Thursday, March 31, 2005

28th Leg: Bilaran Wars / Mute

I'm going to do something slightly different today. You see, the current site I am at appears to be a collection of comics by the same creators. Although the site is listed as 'Bilaran Wars', I am much more intrigued by one of the other stories on the site.

Being greedy, I decided to read and review both:



We start off with the title comic:

Comic: Bilaran Wars
By: Jess Calcaben (Art/Story) and David Doub (Writer)

Setting and Elements: Fantasy, Magic
Content Type: Action/Adventure

Art Medium: Digital, Inks, Full-Colour
Art Style: Realistic

Is About: When a half-dead man washes up next to the home of a warrior, the warrior and a few others are dispatched to a faraway kingdom on a scouting mission to find out what happened.

Website: http://www.nightgig.com/subcultured/
Frequency: Unknown
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The flash portal page isn't bad, and the putting the status of the comic on display is a good touch. Bilaran Wars is listed as 'inactive'. Clicking on it brings me to a page with thumbnails. The repeating blue tiles in the background are a bit tacky and don't really suit the feel of the page.

The art is fully coloured and looks intriguing from thumbnail distance, though.


The Concept:
Staple fantasy action/adventure. From the looks of things, we have a bunch of heroes heading off on a quest. not very original, so it's going to have to depend on execution, this one.


The Art:
The art for Bilaran wars could be succinctly described as 'variable art, good colouring'. The art ranges from 'passable' to 'good' and then to 'deformed', but the colouring stays consistently good throughout. The colourist in particular, shows some impressive understanding of tone and hue, and how to use it to convey mood.

The character-designs are consistent. That is, they are consistently identical for the all male and female characters. The male characters are generally buff, over-muscly and for some reason, endowed with extrordinarily short arms. The female characters are all voluptous, shapely, and run around in thongs or skimpy outfits. Some of them have extra-long ears, but that's about it. As a result I had a very hard time telling the character (especially the male characters) apart.

Oh, and in one instance, we also have a hilarious villain who runs around in a pair of nipple-stickers!

(Ping wonders: "Hmm... if she's shameless enough to run around in nipple stickers, wouldn't she be more comfortable running around topless? Not that there's much difference, you'd think.")

Anyway, no prizes for guessing which sex this comic panders to.

There is some nice background-work in the comic, I especially like the painterly approach the artist has taken.

Towards the end, the art does take on a rather intriguing look. There's something very attractive about it when it finally stops trying to be 'tacky comicbook' and goes for 'classical painting'.


The Writing:
The story opens with a very long and drawn-out fight between an assassin and its quarry. The entire fight literally takes up the whole of the first issue! The whole of the fight is punctuated with some rather tedious narration that apparently aims to sound impressive and profound but unfortunately ends up sounding pompous and awkward instead. Here's an example:


(Panel after panel depicting two men fighting)
The reasons why they fight has long been determined.
There is no right or wrong now.
Only live or die.
The time for doubt of misgivings is long past.
Each combatant is fully commited until the fatal end.
Each man is to blame for their current predicament.
But they are also victims of circumstance.


*Ping winces*

Add to this is the narrator's irritating tendency to narrate exactly what is going on in the panel... I often found myself going: "WTF?!"

I mean, really... If you have a picture of the warrior deftly blocking the throwing knife with his sword, there is really no need to narrate "But the quarry is aware and deftly avoids raining death", is there? Sometimes less is really more.

English is obviously not the creator's first language, and I can understand that the flow of language is therefore not likely to run smooth. Regardless, it does distract from the content of the comic itself, because the dialogue and narration just sound unnatural. The dialogue in particular, doesn't so much sound like people talking, but more of someone regurgitating 'impressive' bits and pieces of stuff you see in corny fantasy movies or books.

The pacing is depressingly slow and the descriptions long-winded. I've already mentioned that the whole of the first issue is a giant fight scene. I am sad to report the rest of the other two issues is not much of an improvement. A huge portion of them are pointless fight-scenes, and the remainder seem to be a series of vaguely interconnected (and choppily-transitioned) stories that I suppose are there to build character and develop the plot (what plot?).

Speaking of characters, I must confess I came away from the entire reading without much impression character-wise. The male characters didn't seem to have much of a personality, and females were distressingly stereotyped and seemed to exist only as a crutch for the men. The only one I found that had any redeeming quality was Aria, and even she got saddled with the depressing women-shop-for-fun stereotype.

The comic stops midway through issue 2, the point at which nothing has really happened yet, and the main characters haven't even left town. The status of the comic is currently listed as 'inactive', so I guess the creators realised their efforts were better off elsewhere.


Problems:

Besides the ones I've already grumbled about?

For some reason, Page 27 kept directing me to page 30, resulting a very confused me until I figured out that it was a error.


Overall:

Though not to my taste, I'd recommend Bilaran Wars for those...

