Friday, April 28, 2006

Friday Frivolities

So, first off. Obligatory discussion of Wii. Yeah.

Like everyone else talking about it, it fails to appeal to me as a name. Or as a gaming system. Or as a philosophical concept.

Of the various rants about it, I think Logan said it best - I'm not all that concerned about the "filthy joke novelty" of it, I'm just concerned that it doesn't work for me as a word.

It just sounds bizarre, and has trouble rolling off my tongue. Will that change? Perhaps. Give it long enough, and it could forge its way into sensibility.

But still. Wii.

They came so close to an excellent name for a gaming system, too! Ah well, maybe next time.

Moving on - in addition to his wise thoughts on the Wii, Logan continues to show us how awesome ninjas are. I just can't say no to ninjas! Because, see, they'd kill me if I did.

Finally, the most exciting thing currently going on is over at the Digital Pimp. The big showdown between George and Joe is coming to a head, and this is a moment I've been hella waiting for! (Apologies for use of the word "hella.")

What really impresses me isn't that we've had this big dramatic story in a strip devoted to one-shot weekly jokes. Nah, what really gets me is how much of this little plot was developed not through the comic itself, but outside of it - in the newsposts. In the forums. Throughout the website entire. The comic itself was just part of the medium for telling the story.

Little references to the whole shebang showed up here and there in the strips, sure, and someone reading the comic alone wouldn't have any trouble reading through the whole arc without pause.

But there was that extra step for those looking behind the scenes. That takes imagination, and that takes skill. I thoroughly approve.

And now we've got the pay-off about to hit. I'm all a-shiver with anticipation.

It's been a great comic from the start. The art is fantastic. The jokes are generally dead-on. I mean, I've never been one to see all that many movies, and I used to be dead set against shelling out cash for bad ones - but when I read the comics? I feel the need to get in on it.

Cause Joe Loves Crappy Movies... and now, I do too.

The Burden of Choice

I am afflicted with a most serious Dilemma.

I have finally gotten around to starting Kingdom Heart 2, after various and sundry delays.

It has begun with great effect and style, and proved most pleasing. However... much plot has gone by that I have missed. Plot that occured in Kingdom Hearts: Chain of Memories, for the Game Boy Advance.

Thus, the Dilemma - do I hunt down a GBA and that game, and play it before going farther in KH2, for completeness sake? (Ah, completeness - the bane of video RPG fans worldwide...)

Do I merely hunt down the story of the game, and read what I have missed in cold, clinical analysis?

Or do I perservere in KH2 itself, letting the game tell me what it does as it goes, and adapting to the unfamaliar plot whilst I play?

But such are the challenges a young man faces in the world today.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

The only bard I've ever played was designed on a lark. Hah!

'A bard doesn't get drunk... he get's inspired!' This post is something of a follow-up to my thoughts on guest strips - namely, I noticed that Paul Southworth of Ugly Hill fame is doing "Tales by Tavernlight" - an old strip by Scott Kurtz that still occasionally pops up in PvP.

I think that this is supremely awesome.

First off, from the sample strip given thus far (on the right), Paul's art style is frickin' perfect for the job.

Secondly... I'm just a fan of this sort of interaction in webcomics. Artists are often more than willing to let others play around with their characters, and I think that is fantastic.

So hey. I haven't picked up any of the PvP print issues... mainly 'cause I'm lazy more than anything. But I may well take a look at the upcoming issue with this stuff, and see how well it works. It certainly looks good, and I can't imagination the brainchild of those two guys failing to impress me.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

A World of Poetry

Something is wrong. Gunnerkrigg Court starts out as a deceptively simple comic.

The first chapter was a standalone story about a girl, her shadow, her second shadow, and a robot.

The second chapter was also, by and large, standalone - but it began introducing other characters.

By chapter three, relationships begin to form. Backstory starts to be revealed. The story grows a bit more. More direct mysteries come into play, as opposed to the simple curiousities of where this school is, and what is our intrepid heroine doing there?

We are currently in the midst of chapter seven. Things have developed, as they have a mind to do. We have seen a bit more into the depths of the characters. We still don't know all that is going on behind the scenes, of course. But we now have a sense that there is stuff going on.

The chapter began with an ominious scene. We have a lot of the characters we know quite well by now, all brought together - Antimony, the protaganist. Katerina, her best friend. Reynardine, a demon now bound in the form of her doll, and bound to her will. Mr. Eglamore, a dragon slayer - and one of her teachers. That strange bird that keeps showing up.

And of course, our friend Robot, the charming little automaton from the first chapter, now looking somewhat the worse for wear.

The chapter pauses for a moment, jumps back a few hours in time, and takes a short break to return to a bit of mundanity, and give out some more background on the nature of things.

However... it appears we are about to return to that opening scene on the bridge. Stuff is liable to, well... happen. Now is a very good time to be paying close attention to the things happening over at Gunnerkrigg Court.

