Friday, December 19, 2014

Building Mysteries

I'm not much of a mystery writer.  My stories contain mysteries, but they're not classic "whodunits" or something similar.  That said, mysteries are appealing to me, and I do enjoy a good one once in a while.  I often try to guess the next move of many comics, some rather successfully, others, not so much.  Still, there is a right way to do a mystery and a wrong way, so today I'll go over a few guidelines to help make more good mysteries in the world.

1.)  There must be a solution.  An answer to the mystery, a final solution to the puzzle, one that the entire story is working toward.  Without a solution, there's no way to effectively build the mystery, and you're left with The X-Files Problem.  The answer can be just about anything, but as long as there is one, that will help control the direction of the story.

2.)  The clues must make sense.  I'll talk about red herrings in a moment, but the actual clues, the true ones, should make sense.  Logic should connect each clue together and make everything work together.  If logic fails between any two clues, then the entire thing falls apart and it wasn't worth the effort.

3.)  Don't be afraid of red herrings.  The idea is to distract or misdirect the characters in the story and the reader from the truth.  Don't leave them out simply to satisfy number 2, but decide early on which ones are red herrings and leave them that way.  Don't decide they're suddenly relevant after being false for so long.

4.)  Don't add revelations that can't be concluded from the piece.  Long way to say, don't pull something out your ass.  Any revelation, fact or clue MUST be concludable from the story itself, not suddenly revealed with no set up.  This is very annoying and likely will cause the entire mystery to fall apart.

5.)  Don't assume your readers are dumb.  The characters should come to conclusions at about the same time as the reader, so keep up.  If the characters are behind, there should be a reason, like a red herring or some misread clue, one that the reader can figure out.  That said, don't let the character stay behind, once it's obvious, let the character catch on.

6.)  Read more mysteries.  The best way to get better at them is to read them.  If you don't, how else will you create your own?

How mysterious that I would have such an article.  I wonder what's next week (HINT:  no clues have been left, sorry).  Until then kiddies.

Seriously, I didn't leave you any clues, I'm not a mystery writer.

Friday, December 12, 2014

World Building

The last batch of reviews featured 3 comics that are not only quite good, but also have one thing in common:  World building.

Construction of the world/universe that the comic takes place in is a difficult task, which is why most comics set themselves in the modern day.  I went over the rules for building universes a while back, but that's only the starting point.  Actual execution requires a bit more work.  Which is where those three comics come in because they all choose slightly different angles to present the rules of their worlds while not bogging it down with pages of text and dialog.

Stand Still, Stay Silent sets things up using the real world as a basis.  Specifically it uses modern day Scandinavia as the initial set up.  The various nationalities are represented throughout the story, including the fact that their languages don't always line up.  Then comes the maps.  Including maps within the comic itself helps to orient the reader, but it's not presented as "this is a map, the characters are here."  Instead it's presented as a historical document, a map showing the familiar coastlines but with odd markings and shadings that normally wouldn't appear.  Even without directly seeing the chaotic fall of civilization, the map makes all the point that's needed.

Along with the map, SSSS (which is a weird abbreviation when you think about it) presents a series of documents, like what would come out of a school report.  Blindsprings does much the same, though from a different starting point.  Blindsprings is a created fantasy world, so it doesn't have the benefit of the real world to build up from, instead it uses a historical event as a basis for the a story event, namely the Russian Revolution.  While the circumstances are different, the events are shockingly similar to the fall of the Romanovs.  The result are those documents, which take a very anti-royal perspective, and it tries to make the revolution look far more justified than it might actually have been.  Not long after, this is followed up by the opposing viewpoint of the nature of the revolution, but still seems like not the whole truth.

I suppose I should be expected to be annoyed by documents and maps like this, but I don't have problems with things like this for world building, I have issues with it being about characters.  Character description dumps annoy me because these are things we can learn about the characters through their actions in the story.  Background information like the kind provided in SSSS and Blindsprings is necessary because the characters KNOW all these, or a great deal of it, while the reader does NOT.

