Friday, October 17, 2014

Have to Skip this week

The Best Overall Art article is kicking my butt.  I don't know why, but I'm really struggling to get it done.  Aiming for next week.  Until then.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Best Overall: Character

Schlock's cast of characters is, well, huge.  The Ovalkwiki page for just the characters is amazingly long, I think only Sluggy Freelance outdoes it.  Finding one story that covers all of these characters is basically impossible, so the real quest is to settle on just one of those characters.

That's not as easy as it sounds as there are many stories based solely, or almost solely around one character, and many, MANY awesome characters.  Oddly though, Schlock himself isn't one of them.  He is a very one note character, defined as killing, eating and eating what he killed.  As a character, Schlock isn't as interesting as he is a prop.  Biologically, Schlock is far more interesting than as a character, his unique structure and design, and it drives many plots.

The rest of the cast is far more rich.  From Kevyn and his sister to Elf and Thurl, all of them have something that make them stand out, and many of them have stories.  Schlock Mercenary is just as much about Kevyn as it is Schlock, but there is at least one character who does have a story that fits really well.  That's Kaff Tagon himself.

The reason is simple:  He's the main mover of the story.  As the leader of the Toughs, he is the one that decides which jobs they take, and those jobs are the jumping off points for just about every story.  His orders and decisions also effect the movement of those missions and so knowing how and why he comes to those decisions is not only important, but helps define him as a character.

So what we see of him is always through his orders, how he treats those under his command, those who are his equals or supposed betters and the actions he performs.  One of his earliest actions, back in the first year, was to be the lead element of a boarding operation to take his ship back (Schlock went in first to find them a way in, Tagon was on the first transport).  Now it is played off as a mistake, a lapse in judgement on his part (Howard admits Tagon and most of the male characters early on came off as more than a little dim), but it seems to me that it was kind of in character for him, as he was more inclinded to engage in direct operations later on.

Originally I picked two stories to show his character, the first being Tagon doing just that, leading a raid to capture a rebel leader.  It some ways it was a practical decision, the rest of the Toughs were on a paid vacation, and he had the back up of two of his best, Schlock and Elf.  Staying behind really meant just watching a bunch of mercenaries to make sure they didn't go to jail.  He also left Kevyn in charge, which was a sign of trust on his part, something Kevyn had earned.  Yet he still lead the operation when he could have sent, well, almost anyone.  His choice of who to take over the Toughs at his death (which happened) was probably the best thing to happen to the entire galaxy, and his actions in that final fight further solidified his traits as practical yet caring.

The issue though is that all that stuff really isn't something that needed that particular story to learn.  It solidified traits, yes, but these were traits that we already knew were there, it just confirmed them through the drama of his death.  It didn't really expand him as a character.

The second story, however, did.  Schlocktoberfest 2008 is the last of the Schlocktoberfest stories, a series of yearly tales that are single month stories typically featuring a horror element.  2008, however, broke the mold, so to speak.  It wasn't a horror story, unless the horror is "oh shit, Tagon is 49!"  Yeah, that's the story, an entire month about Tagon dwelling on the fact that he's turning 49.  Not even 50, just 49.  Still, it is an exploration of him as a person facing his mortality and the fact that he really hasn't been a young man for a while now.

And of course it starts with him talking to his father.  While we won't learn more about the root of their relationship problems until a later story (which I'll be covering, BTW), the hints that they had a more positive relationship at one point and there is an attempt to bridge the gap.  The gift his father gives him, a tailor to make a new uniform (that hides more weapons) is actually odd, but it's the elder Tagon's effort to make his son look less like a solider and more like a leader and officer.

The rest of the story is the younger Tagon trying to get his head around his age.  There's no dramatic tension, no firefights (aside from shooting some derelict) and no world shaking revelations.  Just a man looking at his life and wondering where it all went and what there's left for him.  It effects his self worth for a bit, and makes him think even more about his age.  The rest of the cast do various things to alleviate this issue, to varying degrees of success, until Ventura gives him an odd complement that finally settles him down.

It's not blunt, it's rather subtle really.  While the story about his death reinforced already established ideas, the one about his age adds much more about his character than the rest of the comic had done.  We see how he sees himself versus his father (and later we'll learn why) and that he's still got the skills, talent and looks to more than make up for his apparent age.

