Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Time Moves Quickly

It came as a bit of a surprise to realize I'd passed the one month mark already with this blog. I had been worried about running out of material, but, well... the world of webcomics is constantly in motion, and that leaves a lot of room for content.

I was a bit startled to find how much easier it was to discuss webcomics versus other mediums, as I certainly had plans for much more normal book reviews and such - but as I mentioned before, webcomics really are the easiest to discuss, because they are right there for easy perusal.

I hadn't expected to get quite as much initial viewage as I did, but some early and unexpected links, along with a few compilations of webcomic blogs, and I found myself with a bit more early readership than I was really expecting.

Anyway, thanks for reading - I hope I haven't disappointed, and here's hoping for more good stuff to come!


(Click for full-sized Maniacal Laughter!) I somehow missed the return of Kiaga Swordscat, after his brief hiatus and self-discovery of where he wanted to go with the comic.

I'd been waiting for the return, but it somehow slipped passed my radar, so I figured I would toss this out here for any others looking for the news.

The new strips seem to be good stuff, and the comic is well worth checking out even for those who weren't already a fan.

Action! Adventure! Excitement!

(Click here for full-sized flaming hell planet!)There are times when I really am in the mood for a nice solid adventure story, and Indavo fits the bill perfectly.

Normally the story revolves around the adventures of Indavo and Rachael - space adventurers, freelance explorers, extreme heroes, and romantic leads.

The stories are, in general, good solid fun - fighting space pirates, robot armies, and so forth. The majority of the time the heroes are in the midst of some chaos or another, and usually manage to come out of the worst situations with hides intact.

But currently, in the aftermath of a pretty intense storyline, we know find ourselves in the presence of a character about which little is known - the Time Traveler in the Big Hat.

Yes, that's what he's called.

He seems to be a figure of immense power and knowledge who hops into dangerous situations and manipulates the outcomes to suit his own, mysterious purposes.

Only... he seems to have screwed up, and is apparently stranded on a flaming hell-planet, and most decidedly not in control of the situation.

I didn't have the slightest expectation of a storyline involving this guy, but this is looking to be fantastic, and maybe enlightening on some of the mysteries surrounding him.

I also love the image above - the artwork of Indavo is pretty perfect for the series, as it has a lively, slightly cartoony feel to it, that nonetheless can yield some pretty dramatic moments. The robots that are fairly prevalent throughout bear an uncanny resemblance to transformers, but thats been the only real hiccup for me, and is probably more due to having grown accustomed to more modern 'sleek' robot designs. In the end, nothing is necessarily wrong with the old-school designs here.

In any case, here's hoping for more fun with fiery death and time traveler excitement!

What makes this strip different from all other strips?

A year and a half ago, the most challenging food preperation I faced entailed boiling water.

Since then, I have made an effort to develop skills pertaining to preparing actual food, with relatively pleasing success.

Last night I took on an experiment in producing latkes, a typical Jewish food that are currently a few months out of season. (As they are often prepared for Chanukah in December.)

Latkes are similar to hashbrowns, and are essentially potato pancakes. Good stuff - one of my favorite foods, hence my desire to learn how to cook them.

The attempt last night was an unmitigated failure.

I burnt the first batch. Then the smoke detectors went off. Moments later, the stove caught on fire.


Round 2 went no better, as I drowned the latkes in oil and produced something resembling an ancient and primordial ooze.


At long last, I managed to produce 4 specimens of perfection, complete with shimmering, golden-brown cover and the beautiful smell of cooked potatoes.

The taste? Like the very souls of the damned.


So, my cooking failures aside, the latest storyline in Gossamer Commons also deals with Jewish holiday foods!

I've actually been enjoying some of the banter and jokes in the strip of late. Possibly just due to getting all the references, but in general it has simply been good fun.

This is unusual, because I tried the longest time without success to really enjoy the strip. I mean, the premise was great, I was already a fan of Eric Burns, I loved the artistic stylings of Greg Holkan...

But it just hadn't really clicked. The layout of the art didn't quite work, the pacing seemed difficult to adjust to, and some of the characters just threw me off - like Trudy, who kept coming off looking like someone's hipster, gambling grandma.

Which isn't to say I deplored it - there was enough there to keep me coming back. I loved the introduction of Malachite and the entire first interaction between him and Keith was intensely good stuff in every way.

Lately, though, the comic as a whole has been working pretty well for me, and going back through the archives, the rhythm of the series flows a whole lot better, and I didn't even realize how much I liked a lot of the old art until it was gone.

But in the end, its really the Passover jokes that have won me over.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Library Laughs

There are a lot of gaming comics available on the web. There are a lot of superhero comics. Comics about elves, and dragons. Comics about romance, or roomies, or robots.

There are very few comics about libraries and librarians.

Unshelved has found its niche, and rules it well.

For me, the comic works well because of nostalgia - I remember my days working as a page in a public library, and Unshelved captures a lot of the little truths about such a place.

Even though I haven't worked at such a job in over 5 years, I am still currently an avid reader. My reading has changed - it is much harder to enjoy the pulp fantasy books I used to love, but every once in a while I discover something amazing, and they capture perfectly exactly what that experience entails.

So Unshelved works well for me, because I can relate.

I've been there, I still am there in many ways, and I can recognize it all as true.

The comic has a lot more going for it than that, of course. There is plenty of clever gaming jokes and dorky references, along with more ordinary humor, from the surreal to the slapstick. It has solid storylines, a nice cast, and even the occasional romantic tension. I'd wager a lot of folks out there could easily enjoy it without needing any background in library logic.

