Friday, January 27, 2012

Tightening Up the Story

In the writing of the end of Return to Eden, I mentioned how the story didn't exactly bloom until near the end.  Nothing wrong with this, of course, as I stated I somehow doubt the comic had this major story until near this point anyway.  If there is a story, though, what is the best way to tell it?  There are no hard or fast rules, and in fact if Return to Eden had been planned to develop the way it did from the beginning, I likely wouldn't find a fault in it.  Still, I do have some guidelines writers and artists should keep in mind while telling a story.

1.  Show don't tell.  I've covered the topic of show vs tell before, but in a visual medium like webcomics, showing should always be a priority.  It is harder than it looks, of course, or everyone would do it properly and it wouldn't be sung as a mantra.  This may mean breaking away from the main characters, or doing a flash back.  This is alright, don't be afraid of it.  Just don't over do it.  Which is the next guideline.

2.  Every word and panel is precious, don't waste them.  Make it count.  Whatever is written and drawn must have a point, and must be important.  Going off on a pointless tangent that has nothing to do with the main story is a waste of time and energy, not just of the artist, but of the reader.  There's also the double threat of either the tangent driving people away from the comic, or even worse, being vastly superior to the main story line.  Either would be a disaster for a comic.  Keep it important to the main story, even if it's not obvious right away.  And finally:

3.  Brevity is your friend.  In this era of the infinite canvas, there's a notion that there should be no limits at all to art.  That's not what the infinite canvas is for, it's for exploring things that would be harder to explore in print form.  Animations, multiple paths and the like are what the infinite canvas allows for, but that doesn't mean the pages should go on, and on, and on forever.  Each page should be quick and too the point.  No sense wasting extra time on things that mean little for the overall development of the story or a particular character.

This also helps keep the overall work load down.  Less time spent on drawing pages of fluff or writing unnecessary dialog means more time working on the important stuff, like showing what happened rather than telling the reader.

Nothing super complicated here, hope it helps.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Return to Eden Ends

Another comic comes to an end, but a complete end this time.  Return to Eden wraps up a rather long story that in the end I didn't expect to enjoy so much.  I knew the ending was coming, but I really didn't expect it to be here so quickly.

There are so many things that kept me interested in the comic.  The mythology of the comic proved to be, well, incredible.  Partially based on Biblical mythology, it twisted it in just the right way to make it feel unique.  As the comic got nearer the end, I got drawn further in, and found a world far more interesting, and far more human, than I might have expected before.

As I flip through the early chapters of the comic, I'm surprised at how improved the artwork got, while still retaining its style.  The sketchiness of the strips is there throughout, but by the end it proved more controlled and deliberate than the early ones.  There's also a certain level of "chibi" built into the comic's early strips, and that is all but missing in the later comics.  I think it's related to how serious things got near the end, and I appreciate that.

I also noticed there were far more colored pages early on as opposed to later in the comic.  In fact, one of the early key plot points was that the main character's eyes changed color.  Later on though, the number of color pages decreased dramatically.  Some of that is due to time constraints, I think, but also an increase in skill of the artist.  It didn't NEED to be in color any more.  That's a great evolution, though I do wonder what it would look like if it had gone full color instead.

In the end, the oddest thing about this comic is that there really wasn't a central villain until near the end.  Oh, it was a GREAT villain, but the revelation of who it was and why didn't come until the comic was almost over.  Makes me think that there wasn't much of a "plan" for the comic early on.  There may have been some vague ideas, but nothing serious.  At one point, there was even an apology for introducing a new, very important character in the last third of the comic.  The creation of that character, the villain, and the final conflict and story was all late additions to the overall comic.

One of the few faults is the cast:  They didn't have much to do at the end.  A couple were hard to differentiate from the each other, causing a bit of confusion along the way.  Still, the later characters are MUCH more memorable, and stood out in dress and design much better.  Some had arcs, but not many.  Even the main character really didn't have an "arc," she really just became a bit more mature as the comic went on, nothing more.

