Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Stopover at ComicDish: Of Emos and Clan of the Cats

Hm, It's been a while since I've actually looked at Comic Dish. Last I've actually heard of them they were a bunch of formerly Comic Genesis-hosted people venturing into doing their own webcomic hosting, but it appears they've been doing podcasts and news as well. (Man... I remember when Digital Strips was the only webcomics podcast around!)

And for a long time too. Damn. I hate being out of touch after that 3 year absence.

This week apparently my renaming of the blog merited a little mention in their latest podcast (#80) although it seems none of them actually got the point of the name change... 

Can't blame them for not understanding if they have never heard of Lonely Planet though. Still I did think the jokes about self-harm were in rather bad taste. I suppose they were trying to be funny.

I did start out this blog intending to "give exposure to lesser known webcomic gems", but since blog's purposes did change from just exploring webcomics to studying, understanding and exploring what can be further done in comics, and I don't really see "webcomics" as a cause anymore, I prefer something more flexible with its meaning. And less generic.

Lonely Panel
  1. A pun on Lonely Planet, a popular travel guide to exploring new destinations. 
  2. A reference to a panel of people discussing a topic, in this case, comics.
  3. A reference to my intention of exploring the limits of single panel comic hybrids next.

*chuckle* Still, that's the first time I've heard of this blog being associated with emo... *looks up at header banner featuring a scuba diver flashing a cheesy happy grin*. Emo, eh? *keeps straight face* Riiighhtt...

Anyway, if you can endure some of the prattling, there's some interesting first-hand feedback and discussion on Comicpress, as well as a lot of other interesting news and titbits. Just be warned... they are a little long-winded.

It must be said... I can't help but wonder how in the blazes anyone who is seriously involved in webcomics reporting can actually refer to Jamie Robertson's Clan of the Cats as "A comic called Clan of the Cats"? (BTW, Happy 10th anniversary, COTC!).

A few years ago that wouldn't have been possible. It used to be that any comic in Keenspot... everyone would know it. I guess it's that whole fragmentation thing coming into play again. Things have certainly changed a lot.



In any case, something to think about while I'm away for the weekend.




Yes I AM going scuba diving again. However did you guess?! ;)




Saturday, June 20, 2009

Postcards #10: Luke's URL

Edit: The title of the featured comic should be Luke Surl Comics, not Luke's URL Comics... My bad! I can't change the title since that would mess up the URL (oh irony!) but yeah... my bad!

Today's postcard is something I haven't paid attention to for a long time: humour-based short strip comics.

I'll put my disclaimer right in the beginning: I am biased in my tastes, and I admit it. I prefer story-based comics to humour ones. It's not that I refuse to read humour comics, mind you, but just that I don't go out of my way looking for them. 

And now with that out of the way, lets look at the next in the line of requests I have waiting in my inbox:

Hi Ping,


My comic, www.lukesurl.com, has been running for a little over eight months now, with 124 updates to date. I'm mostly doing single panals or short strips, roughly in the vein of SMBC or xkcd. I received a review from Jackson at webcomicweek a couple of months ago (http://webcomicweek.blogspot.com/2009/01/review-luke-surl.html) and found it very useful, I was wondering if you would be able to offer your perspective on the comic.


Many thanks,

Luke


I like this email request in that it's short to the point, provides the important information you need to know about the comic without trying to tell you how to perceive it, and is polite and personalized. Even if the comic doesn't feel like it would be my cup of tea, I'd still take the time to look at it, because he asked so nicely :D 

Hm... I can't say I was overwhelmed with eagerness when I first loaded the page up. The webpage is simple but functional... and the art is well... Luke's obviously still learning, and although it's not exactly publisher material yet, I can see he does put a lot of heart into his work. And the amount of detail and effort he goes into is very apparent.



Unfortunately it's not quite there yet, and I can see that the art will probably scare away the less adventurous readers, though it's actually not as bad as many others I've seen, and it actually suits his goofy, tongue-in-cheek writing style very well. 

Fortunately, this comic isn't one which demands fine and impressive art (as story-based comics tend to do) but relies more on the writing skills of the cartoonist.

The target audience of this comic is obviously college students. I suspect if I had read this a few years ago when I was in college I probably would have enjoyed it more. Even now there are some bits I can still identify with. Overall, it focuses on college humour, with a bit of real world parody thrown in.

