Sunday, December 14, 2008

Hotspot #16: Happy Birthday. Now here's a white glove to the face!

So it was my Birthday on the 13th (last Saturday).

While I spent it in a manner that was err... interesting, what I want to talk about today is how birthdays make you think about your life and all that you have achieved and all that you haven't.

In my previous Hotspot I talked about time and comics, and the good thing about it is that it made me look beyond the present and what I wanted to be doing comic-wise, a year from now.

Let's be honest, I love my experimental comic, The Longest Sojourn. Messing around with it has taught me so much, but I don't want to be still doing it by next year. I want to be working on The Jaded by then. I fully intend to finish these two comics, and I already have another one lined up that I don't want to be starting until at least finish TLS.

The thing is, TLS is indeed on its penultimate chapter. And while that sounds tantalizingly close to completion, it's not when you bring out the math.

My chapters for TLS average at around 60 pages per chapter. I update a page every week. I'm currently close to halfway through the 2nd last chapter, so even with my conservative estimate of needing at least 100 pages more to finish the story, it's going to take me 100 weeks to finish the comic.

100 weeks is 2 years, give or take a few weeks. So regardless of what I want, I will still be doing TLS this time next year at the rate I am going.

Let me reiterate this. I do not want to still be doing TLS by next year.

And I do not intend to leave it unfinished.

Which means there is only one solution to this problem. Despite my real life commitments, difficulties and what not, I need to increase my update frequency. There is no way around it.

Sometimes, nothing is as good a motivator to a flagging schedule as asking yourself what you want to be doing the same time next year and crunching the numbers for the math.

Updating once a week = 52 pages
Updating twice a week = 104 pages

So the gauntlet is down. 

As they say: nothing to it but to do it.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Postcards #3: The Cattle Raid of Cooley

Comic: The Cattle Raid of Cooley
By: Patrick "Paddy" Brown

So I got this request to look at this comic from not an email, but one of the comments in my previous postcards.

If you like "story-oriented comics", you might consider checking out mine. "The Ulster Cycle" is a series of serials set in Iron Age Ireland and based on Irish legend. The first story, Ness, followed the daughter of the king of Ulster on a personal vengeance quest as war threatened her father's kingdom. The current one, "The Cattle Raid of Cooley", is set a couple of generations later and stars Ness's grandson, a teenage rookie border guard who has to face an invasion single-handed. It's at:

http://paddybrown.co.uk

hope you enjoy.


I'm a mythology junkie, but for some reason or other I never gave much attention to Irish mythology. I think I've have heard vaguely of the Hound of Ulster, but never quite did I look further into the myth than that. Naturally, when I popped over and had a look and Paddy Brown's site I was quite delighted to see a comic about Irish mythology of all things!

I'm not sure if it's just my connection, but for some reason the page takes a-g-e-s to load on my compy. It could be the sad excuse of my ISP of course, but something on the page seems to wreak havoc on my connection speed every time (a total of three different attempts on different days) I visit the site, which is something I do not experience on other comic sites.

It is just me? No idea, but it makes reading the comic difficult. The first page is inaccessible, due to the multiple pages on one page and the slow load speed causing some of the images to not load at all. Pity, what I can see of them seems interesting.

Hm... checking on the file sizes of the individual pages, they seem to be around 340KB or so each. Strange they should be so large for art that 's pretty much 2 colours. I can see how sticking 6 of these in a single page cause one's connection to have a heart attack. Frankly, for this style of art I would have thought a PNG would do a better job as opposed to a JPEG. Really bloated JPEGs, at that.

Since I had to skip a few pages that refused to load, it's really hard to get into the story. One thing I do note is the style of dialogue is different. In many fantasy comics, you tend to get these medieval looking characters speaking in modern Americanized english, so it's a nice change to see the characters speaking in character, so to speak. (Did I confuse anyone with the last sentence?)

The art is very nice. I love the use of lines and the style, but the use of red line on white background bugs me. It's the same argument as the first postcard: poor contrast and an unnecessary strain on the eyes. (which is my polite way of saying: "Ooo nice art... but MY EYES!).

I quite understand the want to tint greyscale art with a slightly different colour to make it a little more interesting. After all, I sepia tone my comics as well. But even in the tinted art there's still... well black. or at least, very dark areas. In my opinion, the eye-strain can be greatly reduced and the red tint still retained with a simple hue adjustment and a decrease in the colour saturation:


Original - Panel from the comic


Edited - After 60 seconds of Photoshop work

All in all, I could like this comic. It certainly piqued my interest but the harrowing experience of trying to read through the snail-speed-loading archives resulted in me backing off. I would definitely recommend shrinking the image size bloat. It seems unfair that technical issues can torpedo the chances of a comic being read, but alas, if the effort of going through the archives is greater than what the protagonist doing in the comic... it does.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Stopover at No Rest for the Wicked: Andrea's back!


Being the ardent reader of No Rest For The Wicked that I am, I was overjoyed to find Andrea's resumed updating NRFTW again!

I first reviewed NRFTW back in some of my early journey legs. And while some comics have dropped off my reading list, NRTFW was one I faithfully followed, even during the hiatused times. I used to say that discovering NRFTW was one of the finds that made starting this blog and comic reading adventure worth it. And I still do.

So yay! I'm happy. This just made my week. I'll even call it an early birthday present!

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Oh Gee. Thanks, Yahoo!

I'm sorry for the slow timing to the next writeup. I logged into my Yahoo! mail account to find it emptied and most of my mail missing, including the mails from people who wrote with review requests and other Webcomic Finds stuff.

Needless to say, I am very very upset. No I still haven't figured out what happened.

I'll be picking up the pieces and doing damage assessment.

If you've written to me and I've not replied, you'll know why. Feel free to resend to webcomicfinds @ Gmail.

Argh. What a mess :(

Monday, November 17, 2008

37th Leg: Dresden Codak



Comic: Dresden Codak
By: Aaron Diaz

Setting and Elements: Surreal, Sci-Fi, Semi-Futuristic
Content Type: Philosophical, Adventure, Action, Satire

Art Medium: Full Colour, Tablet
Art Style: Semi-realistic Cartoony

Is About: Kimiko, a transhumanist roboticist and her adventures dealing with her disillusionment with humanity, space robots and other things.

