Saturday, October 31, 2009

Show vs Tell

As an amateur (meaning I don't get paid) writer, there is a constant push to "show don't tell" when writing a story.  Mostly that means don't SAY someone is angry, have that person do or say things that SHOWS that they're angry.

Which is where webcomics have an advantage:  They have art to SHOW such things.  Sadly, comics that successfully show rather than tell is a small group indeed.

So what goes wrong?  Well, it's difficult to really say, but I think a lot of it comes from the fact that the artist has a story they want to tell, and they want to get it out there as quickly as possible.  Pictures, while they can deliver a story, take MUCH more effort than banging away at a keyboard for five minutes.

Avoiding this is the topic of the day, so let's begin.

First of all, don't force feed the reader character descriptions.  During my review process, I NEVER read the cast page for a comic until after I've finished the archives.  The reason is so that I can see if the character I discovered in the comic matches the character in the description without my perspective being poisoned by the description first.  The artist should be able to make the character live WITHOUT posting the description at all, let alone as a strip in the comic.  I'm looking at you Pure.  Comics are ART primarily, so let the art take the burden and have them move and act in such a way to help describe their character.

This isn't to say you shouldn't find a way to describe less than obvious character points.  The Meek's Pinter is actually a good example of this.  Upon his return to the story after initial contact with the green haired, and very naked, protagonist, he doesn't remember her.  It's not obvious why either, though hints are there (he drinks too damn much and forgets things), but it should probably be stated SOMEWHERE in the comic as to why that happens.  Of course, it might happen later, in which case that's fine, but at the moment it's just confusing.

Next is the backstory of the comic, which for a detailed story comic can be pretty damn important.  However, writing a five page text crawl describing everything for a COMIC is pretty silly, and is exactly what turned me off of Daniella Dark.  Working this kind of thing into a comic is actually pretty difficult and requires some tricky writing, however, so I can't fault Daniella too much (though the character description block was PART of the backstory, which made the whole thing worse).  

leveL likewise had the same problem, though it put off most of it until about halfway through the comic and did so in a way that was teaching the CHARACTERS the backstory rather than just presenting it to the READER.  Angels 2200 actually pulls this off vary well by spreading out the basic facts of the story's backstory throughout the comic via personal accounts and such without it becoming a full on history lesson.  In fact, I never read the comic's "briefing" page, yet had more than enough information to figure out the background from just the comic itself.

And finally, let the reader piece the story together, or if there must be a leap of logic, then try to present it in a way that makes the most sense.  That last part is actually kind of hard to pull off, actually, perhaps almost impossible.  I'm not talking about recapping events, though it is a related phenomenon, I'm talking about drawing all the various pieces of the story together and telling the reader WHAT has been going on the whole time.  This is especially prevalent in epic comics, and as the story goes on often only gets worse.

Surprisingly, the guiltiest party I can pick out is a comic I read, Waspi Square, which will spend a week just summarizing what has happened, conjecturing on the future, and even doing new revelations in bouncing dialog between two characters.  It seems natural, but it's also not that interesting and takes a while to read through it.  The upside is that the story is actually interesting and while the comic doesn't show as much as tell it, it's at least interesting.  I would also like to point out when the comic does show, it shows it very, very well.

Waspi also shows that even if you ignore the "show don't tell" aspect of story telling, doing the telling WELL can be just as effective.  So show vs tell almost always comes down to a draw, if the writer and/or artist is up to the task of pulling it off.  That doesn't happen often, but when it does, you're looking at something special.

Well enough of this, see you next time kiddies.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Halloween Wild Web Comic Review



My what scary costumes.  Yes, I've somehow managed to whip up another batch of reviews just before I go out and beat children up and steal their candy.

What's more, I've got 6 reviews!  (5)  No, 6.  (7?)  NO, 6, six reviews.  Now shut up.  The reason for this is that my 200th review is coming up, and the way the numbering works now, it would START that review batch.  Can't have that.  So six reviews it is.  Oh, and if you're curious as to whether I'll actually get 200 before the end of the year, don't count on it.

On top of that, I have 3 older comics and 3 practically brand new comics.  Harder to judge new comics because there's so little to go on, but let's see what comes from them.  Ready?  Too bad.

185.  String Theory - I think at it's core, this is actually a relationship comic rather than a mad science comic, but there's plenty of that there too.  The relationship is awkward as the main character hasn't attempted dating, well, ever, hates human contact and, right from the start of the comic, has a pair of evil looking artificial eyes.  And if you think that's a lot, keep in mind there have been only 38 strips at the time of this review.  Yeah, it's young, but I see potential to be pretty good here.

