Friday, December 29, 2006

Spoiler Warning!

The perfect defense.Candi (by Starline X Hodge) (which is one of those officially awesome names) is one of my favorite comics out there.

It is yet another one of the ones that suprises me when I realize its been around for several years now, and how much plot has developed over time.

Lately the strip has been at absolutely the top of the game, and the county fair storyline (which it has been building up to for over a year) has left me laughing harder than I have in a long while. But despite all the laughs, I've got the sense some more intense moments are about to come to the fore.

It's easy to overlook the more serious plot in Candi. We're talking about a comic centered around a relatively care-free college student hanging out amidst your typical college crowd, with the occasional flying, intelligent ferret thrown in for good measure.

Now, college being college, that means that one can expect most conflicts to center around drama dealing with relationship, classes, etc.

The current storyline certainly has some, as all manner of badness is cropping up at the same time. Rebecca, who has started dating Jon, has already shown herself to be a bit jealous of Jon's friends, and threatened when he isn't devoting his time to her - so she's off to the fair to make sure he doesn't enjoy himself without her.

Is there a website devoted to showing cute animals listening to iPods yet? If not, I think this proves their should be.Meanwhile, we've got a slightly less down-to-earth plot, as the students' faithful telepathic ferret Menjou is confronted by the deadly squirrel mafia, and has no one to turn to for aid.

Yeah, I never imagined I'd be writing a sentence like that either.

So we've got some pretty ordinary drama going on, and we've got some slightly surreal (and certainly silly) plot unfolding at the same time. So far, not too different than what one would expect from most webcomics.

Of course, we've also got the sinister reappearance of Andrew, the mildly creepy brother of Jessica. When he first appeared, recently released from a mental hospital, it was easy to give him the benefit of the doubt - he seemed earnest in seeking a second chance. Of course, it was also easy to see why Jessica wanted nothing to do with him... and that nothing good would come of that.

He may well be in collusion with the squirrels, he may well be running around in a ridiculous get-up - but that doesn't make it any less scary that Jessica is being stalked by her psychotic and disturbed brother. This is a guy who tried to kill her when they were children. That's not an entirely light subject, now is it?

And there's the impressive part, the element that has me really excited about the current storyline in Candi. It's not just that all these different conflicts are interwoven, from the ordinary to the absurd to the downright frightening - it's that the strip is able to hold all of them at the same level without losing anything of itself.

Each of the different dramas fits equally well into the strip's atmosphere without missing a beat. I don't see that often, and unsurprisingly, it impresses me whenever I do. Candi certainly isn't an exception.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Future is Now

A little while back Kris Straud (the webcomic tactician behind Starslip Crisis) started Halfpixel.com, a site devoted to "disposable internet humor." As far as I can tell, it is designed to give Kris a chance to experiment with spontaneous new comics without having to create a new site for each one - as well as all manner of other humor and thoughts as well.

And hey, that's cool - it's something between a webcomic artist's blog and a new comic itself, and is both handy at peaking into his deranged mind and enjoying some random funny on the side.

But what makes the site really awesome is that you can use it too. Users can submit their own posts, and if he likes them, he puts them up. That's wicked cool. I imagine there are a lot of funny people on the internet, and quite a few of them are part of the webcomic crowd. And quite a few of those don't have the time to make their own daily comic - but will be able to produce some real gems on a site like this.

It gets even better, too. One of the funny little strips he came up with on the site is Time Friends. Each strip of Time Friends has the same art as the others, but with the joke and punchlines changed. Very similar to many other fixed-art webcomics out there, though few of those were quite as gag-oriented, and tended to thrive more on their own wordiness. (Which is not to say that is a bad thing.)

But Straub's little strip was quick and easy. So easy that everyone could pop their own words in, and could make their own Time Friends strips. Heck, they didn't even need to photoshop the strip (though plenty did), but simply post the four or so phrases the comic would consist of. And when Straub saw these goings on... well, at first he was less then pleased at seeing others honing in on his field. After some thought, however, his generous nature won out, and he not only accepted it, he embraced the idea with the Time Friends Maker.

Enjoy.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Weekly Round-up

I haven't done one of these in a while, so here's several tidbits of news or observations regarding developments in webcomics this week:

NEWS: Gunnerkrigg Court is moving to three days a week, starting next week. Voted as the Outstanding Newcomer in this year's Webcartoonist Choice Awards, Gunnerkrigg Court has been living up to its potential, and having even more content from it is nothing but good news.

NEWS: Kismet: Hunter's Moon has come to a close. When I first joined Girlamatic, this comic was one of the top discoveries that convinced me I made the right choice. Even though I've since unsubscribed from Girlamatic (primarily due to the sparsity of new content), I still made sure to follow this strip on it's own site.

It's a good strip that goes into unexpected places, and I'm eager to see the short stories that flesh out the backgrounds of the strip's characters, as well as keep my eyes out for the sequel coming next year. Congratulations to Layla Lawlor on a strip well done.

NEWS: Drama has been at an all-time low in webcomics this year, but that doesn't mean it isn't there - and another scuffle has broken out in a debate between such long time stars as DJ Coffman, Joey Manley, and William G.

What really struck me about the entire debate was how... well, completely silly it was. I mean, not that I don't normally find most flame-wars a tad ridiculous, but this one seemed to be entirely insults and misrepresentation for its own sake. When all an argument does is paint every single participant in a bad light... well, far be it from me to be the voice of reason, but I'm wondering when will some of these people realize that arbitrary mockery and debate is tarnishing their own reputation as much as the person they are trying to make look bad?

I just feel bad for Xavier Xerexes, since he had to deal with all the hullabaloo taking place on his site.

NEWS: Speaking, however, tangentially, about William G, he's posted some preview art for his upcoming storyline (which arrives tomorrow, if I don't have my wires crossed.) And let me tell you, that has to be the most horrifying thing I've seen all day.

RANT: Least I Could Do has been running a serious and intense storyline all week, which has been both heart-wrenching and an insight into Rayne's character. I was really impressed with it, right up until today, when I wanted to reach into the computer and start punching people. (And, let me assure you, I'm usually a far more peaceful sort.)

Let's talk about Rayne Summers.

Rayne Summers is an asshole. There's no two ways about that - it's basically the premise of the strip. And I'm ok with that - the strip is not only aware of this, but bases a significant majority of it's humor off of this. Rayne's a dick. He sleeps with women. He messes with his friends, and occasionally comes to their rescue. He's shallow and self-centered, but charming enough to thrive despite this.

While I typically have a tendency to hate this sort of character (male Mary Sues who manage to miraculously come into dream jobs and have their way with the world without any real reason for it), Least I Could Do pulls it off well enough for me to stay interested, and even enjoy the strip. I tend to enjoy seeing Rayne get his comeuppance, of course, but I still laugh and read along in the storylines when (as is often the case), he comes out on top. (No pun intended.)

But this latest storyline left me intrigued. Rayne get's his own little christmas spiritual visituation, in the vein of Scrooge before him. We all know where this starts, and we get to see Rayne in his past. We get to see exactly how Rayne became the asshole we know and love. And that was a great scene - it not only worked, it not only was enjoyable to read, but it genuinely was decent character development.

Next step: the present. Rayne waxes eloquent upon seeing the results of his actions, and professes how he never set out to hurt anyone, just to have a good time. And again... I can buy that. It might ring a little false, given some of his behavior in the past, but I can accept this attitude. And seeing him feeling remorse at his actions... not expected, but again - he pulls it off well. I can buy it.

Also, I like how the 'friend' suddenly starts chastising her emotionally distraught buddy.Today, though, we get to find out that Rayne's not really responsible, however. Apparently, the only women who he hurt are the ones that brought it on themselves.