Website: http://dresdencodak.com
Frequency: Irregular weekly
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation: I really like the website design. It's clean but not sterile, and is generously sprinkled with samples of the cartoonist's art style. Navigation is clearly linked... my only beef is I'm not sure where to start from.

You would think that clicking the Comic Archive button would solve everything but it doesn't. Yon reader is presented with a list of comics, but there's no clear indication of the beginning, so I guess I'll go by date and take the earliest one.


The Concept:

Dresden Codak is one of the first examples I've seen of a non-serialized comic. There is no clear beginning or end, it's more of a collection of stort stories and philosophical ramblings of the author. The beginning pages you can read out of order if you like, they are standalones. 

It's only up to the "Hob" storyline when things get a little more sequential and there's more a semblance of a contiguous storyline.

Don't expect your typical webcomic setup here. No siree. No-four-friends-in-an-apartment making wisecracks, no party-of-adventurers setting out to vanquish evil overlord, no band-of-freedom-fighters waging a desperate war against a robotic sentience. Oh wait... forget what I said about the last part.

By the way the title Dresden Codak doesn't really have much to do with the comic's naming. It's more of a pen name. At least, as the creator Aaron Diaz says it:

Why "Dresden Codak"? - Because I don't want to be confused with Latin sensation Aaron Diaz.


The Art:

The art for the comic is downright gorgeous. Aaron is a professional artist, and you can tell that from every panel of art, design, layout and detail in his work.

Apparently he does most of his work digitally, with computer and tablet, though many people might think he inks the art by hand and colours digitally (not so). I think I learned more about drawing just from looking at his technique and detail than I have for a long while.

Words are poor choice for describing the art really, I'll let the self-insertion do the talking:



The Writing:

As nice as the art is for this comic, the writing is the most distinctive thing here.

You know how I always complain about subpar comics with boring and cliched writing and such? And how we should all read comics that are out of our comfort zone once in a while?

Well I can assure you Dresden Codak does not fall in the boring and cliched category. This here is a comic that requires quite a bit of outside reading and thinking to grasp. I'll candidly admit I didn't get all the references to quite a few of the theological discussions. (And poof, there goes the illusion I had that I was reasonably well-read. Apparently when you start working you get depressingly practical and what you read and lose all your idealistic theory :( )

Back to the topic of the writing, the messages behind the comic are surprisingly deep and thought-provoking. The topics cover range form science, religion, psychology etc etc. One might not necessarily like or agree with them, but they do make you think. And I like comics that make me think, even when they make me think of things I'd normally wouldn't choose to think about. Lastly, I like comics that introduce new concepts and topics to me. (First time I've heard of "Transhumanism", for example.)

Oh I should also mention, this comic is unapologetically and proudly atheist. If religion is a taboo subject for you, you might not find this comfortable reading. As one of the Dresden's tagline goes: "Alienating audiences since 2005".

The Hob storyline is a merits a seperate section on the writing, being less of the standalone ramblings and more of a full blown epic storyline. There is a detailed story and characters that we have been briefly introduced to are given a deeper characterization, Some of it had me in stitches. 

It's a little easier to follow than the preceding pages, but still has quite a lot of "thinkety think" involved to understand the whole argument on why the characters do what they do.

It is a satisfying read though.


Problems:

I don't think it's a "problem" per se, but more of an on-purpose designed obstacle by the author that so much of the writing of this comic requires effort to understand. 

The thing is, many people don't really read comics to think.

Frankly? People read about star-ships and alien and fantasy elves not because they want to study alien civilizations or elven anthropology (or whatever you call the study of elven culture *chuckle*). No, they read books and comics about these things as a form of escapism from their own real lives. Even if it's for a little while.

So I suspect many readers will be attracted to something that looks like a steampunk/fantasy comic to them, and then when they start reading they're going to end up with a philosophical brickbat in the face.

And the sadistic part of me is going to giggle when they make a hasty retreat back to those comics about blond elven archers and womanizing starship captains vs space aliens.

You know, the old and comfortable well-worn stuff. And it's probably better that way.


Overall:

Dresden Codak is a well done piece of work, but it's something that isn't for everyone, and I get the impression the creator made it with a niche audience in mind. No pandering to the lowest common denominator here. 

And that's what makes it excellent in its own right.

There are cute references to obscure (or not so obscure, eg. Star Trek) things everywhere, and the Flaming Lips-que page names are (I apologize for the gamerspeak) pure win.

All in all, I find it interesting and refreshing, and a bit of a challenge. I might not exactly be checking it eagerly daily, but I will pop back once in a while to see what Kimiko and gang are up to whenever I need something to think about and want something different.


ps: I had no idea until after I had written this that Dresden Codak was the WCCA winner for 2008. Out of touch much, Ping?
ps again: Oooohhh.... guilty

The Next Leg:

Well this looks interesting. Westernized manhua? Easternized comics? Depends on how you look at it I suppose.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Postcards #2: Carribean Blue



Comic: Carribean Blue (http://www.katbox.net/cblueen/)
By: Ronaldo Rodrigues

Welcome to another episode of Postcards. Today I am going to look at another comic request:

Hi, I'm the artist behind the Caribbean Blue webcomic, a full color (save for guest pages), weekly comic, located at http://www.katbox.net/cblueen/. I came across your comic review site and I was hoping you guys would consider me for a review.

Thanks for your time, I look forward to any feedback you can provide!
Ron


Every type of reader has their own particular biases when it comes to the type of comics they want to read. I know I certainly do. My tastes tend towards story-oriented comics with good characterization, original world building and sophisticated plots, and the occasional witty humour comic though I find even the best of them grow slightly stale after a while.

However, on occasion I do read comics that fall out of that particular "comfort reading zone", as a matter of fact, one of the reasons I started this blog is to get myself to read comics out of that aforementioned comfort zone..

"Carribean Blue", I have to admit, falls out of my comfort reading zone. It involves manga-style catgirls, a lot of fanservice and is rather light hearted. I have however, fallen head over heels in love with comics that weren't in my comfort reading zone before, so like they say, proof of the pudding is in the eating.... so let's see how this goes.