Oh hell... who am I kidding? I hate giving bad reviews, but I don't think I can in good conscience recommend Bilaran Wars to anyone reading my blog. Sorry.

There is some nice art and some excellent colour-work, but the writing was... not very good. I didn't enjoy this much.




Now that we're done with that, let's go on to my second pick on the site: Mute.





Comic: Mute
By: Jess Calcaben

Setting and Elements: Modern-day Phillipines
Content Type: Biographical, Survival

Art Medium: Digital Full-Colour
Art Style: Painted, Stylised

Is About: A life of a mute boy, born of a prostitute and abandoned as a baby.
Website: http://www.nightgig.com/subcultured/
Frequency: Completed Comic
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The presentation for Mute is plain and simple, and a much greater improvement over the presentation of Bilaran Wars. Again I say. Sometimes less is more indeed.

The Concept:
The story is about about young Filipino mute, who abandoned as a child, is forced to grow up an orphanage and then the streets. The story is narrated first-person, which is ironic as the main character is a mute.

A big thumbs ups for originality.


The Art:
The entire comic is done in a very unique style. I see it more as a series of paintings with text narrating them. No clumsy narration boxes. Not odd-looking speech balloons. In many cases the text becomes part of the art.

The art style is reminds me of the works of Berthe Morisot, whose art style often suggested rather than defined. The art for Mute is somewhat similar, and mirrors what it's supposed to be (the point of view of the mute boy) very powerfully. In situations where things are in sharp focus, the comic reverts to inks and lines. In situations where the boy is light-headed or reminiscing, it switches to the painterly technique again.

I've mentioned the artist's ability with colour. Again it's demonstrated very strongly here. In scenes where the boy strikes out in anger the art takes on a reddish hue, in scenes of despair the colours are bleak and the dreams he has of his idealised mother are all in white. The features in the art are sometimes simplified, and sometimes exaggerated to great effect, resulting in an almost surreal feeling to the whole work.


The Writing:
The story is still told in broken English, and every now and then, grammatical and tense errors pop out. And perhaps because of its context (it's being told first person by a boy whose first language is probably Tagalog and not English), it works brilliantly. In fact I would venture to say it works even better than if the story had been told in flawless english.

The story is very well structured and paced. The characterisation is convincing, the narration heart-wrenching. As the story unfolds, you can feel the filth of the alleyways, the panic of pursuit, the hopelessness of the runaway. You can feel the mute boy's silent longing for a mother he's never known. You can feel his desperation as he fights for his very life against the odds.

It simply pulls you into a very different world from the one you're in. And that ending is just staggering.


Overall:
As I write this, I can barely believe that this comic is done by the same person... or at least, one of the same people who did Bilaran Wars.

Because the quality is miles apart.

Bilaran Wars felt like a waste of time on my part. Mute, on the other hand, is an amazing read, very touching and engrossing. In fact, if I may say so, something akin to Justine Shaw's Nowhere Girl.

A Find, what a Find indeed...


The Next Leg:

There are a few little buttons in the links page. Shift didn't seem like something I'd like, so I spotted an old read and picked Stormcorps. Stormcorps was a comic I used to read, but stopped when I lost my previous booksmarks. It should be interesting to see what it's gotten up to since a year ago!

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

Hotspot #7: Welcome to the new frontier, and everyone wants to be a critic.

So maybe you've noticed them popping up. Like mushrooms after the rain, they're starting up everywhere now.

Don't know what I'm talking about?

Webcomic Blogs.

Or if you want to be more specific, webcomic-centered commentary blogs. Since the 12th of August 2004 when I first started Webcomic Finds, I've been witnessing the birth of many many new webcomic blogs and discovering many many more. Websnark, Digital Strips, (not to mention all those other blogs that don't focus on webcomics, but mention them frequently) and now even more recently, William G and Phil Khanhave decided to join the fray.

(FYI, it is notable that Eric Burns converted his old blog into Websnark 8 days after I started mine. Perhaps it's a testament to his writing skills that despite starting later, his blog is far far far more popular than mine ;) Dag-nabbit! Of course, I deal more with the lesser-known comics, so that could be it.)

Back to the topic, I'm not pointing hoodoo fingers or bad mouthing the newcomers or accusing them of jumping on the bandwagon or anything. I'm just making an observation that more and more people are realising that serious and regular commentary on webcomics is still a relatively unexploited niche, and there's room for them to fill it. For now.

The webcomics world is growing very rapidly. Some might say far too rapidly, because it is nearing the state of drowning in its own volume. For every good webcomic out there, there's probably another 10(or if you want to be bombastic, 100) crappy ones you have to go through. The webcomic blogs help by doing this job for you. Providing that you and the blogger share similar tastes, chances are you're going to like what the blogger recommends to you.

And if you have a plethora of different bloggers and different personalities and tastes to pick from, it can only be a good thing.

