Friday, April 29, 2011

DeviantArt Comics

I was going to continue the discussion about characters, but I'm hitting a bit of a wall here, so let's talk about something else instead.

I read a lot of comics from a lot of different places.  Comicsgenesis, Keenspot, webcomicsnation and more often independent websites, but one source I don't cover much is DeviantArt.  In fact, I've only ever reviewed one comic on DeviantArt, The God Machine, and I don't read it anymore (due to various states of hiatus it's been on over the years).  There are comics I do occasionally follow that are on DeviantArt, but I don't review.  Why is that?

I suppose the hardest part is actually linking to the site.  The God Machine is a bit easier, but many comics are buried in subdirectories of the art page.  Not impossible to link, but difficult.  In other cases, the comic is interspersed with the regular artwork, and reading JUST the comic becomes even more difficult.  There are some tricks I've noticed that help this, mostly by including self added "Next" and "Last" buttons to the artist comment section of the individual post.  Sometimes, though, these are broken, or pointing to the wrong place.

Another thing that keeps me from doing more is DeviantArt's "mature" settings, which will only people with accounts on DeviantArt can actually see.  This means I can't generally recommend a comic because they may not have an account and thus can't view it.  That can really hamper the enjoyment of a comic if you have to sign into an account to view it.  I don't think any of the comics I've reviewed (God Machine excepted) has any kind of system that requires that, and in fact I outright avoid paid site because, well, I'm poor.  At least DeviantArt is free and you can go search for all the naked lady pictures you want, because that's art!

Which brings up the final, and biggest problem with having a comic on DeviantArt:  The mods.  I can respect that the site is trying to cover it's legal ass.  And while I don't like it, at least if a comic on another site goes down I can chalk it up to either the artist not paying the bills or getting a rod up their ass over something.  DeviantArt, however, seems to have a rather arbitrary system for pulling art.  They can, have and will, randomly pull artwork on the slightest of whims or the mildest of complaints.  This means a comic, with hundreds of strips, could lose quite a few, deleting them outright, for relatively minor infractions (or none at all, depending).  This third party could potentially ruin a comic with a casual thought, and that drives me bonkers.

They'll claim that it violates the TOS for the site, that they're doing it to protect everyone and all that and I get it, I do.  The problem is that what that violation actually is can vary from person to person.  I'm fine with seeing naked boobies in a comic, others aren't.  I do agree that explicate sex might be a bit much, but others may disagree.  Keep in mind there are dozens of mods on DeviantArt, and you can see where the problems can start.

So I don't review comics from DeviantArt, though I have read more than a few.  I can't trust them to be there tomorrow, let alone long enough for a review of them, or even to finish reading them.  I have one DeviantArt comic I'm following right now, and it's basically a fan comic based on the Legend of Zelda.  It's an interesting take on the Ocarina of Time, and I do enjoy it, but I can't give a review because it may just get taken down with little warning or reason.

If you want to do a comic, put it on Comicsgenesis or something, stay well away from DeviantArt, unless you're posting character sketches and such.  That's just fine, and probably where they should go anyway.

Next time, I hope to get back to the character thing.  I just need to figure out how to word what I'm thinking.  Later Kiddies.

Friday, April 22, 2011

The Don'ts of Character Creation

So last time, I dealt with should be done when creating characters.  Today, things that should be avoided.  I'm also going to issues the Zeroth Rule of Character Creation.

0.)  If you can get away with it, ignore all of this.  It may sound odd in a list of things that shouldn't be done to say "ignore this," but there are times when creativity demands it.  Sometimes it just fits and feels right, and other times it simply makes the statement the story demands.  If it works, do it, but be warned that it doesn't always.  Which brings us to the first don't.

1.)  Don't ignore these rules simply because they can be ignored.  Every choice in a character's design MUST be justified by more than "it's my character, I'll do what I want."  Otherwise the character will come out as shallow as their creator.  If the design simply violates these rules simply because, then the character is a joke by design and will be ridiculed as such.