In keeping with my policy of being ruthlessly honest, I will say if I hadn't been asked to review this comic, I probably wouldn't have continued reading it as far as I did due to the overwhelmingly jarring intro. I would have given up within the first 6 pages or so.

From the very first page of the comic I felt as though the I was having a whole bunch of main characters shoved in my face. I hadn't even managed to get the names or adjust to the fact they were catgirls, or "Nekocats" when the comic immediately started on introducing even MORE characters and a epic prophecy plot of sorts. I couldn't help but thinking rather resentfully: "Oi, you haven't given me a reason to even CARE about your main characters and I'm supposed to care about whatever else these new characters are?!"

"I feel a little overwhelmed by all this, Kensington..."

It doesn't help that the main characters get less of an intro than the secondary ones. It could be that this comic is a sequel to another one, at least I got the feeling I had started a book in the middle and was supposed to know the backstories of all the main characters at this point. At any rate, I found it very hard to "get" into the comic, particularly as the plot has serious problems in terms of consistency. (So the protagonists are catgirls, which seems a normal thing for them, till they get to their holiday island, where they are something like legends due to a prior catgirl saviour heroine. But there is another catgirl there, and for some reason the townspeople don't trust the other catgirl... and there's a prophecy about a bell that the catgirl heroine had left... you get the idea. Or rather, you don't... which is the problem.)

The lack of coherence in the story intro is a pity, because the full colour art is quite pretty in the later pages (although I prefer the black and white screentone ones more). There is a some cute characterization and humour in there, but without a solid narration and plot to build upon, they lose much of their impact.

Generally I don't recommend backtracking, but I would probably recommend a prologue or something to make the introduction less info-dumpish. Carribean Blue might have promise and a story worth reading behind all its flaws, but to be honest... as much as I tried to keep reading, I lost interest by the third chapter. Sadly, a story is only as good as how well it is told. Without a good intro to hook them in, most readers won't be staying around long enough to find out whether it is or not.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Stopover at NaNoWriMo: Looking over Longingly

Well folks, it's that time of the year again and NaNoWriMo, or November the National Novel Writing month is upon us.

I want to write a novel. In fact, last year, at around this time, I tried to start one but I was in the midst of a depression and upheaval that I'd rather not talk too much about. As you might have expected, the project didn't quite get off the ground.

What I learned however, no matter how good you think you could write at one time, it's hard to write a whole novel off the bat when you have been out of practice.

So I blinked and the next thing I know it's November again, and I want to take a steps toward writing a novel again. But I need to learn to walk again before I can fly. So taking the advice of a very wise friend, I'm starting small, and instead of an actual novel I will just write short stories for practice during the course of the month. Practice for when I feel ready to tackle a whole novel and not neglect my comics at the same time.

The subject matter will vary I suppose, but I guess I might take the opportunity to expand on my miscellaneous comic universes and write about those stories and stuff that never make it into my comic. I don't intend it to be all comic stuff though... we'll see how it goes. I like some variety, which is probably why I found the novel focus tiring.

The downside is I'll probably be inflicting my meagre literary efforts on you lot on my blog. Haha!

Hey, whatever gets me writing more, right? I do not intend on Little Drops of Sunshine being the only piece of writing I've ever done that I felt really proud of.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Hotspot #15: Comics, Time-Flows, and The Things That Happen In Between...


Something I read on my friend Xmung's blog today got me thinking about how the timeline in webcomics travels at a speed so differently from our own. I forget the exact wording but he was talking about his comic Magellan and how his latest chapter took 3 years to finish.


3 years in a long time in real life. At least it was for me during my self-imposed withdrawal from the webcomics world while I struggled to adjust with changes in the real world. In that time, all sort of astonishing things happened apparently, ranging from Comixpedia becoming Comixtalk to make way for the wikipedia of Comics,  to Eric and Weds  getting married! 


In that time, I had changed from an idealistic university student to an adult with a full-time job and responsibilities and all those things that appaarently happen to you when you mature. Well I say "mature" but my colleagues at work tell me I still make random funny faces from time to time for no apparent reason (I was thinking of how to draw an expression). They still haven't adjusted to my penchant of breaking into a melodramatic evil cackle (BWAHAHAAHA!) whenever I successfully complete something that has been giving me trouble for days, either.


Things online change too. I couldn't help but notice that when I returned to webcomics that the trend for webcomics communities seem to be less host-based now, and there are more individual webcomic subgroups that I remember there ever being. Heh... I remember a time when most of the webcomics you could read on the net were on this hosting service called Big Panda... and then Keenspot and Keenspace (Now known as ComicGenesis). Now more and more people are hosting their comics on their own webspaces, or group up with friends and share one.


While in some ways it might be an improvement, I also I feel a pang of sadness whenever I visit the ComicGenesis forums now. I remember the state of organised chaos they used to be in, and while things were always crazy back then and some flame wars got a bit out of hand sometimes you could always count on something interesting happening every day... or even every hour!


And in the real world too, well, you have whole other cans of worms people wish they could forget: ranging from coup de etats in various countries to the sticky subprime mortgage crisis. Events that will change the world drastically have come and gone...


...And in all that time, less than a day has gone on in a comic.


It makes you wonder, doesn't it? The difference in how time elapses hit me particularly hard when I realised that one the characters in my own comic whom I used to think of as "a few years older than me" is now several years my junior and I identify with him less as compared to the older characters now.


And the characters in some comics I read now feel too young to me. I go back and read my own comics and smile at how different I used to think as compared to how I think now.


A family member forwarded me an old photograph the other day. It shows a shy and gawky teenage girl with a sheepish grin, sitting at a table strewn with papers and inking with a marker. Sadly there is no date on it. The picture is at least 8 years old, but I suspect it is closer to 10. 


Yes, that's me as a teenager. You could say I was a bit on the shy side back then...



If you squint at the page she's inking, you would recognize the very first page of The Longest Sojourn, my experimental 'learning' comic that I'm still working on today. Yes, that picture captures a particularly significant moment for me, because it was the ever first time I  had ever worked on a comic that I planned to show to other people and not just myself.


I counted the days in the passage of time in the comic and was startled to realise that less than a week had passed in the lives of the characters.  Less than a week! And it took me more a third of my total lifespan so far to get that far!