"Wait!" You say. "Didn't the webcomic review sites like Korsil and Comixpedia do something rather similar?"

Yes and No. They reviewed webcomics. They rated them. But most webcomic reviewers had to be impersonal and impartial, just to be professional. Or at least, they had to try to be.

But by doing so they missed out on the spice the webcomic blogs have. The personality behind the blog. The feeling that you're listening to someone you know talking, instead of reading some article written by a faceless someone you will never know.

And this, I think, is the new frontier. I have great hopes that with the new wave of bloggers there will be less insularity and more blurring the lines between the different webcomic collectives. That we might be able to filter more effectively through the great masses of dross from the gold, the serious efforts from the bandwagon jumpers. That more good webcomics get the recognition they deserve.

Granted, for every blogger that can discourse rationally about plot, pacing and execution, there's bound to the odd attention-seeker who sees the success of Websnark and thinks "OMG! All this guy does is sit around and make snide comments about webcomics! I can do that too!". Much like the webcomics medium it spawned from, it is pretty inevitable that Websnark or HB clones will spring up the more popular these sites get. And like bad webcomics, most of them will run out of steam shortly and end up dying by the wayside.

I am no prophetess or clairvoyant. I'm simply an observer of patterns. We saw this pattern happen with webcomics. I see this as something that will happen with webcomic blogs.

Just you see if it doesn't.




Fun fact: The Webcomic Finds system of picking reviews was inspired by this same Comixpedia article of Dalton Wemble's. God, I miss that column.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

27th Leg: Oneshots: The Thieves of Thalegor

Comic: The Thieves of Thalegor
By: Kevin Wadlow

Setting and Elements: Fantasy world, Dungeons and Dragons, Talking Cats
Content Type: Humour, Adventure

Art Medium: Digital, Converted photographs
Art Style: Geometric, Solid shapes, gradients and patterns

Is About: The adventures of Colby and Jack, A pair of talking cats who happen to be thieves as well.

Website: http://www.whymestudios.com/oneshots.html
Frequency: On Hiatus
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation: The site design is charming, compact and clean-cut (all the C's), and more importantly, matches with the style of the comic art in itself.

This is a private beef of mine. Comic presentation is an important aspect of webcomics most people don't even think of. But it is important regardless. And sadly when they DO think of it, they don't consider whether it works with the comic... or at all. I've seen many comics with simplistic art styles presented with formats that would be more suited to a commercial website, and vice versa.


The Concept:
There seems to be a split in the comic concept. The first was a series of single-panel comics based on RPG games, and the second is more of a run-of-the-mill fantasy/RPG story. Both are based on the adventures of a pair of cat-like thief characters called Jack and Colby.

Personally, I thought the original idea was far more compelling.


The Art:
Looks familiar. I'm pretty sure I ran across one of its banners in the Comixpedia Forums or something.

To get to the point: The Thieves of Thalegor has an immediately recognisable art style. Rummaging around for a word to use: I settle on 'cute', although that very poorly describes it. "Cut-out" and "geometric" might perhaps do a better job...

Oh heck... here:


Image copyright Kevin Wadlow. Click on the picture to see it on the original site!

As you can see, it's a very attractive style, riding the same boat as Scary-Go-Round's with areas of solid colour and no outlines. It differs from SGR in the sense that Kevin also makes use of gradients to create a very unique feel for the comic.

I should also mention the backgrounds. TOT is one of the few instances where I've seen using modified photographs for backgrounds actually work. Having tried that out myself, I must say I can appreciate how hard it is to do, and Kevin deserves a round of applause for managing to accomplish it.


The Writing:

I was quite charmed by the oneshots in the beginning. Single panel comics like Bunny and The Chopping Block are significantly harder to pull off, as each stip needs to be funny AND self-contained. The make things harder, unlike story or gag comic, on bad days you don't have 'continuity' to fall back on.

TOT managed to do well in the single panel presentation regardless. I quite enjoyed the random one-shots, the duck talk strip being my favourite.

I'm sorry to admit I was less happy with the transition from the single-panel strip to the story/gag format. You see, while there's nothing inherently wrong with story/gag strips, there's the problem when you start off as one thing and try and make it another.

An oft-overlooked aspect of a webcomic is identity. By identity I mean that thing which allows you to describe comic in a sentence. Examples include: "A story comic about a cursed woman" or "a humourous comic about life in kindergarten". Without its own identity, a webcomic will eventually hit a glass ceiling and peter out from lack of interest. In this case, the random oneshots were part of this webcomic's identity, and therein lies the problem in changing it.

To be fair, some of the jokes in the story strips were quite humourous, but it's just not the same. I suppose it's not supposed to be, anyway.


Problems:

As aformentioned, the transition from "random DnD humour comic" to "Adventures of a pair of characters in a DnD world" type comic was jarring. Secondly, broken archive pages never bode well.

