Friday, August 27, 2010

Wild Webcomic Review 111 - 115

Back for another batch of old reviews.  Hope you don't mind.

January 22, 2007 

111.  The Adventures of Dr. McNinja - Holy crap is this a funny comic. The concept is ridiculous, but the execution is so spot on that you can't help but crack up into fits of laughter. Everything is well done, and it is about as damn perfect as you can get. Why have I not read this comic sooner? WHAT IN GOD'S NAME IS WRONG WITH ME? Or you for that matter? HAVEN'T YOU CLICKED THE LINK BY NOW?!

TODAY - Still one of the most awesome comics on the net today.  NOW IN COLOR!  Go read this comic.  GO READ IT NOW!

112. Return to Eden - Sometimes you just have to take a chance on a comic, and this one needs it, especially give the massive warning set right at the beginning of the the archive. I imagine if you don't think you'll enjoy it because of that, you'll be wrong. Yeah, it's a little mangany (sometimes a little too much) but it does have an interesting perspective on Heaven and Hell and love and all that crap. Oh, and a bit of action, but not much, so far. If you're willing to go with the flow despite the warning, maybe. If not, well then you probably won't even bother to try. Mores the pitty.

TODAY - The story is on it's last chapter, and it's actually pretty exciting.  Oh, it's not action exciting, but "oh shit, the world is ending" exciting.  The warning at the beginning of the comic was, in the end, probably unnecessary.  Aside from some of the earliest stuff, almost nothing happened later on that required such a warning.

113. Hector! - I like where this comic is going, but figuring out how it got to where it is right now has been an issue. The backstory is, well, limited. That's not a bad thing (and I think it finally explained it, I just didn't get it all). The art style is pretty damn neat, (even when they switch artists and character sets after the first book), the humor is okay, and it might have a more interesting story as the thing goes along (not that it's not interesting, mind you, just I think it'll get deeper). I'll be watching this one for a bit, I think.

TODAY - Died shortly after this review, and I don't think it'll be coming back.  I heard somewhere that maybe it moved from the site I found it on, but I see no sign of it.  In retrospect, I don't think I'm as impressed with it as I had been, but that may be because it doesn't update.

114. Mango in Dreamland - This comic is probably too young to strictly judge, but it is strange and very, well, Japanese cutesy, if you get the meaning. Bad? Good? Hard to say. Odd, I think would be a good start, considering the main character has magical Kirby powers (the game Kirby), but hasn't even begun to explain why or how this came to be. I'll give you a better judgement after I read it for a bit longer.

TODAY - Died, and a shame too because it was pretty good in the end.  Real life, though is always more important than a comic.

115. Gone with the Blastwave - It's like Red vs Blue, only far more violent. They drop a tank on someone for pete's sake! And it was very funny. Oh so very damn funny. Welcome to the end of the world, now go read it.

TODAY - I would love this comic more if it updated more than once every 5 months (okay, it's on a monthly schedule now, apparently).  Long periods between updates make it almost intolerable.  At least it still updates.

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

Friday, August 20, 2010

They Call it Filler, Filler. . .

Wow, an article, must be something in the water.

Filler is a concept that I think really took root in the anime crowd.  Anime is often based on manga but since anime tends to move faster than it's source material, the studios have to do something until they can go back to the manga's main storyline.  This is filler, stuff used until the main story can come back into play.  It can be used in other places, including this blog (see last week), but is actually pretty rare outside of anime.

And webcomics.  It's actually funny that webcomics use filler because two of their common sources, comic books and newspaper comics, really don't.  Comic books either have such a convoluted story that "filler" doesn't actually exist or they just delay publishing until the comic books is finished.  Newspaper comics have something similar, called Sunday Comics, but it's less filler and more a second story line in many cases, and if an artist misses a deadline (VERY RARE) they simply run an older strip.

Webcomics, however, are different.  There are no set schedules, few webcomic artists actually make a living on their comics, and if they do have a schedule, they usually are running right along the deadline.  Thus comes the filler strips, comics that are usually noted as such and do something that is not artist like.

Filler comes in various forms, and I apologize now that I won't be including specific examples.  I'd have to dig through a lot of comics to do that, and I really don't have the time or energy to do so.  I'll at least point you toward some of the comics I've seen such filler in, if I can remember them.

The most common filler is the art post.  Sometimes it's just a sketch, sometimes something more, but always a random image taken from the artist's files.  Typically they aren't planned, though Sluggy Freelance has done it more or less consistently on weekends since moving to a five day a week schedule.  I actually think this is the best filler of the batch as the artist still gets to put art up, even if it isn't a comic, and it doesn't interrupt or derail an ongoing story.

