Friday, April 29, 2005

Stopover at Golden: The Opening of Pundora's Box

Some of you might be aware I'm currently involved in a multiple creator round-robin style webcomic project called Golden. Recently, it was my turn to carry on the story, so I had to rack my brains for an idea. Not being particularly good at humour (unlike the others on the project, who simply scintillate at this), I was willing to make use of anything that I could think of.

Punnery is for some odd reason, considered one of the lowest forms of humour available. If that's the case, then I must be the lowest of the low, because noting that the theme centered around birds, I produced this page. (Warning: Read this at your own risk. It's probably going to hurt)

It wasn't the first time my eccentric knowledge of ornithology stood me in good stead, but what I didn't realise was that by doing this, I pretty much declared open season on bird puns. Witness the following from Golden's Shoutbox:

moshunter: Owl owl my sides are hurting from laughing! Unexpected tern indeedy.
Komiyan: Oh man... Ping, you will be executed for crimes against punnery
Aja: That makes two penguin-related comics with a bird pun in the same day. (See link.)
Phalanx: De: *bows* Why, thank you! Aja: Ooh! I missed out on that particular bird pun...
Phalanx: I could have fitted it in really easily too! "The Fowl Forces of King Tuckiderby"....
Aja: No worries. It's already very emu-zing. **ducks**
Colby: Is there such a thing as "death by puns"?...
Phalanx: Quail-ly, yes. *rimshot*
Aja: Eh, there are worse ways to go. I wouldn't grouse about it.


Not to crow about it or anything, but when the comments are funnier than the comic itself, you know Pundora's Box has been opened indeed...

Personally I have spent far too much time laughing at this (And Aja's witty comebacks). You might knot agree with me, but bird puns rock.


...


Ok, I'll stop now.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Stopover at Scarecrow: Kids Nowadays Get the Darndest Things

I came across an interesting comment the other day, where a creator was vehemently insisting her work was not created "for kids". Somehow, the phrase struck me as odd, because when I think of my favourite books and films, I realised that a startling percentage of them seem to consist of material people tend to foolishly classify as "For Children".

One gets the gist of what they mean, of course. After all "Does not contain graphic violence, sexual situations and profanity" doesn't quite have the same ring. Still, "For Children" is a rather demeaning label. No wonder the film industry dropped that and started classifying stuff as "U - Suitable for All Audiences".

One thing I particularly dislike about classifying any kind of material for any kind of target group is that often psychologically excludes anyone not of the said target audience, to the point that they sometimes feel guilty reading it. In fact, it's a private theory of mine that many parents actually do enjoy watching childrens shows and reading childrens books on their own merit. They just wouldn't be caught dead doing so without the kid at hand to explain that they were 'supervising' and 'reading it to them'.

Me, I'm a sucker for children's books, because the majority of them seem to exhibit a lot more originality than stuff "For Adults". I've always believed that creativity can flourish surprisingly well under restrictive circumstances, and when you take away the easiest ways of amusing and audience (Violence, sexual innuendo, etc) creators are forced to explore different routes and find more creative ways of making a story interesting. And when people explore, people tend to end up experimenting more and rehashing old and well-worn concepts less.

Which brings us to my latest Find, Scarecrow:



Scarecrow is a young webcomic, and feels like something in-between a comic and a children's book, and while it has not proceeded very far yet, I already find it a very appealing. The mix of narrative styles and the "children's book" type illustration stands out in a field (No pun intended. I swear!) that seems to be dominated by ASHCB (American Super-Hero Comic Book) style and manga.

While nowhere on the site indicates it's 'for children', the style is very suggestive of that particular target audience. And other than the slight Messianic element to it, I have very little difficulty imagining any parent reading not thinking it would make great reading material to get their kids to start reading more.

I've often wondered why so few of the webcomics online seem to be written with an all-ages, but in particular, younger-ages audience in mind. Count Your Sheep is one, but I can't seem to think of any others. Ok, so webcomics are partially the rebellious progeny of the all-ages friendly newspaper comic, which according to some, nowadays apparently consists of the driest, most humourless stuff that can be found printed on dead trees. And like most rebels, the tendency has always been to push the limits in the opposite direction just because we can.

