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*