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.

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.

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.

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 ;)

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