Fuck. That.

Look, as I mentioned earlier, Rayne being an asshole has been core to the strip from the very beginning. He has treated women poorly on many, many occasions. Ok, that's fine. (Well maybe not fine, but it's basically acceptable within the context of the strip.)

But going on to then say, "Hey, just kidding, he's actually not an ass - it's their fault for sleeping with him and expecting something more out of it?" Once again: Fuck. That.

It's a shame, because Rayne, as a character who was hurt in the past and chose to become a womanizing asshole, but is now regretting the harm he has caused, is an intriguing character. Rayne, as a character who remains infallible and bereft of the responsibility of his actions, is completely uninteresting. It not only doesn't help to develop the character, it actively undermines what the last week of strips has been building up.

If all that was happening was losing out on Rayne's character development, that would be one thing - but this is actively sending a pretty terrible message down the line. Oh, I know what you're saying - why in the world shouldn't I expect a strip like LICD to be sexist? Isn't it sexist all the time?

Well no, it's not. Characters in it are, sure. But you can tell when Rayne's being a dick, that's because he's a dick. There is a difference between that and the strip itself saying, "Hey, it's ok for a guy to be an ass, he's only going to hurt girls who are asking for it."

Maybe I'm reading things wrong. The storyline isn't over, and we still have (assuming things stay true to form) Rayne's future to look in on. But seeing the morale of the story - even if only for a single day - be that the only women Rayne hurt were the ones who brought it on themselves? After seeing countless examples throughout the strip where that just isn't true?

Once more with fervor:

Fuck. That.

NEWS: Finally, since I'd rather not end things on a bad note, especially so close to the holidays... go check out the news over at Penny Arcade today. In addition to some very nice discussion on everyone's favorite Cardboard Tube Samurai, it looks like Child's Play will be going the distance and breaking the one million mark this year.

Go ahead, spend a few minutes grinning about that figure. I know I did. Anyway, I'll be back next Wednesday - till then, enjoy the holidays!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Happy Birthday, Something Positive.

When a single strip, that you've read before a handful of times, can still get to you when you glance at it... that's skill.
In the Comixpedia End of 2006 Roundtable, Something Positive's Death of Faye storyline was mentioned as one of the top webcomic storylines this past year.

Mike had a kid.

Jason and Aubrey got married.

And we saw the Fall of Kharisma which I discussed on a handful of occasions.

All those things right there - that's enough to make a good year. That's a ton of change. That's a ton of development - some development's more meaningful than others.

But Randy, apparently, isn't so easily satisfied.

He traditionally ends each year of Something Positive with a significant moment. The first three years ended with darkness and depression. Year four ended with a ray of hope.

Year five is ending with a very intense moment, yes - but it isn't like all the other endings. It's not actually outright good or bad. Once you get past the sheer shock of it, ask yourself - what exactly does this mean for Davan?

Remember, we're talking about Davan, who has been drifting through life since the strip began. He has gone from one relationship to another, most ending badly - and even the ones that didn't end badly still ended. His latest relationship has been casual sex with Kim (which seems pretty clearly to be nothing more than that). He is moving back home to Texas out of a sense of familial obligation.

And yeah, I'm pretty darn confident it is actually Davan's kid, and Randy's not just preparing to fuck with us. (I think he'll still fuck with us, sure - there will just be rhyme and reason to it.)And now he has a kid.

More than that - he now has had a kid for the past three years, one that has been growing up without him. That's a bit to take in, yeah? I'm sure Donna had her reasons (whether good ones or not), and I'm sure that Davan is likely to not hold the lapse against her - and feel that sense of familial obligation weighing down on him once again.

Still, speculation about Donna's situation and how much Davan will interact in his son's life... well, we'll see where that goes. I'm not going to hazard too many guesses without knowing enough about Donna (though it seems likely she will need Davan's help, though seems unlikely to demand - or possibly even ask - for it.)

But you know who this really leaves me wondering about?

PeeJee.

For all the pain of the moment, it's about to get better...A year ago, PeeJee was alone and filled with despair. We've all been there - though she was lucky enough to have a friend to show up and remind her that she was loved.

A year later, and she's alone again.

Well, not alone. She's got Choo-Choo Bear. She's not confined to a hospital, and has friends she can visit nearby.

But she doesn't have Davan.

Does she love Davan? Well, duh - they've been friends for years. The two of them, and Aubrey, are bound by ties as close as they get.

But does she love Davan?

That's a hard question. He's been there for her through thick and thin, more than any other. He moved to Boston for her sake, and now she's moving back to Texas for him.

And look at how many of their friends have paired off or left the picture in the last few years... Aubrey and Jason, Monette... even Mike has found a family.

You can't have joy without the sorrow... and you can't have the sorrow without the joy.Family. Back to that word again. A general perusal of S*P would indicate that Davan would probably be the last man to want kids, to have to deal with children, to be a 'father figure.'

But... Davan's a decent guy, at heart. Angry, bitter, and fed up with the stupidity of the world? Sure, more often than not. But you can't forget that he was raised by the best. You think that with the example of his parents, there's even the slightest chance that Davan wouldn't make a good father?

Now he has a son... and we still haven't determined just how fully PeeJee cares for him. Her own family... oh, it's a good one, but while Davan's family in many ways was a haven against the bitterness the world instilled in him, her own presented it's own share of turmoil. And let's not forget that her track record with relationships seems even worse than Davan's. He at least had Branwen. I don't know if PeeJee's ever had someone get truly close to her.

Except for Aubrey, who has now gotten married.

And except for Davan, who is off in Texas, and suddenly has a son.

...and given the plainness of the moment, that just means things have the potential to be so much worse.Regardless of how she loves him or not, PeeJee suddenly is very much in danger of being alone. Well and truly alone. She isn't at her darkest moment, like she was a year ago. She is simply sitting there, in the middle of her life... and she's still alone.

You know how earlier I said that the ending of Year Five of S*P was different from the others, because it wasn't actually outright good or bad, just momentous? Yeah, not quite true.

I've got the sneaking suspicion it will be good for some people... and potentially very bad for certain others. We'll find out next year.

I know that I'll be watching.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

On Bats and Bones and Many Things

John Allison (Eccentric Englishman)
I had meant to comment yesterday on the appearance of a familiar face in Scary Go Round, but... well, let's just say that dodging falling meteorites would have been a less harrowing ordeal than some of the chaos that ambushed me.

But aside from assuring us that the inimitable Rich Tweedy hadn't simply just ceased to exist, we only had a moment's glimpse at the blast from the past - and today we're dealing with far more urgent affairs.

Still, as interesting as the current storyline is (the return of the inimitable Ryan Beckwith! Troubled times for Tim and Riley! Friend Bat is dead; long live Comrade Bat!), that glance back at the days of Bobbins did bring out a certain nostalgia.

Scary Go Round is one of several comics that I still think of as new, solely because I was around when they began. Of course, by now, it's actually been around for four years, and almost as large as it's predecessor. It is also sometimes hard to keep track of time in Mr. John Allison's works due to the very structure of them, and the fact that he bounces from one set of characters to the next with abandon.

Scary Go Round represents a number of curious contradictions in my eyes. Allison doesn't really like jokes, persay - but that doesn't mean it isn't funny. Humorous dialogue and scenes are as fundamental to the strip as anything else, and Allison shows that his comic can make you laugh at every panel without worrying about setting up punchlines.

