Friday, April 24, 2015

Not-So-Wild Review: Wapsi Square

I think I might dedicate this year to Retrospectives and Not-So-Wild Reviews.  So with that in mind, let's look at a comic that's been on my list for a while but I rarely talk about it:

Wapsi Square

I have quite a bit to say about this comic.  Not much of it is going to be positive, but keep in mind it is on my read list, so don't get up in arms yet.


As part of writing long reviews like this I go to about and cast pages, to refresh my memory, and when there's a comic as long lived as Wapsi Square (started in 2001) that's a lot of stuff to remember.  So I click the link and am given THIS.  I know older comics like this have big casts, but usually they try to make cast lists, summary pages and the like accessible, but this, this is going to require a whole article to dissect what's wrong.  So let me get beyond that for a bit.  Despite having such a massive cast, most of the characters are fairly well defined.  They have their own foibles, traits and such, and for the most part are easily distinguished from each other.

There are still issues, of course.  While each character has their own arc and personality, the side characters often don't get enough time to develop.  Those that do get very strange developments.  Shelly, for example, starts as just another girl, though she enjoys working in her dad's auto shop and is "freakishly strong."  That's fine for a friend character, then she turns out to be part sphinx because. . . I have no idea.  It spoiled her as a character, and in fact EVERY character seems to have to have some kind of paranormal connection.  It was fine when it was Monica (original main character) who had this weird touch, but when everyone is doing it, it doesn't feel special or interesting any more.  This is even more true with the "New Wapsi Square" cast who are all basically monsters.  Atsali is half incubus, half siren, her adopted sister is a living collection of plants, her friends are werebears, etc etc.  It just lacks a solid anchor in the "real" to make all this fantastic stuff stand out.  It's kind of a shame.  Oh, and there is one other thing. . .


The art isn't bad, really.  Simple in many ways, but not bad.  Characters all have distinct looks and can generally be identified against each other.  There is a tendency to have very large mouths vs heads, but that doesn't break the comic.  That said, it seems Paul Taylor is kind of limited to drawing, well, women.  The majority of the cast is female, often more than well endowed and always projected as being better looking than the comic can really give them.  It really runs the line that the comic is about fanservice more than story, character or art, which may or may not be an issue for many.  The larger images of the last half of the comic's life make this even more prominent as the backgrounds often take a backseat to the characters, who are huge vs the size of the panels.  I don't feel ashamed to read the comic as it is, the characters aren't pushed too far into the fanservice side of the spectrum to cause a distraction, but it's clear that's the general intent.  I have seen much better art, but I have also seen much, much worse, which makes it just kind of average in the long run.


Wapsi Square has a problem when it comes to story.  I've talked about it before, even if it has been a while.  The problem is show vs tell, and tell wins in most cases with Wapsi Square.  This isn't a new development either, it's prevalent from the beginning.  The characters love to talk to each other, and the action is very limited so it almost appears to be a just talking heads the entire time.  Sometimes it is necessary, but other times it hurts the overall story.

A good example is actually one of the recent storylines where Atsali went to talk to other members of the cast about an incident at the pool where the conservatively dressed Atsali was accused of dressing too sexy.  Of course she's a half-siren with boobs the size of basketballs, so that fits, but it is part of Atsali's overall body image problems and young age, and as a plot point, it's actually quite interesting.  Except that we, as the readers, NEVER SAW THE INCIDENT!  We are only told about it during the discussion.  On top of that, the most recent events included Atsali barely surviving the detonation of an anti-matter bomb, and finding one of the other cast members had committed suicide.  Either of those two events could have triggered a similar discussion, but instead the comic focuses on one that happened off panel.

This is only the most recent issue with the way the story is told, but not the story as a whole.  Some of the plots, including the first half dominating "Calender Machine" plot are quite interesting, and even witnessing Atsali adjust to her new body and how others relate to her is intriguing on a personal development level, but often we're forced to hear the characters tell each other what happened rather than watch it happen, which would be far more effective.  I have seen commentary that the fact that Paul sticks with 3 panel strips as being the root of the problem, and I disagree as it can be done effectively, I've seen it in Wapsi Square itself no less.  But the increased size of the panels, while it makes the art bigger and feel like they have more room, also leaves more room for dialog, exasperating the already existing problem of the characters talking too much.  With so much dialog it's easy to get lost in the events, to the point that I have been more than lost in a few occasions.