Now, the words I have written thus far may make it sound as though the comic is nothing but serious, heavy story. Nothing could be farther from the truth - every aspect of the strip has a sense of wonder and amazement, and as mentioned, many parts of it can easily be read entirely on their own. There is a clever humor to the characters, a charming sense of youth, and a wondrous design to the world they inhabit.

But right now, it looks as though the storm clouds are brewing, and we may have some mysteries revealed.

Not all of them, I am sure. That is likely a long way off, and there are more surprises and unknowns about Gunnerkrigg Court than I can imagine answers to.

But still. Stuff is happening. The comic is, at all times, highly engaging to me, due solely to the beauty of the strip and the story. But right here, right now, I am on the edge of my seat, waiting for the next installment.

Gunnerkrigg Court is one of the comics I would classify as a masterpiece - and right now, I suspect, it is right about to hit a turning point. I don't think I want to miss that, and I highly recommend others take a look towards it as well.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Does anyone know what 'Fleen' means, anyway?

They are doing something very cool over at Fleen - they are bringing in a whole new wave of webcomic critics, and those who make the final cut will be chosen by the viewing audience!

Ok, so the reality show aspect mildly disturbs me, but as long as they aren't making people eat bugs or set themselves on fire, I think I'll be fine.

In any case, they are posting essays written by the applicants, and will be making heavy use of the reader's comments on those selfsame essays. Now, there are quite a few of these applicants, and as such, it makes for a very heavy dose of reading to pour through - so the more people that wander over there and give their thoughts, the better off they'll be.

So go. Check it out. They have some good things happening over there, and more activity in the Dialogue can only be for the best!

On a related note, the 2006 Web Cartoonist's Choice Awards will be getting rolling in a few more weeks, so keep your eyes on that and start pondering your nominations. Or, for those who may not be able to give nominations, start planning which Web Cartoonist will be easiest to kidnap and steal the identity of in order to assure the right comic gets nominated.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Chosen Ones

Creating a comic strip day after day, for week after week, can often become a tiring thing. Even when it is done for a living, the urge to take a break can become tempting to even the most devoted individuals. Some webcomics, when such a time comes, simply take a break for an extended period of time.

Others, however, may choose a variety of filler material, from simply sketches to elaborate and random gimmicks.

What is quite common, however, is the tradition of guest strips.

A number of comics recently have had a few weeks of such art. Some fans are distressed when this happens - especially for story-intensive comics, missing out on plot and continuity for random shinanigans - sometimes ones not even true to the characters - can be less than pleasing.

For myself, I generally view any week of guest strips with both excitement and trepidation. I like seeing a different take given on characters I know and love - and often I will be a fan of the guest artist as well, making the entire experience a pleasurable medley of two great tastes.

However... some guest strips are less than wisely chosen. Some folks may really get the characters right... but others may mangle them beyond all recognition. I know that when I stumble upon a guest week in many an archive, the strips therein seem to serve only one purpose - filler. Not the good filler, the kind that genuinely keeps the reader entertained during a strip's absence. No, it is merely there to give some evidence of activity, and nothing more.

Which is why I have been very pleased by the quality of guest strips I've seen across my favorite webcomics this year. Sam and Fuzzy had some fantastic ones early on, Scary Go Round recently had some nice ones, and there have been countless others that have impressed me.

PvP is currently running a series of guest strips, and that is really what got my attention. Every single strip was picture perfect, giving a new and hilarious take on the cast. The PvP Crisis in particular floored me.

I suppose that as an artist gains more and more of a following, and connections to fellow artists and comic strip makers, it means that the guest strip submissions will inevitably be well crafted - and in enough quantity for the best to be chosen. Whatever the reason, it is a trend I am a fan of, and I hope will be a sign of things to come.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Friday Pontifications

Webcomics seems to be preceding apace, and I don't find myself with nearly as much on my mind as usual.

Nonetheless, there are a few interesting developments afoot:

-Penny Arcade has been enjoying quite a bit of success with their webcomic creation Podcast. (Guilty little secret: I have never actually listened to a podcast. Ever! Shamefully, nor do I own an i-pod or similar device. It's true!)

I wonder how many other webcomics may follow in their steps - admittedly there are numerous others that already make use of the podcast medium, but with a bruiser like PA breaking it out, I can't help but think it may pick up more notice than before. And, as usual, webcomics blur the line between numerous mediums of entertainment.

-Despite any and all claims against the character of Tim Buckley, he demonstrates mad ninja skillz, and as such, any and all trespasses are forgiven. Sorry, Citrus, but ninjas are awesome.

-I may be alone in this, but I am indeed feeling out of sorts with the wonderful world of Goats. I really had been grooving on the uber-storyline they embarked upon, but I felt is somewhat reached its peak... and simply kept on rolling. I do appreciate still the normal humor he has managed to keep cropping up, but the plot itself has left me restless.

