Sunday, March 01, 2009

Postcards #6: The Battle of Dovecote Crest

In my previous postcard we had an example of how bad presentation and marketing correspondence can negatively colour one's impression of a comic. Today I'm going to do the polar opposite and show how good presentation and communication can elevate one.

Some time ago, I received this email from Bridget, the artist who does The Battle of Dovecote Crest

Hello Ping,

Just wanted to make a request for a critique, if you have the time. The Battle of Dovecote Crest is my second webcomic, this time as the artist half of an artist/writer team. We're pretty new, having only started updating in late September 2008, but we've got a bit of an archive going and are about halfway through our first story arc. If you have any advice, it would be greatly appreciated!

Here's the link if you decide to check it out:

Bridget Underwood

If you compare this to the previous postcard, I'm sure you can see the difference in approach. There's no self-promotion, only statement of the facts. It's kinda like the difference between a good resume and a bad one really. A bad one has stuff like "I'm intelligent, self-reliant, able to multitask and am a team player." A good one says it like "I did project [X] with a team of 7 people where we coordinated to produce [Y]. My role was doing [A], [B], [C], where for [B] and [C] no prior documentation or precedence had been set yet.

In short, it lets the reader decide. And this does mean a lot.

Anyway, short prattle over, let's get to the comic itself.

I have to admit my initial expectation was apprehensive. It's a comic about history? (History was one of my most hated subjects back in school). However, the site design was just so charming (made to look like a civil ware recruitment poster) and in tune with the rest of the comic that it did allay any reservations I might have. The art and writing pretty much did the rest.

Anyway, Dovecote Crest is a joint project between writer Hailey and artist Bridget. Joint projects tend to be either amazing (think T Campbell and Gisele Lagace) or short-lived (I'd link some comic that this happened to, but I can't for the life of me remember the name) or both. The really bad ones... well they never really get started ;)

Back to the topic, this comic follows the life of "Charlie", a young graduate who majored in history but is finding life out of college with a history degree not quite up to expectations. Stuck working for a historical enactment museum in the diminutive town of Dovecote Crest while her fellow classmates somehow have found careers, her seed of discontentment is offset by the support of her friends: Her sweet but socially-inept boss Jeremy, nice but no-nonsense Tess, and the always cheery and comical Ben. (Well that was a lot of alliterative description).

I really like the art style... it strongly reminds me of Faith Erin Hicks' (of the Demonology 101 fame) early work. While it lacks a lot of flash and fancy special effects (which is not necessarily a bad thing, as it matches with the context very well) it is well done, and the strongest point of Bridget's work is her sublime facial expressions.

Of course all the best art in the world is nothing if the story is not compelling. But as it turns out there's no worries there, because the story crafted by Hailey transcends its setting. OK, so I'm a self-confessed history hater (though that might have been due to the inaccuracy of the history I was made to study suffer, but that's a whole different can of worms), but somehow the characters and writing made it come alive for me. I think even though the setting and subject matter may be unorthodox, there's a lot people who can identify with in the characters themselves. And by association they start to become interested in the setting and subject matter when they couldn't originally.

I think it's really obvious by now I really really like this comic. I guess it's because it surprised me by taking a subject that was anathema to me and transformed it into something interesting and compelling. It takes a lot of skill to be able to do that and when you do manage to do it, you're pretty much doing everything right. In fact I wrote this with the usual feedback and criticism thing in mind but I really can't find anything I would nitpick (well maybe other than don't put the news page posting in every page of the archives too).

So this comic is a rather special and unexpected Find. But when I read a comic like Dovecote Crest I thank the Web for webcomics. Dovecote Crest is a comic that would probably have never been accepted by a conventional publisher because of the unconventional and niche subject matter. It's a shame, but traditional publishers have budgets and costs and businesses to run, so their sense = cents (and dollars). It's business.

The webcomics don't have to be business. It can be about doing something for the heck of it.

And that's the beauty of it.


  1. I think this is a sign that I will read and love this comic :P Just before I read your review, on my RSS reader, I was reading a seperate comic review blog which was talking about the exact same comic (and also giving it lots of praise).
    It does look like a charming comic, and right up my street.
    I understand more and more the dioversity of comics the web is offering. I am really thankful actually for these review blogs, you wouldn't believe the amount of amazing webcomics I have found in under a week thanks to guys like you 0_0 Before this week I would spend forever trying to find something a bit different in the top 100 webcomic lists and what have you, but was unsatisfied most of the time. I thought people who made the most of the format was rare, but my god I was wrong!!
    I have to say though, I would disagree with you about the publishing thing. Maybe its only in England/Europe? But Although I dont find anything unusual in my comicbook shop, all of my local bookshops stock a wide range of interesting and unusual comics, most of them are published by SelfmadeHero, Jonathan Cape, or Random House, and they are pretty popular too! So, there is hope in the publishing world ;)

  2. Hi Bex!

    Generally I do find comics from England and Europe more to my taste (I grew up on Asterix and Tintin myself). Before the advent of manga I found stuff in the newspaper comics and superhero comics, while initially amusing... lacking depth and wearing thin after a while.

    My observations on getting a comic published were mostly based on this time when I wrote an article for Comixpedia (now Comixtalk) and had to talk to a lot of creators on their experiences trying to get their comics published. A lot of them were very good, but rather unconventional, and they got rejected because of it. Some got rejected even though their work was liked initially because they were female, but that's a whole new topic for a different time...

    I should mention that the people I talked to were mostly American so I don't know if it was just the publishers there being too formulaic or money minded. It's a small drop in a giant ocean at the end of the day. And maybe the publishers are being more open minded now.

    But in the end, print comics still have a circulation and cost problem. Circulation is limited by geography, cost is controlled by paper, ink and colour, shipping and stockpiling.

    I like the tactile feel of print comics, but I despise the difficulty in accessibility and the prohibitive cost of some of them. You have to find a comic shop to buy them if your local newstand doesn't carry them. Coming from a small town in the middle of nowhere, this was pretty much = No comics for Ping because back then we didn't have a comics shop. Anything you wanted to buy you had to pay through your nose to get from elsewhere.

    The other thing I really disliked was the space they took up. The way my life is right now means I travel a lot. I move frequently. It's very painful to sift though and move everything you own. Stacks of books and comics do not help.

    So webcomics were really something like a panacea to all those particular problems of mine. Maybe that's why I love them so much even writing about them is a form of enjoyment for me.

    Hm I need to expand all that and put it on a Hotspot...

  3. I totally see what you mean! Now that I'm finding more and more interesting webcomics, I do find myself reading online much more then I used to, there is definately something nice about being able to be caught up in a good story for free, as well as getting regular updates to the story instead of having to wait to buy it!! :)
    What is this about genders and publishing? That sounds horrible =_= I didnt realize people had such a hard time being published. I have a feeling its a little easier to get published here (England) since we're a very small community/comic scene. we all know each other, and are at a stage where we are all eager to move the comic scene along, I feel very lucky having read what you wrote!! 0_0