I'm of two minds with regards to the writing; At first the jokes made seemed well... lame. But after a while you realize that THAT is the point of this comic. Sure... The jokes are overly silly sometimes, so much that you groan. Sometimes they're horrendously bad (kind of like the bird puns I tend to make), and sometimes they are unexpectedly brilliantly witty, and sometimes they surprised me by making me cackle uncontrollably. But in the end, you laugh anyway.

So while I wasn't exactly fond of the writing at first, it kind of grew on me. And there is a certain charm in Luke's sense of humour that hits the nail on the head, for all its shortcomings. 

Overall, I find the comics' unpretentiousness and laid-back style quite charming, and it's a good example of what it is: a fun project and pastime. I'm really glad to see it that way... too many comics spoil their own work trying too hard to "make it big" they forget it have fun. You can see Luke is obviously having fun doing this comic, and the feeling passes on to the reader.

While it's not something I'd exactly subscribe to, I can see why the target audience probably likes it. While the art is a bit of a let-down to the writing at times, it has steadily been improving, and this is particularly evident in the more recent strips.

A bit of study on perspective and anatomy on the part of the artist. would probably go a long way as well. And maybe toning down the backgrounds a bit. Sometimes they are too garish and steal the attention from the foreground objects which should be the focus.

Overall, Luke's comic is a reasonably fun read although it doesn't particularly stand out from the usual crop of comics found on the net. It may not be everyone's cup of tea, and I can't see myself enthusiastically endorsing it, but it's not a bad read for a bit of silly humour.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Stopver at The Economist: Comic Fragmentation and Taking in the View from Mainstream

I came across this piece by The Economist on comics and Stan Lee.

In case you don't know, The Economist is a published news magazine, the type that stuffy businessmen carry around and read while flying business class in between meetings. 

Safe to say, comics are NOT usually a topic found in the The Economist. Most of the time they concentrate on real-world happenings and science stuff, like elections in Iran, the collapse of GM... global warming... that kind of thing. However, this particular article does tie in with my personal conviction that the writers of The Economist are actually mostly Oxford-graduated closet geeks ;) but that's just my theory...

Anyway, despite it being about the old tried and tested Marvel mainstream comic book hero and comic book movies, I did find one portion of it rather interesting:

A problem of character

But there is a hitch. Mr Lee’s most celebrated creations appeared at a time when comic books were widely read. The heroes were honed over many years by other writers and artists. As a result a great many people of diverse ages are familiar with them and will happily spend $10 to sit in a cool cinema and renew their acquaintance. Blockbuster audiences are built not of enthusiastic fans—there are never enough—but of people who are vaguely aware of a character or a story and want to see what a studio does with it.

These days it is extremely difficult to propel new characters or stories into broad public consciousness, and therefore hard to mobilise a mass audience for films based on them. Take Alan Moore, a revered writer of comic books. His works have inspired five ambitious films (the most recent is “Watchmen”), none of them hugely successful. And what goes for comic books also goes for television shows, computer games and other fodder for summer blockbusters. As audiences fragment, there is simply less mass content to throw into the Hollywood recycling machine... (read more)


While I disagree on some things in that article, it does have a point about the audiences fragmenting. Even the "webcomics community" has fragmented into individual comics on the web. (From my point of view after leaving for 3 years and coming back) 

It used to be collectives were everything. If you weren't in Big Panda... if you were in Keenspot/Keenspace... If you weren't in Modern Tales/Graphic Smash... etc etc.

And now, I'm willing to bet a lot of people who read online comics won't know what Keenspot is. (No offense, it's just an example of the fragmentation.)

But it's too soon to make any judgments on something that is in the midst of a metamorphosis like comics right now. Will it be it a good thing? A bad thing? It's too soon to say.

It should be interesting to revisit this topic in a few years time though.




Now excuse me while I go "Squee!!!" The lastest chapter of One Piece has freaking WHALE SHARKS in it! It's like my two favourite things, diving and comics coming together! <3


Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stopover at Art Patient: Hero Review and Teething Problems...

IT would appear that I chose a bad time to switch to a domain name, as it seems Blogger's just been hit with a problem that left them unable to forward readers from http://webcomicfinds.blogspot.com to http://www.lonelypanel.com . This problem seems to be affecting all blogger sites, so I'm worried about anyone accessing using the old address being unable to find the blog :(

I kind of miss the old header, but hopefully this temporary one I made will hold the fort until I have some time to sit down and design a better one.

Teething problems norwithstanding...

In some other news, Delos over at ArtPatient reviewed Hero as well, so you can head over, have a gander and do a comparison with my recent review.