2.)  Avoid basing the character design on a single physical trait.  Specifically things like race, gender and sexual orientation.  Characters should always built as characters first, then given that major trait.  It should never define the character, how they react or whatever.  Starting with these traits often means building on a set of stereotypes, or even a distorted version of those stereotypes.  Homosexuals will be flaming gay, women will act like little girls and black characters will be gangstas, few of which are true in real life and will make the characters seem shallow and uninteresting.  Also, don't just put these traits on them to make a group of character politically correct.  It won't help and will be very obvious.

3.)  Don't settle for single ideas for a character.  The funny one, the smart one, the stupid one, the pretty one, etc, etc.  These are good STARTING points, but should never be the final definition of them.  They are handy during initial creation, giving a general tone to each character, but go beyond them.  Settling for these simple ideas is a sign of laziness.

4.)  Don't reuse body/head types and just change the hair.  Okay, there are exceptions here, like if the art style limits it, but given that webcomics are a visual medium, USE IT!  Simply swapping out hair between characters that would all be the same otherwise is lazy.  Make every effort to make the character designs unique.

5.)  No unrealistic relationships.  I'm not talking about romantic relationships, I'm talking generational relationships.  Sometimes having the villain be the father's brother's nephew's cousin's former roomate just doesn't work.  Relationships between family members is even more difficult to regulate than friendships, and need to be considered very, VERY carefully before implementing major changes.  Don't just do it for the shock value, the results will be confusion and disappointment.

6.)  Don't make the character perfect. Welcome to the Mary Sue section of this list.  A Mary Sue is a character that is "perfect."  They're never wrong, even when it seems they're wrong, they are loved by everyone, even their enemies.  They are exceptionally humble, to the point of ridiculousness, and the universe bends over backward to make sure it goes they way they want.  And the real scary part?  EVERYONE has made one, often more than one.  I know I have.  It's hard to avoid.  The old adage of everyone being the hero of their own story transfers easily into fiction, and everyone who creates fiction, creates themselves first.  Removing perfection is very, VERY hard, and requires a great deal of sacrifice and thought.  There are no right answers for doing it either.  Hard choices must be made, but the story will often be better in the end.

7.)  Don't make the character completely imperfect.  This is the opposite problem from the Mary Sue, and often the over reaction to being called out for creating one.  The result is a character who can't do anything right, is hated by everyone etc, etc.  A character with SOME flaws is good, one with ALL flaws is bad.  Redeeming qualities need to be natural though, so don't just tack them on.

8.)  Don't make a cast of jerks.  We all know what a jerk is, and a cast of them is a big no-no.  The reader needs someone to cheer for, and a cast of jerks fails there.  Yes, there can a couple of jerks, but a full cast of them is a bad move and will lead to a failed comic.  It should be noted that often the best character can be a jerk, but it takes a lot of skill and practice to do it right, and the rest of the cast must be decidedly not jerks to pull it off.

There are more, of course, not that I can think of them all at once.  It's better to stick with the do list more than the don't list, because there's more flexibility there.  Next time, I'm going to try to cover a more interesting dynamic that characters have.  Maybe.  We'll see, next time kiddies.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Do's of Character Creation

There are a lot of elements that go into making a good comic, art, story, dialog and, if you can't tell by the title of this post, characters.  Creating a good character is actually a pretty tricky proposition, and it's even harder to try to tell someone HOW to make a character without rattling off a long list of "don't do this" and "don't do that."  I think the reason is that it's easier to make and pick out bad or boring characters than it is to make a good one.

So I tried to come up with a list of what to "do" when creating a character and it is VERY hard to do without saying "don't do this" in the same sentence.  I probably failed at that anyway, but let's take a crack at it.  And no, I didn't start everyone with "do."  That would be silly.

