Friday, April 30, 2010

Fast week

So fast I have no time to finish my article.  Sorry.  I'll get it up next week.  I'll get SOMETHING up next week.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Another Comic Ends

Okay, I said I was going to do a Newspaper Comic thing, but something important happened that I felt needed posting.

Parallel Dementia ended this week.  The comic had been on hiatus for a few months now, so the ending doesn't come as a surprise.  However, Ben Fleuter, the artist, was nice enough to write about why he was ending it.

I started reading Parallel Dementia about a year after it started, and I never stopped.  I was engrossed with it to a point, and it will likely remain THE example of comic evolution in future reviews and articles.

So what should I make of this comic in the end?  Was it good?  Yes, I think so.  But I think Ben's own analysis is worth exploring.

Over four years ago I started Parallel Dementia on a whim as a means of self-improvement and, being in my final years of high school and painfully bored, keeping myself occupied. During those years I made significant advancements in my art and writing, as anyone can see by looking back in the archives.

He's right about, the improvement is incredible.  The art especially.  It's rare to see a comic so completely change as PD did over it's short life.  The only one that comes close is College Roomies from Hell, whose early days are so far from it's current look as to be almost unrecognizable.

More than anything, I learned from repetition and a self-imposed deadline, but I also learned from my mistakes, and oh, they were many. Parallel Dementia is meant to be a huge sprawling epic, but when I started out even I had no answers to most of the questions I raised, simply throwing out threads for my future self to tie up later. The story meandered in places because of this, or returned to status quo, as sometimes I simply had no idea what to do next. It's like a big plot hole I can pave over but never actually fix.

This is true, but at the same time, individual story elements actually did pretty well.  Ben was good at specific set pieces throughout the life time of the comic, and some of the small story arcs were incredible. Chapter 10 stands out most for me for being the most compact and well functioning episode of the comic.  It nearly did everything perfect, and the ending, with an animated and voiced video, brought everything together in a spectacular fashion.

But there was no overall arc to the comic.  His plan for a "sprawling epic" was undermined by not actually be a plan, just an idea and it fell through in the end.  One could see the cracks and holes easily, especially whenever he tried to focus on the main cast.  Fall, a potentially tragic character never actually got any traction in the story and while she was still interesting, she wasn't perfect.  I'd actually say the stories that DIDN'T involve Fall did better than the ones that did.
In addition, I look back at old pages and see something I don't like anymore. I can be proud of PD as something that helped me improve and realize my goals as an artist, but I can't be proud of it as something to represent my work.
I strongly disagree with this sentiment. I think it represents him at his best:  Someone who learns.  The early stuff certainly isn't great, but it gave hints at what he was capable of, and eventually he managed to bring all the pieces together and create a great comic.

This is incredibly hard for me, as it's seriously been a huge part of my life for four years. I had fears that if I could not finish this project I'd not trust myself to finish the next, and that readers would be hesitant to transfer to whatever followed thinking I'd eventually abandon it, too. More than anything I felt, strangely, that I had betrayed the fictional characters that make up PD's cast. Likely I just feel I let down the aspects of myself I put into them. However, what pain I feel for ending this comic is overshadowed by optimism for projects in the future, and a comforting realization that I don't need to be shackled to a webcomic as I finish my schooling.
The hardest part about any creative effort is deciding when it's time to stop.  It's easier to keep going, even if you're not happy with it, or if it's not going the way you want because at least you're DOING it.  That's an excuse for not actually looking to explore new things and to change gears.  It's a rut, the easy path, and getting away from it is hard and difficult, but likely to be more worthwhile in the end.

I expect a lot of you saw this coming or won't really mind, but I also expect there to be those that won't understand. If writing me hatemail or emails trying to change my mind make you feel better, go ahead, but my foot is down and I won't lift it so don't expect a response.
I didn't strictly expect it to happen, but the signs were there.  I'm sad it's gone, but I won't force it to continue for my own selfish reasons.  I will remember PD as a comic that showed the great potential of the artist, while not strictly be great in and of itself.  While I would love for it to go on, I get that Ben had to move on and I will wait for his next project which I'm sure will top this attempt.

I wish Ben good luck and encourage you to read Parallel Dementia, it is worth the effort.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Natural Drama vs Artificial Trauma

I was going to do another Newspaper article this week, but I got a better idea.

Since I started this blog, I had a thought of trying to describe a concept I nicknamed the "Dramatic Downshift."  It's a play on an old Civilization act where you change to a Democracy in order to grow faster in the future while sacrificing growth in the nearterm.