Finally there is a large number of smaller stories always going on.  That giant cast page I linked near the top isn't just about the cast, only 10 pages or so are, but almost 60 pages are dedicated to charting out the hundreds of minor plotlines and stories.  Even the recent stories seem to bounce back and forth between events, adding to the confusion on what's going on.  This lack of focus is just another element of the myriad of problems with the comic.


So it pretty much looks like I spent the bulk of this review saying how bad a comic Wapsi Square is, but the thing is, I still read it.  Every comic on my read list I recommend on some level or another, and Wapsi is no exception.  Why?  Well, when it does get things right, I'm very satisfied.  The recent suicide event I mentioned lasted maybe 5 strips, if that, and was exactly what "show" means.  The characters, despite their massive numbers, at least have different personalities, and often act in accordance to them.  The art, while not stellar, at least conveys the emotions necessary for each character to carry, and when it must relate action or show the story, it can and does.  The comic's many failures are often offset by successes, and as a whole I come away still enjoying the comic.  It's not great but it's not really awful.  I would say it's okay in general.  Perhaps if I was closer to my 100 read strip limit, Wapsi would be near the line to be cut, but there are enough comics that are even closer that it won't go anywhere any time soon.  So yes, read Wapsi and if you can get past it's issues, you might find a decent comic to had to your own list.

Next week, I'm going to talk about that damn cast page.  Oh god, will I talk about that cast page.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Retrospective: Perchance to Dream

Eight years ago.  That was when I read this comic.  Seems like a lifetime and I'm surprised it's still up, but that's a good thing, because this is one of the better comics I've ever read.

I wrote back in my original review that I wanted to rewrite Perchance to Dream.  It struck something with me and I really remembered it reading through Namesake, thus why I did that article last week.  My first thought, after conceiving of that article, was that maybe I should re-read it.  I braced myself because 8 years is a long time, and despite my memory, I kind of figured it would be disappointed in it.  I discovered not only otherwise, the comic is still pretty good, but also that I didn't want to rewrite it as much anymore.

Why I wanted to rewrite it is still clear, I want MORE.  More to the story, more to the attempt to save the world from imminent collapse.  I wanted to learn more about the world as it moved past the bounds of the fairy tales they were based on, and see Rin become even more of her own person.  I want to know what Wonderland under the iron fist of Queen Alice is like, or watch the pirate town grow, prosper and collapse.  I want to know all these things.

At the same time, though, I understand why there isn't any more.  Time begins flowing strangely almost from the get go.  It's outright stated that no location is more than 5 minutes from the next, but I suspect that it only applies to the traveler.  So when Rin gets lost leaving Wonderland (it's not quite clear in the comic, but defined in the commentary), a GREAT deal of time goes by, long enough for the pirates to build a town and Wendy and Peter to have a child.  It also means that the world takes far longer to collapse than it seems.  But everything is from Rin's point of view, so the world collapses in 3 days to her.

That time skipping, and the world in general, makes since as this is a dream world.  But it is also a tragic story as it all starts when a girl dies.  It's not quite stated why she's dying, though it's hinted that she might have committed suicide.  Or perhaps it was merely an accident, again, unclear.  But in death, Catherine creates a dream world to inhabit based on her favorite books, The Jungle Book, Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland.

Not the real ones, her versions of them.  So the characters aren't quite right, the worlds aren't quite true, and some pieces are missing (especially Mowgii from the Jungle Book).  I think they're more based on the Disney versions as well, which means it's just a bit further from the original stories.  From these roots, though, new characters grow.  Smee isn't quite the same, changing quickly as Catherine's influence leaves the world, to the point that he's different the moment we meet him.  All the characters are different, changing quickly as the girl dies and the world falls apart.

