Friday, May 22, 2015

Retrospective: Leisuretown

When I started thinking of the Retrospective on Perchance to Dream, I started thinking about other comics I'd like to go back to.  Retrospectives tend to be comics that recently ended, but expanding it out and covering older strips seems like a good idea, and would separate them away from the Not-So-Wild Reviews that are more for active comics.

And the first comic I thought of for this treatment, after Perchance to Dream, was Leisuretown.

Much of it is the fact that I have, until this day, haven't found anything quite like Leisuretown.  I suppose Cat and Girl kind of comes close, but it's only kind of a glimpse that is Leisuretown.  It feels completely unique, and it's probably one of my favorite comics of all time.

The uniqueness starts with the art.  It's a photocomic, which isn't strictly rare, but uncommon enough to make note of, but it's more than that.  It's entirely made up of those gumby like rubber toys with the holes behind every joint that bends every which way.  ALL of the characters are these, and there is quite a variety.  Yes, it will repeat them over the course of the various stories, but they always seem different.  It really is a testament to the artist's skill that emotion and movement can be show with such strangely static figures.

But static figures on a static background would just be pretty good, Leisuretown goes one step more.  They are photoshopped into complex, real world scenes.  Layered images that often feature multiple of the same character puttering about, sound effects that help push the idea of movement and more than a few of the props makes the entire thing almost unbelievable.  It's hard to remember that this is just a photo comic, and an example of an artist's hard work pushing something so simple beyond what most others would.  And not just for one image per page, but several, and for hundreds of pages.

All that hard work produces a, um, interesting comic.  It looks like it should be a humor comic.  The whimsical character designs, the visualized sound effects and the exaggerated movements all point in that direction.  There's even a strain of, well, crass humor, focusing on the words and phrases that would make George Carlin proud.  It's very similar to It Hurts! in that way, but it's not sincere about it.  In fact, most of the time the joke is that the person using this language is, well, an idiot.  Or at the very least, overestimates their worth.  It's more like it's making fun of the people who use this kind of crass humor to try to be funny, or shock, or whatever.  It's funny because they aren't and don't quite know it.

It's also part of the many themes of the comic that the various stories and shorts play with.  Often main characters find themselves with few prospects for the future, often turning to crime, drugs, violence and suicide to ease the pain.  It's dark in that sense, but there's almost always an odd hint of hope in their lives.  Not always, of course, there are some stories that don't quite fit the mold, but they work well in their own ways.  Much of the comic is more like the "best rants" one reads, at least as one reviewer put it.  There is an art form to such amazing rants, and my formative internet years were exposed to it regularly, which is probably why I enjoy it so.

In the end, I recommend it because I do so enjoy it and consider it great, but I know it's not quite for everyone.  If you think you can handle the more rantish nature of the comic and the pre-facebook days of the internet, I do have a couple things to comment on.  One:  The comic was designed for back when 640x480 was still considered standard resolution, so the images might be a bit small, especially with that frame around them (you can open them in a new window without the frame).  Two:  Scroll to the bottom of the list of stories, down to the giraffe hanging itself, and start from the bottom up.  Not because QA Confidential isn't the best story, it is, but because it is the best story and the rest of the comic will feel a bit of a let down if you start there.  Start at the bottom and work your way up.  If you can get through the essays, then you should be able to stand the rest of it, and you're in for a treat.

One last thing.  Last week, I mentioned that this was an "other project," well it is, as the creator of Leisuretown is one of the forces behind Jerkcity's creation and continuance.  I'm amazed that comic is still updating, but seriously, no reason to go back, read one Jerkcity strip, and you've seen most of them.

Next time, um, not sure.  We'll see.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Other Projects

So I was reading Blindsprings a few weeks ago, and in one of the blog sections for a particular page, I miss read a comment from the artist.  It said she was trying to make the comic "more like" a movie.  I took it to her thinking she wanted to make a Blindsprings movie, which I felt was a little too ambitious at this stage.