TOT also relies quite heavily on DnD concepts already being known to the average reader. As I have mentioned before, it is something that can be both a boon and a curse. On one hand you have a built-in audience in the DnD/RPG market, on the other hand you risk alienating the other portion of your audience that aren't DnD fans.


Overall:
As should be obvious, I was intially impressed by the oneshots, and then less than impressed at "Thieves of Thalegor".

I think the reason for it comes down to scarcity. Single panel comics about DnD are significantly rarer than adventure comics about the same. This comic had something special in the beginning, I'm sorry to say that with the change, it stopped standing out and faded.

Don't get me wrong... 'Thieves of Thalegor' is actually quite good. It just pales in comparison to the Oneshots.


The Next Leg:
The links page is not working. Fortunately there is a nice set of clickable buttons at the bottom of the main page.

Bilaran Wars? Sound like an adventure! Do we feel like adventure? Yes we do!

Monday, March 21, 2005

Stopover at Gossamer Commons: And because I really can't keep linking the UK Web Mini Comics Thing ;)

Eric's been talking about Gossamer Commons for so long, it's almost a relief to see it get started. I don't think my curiosity could have last much long ;) At the grand total of one page (one big page though) so far, I can't say much, but looks promising though.

Come on, it doesn't start with the usual fourth-wall breaking, a cliched joke copied from some other popular webcomic or a no comic today filler. ;) And I'm genuinely impressed by Greg Holkan's more realistic art style here, and his non-use of panels.

And... We have the other part of my UK Web and Mini Comics thing report!



...While looking for the Just1Page booth, I came across fellow ModernTales family member Roger Langridge. I introduced myself, but I don't think he had any idea who I was, even if it was originally his advice that made me seriously consider coming to this con in the first place...



After a while the Just1Page organiser showed up and told me the drawing would take place over at the portfolio section. So I wandered over to the portfolio section and started to doodle a bit to calm my nerves. While I did so I realised that the Scary-Go-Round booth was right next to it, tucked away in the corner! I'd resolved to get Mos (who likes Scary-Go-Round) something, so I went over and had a look...



John was sitting behind a couple of Sons of Morgors (the red doll things you see on the table) and signing a book for someone called Chikin (I remember that distinctly, because John said he had to ask how that was spelled).

I decided to buy Spy Girl instead of Heavy Metal Hearts and Flowers, but on hindsight I regret not buying out the whole table (the other John Allison fans who arrived later would not doubt NOT thank me for that if I had done that, since the Scary-Go-Round table was one of the first to sell out).

Speaking of Jon Allison, he really knows how to treat his fans! Incredibly nice guy, and when I mentioned how much I liked the chararacter of Fallon, he even did a quick sketch of her on the back of the Spy Girl Book!



Did I also mention each purchase came with a complimentary badge? If anyone wants to learn about merchandising, learn from Jon. All the stuff was fairly priced and of such good quality I was really wowed. I'm really curious how he managed not to sell this stuff at a loss!

Unfortunately I had to run off after this because the 24 minute comic was about to start! I was teamed up with Bridgeen Gillespie of Koniption for our page. Ironically I didn't even have time to get nervous any more, because the thing started barely right after we sat down!

I'd brought every conceivable kind of stationery I thought I'd need (even my brushes... just in case). Unfortunately, the only thing I'd left out was an... eraser. However, my partner was significantly more foresighted than I and lent me hers. After 24 minutes of frantic drawing, during which no one had any idea how much time there was left until towards the end, we produced this:



Yes... I am shameless *sticks out tongue*. Oh, and Roger Langridge did the cover:



After the event, I looked around and couldn't see any of the gang. For a moment I was wondering if they had abandoned me for a drink or something, and I was moving around when I spotted a woman with two friends in tow who looked vaguely familiar even though I'd never seen her before...

"Ping?!"



Yeah... you guessed it. T'was none other thanWednesday White!

We took this picture for the benefit of one Mr. Burns over at Websnark (No Jon Allison in the background, sorry... And I blinked! :( ) and I kept my promise of her getting a tasty tasty cookie for the Takeover series . :D

After this I finally found the gang busily drawing their hearts out in each other's sketchbooks in the portfolio corner (which we eventually proceeded to invade and takeover). Al Foreman's sketchbook was the envy of all (He has Clint Hollingsworth's sketches inside! Arrgh! I'm so jealous!).

Shortly after this I heard another accented voice behind me saying "Ping?" (again). It turned out to be Gianna Massetti of The N00b, who told us she only recognised us because we were drawing and she knew our drawing styles!

We all sat down for a nice long sketch session, then Gianna and I went for the Webcomics Panel, (Al joined in too)!

I won't comment on the webcomics panel until Wednesday does her piece for Comixpedia on it, after which I promise I will make a fool of myself by dissecting (or trying to) it. Politics are icky.

