Thursday, November 30, 2006
This year I managed to actually go the distance, and yes, that is a damn good feeling.
I only wrote the first third of the novel I set out to write - however, I think it ended up more coherant than it would have otherwise, so that's a plus. And, of course, it leaves me with material to continue with if I undertake this madness next year.
In the end, it sucked up a bunch of time I likely would have otherwise spent playing video-games. It let me test my limits, and let me actually prove that I can sit down and write something extensive. One of my old writing teachers told me that every person in the world has stories in their head they could tell, but you only are a writer if you sit down and write them.
That doesn't make you a good writer, mind you. That's the next step.
But the first step is writing, and this is the first time I've produced a clearly finished work of significant length. It isn't as long as a standard novel, it isn't a masterpiece, and I quake in fear at actually showing it off to my friends and family who demand a chance to read it. The narrative voice is constantly shifting, I'm not entirely positive I maintained the same tense throughout the work, and the most interesting character is an ordinary housecat. The dialogue is poor, the plot resorts to exposition, and the proofreading was nonexistant.
...but it is complete, and it is mine, and I can be damn proud of that.
And that's what the month is all about.
Wednesday, November 29, 2006
But the news that I heard that really got me excited was that Crap I Drew on My Lunch Break is back!
Rest assured, the comic is far from crap. It's a fun little strip with gorgeous art - it doesn't hold itself to be more than that, and that's what makes it great.
The strips are sometimes just simple randomness from life, sometimes rants on the trivial, sometimes rants on the profoundly horrible. It's about the artist, her boyfriend, and their pet rats.
And really, that's all it needs to be. Sometimes the simple things are best.
Monday, November 27, 2006
Part of the final comic is in absentia, (though can still be found in the archives), and the last sequence remains just as bittersweet as it was the first time around.
When Queen of Wands first ended, over a year and a half ago, it was an unusual decision to air the old strips once more - but I think it was clearly a successful one. The commentary was... nice, though I think it is to the comic's credit that it can easily stand alone without the explanations being needed.
I recall, in the distant days of yore, reading Xenith. Xenith was Aiere's first comic. It was... good, yes, in it's own way. Incredibly pretty. Incredibly dark. And yes, you could very much feel the youthfulness of the work.
I remember discovering Queen of Wands, early in the strip's infancy, quite some time after Xenith had stopped updating and/or vanished from my mind. I remember, after falling in love with the strip, at some point noticing it was produced by the same author. And I remember being amazed.
There was a world of difference between the two strips. It wasn't just that Queen of Wands was light and funny and true to life where Xenith had been dark and depressing and fantastical - her new comic showed her maturity, as an artist, as a storyteller, as a person. And yes, it may seem a bit much to judge a person by the comic that they draw - but it seemed clear that the person telling the story of Kestrel and friends was a far cry from the person behind the story of Xenith.
And Queen of Wands was clearly a success. It was a comic with characters that many people formed attachments to - no doubt Aeire most of all - and she still managed to bring it to it's proper ending. Well... a proper ending, if nothing else, and I think that was half the story behind the strip.
These days, Kestrel lives on through the magic of r*k*milholland. As for what may be next in line for Aiere herself?
I've heard word of a sequel arising sometime early next year. That could be cool. It's certain I'll be keeping my eyes and ears open, given my usual propensity to completely fail to notice important announcements. If something nifty develops, there will be no complaints here.
And if not?
Well, we've always got the Queen of Wands archives. They were just as good a second time around, and I'm sure they'll be just as sweet every time thereafter.
Sunday, November 26, 2006
Issue 2 of Cheshire Crossing is now available.
And yes, it rocks out just as much as the first one.
Friday, November 24, 2006
But I felt that today could not go by without commenting on today's strip. While Oasis has continued to develop as a character, her mystery still remains in full force, with more unanswered questions around every bend. Which isn't a bad thing - having her resolve any core complexities while isolated from the main cast would have, at best, been a bittersweet success.