Still, it got me to thinking about all the other projects comic artists tend to work on, and the fact that it often derails the part that I tend to follow, namely the comic.  It's not as bad as a stretch of hiatus, as these projects are usually at least talked about, and there's some good reasons why the comic might be sidelined for a bit while they're worked on.  Sunstone (NSFW) has been on a regular cycle of this as Stjepan Sejic is often working on a variety of art projects and of all his projects, Sunstone makes the least money (directly anyway).  But there are others.

The first one I thought of beyond Sunstone was Elsie Hooper because at creation it was meant to be a story board for a movie.  One that at one point was being worked on.  I don't know if it was ever finished, I do know that long, LONG stretches of time went by without an update due to it and the various other projects the artist was working on.  The fact that it has been more or less regularly updated (every 3 weeks it seems sometimes) is actually a step up from where it was only a couple of years ago.  It does make it annoying, however, when one considers that the comic does have a scripted ending and even after 10 years it hasn't yet finished.

Dead Winter is having the same issues.  The game project they're working on seems to be sapping all the energy to make the comic.  I do want to play this game, I love side scrolling beat'em ups, I love the comic, so putting them together can only make me happy.  BUT, it does cut deeply into the comic, especially the patreon which, surprise, is mostly for backing the comic, not the game.  Hopefully it'll start updating more regularly soon.

That's not to say other projects can't still be done.  Sandra and Woo, for example, have a game in the works, but it isn't interfering in the production of the comic.  I guess that makes sense as they're already juggling two projects, Sandra and Woo and Gaia, so throwing another one into the mix isn't that big of a deal.  It's also not a self created thing, as it's being made by an actual game developer rather than a couple of comic artists in their spare time.

Cyanide and Happiness' other project is their shorts, short videos that are basically just more of the same.  I don't watch too many of them (checking comics takes long enough, even a 2 minute video can hurt at 2 am when I'm getting ready for work), but the few I have watched have been quite good and often are offshoots of regular strips.  More of the same, and while it replaces the occasional strip, it's not that big of a distraction from the main comic.

And then there's, well, EVERYTHING Howard Taylor does outside of Schlock Mercenary.  Games, conventions, books, movie reviews, etc, etc.  I couldn't even hope to list all that he's up to.  Guess he gets bored having that big fat buffer keeping his comic up every day.

I do like other projects by the artist, even if they aren't comics, I just kind of hope they don't interfere with the comic.  As for Blindsprings as a movie, not yet, give it a couple more years.

Next week, hopefully, another Retrospective that oddly enough is an other project.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Cast Pages

My rule with every review is that I read the comic, the whole comic and nothing but the comic.  Cast pages, about pages and the like are something I actively avoid during my first read through of a comic.  I do this on the grounds that if it's not in the comic, it's not in the comic.

After the inital read through is done, though, I might flip through the cast and about pages.  For larger, more involved comics it's more refresher, for smaller ones it's just to see if it matched up with what I found in the comic.  At the same time, I don't always go the page, as I have better things to do.  It's a resource to me, nothing more.  Which is why when I was writing the Not-So-Wild Review of Wapsi Square, I went to it right away.  Wapsi is a fairly large comic and complex and remembering everything was going to be hard, so I loaded up the cast page as my first resource.  And found a monster.

Most cast pages are pretty simple affairs.  Girls with Slingshots represents what I think of as a cast page.  A single picture, a name, a brief description that may or may not actually say anything, and that's it.  It's nothing glamorous or flashy, there's no large amounts of information, and nothing more detailed.

Stand Still, Stay Silent has a bit more information on the cast page itself, but not much more.  To add to it are a series of supplemental pages.  These are actually in the comic, typically near the end of a chapter and share world information that can't be easily presented otherwise.  This turns the cast and about pages into resources for the comic and almost essential to the comic's future.