186.  Hanna is Not a Boy's Name - The first thing that stands out is this comic is colorful and bright.  And for a comic that's basically about the supernatural, that's a nice change of pace.  Oh, and the main character is a zombie that's bored.  Hanna, on the other hand, is his boss.  The comic takes advantage of the "open canvas" of the internet, and breaks traditional panels and framing to make fun and interesting to read comic.  There's also a a decent sense of humor to go along with it.  Not nearly as young as String Theory, but pretty damn close and just as interesting looking, if not more so.

187.  Angels 2200 - Look, a comic that isn't less than 6 months old.  Actually, Angels 2200 has been on my to read list for a long, long time, and like Girl Genius, it stayed on the backburner due to lenght.  And like Girl Genius, I'm glad I read it and will continue to, whenever it gets back from hiatus (if it gets back).  It's good, to be blunt.  There's no mountain of backstory shoved down your throat, the character reactions are reasonable and natural, and the story is very well told.  The downside is some of the action, and being a comic about space fighter pilots there's a bit of it, is sometimes hard to tell what's going on.  Still, even if you don't SEE what's happening, the way the characters react to it will tell you everything you need to know.  In fact, I'd almost say that this comic has some of the best characters I've ever seen in a webcomic, and considering the sheer number of comics I've read, that says something right there.  Downsides I see, aside from it being on hiatus right now, is that it seems to have about two weeks between updates, which might effect the pacing a bit.  When (if) it comes back, we'll see how it works, but I'm betting it won't be nearly as bad as some others.  Regardless, the archive is worth the read, so go to it already.

188.  Eerie Cuties - Eerie Cuties is another young comic done by the same person that does Menage a 3.  Only with color, and less sex.  And demon girls of various types.  It is DIFFERENT, but not that much, and the humor is about the same as Menage, just with less sex.  Basically the comic is the artist's attempt to do something different, and I think it's going well so far with interesting ideas and just the right humor to keep it going.  If anything, it's worth watching to compare it to Menage a 3 and see how two very different comics work when they come from the same person.

189.  Three Panel Soul - This is the successor comic to MacHall, a comic I mentioned remembering very little about in my review reposting.  Which means I really didn't have any expectations going into it.  It's not bad, the jokes are good, the art varies depending on the nature of the humor the comic wants to present and it keeps being entertaining.  Not much really to say here other than it's been around a while and I think I heard about it once a long time ago, but only recently actually read it.  Go figure.  If you liked or remembered MacHall, this is probably a comic you'll enjoy.

190.  Girls with Slingshots - Questionable Content is a comic I reviewed some time ago (it's number 133, so you won't see it for a while), and this comic reminds me of QC, only without the neuroses that seem to dominate QC.  In all, I'd have to say it's better than QC in nearly everyway because it doesn't dwell on the characters being "off."  Yes, a few of them are a bit weird, but they don't harp on it and often break out of it in an effort to grow.  They do grow too, and become different, for better or worse, something I'm fairly certain QC never did.  It's an enjoyable comic and will probably stay on the read pile for a while.

And yes, you read that right, all six of these comics will stay in the read folder, which means I need to find some terrible comics for the next batch or two to balance it out.  Shouldn't be too hard to find, right?  Well, that's all for today, see you next time kiddies.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Sometimes Bad is Bad

It's hard to criticize someones hard work.  It's even harder to sit and listen to your work being criticized, and the internet is even worse for both as people are more than willing to say "It's great" when it isn't and overreact like a mob when you try to explain that, yeah, it's not good.

But as the song goes, sometimes bad is bad.

It's hard to decide which of my 184 reviewed comics truly gets to be called "bad."  Well, not too hard in many cases, but a lot of the problem is that once I finish a comic, if I don't follow it, I kind of forget it exists.  In some cases I wish they didn't exist, but that's more my problem than yours.  Well, unless you actually read them, then you'd agree.  Anyway, after scouring through my review archives, I've got at least 6 (well, there WERE 7, but then The World Explodes had to go and get good, go figure) that would require an act of God to make me read again, with one exception.  So here's our lucky losers:

Dungeon Crawl Inc
Diesel Sweeties
Small World
Luz, Girl of the Knowing
Daniella Dark

These aren't in any particular order, except Earthbeta which is by far the worst of the lot.  But this isn't really what this article is about, it's about WHY these comics are bad.  And surprisingly, the reasons are very different from each other.

Crime:  Too Damn Preachy

Offenders:  Luz, Girl of the Knowing, Small World

With Luz, it was "beat the message into your skull," with Small World it was "I disagree and you're not giving me a reason to agree."  The internet is about standing on a digital soapbox and making your case (raises hand), but it doesn't mean you should take that sign you're holding and smack the person walking by with it.

