Sunday, August 16, 2009

Postcards #11: Reporterz

Today's Postcard will be a surprise to some. I'd originally decided to NOT review this comic, but I spent so much time replying the author as to why that was so that I realized that it was pretty much an anti-review.

It then struck me that such information would actually be really useful to some other authors in the same boat, more so than an actual review so... here we are. An anti-review Postcard.

The email sent to me from the creator of the comic is an extremely well-written and respectful email even if I didn't agree with some of the content. This was probably why I spent so much time replying it.  For the sake of privacy I've blanked out some of the information.

From: mastercougar**@******.com
Subject: A (Slightly Unusual) Review Request

Dear Ping Teo,

Do you review sprite comics?

I ask because the general opinion of the Internet seems to be that sprite comics are low-quality horse dung by default. I disagree- in my opinion it's not so much the quality of the medium itself as the quality of the people who make them. If intelligent writing were brought onto the scene, then in theory a sprite comic could be crafted that could stand up there with renowned hand-drawn webcomics.

So that's what I aim for. The question is, am I succeeding? I'd really like to know. Unfortunately, two problems have hindered my finding out. The first is the gut reaction most people have to sprite comics, so much so that they dismiss them on sight, rather than providing me with any insight I can work with.

The second is that the first hundred and fifty comics were written in 2004-2005, when I was thirteen. The writing there embarrasses me, and I know what I did wrong. What I'm interested in finding out is: how am I doing now? It's the recent comics I really need to focus on, ie: Storyline five and onward.

I know I'm asking too much of you. But I really need some good, solid feedback on what I need to do from here. Having followed your blog/column for some time now, I think that you're the best person for the job. I get the impression that you won't shoot the strip on sight because it's a sprite comic, but you won't be wishy-washy about it either. I'm really curious to know where the strip needs to go from here to stand on its own merit.

It can be found here:

As for the plot, it starts out with a semi-generic video game journey, but I've gradually been trying to turn into a philosophical speculation on the nature of fiction, sprite comic clich├ęs, and reality.

My hope is that, even if you don't particularly enjoy the strip, you'll find something interesting to think about, and that I can get some useful feedback from your analysis. If you're not interested in reviewing a sprite comic, I understand and respect that.

Thank you for your time.

Will, or Mastercougar

P.S.: You may recognize the site layout.

I know what some will think... Sprite comicsThere is as the author said, a tendency to dismiss work based on the category the comic belongs to. This is not the first sprite comic that has asked for a review, but this is the first one I've thought to write a comphrehensive reply to:

Hi Will,

Well, as a rule of thumb, I generally only review comics that interest me.

I don't have any particular aversion towards sprite comics. I used to read a bit of 8-bit Theater, and before that Imanewbie (even though I never played UO I could follow it, and enjoy the absurd humour). I think the most recent one I read was a WOW sprite comic, albeit that one didn't last long and wasn't very good in all honesty.

Mind you, I do view sprite comics that are made by taking sprites from existing video games and sprite comics that use their own original homemade from scratch sprites differently. I class the former as something closer to fanfiction (or a fancomic, in this sense) and the latter as a comic with a highly stylized art style. (I believe the term they prefer to use for this kind of comic is "pixel art", and will shoot you if you call their work a sprite comic). For the purposes of lessening any confusion, when I say "sprite comic" after this I mean sprites taken for video games.

I am not saying that sprite comics can't be good and popular. They can be and are, sometimes even more so than original drawn comics because they already have a built-in fanbase to start with and they fulfill a very niche market. And yes, the not having the art chain slowing down the progression of plot and story does help. If you are looking for a fun hobby that can be enjoyed by many other people, yes, sprite comics are fine, just as fanfiction and doujinshi are fine and are even respected in their own ways.

If that's all you are after, you can stop reading at this point and ignore what I'm writing about below, and skip to the part about my feedback on your comic.


Anyway, back to what you said: If " a sprite comic could be crafted that could stand up there with renowned hand-drawn webcomics" is what you are hoping for, I'm sorry... No. Not if those comic had anything other than a brain dead zombie doing the writing.

I don't shoot down ideas based on the general opinion, but as everyone who reads my blog knows, I don't hold back when someone asks me for my honest opinion. I believe that to be nothing more than a pipe dream.

This is the part where I probably get flamed. Yes I know the arguments that have been made about sprite comics and how they are viewed. I disagree with with what has been said. Like it or not, comics are a combination, and partnership of art AND writing. You can't neglect one facet, focus on the other, and argue that is enough to compensate because of "highly intelligent writing". Think of it as a score based system. If the scores were seperated as 50:50, and even IF you scored a perfect 50 for the writing, the art is disqualified because it's not your original work, and by extension your entire score.

It's like someone wanting to be a seen on the same standing as a Michelin-starred chef because they can create recipes but they can't cook and use pre-made ingredients for everything.

Like I said, if you're not aiming for that, that's fine.


So much for my view of sprite comics in general. Moving on to something specific: your comic :)

Your letter was so charming and intelligently written, I have to say I was hoping to be proven wrong in my prior assessment of sprite comics. I love comics that surprise me.