Of course, these comics are both not super story intensive or very old, both of which do define Wapsi Square.  But there are other, much larger, older comics, that have to deal with similar issues.  Sluggy Freelance and Schlock Mercenary have at least as many characters as Wapsi, if not more, and they're both at least as long, if not longer.  Their solution was simple:  Wikipedia.  Sluggy has it's Niftypedia and Schlock has the Ovalkwiki.  Both are expansive, but well organized, and are what I used when writing The Standard and Best Overall for much of my outside of the comic research.

That monster that lurks on Wapsi Square, however, is something else entirely.  81 pdf pages, and most of it is packed from end to end.  The first three pages are basically empty, the rest is written like an encyclopedia.  Densely packed, bullet points being the only division between characters in the list, and only a handful of pictures.  The character section of the pdf is about 9 pages long, and includes incidental characters (Volleyball guy?  Really?) and Wapsi Square itself, which is a suburb.  I love the idea of locations having "character" but in this comic, where the background really doesn't get much love, it really doesn't have one.

The next 4 pages are "locals" which isn't a bad thing and the text is quite large (compared to the rest of the file).  Still, few pictures, and those that are there are small cast shots, and basically don't relate to the content at all.  As pointless as the locals section is, there isn't any easier way to describe these things, so I don't mind.  What I do mind is the sheer amount of text for each entry.  Saying "this shop is co-owned by Monica and Georgette" should be enough, maybe what it sells, but it just keeps going.  The same can be said for each character description which relates far more information than strictly necessary.

The remaining pages, 17 - 81, are ALL storylines.  Initially the descriptions are very brief, but by the end one story line has more text than this entire article.  It's mind boggling, and almost impossible to follow.  Wapsi is already difficult to follow and being presented with a literal wall of text makes it all the more difficult.

So why does this exist at all?  Not sure, I suspect though it was put together by a fan and only made official after the fact.  Now the wikis for Sluggy and Schlock are fan maintained, but organizationally they're so much better and easier to navigate.  Wapsi just has a block of text crammed into a pdf file.

The good news?  There's a wikia and TVtropes pages for Wapsi Square that are a decent enough filter that information can be found, but it's sad that the only official link through the comic is, well, unusable.  It doesn't provide any information, or even a brief overview, it's a block of text that's has no art for character descriptions and the storyline area makes an already confusing comic even worse.  It's by far the worst cast page I've ever seen.

Next time, um, we'll see.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, May 1, 2015

No, I didn't get that article done

As much as I wanted to get my rantish article on cast pages done, the last couple of weeks has been, um, brutal at work.  So nothing this week, sorry.  Hopefully I'll get it done for next week.  Until then.

Friday, April 24, 2015

Not-So-Wild Review: Wapsi Square

I think I might dedicate this year to Retrospectives and Not-So-Wild Reviews.  So with that in mind, let's look at a comic that's been on my list for a while but I rarely talk about it:

Wapsi Square

I have quite a bit to say about this comic.  Not much of it is going to be positive, but keep in mind it is on my read list, so don't get up in arms yet.

CHARACTERS

As part of writing long reviews like this I go to about and cast pages, to refresh my memory, and when there's a comic as long lived as Wapsi Square (started in 2001) that's a lot of stuff to remember.  So I click the link and am given THIS.  I know older comics like this have big casts, but usually they try to make cast lists, summary pages and the like accessible, but this, this is going to require a whole article to dissect what's wrong.  So let me get beyond that for a bit.  Despite having such a massive cast, most of the characters are fairly well defined.  They have their own foibles, traits and such, and for the most part are easily distinguished from each other.

