Saturday, May 28, 2016

Saturday Revue May 28: Vogelein

Ladies And Gentlemen! 

Let Me Introduce You

 To


Every once in a while, a story gently slips into your heart, finds a cranny for itself there and makes itself at home. Vogelein is one of these. It's the tale of a clockwork fairy who must be wound each day or risk losing all her memories and with them, herself. It's a tale about what makes us love and what makes us human. It's a tale of longing and loss, independence and indebtment. It's a story that gently reminds us to find out what we really need and search for it. It's the creation of Jane Irwin,
and you can read it yourself here.

The Rating

Evocative, loving and wistful. 

The Raves


It's compassion that makes this story stand out. The creator explores the intricacies of interdependent human coexistence, with all the conflicts of need for protection and need for free will. The story touches on the ways loss and need change us and our personalities. But it is all done with gentleness and with such tenderness that the story itself might have the power to heal some wounds. Even the most unpleasant character in the story is shown in a compassionate light, given the right to his bitterness and his grieving after terrible experiences. Irwin doesn't want we readers to naively think  that everyone is good. But they do want us to remember that everyone has a story, and everyone is capable of redemption. The creator underlines this point with thoughtfully chosen poems acting as chapter breaks, and I as a reader felt it was an extra treat to turn a page and find a poem that was at once new and achingly familiar to my emotional experiences, including Emily Dickinson's 'You Cannot Make Remembrance Grow' and J. K. Berndt's 'The Duskie'.

As if to emphasize the message, the art is done in gentle watercolor shades of grey, facial expressions painfully honest and bodies expressive. There's the feeling of children's story book illustration about these drawings, though this is a story for people who are no longer so free of care as children.

Now you know me readers. I have a penchant for the poetic and the lyrical. Well, this hit the spot and no mistake. 

And if that wasn't enough, Irwin gives us one last gift at the end of the book: the end notes. The last ten pages have in them an amazing wealth of research details on the people, places and technologies in the tale. I was utterly enchanted that a creator would go to SUCH hard work to not only tell the story, but to get it right in every detail, to the extent that they reached out to experts in each field in order to tell a true, honest and respectful story about people from so many places and times.
Jane Irwin, I tip my hat to you. You are one of the best. Thank you for your work

The Revue

This story will melt your heart and open your eyes. Please read it. 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Sunday Revue May 22nd: Robotto Jukujo

Ladies and Gentlemen...


In the left corner weighing in at 3 tons we got Gaiko King...


In the right corner with his giant spiral... Lancelot...


...Let's get ready to Ruuumble! 


I'm guessing this is Robot-mom in her fighting form.
Robotto Jukujo by Nemo tells the tale of Tomodachi, who wants to put together a pit crew and build a fighting robot to take on the likes of Gaiko King. He's a tantrum-throwing dork with huge ambitions and the will to make it happen.

Rating



Raves

One of my favorite bits in this comic, and I wish there was more of it, was the interaction between Robot-mom and the toaster oven. In that scene, mom thinks she's showing signs of depression -- it seems like she's having your classic existential AI crisis: a machine wanting to be human, and she confides to the cat-shaped toaster.


I think it's clever and hilarious that the toaster-neko burns his responses to mom on pieces of toast and pops them out. I don't know where he reloads the toast from, but it doesn't matter to me, I still think it's funny, and if anything I would have loved more of those two hashing out her existential crisis through a loaf of wonderbread. Mom's story seems much more interesting than Tomo's. She spots Tomo's Youtube clip of Gaiko King and Lancelot fighting a match and it seems to light a fire in her, but it's never really followed up in a way that's empowering or freeing to Robot-mom.

The art in the first chapter of Robotto is great looking as well -- both the color pages and manga b/w ones. In the second half it appears that the artist changed, but I'm not sure. The style definitely changes. We go from a more mainstream manga look to something that's heavily stylized and a bit sloppy at times, but the bigger change is that it's in color whereas chapter 1 isn't.