Similarly, the plot tends to lack a central focus, and instead have any number of ongoing threads that it jumps to and from at any given time. When the strip started, the focus was a bit tighter than it had been with Bobbins. But over time it's return to a similar style, and while a more polished work in general, it still seems to move from scene to scene at it's creator's whimsy.

Which isn't a bad thing, mind you. Whimsy is what makes Scary Go Round... er, go round. Allison has never feared change in his comic. He often experiments with new art styles, ditches some characters and focuses on others, and occasionally even kills characters off... even if they equally occasionally come back. And despite the fact he doesn't simply stick to a single tried and true formula, he's one of the fortunate few making a living from his comic.
That certainly says a lot to me.
Addendum: Check out Saturday's post, now that I've gotten around to realizing I only posted half of it.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Two Funny Guys

Decisions, decisions.
Today is the last day of Bikini Suicide Frisbee Days.

It is strange to mourn it's passing, for it isn't the end of a webcomic, merely the end of guest filler in a webcomic. Of course, most guest strips are brief things, not weekly reoccurences - nor of they as supremely well done as BSFD.

Clay Yount, one of the geniuses behind Rob and Elliot, was able to perfectly capture the essence of classic Sluggy Freelance. Doing that in a single guest strip is hard - doing it week after week takes skill.

It helps that it isn't too great a leap from the friendship and wackiness of Rob and Elliot to that of Torg and Riff - but at the same time, he managed to use the similarities without just writing a Rob and Elliot comic with a few names changed.

The previous guest-strip maker on Sluggy Freelance gave us Meanwhile, In the Dimension of Pain... which, let's face it, just didn't work. I have nothing against McDonald, but he just had a different brand of humor, and a different style of art, that just couldn't quite do the job. It is nothing I would hold against him - after all, I don't expect perfection from most guest strips I see - but it meant I skipped every Saturday strip as hastily as I could.

But Bikini Suicide Frisbee Days? They didn't just work, they worked well. And at times, I even found myself as eager - if not more - for them as for some of the currently running Sluggy storylines.

Lately Sluggy has had my interest again, but I'll be honest - I like seeing Torg and Riff around again, but just seeing them wandering around acting like the idiots they were in the good old days just doesn't work. They've been through too much (Torg especially), and while I understand that they themselves want nothing more than to go back to being carefree and silly... it still rings a little false. It doesn't drive me away from the strip, mind you - but it doesn't do much for me, either.

We're waiting for the more momentous events, these days. I know that Pete wants to preserve the humor that the strip was founded on, rather than just run with the more serious storylines it has built up to... but it is already past that stage. Does this mean the comic should abandon humor entirely? No way, certainly not!

But it needs to place the humor within the current setting it has grown into. Bikini Suicide Frisbee Days work because they were outside of continuity, set in the past, set in that atmosphere that really was just about random amusement.

The Bikini Suicide Frisbee days are long past in the main storyline, however - and now they've come to a close for a second time.
It is no small act that Clay Yount has managed to create a series of guest strips of such quality that people are sad to see it go. Rob and Elliot is slowing it's weekly activity as well, due to the coming of Cosmobear.
Which I currently no nothing about, but let's face it - it's likely to be just as good as the rest of their works, and I'm sure I'll be there in two weeks to take in the laughs when it is released.

Friday, December 15, 2006

All the pieces fall into place...

I read this week's Perry Bible Fellowship, and somehow forgot which comic I was reading. I managed to finish the strip, thinking, "Aw, gee, this week's PBF was actually nice and happy, with the kid using his gaming skillz to clean his room in a new and innovative way and OH MY GOD."

So once his plugs the kid in, does he get to go to the next level?
Maybe it's a sign of my boundless optimism that I didn't immediately notice that this week's strip was just as horribly evil as the rest of them. Maybe it's just due to the wooziness from all the strange chemicals they dripped into my eyes during my eye exam earlier today. The world may never know!

No more to report today, but tune in tomorrow for a special Saturday post!

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Topics of Merit

I found myself hunting around on the website of Ryan Estrada (artist and adventurer!) Wandering through his site is always a pleasant experience, even if not a fruitful one - it is easy to get sidetracked from one's original goals, and end up reading through any manner of assorted oddities.

Aki Alliance
My goal in venturing to the site was to discover when Ryan Estrada (artist and adventurer!) planned to continue the great work that is Aki Alliance. My search, sadly, ended in failure, but I will hold out hope that it shall return when we least expect it, bringing with it salvation and hope.


...or something along those lines.

Anyway! As usual, despite a lack of success in what I was actually looking for, I did manage to find two things of note. The first was Ped X-ing, his 168 hr comic (yes, he's aware that he's stark raving mad.) Aside from the fact that it was, as mentioned, a 168 hr comic, it also stars Aki, of the self-same comic mentioned above. And some other interesting characters, too.

But the real treasure was Gamer's Edge, World Reknowned Comic Strip of the Future, as produced by Ryan Estrada (artist and adventurer!) You see, there is this website called Acts of Gord. Acts of Gord is a collection of stories about a man named Gord who runs a gaming store, and the myriad and sundry acts of stupidity he must face on a daily basis, and his righteous humiliation of his most incompetent customers/rivals/foes.

It's a genius little gem of a site, and sure to bring many hours of amusement if you haven't read it before. It's been around for ages, and though finite (as Gord's gamestore days came to an end), it is a long honored site in the stockpile of any true devotee of the internet. So to summarize: Act's of Gord = awesome.

The Book of ApplicationGamer's Edge is a comic based on it.

How cool is that?

(Answer: It's pretty damn cool.)

The comic rendition is a tad more action-packed, but as mentioned above - it's pretty damn cool. And really, anything done by Ryan Estrada (artist and adventurer!) is destined to be a quality read. So go, check it out, and hope nothing else on his site draws you in for another hour... or three.

Addendum: In other news, while shopping for holiday presents today, I spotted a copy of American Born Chinese in the local bookstore, and treated myself to it. It really does feel good whenever I see this material out in the open for the rest of the world to take a look at, and maybe take a chance on.

Additional Addendum: This is post number 200 of this here blog! It may not be much, but it still feels nice. You may have noticed the new look of the site, which I picked up when converting to the new version of Blogger now controlled by the powerful entity that is Google. I'm not entirely happy with it, but I think we can all agree it is much better than the horror that was the last site layout, yes?

Alternate Additional Addendum: Fleen has hit an even bigger landmark, and turns one year old on this very day! They've had some brilliant articles and some silly ones, but Fleen has definitely made itself a place in the wide world of webcomics, and all the more props to them for that. Regardless of the reviews themselves, what makes Fleen great (at least in my mind) is it's presence as the most prominent news source on webcomics. They've done some solid stuff, and they certainly seem to be here to stay, so drop on by and say a few good words.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Something Wicked this Way Comes

Take your pick: would you like apathy or active dislike?
R.K. Milholland likes to append a message at the bottom of every comic he posts. Sometimes these are in-jokes, sometimes they are random quotes, sometimes they are a commentary on the comic itself.

One such comment, placed at a turning-point in the most recent storyline, was as follows:

"'You're supposed to redeem Kharisma.' Funny. I don't remember making that promise."

It seems self-explanatory from the quote that there were quite a few people who expected Kharisma to overcome her own inherently hateful nature. The seeds were there, sure - Something Positive is about people, and no one person is no more than an icon of evil or hate.

(Well, not entirely true - many side characters, from e-bay scammers to perverse gamers, are presented as two-dimensional objects to be mocked and pitied and hated. But all the recurring characters in S*P have at least some measure of depth.)

I've touched on this topic before, when Kharisma's fate was still up in the air. Would she end up like Mike, and find some measure of acceptance... and personal redemption? Or another Eva, whose view of the world would only grow darker as it fed upon itself?