-Does anyone else have a bad feeling about why Ornery can understand Brian? I know I do...

Not much else to announce, I'm afraid. On the other hand, it is somewhat nice for things to be on the casual and routine side. Well, no objections here!

Milholland is in his mansion, and all is well with the world (wide web.)

The Internet... Was Once... A Wondrous Thing...

It may come as a surprise to readers of this site to learn that I am, in fact, a gamer. While not partaking of casual entertainment such as comics, books, movies and the like, I might often be found rolling up some 20s with the crew, throwing down with some double dash, or enjoying a heroic afternoon in Azeroth!

I tend, as a gamer, to invest myself in the accoutrements of the genres. I don't just play the games - I often buy the books, read the novels, unlock the hidden levels. I explore the lore behind the games, find the best combos, and assemble the most powerful deck of them all! So it goes.

One of the other things that I have often done, however, to my both expected and yet inevitable downfall... is to enter the realm of gaming forums.

I had thought, long ago, when I braved the den of the White Wolf, that I had seen things at their worst. The angst, the drama, the despair - cold and black like all men's souls. I saw the dangers, and wisely turned away.

Time passed, and I walked into the Wizard's Lair, and I learned again the depth of man's descent. Senseless arguments, countless rules and regulations, and a desperate flight from any common sense - these things drove me away, and all was well with the world.

Yet more time has come and gone, and I have now seen sights that have scarred me to the soul. The discussion board of Azeroth - a more wretched hive of scum and villainy have I never seen. And yet, I cannot turn away.

With every day I glance at the pages within that board, a little piece of me dies inside. My faith in mankind is shattered whole - and the remaining bits then ground into dust and ashes.

In a full page of posts on the General Discussion area, I counted a single post offering useful information, and a single post asking a reasonable question. I counted no less than 17 posts demanding unreasonable changes to the game, 8 posts that were blatant trolling, 3 posts on the same topic that was answered in a sticky at the top, and one post advertising gold farming.

It worries me. I enjoy playing this game. I do my best to moderate my time at it, knowing well the dangers of an MMORPG. I know lots of fine folk in this game, and enjoy playing with them. I know many and sundry intelligent and reasonable players!

And yet, in this community of fellow gamers, I find nothing but the detritus of the earth.

In another area, a gamer makes a thread to track current progress on the most powerful boss available in the game. He makes a simple plea, for people to treat the thread seriously, rather than turn it into yet another repetition meme, and instead only gave serious posts.

Of the fifty-one replies, twelve are verbatim copies of the specific meme he gave as an example of what people should not use. Five are variations on the meme - including translating it into german, and chinese. Eight are various other memes, including a random reference to "Snakes on a Plane." Seventeen are arbitrary responses to each other, and to the trolling attempts.

One is a reference to the Great Gatsby. Four are follow-ups to it.

Only two are genuine answers to the question, while there is one post proclaiming the failure of the thread, and one post simply explaining why making such a request in these forums is doomed to abysmal failure.

Now, I am not naive. I am aware of the fact that there is a problem with the internet. I am aware that there are places where attempting to find genuine information is asking for a miracle.

What I cannot understand is why I keep going back.

I can't help it! Despite the bile that rises at the atrocities commited upon the english language, I keep reading. Sometimes my eye twitches. Sometimes my arm shakes. But I go from page after page, post after post. I no longer even know what I am looking for - useful knowledge, or just more horrible - fascinating - chaos.

I... I am afraid. I have stared into the abyss, and I cannot look away. It stares back at me... and it hungers.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Electrifying Science

Bwa ha ha ha ha ha! See that, over there on the right?

Now that is a cool weapon.

Furthermore, it is a mad scientist's weapon. As the author puts it - "a gun which pretty much requires the wielder to say 'Bwa ha ha ha ha ha.'"

It should be noted, however, that Benjamin is not doing just that.

A Miracle of Science is one of my favorite webcomics. As with certain other popular strips, mad science is fun.

We have the main hero, who has been struggling as a recovering user of mad science - and here we find him putting together a ball lightning gun from a variety of spare parts.

Is he returning to his weakness? Is he transcending it and putting that skill to greater use?

Dude, like I care? Ball Lightning Gun, man! Is that not awesome? I say it's awesome.

And yeah, I'm definitely in it for the story.

But still. Ball lightning gun. Wicked.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Webcomics produce the most improbable protaganists imaginable...

Click for full-sized Death and Taxes! Given how many webcomics I read (a lot), and the amount of time available in the day (not enough), it is rare I stumble across a new comic that immediately pulls me in and gets added to my list of daily reads.

So I was pleasantly surprised to encounter Belphegor. The latest strip thus far (as shown on the right) immediately convinced me the art was to my tastes, with lively (er, so to speak), interesting characters.

I took a walk through the archives and was not disappointed. Despite the prevalance of dick and fart jokes, political humor and obscure references - all things that often aren't my cup of tea - it works. Perfectly. The concept is great, the characters are great, the jokes are great.