It's humbling, and scary in a way. I wonder if any webcomic creator out there ever sits back and wonders when they start a comic they might well be still working on the same thing 10 years later? If they will even finish telling all those stories before they outgrow their own creations and lose interest? Or when they get seduced by a better idea and start on another new comic? Or when the real world calls and they have to give up their pet project? Does anyone think that far ahead. If they do, do they ever get discouraged and never start at all?


I did think about this for a bit and realised something. Even during my time away from comics, I still thought about comics. The doodles on memo pad at work can attest to that. Sure, life took up most of my time and my comic output slowed to a trickle. Nowadays I think about comics more than I make comics, but I never could really fully stop thinking about them. And I suspect I never really will.


There will come a day in the future when I'm old and gray and retired and whatnot. When that time comes I'm pretty sure I will be sitting in front of a table, probably with paper and pen, or tablet and computer, or maybe a holo-pen or whatever art device they will have come up with by then. 


And I'll still be making comics. 


I'll have to be sure the take a picture of myself grinning sheepishly then. 


Hell, I might even throw in a BWAHAHAHAA!



Sunday, October 12, 2008

Postcards #1: Washed Ashore


A quick introduction to Postcards:

Ever since I've been writing Webcomic Finds I've often received requests from people to have a look at their comics and review them. But due to the format and methodology of Webcomic Finds' selection process I've been unable to accommodate them until I came up with the idea of Postcards.

I like to think of Postcards as less of a review, more of a critique, as compared to my usual reviews. So I will focus less on describing the comic and more on critique. 

To start it off I am going with David from Kristy VS the Zombie Army. As you recall, I wasn't exactly flattering in my review of his comic previously. In addition, in my previous Hotspot I had wondered if I should let him know about my review, and eventually I did drop him a mail.

Considering I tore his comic into shreds (figuratively of course), he was quite civil and very gracious about it, and provided some insight on why Kristy is the way it is. I hope he doesn't mind my quoting a few lines from his email:

When I started zombie army I had never done much more than a one or two page 

sequential comic, so the entire thing has been a learning experience and one 

that I feel has benefited me greatly.

I'll say you come off a bit haughty in the review, but overall I think it's a reasonable piece and there is definitely stuff in it I agree with.

Having done (and am still doing an experimental comic) I can totally understand that. That doesn't mean what I said about it doesn't apply of course, but I see where he is coming from. 

However, the point of experimental comics is that you learn how to make better comics later. 

Also, do me a favor and check out www.washedashorecomic.com when you have a 

second, heck do a review of it if you want to and let me know what you 

think.

So, when he even invited me to review his other comic project, how could I say no?


Comic: Washed Ashore

By: David "kidnemo" Tekiela


To start with there aren't very many pages of Washed Ashore. In fact there are only 6, which limits how much I can analyze somewhat. However, I'll do what I can.

Washed Ashore follows the adventures of the protagonist who seems to have been well... washed ashore on some strange land. The concept, while not stellar, does have promise, and the character design is something I like very much. 

The art is done in black and white line art over a sandpaperish background. The overall effect is very quaint and eye-catching. Its distinctiveness is a definite plus, but after a while I couldn't help but feel something was off.

(Keep in mind, Postcards is all about critique, so while I will definitely give praise where it is due I focus more on ways a comic can be improved) 

I took me a while to figure out what was wrong with the art, and finally it hit me. The comic art  isn't making proper use of contrast. 

Now in normal black and white art, the artwork stands out very clearly, because you have the black lineart contrasting against the white paper. However, if you start your artwork on a midtone background and use black lineart without another lighter colour over it, the eye of the viewer is scattered all over the page. This is because black does not constrast as well and as a result, there is no clear contrasting point to for the eye to focus on. 

This is bad, because it makes it harder for the reader to see what the artist wants them to see, and you really don't want your reader squinting just to make sense of things.

The best way to illustrate this is that I stop prattling and use a couple of pictures instead:

This is the original panel taken from Washed Ashore. As I mentioned before, something about the art nagged at me as being... well... unfinished...

 

This is the same panel after I added some white for contrast:


Forgive my sloppy effort with the paint bucket tool, I had to write this review between flights so I really wasn't up to plugging my tablet in. (Image editing with a trackpad is no joke, let me tell you.)

But as you can see, the proper use of white "pops" the objects we want the reader to notice the most (the protagonist and the clouds) out from the background and into the foreground, making it so much easier on the eyes. It also provides some balance to the overall image and creates an illusion of depth.

Mind you, I'm not saying David's current style is bad or anything. The line art is impeccable and the colour scheme charming in its own way.  And there are some situations where it might be better suited to leave the white out (for example if you were depicting cave paintings or graffiti on the wall), but in this case, I really do think the white is what was missing.

As this is a postcard and not a dissertation I'm planning to keep this short, but I'd just like to take some time to mention that I really like the narration for this comic. There are no words or dialogue. At all.  All communication is done through the art.

There have been a few occasions where I have read a comic done by one person and absolutely hated it, then read another by the same person and was absolutely astonished that it was done by the same person. This is one of those cases, as my biggest complaint about Kristy VS The Zombie Army was that there was too much unnecessary narration, and here we have a comic that is different narration wise as the other spectrum of the rainbow.

Personally I think it's a vast improvement, and David does seem to have a talent for the subtlety sequential art once the words got out of the way.

So yes David, you really surprised me, and in a good way. I liked what I saw of Washed Ashore so far and hope you do continue it. Hopefully the suggestions in this postcard come in handy in making it better.

To those other people to whom I owe Postcards, hang on in there, your turn is coming, I'm just a bit busy in RL right now. Five weddings in a month is kind of crazy when you have to travel for a few of em. *groan*

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

36th Leg: Sam and Fuzzy


I couldn't find a link image from their link page, so I borrowed one from the archive page instead


Comic: Sam and Fuzzy
By: Sam Logan

Setting and Elements: Present-Day, Alternate reality 
Content Type: Humour, Adventure

Art Medium: Black and White, Line Art
Art Style: Stylised Cartoony

Is About: The adventures of the eponymous Sam, a "normal small-town guy" and his friend Fuzzy. Who is a bear... like... thing...
Frequency: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The page is very nicely done. It's very clean and functional, it really compliments the art well. 