I like the robot design for Gaiko King in the first chapter as well.

Gaiko King is on the left.

Razzes

One of the biggest issues I had with Robotto was how it flipped-flopped in the reading direction.

Since Robotto tries to emulate a manga, it's read right-to-left (like how the Japanese read a comic), but coming into it, I was reading it left-to-right.



So I read the narration of page 1 in this order:

Panel 1: "There was a time when robots were slaves."
Panel 2: "Where man and machine lived day by day"
Panel 3: "Neo-Don Lon, Capital of Neo-Gen Land"

In the direction I read the panels, it made sense. Looking back at the paneling though, it makes more sense that the panel on the right is the establishing shot and then you backwards 'Z' through the 4-mini panels on the left side, but I wasn't being to conscious of how I was reading it, so I didn't pick up on that the first time. The narration text, regardless of which direction you read it makes sense, because they're three individual statements that can be ordered in any direction.

In fact, it wasn't till page 9 before I picked up on which direction to read Robotto. Yes, page 7, does clearly establish the mother on the right side, but I still didn't register it. In page 8, the conversation seemed backwards and muddled, but I soldiered on.

Page 9 gave me incontrovertible proof that I was reading the entire manga wrong.



Tomo winds up and punches and then falls, and it's a sequence of frames that only makes sense going in one direction, and I went back through and re-read the previous pages.

So, this is definitely a presentation problem. New readers may get confused or lost in those first 9 pages and that may be enough to have them click off the comic.

I think this problem can be easily fixed with a page that tells you which direction to read the manga. If you ever pick up manga at the bookstore, there's usually a page telling you which direction to start reading so you don't end up reading the end before the beginning.

Unfortunately, this isn't the end of all these presentation issues. On page 52, this happens:


There's an establishing shot of the tool Troy is going to pick up (panel 1), then he picks it up (panel 2), and then lastly he's holding it and uses it on Robot-mom. It only makes sense going in one direction, and that's left-to-right, unlike the rest of the comic, which has been read right-to-left. There's an inconsistency in which direction you have to read this comic furthering the confusion.

Presentation aside, I unfortunately, didn't find the story all that interesting. Partially due to my disinterest in mecha anime, but mostly due to the long wind-up Robotto has. We spend a great deal of time meeting characters, but it isn't till the second chapter when we start getting some traction on the core of the story, but by then the story's gone on hiatus -- the last pages were in January 18, 2016. If the comic does come back, it definitely needs more Robot-mom and Toaster.

Tomo is the main character, but I didn't find him compelling and he acted like a toddler at times. He throws a tantrum by stomping on the tabletop during breakfast and later he coldly bats a platter of hamburgers out of his Robot-mom's hand. If it's to establish his Type-A personality (similar to Haruhi Suzumiya) it might work in that context, but it pulled me out of story when he acted out. Am I supposed to see it as comedy? Is he a little brat? I have a feeling it's a bit of both, but it didn't sit right with me. A better example of Tomo acting to his character type is the scene where he gets Troy to come over for dinner, and even his antics getting his Robot-mom to come to the garage so they can dismantle her. He's the guy with all the ideas, and he'll do whatever it takes to implement them, and those two scenes showed that the best.

The main character's full name is Tomodachi. I know it means "friend" in Japanese, and it seems odd to me that it's also his actual name. Can "tomodachi" be a name? I don't mean to be snotty about it -- I know about ten Japanese words so I'm hardly an authority despite reading and watching a lot of Japanese pop-media.


Revue

If you're a fan of mecha then check out Robotto Jukujo, but it's all wind up and very little pay off for the time being.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Saturday Revue May 21: Unknown Lands



Need A Little Something To Perk You Up?
Sit Up And Pay Attention For


Whoooo boy. Blood magic. Sex magic. Sigils and soul stealing.  Hang onto your hats and send the kiddies home, it's going to be a wild night...
Unknown Lands, the creation of Rosi K√§mpe, bills itself as dark fantasy. Dark? This one's pitch black! It'll thrill you, it'll chill you, and it'll make you laugh. This, lads and ladies, is what modern fantasy should be; witty, wild, clever and dangerous.
It all begins simply enough: three old friends. Trouble on the horizon. A bargain made. And then it gets a little...well....




