Monday, July 25, 2005

Webcomic Prints #1: Alpha Shade Chapter One

I actually wrote and finished this review over two months ago. However, by some accursed misfortune, my first attempt got eaten by Blogger, and I stupidly did not save a copy. Frustrated, I wrote up the same review a second time, posted it, and found to my horror, half of it got eaten by blogger again. And like the idiot I was, I forgot to save the article again.

Ever since then, with interruptions in real-life, I've been having a hard time finding the motivation to rewrite something I've already done TWICE, but I really needed to get this off my chest. I really must apologise to the Brundlos brothers for having the review so late, though. -Ping



There have been rather heated arguments about the usefulness of webcomic reviews. Some people love reading them, while others question the usefulness of reviewing something that is (mostly) available for free. The arguments for and against often run from the profound to the ludicrous, but since you're reading this blog, I'm guess you're more likely to be a "for" than "against".

Personally I think time is a precious commodity, and for the casual reader, it's simply more fun and less tedious to read the description of a comic from a review and then checking it out instead of trawling webcomic directories for a hit. (Mind you, there's a difference between someone taking the time to discuss a comic seriously, and some attention-seeking kid who thinks that bashing a comic is a great way to boost thy ego). However, if we were to take credence in the argument that webcomic reviews are not useful because they usually don't cost money to read, then pay comics and webcomics going into print should be the focus of webcomic reviews.

Over the last few months, I've had a lot of people ask me to critique/review them on Webcomic Finds. And I'm sorry to say I've yet to fulfil any of those requests. Not because I don't want to, but with so many requests, it's a bit difficult to decide how to prioritise them. Ironically it was the "against webcomic reviews because they are free" argument that handed me my solution.

Webcomics are free... part of the reason they are free is because of the existence of free hosting space. Don't worry, I'm not going to start talking about the importance of Keenspace... Eric Burns has done it already. But the point is, because the creator needs not invest too much money (other than the internet connection fee) for the distribution of the comic, they can afford to let people read their comic for free.

However, when it comes to printing comics, it's a rather big blow to the pocket. Check out the prices for printing a comic book. This can come as a shock, especially if you've been used to webcomics and not needing a capital to invest before you do something. Yes, if you have a comic that's moderately popular you probably can keep yourself afloat with ads and merchandising in the long run, but first you need the capital to start off with until you earn what you invested back.

Now here comes the part where Ping stops blathering and starts getting to the point. Right... requested reviews. From now on I'm going to consider taking them. I'm not going to guarantee that I'm going to take on every one that comes my way, but if you've invested your hard-earned capital and need an opinion/reassurance on whether that's a good idea, then I figure the least I can do is give a review to someone who really wants/needs it. But first you need to convince me.

That done we go on to the first of the Webcomic Print series. Well, the first, the third time I've written it from scratch. *hopes to goodness this one doesn't get eaten up by a computer this time.*


Comic: Alpha Shade
By: Joseph and Christopher Brundlos

Setting and Elements: Steampunk (?), Fantasy, War
Content Type: Action/Adventure

Art Medium: "Ink" lines, Full colour
Art Style: Manga-influenced, Realistic

Is About: In a world torn by war, the outcome of the conflict may lie on the shoulders of one woman.

Website: http://www.alpha-shade.com
Book size: 8.5" x 11", Perfect Bound
Price: Sale Price $19.95 (Regularly $24.95)


First Impressions and Presentation:
The first thought I had the moment I had the book in my hands was how... large it was. Maybe it was because of the manga art style, I thought the book would be manga-novel sized. Personally, I'm a practical person, and I like books and comics that make it easy for me to carry around and read. The criteria I buy bags by isn't whether it is a Prada or Versace or God-knows-what-not. It's whether they allow me to carry a book or a sketchpad in them. Go figure.

So the book is a little big for my taste (hint: 8.5" x 11" is bigger than A4 size), but the quality of the whole thing does make up for it somewhat. The whole thing is done in high-quality glossy paper, and there doesn't seem to be much loss (if any) of quality in the transition from pixels to paper.

Another thing that stuck me was that the font seems disproportionately large for a comic. I compared it to the size of a normal font in Hellboy and it was probably 1.5 times the size. While it makes for easier reading, I do get an odd feeling when seeing it.

I'm particularly pleased at the cover page being signed. I like the personal touch it gives. It makes a lot of difference.


(Alpha Shade Chapter One. Next to it is a A4 sized Hellboy book for comparison.)


The Concept:
In all honestly, I find it difficult to discourse on the concept behind Alpha Shade. Not because it's incomprehensible or anything, but I have a feeling if I were to start talking about the concept, I'd be talking on something with insufficient information.
All that said, the concept of Alpha Shade seems to be interesting thus far. The action centers around Laura Stone, who seems to be the commander of an army trying to retake a city. Unfortunately, the opposition has other plans, among them an assassination attempt.

That's about as much as I can tell. There's definite hints that there is much much more behind the story than what it initially appears as, but at the present, the entire concept of chapter one can be summarized as "The enemy tries to assassinate Commmander Laura Stone"

And that's all you need to know, really.