This is just the best example, there are many others, and while I would love to cover them, there are 14 YEARS of comics to find them all.  Schlock manages to make it's characters real this way, and makes them far better than many comics of the same type.

Next time, Art.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 3, 2014

Best Overall: Story

Story in Schlock Mercenary is kind of a hard thing to break down, because it never really ends.  The story began with Schlock signing up for Tagon's Toughs, and continues to this day.  It's a space opera, one that never really ends but just keeps going.  There are divisions for stories, of course, but they often simply fold into one another as the comic goes on.  Determining the ending point of my choice to represent Story in Schlock was kind of hard because it rolled right into the second Schlocktober fest.

Still, picking The Teraport Wars as the representative of Schlock's story seems an odd choice.  It's fairly early on, only 2002 (the comic started in 2000), it doesn't have all the deep character stuff that would drive later stories, it's not really focused on the Toughs or any one character, and it's long been overshadowed by later stories.

I think because it doesn't have all that is why it should be the representative because Howard really had to dig deep for this one.  Until this point, most of the stories had been short, maybe a month if that.  Teraport Wars lasts almost 6 months.  It's a truly epic piece compared to the rest, and it feels epic.

I think what helps though is that Tagon's Toughs are both a small part, and a major part of the action at the same time.  They come in late, long after the battle is over and are there for patrol and technical expertise, nothing more.  Yet they quickly fill in a much larger role that gets bigger and bigger until the very end.

Nearly every character gets something important to do.  Schlock in particular shows his chops as an intelligent solider, asking for help when he could do no more, and acting when necessary.  The character, whom I stated was pretty one dimensional last time, showed he was a bit more.  Meanwhile the rest of the cast gets to flex their strengths, from Tagon himself to the grunts on the ground.

Petey himself gets his first real moment of awesome, and gets humbled a bit as well.  He's often shown as someone who knows every angle, but in Teraport Wars, he's outdone several times, despite being linked up with the original fleet mind.  I liked this humbling as it shows he's not infallible.

He's not an idiot though.  In fact no one, as the old trope goes, is holding the idiot ball.  They are all going by the information they have and executing their best options with that information.  Given the scale of the story, it's quite a surprise that no one carries that ball around.

Which isn't to say they can't have their actions questioned and they adjust as needed.  Petey does it and Breya does it as well.  Neither are presented as stupid because they didn't think of it, but once it was presented, and confirmed, they changed how they reacted to the situation.

It also sets up oh so much of the comic to come after.  The note block under the first strip outright says it won't mean much later, since bigger events will come soon after, but it sets up so many of those events that I suspect that Howard only had a rough draft of what was to come because without this story, none of it would have happened.

At the top of the list is Petey, who earned a great deal of Tagon's respect, enough that Tagon placed him into the chain of command as an officer.  That, along with the initial fleet mind concept created to deal with this story would set up the Fleet Mind (capitalized because it's important) and basically save the galaxy, or at least not destroy it right away (that plot is still up in the air).

It would establish Xinchub as one of the main antagonists for the Toughs for much of the rest of the comic, and through him would establish the nannite issues that would arise much latter in the comic and in the current story line might result in outright civil war.

And it would also produce the Gavs.  One guy, unfrozen from our era (so Howard could include various pop culture references), duplicated 950 MILLION times, turning him into a demographic.  The results wouldn't be seen for a few years, and I'll bring it up later, trust me.

It's a great story, an important story, and while at the beginning of the first year it was suggested to skip this, and a lot of other stories, I think it's too important to do so.  Oh, the art isn't as good, boo hoo, I've read comics with far worse art for the story.

And the great thing is?  This is only the beginning.  Later stories would be even better, though often not nearly as epic.  But that's fine, it doesn't need to be epic to be far reaching, but this first big story needed to be.

Next time, Character.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Best Overall: Humor

When I was first starting this project, I decided to base it on The Standard, and thus I went in and reread the first year of Schlock Mercenary.  Then I decided to do something else, and yet, that first year still fit.

In many ways the first year of Schlock really encapsulates the humor of the comic since, let's be clear, it needed it.  Art wise, Schlock wasn't much to look at, to the point that the note block (which I'll talk about more in a bit) for the first strip suggests moving to a strip almost ten years later, just because of the art.

At the same time, there also isn't much story to begin with.  It does build up, but the first month of strips or so are basically one off jokes.  The same goes for the characterization.  While Schlock himself has always been kind of one dimensional, and thus fills in quickly and easily, the rest of the cast lack, well, everything.  It takes years for many of these characters to mature to forms that seem familiar to readers of the current strips, so that first year is pretty devoid of these elements.