The Rating

Oooooh are you in for a treat.

The Raves


The story begins with a premise common in urban fantasy; all the old stories come back out of the closet, and we have to learn to live with them.
But that's when it goes right off the trail and into the deep, dark woods. Just when you were settling down for a niiiice fantasy full of elves and talking trees, you find out that elves are assholes, there's people out to eat other people's hearts and blood is spattering the scenery. The story sets up all of this without a hitch, telling a completely organic story that flows from event to event with the logic of the old folktales we don't read the kiddies anymore.
If you ever read Runaways or Bordertown, Unknown Lands has much of that flavor, but this is all grown up. This story is decidedly 18 and up only, both in word and deed. If you like Saga and Sandman, you're going to want to read Unknown Lands; it has a similar depth, skill and wit to the work.
The plotting and pace is flawless; it wraps its protagonists up in a Grecian tragedy net of cause and effect. At every step their decisions are logical, but where they end up is not a pretty place.
 Characterization in this story is another one of its great features. They may be pawns of Fate and the Champion they now serve, but Vard, Kai and Maryna are no dolls. Vard in particular handles life with a sardonic humor, while Kai...
Kai endears himself in other ways. And Mischief and Inara are some of THE BEST plausibly amoral and inhuman character writing I have ever seen. They really aren't crazy, they really aren't bad guys. They just play out of a whole different rule book than you and I.
The world around them is also wholly organic and plausible in feel. Take for instance the panel below.

You could sit there and buy a drink. It's a world you can connect with. 
And by the way, THE ART. When this comes out in print, I'm buying. It's dark, it's twisted and it's gorgeous. Every page is a treat for the eyes.  Anatomy (and I mean all the anatomy, did I mention this is rated R?) is perfect, coloring effects are gorgeous, line work is expressive and full of character, and the lighting does remind me of Runaways and Saga quite a lot. Read that as beautiful and stylish.

The Razzes

I have only one area for the creator to seriously work on, and that's their word bubbles. They're legible sure, but they're cramped, awkwardly shaped and  detracting from the rest of the work. They look cut directly our of a script and pasted over gorgeous art. I'd love to see that change.


To the creator, I'd suggest this: Try laying out your dialogue out in the shape of a diamond. This immediately fixes the cutout look, and forms your dialogue into something that will easily fit into a word balloon. 

After that, make sure there's at least a few millimeters of white space between each letter and the edge of the balloon to avoid the cramped, claustrophobic reading experience. It'll really give that extra professional gloss to pages that are already darkly delicious.



The Revue

A real eye catcher, brain bender and rollercoaster. A must read.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Backstage Pass May: Kory Bing


Here's Your Pass!
Let's Go Backstage And Meet


Kory Bing!


Kory Bing was born three days before Halloween in 1984 and she’s always held a small grudge against her mother for not holding out until Halloween because that would have been just so cool. She was named after a Harry Chapin song but her parents made up the spelling because they liked the letter “K” more than the letter “C”. After growing up in a river valley outside of a small town populated with 600 people, she moved two hours south and lived in the Ozarks for a few years, and now she lives in Portland, Oregon with all the other cool kids.

She lives with her husband Ben, a wonderful cook with an awesome Czech surname, and their stupid black cat Eisenhower, who isn’t very bright, but we’ll forgive him.

Main Project: Skin Deep, a comic based on the ideas that the idea that things are often more than they seem, and that it is easy to hide secrets when nobody is expecting them. skindeepcomic.com




Other Hobbies and Obsessions



Weird history, paleoart, practical movie special effects, Disneyland



So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures?