The twist on those worlds is the real draw to me, and watching the various characters change and grow into their changed worlds is where the entertainment lies.  It's the reason I want more, and I could easily see this comic lasting a very long time, rather than the scant 3 years.  Even at the end, with the survivors of Catherine's world escaping into the unknown, there is more story to tell.  Maybe I could work on a sequel instead of a straight up rewrite.

That said, I didn't say it in my original review, but there are two other comics here.  The second is a short comic called "Single Vampire" which has less story than the other two, or much of a story at all.  Reminds me a bit of some of the odder comics on Kiwi's By Beat.  Then there's "The Girl with the Golden Hair" which is a quasi-fairy tale, but doesn't finish with the moral of the story, it just stops.  And with it, the comic as a whole.  Both of the last two stories are interesting, but don't really compare to Perchance to Dream itself.

I find I respect the way the story flows in the comic more now than I probably did when I first read it.  I think the pacing is pretty good, there's just enough information to make one thirsty for more, without being strictly frustrated by it (maybe a little frustrated occasionally) and it hits the right emotional notes throughout.  The final sequence is probably the best part as Cathrine's memories, which have taken a physical, if shadowy form, save the last of her creations, but are lost in doing so.  It's fitting.  I do wonder what the author and artist (two people) are doing nowadays, if they have another comic, if they even REMEMBER this comic.  I could do some googling, but I think I'll just enjoy this comic for as long as I can.

Next week maybe a Not-So-Wild Review of a comic that I need to parse out a bit.  Maybe.  We'll see.  Until next time kiddies.

Friday, April 10, 2015

What's in a Namesake

In last week's reviews I made a lot of references to past comics, and in fact each of them reminded me of at least one other piece of fiction I've seen, read or, well I'll get to this last one.  This isn't uncommon really, especially as I've been reading a lot of comics and consciously or not, I tend to make comparisons.

Namesake, however, activated multiple comparisons.  Not just one or two, but a four of them, all at the same time.  I won't claim it's a record, but I couldn't help but make the comparisons quickly and early.  I should note none of these are BAD comparisons, in fact they made me like the comic all the more.

The first comic I started comparing it too was based solely on the art, and that was an odd reminder of Demonology 101, and the rest of Faith Erin Hicks' work.  Oh, it's different, and cleaner than some of those older strips (Demonology 101 started in 1999, 16 years old at this point), but I think it was the noses that led the comparison.  I don't know why, but those roundish noses were amongst the first things I noticed artistically.  I wonder if it's a Canadian thing as both artists are from there.  That's just a surface comparison though, so don't read much into it.

Do read a bit more into No Rest for the Wicked though as it's a damn good comic.  Namesake reminded me of this by doing much the same thing, bringing out the actual stories of the works being referenced.  Often the "Disneyfied" versions of fairy tales and stories gets remembered because it's easy but they aren't exactly accurate.  Both comics go out of their way to remind the reader that those fairy tales are, in fact, far meaner, crueler and bloodier than anything Disney has ever presented.  Namesake directly reminds readers of this by comparing the ACTUAL Wizard of Oz vs the movie we all know too damn well.

Which brings me to the next leg of my comparisons, and that is to Perchance to Dream, a comic I haven't talked about in a long, LONG time.  The reason is the forward direction.  While Oz and Wonderland are both talked about at length in Namesake, the original stories are spoke of in the past tense.  Yes they happened, but they happened in the past.  Oz and Wonderland have moved on from there.  The worlds aren't static.  Perchance to Dream had the same thing, though this was a world where things were static and only became free after the start of the comic.  Then things went to hell, but that's for another day.  I like moving the fantasy world forward, it makes it less just a story and more a world, and Namesake does this in spades.

But the biggest comparison I can make, especially with the archive dive complete, is not to a comic at all but to a game:  The Longest Journey (Let's Play linked).  The comparisons are actually pretty deep here.  A young girl (Emma isn't quite as young as April, but they're close) discovers she has the ability to visit another, fantastic world, only to be embroiled in a conflict between two opposing factions, with a role in the conflict greater than she ever initially imagined or is told.  It's not a point for point comparison of course, but they are amazingly similar, and I wouldn't be surprised if the writer was partially inspired by the game.