1.)  Characters should be distinctive.  They need to be easy to identify in some way, and be able to separate them out from the rest of the cast.  With comics, the artwork can do much of the work here, and if you want some more details, go read Indistinguishable from Magic, the blog from the artist of Dresden Codak for more.  He's got pages of it.  That's not the only way of doing it, the character's dialog and speech patterns can help as well.  The important thing is to make it easy for the reader to pick out a character without knowing anything else about them, even their name in some cases (though knowing the name helps, a lot).  There are some pitfalls here, but I'll cover them next time.

2.)  Characters should have a motivation.  Everyone has a goal or desire they wish to fulfill, and these should direct their choices and actions throughout their lives and the length of the comic.  Sometimes these decisions and actions will seem out of place and that's fine, as long as the character has a reason to seek it out.  The more rash the decision or action, the better the explanation for why the character did it should be.  The best part:  one character's motivation can power entire storylines, or even a whole comic.

3.)  Characters should grow.  Static characters aren't a bad thing, but they are boring.  Just flip open your daily newspaper and read the comics and you'll see a massive cast of static characters, many who haven't changed in any significant way in decades.  As the world in which they live changes, the characters should change with them.  Some are going to react poorly, but that should be natural and to be expected.  Growth also means letting characters go, whether by sending them away or by killing them, as long as it's done with purpose, it adds to growth.

4.)  Characters should have flaws.  Now that might sound like another way of saying "don't make the character perfect," but that's not the case.  When one is told that phrase, they decide to simply pile on random flaws to the character, often without thinking how it works with their personality.  Flaws, real flaws, have meaning for the character in some way.  Let's go back to the motivation thing, what prevents the character from achieving their goals?  It could be a personal flaw, and a goal to overcome with growth in some way.  Good flaws can make a character memorable and possibly make a comic great.

Short list, and I'm sure I could think of more, but not without crossing the "don't" divide.  So I guess I'll cross the line for next time, hopefully.  See you then kiddies.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Wild Webcomic Reviews 136 - 140

Here we are, another batch of old reviews for you to view.  Mostly because I have an idea for another series of articles, but, um, I finally installed Fallout 3 and have been kind of distracted. . .

March 14, 2007

136. Nothing Nice to Say - Another resident of the "I don't know what's going on but it's good anyway." It's about punk, the music and culture, and I know next to nothing about it. Which means most of the jokes go completely past me. But, like the Whiteboard (a paintball comic), it doesn't focus all it's humor power on just punk references, and when it does it tries to present them in a way that it's still a real joke. Enjoyable for that, but it hasn't updated since January, so I don't know if it's dead or just on hiatus (seems to go through that if you look through the archives).

TODAY - It updated a bit after this review, then died.  Probably won't update again (It's been almost 3 years at this point).  I really don't remember much about it, so it didn't leave much of an impression.

137. The Broken Mirror - It's a novel they're turning into a comic. A rather lengthy novel at that. It's a bit wordy because of this (less action, more narration that probably necessary), but it also has barely begun (DON'T read the character section as some of the characters haven't even been introduced yet!). Might be worth reading for a bit, seeing where this all goes, then making a decision on whether to keep reading it to the end.

TODAY - Dead and gone.  I've heard that the author of the comic (not the artist) got into a tiff with some people critical of their work and then the site just vanished.  May be a coincidence, but who knows. It had some decent ideas and I think it could have gone somewhere, but it didn't and now is gone for good.

138. Punch an' Pie - Speaking of comics that have just started, here's one with only 5, count them, 5 strips. That's it. That's the whole comic (it's why I had to dig out another comic for this review). Is it good? Hell if I know, IT ONLY HAS 5 STRIPS! Looks like it could be though. Good idea to start this one early, you might be reading it for a long time.

TODAY - Five strips when I started reading it, and I never stopped.  This is still one of the better relationship style comic I've read.  It's had some twists and turns over the years but it feels like it's grown rather than just continued on.  This is one of those comics I really need to do a full review on some day.