I use Eva as an example here, but it is an imperfect one. We saw Mike's redemption and development throughout the first years of the strip. Eva's downfall happened in pieces here and there, often off-screen. She was more scenery than character, and while her flaws certainly grew and grew, it was more as an obstacle in Davan's life, not as fully a story all her own.

So I suppose I can understand why some people expected Kharisma to find her better side. Randy invested time in her. She's shown up more and more the last few years - and even had quite a few storylines focusing around her. Like Mike she was an outcast, slowly becoming more and more attached to the main cast.

And for a time, she actually was a sympathetic figure. While working alongside Davan in his hellish job... well, let's say she was the lesser evil in those environs. And when she left... well, those were the moments when she seemed to genuinely have the capacity to interact with the rest of the cast on an equal level. And when she even seemed to have a heart.

And then she embarked on the path to becoming a homicidal murderess.

Kharisma is the counterpart to Mike. Eva wasn't - Eva started off good, and then her duplicity was revealed. That's a different story entirely - and one that, for the most part, happened out of sight.

We've watched Kharisma. Like with Mike, we saw her fail at being a human being from the very start, but she stayed in sight despite it. And we saw that the possibility for redemption was there.

But it was never promised. It was never guaranteed.

And in the end, she fell, and she fell hard.

I'm not surprised, and I'm not disappointed. I liked Mike's path to humanity, but if every character was destined to overcome their petty flaws? Then doing so would be absolutely meaningless.

Would I have enjoyed a storyline where Kharisma did manage to overcome her failings? Probably. But this is the story Milholland is telling... and he's telling it damn well.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

This ain't your momma's fairy tale...

Say hello to the nice evil overlord, kids!I'm surprised I haven't heard more about Erfworld.

It's a brand new webcomic. It just began last week, with a hefty start in the form of six full pages, each one a pretty impressive production. It came out the gates running, and even had a cast page all ready to go. That's a damn good start - though it isn't what caught my attention.

The comic is written by Robert Balder, the brilliant (and occasionally evil) mind behind Partially Clips.

The comic is illustrated by Jamie Noguchi, the enlightened artist responsible for Angry Zen Master.

The comic is hosted at Rich Burlew's website, Giant in the Playground, most well known as the home of the Order of the Stick.

That's a pretty impressive bunch of names. That's a lot of individuals whose work already impresses me, and whose creative opinions I'll put a lot of faith in. So right off the bat, I'm inclined to expect good things from Erfworld - and right off the bat, it doesn't disappoint.

The first page was actually a brilliant transition from a cosmic event to a small but pivotal moment in the story. The last page was a poop joke. You win some, you lose some, I suppose.
The comic takes a graphic novel style format, and seems to be unfolding a lengthy and elaborate story - but despite this, is filled with humor and just plain silliness. As soon as one sees the curiously familiar titans forging the world, it becomes obvious this isn't just another epic fantasy.

It seems too soon to say much more. But the writing is sharp, the art is gorgeous, and the story is already intriguing. With less than a week under it's belt, it's hard to do better than that.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Second Verse, Not Quite the Same as the First

Scene LanguageIf nothing else comes of ComicSpace, it has already done me one great service - it has reintroduced me to the works of Corey Marie.

Some years ago, when the internet was young(er), she was the artist of a strip called Life's So Rad. It was a brilliant fun little comic - and then it went away. It was taken down for personal reasons, and I can't find any fault in that, though I remained sad to see it go.

Fast forward several years. Corey Marie apparently has a new comic: Scene Language. It's been around for almost half-a-year now, but as is often the case, I only discovered it through sheer chance.

I will momentarily pause to belabor a point I've touched on before - keeping track of comics or artists who have gone on hiatus is difficult. I don't know how many strips are out there that I once read, paused when they stopped updating, and never checked back with when they returned to action.

That's one of the reasons I make posts like this, both for comics new and old - a comic tends to be almost entirely carried along by word of mouth. Advertising can help, sure, but that only does so much. A group can notice new comics (or returning ones) much, much easier than a single person can. That, in my opinion, is one of the real values of the webcomic blogs and news sites.

Anyway, back to the comic itself.

Scene Language

I'll be the first to admit that I know very little about the scene. I enjoy music, but my knowledge of the subject is supremely limited. All I know about rockers I learned from... well, from webcomics much like this one. There are certainly comics with all manner of inside jokes that I just don't get.

Fortunately, this isn't one of them. My knowledge (or lack thereof) does little to impair my appreciation for the comic. Despite the setting, the subject isn't really about bands and music - it's about people. Which people isn't entirely obvious at the start - we follow the misadventures of Phil for a bit, but he's hardly the hero of the story. (Or, really, at all...)

The cast page lists four main characters. It seems clear the story is going to be about them, even if it isn't entirely just yet. One of them has only just arrived, and the connections between the four are still immersed in a mess of other people and other lives.

It's interesting, seeing where a story is going, and how far it has to go.

The comic is only in it's infancy, despite already having 64 strips under the belt. But I can already tell that I like it. The art is solid and lively, a stronger version of the style I liked from Life's So Rad. The characters are... well, human, to start, which means they are engaging, interesting, and flawed.

Which, really, is about as good as it gets.

It's not Life's So Rad, but it isn't supposed to be. It's good, and that's all that matters. I know I'll be watching it eagerly.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Hits Just Keep Coming

Scott Kurtz never ceases to surprise me.

Addendum: Oh, and what's with this? You guys aren't allowed to be all serious and cliffhangery on a weekend! I'm not primed to deal with character development right now, man - it's just too much!

Friday, December 08, 2006

Collective Contributions

Child's Play
Child's Play is once again doing amazingly, and is already just shy of the half a million mark - with plenty of time still to go.

But this comes as no surprise, really, considering its past success. It's good news to be sure - but it isn't what caught my attention in the latest Penny Arcade news post.

GameTrailers.com is having a promotion. You earn some virtual money on their site - via watching trailers, writing reviews, rating games, etc - and you can turn that virtual money into a donation from them to Child's Play. They've got a cap on it - their goal of $10,000 - and at the rate the donations are going, it seems likely they'll easily meet that within the day.

I find this vastly intriguing. The virtual money idea in general is pretty cool, and certainly makes for a solid way to forcibly build community. More than that, I like the way that gaming entities are working just as hard as individuals to contribute to Child's Play - while in many ways this isn't really any different than other companies directly donating money to the charity, I like the way it lets people help make a difference, even if they can't directly donate themselves.

Sorry there isn't anything of more substance today (or even this week) - I've got a ton of things that I've been wanting to review, and just haven't had the time to really sit down and do them justice. Hopefully next week will be a bit less hectic.

Till then, do what you can to help Child's Play, even if it's nothing more than continuing to spread the word!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Com(ics) Unity

ComicSpaceSo... there's now a MySpace for Comics.

I like the idea, certainly. I don't know how much I, personally, will make use of it, as I never really entered the MySpace craze... but nonetheless, I like the concept of it.

There is often a lot of discussion regarding the so-called webcomics community. Sometimes the talk centers around whether or not there actually is one. A year or two back, when it seemed drama lurked around every corner from one month to the next, it seemed like the community was nothing more than small dedicated camps devoted to their favorite authors, ready to tear into each other at the slightest provocation.

Hmm. That might, just might, be overstating the case a tad. But it is certainly true that many people, time and again, have proclaimed the need for more of a sense of... unity, among the movers and the shakers of the webcomic world. It's a young medium, sure, but that can be all the more reason for people to be presenting a undivided front, all the more reason to work on improving the entire field as a team.