Sketched pages of the comic are also a form filler, but less common than outright art.  A lot of reasons for this, mostly because many artists are perfectionists that would rather post nothing than something incomplete.  At the same time, there are those who don't mind, such as the artist for The Meek.  After each of his chapters, he posts (very quickly) the rough draft for it.  The situations are often very different and worth reading if you get the chance to see them.

At some point, the artist will take more than a day or so off, and instead replace the comic with a sub-comic.  Typically this will be in a simpler style (stickman) or just simply be different characters.  Getting away from the main story, even in the middle of one, probably acts as a relief valve for the artist, giving them time to organize their thoughts and notes on the next big plot development.  And probably helps the readers wind down a bit too.  I again point to Sluggy Freelance because he does it most often, though he does make an effort to have the breaks come between storylines, rather than within one.

Guest strips or guest art are the next phase of filler.  I often wonder if artists like guest art less for the fact that they don't have to draw anything, and more because of the ego boost it gives them.  It's scary though when the guest art is actually better than the original comic, and I wonder if that hurts the ego thing.  Still, that's rare enough that it doesn't come up much.  The Wotch is running another string of guest strips, though the reason why still evades me.

Question and answer strips fall in around here.  I suppose for the artist, Q&A gives them a chance to resolve story problems that the readers may have been having with the comic, but it is still filler as these answers could, and should, come in the main comic itself.  Other times, it's not actually Q&A, but more information dump, an attempt on the artist's part to explain things that they know instinctively at this point, but the reader doesn't.  Alpha Luna did this, and I consider it the worst part of the comic.  I know WHY it was done (there is no room for explination in the action scene that was taking place) but it could have been done in so many other ways.  Then, of course, there is Heart Shaped Skull's "Vicious Whispers" segments that are probably the most fun and creative Q&A sessions I've ever seen.  I think it helps that the questions cover just about everything, and at the same time resolve certain points of the universe for the main comic without it being so direct.

Filler is something that webcomics have to deal with because they often don't have a team of artists, extremely deep archives or even the ability to branch into alternate storylines. At the same time, filler is NOT all that common in the rest of the world, so webcomic artists would be wise to try to avoid it as much as possible.  Build up deep buffers of comcis, and if you must do fillers, at least get creative.

That's my thoughts anyway.  See you next time kiddies.

Friday, August 13, 2010

I Review a Book - Silver

What?  Book review on a webcomic review site?  Well honestly, I've been trying to work on an article about comic names since, um, March, and I can't get it to work.  So I need something else.  Plus, I like this book and I want to expose it to you.  So here you go:

Book Review: Silver by Edward Chupack

I've never read Treasure Island. Hell, the most I know about it comes from, of all things, Muppet Treasure Island. So it didn't occur to me that the book named "Silver" was related to it immediately. What attracted me was the black cover with the skull and crossbones. Then I read the tag line:

"My Own Tale, As Written by Me with a Goodly Amount of Murder."

Oh I had to buy this.

This is the purported autobiography of the quintessential pirate, Long John Silver, but if you think this is merely a retelling of the Stevenson's classic, you are very wrong.

The book starts by instantly dropping you into "Talk Like a Pirate Day: The Book." It's not as BAD as you might think, but you instantly know this is a pirate writing about pirate things. To read a book like that is so, different that it instantly hooked me.

The story is just what it says on the cover, the life of Long John Silver, how he got his name, and how he became a pirate to start, a story that began when he was like 12 or so. So yeah, Treasure Island is not going to show up for a LONG while.

What really stands out is the sheer realism of the piece. It's historical, rooting itself in history and setting of the period. While I'm not as versed in pirate matters as I could be, it does feel very real, and the impossible never seems to occur. I think the author took pains to make sure that what he wrote didn't seem to be pulled out of his ass, and set up each encounter and event as much as possible.

That said, he takes a great many liberties with the source material. The Treasure Island part of the book is most certainly NOT Stevenson's story, not by a long shot. Oh, they share characters and rough situations, but for the most part it is a completely different story, one that rolls better with the rest of Silver's story. At the same time, it is still the climax of the tale, and maintains it's importance in the grand scheme of things.

But if this were just a simple "autobiography" and retelling of Treasure Ilsand, it likely would only be just decent as a book. What makes it wonderful is that it's actually a mystery book, all built around the search for treasure. The mystery is presented as a series of clues and ciphers Silver sprinkles throughout his telling of his life.

