Friday, October 28, 2011

Horror By Other Means

Last time I talked about horror. As I said last week, horror is a flexible genre, capable of taking on multiple personalities as needed.  In many cases, the "horror" element of the story takes a back seat to the other elements of the genre.  Horror then becomes less a genre and more a setting, which is what I'm going to talk about this time.

I have read a lot of comics that have horror elements, or a horror setting, but not actually what I would consider horror.  I look at suspense and mystery as an essential part of horror, with gore and scares being the final results of those two elements.  Most of the time, though, horror is less about those things, and more about, say, comedy.

Which brings me to the first comic I'd like to discuss, Eerie Cuties.  This is most certainly not suspense or mystery, but almost entirely played for laughs.  Yes, there are vampires, werewolves and even witches (until they moved to their own comic), but they are merely characters in the comedy that is Eerie Cuties.  There are SOME horror elements even with these characters, but they really take a backseat to the comedy.  I find that comedy and horror go very, very well together, but in this case it's more comedy than horror.  Nothing wrong with that, of course, and as a comedy it works pretty well.  The actual horror part of Eerie Cuties loses out in most cases to the comedy.

Further away from pure comedy is Conny Van Ehlsing, Monster Hunter, who leans more towards the horror angle, with actual monsters, but rarely goes into pure suspense.  How Conny deals with the creatures is very thoughtful and practical, but often the motivations of the monsters is rather silly and are put down rather easily.  Here we get more gore, less humor, but not strictly a lot of actual suspenseful horror.  The action, however, is much more prevelent here.

Then we get to Kristy vs the Zombie Army.  Comedy and horror go well together, as I said, so much so that some of the greatest horror movies are actually comedies.  Specifically, I'm thinking of the Evil Dead series, and Army of Darkness, which is where Kristy gets it's inspiration.  Like Army of Darkness, however, the comedy is merged more into action, and the fight with the zombie army takes up quite a bit of the early comic.  Of course, the fact that a little girl is carrying a giant chainsaw is enough to put a grin on anyone's face.  Though calling those zombies actual zombies is hard to do, they are kind of stylized.

Which finally brings us to the other end of the horror spectrum, action dramas, and Dead Winter.  Like the majority of zombie based, well anything, it is about action and killing or running from zombies.  Dead Winter is all about that, with the occasional bout with other humans.  There are tense moments, yes, but calling them horror would be a disservice to horror as a whole.  Doesn't mean Dead Winter isn't good, it is, but it's not strictly horror as I see it.

I've read other horror comics, of course, the direction of each being somewhere between comedy and action with only elements of horror in them.  From Choppingblock to Contemplating Reiko, the variety is there to be had, but I wouldn't call any of them true horror.

One day I hope to find one, until then, I'll just have to make due reading more Edgar Allen Poe and H.P. Lovecraft.  Until next time kiddies, happy Halloween.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Horror and Webcomics

Given the time of year, and the fact that I work in a haunted house (and am being paid to do it), I guess we should cover the topic of horror and how it relates to webcomics.

Horror is a weird genre, much like science fiction, it is more a mixture of other genres with a general theme to them.  Horror is about fear, generally, the generation of fear and the final snap that makes fear that exciting jolt many seem to love.

Horror and comics go way, WAY back.  Horror comics are even behind one of the greatest "corrupting our youth" over reactions of all time.  It took nearly 50 years to shed the results of that scare and free the comic book industry from it once and for all.

So webcomics should be able to handle horror really well, right?  Well, actually no, they can't.  At least not the way the majority of webcomics are currently structured.

Let me try to explain.  I used to set up a Halloween display every year until I moved to my current residence (I don't get trick or treaters here, sadly).  Now I never had much, really, but I structured it so what little I had went a long way.  The first thing people heard when they got on the street (within about 4 houses) was music.  Halloween music, of course, a mix CD I made using classic horror music and a few tracks I felt fit quite well.  As they got closer, they would begin to hear something else, sound effects.  I have a great CD of Halloween sound effects and right about the time they could see the enclosure where the display was, the sound effects began to leak out.

At this point they saw the graveyard, and began to see the lights from inside the enclosure.  As they got to the enclosure (I've used tarps and my porch alternatively), the music would fade back and be replaced almost entirely with the sound effects.  The CD player for the sound effects is always in the enclosure.  That's when the display came to full force.  A giant spiderweb on the wall, a skull with glowing eyes and smoking pouring out, pumpkins glowing in the dark, eyes lining the walls, spiders dangling from the ceiling, and in one corner, right next to the candy bowl, was me.