I come from a very art-focused family so wanting to be an artist was never seen as strange, like a lot of my other cartoonist friends have experienced. My grandfather was a portrait artist and my grandmother illustrated children’s books, my uncle is painter, and two other uncles are graphic artists, my parents were professional weavers for many years, and my sister is a graphic designer, too! So if anything, it’s actually kind of intimidating being another artist in this family, there’s a lot to live up to!

I was never much into comics as a kid, but I was (and still am) obsessed with animation, and I feel like a lot of my style and storytelling voice comes from that. I came to comics mostly because animation is a huge group effort and I generally prefer to work alone. Comics are a great way to tell a visual story and also something you can make on your own, if you so wish.


What media and programs do you work in to produce your project?

I work almost exclusively digital these days! I’ve been trying to learn new programs, but I’m most comfortable with Photoshop.


Can you tell me about your typical day or strip-creation session? How does your working process flow?

A comic page usually takes me around three days to make. I pencil on one day, ink on the second day, and color on the third. Sometimes if I am going quickly I can ink and color or pencil and ink on one day, but I generally spread it out over three days. Inking is my favorite part, I can just kind of turn my brain off and get a lot of work done, it’s very soothing!





Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?



I try to have a script done before I start drawing the comic, but it’s never set in stone, and if I feel like something would work better while I’m drawing it I can change it pretty easily. I don’t generally thumbnail, although sometimes I do if it’s a particularly tricky scene and I need to thumbnail out several pages at once. So I guess you could say it’s kind of a combination between scripting and flying by the seat of my pants. I’d like to have more scripted out in advance, though, but that’s not usually how things work out for me.

You use an amazing of mythology and history in your work and I've yet to see you misstep on it. You take concepts that are usually handled horribly and get them exactly right. So my question is this: how do you go about researching ideas you'd like to use in your work? Do your ideas grow from your reading, or do you get ideas and then research them? What are some of your most reliable research sources?



Gosh thank you! I’ve tried very hard to do my research on various mythical creatures, cultures, customs, and history before it makes it into a comic. Luckily, I enjoy reading up on mythology and folklore, and it’s a lot of fun sharing what I’ve learned with others! Mythology is difficult sometimes, especially mythology from cultures that aren’t yours. You have to be very careful when dipping into folklore you’re not very familiar with, as a lot of it tends to have religious and spiritual links that you might not be aware of until you’ve already made a big, offensive mistake. Skin Deep tends to stick to European/Western mythology primarily because it is what I am most familiar with, and I can be reasonably comfortable knowing that I won’t be offending anyone’s beliefs if I make a character a gryphon or a satyr. I have been trying harder lately to include other cultures and myths, but I want to make sure I do it right!
It is very easy to misstep. Luckily I have great friends who are able to take a second look at my work and let me know if I’m making any mistakes before the script makes it to a finished comic. And there are several examples of older comics that I’ve done that if I were writing them today I would have definitely done differently, and I make no claims that I’ve handled everything perfectly so far. But my only hope is that I can continue to learn from mistakes and improve as time goes on.

Your work is also some of the most consistent and continuous on the net. What has kept you drawing during the hard times? What advice do you have for other artists on keeping at it?

Wow, thank you again! That’s really reassuring to hear, especially right now since the comic is on the longest hiatus it’s ever been on in it’s nearly 10 year lifespan. Honestly, having to get a page a week done every week has been the main driving force in keeping up with the comic. If I could I’d love to do MORE! I want to tell this story very badly! Knowing I have an audience that can’t wait to read the comic helps me push through the hard or bad pages for the sake of keeping the story flowing. If I have a bad day or draw a bad page, I know that I can do better with the next page and keep pushing forward.



What’s the most difficult part of your work?



Making money, I guess. Not knowing where your next paycheck will be coming from is really stressful, and it’s hard to work through that stress on bad days. When working with such a long-form story it’s difficult to see the finish line and it’s easy to fall into anxious “what am I even doing” spirals.


You're one of the biggest successes on the indie webcomic markets, and you have some really great merch. What advice do you have for newbies learning to merch their work and/or self publish? Where did you misstep when you started?