Which brings me to Rice Boy.  The universe here has no analog in the real world, so instead it must deliver the world via a character, Rice Boy himself.  Rice Boy is much like the reader, unfamiliar with the world as a whole, and it is through his journey that he, and the reader, learn about the world.  He's told stories, show documents, and sees the world itself, taking the reader on the same journey.  This is highly effective as it shows the world directly, allowing the reader to easily become invested.

That's not to say SSSS and Blindsprings don't do this, they do to an extent, but Rice Boy has to use this as the only truly viable means to communicate it's world.  Likewise, Blindsprings has a map, but it's not nearly as effective as the one in SSSS.  All three must work to get you involved, but different circumstances mean each must use a different path to make their respective worlds come to life.

I became very invested in all three because of this, and I feel it is the strongest element of all three comics, making them completely worth reading.

Next time, I'm building up to something.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Bleh, Nothing Week

Post holiday week is busy and I wasn't able to get my article finished.  Sorry, nothing this week.  Should have something up next week.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Shuffling Stuff

For those in the US of A, hope your Thanksgiving was good.  While I spend time not going to any Black Friday sales, I need to do some shuffling and sorting.  As always, my side bar and list don't get updated as frequently as I would like (I blame lazy, and it's quicker to move things in the bookmarks), so it's time once again.  Also, time to go through all those Hiatus comics and see what's going on.

Several comics are returning from Hiatus/Monthly status to Weekly.

Commander Kitty, backed by Pateron dollars, is back to updating.
Deep Fried has shifted to a weekly update.
Kiwi's By Beat, home of Minus and other comics, moves back because I kept forgetting to check it
Same with Hark, a Vagrant! and
What Birds Know

Moving to Monthly status are a few comics

City of Reality is still MIA, wish he would get back to it.
Not sure what's going on with Kawaii Not.
Marry Me, once again, has ground to a halt.

Hiatus gets a few addtions too

Perry Bible Fellowship updates so rarely that I don't know why I would check it frequently at all.
The Wotch and City of Reality are really tied together, but I give CoR leeway since it is the artist's comic.
On the Edge's artist is busy with other projects, still worth keeping tabs on.

I've had to, regretfully, add to the Non-Read list.

Templar, Arizona had 6 MONTHS between updates.  Even Dresden Codak does better than that.
Alex Ze Pirate has nothing consistent and I'm tired of waiting for it.
Book of Biff goes here on a technicality.  It was dead, then not, and might not be later.

Even more sadly, several comics are going to Dead.

The Pain has basically been dead for a while, I'm stubborn.
Same with No Rest for the Wicked.
So Damn Bright just hasn't gone anywhere.
Toilet Genie just stopped some time ago.
Same with Winters in Lavelle.

I'm officially moving a couple of comics to Complete.

Out at Home, naturally.
And Errant Story, whose rerun/commentary stopped cold.  If it restarts I'll move it back.

Unofficially Living to Death is on my T-Th-S list, replacing Out at Home, but until I review it it won't appear on the actual sidebar (it has 9 strips as of this writing, not reviewable yet).

And finally, The Fifth Circle, for some reason, wasn't on the sidebar at all.  It's going into Daily because I never know when the damn thing will update, but when it does it takes a good chunk of a day to catch up on.

To catch up on other news, Shi Long Pang is still on Hiatus because of other projects, Aptitude Test and The Meek are expecting to restart in full sometime next year and The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon is slowly getting back to a regular update schedule.

Of the new, active comics, Pole Dancing Adventures is going to Weekly for now, Blindsprings is under T-Th-S and Stand Still, Stay Silent is, of all things, DAILY.  Yeah, I was just as shocked.

Of course, I'll have to do this AGAIN with the new year as Gunshow is planning to end then, and Sorcery 101 is on a crash course to end itself I guess.  We'll see how it goes.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Short Wild Webcomic Review



Everyone of these comics is fairly short, so let's get going.