Now, this is another idea I like. It's a great sentiment. That said, I don't expect cartoonists to feel any obligation to work together or devote valuable time and resources to building up the ethereal concept of a webcomic society. The fact is, the majority of webcomickers have enough troubles working on their own comics alone. It's enough that they put up free comics once, twice, three times a week - if not daily - and expecting them to work on things beyond that scale is, well, somewhat unreasonable. More than that, many of the greatest strides and recognitions earned for webcomics comes from individual successes - Penny Arcade's work with PAX and Child's Play, for example.

So I don't expect much. I can't demand much - most webcomics are free. I support them where I can, I enjoy their works and recommend the ones that impress me, and as long as they keep providing them, they've already done far more than they are obligated to.

But it's still damn nice when I see groups like Blank Label form, with members pooling their resources to work together. It's nice to see more and more panels on webcomics, especially with some going an extra step to really discuss more than just your stand Q&A. It's nice to see, in the last year, a lot of previously antagonistic webcomic camps acting reasonably civil with each other in various matters.

Sure, the drama still pops up from time to time. And sure, the webcomics 'community' remains something hard to pin down and point at. But there is more and more discussion going on, both among those who want to take a more intellectual approach, as well as those who just want to sit around and talk about comics. There are more and more gatherings of fans, more and more webcomic collectives, and more and more independant locales for fans of the medium to gather.

ComicSpace isn't really anything world-shattering, or even entirely dedicated to webcomics alone - but it's a neat place on several levels. "A place for comic fans and creators to connect with each other." Sure, you have plenty of those in the form of private forums and messageboards - but an impartial one, open to all? That's a bit scarcer. Also, free comic hosting. That's never a bad thing.

Even if it isn't anything more than a nice little idea, that's good enough for me.

This has been your daily overanalysis of a very simple topic. Tune in next week, same bat-channel, same bat-time!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Dresden Codak is fueled by the power of Science

Stupid bears, always causing trouble...Not long ago I reviewed Minus, which remains a phenomenal strip.

Some of the discussion arising from that brought to light that Koala Wallop, the collection that Minus was a part of, did not recieve nearly as much attention as it rightfully should. Intrigued, I poked around the other strips on the site, and lo and behold, found myself quite taken with them.

The one that most caught my eye - in much the same vein as had Minus itself - was Dresden Codak.

Dresden Codak is, similarly, a hard comic to describe. Both philosophical and fantastical, each strip is generally a self-contained clever adventure following the principles of wit and whimsy. A Lesson Is Learned But The Damage Is Irreversible is mentioned as an inspiration, and the influence is clear. A Lesson Is Learned may be in absentia these days, but it's legacy lives on in Dresden Codak and many others who follow in it's footsteps.

You know, I like this genre of comics. I like it a lot. There seems to be more and more quality comics emerging that deal in the absurdly profound, in surreal humor, in both intellectualism and childhood innocence, and their presence is a damn good thing.

Dresden Codak only cements my feelings on the subject. The material is both beautiful to behold, enjoyable to read, and intensely thought-provoking. I like my gag strips, sure, and I love my comics that tell a deep and emotionally powerful story... but the ones that leave me thinking really are gems found few and far between, and all the more important for their rarity.

The greatest strength of Aaron Diaz (the genius behind Dresden Codak) may be the ability to tell a powerful story in a single moment. It is in this that I see the strongest influence of A Lesson Is Learned, and Dresden Codak may be the only comic able to pull of the simple story just as well. A single strip can contain laughter, philosophy, and a heart-wrenching story.

And as with A Lesson Is Learned, the art plays as strong a part as the story. The scenes come to life with brilliant colors and gorgeous images. Each page is a full dose of webcomic goodness.

The only downside? The archive is small, and updates seem to be on a monthly basis. Each update is a world of awesome, but they are few and far between.

Still - there are worse things than to have the quality of a comic leave you desperate for more. Dresden Codak is another font of genius, and all the more proof that Koala Wallop has something special going for it.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Not Actually a Post About NaNoWriMo, No Really, I Mean It

Last night I met up with a number of other local NaNoWriMo writers to celebrate our success. We discussed all manners of things, but unsurprisingly, the topic of writing came up an inordinate numbers of times.

One of the other writers there started explaining some principles of mad science that she had begun applying to her villains in her writing. Infection. Obsession. Challenge. Chase Scene. Denouement.

It truly is a wonderful world we live in.

The obvious inspiration for this philosophy, A Miracle of Science, continues to excel.

We have entered what may be the final showdown between the good guys and the bad, and our hero Benjamin is doing his best to stop the enemy with the most powerful weapon at his disposal - the power of memetics.

It's a good comic, and it's a good time to be reading it.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo: Mark 2

And lucky for you, this means National Talking About Novel Writing Month is over too. ;) This evening NaNoWriMo 2006 draws to a close, and I get to enjoy the feeling of a job well done.

This year I managed to actually go the distance, and yes, that is a damn good feeling.

I only wrote the first third of the novel I set out to write - however, I think it ended up more coherant than it would have otherwise, so that's a plus. And, of course, it leaves me with material to continue with if I undertake this madness next year.

In the end, it sucked up a bunch of time I likely would have otherwise spent playing video-games. It let me test my limits, and let me actually prove that I can sit down and write something extensive. One of my old writing teachers told me that every person in the world has stories in their head they could tell, but you only are a writer if you sit down and write them.

That doesn't make you a good writer, mind you. That's the next step.

But the first step is writing, and this is the first time I've produced a clearly finished work of significant length. It isn't as long as a standard novel, it isn't a masterpiece, and I quake in fear at actually showing it off to my friends and family who demand a chance to read it. The narrative voice is constantly shifting, I'm not entirely positive I maintained the same tense throughout the work, and the most interesting character is an ordinary housecat. The dialogue is poor, the plot resorts to exposition, and the proofreading was nonexistant.

...but it is complete, and it is mine, and I can be damn proud of that.

And that's what the month is all about.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Comics I Read on My Lunch Break

I need to exclaim more often, 'Chicken... Sandwich!'There has been a good deal of hubbub this week concerning the new PvP animations, and discussion regarding that is scattered... well, all over the web.

But the news that I heard that really got me excited was that Crap I Drew on My Lunch Break is back!

Rest assured, the comic is far from crap. It's a fun little strip with gorgeous art - it doesn't hold itself to be more than that, and that's what makes it great.

The strips are sometimes just simple randomness from life, sometimes rants on the trivial, sometimes rants on the profoundly horrible. It's about the artist, her boyfriend, and their pet rats.

And really, that's all it needs to be. Sometimes the simple things are best.

Monday, November 27, 2006

So Much Writing. So Little Time.

I have to confess, Zot was my favorite character from QoW.Today Queen of Wands attained the honor of having successfully completed it's second full run, this time with full commentary from Aeire.

Part of the final comic is in absentia, (though can still be found in the archives), and the last sequence remains just as bittersweet as it was the first time around.

When Queen of Wands first ended, over a year and a half ago, it was an unusual decision to air the old strips once more - but I think it was clearly a successful one. The commentary was... nice, though I think it is to the comic's credit that it can easily stand alone without the explanations being needed.

I recall, in the distant days of yore, reading Xenith. Xenith was Aiere's first comic. It was... good, yes, in it's own way. Incredibly pretty. Incredibly dark. And yes, you could very much feel the youthfulness of the work.

I remember discovering Queen of Wands, early in the strip's infancy, quite some time after Xenith had stopped updating and/or vanished from my mind. I remember, after falling in love with the strip, at some point noticing it was produced by the same author. And I remember being amazed.