The Dramatic Downshift  refers to act of shifting a comedic strip into a dramatic strip.  Websnark, when he still talked about webcomics (it's been a while) called this the Cerebus Syndrome, a concept I don't disagree with, but don't think holds true always.  The idea is that drama and comedy are at odds with each other and when you try to switch between the two, or do both at the same time, it can ruin a comic.  That's the part I disagree with, by the way, it does work, but it takes effort, and a good foundation.

The foundation is important.  Without a good foundation, the Cerebus Syndrome functions at full effect, ripping the comic down.  After all, a character that was spouting puns in one strip and then giving a serious soliloquy the next isn't likely to be a very good comic.  So until the shift can occur outright, some depth has to be added to the characters, spiking their normal humorous play with a bit of drama every now and then.

The best example of this is actually General Protection Fault, on two fronts.  Now, it has been YEARS since I read GPF, so all this stuff is old opinions, but valid ones.  The story where this worked was one I remember as The Flood (I don't remember the original name and I'm not going to look).  In it a flash flood hit the town GPF takes place in and caused all sorts of mayhem.

The Flood story was designed to do two things.  First, it was a "change of venue" story, where the characters, who had gotten comfortable in their current situation, are forced out and into the world (the company they worked for was flooded out).  This is good for comedy adventure comics like GPF because it allows new jokes and situations to arise.  Sluggy Freelance does this VERY frequently and the results are almost always positive.

The next purpose was character development.  It was a big story for the time, and drew on some smaller steps that had happened earlier.   This is what I am calling a Natural Drama.  It helped expand the characters a bit, transforming generally two dimensional comedy characters into something more.  It didn't do a lot, of course, but it did add to the story.  This is what a Natural Drama does and it makes it an important tool in a Dramatic Downshift.  Typically, Natural Dramas should be small, building up to a "defining" moment story, which solidifies the gains up to that point and help set up even greater stories.  Sluggy does this constantly and frequently so when the great confrontation of the book takes place, the characters are tuned up and ready for it.

The Flood story worked on both these fronts, if it was a bit heavy, but it worked well and I remember thinking how good it was at the time.  The problem is that there was actually a third purpose to the story, to set up Serendipitous Machines.

I've complained about that story before, and it was THE reason I stopped reading GPF, and why?  Because it was a Artificial Trauma.  Essentially, it was the same kind of thing as a Natural Drama, a character expanding story.  The issue is that it's bigger, and much heavier.  The term "heavy handed" only begins to describe what's going on here.

Instead of merely expanding the character, they're blown up into massive edifices of CHARACTER that must be watched.  Or, at least they must be because the artist/author says so.  Instead of the characters naturally evolving into their new forms, they're mutated into what the artist wants them to be.  It's not that these characters didn't have the potential to be these new creatures, they did, but the artist is in a hurry and wants to tell the "grand epic" now rather than waiting another year of development.  Like cranking up the oven to cook something faster, the result is a blackened mess only a few crazy people like.

College Roomies from Hell suffered the same problems as it kept going.  It managed to avoid the Trauma side of the line for a long time, but as it went on, the Dramas became much more traumatic to the characters, and far less natural.  Often it felt completely forced and about then I stopped reading it.

Sluggy, on the other hand, has managed to stay out of the trap, somehow.  I suppose the constant shifting between drama and comedy that it does has helped, but also that there are frequent minor stories that help mold the characters between the big fights that keep any one of them from being overpowering.

How to avoid Artificial Traumas?  Think and take your time.  Unless your whole comic is written around a story, there's no reason why you can't delay your epic masterpieces a few months or years to get the characters in position to make the big jump. And if you really can't wait, scale back on the epic or break it apart.  Odds are good you'll be pleasantly surprised.

Next week, I hope to cover that Newspaper Comic article I promised last week.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Wild Webcomic Reviews 86 - 90

Here's another batch of old reviews.  Slowly building up to comic 100, but still a couple updates behind.  Probably won't catch up completely for a while though, so let's go.

September 26, 2006

86. Schoolbooks and Brimstone - Another comic with someone turning into a demon? Am I crazy? Yeah, probably, but this one is far more lighthearted than Zebra Girl. It's also shorter, and apparently dead. Which is quite a shame honestly, as it could have been quite fun. The story doesn't even really get started before it stops. So sad when comics die prematurely.