Post-webcomics panel, we were all feeling hungry and decided to go for a last round of the con and head for a place to eat. I was also very tired at this point, and although the crowd had thinned it was beginning to get to me and I just wanted to get out of the convention center.

I suppose I must have looked surprised when one of a pair of guys manning a table we passed suddenly stood up and said to me: "Hey, I think I know who you are... You're Ping, aren't you?". I was even more surprised to find out the guy was none other than the same Chikin who was next to me at the Scary-Go-Round table, and apparently reads this blog *waves*! To the guys from GreatVagueness.co.uk, thanks for proving me wrong that no one would recognise me, it was great meeting you guys, and sorry I couldn't talk much!



ps: If any of you guys want higher resolutions of the photo, send me a mail and I'd happily obliged. Same goes for anyone who's in any of my photos.

I'd also really wanted a Bunny shirt, but sadly none were readily available... :(



I did have time to get my copy of the 24 minute comic, a free copy of Just1Page, and it was out of the convention and to finding a place for some nourishment, which anyone who was with me at that time will agree, was an ardous adventure in itself!

So that's my report for the UK Web and Mini Comics thing. Many thinks to Patrik Findlay and everyone who made it happen. Just signing off with a couple of pictures of loot:



The Keenspace Deadly Bears Attack sampler. Keenspace may 'need better artists", but judging from the cover, methinks The Attacking Deadly Bears are doing just fine ;)


And a last shout to all the others: Just1Page Koniption, GreatVagueness.co.uk, Scribe and Reckless Youth.

Whew!

Oh, and I highly reccommend the UK Keen Rendevous site for sketches and many many high-res photos!

Saturday, March 19, 2005

Stopover at the UK Web and Mini comics Thing: Tired but triumphant, I return!

Well, I just got home from the UK web and mini comics thing. My 24-minute comic has been drawn, I didn't throw up over anyone due to nervousness and demophobia, and met LOTS of awesome people. Pictures and report coming soon...

For now I need a shower and sleep. I am dead-tired.



The Report



10.30AM: I met up with Bob, Adam, Ewan, Simon in front of the British Museum.



Next, Kate and John, showed up, and then Al Foreman...



AT 11.00AM we set off in the direction of Mile End taking the Central Line.



The poor other passengers in the carriage had to put up with eight rather hyper webcomic artists fooling around with the Keenspace hat and cameras galore.



We arrived at the convention and I had to rush off for the 24 minute comic thing. However all my worries about arriving punctual were fruitless as the management seemed to be missing from their booth. I was so nervous about the comic that my hand kept shaking and I couldn't draw a straight line.


To be continued...

EDIT: Pictures! and even more pictures!

Still more reports and sketches and videos if I can find some place to stash em!

Friday, March 18, 2005

Stopover at the UK Web and Mini comics Thing: 24 hours before 24 minutes



Nervous does not even begin to describe it. I'm going to meet a lot of people tomorrow I'm in awe of. I'm going to make a 24 minute comic tomorrow, which is a lot harder than you'd think. I've been practicing and I'm not getting the results within the time frame yet. And it's going to be with people watching. So yes, I'm not only nervous... I'm scared witless.

I did mention I have a phobia of crowds, right?

Right now the density of butterflies in my stomach is enough for a bloody migration.

Take deep breaths, Ping. Deeep breaths...






ps: Oh, and anyone looking out for me tomorrow, I'll be that short asian girl with the Kensington Mouse (The Webcomic Finds Mouse Mascot) painted on my bag.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

Stopover at The Daily Grind: Damnit Bob! I nearly spit tea on my monitor... AGAIN!

I'm sure the majority of you have heard ofThe Daily Grind competition already. I mean it's been Comixpedia'ed, Websnarked AND Slashdotted, that's a LOT of publicity.

The first two losers being declared already, and I'm curious to see if Zampzon's fallout prediction over at Digital Strips is going to be on the spot. I think he's got a point, and so far it seems to be accurate, but it remains to be seen if where it runs true all the way or not.

Anyway, with the Keenspace servers being flakey and the recent rucki (Thinking about it, shouldn't that be the plural of 'ruckus'? And yes, I will keep on using that word because I like it. Ruckus ruckus ruckus!) over at Keenspot, I found the following comic incredibly funny and couldn't believe I missed blogging about it:

The following should be taken with a big pinch of salt, a good sense of humour, and some knowledge about the webcomics world, just so you know.


That last panel is a gem, especially.

This was a quick little comic by Bob Oosterwijk, whom I will hopefully get to meet at the UK Web and Mini Comics Thing on Saturday! (Click on the picture to see the comic in full-sized, and two others besides! AND Chris Crosby's response to it).

The funny thing is that these comics were created long before the Grind started dropping people, Keenspace started going flakey and the whole Keenspot Anti-Gay/PvP/Penny-Arcade thing.