More importantly, though, we have the survival of our latest favorite bad guy, "Nash Straw." I had been fairly certain Pete wasn't going to kill him off, given the instant hit success he was - but I admit to having been left with my share of doubts after the latest scuffle.
In any case, my final verdict on the latest Sluggy storyline: A+! Oceans Unmoving definitely left a lot of people anxious about the state of the strip, and Sluggy started rather slowly building back up since then, but I'd say the old magic is back and in action.
Now, a lot will still depend on how things pan out once the camera is focused once more on the standard cast and crew... but Pete has done a lot to restore my faith in the strip. I'm grateful for that.
Anyway! I hope yesterday everyone had a merry Thanksgiving, or for those for whom it is irrelevant, a fantastic thursday!
Wednesday, November 22, 2006
By videogames, I mean Neverwinter Nights 2.
I've just finished playing this game - a good thing, since it was the biggest hurdle in my completion of NaNoWriMo.
The game itself is quite enjoyable, by and large. Fun and engaging characters, an entertaining if unoriginal story (with a few genuinely impressive moments), and all the standard leveling and equipment joy that placates hardcore d&d players.
The problem, unfortunately, is that the game is unfinished.
It is fiddled with more bugs and glitches than I care to go into - including several ones very key to the game itself, such as the AI controlling your character's companions, the camera views through which you observe the game, and various pieces of the combat system that drives encounters.
But I was able to accept that. Perhaps it is a bad thing that I expect games to have their share of quirks, and look upon something buggy as the norm, and something that works properly to be a grand success.
What struck me to the core was the ending. Now, I won't get into any details as to the final plot itself. But the ending, and indeed much of the scenes leading up the end, were tagged on almost as an afterthought. The designers ran out of time or money, and suddenly had to wrap it up and push it out the door.
We're talking about a game that drops into cut-scenes every time you turn a corner, and has exciting and skilled voice actors for bums you run into on the street for five minutes.
The ending of the game consists of a series of still images (that may not even be entirely accurate), and a voice-over by what appears to be Bob the Pizza Guy.
I kid you not. The entire game is filled with an exceptional soundtrack, and the ending of the game is a slideshow narrated in a dead monotone.
Ok, I've had my rant. The reason for the game's flaws is easily found - the company needed the game out the door, and had to ship it a few months before it could actually be developed into a quality game. Disappointing, but I'll live - even if I did feel the need to spend some time venting on it.
Now, I thought about quite a few ways to compare my complaints here with the wonderful world of webcomics.
It would not be a difficult comparison to make. I could say that webcomics, after all, usually fall on a specific schedule, and the demands to meet deadlines (even self-imposed ones) has left many artists pondering what to do. Put up an unfinished work, and color it later? Put up filler for now, and the final product when it is ready? Just skip the deadline?
It is a tough choice, and one that invariably will end with someone unhappy, and one side of the crowd yelling at those who get upset about delays in free comics, and the other side demanding more professionalism from those who want to make a living from their work. It's a debate that makes me twitch, because I'm usually able to see valid points in both sides.
As such, I will kindly refrain from making the comparison between my video game woes and the webcomic industry. Instead, like everyone else on the face of earth, I shall succub to peer pressure and link to the new face of WIGU.
Monday, November 20, 2006
The comic in question is called the Flowfield Unity; the man behind the comic is one Adam York Gregory, an impressive name in it's own right.
It began, as I understand it, as a print comic that is now being posted to the web. Much like others who have done the same, as well as the countless ones that have done the opposite, it shows that it is quite feasible for a comic to work equally well in either medium.
As for the comic itself, it definitely has potential.
Potential is a funny word. While technically complimentary at its core, it comes across much harsher. After all, saying that something might eventually be good is simply a roundabout way of saying it isn't good right now, yes?
So I don't want anyone to get the wrong idea - I definitely like the Flowfield Unity. It has been a little hit or miss to my tastes, with some strips going over my head and others just falling flat. One of the most visually exciting ones left me indifferent as to the actual content.