The question is: just because we can, must we do it all the time? Some things are like Infinite Canvas, where overuse of one often results in it getting old pretty quickly. For me at least, the novelty of webcomic freedom wore off long ago. Ironically, writing a webcomic for kids is probably tantamount to rebelling in the rebellion.

And all I can say to that is: Long live the Rebellion!




Incidentally, if you know of any other comics like the above, the comments section is now there, I'd love to hear of them.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Stopover at Count Your Sheep: Oddly approriate timing...

I'm a humongous Count Your Sheep fan. (Or Sheepheads, as some people call them). I was nuts about CYS back when it started, I'm still nuts about CYS now.

Now though CYS it deals a lot in nostalgic innocence and heart-warming moments, it's also a humour strip. And like most people who make humour strips know very well, it's hard coming up with a funny joke every day. I'm not sure I could do it, I have tremendous respect for those who try.

Humour strips are generally hit-or-miss affairs. Some days you get stuff that's so-and-so, and on other you get stuff that makes you laugh so hard you fall of your chair. CYS is no exception, but Adis has been on a roll lately, I really wanted to point out a couple of noteworthy strips:

Firstly, I really like the artistic experiment Adis tried with the background on this strip. It just works really well.

Secondly, there's last weeks Bruised Purgatory strip, which was responsible for a peal of very hysterical laughter from my room startling everyone in the vicinity. I use that particular phrase a lot myself, so it really strikes a chord. I wonder what people would think if I started using the other alternative? ;)

And then there's today's one-paneller:



With all the feminism talk lately, that was uncanny.

That just about sums it, really. The reason why I like CYS so much is that on a day of madness, it can still make me laugh.

Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Stopover at Comixpedia Again: More on Women Issues

I should have pointed it out yesterday, but this week's installment of Comixpedia is up. There's an awesome 'interview' with Andreal Peterson of No Rest of the Wicked (You remember I stumbled across it some time ago?), an intriguing set of gender statistics by Erik Melander and Eric Burns' honest but possibly incendiary observation on GirlAMatic.

(Okay, you can shoot me now for lame pun on the last one)

I should mention there are some rather strong reactions in the dissertations in the comments commentary, so if you're the sensitive sort, you might want to avoid those. If you're up for it though, some of them have rather interesting 'discussions' about feminism and sexism and all that.

Feel free to comment and discuss, but if you do, please do comment wisely, don't flame and keep your head or you'll lose it. ;)

Friday, April 15, 2005

30th Leg: Private Eye Butterfly

If you recall, I had that vote up on the last leg, and the votes for Private Eye Butterfly pretty much squashed the competition. Desert Rocks came in second and Super Hero Vindibudd third.

So by reader request, Private Eye Butterfly it is!




Comic: Private Eye Butterfly
By: Richard Stevens

Setting and Elements: Urban city, Anthromophic World (insects), Noir
Content Type: Mystery, Action/Adventure

Art Medium: Inks, Digital Colouring
Art Style: Cartoony, Stylised

Is About: Peb Casey, a private-eye butterfly in a city of spiders. He's got the case of his career on his hands, but his client's been kidnapped before she can tell him why.


Website: http://www.users.bigpond.com/toonerfish/peb.html
Frequency: Weekly, Sunday
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The website design is simple yet elegant, and suits the comic like a glove. I've often thought that comics with good artwork work best with comparatively simple designs. After all, you don't want the reader's attention being drawn away from the work in question, would you? Sometimes people forget that the website is there to showcase the work, not overpower it. So oh-and-ah Flash animations may be initially cool, but most of them wear thin after a while if not done propoerly.

The art style looks intriguing. Typical noir colouring and setting, but what you quickly realise is that instead of humans we get anthropomorphic insects, which makes the whole thing a little more interesting. I've always liked anthropomorphic insects in stories, especially as people don't seem to pay much attention to them in comics... most of the anthropomorphic stuff I see seem to involve cats or furry mammals or seem to be done without much idea of what the original animal acts like. More on that later.


