Thursday, March 03, 2005

25th Leg: Ascent

Comic: Ascent
By: Sylvan Migdal

Setting and Elements: Fantasy World, Magic, Wartime
Content Type: Story, Humour, Satire

Art Medium: Digital, Infinite Canvas
Art Style: Stylised Cartoony, Thick lines, Limited Colour Palatte

Is About: A world set in a war with a mysterious tower no one seems to be able to ascend. A young mage in training named Prrn meets a young rebel named Oä, and begins to doubt everything he believed to be his life.

Frequency: Every Monday
Availability: Latest Episode Free. Archives Graphic Smash Subscription ($2.95 per month)

First Impressions and Presentation:
I remember Ascent started around the time I was recruited into Graphic Smash. That was shortly after Sylvan ended his old comic Mnemesis and so I actually had privilege of following Ascent from the very first strip.

Now this is the point where the more cynical of you will expect me to start extolling about how wonderful I found it from page one and how much I liked it blah blah blah. Well, if that was indeed your expectation, then this is the point where you would be wrong.

There are some comics that manage to hook me from the first few pages... (The Tenth Life of Pishio the Cat is one of them) And though I really really like Sylvan Migdal as a person, I'm loathe to admit that for me, Ascent did not seem to click no matter how I tried. I followed Ascent for about its first two months... but for some reason I didn't seem to be able get into the story, and in fact, I eventually felt so lost in it, I gave up and removed it from my bookmarks.

I haven't read the comic since then, so this will be my second go at it. Lets see if the presence of a now-substantial archive can change my mind.

The Concept:
Being a Sylvan Migdal production, the one thing you'll definitely want to expect is originality. And in that aspect, Ascent does not disappoint.

If you're tired of the usual offering of Tolkien-nesque elf and halfling and merry band of adventurers kind of fantasy story, this will definitely bring you that breath of fresh air you'll be hoping for. The world setting is original, intricate and quirky, deceptively simple yet with layers of depth beneath the apparent simplicity. Think Animal Farm. At first glance it looks like a simple fantasy world. Look closer and you realise a lot of it mirrors and satirises our own.

The Art:
The first thing you'll probably think is that it's, well... Blue.

Ascent is the second comic I've know of that uses only a narrow colour palette of blues for everything in the comic. (The other is the ever-endearing Count Your Sheep by Adrian Ramos). All this said, unlike CYS, the overall feeling you get isn't a comic that's been drawn and coloured blue. Instead you think this is more of a comic drawn in a lot of blue and white on black. I'm not sure if that makes sense, but this is really something you need to see for yourself to understand.

The art style is the same distinctive style readers will recognise from Mnemesis. It's a little hard to describe. The best I can say is it encompasses a lot of flat colours, think lines and melting blacks. The shapes are generally angular and geometric and lends itself very well to animation, which it does make use of quite subtly and cleverly.

I should also mention the fact that Ascent is obviously designed with infinite canvas in mind. And unlike at lot of the infinite canvas dabblers, it works. I see this mainly as because he sticks to only one canvas direction that feels natural, and doesn't try to be too ambitious with the 'wow' special effects. Once again 'subtle' is the keyword here.

One last thing I want to mention is the interesting use of patterns in this comic, particularly in the backgrounds. I've mentioned that the comic is mainly drawn in flat and solid colours: And interesting thing is that the backgrounds are usually pattern-filled to make the flast stand out... and sometimes they're filled with patterns that a normal person would never think of using. I'm mostly surprised at the frequent use of floral pattern fills for city scapes and they somehow work so well you never think about them.

The Writing:
The story revolves around Prrn, the young wizard in training, who finds his everything he believes in challenged after meeting Oä, a young girl orphaned by wizards in the ongoing war.

Slapstick humour and satire is liberally sprinkled throughout, and some of it is just side-splittingly funny (Outlawing menstruation and the 'Friend Zone', for example). The dialogue is generally witty and sparks. The characters are as interesting as their naming conventions (Males can have only consonants and women vowels) and Sylvan does a convincing job of creating an original world.

The story seems interesting, but the irritating part is that we seem to have barely gotten started yet, and although it's presented some interesting plot twists and endearing moments, I can't think of anything I'd like to particularly comment about it, other than...

There is a lot of complexity in the plotlines, sometimes so much I can still see why I got lost and dropped the story the first time I read it. I think the thing that bothers me the most about Ascent is that there doesn't seem to be much sense of closure. To explain what I mean, the story just goes on and on, which isn't a bad thing but there seems to be a lot of build-up to something big coming up in the comic soon. To reference Srdjan Achimovich's story tutorials, the content of Ascent so far seem to be straight 'rising action', without the breaking into shorter episodes to make the story easier to follow. The problem is, the build-up does seem to be taking a long time and this can be frustrating to a reader after a while.

I'm happy to report my second reading of Ascent more favourable than my initial impression. The presence of the archive does make a lot more sense of the whole story (and I actually know why Ascent is called Ascent now). It still doesn't click with me 100%, but I do find myself liking it and surprised I dropped it in the first place.

This brings to bear an interesting question... would it actually be better to start a comic with a fair-size archive immediately and continue from there rather than the slow release of pages from day one?

Oh, and those jubbers are cute!

The Next Leg:
This actually came from the blog rather than the links page, but I figure it counts:

A Lesson is Learned, but the Damage is Irreversible


  1. erg. Sorry about this, but it clearly wasn't just a typo so I had so say something - it's Sylvan, not Slyvan.

    Carry on!

  2. Damnit. That'll teach me to blog late into the night...

  3. subscriptionless when i first started reading ascent (probably around page 25(?)), i found i couldn't crack what it was about at all... but subscriptioned up and reading from the start was a great revelation - i found i enjoyed the set-up immensely and was a little disappointed when i got back to that 25th page cos i knew it was back to one page a week... but it's working for me and i'm looking forward to how it all pans out.