But I found your comic really hard to get into. I tried. I really did. But the combination of the unappealing presentation and the overwhelming feeling that it was all a very big rant on sprite comics community stuff put me off. Not because of the fact it was a sprite comic, you understand, but just that as a comic it is not appealing to a reader, especially a new one.

I know you're interested in improving it, so I'll just try to keep it down to points on what could have made it better:

1. Website design:
I'm pretty sure the original Ocean Blue Template I designed for common use from CG comics didn't look like that, and while I applaud your attempt to customize the template, I really wouldn't recommend the background tile you are using. It is too garish, and it really distracts the attention of the reader away from the comic. Please consider something a bit more muted.

2. Subject content is a mystery
Your header says "A comic by MasterCougar". The daily news page looks like a rant about sprite comics. I have no idea what the comic is about in a glance, but from the point of view of a new reader, I'd assume this entire sprite comic is a rant about sprite comics. It could be wrong of course, but in this thing called web comics, first impressions are everything. A braver person than me would still feel the urge to hightail it out of there. It is highly unlikely a first time reader will hang around long enough to read your FAQ. And if your comic is hard to start reading, it doesn't matter how good your writing is, because no one will be reading it. At least consider a relevant tagline like "A sprite comic parody of sprite comics spanning different universes" or something like that.

3. Art and Layout:
Even sprite comics have to pay attention to their layouts. I am not criticizing this from the artistic point of view and saying something like it is just a mish-mash of sprites from different games. I don't really care about that, it's a sprite comic, that's what they do. 
I'm talking instead, about readability. I see walls of texts squashed together and tiny, blocky fonts that are hard to read. There is no spacing between panels, and the bright colours make it even harder for the eye to isolate a region as a panel. Space it out more, and learn to use empty space in the page to denote time.

4. Dialogue and Infodumping
There's WAY too much dialogue per page, and too much of it is not necessary. No one likes being lectured at, and no one likes being overwhelmed with unnecessary information. Even if it IS a sprite comic, the rules of good comic storytelling apply: SHOW, don't TELL! And don't infodump like you're doing now.

5. Inconsistent style
The beauty of pixelated sprite art is it that it makes use of a very limited template of colours and shapes, sharp and precise positioning of pixels in ingenious ways such as dithering and patterning to replicate colours and textures. In your comic I see none of that. Some your sprites are "blurry", especially when you zoom in on them and others in the same panel are sharp, resulting in clashing styles. Your backgrounds look like photos run through a photoshop artistic filter. The over all effect is awkward and inconsistent, it feels like something cobbled together badly. You may have a reason for that, but whatever it is- it's not working aesthetically. It may be sprite art, but sprite art still requires attention to look good.

6. Storytelling
You can write. But your writing still suffers in terms of storytelling. They are two different things. Some good writers are bad at telling stories. The biggest flaw I see in your writing is you cram in too much information (like I said, infodumping) and you have a tendency to try over-explain everything to readers, instead of letting them come to the conclusion on their own.

The last thing that annoyed me is petty... I really really dislike the substitution of Z for S in "Reporterz". It's just... tacky. This is a personal preference thing, but I thought I'd just mention it because I know I'm not the only one with a problem with this kind of naming gimmick.

To sum it up: I really admire the effort you are putting into trying to make a good sprite comic, but in my opinion, your comic is suffering because it isn't being presented as a comic, but just a piece of writing interspersed with sprites and lot of text in bubbles.

The worst thing is that somewhere along the way, you've seem to have gotten the idea that the reason people don't like it is because it is a sprite comic, and it in turn might have made you overlook the fact that it may be due to some other things your comic is lacking in, and not the genre your comic falls in. I can tell you now that while for SOME of the people it may be true, a lot of other people are read other sprite comics like Bob and George, but they are not reading yours. And it is most likely due to the multiple reasons I have listed above.

I hope I haven't been too harsh, and that you won't give up on something that you obviously enjoy despite my observations. If sprite is what you still want to do because you love the style, go ahead, but do consider making it with a comic in mind, instead of a just making sprite comic in mind. Honestly, the best thing you could do with your sprite comic is make it a silent sprite comic. Now I WOULD read a sprite comic like that. Hell I would make one like that, just for the challenge.

Anyways, The best of luck, and Happy Comicking!

Ping Teo
Lonely Panel: The Webcomics Travel-Blog


  1. An anti-review! Interesting concept.

  2. Maybe comparisons to the original Sprite comic with good writing?
    Seems to be down at the moment though, so you can go here for now.

  3. Oddly enough this post is the closest to what I had in mind when I came up with the idea of "Postcards".

    I think I might continue further in this vein.

  4. I noticed Will didn't say whether the choice of "sprites" is due to a love of the technique or a lack of personal drawing skill.

    For a 15-year-old, I'd think writing any sort of comic would help hone writing skills that might later be deployed in a team-up, if needed, with an artist. It might be premature to assume that he is ready to find an audience on the web, however.

    Either way, it's great to see a young man consciously honing his writing skills and reviewing his past work to gauge his improvement. Good on ya, Will.