The Concept:
The concept of the noir detective comic has never been one about originality or wildly different beginnings, but more of how many spins you can put on the same old nostalgic concept. They're kind of like musicals or plays, where you don't watch them primarily for the story. Goodness no... it's all about execution, interpretation and what it can add to the tried-and-tested formula and how well those changes work.

Private Eye Butterfly is a prime example of this genre, and follows the time-honoured tradition of the down-on-his-luck, trenchcoat-and-fedora-wearing private-eye/detective who stumbles across a big case only to have his beautiful client kidnapped before he can get the full details.

I've lost count of how many takes people have made of this genre, whether in books or comics or films. As should be obvious, the main spin Richard Stevens uses on this comic is the anthropomorphic angle of the characters as insects. While not a particularly new spin (I distinctly remember many others doing the same thing, where the characters were animals or even fish.) it doesn't take away from the charm of concept. While not exactly original, it still promises some measure of interest depending on how the story is carried out.


The Art:
The Art for Private Eye Butterfly scores an instant point for distinctiveness. Of course, it's not every day that you see anthropomorphic insect characters (Aw, who I am kidding? It's not like two 3D animation films of the same didn't pop up almost on top of each other a few years ago!). Back to the topic, animal anthropomophism, and those dealing with insects to boot, is something that's particularly difficult to do well. Sometimes you get something appealing, and sometimes you get something that makes you go: "Oh my god what the bloody hell were they thinking?!" that doesn't work out quite so well.

As far as I can tell, Private Eye Butterfly seems to be doing this pretty well. The characters are distinctly human-like enough for the reader to tell what they are, but instectoid enough that they don't lose the attributes of the insects they're supposed to be. My biggest beef with them has been when they sway towards the former more than the latter, and you get the impression that you're watching a masquerade of humans in animal suits.



I should also mention the nice colourwork and the detailed backgrounds. Those two combined make a good job of making the comic feel dark and atmospheric.


The Writing:

To be honest, there's not enough here for me to make a fair assessment of the writing yet, so I'm going by components.

Plot-wise, nothing stellar has happened yet. The story follows standard noir mystery: Private Eye stumbles on big case, but his lady client gets kidnapped before the full details come out. Now he has to track down the persons responsible and rescue the client.

While the plot's nothing impressive so far, there has been some very good fleshing out of it. Instead of blindly following the story, the creator has taken pains to include lots of little whimsical touches that culmulate into a favourable impression of the world. There are lots of little jokes and details that really help the characterisation and the world-building.

Like most anthropomorphic work often is, characters are potrayed by their insectoid stereotypes. A particularly nice touch were the differing sizes and insect variety, but the thing I was more impressed with was that the writer actually bothered to do their research on the insects types and their habits. So far the character designs seem to suit their purposes, so all is good there.

The dialogue also deserves mention, since pains have been taken to give individuals their own speaking style. I also like the characters themselves, who are easily dinstinct and likable and have been given a bit of twist out of their stereotypes.


Problems:
No real problems, other than the fact that the story's barely started and what I've seen so far doesn't particularly jump out. I few people might find it a little cliched at the beginning, but I think that's probably the point.

Overall:
I was genuinely disappointed that there weren't more pages when I got to the end of the archives, which is always a good indicator of whether I liked a comic or not. (If I were to be relieved, now that would be a bad sign).

Private Eye Butterfly is definitely an engaging read. The concept may not be exactly original, but the execution is excellent.

You might not like it if you're not into noir mystery, but a mystery buff will definitely find this worth checking out.

Me? I'll be keeping an eye on this one.


The Next Leg:
Surprise, surprise! Instead of picking a link from here, I'm sidetracking to Super Hero Vindibudd! I might also stopover at Desert Rocks on the way.

Yes, I'm greedy. You don't have to tell me ;)

Monday, April 11, 2005

Stopover at Comixpedia: Invading comics with collective uteri

Joking. ;)

But there's one debatable column here, and here's Wed's report on the UK Web and Mini Comics thing, done in the form of a photo-comic. It does have a picture of me drawing the 24minute comic, which I didn't manage to get for obvious reasons.