Comics CAN be preachy and get away with it if they have a good story or are funny.  Luz and Small World do neither, and so as they scream their message, they override anything positive about the comic and bury in a pit of awfulness.

Crime:  Bad Art

Offenders:  Earthbeta, Dungeon Crawl Inc., Daniella Dark

Daniella is a bit of an exception as the art isn't godawful like the other two, but it's not anything great either.  Earthbeta and Dungeon Crawl Inc., however, are just unpleasant to look at.

Bad art makes it hard to read a comic, and will turn readers away before they begin.  That said, bad art doesn't necessarily mean a bad comic.  There are many, many examples of comics with simple or not necessarily great art that are surprisingly good.  These comics frequently have something else to lean on:  a good story or good humor.

Of course, if the art is REALLY bad, almost nothing can help it.

Crime:  Not funny.

Offenders:  Small World, Dungeon Crawl Inc., Diesel Sweeties and Earthbeta

Comedy is hard, very hard.  Getting a few chuckles isn't impossible in most cases, but when you can't even do THAT, then your comic is in trouble.  It can be resolved by falling back on a good story or good art, but if you're not funny, and you have nothing else, your comic is bad.  Diesel Sweeties is PAINFULLY not funny, it's almost unfunny (as in, anti-funny), and then there's Earthbeta.  Let us not talk or think about Earthbeta much.

Crime:  Bad story.

Offenders:  Dungeon Crawl Inc., Daniella Dark and Earthbeta.

Yes, Earthbeta has a "story," but it involves and evil version of Kermit and remembering it makes me ill.  Now, I won't comment TOO much on Daniella Dark because I really didn't read it much, but what I saw I wasn't impressed with.

Stories are easier than jokes, but it still take some talent and skill to build one, and failure is pretty easy.  A bad story can take even an interesting concept and good art and destroy a comic.  Bad stories can have many reasons: being poorly told, half told, bad characters, poor settings, silly plots and just plan stupid stories.  Execution is the hardest part, and the part where most of the comics fail.  Get over that hump, and the rest can be given a pass.

These are the major reasons, but not the only ones.  Diesel Sweeties has walls of text that isn't funny, Earthbeta and Dungeon Crawl Inc. were sprite comics for a time and did them poorly, and Daniella Dark failed to even begin to grab my interest, so it never got a chance to prove itself otherwise.

Bad comics can come back, though.  The World Explodes was terrible when I first read it, but I decided to give it another go, and the move from a daily comic to a more adventure comic did wonders for it.  Dungeon Crawl Inc. improved when it switched from sprites to (not very good) art, but it still isn't that good.  I'm sure other comics have improved.

That said, there are other comics I consider bad, but I haven't reviewed.  This is mostly personal bias against those comics that I'd rather not get into, and there are even more I've never even read.  Still, bad comics are out there, and sometimes it just needs to be pointed out.

Well, that's enough for this week.  See you next time kiddies.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wild Webcomic Review, 16 - 20

I'm not sure how my numbering system got so out of wack, starting on 5 or 0 instead of ending there.  I'll have to fix that in the future.  On with the reviews!

January 4, 2003

16. Bob the Angry Flower - This flower is damn angry, and insane, and well armed. Every strip is something different and unique, covering things from global politics to quantum mechanics, and usually resulting in the complete destruction of something, usually Bob, the angry flower at the center of it all. Hell, he is the one banned by the UN from using a tank. To open jars. Did I mention he was insane? Well he is. Just go read the damn thing, or else an army of robots will be visiting you in the near future.

August 1, 2003 - Still angry, still a flower, still funny.

October 11, 2006 - Format changed a bit, but the comic is still basically the same. I've heard some say the humor has fallen off a bit, and perhaps it has, but it's still significantly better than most comics on the web today.

TODAY - Yes, I still read Bob, and yes I still enjoy it.  No problems with it at all.

17. Choppingblock - Butch is a killer, a very tortured killer. It's hard to be a killer in this day and age, after all. This comic is morbid, twisted and at moments damn funny. Violence, death, dismemberment, cannibalism, cruel mothers, hockey masks and whatever else the twisted artist can come up with, it has everything a growing boy needs. Girls too. It's funny, but your sense of humor has to be touched warped to truly enjoy it. I, of course, loved it.

August 1, 2003 - Artist got a new addition to the family a couple weeks ago. No, the kid's name isn't Butch.

October 11, 2006 - This comic has gone on mini-hiatuses so much, I actually stopped reading. It also seems to have lost a bit of its punch.

TODAY - I think it's updating again, but I can't be too sure.  The point is, I stopped reading it and tracking it not because it's a bad comic or anything, but because there's only so much you can do with a killer like Butch, and I think he did everything, so what was the point on still reading?  There wasn't one, so the last hiatus meant I really didn't care any more.  It was fun while it lasted though.