It's a clever little comic that has a very unique identity, and fulfills its promise well. The cast of characters is enough to have some diversity of behavior without being overloaded. The overarching story is present, but not especially intrusive on the everyday jokes.

All in all, it's a combination of unexpected elements that comes together to rate very high on my list. For those who haven't checked it out before, I recommend it.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Two Clicks Forward, One Click Back

Lots of elements go into whether a webcomic is good or not - and not all of them pertain to the comic itself. Presentation and accessibility are also important elements - one reason why a decent comic with an excellent webcomic design can do as well, if not better, than an excellent webcomic with a poor design.

The insightful Wednesday White gave an excellent description of the importance of the "fold" in the webcomic's medium. It is an essay I wholeheartedly agree with - make it easy for me to read your comic! Especially if I like the comic, I want reading the latest strips or browsing the archives to be a smooth experience - not an exercise in frustration.

I wanted to talk about an even more specific element - the navigation buttons. You know the ones I speak of - the four big buttons that every webcomic has: First, Previous, Next, Current. Sometimes different names are used, sometimes the list changes - but those four are really the key ones.

I've seen them all over the place in different comics. Above the comic, beneath it, on the left, on the right - on all four locations at once! I imagine a lot of comic artists don't even think about their placement - as long as the links are on the page somewhere, a reader can use them, right?

I disagree.

Paul Gadzikowski does it right. He keeps the buttons just below the comic - the logical place for someone moving through the archives to find them, of course. Most webcomics put them there.

However, he also makes sure, whenever he has an oversized comic, to include the browsing buttons at the top as well.

This means that the archive isn't just easy to browse for someone perusing it normally - but also for someone reading it from back to front.

Why would someone do so, you may ask? Well, it comes up plenty often for myself. Maybe I'll miss one or two strips (a not uncommon occurence over a weekend.) Maybe I won't notice when they return from hiatus. Maybe I'm trying to refresh myself on a minor event in the strip that occured a week ago.

Quickly clicking the 'previous' button until I find the last comic I read - or the comic I am seeking out - is the easy solution during these occurences. Unfortunately, when a comic strip is large enough to force me to scroll down the page several times to reach the browsing links, it can be a bit tedious to move backwards through the archives.

Especially if I am also trying to avoid reading the strip in case of spoiling the story for myself.

And when I've found the point I want, and am ready to read through in normal fashion? If I should try to hit my built-in browser's back button to easily reverse my order, I find myself at the bottom of the page, in need of scrolling back up in order to reach the top.

With A:KoTaS, I can easily move back and forth. It didn't take much on his behalf - a browsing panel at the bottom of every strip, and an extra one at the top on the overly large strips. What Happens Next is another strip that does the same, though in that case all the strips are large enough to merit the dual navigation links. Plenty of others do the same.

But for every comic I found that has this nice, easy little addition, there are half a dozen that don't. Sure, there are plenty of comics that don't need it - the entire comic is small enough to sit above the fold, leaving the navigation buttons in easy view regardless.

But there are plenty of others that could make good use of it, and don't. I don't believe a single comic on Keenspot has this little convenience, and more than enough of them could use it. Sluggy doesn't have it. The list could go on.

Does something like this make or break a comic? No, probably not.

But it is just one example of how the design of a webcomic matters. There are many little elements that can make browsing the comic more or less convenient for the reader. Nothing says you have to make reading your comic an easy experience - but the less accessible you make the comic, the less readers you're going to have.

"Loop, what loop? I don't see any loop."

The Flint Family of Five As usual, I seem to be a bit behind the times - apparently Troutman has returned, and brought Basil Flint back with him.

His new update schedule appears to be somewhat haphazard - tossing up bunches of comics at a time whenever they've been finished. But thus far it appears to be working well, and I'm eager to see if it holds out - the comic itself seems up to Troutman's usual level of quality (ie, wickedly good stuff.)

I also noticed that he has introduced the Troutcave!

It is a collection of his former works, and I'm personally quite the fan of them being all gathered together. I know that when I first started reading his comics, and couldn't track down some of his older works, it made for the occasional frustration in trying to understand background and character history and the like.

While the earlier works aren't necessarily required reading for the later strips - especially given that the quality has changed quite a bit from one series to another - having them on hand for those that want to check them out is definitely a good thing.

(~Thread title, meanwhile, stolen from Real Life Comics, which has been solidly entertaining of late~)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"You can make an awful lot of lions fly with that much faerie dust."

It's not yet Monday, yet here I am, delayed from sleep by increasingly more agonizing allergies and increasingly jumbled thoughts rolling around in my head.

The solution, as always, is to write. As I said back when I started, if you don't write when you have the words there, you risk losing them entirely. Or, to quote some words of wisdom: "There's nothing to it but to do it!"