139. The Dreamland Chronicles - I've reviewed many comics (139 now), and most are hand drawn, a few are built with old sprites, and nearly all of them have some level of computer graphics work done to them before they're posted. That said, this is the only one that is completely, 100%, 3D rendered. It looks like those Pixar movies, so when they don't move, it's really creepy looking. I'm serious on this. Is the comic good? Well, it reminds me of something I wrote when I was 9 years old, only they're trying to make it a bit more mature. Not a lot, but a bit (the main character is in his 20s, which is important to the story actually). I don't think I'll be following it any more, but it's probably because I outgrew it a long time ago. You might like it better.

TODAY - Still updating, I'm still not reading it, but it looks like (from the two strips I checked) that it may be nearing it's natural end.  Could be wrong on that, of course.

May 21, 2007

140. The Book of Biff - Biff learns a lot of lessons in this comic. A LOT of lessons. And what the hell is up with his eyebrows? It's got funny moments and certianly keeps me entertained. But still, eyebrows. . .

TODAY - It's a daily strip that keeps me coming back because of, well, weird stuff.  It's not the best daily strip I read, but it's good enough to keep my attention.  Those eyebrows are still weird.

Enough for this week.  Hopefully next week I won't be as distracted.  Hopefully.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, April 1, 2011

A Splash of Color

While writing my nominations post, an interesting point came up when I started to pick the Black and White Art nominees:  Most of the best art wasn't strictly black and white.

Oh, they were MOSTLY black and white and that was enough to get them nominated, but two of them had a splash of color here and there.  The reasons vary, of course, but they stood out well against the black and white that dominated the strip.  So why the color?  What purpose does it serve?  Well, let's look at some examples.

The earliest one that I can recall reviewing was Krakow 2.0.  The comic is almost completely in black and white, except for the main character.  She had bright yellow eyes.  Why?  I suppose it was supposed to be a cool thing, but I think it was more to make her stand out.  Honestly, Krow's characters pretty much look the same, having similar character designs and facial structures.  With yellow eyes, Marlith stood out in a crowd and helped the reader pick her out when in disguise.

Serenity Rose does much the same thing with Serenity, but not quite.  Yes, she has a shock of blue hair that helps her stand out, but that's not where the color is restricted.  It often comes up when Serenity puts her magic to use, typically with bright green.  In fact, Serenity's hair color is the result of her magic, and that leads me to wonder if perhaps that's part of the point of the color.  To Serenity, whose perspective is the basis of the comic, her powers are more "real" than the rest of the world.  This makes the color mean more in the comic than in Krakow 2.0 where it was just a marker.  It visually highlights the important things to the reader, and sets a divide in the world of Serenity Rose.

Which brings me to Dead Winter and the way the color is used there.  There are a few full color strips, but those are defined as dream sequences, so okay, that works for me.  The main comic, however, has a splash of red.  Two splashes specifically, on Black Monday Blues, resident bad ass assassin, and Liz, the heroine.  Unlike Krakow 2.0, the color isn't necessary to differentiate the characters from the rest of the cast as the designs are unique enough, but given the nature of the strip, with lots of actions scenes, it does help pick them out in a quick pass.  I don't think that's why it's there, but I'm still not completely sure WHY it is there at all.  I suppose there are hints of a coming conflict between the two and the color might be part of that, but it's not definite, especially with the situation at hand.  Perhaps it means something more, something we have yet to see.

That simple splash of color also makes the black and white art pop more.  Straight black and white can be gorgeous, yes, but that simple highlight of color can also change the entire message and meaning of the strip.  Serenity Rose would be a completely different strip without the color added to it, and possibly not as good looking in the long run.  Dead Winter might be about the same, but I wonder on that and Krakow 2.0 would be almost unfollowable with out it's splash.  A good dash of color can mean a lot.

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