18. Demonology 101 - This is the only other comic on this list that fits into the "drama" category more often than not (the other is Jack). It takes its cue from Buffy, then goes its own way. The plot is long term, usually requiring several months to fully develop, and even then the main line has just begun (similar to how Sea of Insanity is going). The characters are pretty depressing on a level though, almost always harping on the unfairness of their simple existence. Angst is annoying after a while folks. Still, it's not bad, and deserves at least an initial read through of the first episode. Though those noses are damn weird.

August 1, 2003 - It's coming to a close, and it's probably at the point where that's a good thing. Faith has started a new comic, but you have to pay to read the archives, so I'll give this one a pass, I'm afraid.

October 11, 2006 - It's still one of the better comics of its type I've ever read, so go read it if you haven't. As for that new comic, it went to free not too long ago, so now you can catch up on that. In fact, I reviewed it, so look for Ice on the list here.

TODAY - Not much to say here aside from Ice being a much tighter story than Demonology.  Does it mean you shouldn't read it?  Hell no!  I should go back and reread it some time as well.

19. College Roomies from Hell - Finally, the last one. Where Machall screws up the college angle by having too much college, Roomies has no such problem. College is more along the lines of a white noise that only rises to the surface when the regular stuff takes a nap. The regular stuff is out there. Mutations, curses, possessions, the devil, and evil siblings run amuck through this thing. And it's all done with a shrug and a smile. Sort of like Sluggy (a lot like Sluggy in fact), only with fewer aliens, and no Bun-Bun (though they have replacements for him). And it's nearly as old. If you love Sluggy, this will either feel like a rip off, or like home away from home.

August 1, 2003 - The charm of the early days are fading, but there's enough to keep me interested, for now. Think of the term "on the bubble" and you'll have a much better idea what I mean.

October 11, 2006 - That charm that was fading basically curled up and died. I haven't read it in, well, a while now. I don't really miss it, honestly.

TODAY - I still don't miss it.

February 21, 2003

20. Fans! - I wanted to like this comic, I really did. After reading the College Roomies from Hell crossover, the greatest of all the crossovers I've read, I had high hopes for Fans. They were far too high. Perhaps I'm not geek enough for it, or just too overly burnt out from webcomics to appreciate its finer points, but it didn't grab me, at all. The characters weren't as interesting as I thought they would be, the various story plots didn't seem to work very well, and the art. . . Let me stop there and say nothings wrong with the art, as long as they stick to the original artist! Guest artists, in most comics, rarely lasts more than a week, then its back to the traditional style. Fans! uses their guest artists for entire chapters, and it hurts. Of all their guests, I think only one of them fit the general style any, and that was the second one. Beyond that, I went into a depression when they switched artists. Of course, I'm a freak, so you might like it. I, however, slid it into my "Non-read" folder.

TODAY - I suppose I should probably give Fans! another shot, it has been, what, six years since I did this review.  But not now, I've got other fish to fry.

Of this batch, only Bob remains on the read list, while Demonology 101 ended, the others all went into the non-read pile.  20 down, 165 to go.  This is going to take a while. . .

Friday, October 16, 2009

Letting Go

Webcomics are a terrible habit.  I should know, I read a ton of them, but I really don't read THAT many.  See, there is a point when a comic that you've been reading for literally years just doesn't work any more, but you keep reading it anyway.  Why?  Well, let's discuss that.

I've given up a lot of comics.  Many I had to, they just don't update any more, or died, or worse, but there are more than a few that I read for quite a while and then stopped.

There are only two comics that really deserve mentioning here, though the list is quite long.  I don't regret ceasing to follow these two, but I do pine for the good old days when I cared about them, and it hurts a bit to think of how they turned me away.  They are General Protection Fault and College Roomies from Hell.

Both were amongst the first comics I read, and both were also the amongst the first to slide into the Non-Read column well after I started reading them.

GPF was the first and most rapid fall.  Don't let my review dates fool you on it, I didn't review it until January of 2003, but I had been reading it well before then.  Still, it was very, very fast fall, and I blame his great story, Serendipitous Machines.  In truth, both comics started out very similarly to the one that really started the ball rolling, Sluggy Freelance, and if any thing, GPF was much closer.  The thing is, Sluggy developed from it's daily comic roots into a full blown adventure comic very gradually.  I doubt you can point to a specific moment when it switched over.