Being inspired is not the same as ripping off, because Namesake is it's own story.  The twists and turns are very different, the overall plot is different, but the journey, well, that's really similar.  I suppose that's more the standard heroes journey type thing, so it can't be faulted there.  Still, I love the Longest Journey and being able to find a comic that does something very similar, without being the same, is a wonderful thrill and probably increased my enjoyment of the comic far more than it otherwise would have been.  This is why I don't find any of these comparisons to be bad, because I enjoyed each of the other works and this is more of what I like.  Honestly all this means is that I'll be reading Namesake for as long as it updates.

Next week kiddies, I think I need to do another retrospective.  Until then.

BTW, spring did come last Friday, then it snowed Saturday and Sunday.  Freaking weather.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Where is Spring Wild Webcomic Review

Seriously where is. . .


No, spring, where is spring?  Why is there snow on the ground?  WHY IS IT STILL SNOWING!?

Eh, fine, I guess instead of getting answers I'll finally crank out another batch of reviews.  Yes, more comics to add to the great list, and fill in the gaps for a few comics that have ended.  So let's see what I've got.

271. Black and White Comic - Another entry in the "blog" comic category, but it seems lacking.  I suspect it's partly because it is a weekly gag strip, but doesn't have the punch to pull it off.  There are good weekly gag comics but this one isn't hitting in that weight class.  The jokes probably wouldn't be too bad in a daily or even 3 day a week format, but weekly there seems to be a lack of effort for both the jokes and the art.  I guess it's not really bad, but it isn't really all that good either and I probably won't be following due to that lack of density.

272. It Hurts! - My first impression of this comic was that it looked kind of stupid.  Then I started reading it and realized that was on purpose.  Then it began to remind me of The World Explodes (can't read it any more, but trust me on this) as it took a series of stupid ideas and actually built, well, a story with them, and not a bad one really.  Well, it's still kind of stupid, but the fun kind of stupid and the story, while not a masterpiece or anything, at least is entertaining.  I was surprised by this and likely will be following this comic for some time.

273. Legends of Whoelterran - The first thing that stood out was the art for this comic.  While the more recent strips are better, it still looks like it has been done in MS Paint.  I think if you gave the artist a Wacom and Photoshop, the comic would look quite good as there is a lot of movement and animation in the characters and designs, but at the same time tools I think are holding it back.  As for the comic as a whole, it's a High Fantasy comic, with swords and sorcery and computers?  Yeah, it's kind of odd.  Then it starts throwing out random Bible quotes.  Yeah, it's a Christian comic, but it doesn't bash it over the reader's head, at least for now.  It's not bad, just slightly below average, especially as getting exposition across seems a bit difficult at this stage.  Still, the last half of the chapter 3 (current chapter) is actually not bad and has some pretty good pacing.  I'll follow it for a bit, kind of want to see how the current chapter ends, but I'm not sure how long I'll keep it on the list.  The art will likely be a big turn off for most.

274. Namesake - Originally this was going to be part of the last review batch as it kind of fit the theme, then I remembered Bloodstain existed, so it comes in this batch instead.  It's good, it's very good.  Reminds me of several other comics and stories I'll have to spend some time go over in the future.  In any case, it taps into fairy tales, action adventure, and what it means to be human, and I really enjoy it.  I would write more about it but it is completely worth reading and I highly recommend it.  I'll be reading it too, probably for the foreseeable future.

275. Paranatural - This comic is also quite good.  It reminds me of something as well (I think it's FLCL) but stands quite well on it's own.  It's a fun Urban Fantasy comic focused on a school age kids fighting ghosts.  I don't think it takes itself too seriously, but is smart enough to squeeze some depth into every story without beating the reader upside the head with them.  I like this comic quite a bit, the fact that it feels like it combines It Hurts! with Namesake makes it a great comic to top off this batch.

Yeah, brief reviews for the last couple, but they're good so it's all good.  Next time, I'm going to go into more detail about what I meant in that Namesake review.  Until then kiddies.