Even so, I enjoyed the comic for it's entire run.  I'm glad to see a comic come to a natural end like this, completing the tale and showing a true evolution in artistic skill and story telling ability.  There is a new comic in the works by this artist, and I will happily read it as well.  I think it might be really good.

Well, another comic down, but not for bad reasons.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Wild Webcomic Reviews 155 - 159

Another old batch of reviews.  Been busy this week, and we haven't had one in a while, so let's go.

March 21, 2008

155. Apophenia 357 - I don't think it's really a comic, more of an art concept. Take a bunch of spam, create a comic from them, then let the reader add the text. That's right, there's not a single word in the entire comic, which makes reading it a rather interesting experiance. It's on a kind of hiatus now, so I wouldn't expect anything new, but it is interesting, and trying to form a story, even if it's only in your mind, is kind of fun.

TODAY - I'm still not sure if this is actually a comic or not.  It's an interesting idea, at least, kind of wish there were others like it.

156. Ashita and Yesterday - This comic hasn't been updated since December, and that's not a big loss. Seriously, there's really no reason to read it. It's not strictly bad, I suppose, but there's nothing especially good about it. There's a story, but it's nothing you haven't seen before in a dozen other comics and it doesn't do it all that well. The art doesn't stand out either. I will say the first few strips make it seem more interesting than it is, because it falls of after that. I mourn many comics that stop updating, but Ashita isn't not one of them.

TODAY - Still dead.

157. Footloose! - This is a comic that is silly, self aware, filled with history (from another comic) and actually not badly drawn. Though I did find myself comparing it to a couple other comics that LOOK JUST LIKE IT. See Return to Eden for the most obvious comparision. Now, that doesn't mean it isn't good, it is pretty decent. It's kind of comfortable in that way. It's also a very girl comic. I've read enough of them at this point to pick that out and again, that doesn't mean it's not good, it just means the story plays to a certian beat, and after reading enough of them, it does get old after a while. I'll probably follow it for a bit, mostly because it does have that silly, self-aware humor I do enjoy so much.

TODAY - Still reading it and enjoying it.  It's gotten a little darker and resolved with a literal Deus Ex Machina.  Good read, I recommend it.

158. Jetpacks and Time Machines - This should be in newspapers. It reminds me of Calvin and Hobbes, okay? Reminds me, doesn't mean it is, but if this was in the paper, it would be my favorite strip. And if the curse of hiatus hadn't taken it, I'd follow it even now. There's a lot of great things about it, the characters, the humor, the art, it's all there. Will it update again? God I hope so.

TODAY - Dead, which is a shame.  Great ideas, lots of fun, but no staying power.  Oh well.

159. Roza - Of this batch of comics, this is the best. Hell, the only comic that comes close in the last few reviews is Dresden Codak, and it's a pretty even fight there. There's no exposition, you're just thrown into the current story and it's done with one of the best balances of art telling the story and dialog doing so as well. I really can't praise this one enough folks, it is damn good, double damn good, so go read it, alright?

TODAY - There was a brief hiatus and it's going to change a little to make updates quicker.  Which is good because it's a fun comic and I enjoy it.

Well that's kids, I'll see you guys later.

Friday, January 6, 2012

What's in a Name

Due to the sheer number of comic names I'm going to drop in this article, I will NOT be linking every single one.  Instead I refer you to The List for any comics you might want to check.  It's as updated as this past November 2011.  It should be noted that I started coming up with this article back in March of 2010.  This isn't the only one I hope to resurrect and revive.

There are so many attractors to a comic.  The art, a random strip, word of mouth, ads, links from other comics and the like all can pull different people into a strip.  However, I think one of the biggest factors in drawing someone in is the title of the comic.  There are a LOT of comics, and designing a title that will draw attention should be a high priority for any artist.  So here are my ideas on what can make a good title, though not necessarily.