And from what I can see the art is very cute indeed, black and white with clean lines, cartoony portions. I really have no idea what this comic is about with a title like "Sam and Fuzzy" so anything goes.

On a side note, I find the little details, such as graying out the ads on the side of the page to match the rest of it a very nice touch.

Getting good vibes so far, and special bonus points for the "Read from the beginning" link so handily displayed! *clickety click!*

I have to say I am impressed at the lengths this comic goes to make it friendly to new readers. There's an introduction and a recommended starting point, Plus a handy bookmark feature too boot. 

The Concept:
Sam and Fuzzy seems to be founded on the premise of epic, whacky adventure of a normal guy in really abnormal situations. And with a really abnormal companion (In this case, Fuzzy)

Jumping in from the storyline "Noosehead", it follows the exploits of "Crush" (Sam's nickname) who is a fugitive hiding from a bunch of very angry ninjas by being a roadie for the superlatively famous death metal band Noosehead. Of course jumping in at this point I got a bit disoriented, so it took me a while to figure out the concept.


The Art:
Sam (The artist, not to be confused with the character Sam) has a very consistent and distinctive cartoon style. A lot of his character designs are elegantly simple but expressive, although some of the simplicity goes a little too far that it is hard to tell what some of the characters are supposed to be at times. For example, I had no idea Fuzzy was a bear. I thought he was a robot for a good few chapters...

Similarly, I'm not a big fan of Sam's (the main character)'s rather clownish design once he ditched the "Crush" look. A bit too simplistic when you compare it against most of the others. Still, the characters are nothing to complain about, you can tell most of them apart easily, except for most of the ninjas, but then that's intentional.

The background art is in keeping with the character art... minimalistic yet suggestive and suitable. Logan keeps it devoid of superfluous detail, with just enough to let your imagination fill in the blanks. 

All in all the art is solid, once you get used to the style, which may be a bit strange to some. 


The Writing:

At first I felt very confused, probably due to too many characters being introduced at the same time. Granted, it was probably because I jumped in at the recommended storyline instead of starting at the beginning, but after the initial confusion things sorted themselves out and I started to follow the story. Plenty of helpful recaps are provided and while I have no idea how annoying they might be to someone who has read starting from page one, they work for the new reader if you're prepared to accept that a lot of these characters have bloody convoluted pasts.

Characterization of a lot of the secondary characters are excellent. Sam starts off a bit flat ad Fuzzy is annoying but after a while (especially in the recent story arc) Sam's character really starts to develop. Fuzzy is still annoying but you develop a tolerance to him after a while, which presume is the point.

The story plots start off relatively humourous (the lead singer of the death metal band is sick of depressing, angry music and wants to change his musical direction to folk songs, much to the horror of his recording company) and moves on to an epic, full-blown, convoluted conspiracy theory (the recording company is evil, meanwhile Sam is destined to be the ruler of an army of evil ninjas who all want to kill him). 

Surprisingly the story weaves together pretty well. Being the sharp-eyed martinet for gaping plot holes, and with a plot this complicated, I was surprised I didn't spot any that rang my warning bells yet. That's not to say that it's one of those comics that start out humourous and move on to be unbearably draggy and serious. In fact despite the increasing scale of the storyline, funny moments that had me barking in laughter were liberally sprinkled throughout the pages. (The name cards for the ninjas are my personal favourite)

Problems:
I'll be honest and admit I'm picking nits here. As I mentioned before, there are a little too many characters to wrap your head around at the beginning. Some people may have the patience to read through the first part until things start making sense. Others would just skip the whole thing.

The other thing is quite trivial but had a bit of an impact on my read. There are many guest comic periods throughout the run. Unfortunately most of them were just popped in mid-storyline with no option to skip them altogether. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind guest strips, most comics have them. Some of them might even be awesome. I just don't bloody like them in the middle of my first read of a comic, especially if they are in between pages of a gripping storyline. Pop them into their own section or gimme a link to skip them, please.

Overall:
All in all I enjoyed Sam and Fuzzy. It didn't quite blow my mind and keep me reading into the night like Dr. McNinja did, but it was relaxingly entertaining. It was a good read although I almost wish I hadn't started from "Noosehead" but from page one instead. It would have allowed me to escape this nagging feeling I was missing out on quite a bit of background during the whole time I was going through the archives. I might just add this to my read list and check back once in a while :)

The Next Leg:
From the lineup on the Links page, Dresden Codak looks interesting. It's an rather odd name, I dare say I should be able to tell you why it's called that by the time I complete the next leg of my journey.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Renovating....

I'm doing a bit of renovating guys, that includes upgrading the template to the new blogger version (which hopefully has a better navigation than this one). Webcomic Finds won't be looking like itself for a bit until I work out the kinks! 

Stay tuned!

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Hotspot #14: To Tell or Not to Tell?

I have to admit, I have having a bit of a conundrum about something.

I enjoy writing my reviews, and I know a number people do enjoy reading them, and a good number of creators enjoy getting feedback. Some have even written to me to specifically ask for reviews (I'm still trying to figure out how to respond to that. As you know I daisy chain my comic reviews, so even if I do oblige I might have to figure out how to work in detours)

Speaking as a person who draws comics, I value constructive criticism more than praise. I love it when I do get it. 

I believe it's a sign of a mature creator when they can take feedback without getting offended.

So before I start rambling again and such... I was wondering, most of the people whom I review never get to know I review them unless one of their fans stumbles across the review and let them know. And given my penchant to go for lesser known comics this is highly unlikely unless said webcomic creator does a vanity search for themselves on Google.

Would it be wrong... or right for me to let them know via email or whatever that I have reviewed them? 

While admittedly it would be easy to do so for the positive reviews, I am hesitant about doing so for ones I have not been enthusiastic on. For example the creator of Kristy VS the Zombie Army seemed to be so happy in what they were doing, it does not feel right to burst their bubble. On the other hand, I do think they would benefit from reading review and feedback. 

What a dilemma. 

If you were a webcomic creator which would you prefer? What would you do?