With GPF, the change was much more radical, and happened within one story line of Serendipitous Machines, the storyline that set it up.  I don't mind changing the nature of a comic, in some cases it can have a very positive effect.  For GPF, though, it did not.  The comic, once funny and lovable, turned into a rather dark tale and then into a quasi-action comic that probably would have been fine if it had STARTED as one, but instead, the established humor characters were thrust into a new role.  It didn't suit any of them.  Sluggy's characters evolved into the people they are, GPF mutated them with green ooze.  It wasn't pleasant, and even when he tried to get back to the old roots, it just never fit again.  So I stopped reading it, and moved on to greener pastures.

Which included College Roomies from Hell.  CRfH's change actually was gradual, just as the art changed over time (go ahead and compare an early strip with a current one, and then tell me they're from the same comic), but in the end, it just didn't change in a way that kept me interested.  Like GPF it got darker, but unlike GPF, it didn't do it radically, but it still didn't fit what I wanted to see in the comic.  It wasn't like GPF where I went away disappointed in the comic, and a bit angry, but it wasn't something I really wanted to continue reading either.  Still, it took 3 years after I realized it wasn't going where I wanted it to go to finally stop reading it, a sign that I was still hoping for a turn around.

Sluggy Freelance, incidentally, has changed just as much as CRfH, and I even compared the two in the original review.  The changes in both, though, seemed very different, where CRfH drove me away, Sluggy drew me deeper in.  That's not to say there hasn't been a few times when I've wondered why I was reading Sluggy (Oceans Unmoving, anyone?), but it seems Abrams (the artist) got the same vibe and scaled it back.  CRfH, I suspect, may have done the same thing (I don't read the comic, but I do read other review sites), but I haven't felt the need to go back in quite a while.

Now these are just the earliest comics to push me away, there have been others, but I do understand how hard it is to finally drop the link from the bookmarks and move on (you should SEE my bookmark file).  So here's what you should ask yourself when you think you might want to give up on a comic:

1)  What caused you to start reading the comic in the first place?  Did the art catch your eye, or perhaps the characters?  Think hard about what force started you reading.

2)  What kept you reading all this time?  The story grab you?  Maybe you just had to see what happened next, or the sense of humor or general tone of the comic just felt right.

3)  Did either or both change for the better, or the worse?

4)  Do you think either will change back?

The last two questions should answer your question if you should give up.  Yeah, the last one is kind of loaded because some comics do come back from the brink, but you have to be honest with yourself and what you know about the artist simply through the comic itself.  You'll find the answer there, I assure you.

It's hard to give up on a comic, but sometimes you have to.  I know, I learned the hard way.

Until next time kiddies.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Wild Webcomic Review, 11 - 15

So what's next on our review list?  Let's take a look.

January 2, 2003

11. Anime Moments in History - The complete and total opposite of Megatokyo and Life of Riley, and damn proud of it! This is an angry comic that directly attacks anything and everything, especially anime and the like. It reaches out and drags the absolute worst of the genre, and the fandoms that worship it, out into the open, and proceeds to beat on it. One strip even raised the ire of a number of anime boards, encouraging John (one of the creators) to enter the fray, not to defend it, but to spread racist remarks. These are people who don't care who they piss off or how, they just plain enjoy it. And so do I. (Note: I doubt John is actually racist, he did it only to get a rise out of people. He's an Old Man Murray alum after all.)

August 1, 2003 - Looking for a new artist as the old one is moving. Oh well, it was funny while it lasted, if you like that sort of humor.

October 11, 2006 - This comic was dead for a long time, until John decided to start drawing it himself. Now, it's, well, it's awful. The early stuff is still pretty good, but don't even bother reading it regularly.

TODAY - I actively seek out this kind of comic, and don't find it very often, sadly.  There is a quasi-spin off, but seriously, if you don't like this comic, you really won't like Troll Police.  Hell, even I don't read that.

12. Exploitation Now! - Remember how I said there were three categories? This one straddles all three at once. It's designed to be funny, and insulting, while the undercurrent of a greater story is bubbling up from underneath (which makes sense if you think about it actually). As the comic goes on, the initial supremely funny aspects fade away leading to the more dramatic (so much of a fade that the main characters virtually disappear from the strip). Even Poe (the artist) recognized this, and it probably led to his decision to end the strip, for the best I think. Still a great comic to read (my favorite being the graffiti one).

TODAY - Another one of those comics I really should go back and re-read some time.  It's a classic, you should read it.

13. Errant Story - Poe's newest work. It's still pretty early, but it's shaping up to be very recognizable to those who read through Exploitation Now. It's got the same types of humor, with the more dramatic pits still there in force. It'll be quite a ride when it finally gets going, though. I'm almost sure of it.

February 21, 2003 - Well, it's finally starting to hit its stride, so I figure I'll reevaluate the strip. Still pretty good. A little long and drawn out, but still good. Poe's humor still shines through, making it a joy to read, but its slow in developing. Really, really slow. I think it's finally starting to pick up speed though. Still worth a read.