Ah well, back to troubleshooting *grumble*

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Landmark #1: "Webcomic Finds" Evolves into "Lonely Panel"

In all honesty, I never really liked the generic sounding-ness of "Webcomic Finds", so when I hit a chord on that topic in my last Hotspot, I decided to seize the opportunity and claim "Lonely Panel" which I really liked the sound of. 

I've frequently described Webcomic Finds as a "Lonely Planet for Webcomics", so it seemed appropriate that I end up with a final name with a multitude of comic-related meanings to play on. Including a pun. *evil laughter* 

I'll be working on reworking the blog and eventually my other works under the Lonely Panel name :D. And yeah I'm working on a new header too. 

I'd just like to take a minute to thank everyone for following Webcomic Finds so far. It's time to broaden the scope now, so I hope you will all continue to enjoy Lonely Panel.

Hotspot #20: Breaking Beyond the Comics Format

It is inevitable... after I read a comic that presents something new, my brain has been running over time thinking about webcomics.

"Eh... How is this different from what you usually do, Ping?"

That's probably what you're thinking. I should probably rephrase that better: Maybe my use of "web comic" is a bad choice. A digital comic is probably closer to the truth.

Hm... a Comp-mic? Pixelmic? Comixel? *cue groans*

Fine. For now... online comic.

In any case, I'm thinking about comics that are made solely to be showcased on a computer screen, and would not be able to be printed out without losing some or all of its impact.

Keep in mind that I am NOT talking about distribution methods. I'm not talking about a comic that happens to reach its readership through a website. Or the clandestine sort that gets forwarded around in office emails, or transferred through flash keys or even bit-torrented.

I'm talking about comics that break tradition by exclusively using digital technology as a format. 

The recently reviewed Hero and the hovertext in place of speech bubbles being an example of a deviation. Of course, Hero was still strongly traditional in some other ways, and there were limitations to the hovertext approach. But it was still a refreshingly new way of doing things.

And there's then-pioneering background animations in Aargon Zark. Of course everyone knows Scott McCloud's infinite canvas.

But honestly up to now, a lot of experiments in digital comicism so far tend to feel... gimmicky. Even the best of them suffer from Marmite syndrome, they either are love or hated, and most of the time are only tolerated for being a novelty.

However, novelty is NOT what I am interested in. What I've been searching for is a stable, universal something that improves upon the old tried and tested way of presenting panels and speech bubbles in sequential order.

At the end of the day, what we associate as the fundamental parts of a comic are still methods that were designed and optimised to be presented on paper. When comics shifted to the web, the same mentality remained.

And honestly, the longer I write about webcomics the more I begin to feel that the word "webcomic" has long since passed its expiry date. There really is no distinction between it and its traditional counterpart anymore. 

It's just comics. Period. 

Maybe I should just rename "Webcomic Finds" to "Lonely Panel" and be done with it.


...


I think I really might.



Back to the topic... I used to get annoyed whenever someone brought up Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud, mainly because of the stigma it gave online comics that we were just a bunch of geeks trying out gimmicky stuff with the comic format that would never work long term (though it wasn't his fault we were seen that way, really).

Ok, so now it still annoys me a little, but I understand a little bit of what Scott saw in the potential of the web now, although what he covered was but barely scratching the surface, and some of his ideas weren't exactly the most practical things ever.

But the point is in the experimenting. You don't experiment without failing. Fact. You don't find out new things if you don't try.

Talk to others. Try stuff. Fail. Explore, See other people's ideas, try something else. Fail. Research more.

This is what this blog is supposed to be about after all. Exploration of the online comic, not just exploration of online comics.

Heck I did my own experiments with the format myself, though by any standards what I tried was pretty conservative. And to be honest even I didn't think it worked that well.

But most of the experimental stuff we've seen in the last ten years or so art just that... experiments. Prototypes. When they fail, maybe we shouldn't just dismiss them as gimmicks, but give them a bit more thought on what when wrong, and what we could have done to make the new format and presentation better.

Yes I know. I'm sure I'm not the first to be talking about this. The attachment to the traditional format is very strong. Let's face it... we're not going to lose the old panels and bubbles formats until someone comes up a new format that is an improvement in every way that people are convinced they like it enough to adopt it.

It just hit me the other day that after I finish my current project, I really don't want to make conventional comics any more. 

I don't want to follow. I don't want to stagnate in pursuit of minute perfection.

I want to explore. I want adventure in my art.