Naming the comic after the main character is a pretty common practice.  Candi, Lizzy, Jeremy, Hector!, and Bruno are but a few examples.  The problem, of course, is that simple names like this can be easily confused with another comic.  Remember Jack?  Well, there is another Jack.  Different concepts, different comics, same name.  No, I haven't read the second Jack yet.

So when using the name, change it up a bit.  Sandra and Woo uses two names and The Adventures of Dr. McNinja and The Adventures of Wonderella both add the very generic "The Adventures of" to the name, but make it stand out (not that Wonderella or Dr. McNinja are very common, but still).  Others like Edge the Devilhunter or Connie Van Helsing, Monster Hunter add jobs to the list.

Some titles simply demand that you read the comic.  They're so over the top it's almost required.  Kristy vs the Zombie Army, Cleopatra in SPAAAACE!, Sister Clair:  Pregnant Nun, Holy Crap! and Anne Frank Conquers the Moon Nazis are but a few with these wild titles.  Each one screams "READ ME" and often they deserve it.

Worst comes to worst, the title can tell the reader exactly what the comic is supposed to be about.  The Best Band in the Universe, Worst of the Timelords, Here There be Robots, Shi Long Pang the Wandering Shaolin Monk, and The Teddy Bear Trauma all are pretty descriptive about what they are about, and rather creative too.

Sometimes, though, the title is too creative for it's own good.  leveL is specifically written backwards like that, but tells you little about the comic, and means little to the comic.  UnCONventional doesn't make sense unless you know what the CON part means.  Mad About U requires connecting the U to university, and the mad part still doesn't make sense until you read the comic.

Locations are a good source of names as well.  Wapsi Square, Templar, Arizona, Winters in Lavelle, and City of Reality are good examples of this.  In some ways they can be just as descriptive of the work as any other title.  Winters in Lavelle especially as the "Winters" part refers to the last name of the two main characters, but can also refer to the time of year they arrived in Lavelle.

There are some titles that are, um, too much for a comic.  A Lesson is Learned but the Damage is Irreversible is probably the longest title of any comic I've ever read.  It tells nothing about the comic and is just a pain to write.  Supermassive Blackhole A* is a strange title and not one that I think stands out.  More likely to confuse some poor physics undergrad student than attract a new readers.

The weirdest titles, though, are often reserved for the daily gag strips, or those that started as that.  Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, The Parking Lot is Full, Voices in My Hand, Cyanide & Happiness, Does Not Play Well With Others and even Sluggy Freelance all started as gag comics and all had some of the most interesting names.

And then there are the REALLY weird names.  Dresden Codak, Exiern, ReVVVelations, and 5ideways just to name a few.  Strange, but appealing on some weird level.

Of course, some titles go off the rails.  Exploitation Now shifted gears near the end of it's life so the title meant little to it.  Sluggy Freelance ceased being a gag strip long ago.  String Theory started about a scientist, now it's on a prison break.  Life of Riley got really strange near the end, and really wasn't the life of Riley any more.

A good title can, and will, be the driving force behind visiting a comic or not.  A simple, but intriguing title should be the goal.  Take Blip for example.  So simple, so short, so interesting, you almost have to check it out to know what it is.  The Adventures of Superhero Girl tell you everything you need to know about the comic, but still make you want to read it to see who Superhero Girl is, and what her adventures entail.  Spinnerette stands out as a name very quickly, is easy to remember and oddly simple to spell (seriously, I keep checking that I spelled it right and I always have, go figure).  Girl Genius, Gunnerkrigg Court, Punch 'n Pie, The Call of Whatever, Dreamland Chronicals, hell, even Penny Arcade has a simple, easy to remember name and it keeps people coming back, spreading it around and encouraging others to read it.

Oh there still need to be good art, good story, good humor, good drama or whatever, but a good title acts as the first attractor and I've put more links into my Future Read list simply based on the name than anything else.  Something to consider.

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