261.  The Princess and the Giant - This is an older work by the creator of Supermassive Blackhole A*, a comic I RE-reviewed a bit ago.  The basic art style is that same black and white shadow effect that makes up most of the main comic (it appears to be in color now), which makes some strips hard to follow what's going on, but there's a lot going on.  Each strip is only one panel, but there's a lot of story in these brief moments, made all the more necessary by the complete lack of dialog.  It's not impossible to follow along, thankfully, aside from the very end which I think is supposed to be a dream sequence anyway.  It's short, and actually kind of fun, but nothing really memorable.  Worth flipping through (not really reading it, no text after all), but that's about it.

262.  Pole Dancing Adventures - No, not THAT kind of pole dancing.  More the sport/exercise/dance type angle.  This is a blog comic, similar to The Fifth Circle's Bloomix, but less frequent and more up to date.  It's informational and promotional, and it does those roles quite well.  There's not really a story, and it's very much a hobbyists comic as a result.  There have been a couple short storylines that seem based on real life experiences, so it is possible the comic might do more, so it's probably worth keeping tabs on (aka, I will), but I'm not sure there's any real draw beyond that.

263.  Rice Boy - This comic has been on my Future Read list for a while, and it is totally worth the read.  This is a great comic.  It taps the surreal without being surreal, and has a story that's more than strong enough to support it.  I would say more, but it's good enough you should read it.  It's complete, so no waiting around for the story to finish, so do yourself a favor and go read it.  I'm pretty sure you won't be disappointed.

264.  Stand Still, Stay Silent - My first thought as the comic started was "oh, another zombie comic," but that all gets thrown out once the comic proper gets started.  Still, I'm kind of disappointed that the comic introduces all these groups of characters early on, and then there's a time skip and the real comic begins.  I guess setting up the end of the world is important, but it felt almost kind of useless.  That said, once the comic finally gets underway, it's actually quite interesting.  I like the art, the characterizations are quite good, and the world building is some of the best I've seen in a while.  I suspect I'll be following this for a while, and hoping we get back to some of those characters that got left behind early on.

265.  Blindsprings - I've seen ads for this comic for a long while, and it's quite good, and strangely similar in many aspects to Stand Still, Stay Silent.  Completely different stories, mind you, different settings and all that, but the art is quite good in both, there's LOTS of world building in both, and both have enduring mysteries to be solved.  Blindsprings is a bit quicker paced, and it's far more fanciful, but it's just as good.  Given that it is fairly short (about 100 strips), it's certainly worth a look at even such a young comic, and I'll probably follow it for the long haul.

I think Rice Boy might be the longest comic here at 439 strips, but all of them are fairly quick reads and more or less all worth spending the time with them.  In short, go read them.  Not sure if I'll have a post up next week (Thanksgiving and all) but I'll see if I can.  I'll also try to get one more batch of reviews out before the end of the year.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Retrospective: Out at Home

I'm really annoyed with this one, so it might be briefer than the others.  Not the comic, the comic was fine and I'll get into that, but the website.  For some reason, just as I'm ready to sit down to write this, the website is MIA.  DNS errors and all that.  Gone.  So I'm doing a retrospective on a finished but GONE comic.  I suspect it will be back soon (I was hoping before I actually needed to write this, alas not to be), but for the moment it is gone.  That annoys me because I use it for reference when I write these things.

Not that I really NEED it, but it is nice to have.  And I've used a lot of all caps today, I'll try to avoid that from now on.

Out at Home wasn't a great comic, but nor was it awful.  I don't like writing this without the comic for reference, but I liked it well enough over the length of the run.  It's odd because I don't think I've read another webcomic quite like it.

Let me set it up for you:  Herman, ex-baseball superstar and richer than god, attempts to raise his two children after their mother left them.  The daughter is in her late teens, the son is nerdy pre-teen.  Wacky things happen because Herman is rich.

That sounds familiar, doesn't it?  I can't think of a webcomic that's done something like that though, but I can think of more than a few sitcoms that have.  And that's part of what stands out for me with this comic, it's a sitcom.  I'd expect something like this to show up on NBC or something.  The last few stories are especially like sitcom episodes.  One has Herman having to retake drivers ed, Kate (the daughter) using a complex scheme to insure she graduates from high school and the entire graduation plot where Herman is part of her graduating class (he dropped out to become a baseball superstar).  These are plots ripped right out of the TV Guide.