There are still issues, of course.  While each character has their own arc and personality, the side characters often don't get enough time to develop.  Those that do get very strange developments.  Shelly, for example, starts as just another girl, though she enjoys working in her dad's auto shop and is "freakishly strong."  That's fine for a friend character, then she turns out to be part sphinx because. . . I have no idea.  It spoiled her as a character, and in fact EVERY character seems to have to have some kind of paranormal connection.  It was fine when it was Monica (original main character) who had this weird touch, but when everyone is doing it, it doesn't feel special or interesting any more.  This is even more true with the "New Wapsi Square" cast who are all basically monsters.  Atsali is half incubus, half siren, her adopted sister is a living collection of plants, her friends are werebears, etc etc.  It just lacks a solid anchor in the "real" to make all this fantastic stuff stand out.  It's kind of a shame.  Oh, and there is one other thing. . .

ART

The art isn't bad, really.  Simple in many ways, but not bad.  Characters all have distinct looks and can generally be identified against each other.  There is a tendency to have very large mouths vs heads, but that doesn't break the comic.  That said, it seems Paul Taylor is kind of limited to drawing, well, women.  The majority of the cast is female, often more than well endowed and always projected as being better looking than the comic can really give them.  It really runs the line that the comic is about fanservice more than story, character or art, which may or may not be an issue for many.  The larger images of the last half of the comic's life make this even more prominent as the backgrounds often take a backseat to the characters, who are huge vs the size of the panels.  I don't feel ashamed to read the comic as it is, the characters aren't pushed too far into the fanservice side of the spectrum to cause a distraction, but it's clear that's the general intent.  I have seen much better art, but I have also seen much, much worse, which makes it just kind of average in the long run.

STORY

Wapsi Square has a problem when it comes to story.  I've talked about it before, even if it has been a while.  The problem is show vs tell, and tell wins in most cases with Wapsi Square.  This isn't a new development either, it's prevalent from the beginning.  The characters love to talk to each other, and the action is very limited so it almost appears to be a just talking heads the entire time.  Sometimes it is necessary, but other times it hurts the overall story.

A good example is actually one of the recent storylines where Atsali went to talk to other members of the cast about an incident at the pool where the conservatively dressed Atsali was accused of dressing too sexy.  Of course she's a half-siren with boobs the size of basketballs, so that fits, but it is part of Atsali's overall body image problems and young age, and as a plot point, it's actually quite interesting.  Except that we, as the readers, NEVER SAW THE INCIDENT!  We are only told about it during the discussion.  On top of that, the most recent events included Atsali barely surviving the detonation of an anti-matter bomb, and finding one of the other cast members had committed suicide.  Either of those two events could have triggered a similar discussion, but instead the comic focuses on one that happened off panel.

This is only the most recent issue with the way the story is told, but not the story as a whole.  Some of the plots, including the first half dominating "Calender Machine" plot are quite interesting, and even witnessing Atsali adjust to her new body and how others relate to her is intriguing on a personal development level, but often we're forced to hear the characters tell each other what happened rather than watch it happen, which would be far more effective.  I have seen commentary that the fact that Paul sticks with 3 panel strips as being the root of the problem, and I disagree as it can be done effectively, I've seen it in Wapsi Square itself no less.  But the increased size of the panels, while it makes the art bigger and feel like they have more room, also leaves more room for dialog, exasperating the already existing problem of the characters talking too much.  With so much dialog it's easy to get lost in the events, to the point that I have been more than lost in a few occasions.

Finally there is a large number of smaller stories always going on.  That giant cast page I linked near the top isn't just about the cast, only 10 pages or so are, but almost 60 pages are dedicated to charting out the hundreds of minor plotlines and stories.  Even the recent stories seem to bounce back and forth between events, adding to the confusion on what's going on.  This lack of focus is just another element of the myriad of problems with the comic.