And for those of us who enjoy the world of books? There are a lot of nice touches that strike very close to home, and thats a good thing.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Eyes of Liquid Rage

I'm really excited about Ugly Hill's new book, Eyes of Liquid Rage. I'm mainly excited because the name is so perfectly awesome.

I'm a late comer to Ugly Hill. I started reading it when the Blank Label Comics collective formed, as it was one of the few members that I was not already a intense fan of.

It took a little while to get into it, but I began to really dig it, mainly when I realized that my favorite character was actually Hastings, the uptight, fun-hating, work-minded asshole.

He's an unmitigated jerk, as shown time and time again by his interaction with his family, his co-workers, and.... well, I guess he doesn't really have any friends.

But he is a fun character to see in action. He shows his emotions intensely, and Paul Southworth does some great stuff with his expressions. Especially the eyes. The shiny, glistening eyes.

There are a lot of things that can persuade one to purchase a book. The author, the content, the art. Convenience, availability, price.

But here's one person who was won over on this sale, in large part by name alone. By the fact that someone was able to condense in four simple words such a primal element of the strip.

Now that's pretty awesome.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Adventures of Dr. McNinja

Ninjas are, in fact, totally awesome. This is scientific fact.

The figure you see to your left is Dr. McNinja.

He is, as you may surmise, a doctor. He is also, as the observant among you might be able to discern, a ninja.

It is not until you learn of his secret backstory that one might discover that he is also irish.

In any case, it is my profound duty to bring The Adventures of Dr. McNinja to the attention of all passerby. To read this yarn of hope and sacrifice is to internalize a great truth unto oneself:

Namely, that ninjas. are totally. awesome.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Costume Catastrophe

8-Bit Theatre, by Brian Clevinger, is regarded as one of the most successful sprite based webcomics on the net.

Like many sprite comics, the characters are 'borrowed' from a video game - the original Final Fantasy game for the nintendo, to be specific. The story from the game is retold with much more laughs, chaos, hijinks, and so forth. Various characters are given distinct personalities - red mage is the rules lawyer; thief is, well, a thief; fighter is really dumb; black mage is pure evil.

By and large it is pretty good, even if sometimes the humor is often the same joke about those personality traits.

The main problem, though, is the art.

Now, being a sprite comic - being, in fact, an '8-Bit' comic, means the art has obvious limitations. And sometimes Clevinger transcends those limitations and does impressive stuff with the art.

Unfortunately, sometimes he... doesn't. And the art makes it really hard to tell whats going on.

Recently the characters 'powered up' and got all new outfits, most of which look bad-ass.

Unfortunately, Black Mage got an outfit that makes him look like a clown. Or something. I can't really tell what the outfit is supposed to be, other than making it look like he is running around without any pants. No pants! That is simply disturbing.

Making use of a limited medium doesn't mean the art has to be weak or confusing. Order of the Stick, as I mentioned before, does amazing things despite being a 'stick figure' comic. A Modest Destiny (sadly no longer viewable directly on the site), was a very good sprite comic when one looked past all the drama that surrounded it. Good clean art. Distinct characters, backgrounds, layout.

8-Bit Theatre is a good webcomic. It will continue to remain popular. Story can surpass art.

But please, in the name of all that is good in this world, give black mage his pants back!

Time and Time Again

Sluggy Freelance is moving into the last stages of its Oceans Unmoving storyline.

Now, this storyline has met with a lot of contention. Some have liked it, while many others have found it dissatisfying.

Part of the concerns that people had were that it came just after That Which Redeems, which was regarded as a fantastic success, and one that renewed people's faith in the Sluggyverse. It concluded with many questions still unresolved, and many people eager to see the changes that the events had left on Torg.

And then... Oceans Unmoving. The normal cast of Sluggy was left behind for a wild jaunt through 'Timeless Space,' and an epic journey featuring all manner of new and innovative characters, stories, technology, and so forth.

And people were upset.

It has been said before - Oceans Unmoving would have been a great story as its own comic. It will do much better once it is complete and in the archives, and people can read through it in one fell swoop.

But it was too much to take in. It was filled with exposition and explanations. It had only one character that we knew - Bun-bun, who many fans didn't feel especially attached to anyway. It gave us several new characters and new romantic tension - but it was hard to get attached when all most people really wanted was to get back to the old crew.

It wasn't that people wanted the Old Sluggy days back, of nothing but silly jokes and goofy adventures - they wanted to get back to the characters they were already attached to, and see some resolution to the countless stories building up (Aylee, Oasis, the evolution of Torg). They didn't want to see a new storyline interrupt that - especially one that just went on, and on, and on.

Oceans Unmoving, indeed.

Over a year later, Oceans Unmoving is wrapping up.

And me?

In all honesty, I am really digging the ending. I've liked some of the final twists behind the scenes, even if a few seemed excessive. After a year of reading the tale, I've become attached enough to Kada and Calix to care about their fate. And... even the greys, too, to an extent. (Still hate Caribs, though.)

I don't really want to see much more of them, mind you. But I am eager to see the last hurrah of all this - the climax and conclusion.

And from the pace of things, it won't be long before its all wrapped up, and it looks like it is wrapping up well.

Which brings us to the true test - where Sluggy goes from here.

I wouldn't say Oceans Unmoving has been fully redeemed by this, but I've certainly gotten brought back in to the tale, and will be ready to walk into whatever new is coming without being held back by total frustration over the last year of the comic.