Note: Private Eye Butterfly seems to have won the vote by a rather large margin, so that should be next leg.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Hotspot #8: Creation and Evaluation, and Why One Does NOT Necessarily Imply the Other

Now, the original title for this hotspot was:

Hotspot #8: Creation and Evaluation: What they are, and Why One Does NOT Necessarily Imply the Other, and Why We Should All Learn to Tell them Goddamn Apart!

Which should pretty much give you a good idea of what I'm going to cover in today's topic: Creation and Evaluation.

When put in this context, few people ever seem to have trouble telling Creation from Evaluation. Distilled to its simplest essence, one pertains to the making of a product, and the other pertains to the evaluation (or if you like, criticism) of that same product.

cre·a·tion
Pronunciation: krE-'A-sh&n
Function: noun
1 : the act of creating; especially : the act of bringing the world into ordered existence
2 : the act of making, inventing, or producing: as a : the act of investing with a new rank or office b : the first representation of a dramatic role
3 : something that is created : as a : WORLD b : creatures singly or in aggregate c : an original work of art d : a new usually striking article of clothing


eval·u·ate
Pronunciation: i-'val-y&-"wAt
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): -at·ed; -at·ing
Etymology: back-formation from evaluation
1 : to determine or fix the value of
2 : to determine the significance, worth, or condition of usually by careful appraisal and study


Main Entry: crit·i·cism
Pronunciation: 'kri-t&-"si-z&m
Function: noun
1 a : the act of criticizing usually unfavorably b : a critical observation or remark c : CRITIQUE
2 : the art of evaluating or analyzing works of art or literature
3 : the scientific investigation of literary documents (as the Bible) in regard to such matters as origin, text, composition, or history


From Merriam-Webster Online

Now that we have our definitions down pat, what I want to know is:

When it comes to reviews and criticism, Why do so many people seem to believe someone must have the qualification of a creator to have the qualification of an evaluator?

What's that you say? "Because someone who has done that something before likely knows what they're talking about?"

True sometimes, but not always. You see, if a creator is good, s/he IS more likely to know how to evaluate work, but I'm of the opinion that the reason s/he is a good creator is because s/he knows how to evaluate work in the first place.

Think about it. Most wine-makers and chefs have good palates and senses of smell to give them feedback on how well their creations are doing. Pilots need very good eyesight. Musicians need a sense of tone, rythmn and pitch (ok, that very last one is debatable with the current state of the music scene, maybe).

But my point is, without the necessary senses to detect how good/bad something is, how can a creator tell when something goes wrong and s/he has too go about correcting it? Bereft of the ability to evaluate and work from feedback, most creators would be reduced to following a set of proven formulae for success and hoping ferverently it pays off. Sometimes it pays off. And sometimes it doesn't and s/he ends up with something like those crappy summer blockbuster turkeys everyone shakes their heads about.

In my eyes, a (good) creator is a critic who learned how to do (Or if you prefer, a creator who learnt how to critque). Does that mean that a critic has to know how to create to learn how to evaluate?

I think not. I wouldn't expect the most of you to know how to run a farm and raise cattle. I wouldn't expect most of you to know how to slaughter a cow and butcher it. I would expect some of you (but not all) to know how to tell a joint of good fresh meat from one that's been soaked in water, frozen for two months, and then thawed and left for a few days. I would think that a few of you would probably know how to cook a steak too.

But I'm pretty damn sure most of you will know a good steak when you eat one.

(Unless you're vegetarian, then substitute meat in the analogy with something else, please.)

So taking it out of the analogy, I think most people, regardless of whether they're chef or rancher or webcomic creator, will know something they like (and thus perceive it to be good) when they see it.

Now explaining why that thing they like is good is another thing altogether. Back to the steak analogy, a bad critic would be the guy who goes: "Gee... that tasted sorta good, I guess.". The good critic on the other hand, is someone who can tell you about the firmness and texture of the meat, the sweetness of the flavours, whether the meat is dry or moist, whether the seasoning overpowers the taste of the steak or complements it.