I don’t really think you can misstep too badly when you start out, unless you start out thinking you’re going to be mega successful right off the bat, because that rarely ever happens! Skin Deep has been going for almost ten years now, and it was only a couple years ago that I was able to go full-time with it. I’ve seen a lot of people start a comic and have a huge shop full of merch before they even have 5 pages of comics! Focus on the comic first, then the merch ideas will come!


How much of a buffer did you like to keep?


Hahahahahaha. Gosh I’ve tried to keep a buffer since I started my comic. I’ve never been good at it. If I’m lucky I might get a week or two ahead, but that buffer never lasts very long.





What message do you hope readers take away from your work?

It’s never too late to learn new things!

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?



I really don’t know what else to do at this point! I’ve been working on this story for so long I can’t imagine stopping before it’s over! I gotta finish it!

Rock on Kory Bing, it was great chatting with you!


Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Revue May 15th: The Adventures of Captain Maggie


Arrr me maties!


Let me Introduce You to Captain Maggie and her Ship of Fools!



The Adventures of (the Great) Captain Maggie by PrussianMoose is about a trio of pirates: Captain Maggie, her mage and first mate Ame, and a swabby named Beatrix. They search for treasure on their airship, and Ame and Beatrix have to put up with Maggie's bluntness, questionable leadership abilities, and desire for riches.

Rating



"Sup, Nerds!"

Raves

As I read through the archive for Maggie's Adventures it reminded me of Adventure Time. Part of that is probably the cartoony, simplified look of the characters, and also partly because of how it's written. Maggie's dialogue is blunt; The story events happen fast.


The quick moving story is told through a series of 4-panel comics (4-koma). The humor is character driven and at times a bit simplistic. Most of the humor derives from Maggie's bullying personality, bluntness, and general lack of empathy for her crew members and enemies alike. I did laugh a few times while reading it, especially when Maggie's bluntness cuts off the other characters.

In the first episode, they steal some cursed treasure and she's haunted by several ghosts, which she promptly ignores much to their dismay. It works for me as humor, but I'm a fan of shows like Adventure Time and Rick and Morty where the barbs fly fast and it turns those usual fantasy/sci-fi tropes on their heads.




Also at the beginning of the comic, we're shown (literally with like/dislike bullet points) where each of the characters stand with one another. Beatrix hates Maggie. Ame loves her. Ame is often by her side, but her timid nature is easily bullied by Maggie into doing her bidding, and it's these character traits that fuel the conflict and humor to follow. It maybe simple, but it made the relationships clear and easy to understand.

The author clearly knows that Maggie is a dummy and plays with that in the second episode where Maggie could easily buy the dress she's after, but opts to steal it, because she's a pirate and that's what they do. It allows for more character shenanigans brought on by Maggie's reckless behavior, and one of my favorite bits with Ame:



I like the story structure. Most of the comics are 4-panels and relate a story beat or gag, but a series of 4-komas work together to tell a larger story.

After the first two and a half episodes of Maggie, the comic goes on hiatus in November of 2014. Up until that point, Maggie is as described above, but when the comic returns to weekly serialization in mid-2015 there are some new stylistic choices. The colors are gone and the comic is rendered in monotone shades of blue-gray. Starting with the episode "The Map" the story is paneled differently. All in all, I like the stylistic choices -- they're a good evolution. In the old style, the colors at times didn't seem to mesh well together especially with the thick black lines, but toning down the color makes it work better. Also, the line work appears much more refined and thinner, and the frames are larger giving the art some room to breathe.

Razzes

As much as I liked the new artistic direction of Maggie, I missed the longer episodic story arcs. The minis are random gags and even a random side character who shows up for a strip and is gone.


Also, before going on hiatus, the story "Rivals" is left incomplete. PrussianMoose had this to say about that story: "[Rivals] is, sadly, postponed until a later date and I have more steam built up to tackle it again."

