Friday, November 21, 2014

Short Wild Webcomic Review

It's

THE 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.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Best Overall: Everyday

I learned from The Standard not to "conclude" these big pieces, so this isn't an official conclusion because I'm sure I'll be coming back to talk more about Schlock Mercenary in the future.  But I do have to wrap up this string somehow, and it brings us back to the question of Best.  Because while I really enjoy Schlock Mercenary, it isn't the best in any one category I've talked about.  It's not BAD in any of them, but it's not really best.

The art in Schlock is good, but it can't compete with the real powerhouses like Dresden Codak, Sunstone (NSFW), Zebra Girl or Derelict.

The story is engaging, but compared to Gunnerkrigg Court and Gaia are far, far better.

The humor is good, but a real gut buster has to come from The Non-Adventures of Wonderella, Dr. McNinja and Bob the Angry Flower.

And there are good characters, but against Between Failures, Spinnerette and, honestly, even Sluggy Freelance, it kind of lacks.

But those are the big guns.  Competing with ANY of them is hard, but Schlock can be at least thought of in those categories.  Mostly it's "well it's not as good as" but it's there, which is more than I can say for a lot of comics.

There is, however, one area where Schlock is king though:  It updates.  Every.  Single.  Day.

None of those others can claim that.  Most of them can't even stick to their official schedule regularly.  Long breaks are often set between chunks of content, or guest strips, or some random silliness that takes the place of the regular comic.

Not Schlock.  It has updated, everyday, without missing, since it was created.  That's kind of unbelievable.  That is 5255 days as of the day of this being published.  That means 5255 individual strips, plus any bonus stories he added to books.  The fact that he has at least a month's worth of strips as a buffer means he could break his arm and STILL not miss a day until the cast came off.  Well, maybe.

The point is almost no other comic does this, unless you get into the newspapers.  So why does Howard Taylor?  I suspect it's because he thinks of it less as a hobby and more as a lively hood.  Yes, he had a regular job when he started the comic, but I think he always thought that the best option was to keep it updated so fans would stick around, and he kept a buffer so there was less stress on him to write and draw on a daily basis.  It was another kind of job to him, and when it officially became his job, he had to keep fans coming back, so everyday it went up.

That's a big factor in why it's Best Overall.  Dresden Codak can claim better art, but it updates once very 2 months, maybe.  Gunnerkrigg Court manages to update 3 days a week, but even that takes occasional breaks with "funny face" filler strips that aren't really the comic.  Wonderella is STILL on break for the Kickstarter event it had (so he could fullfill the kickstarter).  And Sluggy, well, I think I've talked enough about that.

Schlock does all the things those comics do at least well, if not quite good, and it updates everyday.  That is why it is my Best Overall, and likely will remain that way for the foreseeable future.

And that's enough of that.  Next time, um, something.  Until then kiddies.  And I do hope Howard doesn't break his arm, I'd rather we not test that buffer. 

Friday, October 24, 2014

Best Overall: Art

Schlock's art didn't appeared perfectly formed from day one.  Like most of the comics I have read, especially the older ones, the art started kind of terrible and gradually got better over time.

The first year's art is pretty bad though.  So bad the note block suggests skipping it and going to another story, which is 10 YEARS later.  I think you miss a lot doing that, so I would never suggest it, but comparing the first strip to, well, anything in the last 4 is enough to make one cringe.

It's also perfectly normal since most comics start out well below par with their art work.  Looking past that first couple weeks, the art does get significantly better.  By the time of The Teraport Wars, it's more than tolerable.  Hell, it's probably at least that good by the end of the first year.  Typically the best looking strips are the Sunday strips, where Howard really stretches his artistic legs during this period.

That 10 year jump, though, that is a fully matured artist at work.  ALL the strips look like the Sunday strips used to, with the shading and lighting that comes with it.  It's an amazing improvement, but not unexpected as it did take a decade to get there.

My choice to represent the art then comes in that block, in the form of Random Access Memorabilia.  And it has quite a few moments strewn throughout it's 13 and a half month long story that are worth looking at.

It starts with the Gavs.  Back in Teraport Wars, Gav was one guy.  At the end of the story, Gav was a demographic (something like 950 MILLION of them).  The result is an interesting delimia:  How do you be an individual when there are literally a billion of you running around?  The answer for the Gavs is this story, and it starts with rooms of Gavs.  I think this is a great introduction to the level the art has reached at this point as both strips represent the literal same character but with multiple differences so they are unique again.  It serves as a visual indicator for what's being said in the strips and setting up the story.

Which deals with nano-bots and such that build the identical Gavs into true individuals.  There's something wrong with it though (as in it's been hacked, spoilers and such), so when one rips off his own head.  This becomes a plot point and the visual evidence is used to show how wrong something has gone.  We are show a visual comparison of the Binnie before his self decapitation and afterwards.  It's something that can only really be shown through the art, though there is some dialog to go along with.

Without dialog is when Tagon, after putting on his very nifty battle suit realizes he must be in it for a while, and thus must insert BOTH catheters.  I love how the entire joke is related via the art, and it's something that would have taken a great deal of effort earlier in the comic.

Some of the best art is pure characterization, specifically for poor Tagii.  The AI of the Toughs ship in the story was doing an amazing job, is dramatically disconnected because she might have been working with the enemy and a spy (only the later part was true).  Not being disconnected properly, and being a VERY fast thinking AI meant the few minutes and hours she was disconnected was more like thousands of years, resulting in complete madness.  Glimpses are given as to how crazy she's been going making her scarier and scarier.

In the end though, the best art is for the Pa'anuri, the dark matter creature that at the end we learn was created by the device the Gavs had been playing with.  I don't recall it showing up visually much before, but even if it was, the first view of this one is spectacular.  It is rather simple, honestly, blue and black, but it's more that we're seeing a shadow created by the Pa'anuri via various instruments aboard the ships.  The view shows how amazingly BIG these things are, and how it just rips through the Morokweng like it was barely there is just as amazing.

This art is definitely some of the best if not the best Howard has done for the comic.   It relates the story in ways that really never came through before, and much better than any dialog read could have done.  The story is also a tour de force of Schlock as a whole.  Great characterization, including a bit near the middle that finished Tagon's back story I talked about last time.  Great humor that wasn't just restricted to Tagon inserting things that are usually one way only.  And a great story, probably one of the best, and one of my favorites of the comic.

Next time, the last pillar of Best Overall.  Until then kiddies.

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.