Friday, August 01, 2008

35th Leg: Kristy Versus The Zombie Army


Comic: Kristy Versus The Zombie Army
By: David Tekiela

Setting and Elements: Surreal Reality, Modern-Day
Content Type: Horror, Action, Adventure

Art Medium: Inks, Digital Colour
Art Style: Cartoonish, Manga influence is heavy.

Is About: A girl named Kristy who hunters Zombies. And other evil things.

Website: http://kristyvsthezombiearmy.com/
Frequency: Fridays
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation:
The layout of the page is neat and professional. It's black, and I love the teaser image for the latest page.

I really am forcing myself to keep my expectations low for this comic (this is based on its concept). After the phenomenal Dr.McNinja, I'm bound to compare whatever stop I make after that unfavourably against it, and I do not want to do that unfairly. I know... I'm human, I'm biased no matter how I try not to be, but that doesn't mean I stop trying.

From the title of the comic I'm morbidly curious on whether I'm going to be disappointed or not. Every superhero/horror comic nowadays seems to have the obligatory army of undead zombies and hero/ine battling them. I've reviewed a few in my past journeys. I may have been away from webcomics for almost 3 years but I'm still jaded to that concept thank you very much.

So if I am THIS pessimistic why did I even come here?

Well, Dr. McNinja recommended it by linking it, that's why. That, and I really want to see if this creator can bring in something fresh and new to a concept that has been worn threadbare. You never know. Besides, it's part of the Dayfree Press, so I assume there must be something!

And with that note, I clicketh the archive button...


The Concept:
Kristy is the daughter of two apparently famous heroes who hunted zombies, and I presume, other forces of evil. She attends the Nightshade University of Higher Learning, a school for Hunters of Zombies and such stuff. The comic follows her adventures as she follows her parent's legacy.


The Art:
The art for KVTZA starts off shaky, as most comics are wont to do. I really like the use of color in the strips, especially how it felt like it wasn't colour slapped on to black and white art. I was sorry to see them desaturate into black-and-white in the later pages.

The art style is distinctive, a cross between cute-cartoony with a lot of influence from manga, particularly in the over-exaggerated expressions whenever any of the characters have some strong emotion.  Sometimes this is a good thing, but when used wrongly and overused in particular, it stops being effective and becomes annoying.

I have to say I really do not like a lot of the character designs. The protagonist Kristy in particular, suffers from a very bland design. Partially due to this, I, as a reader, was absolutely unable to garner any semblance of liking or interest in her, which is a portent of doom for any webcomic. 

I couldn't help noticing a trend... The objects David seems to excel at drawing are anything other than humans. The Master Panda is well done, the Rock Person, Oswald is downright adorable... but when I see the lackluster human depicted next to them, it just doesn't gel. To further stress this point, I cannot help but notice whatever shortcomings the artist might have in drawing people, he is more than capable when it comes to backgrounds and scenery. There were quite a few pages where I just stopped reading and was amazed and how beautifully and artistically simple some of his background work is. 


The Writing:
...confuses me. It infuriates me because there is so much of it and so little substance at the same time. Most of all, it drives me nuts because it doesn't compliment the art, instead it barges in, overwhelms and smothers it.

I think there's a story behind this... and there might be a plot somewhere, I'm just trying to make sense of it. 

I can say without any hesitation that the writing is the very glaring weak point of the comic. In fact I have a dilemma because anything I write about the writing would be qualified to go in the "Problems" section.

Anyways, I will detail the problems with writing here, and any that are in the realm of both art and writing I will pop into the section after this.

Let's start with characterization. The eponymous Kristy is supposed to be a headstrong, independent, courageous girl who has reformed and now dedicated to hunting down the evil zombies. Every now and then a secondary character mentions how special she is, but the problem is from the point of view of this reader she doesn't do anything that seems worthy of the respect given to her. She talks to much, whines too much, thinks too little, monologues too much...

..gawd, don't get me started on the monologuing. This had me pulling my hair out at one point. For some reason Kristy feels that it is necessary to recap in a monologue, the events of the last few pages every few pages, ala old newspaper comics. If she doesn't do it, the narrator does it for her. And it will always be in this cheesy-advert epic sounding wall-of-text.

Unfortunately this is not a newspaper comic, it's a webcomic . When you read this in one shot it's not only redundant... it's absolutely a chore. And the word "chore', let me remind you... rhymes with "bore".

Back to the characterization... my other bone to pick with it is it's also inconsistent. You have an apparently bad-ass Kungfu Panda Master (Oh come on you knew that was coming) whom the writer spends time to set up and how much of a zombie killing machine he is. Yet he gets taken out in an embarrassingly cliched "I throw myself in front of you to take the blow for you" anti-climax. Arrrgh... What's the point then?

There are numerous characters that are introduced for no apparent reason, and more often than not their actions make no sense. Kristy herself makes no sense.  Let me give you an example of what I just said: 

  1. In the beginning Kristy receives some mystic orb from her parents that she's supposed to protect at all costs. 
  2. Hordes of evil zombies show up and take it (and almost kill her in the process). 
  3. She recovers from a 5 month coma and swears she'll get it back. 
  4. She goes off to train with KungFu Panda Master (who has another apprentice i might add) in a bid to get it back. 
  5. Meanwhile bad guys discover it is a fake, assume she swapped the orbs, and swear to get it from her.
  6. Bad guys attack Kristy and Panda Master, disappointing panda fight cop-out occurs. 
  7. Bad guys realise Kristy does not have the orb. The oh-so-great panda master gets taken prisoner since bad guy is so lazy he can' t be bothered looking for it any more and needs to blackmail Kristy to do his work for him.
  8. Kristy does his work for him and tracks the REAL orb down. Apprentice 2 doesn't even merit an appearance . You'd think he'd be worried about his master too or something. Apparently not.
  9. Kristy meets guardian of the orb, who despite knowing the bad guys won't keep their word, will give the orb to Kristy if "she defeats him in battle". 
  10. Eventually Kristy gets the orb and trades it in for the Panda Master.
  11. Bad guys attempt to betray her, orb guardian shows up and throws his sword to her and disappears again.
  12. Kristy manages to hurt the bad guy, bad guy retreats and gives back Panda Master.
  13. Bad guys get away with orb.
I think most of you will see my problem with this... did we forget point number one? The annoying thing is that she doesn't even seem to show any hesitation on what choice she has to make. No "ok Panda life VS Really Important Thing Dead Parents told me to guard with my life for the good of the world... what do I do?" She just blindly follows the path unwavering like a non-human automaton. Maybe because the script says so. I don't know, but I cannot identify with Kristy. At All. I cannot even begin to understand her thinking.