For the first time in a long while, I'm looking forward to Sluggy everyday, rather than dreading it.

So that's a sign that Abrams is certainly doing something right.

Friday, February 17, 2006

How long until there is an entire genre of comics that consist of 'political satire comic with pink-haired girl protaganist'?

I read both Sore Thumbs and Winger, despite the fact that they sometimes go a bit too far on their political tirades for my own personal taste. They both have a lot going for them outside of their political teasings, and both deliver good humor and art.

Now, Sore Thumbs is currently doing... well, something crazy. Other strips have waged the war between humor and drama before, and right now Crosby appears to be giving it a whirl himself.

I'm not entirely positive as to exactly which direction he's trying to take - whether he is trying to be a drama making fun of its own lightheartedness, or trying to be a funny strip making fun of its attempts to add psycho-drama, or just making fun of the whole shebang.

Regardless, I'm liking it, and it does a good job of making both perspectives work.

Oh, and I'll admit it - the "Cheney Shot First" shirt made me laugh. Yes, in fact, "out loud," as the kids say.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Webcomics are Totally Something

Everytime I check out Josh L.'s webcomics blog, the title has gotten a little less jubilant. I predict that within a month, the title alone will be a manifesto on the darkness inherent in the webcomic world.

Anyway, Josh has used the blog to, by and large, shake things up a bit, as it were, and give some criticism (some much-needed, some seemingly a bit more for its own sake) on various fictures in the webcomic world.

His latest post is advice for webcartoonists. Some of it is mainly there for shock value - but a lot of it is genuinely stuff people need to hear.

One of the things he stresses is learning to draw better. And... he's right. I mean, there is almost always room for improvement in any given comic, both artisticly and otherwise. But the web, as a self-published medium, is a place especially filled with work that has room to grow.

This is something that was especially true when the webcomic scene was just beginning. I mean... there are tons of comics that have come far that started with truly deplorable art. College Roomies from Hell is a good example of this - a strip that started with some really rough art, but has become a top dog amongst webcomics. It has has become genuinely well drawn. It was carried along by the story at first, but the artist put in the time and effort, and the strip evolved, and grew, and succeeded.

And there are a lot of cases like that out there, of comics that started poor and then actually became nice looking comics.

Which is why I want to emphasize Lesnick's advice - learn to draw better. If you think your art is crap, and it will forever limit your webcomic? Don't give up. Keep at it. Work at making it better. It will get there. You'll learn from doing your comic all the time, and you'll learn in other ways that you can apply to the comic. And if, after months of working at improving it, you take an honest look and realize that you've only gone from being violently atrocious to being merely craptastic?

Keep at it some more.

The webcomic world is one made for evolution, and as long as an artist has the persistence to endure their own growth - and the drive to make that growth happen - they can join the ranks of all the others who went ahead, regardless of the work... and learned to draw better.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

How to Succeed at Failed Resolutions

Well, it's been a month and half since the new year, and I can't help but wonder how resolutions are going for most folks.

I know that I made a good number - from ones carried over from the year before (Resolution One: Cook more genuine meals, Or How I Learned to Stop Boiling Ramen and Love the Oven), to the generic ones with my own little twists (Resolution Two: Exercise every day, DDR if nothing else!), to ones tackling my own specific problems (Resolution Three: Get up on time every day, since it's all too easy to be lazy when working a job where the only repercussions are the ones self-enforced.)

Like many folks, I failed at pretty much most of them. Utterly. Within days.

And I'm ok with that.

I'm ok with it because I didn't give up. I kept trying to adhere to them. And on some days I'd fail, and on others I'd succeed. And I'm getting to the point where I succeed more often than not. I'm proud of that fact that I'm failing, and not letting it stop me. The fact that I keep working at it is the important part.

Which isn't to say that I don't want to succeed - but there are different of levels of failure, in the end.

When I originally was thinking this over, I hadn't expected it to end up connected to webcomics - but the recent return of Avalon convinced me otherwise.

There are a lot of webcomics out there - many of them with a small enough audience that when the fall by the wayside, no one really notices. But then there are also big hitters. Some of them bow out in a graceful fashion - a lot of them are designed as complete stories. They are meant to end - and when it comes their time to go, they do so.

But there are also the ones that, well... burn out. Or have others things come up. Sometime life takes priority. And those webcomics go for weeks... and then months... and then years without updates.

And sometimes they come back.

That's what impresses me. That the drive behind people to finish them properly can be so strong, that they want to make sure to go through with it, even years after the comic's height has passed. The fact that I can think of multiple webcomics that have returned from the brink - some to wrap things up, others to go on as normal - is inspiring. It's the reason I keep checking back, every so often, with many of the other former greats that have meandered into silence. Some of them might not make it back, sure, and some people might have given up from the start. But the story is still there waiting in the mind of the artist, and one day it might make it back out into the open.

Because it isn't over until they decide it is.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

High Hopes

Scott Kurtz of webcomic powerhouse PvP is well known in the webcomic world, both for the quality and accomplishments of his comic, as well as for his willingness to speak his mind frankly on many different topics.

He recently had a story arc in his comic that was nearly a month long, dealing with several of main characters of the strip getting sent back through time and space to interact with the heroes of his previous gang, "Tales by Tavernlight." It was an impressive attempt, though it came as a surprise when he said it was his first story arc that had lasted that long before.

Thinking back on it, it seems true - he has done a lot of lasting stories before, but they are usually broken up over numerous little arcs. This monthlong plot, in any case, was a good one - I enjoyed the concept, and liked several of the jokes worked into it.