If anything, I'd like to see "Rivals" finished. Even if it's just a page or two to wrap the story up. I never like to leave things hanging before starting something new. When my own webcomic went on hiatus two years back, I kept the single goal in mind: no matter how bad it got, I had to finish it. At least in the end, I could say that I have a completed piece of work.

A note on the dialogue: Most of the dialogue you can pick out and read, but at times when there's a lot to be said, the text gets small and you'll have to squint at your computer screen to read it. This might be a bigger issue on mobile devices.

The dialogue runs together in the bottom-left panel.

The latest chapter is entitled "The Map" and it's a new episodic adventure that harkens back to Maggie before November 2014, but keeps the new stylistic choices for paneling and color scheme -- all good, but...

Unfortunately, due to family circumstances, The Adventures of Maggie is back on hiatus. From PrussianMoose: "Sadly it's webcomics that's gonna have to go into storage for a while. I'm not sure how long I'll be going on hiatus, it breaks my heart to have to give up Maggie, Ame and Beatrix for an unspecified amount of time."

PrussianMoose, dealing with a sick loved one is difficult, so my heart goes out to you, and I hope the best for you and yours, and hopefully we'll see Maggie and her reckless adventures return again.

Revue

If you want something quick and funny to read, then check out The Adventures of (the Great) Captain Maggie.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday Revue May 14: The Ladybugs Anthology

Need A Litle Variety In Your Life?

Come Explore The Possibilities With



Hey lads and ladies, a lovely little comic anthology was released just this Wednesday, and I was given a sneak peek into the works. This collection is the creation of the Ladybugs, AKA the Los Angeles Women's Comic Creators League. Comprising 15 stories and coming in at a whopping 119 pages, it's a charming romp through the many worlds these ladies imagine. It can be bought here, and if you're in the LA area, here's a link to learn more about the group and the release party for their premiere anthology; could be fun!

The Rating

A few stumbles, but not at all a bad performance

The Raves

There really are some gems in this anthology. In my case, I'll put in a split vote for best in the anthology between 'Bounty Hunter Space Besties', a story of bounty hunters who find something much, much more dangerous than the drugs shipment they were hunting for,
 and 'Orion', an excellent and touching exploration of raising a child in a post-apocalyptic world.
But there's quite a few gems in this anthology, from the candid sweetness of 'Playdate' to the laugh out loud imagery and very relatable emotions of 'Test Day'
The art of a number of the included pieces is impressive; Angelica McLaughlin's sketches will make you feel cheerful all day, for instance, and Christine Hipp does gorgeously clean and expressive linework as well as wonderful storytelling that is surprisingly thought-provoking. I really enjoyed these pieces; they explored the entire gamut of the human experience, including the mundane, the divine and the messy bits. 

The Razzes

Er...ladies? It's fun to get your friends together and work on something, but I'd really think twice about including sub-par art just because a friend did it. When sub-par work is mixed with high-class art, both pieces suffer; one by association and the other by comparison. The anthology would have been all the better for cutting things like 'Predator and Prey' and 'The Struggle Is Real', which look less like finished anthology pieces than doodles done in a spare moment. 'The Rainbow Bridge' obviously had some work and some thought behind it, but the art just couldn't support the story and really should not have been included in something that people are buying.
I was actually on the fence even on the first work in the anthology, and that's a bad thing; impatient readers will drop a book if the first few pages of art do not intrigue. The next time you do an anthology Ladybugs, I recommend putting your best foot forward and putting one of your most experienced artists in the first-story slot. It'll go a long way towards upping your reader retention.  Leading with work like 'Manifest' might be a nice gesture, but it isn't going to impress anyone.
I'd really like to see the editor ride her creators a little more in story design as well. Quite a few of these stories have little or no resolution, and leave the reader feeling mildly cheated and confused. Anthology stories should be whole in their entirety. They really shouldn't say 'to be continued', and they shouldn't feel like they have 'to be continued' tattooed on their heads either.

The Revue

I'd definitely read it, but I might buy the digital copy rather than the print. Great first try Ladybugs, you'll do even better next time!