In short, I want to try going beyond the current comics format.

As web technology progresses, more developments are bound to crop up. Some are going to be gimmicks and fall along the wayside. And some... some may revolutionize the comics art form.

Or destroy it.

Or supersede it.

Maybe it's the right way to go.

At the very least, I'd like to give it a go. 

Yes I know I'm probably aiming for the impossible.





But hey... I can live with that.




Thursday, June 11, 2009

Stopover at This Week In Webcomics: Rice Boy

This Week in Webcomics has done a review of Rice Boy, which I also reviewed back on my 39th Journey Leg.
 
The fun thing about having more than on review is that people see different facets of the same thing, so it's worth a read to compare the different styles and perspectives present. 
 
Honestly I think we need to come up with a system to link all the reviews from different review sites in a directory so it's easy to see if more than one person has reviewed a comic... Heh a comic review aggregator... I wonder if Comixpedia can be appropriated for this purpose?
 
 
ps: I apologize if the format comes out wierd, I'm trying out the mobile blogging thingmajig here...
 
 

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Postcards #9: Hero


Today's postcard is notable in that this is the first Postcard I've been asked to do not by the creator of a comic, but an ardent reader of it instead.

Hello,

As you probably have guessed, I'm emailing about a webcomic: Hero, by Hwei Lin Lim. I know that you are extremely busy and probably have a request list the length of an astronomical unit, but on the off chance that you have a bit of time...

If you haven't read it yet, well, I can recommend it at least as a personal favorite -- the art is beautiful, the story dreamishly meandering but well-told and meaningful. There's about 200 pages in the archive, and the narration/dialogue is done through hovertext, which I think is very liberating for both the visual and textual aspects. And if you have read it before, then I would be very interested in what you have to say about it, again given that you have the time.

And uh, I got some metaphorical weird looks last time I made this clear, but just so you know, I'm not Hwei -- I'm just a really, really invested fan. If that's a problem, then just say so and I'll disappear like a well-bleached stain. Thanks for taking the time to read this email!


Aoede



How am I to refuse such a charming request?

The first thing that will strike anyone who reads this comic is the total absence of the usual text and narration bubbles. Instead Hero truly transcends from "comic" to "webcomic" by making use of hover text for the narration.

This is not the first time I've seen anyone experiment with the web format by making the reader interact with the comic (in fact every page of Dr. McNinja has bonus jokes hidden in the image text) .But this is the first one I've seen that actually seen that makes the hover text the focus of the delivery and succeeds because of its simplicity. 

Others had the readers click to make a text bubbles or additional panels appear. Some played sound effects to go with the action scene when you clicked it... but here...





...you just hover over the relevant panels to make the appropriate text appear.



So the reading of Hero makes one feel more like they are reading an interactive picture-book, and oddly enough it makes one slow down to appreciate the beautifully watercolour-isque art and the enthralling, stylish story more.

Hero has a narrative style that is immensely distinct and endearing. Everything is narrated from the point of view of the protagonist, and by extension, every thing is described as a comparison based on the protagonist experiences.

For example the protagonist is so impressed with the memory of a wolf which is devoted to its human companion that he describes always having someone who will keep you company and wait for you as "having a wolf"

The odd speech bubble does make an appearance, but they are always pictorial "speech" bubbles.

I especially like how Hwei manages to sneak in bits of her local influences into his work. Subtle inside jokes like this one resonate with me :) (Yes yes, I did chuckle when I identified the cendol, sate and ang ku kuei!)

The story flow is interesting, although sometimes it feels like it jumps from one point to another, leaving the reader slightly bewildered at points.

In one chapter the format suddenly changed without warning, leaving me anxious that Hwei was abandoning her trademark speech hover thing only to have be relieved when she went back to it a chapter later. I'm still not clear on why she changed the format, my guess is that she was experimenting... but it did disrupt my reading for a bit.

All in all, Hero is something very special and unique out of the comics I have read, and in terms of webcomic finds, this is a motherlode of a Find! Finding comics like this totally makes writing blog worthwhile. I think I need to send Aoede a thank you email for this.


Edit: I'd confused Hwei's gender (Heh due to me thinking Hwei was the surname and Lin Lim was the name, which is masculine. ) My bad, and fixed ;)


Postcards are reviews requested by (mostly) webcomic authors. They focus less on reviews and more on critical insight and unreserved, honest, feedback. You can request for a review by emailing Ping at webcomicfinds @ gmail . com and if it interests her, she'll take it up. But be warned, when Ping says honest feedback, she really means it.

