Friday, October 28, 2005

33rd Leg: The Dementia of Magic




Comic: The Dementia of Magic
By: Nicholas Killewald

Setting and Elements: Fantasy, Magical World, DnD Influenced
Content Type: Adventure, Humor

Art Medium: Inks, Cel-shaded colours
Art Style: Simplifed Cartoony.

Is About: The adventures of a thief and his soceress sister in a land ruled by and inept king who is constantly conscripting peasants into his army.

Website: http://www.dementiaofmagic.net
Frequency: Irregular
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
I must admit my first impression wasn't very favourable. Whatever else I may think of the comic later, at first sight, the art for DoM isn't very impressive. As most comics rely on art to draw the reader in and writing to keep them there, I suspect the writing must be excellent to keep them there.

The website design is simple, although the slick Photoshopped (or should I say, GIMPed?) title image contrasts badly against the simple and cartoony art style of the comic. Link colours aren't bad, but a little tooo bright. Navigation however, is straightforward and easy to use.


The Concept: The Dementia of Magic is one of the many and common stereotypical DnD variant comics out there. You have your hero the thief, his sister the sorceress and the people of their village. I have to admit this premise didn't exactly thrill me, and if this comic had not been linked to by Catharsis, I probably would have taken a brief look and moved on. However, because the link IS there, I'm willing to give this a chance (See the importance of recommendation?). Good execution and new spins on non-original concepts can make for good reading, after all.


The Art:
The art for DoM isn't anything to talk about at. Nicholas' art is extremely simplified, which isn't a particularly bad thing, but simplified art often needs smooth lines and geometric shapes to carry it off. Despite the artist's best attempts, the wobbly linework with unvarying thickness results in a rather flat look.

The early strips are quite rough, but over time many improvements have been made, such as the change from black and white to full colour and the clear, more consistent art. The newer strips expecially show quite a bit of effort and attention to detail, and the new colouring work is actually quite good.

While the initial font was hard to read, the change to a more eye-friendly font was a godsend.

The art so far has shown a slow and steady rate of improvement, and whatever is lacking in artistic skill the artist more than makes up for with the amount of effort and attention to detail put in.


The Writing:

In all honesty, I wasn't very impressed by the first storyline. While the story was surprisingly original (No motely crew meeting up and setting out on a quest) a lot of the details didn't make sense.

Ping's train of thought:
"Eh? They killed the dragon and are heroes! Why are they running away? That doesn't make sense!"
*goes on reading anyway*


However, the writing improves drastically after Magic Mushroom storyline, and I'm happy to report that the stories often transcend their set-up and plot inconsistencies by being quite orignal and entertaining. There's also a lot of interesting world-building going on. OK, I generally don't like fantasy that's built on Tolkien unless it has a twist, but I do like to see attempts to develop the thing out of the bloody fantasy sterotype so it adds something to it. The latter strips especially show a lot of thought being put into the world-building, ranging from programming principles put into spellcasting and a forays into the properties of the plants and culture of the world.

Oh, and I'm pretty sure that the most distinctive thing about DoM is the concept of Nasal Flies. I won't tell you what they are and spoil it, but I laughed my head of and judging by the guest strips, they seem to be pretty popular.

While there are many plot inconsistencies early on (these get progressively less and less as time goes on), you get drawn in by the story so (most of the time) you're willing to suspend disbelief.

Another point about DoM is the frequent and regular use of self-insertion. The author often appears in strips pertaining to the creation of the comic, and sometimes at pivotal plot points, making jokes at his own execution of the comic. This makes the whole comic feel more like a comic where the creator learns how to make a fantasy comic. Self-insertion being what it is,it sometimes works and sometimes doesn', but all in all I found the self-insertion strips to be tolerable, instead of the usual closing of the browser window and the vow to never return ( though I shouldn't be one to talk. I've used it myself a few times.)

And... Do I see a reference to Catharsis here?


Problems:

Despite the fact the art is not exactly the comic's string point, my complaints are all concerning writing. Other than the aforementioned plot inconsistencies...

WARNING RANT INCOMING
This is one thing about DnD variant stories that annoys the hell out of me. "Thief" is NOT, and should NOT, be considered a respectable profession. It is definitely an profession you DO NOT admit to having in the open unless you want to be tracked down and tossed in the dungeon for. No one should be able to say "Oh that's So-and-so the Thief's house over there", especially as they live in a place where there are lots of soldiers running around conscripting everyone. I know it's imperative for most fantasy stories to have the stealthy sneaky thief character, but for god's sake at least have the guy/girl pretend to be a shoemaker or peddler or farmer or something.

The other main problem I have with the writing is what I call "It's a Small World After All" and "The World Revolves Around Our Protagonists" syndrome.

The former refers to the fact how every character in the world seems to know everyone else, when logically, that should not be possible. Not only that, the in a lot of cases, some new character the protagonists meet knows someone else the protagonist knows from the past. Not only that, but the characters seem to run into the same people in different places over and over again. Whether it's the palace guard or the evil mage or the elven librarian, it does make you wonder after a while if the population of the entire fantasy world barely reaches double digits.

The latter syndrome is also one that is common in most fantasy fiction, but is no less annoying for that. This refers to the annoying tendency for everything important that ever occured to happen to, or around the main the characters. While I realise that the story wouldn't be very interesting if NOTHING happened to them, how believable everytime something major happens the main character just happens to be in the thick of it decreases.

Overall:

It's hard to put my finger on what exactly it is that makes this comic work. Despite having a number of non-trivial shortcomings (both in art and writing), I found myself enjoying the comic and actually liking the characters.

I suspect this may be due to the sheer amount of effort that has obviously gone into the comic. The creator shows such enthusiasm and depth of thought about the background and world that the reader feels it, and is pulled along with it.

DoM may not be to the taste of most people, but if you don't require lavish art, like original storylines and have a high threshold in suspension of disbelief, give DoM a try, and you may find that you'll enjoy yourself.

Oh, And the concept of "Nasal Flies" is genius.


The Next Leg:

I was going to review Stuff of Legends, but as the comic appears to have reached an end or hiatus, so I decided to head back to the DoM link page and pick another comic.

This is a good thing, really, since I seem to have a bias towards fantasy comics and really should be experimenting more of the other stuff.

1 comment:

  1. The only time I've seen the "Thief as a respectable profession in fantasy literature" thing work is in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, where he actually comes up for a reason to have a Thieves' Guild and all that jazz. But that's definitely the exception, not the rule.

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