But for each one of those, there would be another one that I found exceptionally clever and insightful and amusing.
The larger portion of the strips, though, the largest feeling I felt... was potential.
It comes down to rhythm in a lot of ways. The strips from the very beginning involve exceptionally cool concepts, but they don't quite convey them with the same beat, the same punch as does xkcd or the Perry Bible Fellowship.
They are well-crafted, there is no denying it. When I look at the first strips, I get the sense of nothing so much as visual poetry, illustrated haikus. That is hardly anything to laugh at - and therein lies the problem.
The strip revolves around the premise of turning ideas on their head, and presenting concepts broken ever so slightly askew. But the cleverness of such things will only take you so far, and without the humor found in those oddities, it will be hard to truly leave an impact on the reader.
Of course, there is only some twenty-odd strips in the archive at present date. The beat of the strip may very well change, and start fully delivering on the possibilities it touches upon. May already have done so, in fact, given he is drawing from an already published resource that consists of a much larger body of work.
For right now, though, it remains worth reading. Sometimes it won't do much for me, and sometimes it will deliver something that genuinely leaves me smiling.
Right now it is a comic with potential, and that is nothing to be ashamed of.
Friday, November 17, 2006
Or, more specifically, how pleased I was about how well Mookie was avoiding falling into old potential pitfalls, and making use of a new plot focusing on many of the side characters.
It strikes me, however, that I wasn't so much talking about the things he was doing right as I was talking about the things he wasn't doing wrong.
And while it is all well and good to avoid making blunders, not screwing up alone won't make a comic inherently good.
So what is it about Dominic Deegan that has, for the last few weeks, been constantly rocking my socks off?
Concerning the overall plot, he's certainly been doing strong.
He's added an new villain who isn't an infernomancer, or an arch-devil, or an ancient reincarnation of an powerfully evil wizard.
He has our band of heroes up against someone who, in the end, is just a petty thug.
Of course, more than that, he's a petty thug trying to hit the big leagues of organized crime. And he is smart, and it isn't just a matter of going toe to toe with brute force, but having them actively do their best to outthink each other. That's not just a nice change of pace - that's a genuinely interesting new character and a great set-up.
In the realm of humor I have no real complaints. I've never been big on the puns laden throughout DD, but I've been finding even them charming throughout this storyline. (Well ok, that might not accurately describe today's all that well.) But in general he's managed to mix things up just right, with the jokes laden throughout the story naturally rather than having them actively bog it down.
Output of content, of course, has always been a strong point - 8 panel strips every day of the week? Full color sundays? You are going to be damn hard pressed to find a match for that.
But what has really been doing it for me, in the end, is the crafting within each individual strip. Throughout this storyarc there have simply been a slew of great individual moments.
Moments that are either picture perfect segments of humor, or ones that nail a character perfectly dead-on.
That's the impressive part. We've got this large-scale production of content, and yet we have these moments being perfectly executed in every single strip. That takes more than just dedication - that takes damn solid skill.
And that's what Dominic Deegan is doing right.
Wednesday, November 15, 2006
15,193 / 50,000
It is the fifteenth of the month.
NaNoWriMo 2006 is halfway over. In theory, were I on track, I'd be at 25k words, instead of 15k - but while I'm behind, that would worry me more if I hadn't gone the first week without any serious progress. As long as I'm able to keep shiny distractions away, the word output itself isn't really what worries me, especially with two more weekends in the month to crunch it out.
What worries me is the story itself. It's not a great story, but I'm fine with that - walking into NaNoWriMo and expecting to write a masterpiece is a recipe for failure.
The problem is that I'm at 1/3 of my word count, but only 1/9 of the way through the plot in the book.
Once upon a time, I had great ideas for stories - but usually those ideas were broad and sweeping. I had the momentous climax mapped out, the dramatic showdown, the key moment... but I could never fill in the rest of the story.
Now I'm running into the opposite problem - the filler isn't pausing to let me progress. The characters run rampant over the story, and I'm trying to decide if I'll have to accept cutting the plot short, trying to cram the entire thing into the rest of the month, or just skipping past long chunks of the tale.