TODAY -  The original site vanished, no idea where it went.  The version I have linked up there is different than the one I read the first time, so it might be worth the effort to read, but at the same time, it's just as dead.  Great idea, but no staying power.

October 3, 2006

87. Templar, Arizona - It starts with a man screaming the loveliest string of curses and insults over phone that I have ever seen, and then pulls out a sculpture of Jimmy Carter as a Greek god. After that things get weird. This comic is like something I would want to write. It's real in a way that isn't real, but manages to not make itself seem too serious despite being real but not real at the same time. Make sense? No? Just go read it, you might understand. Maybe.

TODAY - Still one of the odder comics on the net today, and yet it's still pretty good.  I kind of wish he would focus more on the original main character, but I think this comic is more about Templar, Arizona than any one character, and that makes it fun as well.

88. No Stereotypes - A man is cursed with immortality. Hey, that sounds familiar, I wonder if anyone here can relate to that . It has gods, magic, time travel, a purple cat with a big smile and a ziggurat, which doesn't exactly make it unique, but the elements all come together to form a strange combination that you really have to just read to enjoy. I know I do.

TODAY - The main site went belly up some time ago, and so the comic also vanished into the ether, but not quite as I did find a bit of the original still floating around at the link above.  But the comic is dead and most of the later chapters are gone.  A shame as I remember it being pretty enjoyable.

89. Gun Street Girl - No, your eyes don't deceive you, this comic is on the same site as No Stereotypes, but this is completely, totally different. There are guns and violence, magic and mystery, and another pair of lesbians. Shit, did it again. Well fuck, if you're going to wonder off every time I say that word, I'll just sing a little. Or not. This isn't a strip, and there are no long story arcs, just short little pieces written more like mini-comic books than anything else. So don't let the style turn you off, or you'll miss the fun.

TODAY - Vanished for a time when No Stereotypes did, but it has it's own site so you can still enjoy it.  I'm glad for that, but I haven't had the time or energy to flip through the rest of it (I think there's more than what I originally read, I'd basically have to start over at this point) or any of the other comics on the site.

90. Return to Sender - It has a concept, a mystery, and it follows it for a bit, then stops. The comic died something like 2 years ago, which is sad, as the very idea of it is just damn interesting. But since it dies, we never see it get much beyond damn interesting into good territory. Worth the read to see what could have been, if nothing else.

TODAY - Still dead, but at least you can still read it.

Two quasi MIAs in one update.  Bleh.  Next batch isn't much better I'm afraid.  Anyway, next week, another edition of Newspaper Comics, until then kiddies.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Touching Base #3

And back with another edition of Touching Base.  Starting with me.  I got surprised with another temp job on Tuesday.  I started Thursday.  I'd tell you how it went, but I'm writing this on Wednesday.  Looks like it's 40 hours, so I'll be sticking to the weekly schedule for a while. Good thing, I need time to generate some ideas for articles.  Only have a couple on hand at the moment and neither really "worked."

On to the comics!  At the top of the list is Gods and Undergrads which, as I mentioned last time, shifted it's entire archive to book form.  It also went black and white and, um, didn't really go anywhere.  I've decided to cease reading it.  One of the older strips on my read lists, I had to think carefully before pulling it, and it's time.  I've got enough comics that update far more frequently and are better than this one.

The Wotch is frighteningly quiet after the conclusion of it's guest story arc.  It's only been a month or so, which isn't terribly long compared to a lot of comics I read, but it makes me wonder if it is coming back.  Just have to keep my eyes peeled.

Charliehorse went on hiatus while Krazy Krow works on his new comic, Spinnerette.  I'm probably not going to review Spinnerette for a bit, but so far it has the same sense of humor as the rest of the Krakow group, though the main character comes off as far more innocent than I've seen before.  Nice change of pace.

Lowroad went on a hiatus.  No real reason given, but either he's switching to yet another storyline (it's on the third one now) or just needs a break from it all.  At least he said something.

Parallel Dementia is still on hiatus, though it sounds like he hopes to get back to it as soon as possible.  I hope so, I really like this comic.

Nobody Scores! is also on hiatus, blamed on idea burn out.  That's a lot of comic on hiatus.  I'm laying odds that one of them does not come back.

Count Your Sheep finally added another character, Squeak, er, Anthony.  Of course, for some reason it took far, FAR longer than it should have to crank it out.  The randomness of the strip's updates annoy me far more than it probably should.

And that's about it.  Next week will be another batch of old reviews and then probably another newspaper article.  Until then kiddies.