OVERALL

So it pretty much looks like I spent the bulk of this review saying how bad a comic Wapsi Square is, but the thing is, I still read it.  Every comic on my read list I recommend on some level or another, and Wapsi is no exception.  Why?  Well, when it does get things right, I'm very satisfied.  The recent suicide event I mentioned lasted maybe 5 strips, if that, and was exactly what "show" means.  The characters, despite their massive numbers, at least have different personalities, and often act in accordance to them.  The art, while not stellar, at least conveys the emotions necessary for each character to carry, and when it must relate action or show the story, it can and does.  The comic's many failures are often offset by successes, and as a whole I come away still enjoying the comic.  It's not great but it's not really awful.  I would say it's okay in general.  Perhaps if I was closer to my 100 read strip limit, Wapsi would be near the line to be cut, but there are enough comics that are even closer that it won't go anywhere any time soon.  So yes, read Wapsi and if you can get past it's issues, you might find a decent comic to had to your own list.

Next week, I'm going to talk about that damn cast page.  Oh god, will I talk about that cast page.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Retrospective: Perchance to Dream

Eight years ago.  That was when I read this comic.  Seems like a lifetime and I'm surprised it's still up, but that's a good thing, because this is one of the better comics I've ever read.

I wrote back in my original review that I wanted to rewrite Perchance to Dream.  It struck something with me and I really remembered it reading through Namesake, thus why I did that article last week.  My first thought, after conceiving of that article, was that maybe I should re-read it.  I braced myself because 8 years is a long time, and despite my memory, I kind of figured it would be disappointed in it.  I discovered not only otherwise, the comic is still pretty good, but also that I didn't want to rewrite it as much anymore.

Why I wanted to rewrite it is still clear, I want MORE.  More to the story, more to the attempt to save the world from imminent collapse.  I wanted to learn more about the world as it moved past the bounds of the fairy tales they were based on, and see Rin become even more of her own person.  I want to know what Wonderland under the iron fist of Queen Alice is like, or watch the pirate town grow, prosper and collapse.  I want to know all these things.

At the same time, though, I understand why there isn't any more.  Time begins flowing strangely almost from the get go.  It's outright stated that no location is more than 5 minutes from the next, but I suspect that it only applies to the traveler.  So when Rin gets lost leaving Wonderland (it's not quite clear in the comic, but defined in the commentary), a GREAT deal of time goes by, long enough for the pirates to build a town and Wendy and Peter to have a child.  It also means that the world takes far longer to collapse than it seems.  But everything is from Rin's point of view, so the world collapses in 3 days to her.

That time skipping, and the world in general, makes since as this is a dream world.  But it is also a tragic story as it all starts when a girl dies.  It's not quite stated why she's dying, though it's hinted that she might have committed suicide.  Or perhaps it was merely an accident, again, unclear.  But in death, Catherine creates a dream world to inhabit based on her favorite books, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

Not the real ones, her versions of them.  So the characters aren't quite right, the worlds aren't quite true, and some pieces are missing (especially Mowgii from the Jungle Book).  I think they're more based on the Disney versions as well, which means it's just a bit further from the original stories.  From these roots, though, new characters grow.  Smee isn't quite the same, changing quickly as Catherine's influence leaves the world, to the point that he's different the moment we meet him.  All the characters are different, changing quickly as the girl dies and the world falls apart.

The twist on those worlds is the real draw to me, and watching the various characters change and grow into their changed worlds is where the entertainment lies.  It's the reason I want more, and I could easily see this comic lasting a very long time, rather than the scant 3 years.  Even at the end, with the survivors of Catherine's world escaping into the unknown, there is more story to tell.  Maybe I could work on a sequel instead of a straight up rewrite.

That said, I didn't say it in my original review, but there are two other comics here.  The second is a short comic called "Single Vampire" which has less story than the other two, or much of a story at all.  Reminds me a bit of some of the odder comics on Kiwi's By Beat.  Then there's "The Girl with the Golden Hair" which is a quasi-fairy tale, but doesn't finish with the moral of the story, it just stops.  And with it, the comic as a whole.  Both of the last two stories are interesting, but don't really compare to Perchance to Dream itself.