Dressed all in black, with a faceless mask and large gloves and sitting still, oh so very still.  Visitors had to know I was going to scare them, after all no one just lets people take candy.  So they came in anyway, slowly, knowing at any moment I was going to leap up.  I'd let them get closer, and closer until RAR!  Then I give them their candy and they leave.

The point of that?  All horror, all good horror, is built around a notion of suspense, the building of tension until the final scare.  Winding people up is an art in and of itself, and maintaining that tension par for the course.  Webcomics should be able to do this, but can't because of one thing that I have pounded on them for NOT doing:

They update regularly.  As in, they update once a week, twice a week or even every day.  One strip or page each update.  This allows all that tension the artist has been trying to build to be eased up between strips.

The best example of this is Flatwood, a comic that is long sense dead.  When I originally read the comic, I thought it was creepy and looking back on it, I think it was a really well done horror comic.  The art direction was near perfect for this kind of horror, unsettling being the word I used.  It also used gif images to give the appropriate "boo" factor.  The problem came after I finished the archive.  All the creepiness burned away when I had to wait a week between posts.  All the tension, the suspense of the comic was gone by the time the next update came about.  I doubt it would have worked even if it had updated daily, just too much time for the images to settle down.

The only other comic I would classify as horror that I've read is Nightmare World, and if memory served it still updated one page at a time, so it didn't quite pull off what horror comics need to do:  Update in short chunks.  Like City of Reality did for a time, whole chapter/story updates for horror comics seem to be a much better method than even the most generous update schedule.

That said, I'd love to be proven wrong.  Of course, what I consider "horror" for this article is different than what many people would think of, so I think we'll cover some ideas for horror next time.  Until then kiddies.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Wild Webcomic Reviews 150 -154

Hey, some old reviews.  It's been a while with these hasn't it?  No matter, FORWARD!

February 03, 2008

150. Gingerdead and Friends - Gothic cookie people and the things they do. It's different, but not what I would call great. Nothing's really wrong with it, but only the art style really sticks out, and that isn't that impressive. It's kind of like a watered down Reiko, but not really. At least it isn't horrible.

TODAY - Damn, I didn't even REMEMBER this comic.  That's how little impression it left on me.  Still updating though, a bit, but wow did I not remember anything about it.

151. leveL - All I could think while reading this is that someone played WAY too much Final Fantasy (7 or later), or the equivilant at least. Main character with amnesia and latent, but unexplored, magical like powers? Check. Girl with lots of attitude? Check. Terrible secret that secret agency within the government is trying to hide? Check. I could go on, but it would take a while, so I'll stop there. I actually put off reading this one for a while because of the animish art style (which in the first chapter isn't that great), but the art does improve and the story is at least mildly interesting, except for the bulk of Chapter 4 which has a lot of characters just talking about the world. Boring. Anyway, it's not bad, but not really great.

TODAY - The website for this broke a while ago, and didn't have any updates for a while, so I kind of wandered away from it.  The main page HAS been repaired, and redone.  And was last updated August of last year.  Yeah, I think this comic is definitely dead.

152. Luz: Girl of the Knowing - "The Knowing?" Yeah, that kind of threw me to, so I had to read it to find out. Turns out, it's one of those comics with a message, which basically comes down to "Globalization is bad, peak oil will destroy the modern world, learn to live without this stuff or YOU'LL DIE!" Okay, maybe I'm going a bit far with that, but it does seem to HAMMER its message into your skull in a way that is unpleasant. Now I'm a bit of a luddite myself, but this comic takes it all TOO seriously. Though it is funny when Luz realizes that chocolate might disappear and there isn't a damn thing she can do about it. I've got better things to read.

TODAY - Apparently there is now a book for this comic, as well as a stand alone graphic novel.  As much as I don't care for the comic, good for the artist for getting published.  Still not reading it, but that's me.

153. Teddy Bear Trauma - This is a comic about teddy bears doing HORRIBLE things to each other. Lots of violence and death, all done to stuffed animals. Seems the narrator of the comic didn't get that message, but you'll have to see that understand. Anyway, this is a fun comic, except for the interface. Flash, the whole thing. Not a fan of flash interfaces, give me html any day. It doesn't hurt the comic in the least, might even help it a bit, but makes navigating it a bit hard. It's worth the effort though.

TODAY - Yeah, still  a bit of a waste of flash, but the comic has been slowly updating, apparently.  No idea on when (flash interface prevents back dating things), but it's there.  When I was reading  Devilbear: The Grimoires of Bearalzebub for my last review, I thought back to this comic frequently, it's the whole teddy bears doing horrible things to each other idea.  The flash interface, again, encouraged me to not bother with the comic.