So. I've been spending much of the weekend enjoying the sites and sounds of a local gaming convention. One of the few I've been to in the last year, and one of the only two I make sure to attend on a regular basis. One is the world famous DragonCon, filled with more types of entertainment than any one man can hope to partake of in a single weekend.

The other, the con in question at the moment, is a small and humble affair by the name of JohnCon. The con of my alma mater, and one I had lent my aid to for many years.

But time comes and goes, and this year I had no part in the running of the show. I was there to enjoy myself and nothing more - and pray that, in the absence of myself and my fellows, the con was not an abysmal failure.

Hmm. That may, perhaps, sound a trifle conceited. I'll explain a bit, shall I?

My days at the good old Johnny Hopkins, and the SciFi Club thereof, were a time of great success for the club. Attendance soared, events were kick-ass... and most of all, the members of the club (we called ourselves 'fen') were supremely cool people. There was all variety of gamers and nerds and dorks - but by and large the majority happened to also be socially well-adjusted individuals. It was, if not a golden age, a silver age of sorts.

Elder fen from years past were a common sight, lending experience and wisdom to all. Younger fen were excited and eager for new things. It was a grand age for gaming and anime - as well as boozing and clubbing and other brands of excitement.

Good times, it was agreed, were had by all.

There was, of course, the usuall drama and emotional chaos that comes about with any group of close-knit people... but that's all part of the show. Part of being, in the end, a family.

Fast forward several years. Most of the current fen are now elder fen. Most of the elder fen are no longer a presence at the club - many have left the area entire. Last year graduated the last remnant of the old guard from my days, and the club was filled with almost entirely new blood.

And I have stopped by hither and thither to see what I may see of the state of things... and been left wondering.

The club remained intact. Events were held, games were run. And yet... some certain spark seemed gone. The club seemed entirely too fannish, and not enough about fans. (Aha! A comic reference! It's, um, sealed behind the double-secret doors of Graphic Smash. Ah well.) The point at hand - they had the fervor and obsession with games, but without any degree of moderation. That is not a mark against them entirely - I, of all people, can give little criticism for that. But it was a difference, and a clear one.

I could not entirely be sure how much things had changed. Did I just see my days among the fen as better because I was there and part of it? Was it perspective more than truth? Good questions, and ones always worth asking... and yet, from all I saw, all I could tell, that spark was not there.

And so, with trepidition, I come to this year's convention. No obligations, no duties - I was there as myself, in search of fun and nothing more. I was not sure what I would find.

I was, in fact, in luck. The con itself was intact, with all the normal trappings in place - a dealer's room, video games, anime, bad scifi movies, board games, card games, tabletop games - and so forth.

Most important of all - other elder fen were there, in the same state and concern as myself.

And they had their own games to play, and there own games to run. And so after spending the obligatory time dilly-dallying about the con, I sat down with them to play their game - and thus enjoyed the best con experience I had in years.

Elder fen for the motherfucking win!

The game in question is the real reason behind this little monologue. It was a roleplaying game, making use of the new World of Darkness rules system. (Like the old system, only with the life drained out of it. Ironic, that, no?)

Several names were given for the game: Happily Never After. The Wonderful World of Darkness. The final choice: Magic Kingdom Come.

The premise: 10 years have passed since happily ever after, and we return to our beloved characters from the disney tales. The allied nations of Wonderland and Neverland are under seige by a mysterious plot that has its sources back in the Magic Kingdom, and the throne of Prince Charming himself.

Now that, my friends, is a goddamn plot.

Let's take time out for a little tangent. We're going to talk about Something Positive! And here you thought this talk wasn't going to have anything to do with webcomics, didn't you?

Click for full-sized Poultrimancy!
S*P has had comics about gaming. And yet, when we have been priviledged to have some scenes from their games captured for us, it isn't always quite the usual fare.

We have had sodomizing treant hillbillies and Overlord Barbie. We have been offered stat blocks for infernal tax collectors, and similar such creations.

Kyle describes the games as nothing more than "monsters that are puns and spells whose name are plays on words."

Look, I know Kyle is both an idiot and a terrible human being. I'm aware he is one of the few cast members who are pretty darn close to irredeamable.

Despite this, I found myself almost... agreeing with him.

You see, I just didn't get it. It was, sure, funny in the comic - but I couldn't see it as a game. The games I played were about slaying dragons or besting ancient gods of darkness! Sure, I played sessions that that had in-jokes here and there, modules with inappropriate pop-culture references, games with their share of humor and puns and jokes.

But they were all just tossed in here and there - the games themselves, invariably, had a solid story I could get behind. Epic adventures, serious struggles, dangerous foes. Those were the games I played... and ran.

(It should be mentioned I even ran a game - populated entirely by male players - whose characters were, essentially, a magical girl squadron - but even that was only a small tie-on to a larger, epic game. A joke that grew rather stale, rather quick, and ended up being used more as a medium for conveying plot for the bigger story.)