So uh... we've just touched on characterization, behaviour and dialogue... what about the plot?

It seems to consist of lots of cliches that feel like they've been borrowed from miscellaneous movies. There's whole parent's legacy thing, the Special One onus given to Kristy, the whole quest for an item of power, having to rescue friend by hunting for that thing bad guy wants...? 

And the fight scenes. I like comics with action. I love action. But there is action and there is repetition. This is repetition.

It did cross my mind that KVTZA might actually be a parody of all the cliche films and comics that do the same thing... but it doesn't feel like a parody comic. It feels dead-serious. There is an occasional moment of humour, but none that really have me laughing. It leaves me con-fuddled.

Problems:
I don't like writing negative reviews and I really don't like not being able to praise something that has obviously shown so much effort put into it. But at the same time, I am not a PR officer for webcomics, and I do owe it to my readers to be honest.

And I truly believe I do owe it to David to at least try and explain what it is that didn't work out for me, so he can learn from it.

This is my train of thought at one point:

Ping: Hm, ok, violence... fight scene... oh another fight scene... fight scene... 
*More fight scenes*
Ping: Hokay... why is she narrating exactly what she's depicted as doing in the panel? Surely it isn't necessary to describe slicing zombies with chainsaws on a panel that shows her waving around a bloody chainsaw and slicing zombies... 
*Much more fight scenes Later* 
Ping: ...If I see another character who's grinning say "Grin" and a character running with the sound effect "Run!" and a punching combatant say "PUNCH!" I'm going to kick something... Oh god it's another monologue recap... not another monologue recap!
*Even More fight scenes later*
Ping: This whole thing doesn't make sense. How many more pages of this left? Oh no... another obstacle... she's going to fight again. It's not even interesting fighting. Please... Kristy just shut up and fight and  don't keep narrating your fight. PLEASE! HELP!

To summarize my meandering diatribe, the main problems are thus:

  1. Too much fighting, too little substance
  2. Plot makes no sense. 
  3. Characters make no sense and do not behave in a consistent manner. They are overly dramatic about things they shouldn't be and totally ignore things that they should.
  4. Please stop narrating the action scenes. They're action scenes, not narr-action scenes. 
That's the main ones I can think for the moment. It's a pity, because so much more could have been done with this concept, and instead of something new it just feels like a rehash. 

Overall:
Once again, I am left to wonder if this was intended to be a parody. The whole thing reads like this parody page of bad action I did for How Not to Run a Comic a few years ago: How not to Do an Action Scene. It's so similar in spirit its uncanny.

Ok I'm convinced this is a parody comic now. It has to be. Given the similarity of the art here to the Rat Creatures in Jeff Smith's Bone, it has to be.

In all fairness, the comic starts improving towards the end.  And it does seem that David is learning to "Show, not tell"... Behold! A page without text or narration!

I guess time will tell whether KVTZA is salvageable. I do apologize to David if I seem too harsh, but these are my very honest impressions of the comic from the point of view of a first-time reader. I hope he finds them at least a little informative. In the meantime, I'm going to get my flame-retardant suit.

The Next Leg:
The first choice I picked, "END" seems to be a broken link, so looks like Sam and Fuzzy gets the next leg! 

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Hotspot #13: So... Am I For Real?

Thirteen is an unlucky number, or so they say. I never did understand the reason behind it, but it must be pretty big, they rename floors of buildings 12A etc etc just to deny the existence of a 13th floor.

So this is my 13th Hotspot... any connection? I hope not.

Anyway a commenter named Bengo (I do apologise, I suppose it reflects badly on me and my 3 year absence that I didn't know who he was) indirectly posed a question I suspect a lot of you have been wondering to yourself but are too polite to ask... am I for REAL on restarting Webcomic Finds? Sure... as you know I posted a long review recently, going on from where I left off as if nothing had happened. But is there any guarantee I won't suddenly disappear again?

I'll be 100% honest:

No. Not really.

Will there be any guarantee I won't come back after disappearing again?

No. Not really either. Not unless I am dead, then you'd probably be guaranteed of that. (Sheesh, I'm not going to to come back from the grave to blog, people. Not that persistent.)

My point is, Life is unpredictable. People are unpredictable, so too shall this blog be. I will not make any promises I cannot be sure I can keep. This product does not come with warranty.

The other thing is: webcomics have become so much more mainstream to be now (to me at least) that there is no longer a "MUST PROMOTE LESSER KNOWN WEBCOMICS" agenda in this blog that I once started it with. That does not mean that I'll be suddenly reviewing PVP anytime soon. It just means I'll be focusing more on what I want to explore and learn and experiment from my travels, less on the political/social aspects of comics/print comic drama. It's about me exploring and reviewing comics. At my own pace. I'll be doing it for me, my enjoyment and those who enjoy reading and discussing it.

Maybe when I feel less like a fish out of the water (or more accurately, a fish that got out of the water, adapted to dry land and dived back in) I'll start reading the other blogs and get up to speed on what's been happening (and update my links), but right now I am presenting to you Webcomic Finds as it is. Just about exploring comics from the point of view of a first time reader, pure and simple. Nothing more, nothing less.

If you still have reservations about my return, I will understand. I do not expect any plugs and I ask for nothing.



All that said....

I do like having the rest of you coming along for the ride. I enjoy reading your feedback and discussing points about a comic I've just visited with you all. Please do continue if you feel inclined to.


Incidentally, I stumbled over this while looking up on Bengo's Blog: Comixpedia's List of Webcomic Blogs. I chuckled to myself when I noticed Webcomic Finds was listed as Dead and Mummified. Probably deserved, but now that it's updated, does it merit being moved out of category? I'll let it sit there for a while while I decide...

And Hmm.... Mummies... Zombies....

Which reminds me...