Still, NaNoWriMo is definitely providing an interesting and intense experience. And if my only difficulties so far are having too much story to write, then I don't think I'm entitled to spend time complaining!
Monday, November 13, 2006
I know what comic you should be reading.
You should be reading Minus.
Minus is the story of a young girl with incredible powers, who goes about the business of... well, of being a young girl who happens to have incredible powers.
The comic is Count Your Sheep meets Calvin and Hobbes meets xkcd. Filled with a mixture of the strangely horrible, the beautifully profound, and the absurdly whimsical, the comic is genius from start to finish. The concepts are incredible, the art (hand painted!) is gorgeous.
I know of few other strips that can tell a story to break your heart in three simple strips.
It isn't a long read - the comic only has 41 strips to its name. But I can't proclaim it's greatness enough - all I can say is that, right now, you should be reading Minus.
Friday, November 10, 2006
Right now, though? Close to a dozen.
Some of the crew aren't doing anything, oh, specifically special. Simply delivering quality content day after day. Order of the Stick would fall into this category - back to consistently updating three days a week, the strip has just come out of an intense plot arc, and hit the ground running, tearing straight into the next plot without a pause for breath. I've heard quite a few people who advocate breaking up such storylines with a bout of good old fashioned laughs... but I think OotS is proof that while sticking to formula like that might keep your content constant, it won't let you know one out of the park.
Sluggy, Narbonic, Sam and Fuzzy are all in the middle of seriously intense plot. Scary Go Round is reuniting friends long gone missing. PvP appears to have imported Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulik into its world. I am confident hijinks shall ensue.
And while some have been laying down aces, others have, unfortunately, been coming up short.
I'm pretty sad. For a while, I felt like I was really getting Questionable Content. I was enjoying the plot, the characterization. I thought the Vespavenger's entrance was incredibly fun and cool.
And then... blah. The entire storyline smacked of super-heroism - the hero characters of the story (Faye and Dora, in this case) set-up something foolish, but ends out working out just fine for them. They arrange a fight with this vigilante, beat the crap out of her, and the police thank them for it. I dislike that type of plotline in general - I can barely stand when Milholland does it, and he does it as well as it can be done.
But it was tolerable right up until the Vespavenger's vespa turned into... a killer robot. An incredibly stupid-looking killer robot.
It's not that I think there is something inherently wrong in the robot's and assorted surrealities in QC. But I rarely find them funny, and I get the sense that I somehow should be - that they are tossed in so the audience can oooh and aaah. And instead I always feel like the quality of the story vanished in a puff of smoke.
Bah. I always feel bad when I'm just all-out critiquing a strip, so I won't lay into it any more. Part of what really brought out the rant was that, for a time, I was really digging the strip. Top of my list, had me engaged in the characters and interested in the plot. And then two weeks of watching that feeling wash away.
At least I have Dominic Deegan to fall back upon. I was worried - really worried - that our erstwhile seer was going to swoop in once again and solve everything... but Mookie managed to avoid falling back that old pitfall. Pretty intentionally so, from what I can tell. That is awesome. We've managed to have a plot where the enemy isn't yet another world-shattering epic madman out to end the world. We've managed to have a plot where Dominic doesn't just snap his fingers and save the day. It is a really good feeling to see an artist actively learning from what they've done before.
And it certainly is going to keep me coming back, and checking the strip every day of the week.
Wednesday, November 08, 2006
Monday, entirely by coincedence, I read V for Vendetta.
Tuesday I went and did my civic duty, and voted in the elections.
Today I sit and ponder the act of voting.
I always feel... out of my depth, I suppose. Here I am, lending my tiny but not insignificant voice in a grand decision, and I am never sure if I am truly qualified for the job.
I have a remarkable amount of trouble staying abreast of current events in general, and politics are hardly an exception. I don't hide my head under a rock by any means, but it is often the last thing I pay attention to, and the more my knowledge of things comes secondhand, is filtered through other peoples views and voices, the more I wonder how much of my opinions are my own.