So when I saw the terrifying visages of Regular and Extra-Crispy, I just. sorta. shrugged. It wasn't for me. In my view of game and gaming, I couldn't see the appeal of that sort of... nonsense. Gimmickry and childishness, it seemed... and nothing more.

And yet, I found myself playing Magic Kingdom Come.

It was, suffice to say, a view-altering experience.

My own character was Dumbo, a burnt-out but still feisty ex-child star of the Big Top. The other players were Rambi, the gun-toting psycho deer; Pinochio, who went all emo once he became a real boy, and the three ex-wives of the dashing but callous Prince Charming: Cinderalla (now head of the Neverland pirates since Hook had been 'taken out'); Snow-White, an ice-queen professional businesswoman with no patience for lesser folks; and Sleeping Beauty, lesbian mistress to Alice, Queen of Wonderland (who happened to be in a marriage of convenience with Peter Pan, King of Neverland.)

...I can feel the fanboy in me bubbling to the surface. I can feel the desire to regale my captive audience with the stellar tales of battle, from the consultation with the Cheshire Cat to the vanquishing of Simba, or the final showdown with Prince Charming himself! I resist, for the most part, that treacherous urge.

But it may be said in no uncertain terms that I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed the frivolity, the goddamn puerility of it all! There was something soothing in letting go of all my premade conceptions of what made a good game - and instead I took something fun, and sat down with my friends, and played the goddamn game.

I get it, now, and can't help but feel remorse for having ever sided, however momentarily, with the villainous Kyle Cheng. It might be safe to say I learned a valuable lesson today, even if it might have been learned through the mangling of my childhood stories.

Because sometimes it can be more than enough fun to trounce through the tales of our youth, freely butchering the memories of our favorite heroes and villains as we go. Sometimes it can be fun to let loose and ignore the serious, the rules, the regulations of dragon slaying and monster vanquishing. Making our own rules, playing our own games - isn't that what it's all about?

In the end, the goal of gaming is to have fun. To enjoy yourself. Not to kill a dragon - though if that is what you enjoy, then by all means partake of it! But the true fun is sitting down with friends and having a damn good time.

There are many ways to do that - and all of them are the correct one. Hang out. Have fun. Make the game fun, however you want to do so!

I mentioned, long ago at the start of this little talk, that I had been worried as to the success of the con. The attendance seemed sparser than normal, the events a bit less substantial.

But I had fun. I found what I wanted to do there, and had fun... old school style, with friends I only see once or twice a year.

And as I walked the halls of the con, I know now quite well what it was I saw - happy congoers. People that were playing games or watching anime, mocking bad movies or laying down the smackdown on a video game. People that were, in the end, having fun.

With that, I can't call the con anything less than a resounding success.

I'll be back for the last day of it tomorrow, to poke around a bit more and see what other old friends might show their faces.

And I know that I'll enjoy it through and through.

My allergies seem to be remitting a bit, and sleep has been heavily calling for the last half-hour. But the words, as always, have their own demands.

It is rare I have been up this late in recent days, and I know not what sleep I'll find before I rise, nor what dreams may come. I may dream of a fallen fairyland, or I may, nostalgic, dream of cons in days of yore.

But I go to bed a happy man.

And that, in truth, is all that I can ask for.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Friday Reflections:

Another week comes to a close, and I am sitting around eagerly awaiting some tasty latkes my friends are currently concocting. While I do enjoy reflecting on the things to be thankful for, and the stories of the various holidays currently upon us, I must also confess to enjoying all the fine food produced for these events. Especially when they aren't produced by me, and don't involve setting things on fire.

(I am aware that all these attempts at Latke creation aren't occuring during the holidays with which Latkes are normally associated, and I do assure you that I am partaking in the appropriate foods, such as my personal favorite: Matzoh Ball soup. That said, there's never a time that isn't right for latkes!)

There seems to be quite a few folks taking a holiday from webcomics as well, as a sudden rash of guest strips has broken out across the interweb. I suppose, however, that this is counterbalanced by the return of Gossamer Commons, after only a brief hiatus... and the renewal of Framed, returned to us from the long dark!

I've talked before about how much more mobile webcomics are than many other industries - it is easy to accept them when they fall behind their schedules, or cease output entirely, and also perfectly unsurprising when they return after long and lengthy delays. It might be on account of how easy it is to jump to the next comic on our list when one is currently absent - and how easy it is to wait for word of mouth to herald the return of missing comics. Whatever the reasons, I'm glad to see these two comics back. (Even if it means I'll have to dig back through Framed to try and have any clue as to what in the world is going on!)

In other news, David Willis is being a gentleman's gentleman, and providing some hefty fan service for the ladies. Meanwhile, over in Wapsi Square we get to see a just punishment to fit the crime. (Personally, I enjoy all the scenes with Katherine, and the latest little story is proving as good as any.)