It was only afterwards, when he posted his thoughts on the arc - talking about what he had hoped for it, and how he felt it fell short - that I noticed the ways it could be better. And they were there, sure - some parts of it moved a bit too fast, and left too little room to really see the full interactions between the different casts, or to really reveal the little twists behind it all.

But that said - I did not notice it at the time. I enjoyed the arc. I liked what it did. And for all that it had room to grow, I wouldn't even have noticed it without Kurtz feeling free to give his thoughts on it and some of the things he cut out in order to get it finished quickly.

I don't think Kurtz should feel bad about the way the story panned out - and I think, in the end, that sort of personal constructive criticism is a good thing, and is almost always an even more discerning eye than that of a reader.

Monday, February 13, 2006


Several weeks ago, Something Positive was the result of a good deal of discussion. Some people spoke at length, others were profound in their brevity.

The subject of the hour was the death of Faye MacIntire, one of the more beloved cast members.

At the time, I did not have much to say.

Others, by and large, said it all, and that was part of it. Part of it, though, was that... it did not touch me quite as hard as it seemed to hit many.

Which is strange, in a way. All my life, I have been very emotionally invested in characters in fiction, even though I am much more stoic in real-world matters. I can understand, accept, and move on when an actual relative dies, when trauma occurs in my own life. But when that happens to a character in a story, that is when I feel it keenly, that is when the tears come.

But Faye died, and I took it in stride. Oh, I'm not saying I was numb to it - I felt it for what it was. But I was also able to recognize that it could have been so much worse for Faye - to die peacefully in her sleep, after a day spent with the love of her life, before the infirmities of age had crippled them... that is about as good as it gets.

And I'm not saying it wasn't a tragedy, that it wasn't sad - but the tragedy, as it all too often is, is for those left behind. And even though her husband Fred recognized that things could be worse, no one can say there wasn't sorrow in her death for him, and for all those whose lives she touched.

And maybe that is why her funeral is really what got to me. A chance to see those who loved her, or remembered her. Some were familiar faces, others were not - but we saw their emotions, captured with only a few simple lines each. And it hit me, and hit me hard.

There is a lot captured in that page of panels. There is a lot of emotion, and depth, both on the surface and idling underneath.

And in the end, it is a credit to R.K. Milholland's writing that I felt the death of Faye and reacted in much the way I would in life - quiet acceptance and understanding... but felt true sorrow for all those who were left behind.

Felt sorrow, deep and cutting, at the sheer sense of the loss that they had suffered.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Total Permanent Fatal Shutdown

Goats was a comic that I had heard about on numerous occasions before finally getting around to seeing what all the fuss was about, and finding myself surprised that I enjoyed it. Zany antics, some decent character interaction, and a nice evolving art style that was enjoyably active, made for a combination that really grabbed hold of me.

It's come a long way from where it started, and has recently been undergoing some intense changes, both in the characters and the nature of the strip itself. Much of the past year has been taken up by one storyline - Infinite Typewriters. This is a deep and complex story arc that seems to have intense, lasting implications for the characters. Drama rears its ugly head. Characters are placed at bitter odds with each other, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Goats will never be the same again.

Now, don't get me wrong. I loved Infinite Typewriters. There has been a slew of interesting concepts throughout this plot that have really engaged me, while the strip still continues to consistently deliver its somewhat absurdist humor. It features my favorite character in the strip, Fineas. It does some remarkable things with other characters, including the change of Diablo the Chicken from the crazy psycho who stirs up trouble in the strip, to the sole remaining voice of reason.

There are great scenes throughout the entire arc - The Lords of Death, the confrontation between Fish and Fineas, the pub stub. All great moments, all the sort of things that were leading me to really crazing on Infinite Typewriters, and eagerly checking each new strip. And it got to the conclusion of the story arc and... and...

And, by and large, I was letdown. Some adversaries were disposed of in an almost offhand fashion, as Toothgnip the Goat and his alien minions are simply portaled away to parts unknown. Oliver and his minions are similarly removed from the picture.

The moment of climax that the story seemed to be building up to was almost casually defused. And suddenly an even more looming threat appears - the universe is unstable. It is threatened by Total Permanent Fatal Shutdown. 'The Programmer' must be found to save things, and suddenly all manner of other random characters are popping into the picture in pursuit of unknown ends, and more questions arise than answers. And less than a month after Oliver was banished away - one of the few real resolutions thus far - he is being retrieved.

And, well... I can't say I'm unhappy with the strip. Even throughout all the crisis going on, the jokes are still funny, the characters are still lively. The most recent strip is a great example of this - "There is no amount of sarcasm that will allow me to adequately express just how terrible this plan is." I mean, that's a great line. It's simply perfect punctuation for the strip, the sort of thing I can really groove on. So the strip is still good, sure.

And yet, you see my hesitance. Long, involved stories are a good thing, but a climax has to come eventually. Perhaps the fault is mine, for expecting the build-up at the end of Infinite Typewriters to result in such a climax. But on some level, only so much build-up and anticipation can be endured before things need to reach some level of closure. And with so many open-ended questions being added into the picture, I am unsure how long this plot will continue, and whether it will continue to be able to sustain itself as it goes.

I'm not going away, of course. The strip still has a lot to keep me there, and keep me enjoying parts of it. But the anticipation I was feeling over the storyline is starting to fester, and turn more into tedious expectation. And I don't want that to be the way I'm looking at this story I've been enjoying.