Even so, I'm firmly on one side of things given the current state of affairs in the US. As uneducated about things as I am, I am solidly against Bush and what he has done. Unlike many of my friends, I've never threatened to run off to Canada. I've never proclaimed him a fascist, or called him Hitler. But I disagree with what he's done, and would like to do what I can to change those in power who support it.
With that as my outlook, my voting should in theory be simple - Republicans bad, Democrats good, right? Knowing so little of the specifics of things, doing all I can to put the democrats in power should be an easy choice, yes?
And yet, I dislike the simplicity of it all. So just to confirm my outlook, I go and do my research on the candidates. I try to find what truth there is in between the mudslinging and the handwaving. I look up past activities, I look up voting records. (I discover, among other things, that Maryland is home to 2 of the 7 Republican Representatives who voted against the bill that suspended Habeas Corpus.)
I do a great deal of research, and come out of it knowing very little more than I did when I began.
I go to the assigned location, and I vote as seems best to me. And I do it all plagued by the fear that, all in all, it is far too difficult to really know what affect my actions will bring, if any. Part of it is the fear enounced by Spider - but much more is simply the fear that nothing is that clear-cut, and decisions are not so easily made.
I voted, and I did a great deal of research that changed very little about how I voted, and left me not much more confident in my knowledge of the strange world of politics.
But I still feel glad I made the effort, and I feel glad I got a nice little sticker with a flag that says "I Voted." And on all accounts, I should be damn well pleased with the results of the election itself.
Still, I find myself feeling more contemplative of things than anything else - and in the end, that isn't necessarily a bad thing.
Monday, November 06, 2006
Shit Happens is the latest in the line-up.
The comic itself, as many do, starts with random roommate humor and hilarity, and then somehow finds its way to exploring dark and intense drama, with the requisite blood and glory that entails.
But as much as I hate to see that sort of thing happen, eh, it doesn't really frustrate me - man wants to tell a more serious story, more power to him.
What bugs me is the main character.
You see, Halifax is a Gary Stu, which I just learned is the term for a male version of a Mary Sue, thanks to the wonders of the internets.
To quote wikipedia: "Characters labeled Mary Sues, as well as the stories they appear in, are generally seen as wish-fulfillment fantasies on the part of the author."
It irks me. It is one of the single biggest pet peeves I have with webcomics, and largely because I keep running into it, over and over, and it invariably is the single biggest thing that keeps the comic from being a quality piece of work.
I read a handful of other comics that are offenders. Ctrl+Alt+Del has been well-famed for it, and seems, at least of late, to use that element almost self-referentially. Least I Could Do is practically built around it as a core concept. And even with those two comics, which do it about as well as it can be done, it makes me want to shake my head and walk away when I see it in action.
Halifax lives up to all the expectations. He treats his friends like dirt without them actually, say, stopping to be his friend. His job consists of not doing anything and getting paid tons of money for it. Pretty much every female character in the series has been in love with him at some point. Did I mention in his past he was a secret agent, for no apparent reason?
Anyway. We've got a comic with a lame and cliche plot, with a main character who fits every archetype I despise about main characters. Yet somehow, by the time I finished the archives, I find myself enjoying the comic.
Well, the main problems aren't quite as terrible - the plague of drama has wandered off, leaving the crew mostly meandering through life - which I find far more engaging then mafioso deals and back-alley shootings. Our 'hero', Halifax, remains a pristine asshole, and the friends he so mistreats seem unable to do anything about it despite being in a position of power over him - but baby steps are fine.
No, I find myself far more interested in the side characters. Former villains seeking a better understanding of the world. Demonized ex-girlfriends now offered the possibility of redemption. (Both featured in the picture above.)
Now, both of these characters suffered from being forced into the formulaic drama that dominated the strip for so long. (And for at least one of them, it was a terrible disservice to their character's representation up until then.) But I've found the small dwellings on their current state, and the possibly of redemption for the two of them, to be strangely compelling.