Suburban Tribe has wrapped up its latest storyarc, and continues to raise my opinion of it by leaps and bounds with every strip. Having a conclusion to the story arc that keeps all the fanboys happy doesn't hurt, either. I think Lee has done a damn fine job of keeping the story moving along, and maintaining the tension between the lead characters - without actually resolving it. Generally it's hard to keep that pace up without it feeling like stagnation, but he's doing a damn fine job.

I expect to be doing similar posts most Fridays - giving general thoughts on the latest in webcomics. So expect another rambling post like this in a week!

I'll be back on Monday with the usual stuff - 'til then, enjoy the holidays!

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

No Need for Filler

Click for full-sized Taoist proverb match! No Need for Bushido is a comic that succeeds in many ways.

Each strip is extensive, with clean, colored art that is pleasing to the eye. The characters are a combination of cliche and unexpected, with excellent interplay between them and plenty of humorous quirks. There are tons of fleshed out and entertaining side characters. There is an overarching storyline, as well as plenty of minor plots. All the good things a comic needs to succeed.

But what impresses me, what really stands out to me when I visit the site, isn't the comic itself - it is the amount of content available.

The update schedule for NNFB is not as extensive as many other comics. It updates the main comic once, twice a week.

However, I have rarely felt the lack of comics. Perhaps it is due to the Alternate Script pages - former strips with the text replaced with surreally absurd dialogue. The first ones were a bit weak, but some of the more recent ones have been absolute winners.

The vote incentives provided for the top webcomics list aren't just casual sketches, as with many other comics. Instead, they are generally elaborate drawings. Good deal.

Glancing around the front page, what else is there? Tutorials on the comic's cell shading, exclusive content available for purchase, links to past bonus art projects (flash animations, past April's Fools jokes). They don't even have a cast page proper - instead, they link straight to the webcomic's wiki. And the latest feature is the inclusion of a blog written by one of the villains of the series.

I like having that much material at hand when I visit the site. I like having filler at hand that I can actually enjoy, rather than filler that is simply an effort to provide content, rather than provide humor or any sort of, you know, actual enjoyment. I like having a site that throws material at the reader, rather than make them hunt down for the merest scrap of information. When I can't even find an archive page, I generally know I've got a struggle in store for me. When, on the other hand, the archive is the least of the material offered, it makes for a good experience.

Part of being professional about a comic isn't just about the comic itself. There are obviously plenty of those elements involved - good art, writing, consistency, and so forth. But it also helps to have a good site. That helps make the reader feel like a part of something - and establishing that reader community can be a very good thing.

So here's a shout-out to No Need for Bushido, for providing a good comic when it updates - and a whole hell of a lot of other good stuff the rest of the time.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Song That Ends the Earth

I Hope You Like Text(Click the image on the right for full sized Text, Text, and some more Text.)

(And for full-sized crying Gabe and manical Tycho.)

As you can see on the right, Monday's Penny Arcade contains quite a bit of text.

A veritable onslaught, one might say. Which is perfectly fine - the words themselves, as most ones chosen by Sir Tycho, are carefully and lovingly crafted to maximum effect.

His writing, as always, pleases.

That said, the writing was not what caught my eye in this strip.

Even here, in a strip that is overflowing with words, it was the art that caught my eye. Despite currently being the artist of the most popular webcomic in existence, and despite having come a long, long way from where the comic began, Gabe often talks abouthis desire to expand his skill as an artist. That's commendable. Even more - he does so.

Gabe and Tycho don't have a very wide variety of facial expressions. They are often wearing expressions of disdain, indifference, occasional disgust... and often simply rage. A good variety, but we see it all the time - one reason why I have always liked it when a character gets a bit of a maniacal gleam in their eye. When Gabe gets a chance to draw a bit beyond his usual repertoire.

Today is a good day. Tycho is stark raving mad and Gabe is confronted by horrors beyond mortal imagination. Now that's a comic I can really get behind!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Written Speech

The Great Outdoor Fight has come and gone. As I suspected, my interest in Achewood faded with it, and I've closed the book on that particular tale.

For all that Achewood, as a whole, doesn't really work for me - I have to give credit to Onstad for bringing at least one stylistic element to my attention - the use of different text for different characters.

I'd seen it done before, of course. But this was the first time that I noticed it so keenly, and it worked so well.

A writer has control of the words his characters speaks, and the language that they use. He can, to a large extent, help to form the speech the reader 'hears' when they read the strip - but that control isn't absolute. Everyone might have a different voice they've invented for each character, and it can vary wildly from one reader to the next.

And I've seen writers use little tricks to distinguish the speech from different characters - different colorations, different fonts. Cat Legend is a good example - almost every character has their own, unique, speech. Which sometimes works very well - it can make it easy to follow dialogue, and sometimes the chosen fonts and colors are very appropriate indeed.