So I'm going to stick with it, and see what happens - and it might be that things become clearer and quicker, and I get pulled back in kicking and screaming.

Nothing to do at this point, but wait and see what Rosenberg is going to come up with next.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

The End of the World as We Know It

Now, I am confident I could sing the praises of Narbonic all day long, but that's been done before.

Suffice to say that Narbonic manages to succeed on pretty much every count. It consistently delivers a comic nearly every day of the week, with enjoyable, clean and lively artwork, an incredibly engaging story, and a exceedingly clever and quirky brand of humor. It has pretty much mastered the art of the comic strip, and there are few others out there that can rival it's perfection.

Now then, on to the current events of the strip. Narbonic has never been one to shy away from drama, in as much as main characters are constantly getting killed, coming back to life, falling in love, and being polymorphed into all manner of things.

Recently, however, the strip has done the unthinkable - Dave and Helen, the two main attractions, who provided the height of sexual tension, finally got together, and were enjoying lovely bliss and the occasional kinky lesbian sex.

Now, most comics, once they eliminate a tension that is at the heart of a strip like this, need to find a way to bring conflict back in. Conflict can't be resolved, after all! The audience doesn't want to just read about daily lovey-dovey stuff! (Well ok, maybe they want to read about the lesbian sex, but that is irrelevant to the point.) But in general, people want action, want tension, want commotion. New developments need to occur. Drama must bloom again!

So it is in Narbonic - though in this case, it manifests as a lot more conflicts being resolved. The worries over whether Dave will need to be eliminated to save the future, whether his mad scientist genes will rise to the surface, whether Helen can handle him while they are in a relationship, are all dealt with... by dismissing him. The core premise of the strip - that Dave, an ordinary comp-sci guy is taken aboard at a laboratory for evil science - has ended. It has been degrading for a while - especially the 'ordinary' part about Dave, but now it has fallen apart.

(Admittedly, it has done so to degrees before, such as when he died, or they got dragged off to various parts unknown, or so forth. But this isn't an ending leading off into another beginning - this is an ending leading off into an ending.)

Now, I'm not so silly as to actually think that. I'm sure we all are pretty confident that the plan to have Dave leave the 'mad science life' and go on to an ordinary job just won't work. I also suspect that the other likely scenario of what might happen when a guy like Dave - being a technological (evil) genius with a developing gift for mad science - goes through circumstances like this - having his whole world overturned, his heart broken, and his life of adventure abandon him. (I mean, really, did the gang at the labs honestly think this was the safest way to make sure Dave didn't go insane? Well, I suppose it was the safest way to ensure he didn't go insane near them.)

But as tempting as it is to think that Dave will fall into his evil genius powers and go on a rampage, I suspect the actual hijinks will be something else entirely - Shannon Garrity has a gift for taking the stories in unexpected ways that seem the perfect path nonetheless.

In any case, I have to give props to her. A lot of strips, when they had achieved the zen of comic perfection that she has, wouldn't shake it up with this crazy thing called drama.

But Narbonic not only does it, but does it well - every development seems to move along without feeling forced, overdone, or out of the blue.

Hmm, I guess this turned into a rave review of Narbonic anyway. Ah well, some things are meant to be.

It has been one of my favorite strip for years, and the sole motivation for my subscription to Modern Tales. Narbonic might not throw its weight around in the webcomic world, but its influence is there nonetheless - if nothing else, as an inspiration and a role model of how to do a comic right.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

I Still Don't Get The Titles, Though

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is, in my opinion, the Far Side's evil twin. Yes, with goatee and everything.

There are more and more comics cropping up based on this type of humor - jokes that are essentially based on twisting and subverting expectations. Some of them work well, some of them fall flat.

SMBC does it's job well. The format is simple and straightforward - typically a single panel, oftentimes with a caption beneath it.

The amount it is able to accomplish with that is pretty staggering, on the other hand. Most of the jokes are of the 'delayed punch' variety - you see the strip, register what it says or shows, and then a moment or two later, the joke hits you. The humor is often dark and sometimes cruel - but then, most humor is in some form or another.

Then, on the other hand, we've got the Perry Bible Fellowship. Pretty much the same approach - take a concept, turn it on its head, often in dark but still humorous ways. The big difference is that each of these strips are three panels long.

Now, I love both these comics. They aren't afraid to throw punches, and even if I might end up somewhat horrified by half the comics they deliver, it's usually while laughing for several minutes over it regardless. It feels somewhat sinful to enjoy their brand of humor, but that somehow makes it all the more enticing.

But I can also see the various differences that their styles make. The Perry Bible Fellowship strips come off as much more refined, and the humor is also a lot more built-up - which makes for a much softer punch when it comes. There is often more of a general recognition of the clever nature of the comic, rather than really full-blown ribaldry.

Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, on the other hand, is much more crude - but at the same time, this gives it a lot of its charm. The jokes are often a lot more intense, and a lot more likely to get a sudden laugh out of me once they hit.

In the end, both are freaking hilarious comics, and well worth a shot - and if you enjoy one, you are pretty likely to take to the other one as well.

Sometimes one has to be cruel to be kind, and I know that despite the fact that I was horrified by both of them the first time I perused the archives, I just keep coming back for more...

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Morality Undone

So I'm right in the middle of a very enjoyable fantasy series.

Stop me if any of this sounds familiar:

So the world is threatened by a god of darkness, who was cast out from his own kind for his defiance against them.

Ages have come and past, and his power has been held back every time by the combined forces of men and elves.

Once again he is a threat, and a Company goes forth to lead the Bearer into the heart of his lair, where they will perform a small task to defeat him.