Supposing we have such a person who can do this, does s/he REALLY need to know about the difference between cattle breeds, or slaughtering techniques or whether the technique of searing meat before grilling it makes for a better steak to be 'qualified' to give an opinion on how the steak tastes!?

I think not. All s/he needs is a set of good senses (tastebuds in this case) and a working brain.

So Creation is NOT Evaluation.

Oh, Creation involves Evaluation.

But Evaluation does not necessarily require Creation.

And so everyone has the right to an opinion.

Now without a good solid explanation to back it up, how much that opinion is worth is up to interpretation. If you're Scott McCloud or Derek Kirk Kim with a proven track record, most people would be willing to take your word for it based on the virtue of reputation alone, since they're confident that on request you can produce good explanations to the wherefore and why.

But if Joe Schmoe too can produce good explanations to the wherefore and why, why should his opinion be any less valid than Scott McCloud's?



Logically, it shouldn't be. It's the logic behind the argument that counts.

The accuracy of a statement doesn't change no matter who says it.

So next time if you disagree, try focusing on the message instead. It'll probably work a lot better than shooting the messenger.

Friday, April 08, 2005

Stopover at Golden: Long Live Shameless Self-Promotion!

I briefly considered announcing the existence of this (no longer) top-secret project on April Fool's Day, but the timing wasn't right and it wouldn't have been much of a joke anyway.

But now that we've finished an iteration, I can finally get to the shameless plug... I've recently had to make an iron-cast pledge not to take up any more comics projects, leading to me having to reject a lot of other stuff I would have loved to try my hand on.

Unfortunately, this vow lasted until Colby Purcell came up with this fun idea of a comic jam of fairy-tale proportions.

Literally.



It's said that seven heads are better than one. When six of those seven heads consist of my favourite webcomic artists:
Colby Purcell of LinT
J. Harper of Feyenne
Zachary Parker of Flatwood
Aja of True Magic
Komiyan of Darken
Andrael of No Rest For The Wicked


How can I say no?!


Now who wants to bet how long my renewed vow to not get involved in any more projects lasts this time around?

Tuesday, April 05, 2005

29th Leg: Storm Corps




Comic: Storm Corps
By: Chester "Chet" Lucero

Setting and Elements: Earth, Futuristic, Space and Sky-travel
Content Type: Action/Adventure, Sci-Fi, Mystery

Art Medium: Drawn, Inked and Digitalled coloured.
Art Style: Disney-esque, Semi-realistic

Is About: The crew of StormCorps weathership Terra Thunder, who in the battle to control the fierce skies, face internal intrigues and sky-pirates as well.

Website: http://www.stormcorps.com/
Frequency: Weekly
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The website design is nice, compact and clean. Colour choice is kind to the eye. Very nice, and helps draw focus to the attractive art. Very efficient navigation too!

It may sound silly, but from the point of view of a first-time reader, the "Story starts here!" sign is VERY helpful. I've always liked being able to jump right in at the beginning, nothing as irritating as having to HUNT for the first or going backward through the archives.

The practice of having every page of the comic available via quick links from every page in the archive is also very handy. In terms of user-friendliness, StormCorps already scores a major point.


The Concept:
There is definitely a lot of originality inherent in the comic. The idea of the controlling the weather (which is by nature unpredicatable) to survive is very appealing, even if the explanations of how they did this were rather vague. Add more so to the idea of the other planet where things seem to take on a mythical feel.


The Art:
The first word that comes to mind for the Stormcorps art is "Disney-style". The art in the beginning is a bit shifty in terms of porportions, but improves greatly, and by the current chapter, is nicely consistent.

The comic has capital airbrushed-looking colouring, and the artist's work on mechanical elements (airships and machinery) is to die for. Being a person who can't draw machinery well, I can particularly appreciate how good Chet is with his technical drawings. Page layouts and cinematography is excellent and varied, and the background-work is beautifully detailed.

Chet also seems to be able to draw very attractive characters without resorting to being gratitiously sexy. Unfortunately, there does seem to be this issue where most of the male and female human characters seem to share the exact same ideal body types and faces, with differences only in clothing and hairstyles. On some of the facial close-ups I had trouble telling one character from another.