Pinging Art #2: Back in Black: It's Not About What's Black and What's White


I've done a couple of different styles of comics, from full colour to sepia-tinted greyscale. But pure black and white is not something that I've really explored or practiced, so it's only been recently that I've really paid it close attention.

I actually did fine-art for my A-Levels, but I try not to talk about it too much lest I be mistaken for a "snotty fine artist". IMHO that fine art attainment is nothing if it doesn't help me improve my comics, and fortunately, something I learnt back then does actually help, even though I didn't figure out how to apply it until recently.

Because I'm lazy, I'm just going to repeat something I said in a discussion over at Bengo's blog about what I discovered about doing art black and white. It's mainly my observation, but:

The bottomline is: doing good black and white requires the artist understand very well the concept of positive and negative space, and how to use it.

So what is this positive and negative space anyway?

The easiest way to describe it is thus:

positive space = important parts of the picture that we want to focus on.
negative space = the parts that are not parts of the important parts.


A lot of people will mistake positive space as "white" and negative space as "black" or vice versa. This is NOT the case and it took me a while to break out of this kind of thinking as well. What I really needed to know is that it changes according to context. Take this example below:



In both cases, the lines and shapes that make up the mouse are the "positive spaces". The background, whether white or black is the negative... the key point is the positive space needs to be in a contrasting colour from the negative space.

So now that we've shattered that particular mental barrier, black and white art suddenly becomes easier to understand, because we know it's not about whether the object we are trying to depict IS black or white. It's about conveying the important information to the reader in the correct contrasting colour.

We're used to drawing black on white, so we naturally define our positive space lines and shapes by drawing in black. But if the background is supposed to be black, use white for the lines. It's that simple. Or if you want it put the other way, fill in the negative spaces with black, so that the white left over is the positive.

Sometimes the rules aren't so clear cut. When two objects that are black are drawn next to each other, what does one do? Colour the whole thing black with white lines in-between? Or keep them black? Or for the sake of visibility, we need to defy reality and pick one and turn it white to they they form a contrast?

For this there is no set answer. It comes back to what we want to communicate to the reader.

Let's look at this example of a shady-looking guy. For the sake of the setting we want his face shrouded in shadow and he wears dark glasses to boot.



If he's a regular member of the cast, maybe the sunglasses are his identifying feature. To make sure the reader is able to tell it is him, sometimes the artist is obliged to flip the colours to make it clear he has a pair of sunglasses on his eyes.



On the other hand he could be a vital plot point and we don't want his identity to be revealed yet. So in this case we forget about contrast and all that and blend the face (glasses and all) into the shadows.



Like I said, it depends on what you want to convey.

Of course black and white art isn't just that simple, else anyone could just draw something and use and invert the colours to make it look cool. 




There are different techniques such as crosshatching, screentones etc. etc. But they're advanced techniques, not a base principle.

So the few things I learned about black and white art:

1. It's not about picturing black as black and white as white.
2. The choice of whether you want to use black or white depends on what message you are trying to convey.
3. Having both large areas of black and white spaces provides a pleasing visual balance to an image.

Anyway that's what I learned so far. Hope that came in handy, and as usual feedback and additions are always welcome.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stopover with Dolphins: Diving Doodles



I apologize for the long silence folks. No I didn't drown on my diving trip or anything.

But I did drown in work when I came back.

In fact right now, I'm positively inundated with work which is being done in-between training sessions. It's seriously killing me. I need another diving trip already.

I'm putting finishing touches to the Black in Black Pinging Art entry, but in the meantime, allow me to distract you with diving comic stuff I did on my portable sketchpad (A very fancy name for two pieces of cardboard, ring binders and cheap printer paper I cobbled together)

The pictures were taken by my dive buddies, all with awesome photography skills!





After seeing water like that, the only thing you can think of is jumping in...




In my defense, I wasn't the one who came up with this joke...


... but I sure was the one who immortalized it in comic form!

Things to do during your surface intervals...


Walk the plank...


Imitate a floating starfish...




Irritate a REAL starfish...

(No I didn't hurt it in any way and I gently put it back where I found it after I picked it up)

All in all a good trip, the highlight of which was a pod of six wild dolphins showing up and swimming alongside the boat for a while. How can that NOT be awesome?!





Aaaand distraction over. Watch out for Back in Black maybe next week, and after that you'll be glad to hear I'll be getting on to another round of reviews again :) Happy webcomicking!