August 1, 2003 - One of the greatest comics on the web. Read it or weep.

October 11, 2006 - Are you still not reading this comic? Are you sick? Are you crazy? Dear god, it is the best and if you aren't reading, you have issues. GO ALREADY!

TODAY - Speaking of classics, Errant Story is a living one.  It is also the only comic, out of the 190 or so I've read, that I actually gave money to.  I got a pin, which was awesome.

January 4, 2003

14. Machall - Had I stumbled across this comic several years ago (before it existed, I might add), I would have loved it. Back then, you see, I lived in a dorm very like this one. In fact, some of the same characters were there, something I find quite disturbing. Yet, despite the similarities, it just didn't impress me. I think it's because all the humor was built around the dorm and the people there, and I outgrew that long ago. If you live in a dorm, you'll love it. Otherwise, skip it.

October 11, 2006 - Still haven't read it since this review was written, aside from a few sporadic links.

TODAY - I remember so little of this comic, I almost forgot I read it.  Not much of an impression, eh?

15. Sea of Insanity - Perhaps its because I lived in Greece for several years, and as part of my childhood education, got a crash course on Greek mythology, but I love this comic. Gods, demigods, nymphs and the lot running around causing the leading male headaches just appeals to me. And having immortals dropping by, man does that suck let me tell you. Anyways, the art is the most realistic of the batch, which makes it look kind of flat at times. Beyond that, there's a long term story going on, though most of the details haven't been given away, yet. Though two years old, it hardly feels like it's begun at all. I can't wait for the story to really hit.

August 1, 2003 - The Gods bless this strip with an interesting tale, but curse it with an author who issues run the gambit from swollen wrists to siblings crashing cars. It's a miracle he can put out two comics a week, I swear.

October 11, 2006 - Last September was when it updated last, which was nice as it was kind of a birthday present for me. Hasn't updated since. It makes me sad.

TODAY - And then it started updating again, some 2 years later.  Remember that bad luck?  It got worse, but he came back and is updating at a more or less constant rate.  I am happy once again.

Sea of Insanity and Errant Story remain on my read list, while the others are all dead.  No matter, more next week.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Archive Tunnel Vision

I suppose this is just my problem, but I figure I should point it out.

Ever read a really good book?  A page turner, one you can't put down until you've finished it?  Of course you have, unless you despise reading, in which case you can leave now, this isn't for you.

Now, have you ever gone back and reread the book? Not often, I bet.  The frenzy of that first read isn't there the second time through, and you start spotting the flaws in the story (unless it's really good, and that does happen).  Your enjoyment of the book drops because now you see it for what it really is, and perhaps it isn't that much worse, really, but compared to the first time. . .

I suffer the same problem, all thanks to my method of comic reviewing:  I read the ENTIRE archive, THEN review.  I call it Archive Tunnel Vision, and it basically involves missing some important element that makes or breaks a comic, a failure to see what's going on with the comic and only focusing on getting through the story.

I've had it happen a few times, the most prominent being Jack, which is where I invented the term, and The Devine Dramady, which is an issue I'll get to when I post the review for it (it's kind of embarrassing, actually).  I read those comics so hard, so fast, that I failed to grasp that they weren't as good as I thought.

Jack, I caught very early, as I had some time AFTER I read the archive before posting the review,  so I actually reflected my sentiments of "it was better the first time."  It remains a reminder that I do need to take a bit before I post an especially glowing review.  My review of Girl Genius needed this, as it is a very manic comic and without the break, I might have gushed on it too much, though it did deserve a lot of gushing.

The other problem it creates is a false sense of speed.  ZAP!, for example, is updated weekly and has been for years, but I clawed through the archives in about 3 days, so it FELT faster than it's published.  Now the comic simply DRAGS (now a valid complaint about the comic, incidentally).  Other comics face similar problems, the pacing of a comic is, if the comic isn't updated, feels right, but once it slows down to a regular update speed it doesn't feel right any more.  This is a lot of the reason you'll see a lot of short comics, rather than the long, decade+ comics here, I don't want to be thrown off by the speed of the comic.

So why don't I read a comic at its own pace?  Because reviews are already on average 6 months apart (not kidding about that, BTW) and I don't want to wait a year an half to decide if it's worth the effort.

The Wild Webcomic Review is supposed to be fast, a quick jaunt to decide the worth of a webcomic.  Further down the line I might give a final verdict (and you'll see that in my updated thoughts for each of my older reviews), but the the initial review is just that, my initial review.  Still, I always keep Archive Tunnel Vision in mind when reading a comic, and try, hard, not to let it interfere.  I'm not trying to make excuses for giving positive reviews to mediocre comics, but I do hope you understand the reasons that created them, and avoid the same problems yourself.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Wild Webcomic Reviews, 6 - 10

The original batch of reviews was far more than 5.  My records say there were 7 comics.  The number per date has varied quite a bit over the years, but I always aim for five, I just go over sometimes.

