speaking, but isn't it more of a style? A different style of art? Yes. A different style of storytelling? Yes. A different style of printing and distribution? Yes?

But a genre? Doesn't a genre relate to the type actual content and not just the presentation of the content? Isn't a manga about superheroes technically a super-hero comic?

Yet Manga is considered a genre. Look at the bookshelves in the stores. Oh hell... Let's look at a couple of case studies on the web.

To be fair, categorising all those comics must be a pain, but I can't help but wonder with categories like Gaming /Mature / Fantasy / Sci-Fi why is there one specifically for 'Manga'? Isn't it more relevant to dock the manga according to whether the story is 'fantasy' or 'sci-fi'?

I thought The Park and Barb Show's take on manga was quite interesting. The last part is particularly true, and I'm sure we all know of people who 'do' manga because they think it's going to be more popular or somehow 'better'. Or certain shows who ape the manga/anime look to make it more palatable to the 'modern day audiences' *cough*teentitans*cough*.

Personally I thought the reason good manga is good is not because it was manga, but because... you know... the story was good. Personally, all the mangas I've liked so far I've liked because the subject matter was different. The genres the stories are based on are varied and in most cases, new and refreshing to me. Not because they're drawn with big eyes and small mouths (In fact I'm not a big fan of the manga art style. I like certain mangas despite their art style, because the stories are good, not because they are drawn in a certain way).

Think about it. When I think of traditional american comics, the first thing that jumps to mind is spandex-covered superheroes and/or Tolkien-esque fantasy comics with a motley bunch of heroes on a quest. Next comes humour and slice-of-life comics like Garfield or Calvin and Hobbes or Dilbert and all that stuff.

But when I think manga, no single genre dominates the style. Giant mechas in space? Modern day witches and enchanted swords? Samurai and nuns with guns? There doesn't seem to be a limit to the possibilites of what genre you set your story in.

You know, maybe what we readers really want in comics is new stories in different genres, not new ways of drawing same old goddamn stories.

So let's stop treating manga as a genre already, people. It's not even comparing apples and oranges.

It's comparing the apples and the bloody crate the apples came in.

21st Leg: Elsie Hooper

Firstly, welcome to the New Year!

Secondly... enough waffling already! Let's get down to business and find some webcomics!



Comic: Elsie Hooper
By: Robert D. Krzykowski

Genre and Setting: Survival Horror, Modern Day, Apocalyptic

Art Style: Heavily-stylized realistic, Greyscale (heavy blacks), newspaper strip format

Is About: A young girl named Elsie Hooper, who has been taken by the shadowmen. Elder brother and guardian Ridley isn't about to let them get away with it, and wages a war in the deserted town of Campbell falls. Deserted, except for the hordes of shadowmen bent on stopping him.

Website: http://www.elsiehooper.com
Frequency: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays (Has been rather irregular lately)
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
I think it was the front page banner that did it. You have these two omnious figures standing in a shaft of light. And one of them is carrying a chainsaw.

A chainsaw. If that doesn't set the mood for the comic, nothing does.

As should be expected (and probably appropriate) the website is dark and minimalistic. Nothing fancy, but I don't think anything more is needed, really.


The Concept:
It's the classic survival horror situation: You run through your hometown, which is devoid of people and is now overrun by a) Undead (zombies) b) Monsters c) Aliens. When push comes to shove, even a mild-mannered character is going to find some way to fight back. Ridley Hooper does.

The premise for Elsie Hooper follows the classic approach, and is none the worse for it. It's certainly a nice twist that you're never sure what "they" (the shadowmen) are, or what happened to all the people, except that they are all certainly gone. There's more underneath the surface that has only been hinted at, something apocalyptic, we we'll see soon enough where that goes


The Art:
While at first glance it looks deceptively simple, it's actually quite detailed. The style definitely suits the comic matter, and serves to enhance the 'horror' feel. Robert also make liberal use of splatter effects.

One thing's for certain, you can't possibly mistake Robert's style for anyone else's. The style of drawing the eyes take some getting used to, but it works.

I should also mention that there's some great experimentation done on the newspaper strip format.

All in all, I like the art, and I do the like the distinctiveness of the style.


The Writing:
It's obvious the author has a good grasp of storytelling techniques.

The action scenes are excellently done. Conveying action in a comic is very difficult (I should know) but the action scenes in Elsie Hooper are exceptionally well done.

Not only is the flow of action very easy to follow, but it manages to do something many action comics fail to do: have a lot of action yet not make it boring. It pulls the reader into the thick of the fray, and for a moment, you are there. You can feel the fear when the shadowmen surround the characters. You can sense the animal rage when the characters fight for their very survival. You feel the terror and despair of the characters when they hit setback after setback. And the constant knowledge that more of them are coming.

Another thing worthy mentioning is how subtle and efficient Roberts can be sometimes. Here for example, one of the characters tells of the events that happened to him before meeting up with the main characters, not only does he relate some events that are important to the story, but he also gives some nice backstory on Ridley's parents. (A good example: Ridley's father was a fireman killed in action, but the author manages to convey this to the audience without directly saying so).

I've gotta learn how to do that one.


Problems:
One thing that annoyed me the most after reading Elsie Hooper is that as enjoyable as the story is while you're reading it, once you're done you realise that despite the large archives, not much of real substance has really happened in the story. There's a lot of action. And more action. And it's good action... but at the end of each chapter the plot advancement has gravitated perhaps two inches from where it was at the beginning of the chapter.

Which is a pity. There's a very intriguing story in Elsie Hooper that's still waiting to break out, but has been supressed in favour of action. and while action is all very well, there is such a thing as 'too much of a good thing'.

This might not seem like a big 'problem' in your eyes, but in all honesty, if the pacing continues to be this slow, I'm beginning to doubt I will ever see the end of this story. In my experience, good comics that die before reaching their ending tend to be of this type; the slow pacing kills them eventually as the creator's attention tends to wander off. And if I think a comic will never finish, I'm not likely to continue reading it, because goddamnit I want to know the ending!.

I hope I'm wrong. I really do. But I wouldn't be surprised if I were right.


Overall:
Elsie Hooper has lots of fast-paced interesting action and a great concept. Normally I'd give it a glowing review, if not for the knowledge that the story pacing is problematic, and there's the great possibility that this comic might not ever finish. I had a great time reading it, but after finishing I found it frustrating.

Don't let the opinion of this blogger keep you from reading it, though...


The Next Leg:
Maybe it's just me, but I can't seem to find a links page with webcomic links in it.

You know what this means: BACKTRACK!

I don't know why, but I chose Dinosaur Comics. Maybe it's because I remember it being mentioned about in websnark before, or maybe it's not something I'm likely to read otherwise...

Although that might be because I have a slight phobia of dinosaurs. Now I bet that's something about me that you didn't know.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

Memorial: Will Eisner

The news should be breaking out all over the 'Net. A Legend has passed.

For some one like me who has relative ignorance of the comic book industry, I have to admit that I know very little of Will Eisner in comparison (actually the little I know probably comes from Barb-Lien Cooper's references to him in her writings), but I've always found that the things he said always seemed to make bloody good sense.

And such people are all too rare. I dare say he'll be missed.