Wednesday, January 21, 2009

38th Leg: Shi Long Pang

Comic: Shi Long Pang
By: Ben Costa

Setting and Elements: "17th Century China"
Content Type: Action/Adventure, Historical

Art Medium: Full-Colour, Heavy Inklines, Simplified
Art Style: Manhwa-Simplified Cartoon hybrid

Is About: The adventures of a shaolin monk who is forced to wander away from his monastery.

Website: http://www.shilongpang.com
Frequency: Weekly (about)
Availability: Free



First Impressions and Presentation:
I like the simplistic layout of the site, and how the title image blends with the background. The art is eye catching, if rather heavily styilized, and while I don't mind it for a humour comic it looks to me like this is an action-adventure one. I know some readers might get turned off by that. For some reason the mindset is that simplified = humour and action = realistic, but hey this is webcomics, the rules are made to be bent and broken.

It takes me a moment to realize the main site is no longer at Modern Tales and has moved to http://www.shilongpang.com/

The main site is even more elegantly simplistic. In fact I like the current site design even better. Whatever else you might say for the creator, he knows how to make a site look clean, interesting, and new-reader friendly.


The Concept:
Shi Long Pang is the tale of a wandering monk in ancient China. Yes I know that sounds ridiculously cliched, but this story is more than what it seems at first.

The titular character is a lost monk, wandering around looking for survivors of his monastery after it was razed by an army convinced the monks were harbouring rebels. Aptly described by a city guard as "like a little pork bun", he seems rather nondescript, but as more and more of the story unfolds, we get to see more and more of how he fits into the overall picture of war, intrigue and politics.

And wouldn't you know it, I go and pick a sample image that has the titular character cropped out. Uh... Oops. 
No that monk there is NOT Shi Long Pang.

The Art:

Like I mentioned before, the art at first glance seems over-simplified, but it is by no means simple. The colouring is beautiful, and although sometimes the facial expressions don't quite gel.

But overall the art is subtle and effective. And the detail in some of the pages truly is epic. The fight scenes, (and there are many of them), are intricately done. It's pretty amazing, as is sheer amount of energy and fluidity in them.

The more I read this the more amazed I am than the perspective and point of view the artist uses. It doesn't feel like a comic more, but a full blown movie and I'm in the middle of it. Quite an accomplishment.

And that simplified style really does grow on you.

I have to say though, I'm not a big fan of the use of screentones experimented with in the later pages though. They sort of go against the whole subtle nature of the artist's style. But it could be just teething problems.


The Writing:

One beef I often have with comics set in non-American contexts is pretty much well... the mannerisms and characters in the comics are often pretty much American, transplanted into ancient Japan or Rome or whatever exotic place they are supposed to be in.

There's usually very little research done on what those places WERE like, so it's refreshing for once to see a comic that goes into this with such painstaking detail.

I particularly like the use of authentic terminology, and the very reader-friendly footnotes that explain what they mean. Sometimes they are a little lengthy, but overall they give the comic a feel that I have very rarely encountered elsewhere. This, ladies and gentlemen, is writing with substance.

Although some scenes weave crazily from tragedy to humour the storytelling, pacing and introductions are superbly done. I never felt overwhelmed with characters (who were all humbly lovable), and I loved how the story gradually built up and deepened.
Politics and philosophy in particular, are very difficult subjects to tackle when it comes to comics, but the author carries it off very successfully here, and you can understand why things happen the way they do.

On a personal note, I love the bilingual jokes. Yes I know most people will miss them, which makes it funnier for those who DO get them, I suppose.


Problems:

The layout of the panels, while most of the time artistic, is sometimes confusing. Attempts have been made to improve the readability by adding arrows and such, but in my opinion they didn't work that well. The eye travels faster than the amount of time it takes the brain to register the pointy arrows, so having read a panel or two and then having my eye jerked back to the correct path can get somewhat tiresome.

Sometimes the walls of text in some pages are a little hard to read due to the hand-lettering (rest of the time, the hand-lettering's great though).

Like I mentioned before, the simplistic style of the art might turn new readers off, but I really wouldn't change it for the world. Sometimes you can't pander to the lowest common denominator, and if they miss out on this gem, it's their loss, really.

Overall:

I didn't really expect to like Shi Long Pang as much as I did. You know a comic is good when you continue thinking about it after you're away from your computer and doing something else and you're still pondering about the storyline and your favourite pages.

Yes, I didn't have great expectations of SLP, but the vaunted subtlety I keep talking about managed to get under my skin, and lo and behold, this one's going on my reading list.


The Next Leg:

I'm going to leave the choice of the next leg open for the time being and make my decision on which comic I'm going to pick from the Shi Long Pang links page later. Unless you want to recommend one from there, of course.

2 comments:

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  2. Great review. I got here from the Shi Long Pang comments, and I see that I should check back for reading suggestions and good writing. What a great thing you're doing here.
    Also, I would recommend Rice Boy from the Shi Long Pang links page. It's a strange and psychedelic story, told with great feeling and quirky style.

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