Saturday, July 12, 2008

34th Leg: The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

Now if you recall, back in my last actual log I checked out Dementia of Magic. So in grand Webcomic Finds' style, I'm continuing from DoM's link page. There are many well known webcomics there, but the absurdity of the concept made this one stand out:

Comic:
By: Chris Hastings (Pencils and Writing), Kent Archer (Inks)

Setting and Elements: Modern Day, Surreal Reality
Content Type: Action, Humour

Art Medium: Black and white, Pencil and Inks
Art Style: American Comic Book

Is About: The story follows the exploits of Dr. McNinja, of the Irish McNinja ninja clan (I cannot believe I typed that out with a straight face). The Doc, as he is known, has rebelled against his family tradition of being ninjas and becomes a doctor. The stories follow his adventures as he tries to run a general practice and cope with his life as a ninja at the same time.

Website: http://www.drmcninja.com/
Frequency: Mondays, Wednesdays, Fridays
Availability: Free

First Impressions and Presentation: The white website design is very clinical and well designed. I find it odd that both creators names were not on the frontpage with any sort of copyright notice, but all the information is available on the "About" page.

The illustation on the frontpage, of a ninja in a doctor's labcoat is beautifully rendered, if a little posy and stiff-looking. Overall, it looks to be promising, the premise is definitely unusual. Now to see how it plays out.

There is no "Start reading from first page" link on front page, so off to Archives.

The art style is very old-school comic-bookish, black and white ink lines. It looks pretty good so far. Judging by the preview it's a hugh archive, so looks like I'm in for a long read.

The Concept:
Well to be sure, the concept is unusual. You can have medical sitcoms like Grey's Anatomy and then you can have shows about ninjas. Combining the two is like combining strawberry cheesecake and rice congee. Not something you'd really think of naturally.



The Art:
Like most webcomics, the art starts off a little shaky in the first storyline but steadily improves as time goes on. The comic is in black and white, with clean lines although the artist does make use of what looks like tablet-work for some special effects.

The action looks very well-drawn, although at time I have had a strong feeling that some of the elements in the page have felt traced. Mind you this observation disappears in the later issues, the art is overall very well down and the composition of the pages and panel layout are impeccable.

Character design is very very distinctive. I certainly never had any difficult at any point differentiating between characters even though maybe 50% of the characters are ninjas who never, ever remove their ninja masks. Granted, a ninja who runs about in a white lab coat and stethoscope isn't particularly hard to confuse. Mind you, it's hard to make a ninja in a white lab coat look good, but heck, the Chris Hasting-Kent Archer partnership does it with considerable finesse.

One thing worth of mention is that since the main character is one who never ever (I repeat) removes his mask, all the expression for the Doc is done though what you can see of him, body language and eyes. Speaking from experience, I can tell you this is not easy. And here, it is remarkably well done.


The Writing:
The writing for Dr. McNinja is consistent in a few aspects, mainly that it's funny, and in keeping with the titular character, it's irreverently absurd. All that said, once you can suspend disbelief on the concept, a lot of things make perfect sense.  And it never tries to take itself seriously, and so continually lampoons: internet culture, Batman, the comic book industry, caption boxes, and occasionally, itself.

In short Chris has a very unique, pawky and enjoyable sense of humour, and this really is the hallmark of the series. This doesn't mean that Dr. McNinja is all silliness and no plot however. The plots of the stories, while always absurd, are surprisingly intricate and take care to make sense in the same absurd manner.

Add to this there is some very strong characterization going on in this series. It takes your perceived stereotypes and turns them on their heads. And while the Doc is portrayed something of a wonder (Medical doctors/super ninja) he has is own issues and is flawed and fallible enough to identify with and like. Even the villians are very well fleshed out, and don't get me started on Gordito, Judy (the rather unorthodox receptionist), and the Doc's Fruit and Nut cracker of a family... 


Problems:

Not really much that I can point out, the creators of this comic seem to know what they are doing.

There was one point where I was greatly worried that the comic might have fallen to (Drat I can't remember what's it's called... I just call it GPF syndrome. You can call it the Rowling syndrome too if you like.) the tendency of some humour webcomics to morph into overly serious epic drama comics. But much to my relief, although the overall story took a slightly darker and more serious tone, it never really got angsty or overly serious, and managed to retain the essence of McNinja-ness (there I've coined a new word) that never alienated the reader as much as some other comics did.

The other thing is the most recent storyline touches on a subject I have a problem with. Well, so much that over 3 years ago I wrote an article about it for Comixtalk (previously known as Comixpedia). Granted, it looks more promising this time round given the unconventionality of the writing... Chris might be able to pull this off in a way that doesn't make me roll my eyes. There are always (I am happy to admit) exceptions.

Overall:
I try not to be too gushing or too critical in my review logs, but this is a comic I seriously enjoyed and laughed out loud at. It's a Find, I am very glad I chose it for this leg of my journey.

There's quite a bit of violence, as should be expected from anything with the word "ninja" in it (Unless it's some hunter rolling "Need" on your epic mace in World of Warcraft... oh wait, we murdered a boss for that... nmind) but oddly enough it self-censors profanity, which I suspect is more for comedic effect than anything else.

The Next Leg:
...will be a surprise. There's lot of links in the links page, so you'll see what comes up in the next episode of Webcomic Finds!



Note: I had earlier mixed up names and referred to Kent as the writer when it should be Chris... uh... whoops?

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Comicgenesis is Catatonic?

So I haven't been able to update The Longest Sojourn this week due to the site and server being down every time I've tried.

I wonder what's going on?

I guess that kinda rules out me doing any reviews of any CG comics either :(

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Three Years is a very short time.

And yet it is a very long time as well. So many things have happened I don't think I recognize webcomic-dom anymore.

Oh scratch that, I don't think it can even be called webcomics-dom anymore. On return from my self-imposed exile from the world of webcomics I find that it seems more "mainstream" than newspaper comics nowadays. Certainly none of that "GOSH! They've got comics on the web!" vibe it used to exude!

Admiteedly I am no longer a dewy-eyed idealistic college student. Maybe a little older, (the wiser part is debatable) and maybe a little bit more cynical and jaded (sorry, I had to make that pun), but still with a love for comics and writing...

Well I guess it will make re-exploring webcomics a little bit more interesting then!