I find I respect the way the story flows in the comic more now than I probably did when I first read it.  I think the pacing is pretty good, there's just enough information to make one thirsty for more, without being strictly frustrated by it (maybe a little frustrated occasionally) and it hits the right emotional notes throughout.  The final sequence is probably the best part as Cathrine's memories, which have taken a physical, if shadowy form, save the last of her creations, but are lost in doing so.  It's fitting.  I do wonder what the author and artist (two people) are doing nowadays, if they have another comic, if they even REMEMBER this comic.  I could do some googling, but I think I'll just enjoy this comic for as long as I can.

Next week maybe a Not-So-Wild Review of a comic that I need to parse out a bit.  Maybe.  We'll see.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What's in a Namesake

In last week's reviews I made a lot of references to past comics, and in fact each of them reminded me of at least one other piece of fiction I've seen, read or, well I'll get to this last one.  This isn't uncommon really, especially as I've been reading a lot of comics and consciously or not, I tend to make comparisons.

Namesake, however, activated multiple comparisons.  Not just one or two, but a four of them, all at the same time.  I won't claim it's a record, but I couldn't help but make the comparisons quickly and early.  I should note none of these are BAD comparisons, in fact they made me like the comic all the more.

The first comic I started comparing it too was based solely on the art, and that was an odd reminder of Demonology 101, and the rest of Faith Erin Hicks' work.  Oh, it's different, and cleaner than some of those older strips (Demonology 101 started in 1999, 16 years old at this point), but I think it was the noses that led the comparison.  I don't know why, but those roundish noses were amongst the first things I noticed artistically.  I wonder if it's a Canadian thing as both artists are from there.  That's just a surface comparison though, so don't read much into it.

Do read a bit more into No Rest for the Wicked though as it's a damn good comic.  Namesake reminded me of this by doing much the same thing, bringing out the actual stories of the works being referenced.  Often the "Disneyfied" versions of fairy tales and stories gets remembered because it's easy but they aren't exactly accurate.  Both comics go out of their way to remind the reader that those fairy tales are, in fact, far meaner, crueler and bloodier than anything Disney has ever presented.  Namesake directly reminds readers of this by comparing the ACTUAL Wizard of Oz vs the movie we all know too damn well.

Which brings me to the next leg of my comparisons, and that is to Perchance to Dream, a comic I haven't talked about in a long, LONG time.  The reason is the forward direction.  While Oz and Wonderland are both talked about at length in Namesake, the original stories are spoke of in the past tense.  Yes they happened, but they happened in the past.  Oz and Wonderland have moved on from there.  The worlds aren't static.  Perchance to Dream had the same thing, though this was a world where things were static and only became free after the start of the comic.  Then things went to hell, but that's for another day.  I like moving the fantasy world forward, it makes it less just a story and more a world, and Namesake does this in spades.

But the biggest comparison I can make, especially with the archive dive complete, is not to a comic at all but to a game:  The Longest Journey (Let's Play linked).  The comparisons are actually pretty deep here.  A young girl (Emma isn't quite as young as April, but they're close) discovers she has the ability to visit another, fantastic world, only to be embroiled in a conflict between two opposing factions, with a role in the conflict greater than she ever initially imagined or is told.  It's not a point for point comparison of course, but they are amazingly similar, and I wouldn't be surprised if the writer was partially inspired by the game.

Being inspired is not the same as ripping off, because Namesake is it's own story.  The twists and turns are very different, the overall plot is different, but the journey, well, that's really similar.  I suppose that's more the standard heroes journey type thing, so it can't be faulted there.  Still, I love the Longest Journey and being able to find a comic that does something very similar, without being the same, is a wonderful thrill and probably increased my enjoyment of the comic far more than it otherwise would have been.  This is why I don't find any of these comparisons to be bad, because I enjoyed each of the other works and this is more of what I like.  Honestly all this means is that I'll be reading Namesake for as long as it updates.

Next week kiddies, I think I need to do another retrospective.  Until then.

BTW, spring did come last Friday, then it snowed Saturday and Sunday.  Freaking weather.