Along the way the Company is split up, and the Bearer must continue on his quest with only one companion for support.

The Wizard is lost, but returns reborn as the White Rider. He rejoins the armies of men and elves, who are led under the banner of a King without a land, the last son of his line who will lead the armies agains the Enemy and usher in a new age of peace.

Only.... the Company, the Wizard, the King, and all those folks above?

They're the bad guys.

The Sundering, by Jacqueline Carey, is an excellent story that takes place over two novels. Despite the similarities, it isn't simply The Lord of the Rings told from the enemy's perspective. The similarities are there, but they are superficial at best.

At its heart, it is its own story. It is filled with unique and flavorful characters, many of whom remind us of typical fantasy archetypes, but many of whom are also developed and distinct beyond that. Good and evil are turned on their head, and the reader is rooting for the 'forces of darkness' to prevail.

The idea of perverting darkness and light is not a new one - it has been done before, both in the extreme and in the specific.

Villains by Necessity, by Eve Forward, takes such a role to the extreme - a handful of villains must band together, as the world is in danger of being consumed by the goodness that has overtaken it, and utterly destroyed. They must fight their way to the place where the armies of evil were sealed away, and release them and restore the balance. It is a very good read, and above all a fun book - clever, humorous, and quick with the action. But at the same time, such a perversion of good and evil is much easier to handle when placed in such a light-hearted setting.

Anti-heroes, and redeemed villains, are also present all over the place - from the Punisher, a hero who murders those who do wrong, to Drizzt Do'Urden, the inspiration for countless bland 'dark elves who have seen the light' in role-playing games everywhere. These characters have become archetypes in and of themselves, just like the villain who 'was just trying to do the right thing'.

And these aren't bad characters, of course. Roles of such built-in conflict present massive potential for character development, especially when done well.

Which is why it is all the more impressive when an entire world is turned on its head in the self-same way.

The Sundering is a well-written story. It is a serious fantasy work, and a genuinely enjoyable literary read. And while many other tales have toyed with twisting the idea of good and evil, very few have done it on such a level, or done it so well. The fact that I can only recall one other such novel off the top of my head (Villains by Necessity) emphasizes this.

One of the curses that has come upon me since pursuing a career in writing has been gaining much more knowledge and awareness of books - and thus I was forced to admit that many of the books I read were not actually all that good. I am now all too aware of when I read bad writing - or writing that was put out just to cater to the masses. And in many ways I miss being able to just grab some of the random shlocky pulp fantasy works that are mass produced, and enjoy the read.

But at the same time, I am that much more able to appreciate good writing.

And regardless of what definitions of good or evil are being used, I certainly find that I can very much appreciate the work of Jacqueline Carey.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Dominic Deegan and the Epic Agenda

Dominic Deegan was once one of my favorite webcomics. I loved the little references to Dungeons and Dragons. I loved the rich fantasy environment, set against the humble and dour protaganist. The idea of a seer who saw his gift as a curse is nothing new, but one who saw it as such because he was constantly pestered by people looking for answers was a brilliant take on it.

Dominic Deegan was clever and silly and cute, and I loved it. And then the epic hit.

It was more than just one storyline - stories begin piling up, each one raising the stakes and getting more involved than the last. Eventually the fate of the world was at hand, and I? I found myself preferring the good old days.

I can hardly call down Mookie for raising the storyline to such an immense level. I recall my own days as a Game Master, and how easy it is to accept the insatiable urge to create a story of epic proportions. It feels culminating to do so - a chance to see the characters forged in blood and sacrifice, and triumph over evil and destruction!

And Dominic Deegan had its epic storyline, and the title character saved the world from danger.

And things died down, and we had some calm. We dealt with the aftermath of the event, and overall, things were nice again for a while.

But recently things are changing. We seem to be building back up towards chaos and commotion.

The most recent storyline was an intense one. It had it moments of humor - the comic always does - but it dealt with serious issue. Rape was the big one, and there was a lot of discussion about it.

But my concerns, by and large, were seperate from those of most others. The rape itself - and the motives behind it and its placement in the story - weren't what bugged me. What I was concerned at was the fact that people in the comic suddenly seemed to be acting out of character.

The basic story going on here (Spoilers ahead):

Melsheena, an orc prone to temper and emotion, is confronted by someone she has not seen in ages - Stonewater, an orc who, many years ago, raped her when they both were youths.

He is accompanied by two friends - Grench, an orc female, and Bulgak, an orc infernomancer (demon-serving warlock).

We see her approach him, remembering the rape - and, surprisingly, forgive him for what happened. The event seemed, in ways, to be over - for closure to have been found for them (even if the backstory remained unexplained to us.)

Moments later, when discussing a completely seperate issue (Bulgak and his being a filthy demon worshipper), she suddenly drags the rape back up and throws it out in the open. Tempers flare, people get assaulted for sometimes almost no reason, and we have the entire story dragged out in front of us.

And it pissed me off. Because it had seemed like these characters started acting irrationally simply so that there was an excuse to have a flashback, and to give us the backstory of these characters. It seemed, in short, like bad storytelling - that the author wasn't able to figure out how to naturally introduce the story, so forced it out in front. And no one else seemed to notice it - all the discussion going on was focused on the story itself and the message it might be giving, not on the actual development of the plot. And that was what frustrated me about the entire storyline.

Only... I was wrong. The characters were acting crazy, and confrontational, and violent... because they were being manipulated by demons. (Who woulda thought?) And it makes sense, and it works because the characters seemed so out of line and irrational.