154. Just Another Escape - Many comics do flashbacks, some do flashforwards, but few do what Just Another Escape does and jumble the whole thing up into a ball and run with it. It even defines what is the past, present and future via artwork, just to keep things straight as it bounces around between the different time periods and tries to tell the story of the people of Rain House, a fancy college dorm. I think the best part is you KNOW it isn't just being made up as it goes along, and so there is some sense of a destination, which is what many comics (like leveL) sometimes lack. Is the story any good though? Well, it's kind of scattered and trying to figure out where everyone sits, and why things are happening the way they are is difficult to say the least. Probably the result of the comic being relatively young (less than a couple years). I'll be keeping an eye on it.

TODAY - I just did a retrospective on this comic.  Go read that to hear my final thoughts.

Wow, no comics in this one I still read, though the last one was by it's own hand.  That's kind of depressing.  Until next time kiddies. 

Friday, October 7, 2011

Wild Webcomic Review: Late As Hell Edition

No, it's impossible.  This can't happen.  It can't be!


Ten months and I'm ACTUALLY doing a new batch of reviews?  Well, yes, I am, so it's not impossible, just improbable.  Still, time for another batch of reviews, 5 for you, my lovely readers (both of you) to gawk at and wonder "why did it take you 10 months?"  The answer is:  I'm lazy.  Off we go!

221.  Leth Hate - Remember Lowroad?  Yeah, about the same thing.  It actually features the cute succubus character, Giselle, which was featured near the end of Lowroad's run, but the main character is Leth, who is the ultimate asshole that has been rejected by heaven and hell.  There is also a zombie.  The jokes are the same as Lowroad, lots of sexual innuendos that aren't very subtle at all, and things like that.  If you liked Lowroad, you'll probably like Leth Hate, and I kind of do like Lowroad.

222. Devilbear:  The grimoires of Bearalzebub - This comic has one joke, it involves teddy bears going to hell.  And that's about it.  The first "chapter" is very much about that, and it got old very quickly.  Later chapters picked up a bit as they became less about bears going to hell.  Which brings the only other focus of the comic:  scantily clad devil women posing.  They also have pillow fights, seriously.  And it does get a bit deeper, but the core "joke" of the comic remains.  It's weird, I feel like I should really like the comic's jokes, if I were 10 years younger, or more.  I've MADE these jokes before, but something about it just doesn't quite work.  I think there might be a good story developing out of it, what it means to be good or evil and such, but I'm not sure if it will come through that one joke that was old before the first chapter was over.  Not sure if I'll follow it just because of that.

223.  Marry Me - This comic could easily be a romantic comedy.  It's structured like one, has the same jokes and the same wish fulfillment angles that any proper romantic comedy has.  The story opens with one of the most beautiful and famous pop singers getting up on stage, pointing out a guy carrying a "MARRY ME" sign, and gets married, right there on the stage.  Things get weird from there.  It's fun to watch the wacky hijinks, but in the end, it feels like things were thrown at the wall, random events and encounters that get weirder and weirder.  And all this goes back to pointing out that the two main characters, the pop star and her husband to be, are pretty much the most perfect people there are.  It doesn't bother me too much in this case, the comic is very fantastic in structure anyway, but I can see that it could drive some people away.  The main story is Marry Me itself, with a secondary story starting at the end of the original, and hasn't updated since February.  Yeah, I know how to find them.  Fun to read, but I doubt it has any steam to last longer than the original story.

224.  Winters in Lavelle - The first vibe I get from this comic is Narnia.  I've never read any of those books, but I know enough about it to get that Winters has the same basic concept behind it.  It rather quickly becomes a bit more dangerous and complex than I think Narnia ever did, but then, I never read the books.  It's still pretty early, but the seeds of the comic's stars being WAY over their heads has been planted (almost literally).  I won't say the world is complex, but it has some interesting elements and I think I may follow it for a bit just to see where it goes.

225.  Trying Human - I once got to visit Roswell, NM, where that alien space ship that was really a weather balloon crashed.  This comic taps the myth of Roswell to bring a story that is actually about love, of all things.  And love triangles and all the problems that come with them.  I really found myself enjoying the story and how it was built.  It integrates flashbacks throughout, and makes them feel relevant to events in the present story.  A lot of comics might try to shove the flashback storyline in early and not make it relevant or forget about it later.  This one draws it out, giving us the information we need to know as we need to know it.  The art is pretty good, sometimes feels a bit more cartoony than it should, but it still works, especially the various alien designs.  I will definitely be following this one for a while, and I would suggest others do the same.

Well, that's it for this review session.  Will I actually manage to do another review before the end of the year?  Um, probably not, but you never know.  Still, I'll try to get one out before July.  Until next time kiddies.