January 2, 2003

6. 8-Bit Theater - The single funniest comic of the ones that still update (can't beat PLiF, however). Better yet, it's consistent, and makes fun of a game I put far too many hours into (it's still better than any of the sequels). Why are you still standing around, read the damn thing already. You deserve it.

August 1, 2003 - Still the funniest comic on the net. If you're not reading it, what the hell are you waiting for?

October 11, 2006 - And I still stand by those statements. Despite everything that's happened to me in the last three years since I first started reading 8-Bit, it is STILL the most consistently funny comic on the internet. Only soulless dolls don't laugh at 8-Bit Theater.

TODAY - It's almost over.  How many years has it been?  So many now it's funny to think that this comic might actually, finally end.  And I still get a chuckle out of it every strip.  I shall miss it, I really will, but I'd have to say that without 8-Bit Theater, I doubt I would have ever gotten into webcomics beyond the handful that I began with.

7. Leisure Town - Now here's a comic that will warp your fragile little minds, and you'll love it, goddamn it! First of all, it isn't drawn, at all (well, a little, mostly for "special" effects), secondly, prepare for a great string of stories about the usual, death, violence, drugs, masturbation, insanity, and love. Yes, love somehow gets in this mess. There's so much there, it'll take a while to even get through it, but it also hasn't updated since April. Damn shame, I hope it comes back soon.

October 11, 2006 - Guess what? It didn't come back. But, the artist is selling the character models online, and the entire Leisure Town archive is available for viewing (it wasn't for a while). Do yourself a favor and go read at least some of them.

TODAY - It still remains one of those surreal gems most people never hear about.  I still encourage people to read it and enjoy the ride, however strange.

January 3, 2003

8. Life of Riley - Paintball nuke. I'd stop there, but there's more. This comic is the reason I started doing reviews. Originally, I just wanted to find something new to read (being bored), instead I got a new hobby. Anyways, Life of Riley isn't a bad comic, but not a great one. Occasionally, there's a spark of incredible creativity (the paintball nuke was sheer genius), but the rest of the time it's a relatively flat comic about a bunch of people who play games. It's also deeply connected with its own community (which probably reduces the impact it should have on me, as I stay away from such groups). Frankly, the thing is a cult comic, worshiped by its own members, and it gives them exactly what they want. I read it in the hopes for another spark of greatness, but it's hard to match that first great one: paintball nuke.

August 1, 2003 - They've expanded to cover the whole week, but only the original storyline held the Mon, Wed, Fri schedule. I'll have to read the Tuesday and Thursday batch someday.

October 11, 2006 - It's gone. The old url no longer works, the story ground to a halt and everything went up in smoke. I actually managed to get caught up with it, and it targeted off into some flashback and then poof. Am I sad to see it go? Well, kind of. I want to read about the paintball nuke again.

March 8, 2007 - Someone went through and uploaded the archive again. Link updated.

TODAY - I keep meaning to reread this comic and see how it really holds up, but I just haven't.  Maybe later.  Still, it's nice the archives are available again, may they stay up for a while.

9. Jack - Oh boy, this is a hard one. On one hand, it's got an interesting premise, the afterlife and how people die and such, on the other hand, oh boy. Not for the kiddies, or possibly even the adults in the audience. The artist is what's called a Furry, people who get off on, well, just look at it and you can take a guess. It's a fetish, and I suppose that's okay, but as you read this comic, keep in mind what some people are doing to the same thing you're reading. Now you get the idea of the problem I face. It's got some great ideas, and occasionally pulls them off. The rest of the time it's, well, not quite right. It's also depressing as all hell (meant in every sense). It's also where I learned the horrors of "archive tunnel vision." Initially, I thought it was better than it is, then the site went down for a couple of weeks just after I completed the archive. With reflection, I don't need it, and don't have it on my "must visit" list. In fact, once I'm finished here, I'm deleting it from my bookmarks. If you can look past the art, you'll find something nice, otherwise, stay clear.

October 11, 2006 - I still haven't read it again. I know it moved off of Keen, but I'll be damned if I know where it went. Life goes on, but without Jack.

TODAY - Found it, pretty easy to find, honestly, and I fixed the link.  I still don't know what to think about the comic, but I'll probably stay away for now, I have other comics to read.