Thus the comic must rely on humor to bolster itself, and it obviously worked.  The amazing thing is that the nature of the jokes hasn't changed since that day back in 2000.

The jokes are mostly word plays, snarky replies and the occasional physics joke.  The back and forth commentary is sharp as ever as one reply leads to another.  Ennesby is introduced shortly into the comment and he'll eventually be the avatar for this kind of humor.  Not that the rest of the cast was ever slow on the draw, and really it makes up the bulk of the humor not just of the first year, but of the comic as a whole.

That said, my favorite jokes are the physics ones.  These are typically explained in the "note block" at the bottom of the comic which either explain some obscure backstory element that's necessary to understand the joke, or to spell out the numbers.  And my goodness are the numbers entertaining in Schlock.  Howard manages to break down complex equations and actions and use them to describe, well, a joke.  It's the core of much of the humor I enjoy, you know, given the physics degree on I have on my wall.

Just like Sluggy Freelance, I found the first year much quicker than I would have guessed.  Before the year is out, the Toughs have a new ship, Petey is a force to be reckoned with, teraporting is normal for the team (but not open sourced yet), most of the central cast has been introduced and the underlying background plot for the rest of the comic has been initially established.  What originally felt like years went by quickly, but I suspect that if I did a lot of these re-readings of old comics, this would likely be normal.

And yes, the humor is well established.  There will be more polish later on as Howard got better and better at writing the jokes, but for the most part the essence really didn't change much.  I think that first year really lets the humor outshine everything else, and shows how the comic really established itself early, and once the ball got rolling on the other fronts, the readers were set to stay for the long haul.

Next time, Story.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Best Overall: Introduction

Last year, I spent far too long talking about Sluggy Freelance and how it is my Standard.  My goal was to show that for good and ill, the comic represents pretty much everything that makes webcomics, well, webcomics.  But the word "standard" has another meaning.

The phrase "a new standard" is often used to represent something as being "the best," the measuring stick against which all else must be measured.  Sluggy CAN be that at times, but it really isn't, and in fact saying that about any one comic is difficult at best because no one comic can be best at everything.

Three years ago I did a series of "quasi-awards" and gave out awards based on "best."  I created the categories based on what I think of as "best" parts of a comic.  Sometimes it's the art, or the humor, the story or the cast, and the winners of each category best represented, at the time, the best of the webcomics I've read.

Of course, there was a Best Comic category as well, but I kind of picked the winner for that pretty early on, probably before I even wrote the article series.  The description all but settles it:  Nominees must show general excellence in the fields of art, writing and publication over the length of the comic's lifespan.

Schlock Mercenary won Best Comic, and I STILL hold that it is the best overall comic I read.  That means it's good to great basically all the time, almost never dipping below average in any one category for any real length of time.  The worst it's been has been in its art, and that was only really at the very beginning of the comic, a period where most young comics are at their worst, and even then it managed to still be pretty decent.

And that's the point.  While Sluggy can and has achieved better heights, it's lows are really, REALLY low.  Schlock has had pretty good to great moments, it also has never dropped much below average.  The art is pretty damn good, the story is pretty damn good, the humor is pretty damn funny (got you there), and the characters are pretty damn good.  They're not all great, and often not all pretty damn good at the same time, but they don't need to be.

Oh and the comic updates every damn day.  I'll get into that later.

This will be different from The Standard in a few ways, of course.  There isn't a real "bad" story in Schlock, in fact I asked on a web forum I frequent for bad Schlock story suggestions and the few who responded just shrugged since they couldn't think of any either, so my format from the Standard (First year, best, worst, recent) wasn't going to work.

On thinking about it, however, I do have some categories, and so I will go over the four key elements that represent "the best" categories from the Quasi-Awards: Humor, Story, Character and Art.  I will then pick a story that best represent each of these and try to explain why.  Oh and then there will be something about updates.

That all begins next week with the subject of Humor.  Until then kiddies.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

My Stuff: Longer than Eternity

Relevant Story:  The Delphi

Sorry this took so long to get out.  Life got in the way.  And work.  And laziness.  And the fact that this is really hard to write a follow up for.