Maybe Zampzon isn't the only one good at making predictions here ;)

26th Leg: A Lesson is Learned, But the Damage is Irreversible

There must be a certain amount of irony that with the event of this week, and I'm exploring a comic with this title.

It's really in keeping with the surreal tone of life lately.





Comic: A Lesson is Learned, But the Damage is Irreversible
By: David Hellman and Dale Beran

Setting and Elements: Surreal, Modern Life
Content Type: Satire, Philosophy

Art Medium: Digital Tablet Art
Art Style: Loose realistic, Painted Colours

Is About: I honestly don't know. (Kidding) It's basically a surreal reflection of modern life and issues. Kind of the stuff your subconscious would tell you in dreams, I suppose.

Website: http://http://www.alessonislearned.com/
Frequency: Irregular
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The art alone is very eye-catching and vastly different from the usual list of style offerings you find on the web. (See why distinctive art styles are always a good thing?)

The site presentation has its own individuality, with a rather large logo, blog and comic sandwiched in between. I find the huge logo and downscrolling a bit annoying though, especially reading through the archives with it loading on every page.


The Concept:
This is a comic that comes the closest to fine art. The skeptical would probably attribute it as the comic equivalent of the Tate Modern. You either don't understand the art or you do (or at least, pretend to, understand it).

Personally, ALIL feels more like one of those bizarre dreams you get where you fight of giant prunes with broadswords, or something like that.


The Art:

I remember being intrigued by the art style. It was something of a culmination of fine art painting and digital graphics. Think oil or acrylic painting done with a tablet and you pretty much have what ALIL looks like. Very distinctive, very eye catching.

There's an incredible wealth of lush detail, especially in the backgrounds. I also get the feeling that the panels are heavily referenced; the human figures frequently look almost stylised photographs. sometimes.

Looking at the comic, it seem really more like a series of paintings in comics form rather than a comic. This page alone would looks quite acceptable hanging from a display unit in a modern art gallery as from a humble html page or the great WWW.


The Writing:
If I said I understood it completely and it is insightful and profound, then I would be lying and you should all be throwing tomatoes or something at me.

To be perfectly frank, when I read this comic, I feel like I'm in one of those bizarre dreams that I get most of my best ideas from (don't diss dreams, they're great fun for creative inspiration). You know, one of those dreams where you get a series of event that play out, and where everything seems perfectly normal even if the flow of events aren't exactly... logical?

And when you wake up, you have no idea what it's all about, but you have a nagging feeling that dream that dream is trying to tell you something you can't quite get?

That pretty sums up how I felt while reading ALIL. It's not like the other comic I visited a few legs back (Buttercup Festival, in case you need a reminder.). Both I'd classify as 'surreal' but these are different kinds of surreal comics. In Buttercup Festival, I'd say that the humour or punchline is surreal. In ALIL, the entire sequence of events in the comic is surreal, and if you take it at face value, it does not make sense at all.

It does tend to make you think outside of your usual mental sphere though, and perhaps the lack of definition in the content is the whole point. Kind of like abstract art; You don't really know the meaning of it. You can only take a guess or make one up for yourself on what you want it to mean.

The same goes for the blog posts beneath the comic.


Problems:
It's ironic that the first thing that comes to mind as a problem with the comic is the site design. More specifically, the HUGE logo that takes up the whole screen at the top. It's irritating to have to scroll down so much every page. I'm a lazy reader, I know.

The other problem I can see is that not everyone is going to get this comic, and most likely it'll end up either inspiring the reader or making them go "WTF? What a load of pretentious cr..." and shut the browser window.

*grin* No matter how I try, I keep going back to the fine art analogy, don't I?

Overall:
Definitely something very interesting and new. I don't profess to understand it, and it both disturbs and intrigues me. I don't see it becoming a regular read, but I think there's something interesting there it how it pushes the boundries of what a webcomic can be.


The Next Leg:
Looking through the bowl of candies that is the link page, I settled on The Thieves of Thalegore. Mainly because I found it amusing how my eye consistently read it as: "Theng-ga-lore".

I know, I'm crazy sometimes. Now excuse me, I have a database to wrangle with.

Saturday, March 12, 2005

Hotspot #6: The Scurrying of Ants on the Trail

I was really going to write this hotspot yesterday, but then I was so upset that I decided it wouldn't be a good idea. I do after all, have a policy of not posting when I'm anything but calm and logical, and every time I've violated my own rule, I have always had cause to regret it and see a better way I could have done things.

It's been a turbulent week for anything with the word "Keen" in the name. There is of course, the molehill that was the Keenspot Gay-Newsbox thing raging on in Comixpedia and WebSnark. And there was the ruckus over the wrongful termination of a certain popular Keenspace account which was the reason I was too upset to hold a brush yesterday.

Let me repeat that: I was too upset to hold a brush. I was too upset to draw. Despite forcing myself to, the only thing I could achieve out of drawing was a bunch of wriggly sketches because my hand was shaking so much.