And for a strip like that, it works especially well - the main characters are faeries and elves and similar sorts. It feels fine to have that sort of gimmick. Unfortunately, it does simply end up as a gimmick, since it applies to every character. It becomes part of the setting, rather than something special - which is fine. It just means that it doesn't truly help the author establish the character's voice any more than normal text would.

Achewood, though... Achewood was different. Roast Beef speaks softly. All the other characters that I saw spoke the same, and, as usual, my mind found a voice for them. But Roast Beef, regardless of how I heard him, I knew was speaking differently.

The contrast is palpable when talking with others - especially Ray. Roast Beef's text is smaller. That's it, nothing more. It is a simple change - but everytime he speaks, you can feel it. He is a soft-spoken man. Yet his own soft speech makes the other language - even though it is the norm - seem too loud, too bold, too heavy.

I was impressed. That small alteration changed every scene he was in, and very powerfully determined the way I saw - and heard - his character.

I began paying a lot more attention to comics, and noticed more than a few used this device without me having noticed it before. Home on the Strange broke it out, to easily show off the sound of constant nattering and babbling. I've seen a dozen more that slipped by mind. It's a nice device, easy to use, and gives the writer a bit more control over the character.

But in the end, Achewood really did it best. I go back now and glance through the archives - and, as usual, I find it difficult to get engaged. But I take another jaunt through the Great Outdoor Fight, and the scenes between Roast Beef and Ray resonate strongly - in no small part thanks to the contrast between them, one that is powerfully aided by the voice of Roast Beef.

It isn't it alone - the language he uses is very well chosen, and often somewhat poetic, and it works very well.

It speaks very well of Achewood that even with limited exposure, for someone who wasn't drawn in being the Great Outdoor Fight, it has shown itself so favorably, and has left its mark on me.

I might not be staying around in Achewood anymore, but kudos to Chris Onstad nonetheless!

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Video Game Jubilations

Spooky fella, ain't he?After many months of the only video game I invested time into being the nefarious World of Warcraft, I have recently managed to find another diversion - the latest Prince of Persia game.

As usual, my game playing is a bit behind the times - I only played Prince of Persia: Sands of Time about a year ago. I played it because a friend had it, and all accounts I'd heard of the game gave it rave reviews. It lived up to them - a game more based around overcoming environmental challenges than actual foes was a new experience for me, and a welcome one.

But the things I heard about the sequel, Warrior Within, were less than complimentary. So I paid little attention to the franchise, and only just recently took interest in the latest release.

Since I was still in withdrawal for a new RPG (despite Kingdom Hearts being just upon the horizon), I decided to give Prince of Persia 2 and 3 a go. The second one, as reports stated, could have been better. Yet I knew coming into it that it made some poor choices, so I was able to laugh at the changes rather than get aggresively fanboyish over them. (It should be noted that the only reason I got it was for story completeness sake, as that is, in the end, what drives almost any game playing experience I have.)

Fortunately, having managed to laugh my way through Warrior Within, the third one has completely blown me away. It not only returns to the excellence of the original - but it takes the best elements in both games and transforms them into something incredible. I'm moving through the game as best I can (in order to start in on the aforementioned Kingdom Hearts), but am enjoying every second of it.

As I said, I realize I'm a bit behind the times with this realization. The game has been out for a few months now, and no doubt handily defeated by many. Nonetheless, it has been a while since I've been so captivated by a game - by the puzzles, the story, the combat, the music, the art. As such, I felt the need to give a little hurrah for the experience. So, ah... Hurrah!

There we go.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

April Fools

Another April Fools has come and gone, and I wanted to give a shout-out to the best jokes I saw from the occasion.

I didn't especially partake in the festivities myself, aside from helping to 'celebrate' the birthday of my sister, who had the ill-fortune to be born just alongside this day of mischief.

So, here are a few of the keeper's that I got a kick out of:

-A Brainwarping Twist from CRFH: Good because Maritza is evil enough that it was hard to predict if this was the joke, or if the joke was that this actually happened.

-Brains! from Inverloch: Winner of the "Unexpected Undead Award!" (I just made that reward up.) Definitely clever and funny.

-Old and Alone from Shortpacked: Last year I didn't notice the Dinosaur Comics nature of his April 1st strip, and despite not reading the works of Ryan North, I must acknowledge Willis's mastery of this medium as being totally wicked. It wasn't quite as innately funny as last year's strip, but I think the laugh this time was more due to the style rather than the substance.

-Switch Up from Ctrl-Alt-Del: I may have ragged on CAD in the past for some of its riffs being a bit formulaic, but I have to say I really liked his April 1st joke. Subtle enough to take a moment to sink in, without the strip even bothering to slow down to acknowledge it. Just a clever nod to the event, and nothing more. That's good stuff.

Anyway, those were the ones I most noticed and enjoyed. It ain't easy to pull off a good April Fools joke, since people either expect it to be coming, or are tired of dealing with it already. So even though everyone is back to the normal swing of things, I wanted to recognize a few jokers that pulled it off!