There was a world of difference between the two strips. It wasn't just that Queen of Wands was light and funny and true to life where Xenith had been dark and depressing and fantastical - her new comic showed her maturity, as an artist, as a storyteller, as a person. And yes, it may seem a bit much to judge a person by the comic that they draw - but it seemed clear that the person telling the story of Kestrel and friends was a far cry from the person behind the story of Xenith.

And Queen of Wands was clearly a success. It was a comic with characters that many people formed attachments to - no doubt Aeire most of all - and she still managed to bring it to it's proper ending. Well... a proper ending, if nothing else, and I think that was half the story behind the strip.

These days, Kestrel lives on through the magic of r*k*milholland. As for what may be next in line for Aiere herself?

I've heard word of a sequel arising sometime early next year. That could be cool. It's certain I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open, given my usual propensity to completely fail to notice important announcements. If something nifty develops, there will be no complaints here.

And if not?

Well, we've always got the Queen of Wands archives. They were just as good a second time around, and I'm sure they'll be just as sweet every time thereafter.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A pirate, a flying monkey, and a mad hatter walk into a bar...

Public Service Announcement:

Issue 2 of Cheshire Crossing is now available.

And yes, it rocks out just as much as the first one.

Enjoy.

Friday, November 24, 2006

The usual

Sluggy FreelanceOk, I am aware that I talk about Sluggy Freelance all the damn time. My bad. Apologies in advance. Etc.

But I felt that today could not go by without commenting on today's strip. While Oasis has continued to develop as a character, her mystery still remains in full force, with more unanswered questions around every bend. Which isn't a bad thing - having her resolve any core complexities while isolated from the main cast would have, at best, been a bittersweet success.

More importantly, though, we have the survival of our latest favorite bad guy, "Nash Straw." I had been fairly certain Pete wasn't going to kill him off, given the instant hit success he was - but I admit to having been left with my share of doubts after the latest scuffle.

In any case, my final verdict on the latest Sluggy storyline: A+! Oceans Unmoving definitely left a lot of people anxious about the state of the strip, and Sluggy started rather slowly building back up since then, but I'd say the old magic is back and in action.

Now, a lot will still depend on how things pan out once the camera is focused once more on the standard cast and crew... but Pete has done a lot to restore my faith in the strip. I'm grateful for that.

Anyway! I hope yesterday everyone had a merry Thanksgiving, or for those for whom it is irrelevant, a fantastic thursday!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Today we rant about videogames.

There is at least a non-zeo possibility this will be the ending to my NaNoWriMo story.By we, I mean I.

By videogames, I mean Neverwinter Nights 2.

I've just finished playing this game - a good thing, since it was the biggest hurdle in my completion of NaNoWriMo.

The game itself is quite enjoyable, by and large. Fun and engaging characters, an entertaining if unoriginal story (with a few genuinely impressive moments), and all the standard leveling and equipment joy that placates hardcore d&d players.

The problem, unfortunately, is that the game is unfinished.

It is fiddled with more bugs and glitches than I care to go into - including several ones very key to the game itself, such as the AI controlling your character's companions, the camera views through which you observe the game, and various pieces of the combat system that drives encounters.

But I was able to accept that. Perhaps it is a bad thing that I expect games to have their share of quirks, and look upon something buggy as the norm, and something that works properly to be a grand success.

What struck me to the core was the ending. Now, I won't get into any details as to the final plot itself. But the ending, and indeed much of the scenes leading up the end, were tagged on almost as an afterthought. The designers ran out of time or money, and suddenly had to wrap it up and push it out the door.

We're talking about a game that drops into cut-scenes every time you turn a corner, and has exciting and skilled voice actors for bums you run into on the street for five minutes.

The ending of the game consists of a series of still images (that may not even be entirely accurate), and a voice-over by what appears to be Bob the Pizza Guy.

I kid you not. The entire game is filled with an exceptional soundtrack, and the ending of the game is a slideshow narrated in a dead monotone.

Ok, I've had my rant. The reason for the game's flaws is easily found - the company needed the game out the door, and had to ship it a few months before it could actually be developed into a quality game. Disappointing, but I'll live - even if I did feel the need to spend some time venting on it.

Now, I thought about quite a few ways to compare my complaints here with the wonderful world of webcomics.

It would not be a difficult comparison to make. I could say that webcomics, after all, usually fall on a specific schedule, and the demands to meet deadlines (even self-imposed ones) has left many artists pondering what to do. Put up an unfinished work, and color it later? Put up filler for now, and the final product when it is ready? Just skip the deadline?

It is a tough choice, and one that invariably will end with someone unhappy, and one side of the crowd yelling at those who get upset about delays in free comics, and the other side demanding more professionalism from those who want to make a living from their work. It's a debate that makes me twitch, because I'm usually able to see valid points in both sides.

As such, I will kindly refrain from making the comparison between my video game woes and the webcomic industry. Instead, like everyone else on the face of earth, I shall succub to peer pressure and link to the new face of WIGU.

Monday, November 20, 2006

I like the name, even if I don't understand it

The Flowfield UnityA month ago (to this day) I recieved my first request to take a look at a specific comic, so now seems a proper time to do a review of it.

The comic in question is called the Flowfield Unity; the man behind the comic is one Adam York Gregory, an impressive name in it's own right.

It began, as I understand it, as a print comic that is now being posted to the web. Much like others who have done the same, as well as the countless ones that have done the opposite, it shows that it is quite feasible for a comic to work equally well in either medium.

As for the comic itself, it definitely has potential.

Potential is a funny word. While technically complimentary at its core, it comes across much harsher. After all, saying that something might eventually be good is simply a roundabout way of saying it isn't good right now, yes?

So I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea - I definitely like the Flowfield Unity. It has been a little hit or miss to my tastes, with some strips going over my head and others just falling flat. One of the most visually exciting ones left me indifferent as to the actual content.

But for each one of those, there would be another one that I found exceptionally clever and insightful and amusing.

The larger portion of the strips, though, the largest feeling I felt... was potential.

It comes down to rhythm in a lot of ways. The strips from the very beginning involve exceptionally cool concepts, but they don't quite convey them with the same beat, the same punch as does xkcd or the Perry Bible Fellowship.

They are well-crafted, there is no denying it. When I look at the first strips, I get the sense of nothing so much as visual poetry, illustrated haikus. That is hardly anything to laugh at - and therein lies the problem.

The strip revolves around the premise of turning ideas on their head, and presenting concepts broken ever so slightly askew. But the cleverness of such things will only take you so far, and without the humor found in those oddities, it will be hard to truly leave an impact on the reader.

Of course, there is only some twenty-odd strips in the archive at present date. The beat of the strip may very well change, and start fully delivering on the possibilities it touches upon. May already have done so, in fact, given he is drawing from an already published resource that consists of a much larger body of work.

For right now, though, it remains worth reading. Sometimes it won't do much for me, and sometimes it will deliver something that genuinely leaves me smiling.

Right now it is a comic with potential, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.

Friday, November 17, 2006

A Second Look through the Scrying Ball

On an entirely unrelated note, do you know how hard it was to find a comic today NOT discussing a Wii or PS3? Last week I mentioned Dominic Deegan, and spoke about how pleased I was with what was going on.

Or, more specifically, how pleased I was about how well Mookie was avoiding falling into old potential pitfalls, and making use of a new plot focusing on many of the side characters.

It strikes me, however, that I wasn't so much talking about the things he was doing right as I was talking about the things he wasn't doing wrong.

And while it is all well and good to avoid making blunders, not screwing up alone won't make a comic inherently good.

So what is it about Dominic Deegan that has, for the last few weeks, been constantly rocking my socks off?