And that was really what tore it for me. I'm not the sensitive artist type, but for something to bother me so much I cannot not draw comics is just too much.

So I took a step back and looked carefully at what it was I was upset about.

Then I stopped and started laughing hysterically.

When I was younger, I used to play a lot with ant trails. I'm not sure how many of you are familiar with this, but colony ants do their communication using chemical pheremones sprayed on the surfaces they travel on to form a trail. The ants then follow the trail and stick to it until it changes.

I used to like messing with them, by disrupting the pheremone trails. Generally wiping a finger across it is enough to disrupt the column. Then at the point where you've wiped the trail, you'll get a bottle neck of confused ants, scurrying around in indignant circles, unable to carry on.

Eventually of course, there's going to come along an ant that realises: "Hey waittaminute... the trails continues just right over there. All I have to do is cross over here without making a fuss and I can be on my merry way!". And so it does. And all the other ants realise they've been scurrying around for nothing and follow suit.

From the point of view of the outside observer (me), all this scurrying was all very entertaining.

And I'll wager from the point of view of anyone outside webcomics... hell, Keenspot or Keenspace, if you want to be specific, all the scurrying about that has been occuring the past week in is every bit just as ludicriously entertaining.

So love him or hate him, Scott Kurtz was right on this one.
Edit: I've been told the above sentence is incredibly vague. Sorry. What I meant: he was right as in this was blown ridiculously out of porportion.

One more thing I'd like to mention: I'm not the type that likes making a fuss. And I realise from the comments made by various people in the Websnark post, and in the livejournal and Keenspace Help Center, this is a quality that may not endear me to many people.

You know what? I don't care. I still prefer to keep my head down and keep going.

But this does not mean I will not make a fuss if I have to. It just means I prefer to find less disruptive ways of doing things BEFORE I turn to the last resort of making a fuss. I prefer to sort out things through emails and private messages BEFORE whining about it on my livejournal or blog and giving it up for lost. I prefer this because I find it a better way of doing things, and speaking practically, it's a lot easier to rectify a problem if your don't tar and feather the person responsible for screwing up before you give them a chance to make up for it.

It's probably too naive and noblistic to survive in the real world, but fuck that. It's the way I do things, and I'll keep doing that as long at it survives and I do.

There's also the issue of crying 'Wolf!'. I'm a final year university student in a very socially active university. I swear, every month or two they have some sort of protest or campaign to challenge some injustice. Whether it's the "Fuck Bush" campaign or "Save the Lecturers" or "Gay Rights" or "Jesus believes in Atheists", I'm sorry to say the frequency of the fuss they kick up has desensitised me to these issues so much I no longer care or participate, even if the issue being campaigned is something near and dear to my heart. Just because it's yet another protest campaign, I stop listening to it. Period.

So no, I don't want to be an ant marching along in the column, but if I have to be one, I want to be the ant that realises the trail is just a finger's width over there, steps over the broken line, and keeps on moving.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

Stopover at Fallen Angels Used Books: Making sure you know it's there

Back in my early Keenspace days, (HA! Look at the way I just said that. As if I'm not still very much on Keenspace...)

Erm, like I was saying, back in my early Keenspace days, new comics came in batches as signups were approved in batches. Add to the fact that signups had been disabled for months and we were on a very long waiting list, it made for a very large batch of comics. Now to get to the point, I was from the (around) June 2003 batch, and among my batch were several comics, but the ones I remember the most clearly are Adrian Ramos' Count Your Sheep and John Fortman's Fallen Angels Used Books.

The latter is what I want to talk about today.



This is the first page of Fallen Angels Used Books. I knew of John's work from his presence in forums, but on actually checking it out, I was incredibly impressed, blown away, and even (only now will I admit this) envious of his ability. The first issue of Fallen Angel Used Books was as ideal a beginning as anyone could hope for, and everything simply promised so much more.

Almost two years down the road now and seven issues later, rereading the archives of FAUB I see lot of things I missed the first time around. I'd thought this was a simple story about prejudice and conflict. As it turns out, there is a lot lot more. This is a very complex story, deceptively straightforward at first, then everything simply gets wierder and wierder.

More than anything, FAUB is a webcomic that makes you feel like you're reading a storybook, not a comic. Even the distinctive art style serves to enhance the urban fairy tale feel. It meanders and takes its own sweet time at telling the story. You feel like you're sitting by a fireside listening to the storyteller spin his tale. For a moment... perhaps a brief moment, you forget yourself and world beyond your computer screen.

The only problem with these kind of stories is that you tend to stay where you are until the story is finished, afraid that if you move you will break the spell. For an ongoing webcomic this is a bad thing, because the story is one of those that needs to be told in entiriety to have an effect on the reader, enough for that reader to go and recommend it to someone else. And as far as I can tell, this story still has a long way to go.