The other issue is the lack of expression variety. Expressions seem to be fixed in a permanent smile, even in situations when smiling seems rather out-of-place. There's the occasional 'mildly alarmed' and 'smirk', but it always seems to default to the same smiley expression again. This really does make many of the scenes feel posed and unnatural.


The Writing:
The story begins with a prologue which give a lot of background and history on the world and setting. Some people dislike these kind of prologue because they generally feel a little info-dumpish, but I didn't mind this one. It was a little long and did drag on for a bit too much, but it was well-done otherwise. It was a fairly good introduction, although it looks like it was done after the completion of chapter one.

The first chapter opens in splendid action style, StormCorp ship Terra Thunder spots a mysterious ship in an area it should not be. On closer inspection, one of the crew spots a man being thrown-off the deck of the mysterious ship, which turns out to be a hijacked military ship.

From then on, the story gets more and more interesting. There's a lot of intrigue and good action involved, and it really does pull the reader into the thick of it with cool cinematography.

Although the story focuses on action there were a few hilarious scenes as well. That particular example appealed a lot to me because it happens to me too ;) However, the humour does takes a back seat to the story.


Problems:
Something I must mention though... although the story flow was interesting, something was nagging me throughout the reading of the archives. It's very difficult to put my finger on what it was that distubed me, but the closest I can get to it is the plot is illogical in many places. There are some very nice plot-point and twists throughout, but a lot of other things just don't seem to make sense even though the creator takes a crack at explaining it (and I'm not talking about technical details, here). The story as a result sometimes feels like a very forced and pre-selected sequence of scenes, with a far too many coincidences and engineered plot-points holding them together.

To add to this is the behaviour of the characters, which really puzzles me. The characterisation is excellent, and with many nice little human touches. In regards to their behaviour towards the plot though, 'unnatural' would be the best word to describe the state of things. For example, the reaction of the character "May" appears to be a very strong-willed and loyal, but on discovering that one of her former crew-mates is taking up with pirates and betraying his former organisation, not only does she not do anything other than demanding a few questions, she doesn't do anything about it.

Characters also seem to be almost eternally good-tempered and unperturbed even after the aftermath of events that would plunge a lot of people into depression or at least a spot of traumatic shock.

All in all, these are very subtle details, and I highly doubt most of the people reading Stormcorps will find this a problem if they even notice it at all.

To me however, although good, there's just that intangible something about that just doesn't feel right about Stormcorps that suspension of disbelief can't quite cure.


Overall:
Stormcorps is a comic with excellent art and interesting (even if not very convincing) storyline. It's a good read, but there's just that something not-quite right with it that keeps it from greatness. Nevertheless, it's worth checking out, and some of you might end up disagreeing with me and my gut feelings ;)


The Next Leg:
I feel a bit whimsical today, so for once I'm not going to pick a next leg. Instead I'm going to point out that this is the Storm Corps links page. For this leg I'm letting you guys decide where I go next.

Most of the comics listed seem to be quite popular already, and a fairish number of them (Lovarian Adventures, Eidolic Fringe, Cascadia, Timescapes, Magellan, D101, Mindmistress, Bolt City/Copper) are already on my read (and used-to-read-when-they-updated) list. I'm giving precedence to comic picks that I haven't read yet, but if no one suggests one of those I have no objection going over any of the mentioned.

So pick a link!

Monday, April 04, 2005

Stopover at Keenspace Monthly: Renaming?! I'll be darned... they didn't forget after all!



I was in the thick in the middle of it several months ago, and now here we are again... Is Keenspace finally going to be rechristened to something less confusing?

I've already written reams about my reasons for pushing for it, so I'm not going to do it again here other than stating "It would beneficial to most parties concerned".

I do hope that whatever name The Fab Four do choose though, it'll be a good one. (Personally I like Inkspace, but that's just me...)


Anyway, a thumbs-up to Woodson "Chibiartstudios" Baldwin for the article, and cheers to Gav for the response.