This is because Quinn Lazerus is in ALL of my stories.  And I don't mean in a "well this is kind of him" way, I mean he's there, somewhere.  He may not even be mentioned, by name or other wise, but somewhere in each universe he's there.  He's also in all of your stories too.  I made Quinn a kind of ultimate meta character, his story is that he lives through every possible incarnation of reality (within a set of rules, which I won't get into).  So he's in every original piece of fiction, fan fiction, childhood dream and everything in between.

Which makes him both very easy and insanely hard to write for.  On one hand, I can just stick him anywhere (he has no locked personality, he lives too long for that) and let him do whatever.  On the other hand, I could do just as well creating a new character, and then have actual backgrounds and such that work.  And the same problems with Deborah come up with Quinn as well, only worse at certain points.  His story is basically too big to write.

The Delphi was kind of an attempt to try some bits of it, and I stopped because, well, lazy.  Still, I had fun because it let me do something about Delphi, who gets less time than Quinn story wise, but is in just as many.  As a character, Delphi is a ship that basically watches EVERYTHING, and it watches more and more as time goes on, until it knows everything all the time, thus why it is the ultimate database, recording and storing it all.

Which makes both Delphi and Quinn boring for writing stories about.  Quinn has done it all and more, and Delphi has seen it all and more.  So even in this story, I had to think of different angle, which is why I did it from the perspective of the cleaning drone 5280.  Persephone is a bit easier to understand compared to the other two, and it was just kind of fun.  The fact that the drone shows up just as much as Quinn and Delphi isn't an issue because, well, we know what she's been doing this whole time:  cleaning, always cleaning.

All in all, there isn't much to stay about the story other than it's not finished, like most of pieces.  Quinn's overarching story plays only a major role in a few of the stories you'll see from now on, his greatest impact is on the Order stuff since, well, he founded it.  Beyond that he's only a major character in his own stories, and I don't write many of those, at all.  There is one other place he shows up that you'll see, but I'll mention that when the time comes.

Next time, I should have the last completed Order story up, then I'll have to think on where to go next.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Touching Base #18

An actual Touching Base this week.

To start, I'm moving Little Guardians to weekly because, well, it's weekly.  That said, Blue Blaster is NOT, it's at least two days a week, so it's going over to T-Th-S.

Station V3 is updating again!  I guess there was some personal and technical issues that ground the comic to a halt, but it's back and going again.  Might take a bit to get back up to full speed, but it's going.

Sluggy Freelance is back to 5 days a week after going 3 days a week after finishing the last major storyline.  And Pete promptly gets sick just in time for it.

Deep Fried finished the second run of Weapon Brown.  What's it to do next?  I don't know.  The creator is still doing a book tour for it, so I suppose it won't be until he's back from that.

Commander Kitty has a kind of update.  Apparently he got an animation job, which is why the comic has fallen to the wayside.  Seems he feels that this start/stop nature is a disservice to his readers and is considering just doing whole printed books.  I would say instead do what City of Reality did early on, and just post whole chapters at a time.  I think that would be a nice compromise, and less risk than printing books.

Menage a 3, Eerie Cuties and Magick Chicks have all kind of stopped dead as they work to fill out Kickstarter rewards.  Once they're done, all 3 should be back to regular updates.

Twilight Lady is stalled out until they can get some more Pateron money to keep the comic going.  I think this is counter productive as you have to have a comic people want to read before they'll pay you for it.  That said, there are other comics on the site, so I guess that counts, but I'm still bummed the comic is all but dead (they're well below the threshold to restart it).  I'll give it a bit and see if it'll come back.  Though it does look like the act of consolidating his various comics into a single site (Corridor Realms) might help speed that along.  Might have to check out where the other comics went in the meantime.

Out at Home is still going through it's reboot phase.  Still waiting to see what comes out.

Short Stories had a need short story that started a bit ago, but suddenly the whole thing but the cover page is gone (it wasn't over yet either).  Not sure what's up with that at all.

Alex Ze Pirate did some updating (I JUST saw this), but it was back in August and then stopped, again.  I'll probably read through it later (freaking work).

Okay, now an update on My Stuff.  Mainly I meant a follow up post to the last story thing, but work, and the priority will ALWAYS be the webcomic stuff because, well, it's a webcomic blog.  I know, I almost forgot a couple times myself.  Anyway, I'll try to get something up in the next couple of weeks.

Next week, however, I should be able to start my next series of articles.  See you then kiddies.