There was a snark not too long ago on websnark where Wednesday White debated whether links and connections are everything. I remember there were some lively comments to that post, in which I mentioned the direct opposite to that school of thought:
People who think if they slave away and produce good work, people will magically find out about their good work, even if said good work is never shown to anyone or displayed outside of the studio and they never tell anyone about it. Then they whine about how it's not fair someone less skilled gets accliam when they can do better. (Well duh!)

Which eventually got distilled down to:
They can't care if they don't bloody know it's there

John's been chafing at the slow growth of FAUB lately. So for the record, this is me making sure a few more people know it's there.

ps: For those interested, here is a guest cover I did for issue 4 of FAUB.

Monday, March 07, 2005

Webcomic Obituaries #1




Spells and Whistles, the creation of Tauhid Bondia. Gained noteriety tangling with Scott Kurtz, escaped, went on hiatus, and came back again. Was ambitious, but died suddenly and without warning.

Teo and Sara, creation of Jorge Hernadez. Was charming and showed great promise. Preferred to die with dignity rather than linger on as an incomplete memory. Will be remembered regardless.

NeTrek, creation of Simon Shepherd. Ended and found a higher calling. Godspeed and all the best, Sij.

Gigawhut?, creation of Brian Maze. Plugged to soon, Found too soon, Websnarked too soon, currently Missing in Action. Have you seen this webcomic?

--Ping

Friday, March 04, 2005

Stopover at the UK Web and Mini-Comics Thing: I have a little blue ticket stuck to my wall!

Just a quick head's up to announce that on March 19th, I will be going to...



... as a visitor. I'm not exhibiting anything, as I don't have the time to organise and get a table and make stuff to sell.

But I will be there, checking out the stalls of all those great webcomics. Maybe I'll get a some Scary-Go-Round mechandise for Mos, and I'll definitely take lots of pictures and post them here. Of course, no one's going to to know who I am, much less recognise me, but hey, I'm fine with that... it's my very first Con after all.

Oh, I should mention that I am also planning on participating in their 24 minute comic event. Originally, I hadn't really decided and was pondering if it was possible to do it with the other people I'm planning to meet up with, so I emailed the person in charge and asked for more details.

Not only did she give me those details... she added me to the list.

I blinked twice, then decided... "Oh hell... why not?"

Carpe diem. Seize the day! This is just going to be so much fun.

Stopover at Shivae: A gem hiding in plain sight!

I was surfing around Onlinecomics.net recently, trying to think of an idea for my next Comixpedia column, when I caught the sight of an intriguing thumbnail in one of the sponsor links.

So I clicked it, and pretty much found a gem of a webcomic I'd missed.

Remember me mentioning something about comics that hook you from the first few pages? Add Shivae to the list.

This comic is one of the rare ones that do not have any humans in the cast. It's also one of the rarer fantasy webcomics that do not borrow from Tolkien, and has its own original world. Lastly, it's also one of those comics where there are protagonists and antagonists, not good guys and bad guys. Shades of grey.

All those score a lot of points in my book.

Add to the delicious colouring work, the pretty art and the charming storytelling, you have something I really and highly recommend.

I'm sorry to say though, after the first few pages, I noticed the Keenspot banner on the top and my first reaction was: "Huh? It's on Keenspot?"

Now, before you wonder why, I mean no belittling of Keenspot by this... I'm just surprised that it is in Keenspot, that's all. Not because I don't think it deserves it (it certainly does, it's an excellent comic). No, I'm surprised because I read a lot of Keenspot comics, and for some reason I somehow missed knowing about a comic that I wish I had found much much earlier.

The archives indicate it's been there for a long time, and it's apparently done by the same person who does Alien Dice. Admitedly, I don't read Alien Dice, but I've been following Keenspot comics since what... 2000? And I could have sworn I've gone over the listing in main page many times, and although I don't read all of them I thought I knew the Keenspot lineup. Yet somehow... I missed seeing this comic among the lot.

In fact, if it wasn't for Onlinecomics.net's thumbnail system, I may never had stumbled across this gem hiding in plain sight. And somehow that disturbs me that I found it from a webcomics directory instead of the Keenspot site.

If anyone from Keenspot is reading this, I have a suggestion: You know, the mouseover thing on the Keenspot front page is all very cool and all, but how about and extra page with just simple thumbnail links where you can see all of the comics lineup at once? It's not that hard to do, you don't have to even replace the front page, but I think it'd be more effective. Pretty please? Of course, if something like this already exists, and I missed it, please do direct me to it, someone.

But anyway, just goes to show, no matter how many times you look at something, and how much you think you know about it, you can never quite see the whole of it.

It does make me wonder... How many more comics are there out there that I will love and would dump my current read list for instead that I just haven't found?

Argh, like Gianna says: So many comics, so little time...

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.

Website: http://www.graphicsmash.com/series.php?name=ascent&view=current
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...


Problems:
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.


Overall:
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