And I think it's part of the reason the comic ended.  Yes, the artist claimed it was because he (I think he) was scrapping the bottom of the barrel for stories, but I think he only felt like he was doing that.  Sitcom plots get really old if you've watched a lot of them (and many of us did growing up, I fear for those who grew up on reality TV).  He felt like he was retreading old ground, which he kind of was, but in a new environment, the webcomic.  Once that started happening, he desperately tried to find a way out, which slowed the comic down and eventually ended it.  I don't blame him.

That said, he did have one out:  Penny.  Kate's best friend started as just another friend character (from what I can remember, damn the site for being down) who happened to be smarter than Kate.  Then smarter than everyone else.  Then smart enough to realize she was in a comic.  It wasn't that she was breaking the fourth wall, I don't recall her ever talking to the reader, but she knew it was there and actively played with it.  It wasn't something where the character is hinted at knowing there's a fourth wall either, it was clear she knew, and her actions and character after that discovery are all dictated by that knowledge.

And yet she continued to play the normal role she was expected to play:  the best friend.  Her knowledge may have directed her character growth and development, but it didn't make her into a cynic about her role in the story, she played it straight, right up until the end, when she forced the artist to do something with the comic.

I haven't read much of Living to Death (the quasi-sequel comic) yet, but I suspect that eventually Penny (who along with Kate is back for the comic) will eventually acknowledge that yes, she is still very aware of the world she lives in, if she hasn't already.  I doubt, however, it will effect the comic in any significant way.  I think this one character will make Out at Home stick with me longer than other comics because of this.

Hopefully the links to Out at Home will be fixed soon so that others can read the comic, but for now, it was a decent enough comic with some interesting ideas, and I hope Living to Death will exceed it.

Until next time kiddies when I do, um, something, I hope.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Touching Base #19

Well, another long article series, followed by another Touching Base.  Honestly I feel I should have more than about 20 of these, but there you have it.  On with the stuff.

Book of Biff updated, kind of, a little bit.  Like 3 times since I dropped it a while ago.  Only reason I noticed is because I never pulled it off my bookmark read list and accidentally clicked it.  Still not going back on the read list.

Twilight Lady kind of updated too, for their Patreon supporters.  Good to hear the comic is at least still in production even if I can't read it.

Wonderella also kind of updated (it's a kind of updated week).  The artist has been busy cranking out stuff for the kickstarter they just had, so there hasn't been much time to do a regular comic.  So there was an update promising future updates.  I'll be waiting.

Sluggy Freelance has been having issues keeping up it's book schedule and has used stickfigure theater and some filler to buy time to finish it for the holidays.  Looks like it might make it after all.  Pete should really work on a buffer.

Weapon Brown's rerun is over.  Looks like Deep Fried, the quasi-political humor comic is back to replace it, for now.

Sorcery 101 is thrown itself into breakneck speed to finish up apparently.  It's running everyday until the comic ends, but I'm not exactly sure why.  I suspect a new project, but I haven't been following it closely enough to tell you.  We'll see.

Gunshow is also looking to wrap up by the end of the year.  I'm sad to see it go, though I wonder if he has a new project as well.

Station V3 seems to be back on track, mostly.  It's not updating strictly every day yet, but it's closer than it was only a few months ago.

Sunstone (NSFW) is still on a lull while the artist is pushing the first book out the door.  I don't give him a lot of flack for lack of updates because he's not just doing Sunstone's book, but also his own print comic, Death Vigil, cover art for He-Man comic books and a guest strip for Skullkickers.  Yes, I noticed.

Story wise, UnCONventional has started another less than funny month long story.  I appreciate that it gets away from the daily gag grind for this and will be reading it closely.

Spinnerette is doing something. . . odd.  I'm not sure what's going on, but it's either just a sidestory/gag thing, or something far more sinister.  Can't wait to find out.

Finally, Out at Home ended not too long ago.  I'll do a much longer Retrospective on it, hopefully next week.  The new comic, Living to Death won't be added to the list just yet, I'll give it some time to grow first.

So until next week kiddies.