Sunday, April 17, 2016

Sunday Revue April 17th: Niebla

Come one, come all...
Hear the Tales of Arofa...
The floating continent beyond the clouds!

Page 1 of Niebla tells the origin story of the floating continent Arofa.

Niebla is written and illustrated by Ramon Espinoza and tells the tale of a young boy named Astor Adima. You can read it online or you can buy it from Corteza Editorial which has Niebla as a series of trades (at least I think you can). Here's Ramon's blog if you'd like to check out more of his artwork.


A grand fantasy adventure awaits you...


The art is a feast for your eyes. You could frame almost any panel of this comic and put it up in a gallery. Nothing is skimped on -- the backgrounds are well defined and painted with the utmost care. Check it out:

Amazing perspective of the capital city.

It's filled with lush colors:
There's even that shoujo thing with the pink blossoms floating around.
These aren't just illustrations but a world being built one frame at a time:
It's visually overwhelming in the sheer amount of detail put in every frame: the diverse crowds, the texture and coloration of the clothing, the decorative set pieces.

The establishing shot in this page above is great. Not only do we get a sense of the place and the scale of the situation, but the young boy running through is highlighted by splitting it into skinny panels to show movement and using a lighted path against the shadowed crowd to guide the eye along from left to right. Movement, composition, framing, and establishing the scene all in one go.

It's a marvel to look at all these pages, and I can see the countless hours spent putting every element in place. If you're going to do a high fantasy story like Niebla, you really can't cut corners. You're not just selling us a bunch of pictures that form a narrative, but building a world through all the bits and bobs in the background to give it a sense of place.

Oh, and what fantasy story isn't without a map:

No GPS to guide you around though...
Ramon says in his notes:

'I really hope you enjoy this little story, I can only say that I am very fond of it, and that I did put all my love and passion on it.'
Love and passion for sure.

There's not really anything to critique with the art. I'll only mention, and this really isn't a knock against Niebla, but sometimes the characters do look like posed and rendered CG models. I found myself asking that question as I read the story, because sometimes it feels obvious that they're CG and other times they look hand painted. I'd be curious to know.

As far as the writing goes, if you like your high fantasy stories, then you're bound to enjoy this one. It's well paced from page to page. There's royal intrigue, war looms on the horizon, monsters that were once thought extinct have now returned en masse. All of your fantasy is right here.



I feel like I read it before.

There are strange and mysterious things brought up in the first few pages to leave us with lingering questions as a guide through the story.

A boy is entrusted with his father's legacy and morality. He takes it to heart.

War is coming...and it does.

With dragons.

Astor eventually gets on his Joseph Campbell hero's journey.

Which leads to a lot of burly guys with impressive swords fighting skills (and fantastic art).

We learn of the "The Night of 7 Lamentations." You know this got fantasy-real when we're breaking out the overly dramatic phrasing.

Okay... but admittedly Astor killed a guy... okay, seven guys... seven nobles, so maybe it's warranted. 
Later, Astor meets magical tribal folk...

There's a lot of word salad when you begin this story: Ragna, Jusheina, Yeferi, Petrolchimist, Arofa, Aminias, to name some of the people and things in the story. It's a lot of jargon. You can sort out who's who, but I could never pronounce half the names in a fantasy novel and that didn't help when I had to remember who those people were thousands of pages later when they return. I'm also aware you can't just name your characters Tom and Bert because that -- oh right, that didn't stop Tolkien from calling his trolls that (for comic relief).

Niebla has the opposite problem. The character silhouettes are different, and I know who Astor and Jusheina are because we spend a lot of time with them, but some of the burly guys, knights, and even the red-headed Captain are generic. I know their faces but I don't know their names or they're not given names because they're sword-fodder.

These are the hallmarks you'd expect to find in a classical high fantasy story. There's nothing wrong with that if you're hankering for more of it. If so, come get some Niebla.

But, I've played a lot of Final Fantasy in my youth, read Wheel of Time, watched Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones, done D&D sessions with friends, and encountered all kinds of fantasy themed stuff in-between, that follow similar story trajectories, and these days, I want something different. If you're relatively new to the genre, then everything here is fantastic.

Niebla being a longform story also has me asking: how long? Will we ever see the end of Astor's adventures? Ramon talks about illustrating this for a decade already and we have 120 pages, and I feel that we're still at the beginning of Astor's adventures.

It would seem that Ramon plus a few assistants working 16 hour days, 5-6 days a week on a deadline would be the only way to get this done. That's pretty much how most manga work. I'm not even talking about this from the consumer point-of-view of "will I get an ending for all my time investment reading it?" I'm talking from a creator's viewpoint: "Can I get this done? Will I run out of motivation and steam before it ends?" Money aside, a comic is a mental endurance race and you've got to have the brain stamina and force-of-will to keep it going.

I hope Ramon makes it, but the last update was December 2015.

Another thing I noticed about this comic was that most of it was uploaded online around September 1-4th of 2014. Only as recently as 2015 did the graphic novel begin serializing each Tuesday and it seems to have gaps here and there -- maybe because it's a passion project and Ramon has to pay the bills some other way.

Corteza Editorial though has printed the first few volumes of Niebla (presumably before Niebla showed up online in 2014), so maybe the first 94 pages or so come from that and Ramon is continuing it as a webcomic. Maybe Niebla makes most of it's money in print and the web is just an experiment or of lesser priority.

I can't help to think there's some missed community building and marketing opportunities though. A lot of pages were devoid of comments. Eventually, Ramon blogs at us. Later pages get likes on Facebook, but I wonder, if Ramon released Niebla 1-2 pages a week from his massive backlog, could he have cultivated more of a web presence and following than by dumping all the pages at once?

When I started This Mortal Coil, I released all 32 pages of my work all at once. My thought was that there needed to be something for the reader to sink his teeth into. It didn't make sense to release it a page at a time because they weren't gags and not every page had a cliffhanger. When I finished a chapter I would release those pages, but this odd, inconsistent schedule meant folks would never know when new pages came out. The moral of this story is that having a weekly presence was paramount and it's made some difference when I started doing it.

Of course there's a lot of marketing to do beyond that: social media, Patreon, ads via Project Wonderful, and voting on TopWebComics. Interacting with folks on #webcomicchat and so on. If anything Niebla's shown me that even having top notch art and a brilliant story isn't enough. If you build it, they still won't come. You're bytes on a server trawled through by spiders and bots, and as an author it can be difficult to find a real person amidst all that. Webcomic readers are a silent majority, if they are out there.


A familiar yet original fantasy story filled with lush settings rendered through gorgeous art.

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