In the end, the mystery is not WHERE the treasure is, but WHAT the treasure is. History buffs will likely catch on quick, but those like myself, likely won't. That doesn't really matter in the end, as Silver walks the reader through the clues step by step, like he's teaching it, and it turns out he is, after a fashion.

And the tag doesn't lie either, Silver kills a ton of people in this book, and speaks on murder and it's commission frequently and with loving detail. Still, none of this ever comes across as superhuman. He's smart as all hell, that's for sure, but often he doesn't seize on certain clues or acts until it's nearly too late. Once he knows, though, he plans quickly and executes just as well. The fact that he is captured at all is a mystery never really detailed beyond a certain point. He's not perfect, that's for sure, and it keeps him very human, and very interesting.

I happened across this book in the bargain section of Barnes and Noble, so if you happen to come across it, I recommend it. I suspect those who have read Treasure Island will be thrilled at the references that can be found, but fans of the original will be disappointed in the reworking of the original piece. For those of us who haven't read it, though, Silver is still damn good and enjoyable.

Next time, something to do with webcomics, I hope.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Newspaper Comics #6

When I started this string of articles, there were four comics that stood out as being most influential on webcomics.  The first two are Peanuts and Garfield, and I have already covered those.  The next two are probably more influential in the long run, even if their lifespans were far less than the first two.

Which brings us to today's comic.  This comic was so influential that it spawned many imitators in newspapers, let alone the innumerable attempts to replicate it in webcomic form.  In my paper alone there are at least 3 comics that can be called imitators, though each isn't nearly up to task for one reason or another.  Amongst the webcomics, I have continued to hunt for a replacement for this comic, but only one has ever truly come close, and it has been dead for a long, long time now.  What comic could do this?  The Far Side.

Gary Larson's The Far Side is not unique in terms of it's format, the single panel strip, but it's content is so different from what was found in strips before or after it that it remains a cultural milestone and practically unforgettable.  The uniqueness of the Far Side starts with the sheer lack of any regular characters.  Oh there are animals, especially cows, that all look the same, even the people often look the same, but none are given a name and are adjusted, as needed to fit the joke.

And the jokes were the reason for this lack of a regular cast.  While I don't have a picture perfect memory, I can't remember a single joke outright replicated only by changing a few words or lines (maybe a trouble brewing comic or two).  There are no running gags, aside from the afore mentioned cows I suppose, so each strip is different.  The result is what many call 'surrealistic' humor, but I just call funny as hell.  The unexpected became the norm with Far Side, and in the process it became memorable.

The Far Side was only published for a mere 15 years, starting in 1980, and yet is deep in the memories of many of the current crop of webcomic artists (the younger ones discover it early on anyway).  This creates a long standing influence as people try to replicate the experience with their own work.  The problem, of course, is that the Far Side had no set rhythm or beat, each strip was often very different from the previous one and with no characters to speak of, finding that element that made the Far Side great is, well, damn near impossible.  What it was, of course, is that Gary Larson has one hell of a twisted sense of humor and could spin almost anything into a joke, a talent most people do not have.

In newspapers, as I said, there are many imitators that try to latch on to some element of the Far Side thinking it will replicate it.  Of the three in my paper, one latches on to puns, another goes for the "weird" angle and the third kind of goes it's own path, but you can still see the influence.  The latter of the three is the best because it doesn't try to stick to whatever formula the Far Side is supposed to have, but still goes for the surrealist bent that Larson used.  At other times it replicates the last of my four most influential strips, but that's a subject for another time.

In the webcomic world, only one comic has ever managed to match the Far Side in my eyes:  The Parking Lot is Full.  It does the same thing the Far Side does, but never actually replicating the same joke twice (well, except for the last string of strips, but there was a joke of a different color).  It is still the first webcomic I ever read (and reviewed) and I still hold it as the standard that all comics must meet.  At the same time, it's still not quite as good as the Far Side.  I think it's the edginess that fails it in the end and the forced messages, something the Far Side never really got into.

Aside from PLiF, comics like Cyanide and Happiness and Edible Dirt come closest to the Far Side, but each never quite gets there, each going more for shock and edginess than even PLiF, and that was already beyond the Far Side.  Still, that doesn't mean others haven't tried to replicate the Far Side, and likely will continue to do so.  It is truly one of the great comics of all time, and it's influence will be felt for years to come.

I'm not sure what comic I'll do next time, but it certainly won't be my most influential comic because, well, I like holding on to those.  Of course if you haven't figured out which one it is, you need to smash your head against a wall for a while, because at this point it should be obvious.  Until next time kiddies.