10. Megatokyo - I can see why people absolutely love this comic. Some of that, however, irks me, starting with the ieet speak. But let's get beyond my little pet peeves, shall we? It's not a bad comic at all, but it suffers from a kind of "split personality" disorder. You can even see the point where the split occurred, and it hasn't healed yet. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, however I get a feeling that eventually one of the two lines will be forced to collapse into the other, removing my only reason for reading it (the Largo storyline is some much more interesting than Piro's girl problems). Maybe it can sustain it for a while, though, and maybe a re-merger can occur, if it does. I don't see it happening though. The end will be short and violent, and I'll stop reading it at that point. Until then, I'll have to suffer through one storyline so I can read the other.

August 1, 2003 - They finally merged the storylines, to no effect. So much so, I dumped it earlier today. It's just not interesting anymore.

October 11, 2006 - People still go gaga over this comic, or so I hear. I haven't read it in years, and have no plans to.

TODAY - Last thing I heard about this comic was something about Godzilla being turned into a zombie.  Yeah, I'm not missing much, am I?

Again, only one of these comics remains on my active read list.  I'd do the math, but I imagine that's probably par for me.  Let's see if the next section has an birdie or two (Answer:  A surprising yes!).

Until next time kiddies.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Death By Hiatus

There is a disease that holds the entire webcomic community in fear.  It could strike anytime, anywhere.  Hundreds have fallen to it, and more likely will.  You could be next, it is:


Which is more dramatic sounding that it really is, sadly enough.

Webcomics, unlike their newspaper counterparts, die.  They die in a number of ways, but the vast majority will go on for a few years, then pass away.  This isn't a bad thing, how many of the comics in papers are over 50 years old?  Yeah, that many.  With webcomics generally being a very personal work, once the artist dies or grows bored with it, the comic is done.

Some comics die of "natural causes."  AKA the artist ends them.  Parking Lot is Full, the Call of Whatever and most recently Scary Go Round were ended by their respective artists for many reasons, but mostly because they wanted to move on to something else.  Thus the comics end, usually wrapping up whatever plots they have in a nice, effective way.

Then there are some where the artist gives up on a comic.  The result is similar to natural causes, but getting a text version of what happened is the best one can hope for.  Timescapes, Return to Sender, and Avalon (the last one had a text completion) are examples here, and while it is sad, often this is the best thing for these comics.

But most comics, when they die, they are killed by hiatus.  Hiatus means "taking a break," basically, which is fine.  Many comics, even the most popular ones, take breaks that last a week or so, time to go to a convention or on a vacation trip or something like that.  Often, however, the artist, claiming every intention of coming back, never does.  There's no update on status, no "sorry," nothing.  Daily checks slowly shift down to weekly and eventually no checks at all, and the comic basically ceases to be.

The number of comics that this has happened to is frightfully large, and infuriating.  Yes, it pisses me off, as a great many of them are actually pretty good, and they simply stop.  So why?  Why does it happen?  At least TELL us the comic isn't going to update any more, give us a reason, medical, insanity, you lost your arm in a bar fight, I don't care, just tell us why!

On rare, very rare, occasions, a comic does come back from hiatus death.  Sea of Insanity was dead for almost 2 YEARS when it suddenly started updating again.  It was shocking, but it happened.  Some comics SEEM to go into hiatus, but really have just really long periods between updates like No Rest for the Wicked.  These are exceptions that prove the rule though, when a comic goes into hiatus, it typically never comes back.

There are warning signs, though, and keep these in mind as you read your favorite comic:

1 - Missed updates.  The comic is supposed to update M-W-F, but the artist starts missing updates, shifting them to Tuesday or Thursday, and never says exactly why.

2 - Complex art and frequent updates.  They don't mix, the more detailed the art, especially in a young comic, the less likely they'll make their daily updates.  And the more updates they miss, the more likely you'll be in number 1.

3 - Complaints about school.  Most comics are started by students, college or high school, and as school gets harder and requires more work (and it does), the less likely the comic will update.

4 - Comments about mental disorders.  I know artists have a tendency to be a little nuts, but when they start talking about it, expect an extended period of hiatus to strike, possibly a fatal one.

Even with these signs that something might be wrong, hiatus can strike at any time, because the law of the internet is this:  Real Life comes first.

And now, a memorial to comics that hiatus has taken well before their times:

Anne Frank Conquers the Moon Nazis
Ashita and Yesterday
Gin and the Devil
I Am Rocket Builder
Life of Riley
Mad About U.
No 4th Wall to Break
Ordinary Day
Panel One
Porridge Cooling Darkly
Road Waffles
Schoolbooks and Brimstone
Strange Case
The Broken Mirror
The Pretentious History of Everything
Too Late to Run
Voices in My Hand

And these are only the ones I've read.  There are more, many more.

Until next time kids.