The Art:
The art is definitely heavily manga-influenced, but I hesitate to call it manga. It's so far developed into its own individual style within manga that it feels unjust to give people the wrong stereotyped idea.

The art style is greatly augmented by the colour-work, which is stunningly good. Unlike the usual air-brushed gradient-filled style commonly found in webcomics, Alpha shade uses areas of flat color to define shadow and light. It also varies from the norm in that it uses lines for foreground, but uses mostly areas of flat colour to define shapes in the background.

Some mentions must be made of the breath-taking level of detail that has been put into the art. While the characters themselves aren't highly realistic (that is, they're stylized to a level) the machinery, structure and costumes have been painstakingly designed and drawn. There's more detail in the background of one panel of Alpha Shade than what you usually find in a page of most webcomics out there.

As a result of the fine attention to detail and planning, the action sequences in Alpha-Shade are one of the best I've ever seen in comics, and that is no exaggeration. Actions sequences have a tendency to be well... tedious after a while, but the action in Alpha-Shade is varied and mind-blowing. Particularly of note is the aerial fight-scene between in planes and flyers, which is one of those classic breathtakingly 'coooool" moments in comic books.


The Writing:
My first thought on the writing of Alpha Shade was "geez, it's a little bit slow". It took several re-readings before I realised that it wasn't really slow. Well... ok, it's not exactly fast-paced storytelling despite there being a lot of fast-paced action throughout the comic, but there is a surprising lot of subtle detail and plot hints in the seemingly random series of action scenes. I won't give anything away here, but let me just say the clues are there if you know where to look.

The whole of chapter one could be very succinctly described as a teaser pre-lude to hook the reader in. One might argue that it's a rather extensive pre-lude that runs on too long. However, thinking about it, I keep getting the feeling that Alpha Shade was never written with a comic in mind. In fact if I didn't know better I'd say it was written with an animated series in mind, which would explain a lot, including the pacing. I wonder how far I am off the mark here?

If I had to fault anything, a lot of potentially interesting characters get never get their chance to be really known to the audience. Like most war stories, people get killed quickly and fade out of the story.

Problems:

As it is, the pacing is slow for a comic, and the sudden turn of events in chapter 2 doesn't seem to help much, being vastly different from what one would expect, especially as the previous chapter left us in a cliffhanger. I can see reader potentially becoming irritated or impatient at the rate the comic moves.

The other problem that I can see is a certain amount of confusion. The world building of Alpha Shade has been admirably done, but as in created worlds, new readers may have trouble adjusting concepts such as empowered cat-lords and flyer air-forces.

The book size is a bit too large for easy reading, making it a little bit awkward to handle, but this is a minor problem, those of the comic-cook collecting culture probably wouldn't find it much of a problem.


Overall:

Often, when webcomics go to print, they often end up looking amateurish next to their glossy cousins produced in the main industry. However, Alpha Shade is a comic that easily on par with its print counterparts in any comic book shop.

The price of the book is not trivial. However, those who do decide to buy the print version of the webcomic will find that they get their money's worth, and there is very little quality loss in the transition from pixels to paper.

5 comments:

  1. I think what draws me to Alpha Shade isn't the character development (I've only grown close to the rookie so far, and the woman with the arial fighter.. sad, sad, sad), but it's the maddeningly well done action scenes, like you said. The fluidity (if that's a word) of those scenes just blows the mind. The color! Good heavens. XD

    And ooh, p.s., we'd love a review, but we're honestly not ready to print yet. We plan to, though. Bleh, I'm too tired to convince you right now, except to say that it would be a great, great honor. ^^

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  2. Alpha-Shade has wonderful art, painstaking attention to detail, great action scenes, and a promisingly intricate and interesting storyline. Anyone who reads it carefully and gives the story time to present itself won't be disappointed - the characters are all realistic and different (so much so that you can't be sure which will die and which will live), and the environments are incredible.

    The book is also top-notch. Some people will find it large, but to me that just means more detail for my money - you can even read the words on laptop computer screens in the background.

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  3. Alpha-Shade is one of the most visually stunning and story grabbing comic, let alone webcomic, that I have read. First off, the art is amazing. Joe spends countless arduous hours per page and the result is incredible. While stylized the characters, vehicles, and even backgrounds contain more detail than could be thought possible. Simply zooming into a page (through the Flash version) shows the amount of work that Joe puts into each and every panel.

    No comic can stand solely on its art. Without a good story the reader easily becomes bored after looking over the art. Chris does a marvelous job with the writing. The dialogue is smooth and there is plenty of details throughout each page to give the curious reader a clue or two about things past and things to come (all that detail I mentioned in the previous paragraph isn’t just there for show folks). The story itself is just beginning to develop but what we do know certainly shows that this is going to be one hell of a ride.

    Why don’t you join us.

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  4. Are you making a long post because you had to write it again and again? hehehe!

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  5. I would continue to read the comic myself, its just that it updates at a glacial level of speed... Thats a little hard to deal with, for most people. I, myself, being one of them.

    If its thier art thats doing this to them, then it might be wise to take it down a 'noctch'. If they don't, then it will probably take them until 2012 just to get to chapter 3.

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