I am ashamed to admit I once thought not very highly of our good friend Quilt.Concerning the overall plot, he's certainly been doing strong.

He's added an new villain who isn't an infernomancer, or an arch-devil, or an ancient reincarnation of an powerfully evil wizard.

He has our band of heroes up against someone who, in the end, is just a petty thug.

Of course, more than that, he's a petty thug trying to hit the big leagues of organized crime. And he is smart, and it isn't just a matter of going toe to toe with brute force, but having them actively do their best to outthink each other. That's not just a nice change of pace - that's a genuinely interesting new character and a great set-up.

In the realm of humor I have no real complaints. I've never been big on the puns laden throughout DD, but I've been finding even them charming throughout this storyline. (Well ok, that might not accurately describe today's all that well.) But in general he's managed to mix things up just right, with the jokes laden throughout the story naturally rather than having them actively bog it down.

Brilliant.Output of content, of course, has always been a strong point - 8 panel strips every day of the week? Full color sundays? You are going to be damn hard pressed to find a match for that.

But what has really been doing it for me, in the end, is the crafting within each individual strip. Throughout this storyarc there have simply been a slew of great individual moments.

Moments that are either picture perfect segments of humor, or ones that nail a character perfectly dead-on.

That's the impressive part. We've got this large-scale production of content, and yet we have these moments being perfectly executed in every single strip. That takes more than just dedication - that takes damn solid skill.

And that's what Dominic Deegan is doing right.

Is it wrong that I think 13 repetitions of the word 'crap' is actually decent dialogue?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Thoughts on NaNoWriMo: Mark 1

Zokutou word meterZokutou word meter
15,193 / 50,000
(30.4%)

It is the fifteenth of the month.

NaNoWriMo 2006 is halfway over. In theory, were I on track, I'd be at 25k words, instead of 15k - but while I'm behind, that would worry me more if I hadn't gone the first week without any serious progress. As long as I'm able to keep shiny distractions away, the word output itself isn't really what worries me, especially with two more weekends in the month to crunch it out.

What worries me is the story itself. It's not a great story, but I'm fine with that - walking into NaNoWriMo and expecting to write a masterpiece is a recipe for failure.

The problem is that I'm at 1/3 of my word count, but only 1/9 of the way through the plot in the book.

Once upon a time, I had great ideas for stories - but usually those ideas were broad and sweeping. I had the momentous climax mapped out, the dramatic showdown, the key moment... but I could never fill in the rest of the story.

Now I'm running into the opposite problem - the filler isn't pausing to let me progress. The characters run rampant over the story, and I'm trying to decide if I'll have to accept cutting the plot short, trying to cram the entire thing into the rest of the month, or just skipping past long chunks of the tale.

Still, NaNoWriMo is definitely providing an interesting and intense experience. And if my only difficulties so far are having too much story to write, then I don't think I'm entitled to spend time complaining!

Monday, November 13, 2006

Minus

Do you know what comic you should be reading?

I know what comic you should be reading.

You should be reading Minus.

Minus is the story of a young girl with incredible powers, who goes about the business of... well, of being a young girl who happens to have incredible powers.

The comic is Count Your Sheep meets Calvin and Hobbes meets xkcd. Filled with a mixture of the strangely horrible, the beautifully profound, and the absurdly whimsical, the comic is genius from start to finish. The concepts are incredible, the art (hand painted!) is gorgeous.

I know of few other strips that can tell a story to break your heart in three simple strips.

It isn't a long read - the comic only has 41 strips to its name. But I can't proclaim it's greatness enough - all I can say is that, right now, you should be reading Minus.

It's... pretty much impossible for a comic to invoke recollections of FLCL and have me not like it.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Fervor on a Friday: This Week in Comics

I always feel bad when I mention a dozen different strips in one entry. It feels too much like name-dropping... but when this many comics are stuck in my head, it would feel like more of a disservice to ignore them entirely.The last week or so, quite a few comics have really been taking the game to the next level. Usually, at any given time, there is only one or two comics keeping me on the edge of my seat, furiously checking the latest happenings come the light of dawn.

Right now, though? Close to a dozen.

Some of the crew aren't doing anything, oh, specifically special. Simply delivering quality content day after day. Order of the Stick would fall into this category - back to consistently updating three days a week, the strip has just come out of an intense plot arc, and hit the ground running, tearing straight into the next plot without a pause for breath. I've heard quite a few people who advocate breaking up such storylines with a bout of good old fashioned laughs... but I think OotS is proof that while sticking to formula like that might keep your content constant, it won't let you know one out of the park.

Sluggy, Narbonic, Sam and Fuzzy are all in the middle of seriously intense plot. Scary Go Round is reuniting friends long gone missing. PvP appears to have imported Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik into its world. I am confident hijinks shall ensue.

And while some have been laying down aces, others have, unfortunately, been coming up short.

I'm pretty sad. For a while, I felt like I was really getting Questionable Content. I was enjoying the plot, the characterization. I thought the Vespavenger's entrance was incredibly fun and cool.

And then... blah. The entire storyline smacked of super-heroism - the hero characters of the story (Faye and Dora, in this case) set-up something foolish, but ends out working out just fine for them. They arrange a fight with this vigilante, beat the crap out of her, and the police thank them for it. I dislike that type of plotline in general - I can barely stand when Milholland does it, and he does it as well as it can be done.

But it was tolerable right up until the Vespavenger's vespa turned into... a killer robot. An incredibly stupid-looking killer robot.

It's not that I think there is something inherently wrong in the robot's and assorted surrealities in QC. But I rarely find them funny, and I get the sense that I somehow should be - that they are tossed in so the audience can oooh and aaah. And instead I always feel like the quality of the story vanished in a puff of smoke.

Bah. I always feel bad when I'm just all-out critiquing a strip, so I won't lay into it any more. Part of what really brought out the rant was that, for a time, I was really digging the strip. Top of my list, had me engaged in the characters and interested in the plot. And then two weeks of watching that feeling wash away.

At least I have Dominic Deegan to fall back upon. I was worried - really worried - that our erstwhile seer was going to swoop in once again and solve everything... but Mookie managed to avoid falling back that old pitfall. Pretty intentionally so, from what I can tell. That is awesome. We've managed to have a plot where the enemy isn't yet another world-shattering epic madman out to end the world. We've managed to have a plot where Dominic doesn't just snap his fingers and save the day. It is a really good feeling to see an artist actively learning from what they've done before.

And it certainly is going to keep me coming back, and checking the strip every day of the week.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Whimsy on a Wednesday: Adrift in a Sea of Choices

Man has a point.Sunday was the fifth of November.
Monday, entirely by coincedence, I read V for Vendetta.
Tuesday I went and did my civic duty, and voted in the elections.
Today I sit and ponder the act of voting.

I always feel... out of my depth, I suppose. Here I am, lending my tiny but not insignificant voice in a grand decision, and I am never sure if I am truly qualified for the job.

I have a remarkable amount of trouble staying abreast of current events in general, and politics are hardly an exception. I don't hide my head under a rock by any means, but it is often the last thing I pay attention to, and the more my knowledge of things comes secondhand, is filtered through other peoples views and voices, the more I wonder how much of my opinions are my own.

Even so, I'm firmly on one side of things given the current state of affairs in the US. As uneducated about things as I am, I am solidly against Bush and what he has done. Unlike many of my friends, I've never threatened to run off to Canada. I've never proclaimed him a fascist, or called him Hitler. But I disagree with what he's done, and would like to do what I can to change those in power who support it.