And it is part of the lead-up to this next big story arc - the War in Hell. And obviously it is getting epic again - demon lords duking it out, the reappearance of several old favorite villains, from the remorseless killers to the ones who were just trying to make things right.

And as for me? I find myself desperately eager to see it. God help me, I want this epic story. I want to see what happens with these villains and fallen heroes. And part of it is that Mookie seems to have a special gift for making some villains that you can't help cheering for (though that's a seperate essay that I'll break out on down the road.)

But a lot of it is just that the current nature of the series has really caught up to me - the characters are powerful now, and you can't really go back to the ordinary after going through that sort of change.

So we have the War in Hell coming up, and all I can find myself doing is looking forward to it. I want to know more about the old characters who will be involved. I want to know more about some of the new characters, like Bulgak the Infernomancer.

I guess what I'm saying is that... well, Mr. Mookie, sir... I really like what you're doing right now, and just wanted to let you know, I'm eager to see what's coming.

I've come back to the fold.

Friday, February 03, 2006

On This Blog: An Introduction

Well, now that I've been rambling on this thing for about a week now, I suppose a proper introduction is called for.

The goal of this blog, by and large, is to give me a place to put down all the random thoughts and emotions that webcomics (and other works) inspire in me.

It will not be entirely limited to webcomics alone, though they are far more often to be the subject of discussion than books or movies. There are a variety of reasons for this - webcomics move faster than most other forms of media. Even normal comics come out on a monthly, rather than daily basis, and even when they have crossovers spanning dozens of comic titles, they will still be moving at a slower pace than most webcomics.

Webcomics are constant output of information, from a lot of different sources - not necessarily a great deal from any single one at any given time, but enough different products fed at a pace such that it is very easy, on any given day, to have several strips ring emotional chords, or inspire analysis and discussion.

It is also a media that we have directly at our fingertips for commentary. I can say, hey, how about that plot twist, eh? Some crazy stuff, amirite?

And bam! The reader can directly go and see what I'm talking about. If it is something new to them, they can find out about it. If it is something they are familiar with, they can refresh themselves on it while I discuss it. A very handy tool, this internet thing, yes indeedy.

So... webcomics are likely to be discussed quite a bit. However, other topics will arise, and hopefully those will be interesting reads too.

I'll be updating on a fairly regular schedule, if only because my mind can only handle pondering so much crap before I need to unleash my meanderings on you lucky folk. But circumstances can never be predicted, so there will be times I may have other concerns at hand. Fair warning given, in any case!

Finally, I'm welcome to comments and criticism. I'm perfectly glad to have people let me know they like what I have to say - but I'm also glad to have discussion and disagreement. Just, you know, do it nicely. I'm looking for respectful dialogue, not just blind flaming.

So those are some of my thoughts on what this page is about. Take them for what they're worth, and hopefully they won't set up any false assumptions.

See you in the funny pages, people!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

My favorite webcomic I don't really read

Toasted Pixel is my favorite webcomic that isn't actually all that good.


Hmm, that came off a bit harsher than I actually intended. Toasted Pixel is not that bad of a comic, per say. While the art has definite room for improvement, it is getting cleaner as the comic goes on. The comic has recently shown itself willing to tackle extended story-lines. The comic updates consistently, has a decent layout for archives and a well-put together cast page. All of these are good things for a comic to have, and a good set-up for a comic to improve itself as it continues.

But all that said, I don't actually read Toasted Pixel for the webcomic itself.

I read it because the man behind it writes some damn funny stuff, and likes to point out - and often mock - humanity's silliness at its worst.

Attached to each comic is a rant on something unusual, ranging from his reviews of the atrocities Uwe Boll has unleashed upon the world, to bringing to our attention some of the strangest websites available on the internet, to even simply pointing out some creepy ass costumes.

The comic itself, in fact, often times seems to just be a medium for delivering that same humor. The writing, as expected, often overcomes any weakness in the art, and there are certainly strips that I am especially fond of. As Penny Arcade has shown, clever and unexpected violence will get a laugh out of folks 9 times out of 10. (Note: That number was entirely made up.)

The creator of Toasted Pixel is also responsible for Judge a Book By Its Cover, which is essentially him mocking movies based entirely on the terrible screenshots they've released to promote their works.

All in all, some funny stuff. I can't promise the comic itself will floor you, but if the content doesn't leave you cracking up like there's no tommorow - or simply horribly disturbed by the depths to which humanity can sink - then I'll eat my hat.

I don't actually have a hat, as such, so that should show I am extra confident in making that claim.

Just so you know.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Readers will take care of you

This last week I picked up a copy of Penny Arcade: Attack of the Bacon Robots! This is a collection of their works from 1998 through 2000. I'm not here to talk about the book itself, mind you. It's true the book has some significance, as it represents Penny Arcade's triumph over various legal issues preventing them from publishing their works for their own benefit. It is also true that the book itself is fine quality, and does an excellent job of showcasing their earlier work, despite it not necessarily being their highest caliber of comics. It focuses on their humor perfectly and runs with it, and makes for a fine walk through their early archives.

But what I really wanted to discuss is Tycho's Webcomic Manifesto published at the end of the book. It's a nice page full of his normal style of writing (humorous but with some biting sarcasm). It takes a few pot shots at his eternal foes, the heralds of micro-payments and subscription sites.