On the one hand, I know that that plot element itself - that of 'redemption for the fallen' - is itself formulaic in many ways. But even with the build-up from the rest of the comic, and walking into the scenes dealing with those characters keeping that in mind... I found myself engaged, and actively interested.
That was a surprise, and surprises can be good things.
So there it is - not exactly the most inspiring review, I imagine. I generally try to avoid too much naysaying here - if I have a comic that I honestly can't find anything good to say about it, it isn't worth the time to do so, as much desire as I may have to rant about it. Even the trashiest comics are the product of hard work and a story that someone, somewhere, is proud of, and I don't feel it is my place to do nothing but sit back and rag on that. (Cept Megatokyo. I kid, I kid!)
But here you have a comic that starts off weak and walks into the pitfalls that many have before it. And at the end of it all... well, at least for me, I found a faint spark of quality, enough to keep me interested. I can't promise it will make the best reading experience for anyone, but it was enough to give it some recognition.
And that's definitely better than nothing.
Saturday, November 04, 2006
One doesn't really need to extol the merits of Child's Play - but it is so incredibly hard to avoid doing so.
This is a program that has seen an astonishing amount of success. It has earned recognition from defendants and opponents of the gaming world alike, and has gone a long way to combat the ill reputation that is sometimes thrown against video gamers. It has seen public exultation by the very same people who previously criticized gaming as violent and causing violence.
It is amazing because it shows the character behind the people at Penny Arcade - the most successful webcomic to date, which doesn't have the slightest need to produce things like Child's Play or the Penny Arcade Expo, or to have demonstrations at children's schools or do any of a number of myriad things outside the base needs of their comic. But they do so anyway, because they want to give back to the community, and they want to celebrate the gaming community.
It is amazing because it is successful due to the thousands of ordinary folks, gamers and non-gamers alike, who donate to it.
I doubt it needs, even remotely, any mention from me. I doubt I can say anything about it that hasn't been said with better words and more effect by other people. But that doesn't mean it isn't still worth saying, still isn't worth recognizing the power of this program and value of this effort.
Child's Play is back for another year, and that is a damn fine thing to take note of.
Friday, November 03, 2006
And it's definitely good stuff, and a long way away from the slump Sluggy had been going through. We have glimpses into Oasis's past, though the mystery of her origin remains unrevealed. Torg and Riff are doing their best to track that down - and unsurprisingly, their 'best' involves blundering through sewers ineffectually.
And, primarily, we get to see what Oasis herself has been up to, having taken up residence in a nice little town where she exterminates crime with an iron fist. A ton of new characters are introduced: her adopted family, her mentor, a variety of townsfolk... and Nash Straw.
Nash is an intrepid reporter out to figure out the town's secrets, despite the fact that everyone in town is doing their best to confound him.
He's a fun character to follow the exploits of, and even though if he gets his story, it won't bode that well for Oasis or the town, watching him work on uncovering the truth leaves us half rooting for him.
Unfortunately he's also a bad guy.
He's a professional bad guy. That means that he's not outright unlikeable, not just cruel for the sake of being cruel - but it also means he'll kill a young girl if the job calls for it.
I'm torn. He's a really well designed character, and its not like half of the cast and crew of Sluggy haven't been villains at one point or another. But I get the feeling it's only a matter of time before he gets taken out - Oasis has survived far, far worse in the past, and has an unfortunate tendency not to leave her enemies alive.
I think a lot of the success of any given storyline in Sluggy comes down to the villains. Pointless and stupid villains just don't work for me. That's why I hated Gofotron - and conversely, some of my favorite storylines - The Bug, the Witch and the Robot, Fire and Rain, That Which Redeems - all have an interesting take on the good guys vs the bad guys.
So I'm really liking what Abrams has done here, even as I'm torn as to what direction I want to see the story go.
Lesson of the day - getting your audience invested in your bad guy before the evil reveal is both very effective, and very, very mean.