With that as my outlook, my voting should in theory be simple - Republicans bad, Democrats good, right? Knowing so little of the specifics of things, doing all I can to put the democrats in power should be an easy choice, yes?

And yet, I dislike the simplicity of it all. So just to confirm my outlook, I go and do my research on the candidates. I try to find what truth there is in between the mudslinging and the handwaving. I look up past activities, I look up voting records. (I discover, among other things, that Maryland is home to 2 of the 7 Republican Representatives who voted against the bill that suspended Habeas Corpus.)

I do a great deal of research, and come out of it knowing very little more than I did when I began.

I go to the assigned location, and I vote as seems best to me. And I do it all plagued by the fear that, all in all, it is far too difficult to really know what affect my actions will bring, if any. Part of it is the fear enounced by Spider - but much more is simply the fear that nothing is that clear-cut, and decisions are not so easily made.

I voted, and I did a great deal of research that changed very little about how I voted, and left me not much more confident in my knowledge of the strange world of politics.

But I still feel glad I made the effort, and I feel glad I got a nice little sticker with a flag that says "I Voted." And on all accounts, I should be damn well pleased with the results of the election itself.

Still, I find myself feeling more contemplative of things than anything else - and in the end, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Moments on a Monday: Shit Happens

I'm not sure whether it would be a compliment or not to say that this angst is proving the most interesting part of the story.I'm beginning to become depressed by how many bad webcomics I find myself enjoying.

Shit Happens is the latest in the line-up.

The comic itself, as many do, starts with random roommate humor and hilarity, and then somehow finds its way to exploring dark and intense drama, with the requisite blood and glory that entails.

But as much as I hate to see that sort of thing happen, eh, it doesn't really frustrate me - man wants to tell a more serious story, more power to him.

What bugs me is the main character.

Halifax.

You see, Halifax is a Gary Stu, which I just learned is the term for a male version of a Mary Sue, thanks to the wonders of the internets.

To quote wikipedia: "Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies on the part of the author."

It irks me. It is one of the single biggest pet peeves I have with webcomics, and largely because I keep running into it, over and over, and it invariably is the single biggest thing that keeps the comic from being a quality piece of work.

I read a handful of other comics that are offenders. Ctrl+Alt+Del has been well-famed for it, and seems, at least of late, to use that element almost self-referentially. Least I Could Do is practically built around it as a core concept. And even with those two comics, which do it about as well as it can be done, it makes me want to shake my head and walk away when I see it in action.

Halifax lives up to all the expectations. He treats his friends like dirt without them actually, say, stopping to be his friend. His job consists of not doing anything and getting paid tons of money for it. Pretty much every female character in the series has been in love with him at some point. Did I mention in his past he was a secret agent, for no apparent reason?

Anyway. We've got a comic with a lame and cliche plot, with a main character who fits every archetype I despise about main characters. Yet somehow, by the time I finished the archives, I find myself enjoying the comic.

Why?

Well, the main problems aren't quite as terrible - the plague of drama has wandered off, leaving the crew mostly meandering through life - which I find far more engaging then mafioso deals and back-alley shootings. Our 'hero', Halifax, remains a pristine asshole, and the friends he so mistreats seem unable to do anything about it despite being in a position of power over him - but baby steps are fine.

No, I find myself far more interested in the side characters. Former villains seeking a better understanding of the world. Demonized ex-girlfriends now offered the possibility of redemption. (Both featured in the picture above.)

Now, both of these characters suffered from being forced into the formulaic drama that dominated the strip for so long. (And for at least one of them, it was a terrible disservice to their character's representation up until then.) But I've found the small dwellings on their current state, and the possibly of redemption for the two of them, to be strangely compelling.

On the one hand, I know that that plot element itself - that of 'redemption for the fallen' - is itself formulaic in many ways. But even with the build-up from the rest of the comic, and walking into the scenes dealing with those characters keeping that in mind... I found myself engaged, and actively interested.

That was a surprise, and surprises can be good things.

So there it is - not exactly the most inspiring review, I imagine. I generally try to avoid too much naysaying here - if I have a comic that I honestly can't find anything good to say about it, it isn't worth the time to do so, as much desire as I may have to rant about it. Even the trashiest comics are the product of hard work and a story that someone, somewhere, is proud of, and I don't feel it is my place to do nothing but sit back and rag on that. (Cept Megatokyo. I kid, I kid!)

But here you have a comic that starts off weak and walks into the pitfalls that many have before it. And at the end of it all... well, at least for me, I found a faint spark of quality, enough to keep me interested. I can't promise it will make the best reading experience for anyone, but it was enough to give it some recognition.

And that's definitely better than nothing.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Child's Play

It's back!
One doesn't really need to extol the merits of Child's Play - but it is so incredibly hard to avoid doing so.

This is a program that has seen an astonishing amount of success. It has earned recognition from defendants and opponents of the gaming world alike, and has gone a long way to combat the ill reputation that is sometimes thrown against video gamers. It has seen public exultation by the very same people who previously criticized gaming as violent and causing violence.

It is amazing because it shows the character behind the people at Penny Arcade - the most successful webcomic to date, which doesn't have the slightest need to produce things like Child's Play or the Penny Arcade Expo, or to have demonstrations at children's schools or do any of a number of myriad things outside the base needs of their comic. But they do so anyway, because they want to give back to the community, and they want to celebrate the gaming community.

It is amazing because it is successful due to the thousands of ordinary folks, gamers and non-gamers alike, who donate to it.

I doubt it needs, even remotely, any mention from me. I doubt I can say anything about it that hasn't been said with better words and more effect by other people. But that doesn't mean it isn't still worth saying, still isn't worth recognizing the power of this program and value of this effort.

Child's Play is back for another year, and that is a damn fine thing to take note of.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Dirty Deeds

Sluggy Freelance has been running the long-awaited next chapter in the story of Oasis.

And it's definitely good stuff, and a long way away from the slump Sluggy had been going through. We have glimpses into Oasis's past, though the mystery of her origin remains unrevealed. Torg and Riff are doing their best to track that down - and unsurprisingly, their 'best' involves blundering through sewers ineffectually.

I find it a blessing and a curse that anytime I have to go scrounging through Sluggy Archives, I somehow end up rereading That Which Redeems.And, primarily, we get to see what Oasis herself has been up to, having taken up residence in a nice little town where she exterminates crime with an iron fist. A ton of new characters are introduced: her adopted family, her mentor, a variety of townsfolk... and Nash Straw.

Nash is an intrepid reporter out to figure out the town's secrets, despite the fact that everyone in town is doing their best to confound him.

He's a fun character to follow the exploits of, and even though if he gets his story, it won't bode that well for Oasis or the town, watching him work on uncovering the truth leaves us half rooting for him.

Unfortunately he's also a bad guy.

He's a professional bad guy. That means that he's not outright unlikeable, not just cruel for the sake of being cruel - but it also means he'll kill a young girl if the job calls for it.

I'm torn. He's a really well designed character, and its not like half of the cast and crew of Sluggy haven't been villains at one point or another. But I get the feeling it's only a matter of time before he gets taken out - Oasis has survived far, far worse in the past, and has an unfortunate tendency not to leave her enemies alive.

I think a lot of the success of any given storyline in Sluggy comes down to the villains. Pointless and stupid villains just don't work for me. That's why I hated Gofotron - and conversely, some of my favorite storylines - The Bug, the Witch and the Robot, Fire and Rain, That Which Redeems - all have an interesting take on the good guys vs the bad guys.

So I'm really liking what Abrams has done here, even as I'm torn as to what direction I want to see the story go.

Lesson of the day - getting your audience invested in your bad guy before the evil reveal is both very effective, and very, very mean.