Now, the lads at Penny Arcade have scuffled with these foes on numerous occasions. Some of their attacks have been dealing with their perceived pretentiousness of web-comic artists out to reinvent the medium. My personal feeling, on some of these points, is that they go a little overboard. I certainly agree that to endorse "experimentation and reinvention as the only way to be a true artist" is, well, dumb. But I also think that it is perfectly fine for those people who want to have their experiments to go and try some of the artisticly incredible things that are only available through the wonders of the computer and the internet. Interesting things can come of invention and reinvention. Significant and powerful works can be developed. It shouldn't become the only way of art, but nor should it be dismissed as nothing but pretentiousness - the truth is somewhere in the middle.

However, there is a completely seperate debate that I feel is a much trickier issue. It can be hard to seperate the topic of 'subscription methods' from the topic of 'artistic pretentiousness', since both topics revolve very heavily around the same person. Penny Arcade have launched attacks on this front as well, and it is a follow-up on that area of discussion that motivates the Manifesto Tycho lays out at the back of his book.

The core of his argument is this: "Readers will take care of you." Give away your comics for free. Use merchandise and other means of revenue, and your readers will support you. Denying your readers comics until they pay you is no way for a comic to operate - it is cold and mercantile, and lacks trust in one's readers.

He speaks from personal experience - and no one can deny Penny Arcade has done well for itself. I think there is truth to what he says, though it is not the universal truth he might wish it to be.

Being a free comic that relies on alternate methods of revenue - books, merchandise, advertising and so forth - is the only real chance that one has to hit it big, in my opinion. However, it is also the path that is not guaranteed to reach that point.

Being part of a quality subscription service, on the other hand, is a moderately reliable means of reaching a middle ground - where there is some return revenue, though not enough to make a living off of. However - it also denies one forever the chance to truly make it big on one's own.

I love webcomics. I read hundreds, of all levels of quality. I even belong to several of the afore-mentioned subscription sites. At the same time, however... I hate belonging to them. The only reason I do so is because webcomics I was already a fan of for years moved onto their service, and I was willing to spend the money for those comics.

If those services did not have comics I had already had years of free service to fall in love with, I doubt I would have come to them. The readership of any service that charges an entrance fee will always be far inferior to the populace that will partake of something for free. Denying others entrance to your comic will not enhance your readership. I can't emphasize that enough. There are too many other webcomics available on the internet for free. You will have some readers, and each one will be significant due to the entrance fee - but that same fee will also hold you back.

I think Tycho's logic is really a good starting point, if not the whole answer. Use your webcomic to gather your readers, then expand from there. It isn't a guarantee - not every webcomic will gain enough readers to meet the point at which it becomes a living. Not every reader can even afford to support more than a handful of their favorite webcomic authors. But accepting your readers and making them welcome is the first step.

My rant here is also motivated by a post by the creator of Accidental Centaurs. The strip itself is a decent one, though by no means one of the web's heavy hitters. Its method of monetary acquisition appears to be a combination of commissions, booksales, and donations. The number of strips he produces each month is based on how much money is donated.

This month's donation total was rather low, and this concerned him greatly. And told his readers that this wasn't acceptable, and if donations didn't pick up, he would end the strip. He "[hates] making threats, but it seems that's what it takes."

That attitude towards your readers? Not a healthy one. Guilting your readers into giving you money is not a tactic that will work - it isn't something you can call upon every month. Especially not in that way. Let your readers know that if your comic can't make you the money you need from it, then you won't be able to continue it - sure, that's fine. But "threatening" your readers? That's crossing a line. In the end, it isn't just a matter of what you are doing - it is a matter of how you do it.

R.K. Milholland, of Something Positive fame, is well known for telling his reader that if they would donate a year's salary, he would do the comic full time.

And it worked - he got the money, and was floored. Then he nodded, and went to work on the comic, and figured out how to make it his job without having to rely on a yearly salary in donations. It worked once, but he knew it wasn't going to cut it as an annual thing - it was up to him now.

Last I heard, he's doing pretty well, and his comic remains one of the big ones in the webcomic world.

Overall, this isn't so much a rant about what money-making method a webcomic uses. This is more about attitude. Tycho is definitely right about one thing - treat your readers with trust. Treat them well and with respect. Deliver them your content as best as you can, rather than making it feel like an afterthought. That really is step one to producing a web-comic.

Have a community - have a forum for readers to gather and chat, both about your comic and other things. Be accessible yourself - have a place for readers to email you. You don't have to respond to every email, but at least allowing readers to *send* you emails is important. Have information about your comic. Have a cast page, even if only a small one. Basically, make your comic friendly to your readers.

Once a reader feels welcome, they are far more willing to invest and support the comic.

On a side-note, I find it interesting that Penny Arcade is often considered as a 'sell-out', with their 'merchandising' and 'advertising' and so forth. And yet - they are the ones who advocate a method of selling your comic that involves giving it, for free, to readers, rather than charging a fee at the door.

It's different in other industries. I can't go out and get a bunch of print comics for free every day - I have to pay for the ones I want, by and large. The internet changes things, however. I can find quality free webcomics every which way I turn. And if I am looking for a new comic, and need to decide whether to spend my time on one freely available, or one that will cost me to see what it is like... well, not a hard decision to make, in my opinion.

You aren't guaranteed to suddenly make a living if you put your hopes and dreams in the hands of your readers. But you stand a much better chance of getting those readers and keeping them if you deal with them fairly - and that is the first step to truly going places with your webcomic. There are more and more webcomics every day that are finding themselves able to support a living - not always well, not always easily, but they can do it.

And they are also, almost without exception, webcomics that treat their readers well.