Saturday, August 27, 2016

Saturday Revue August 27: Ten Years

Come Take A Stroll Down Possibility Lane


Ten Years

Should've. Would've. Could've. What would've happened if...we all ask ourselves these questions. Danny Valdez has taken it a step further, creating Ten Years: An exploration of both time and place, and the potential intersections which could have shaped my life. The story splits down two alternate routes with the opening of that dreaded college acceptance letter so many of us remember. Holding it in sweating fingers, our hero opens it and finds...well, he could have found two different things. And that's where things get going.

The Rating

I give it an A for creativity, a C for execution.

The Raves

Reading 'Ten Years' is, for a lot of Americans, like looking in a mirror. It expresses much of our collective social experience in a charming 'boy next door' way, capturing scenes that make you give a gentle, reminiscent smile and remember the time when you were in your own version of the situation.
The writing is solid; the creator is very good at encapsulating an entire social experience or life event in a few panels, and the writing flows from experience to experience in a cogent way. There's a gently affirming comfort in the work as well: even if your life didn't go exactly as you had planned, you can still find joy in it.

The art is extremely stylistic and rather flat, but also highly consistent (an image creation program I presume?) and meshes well with the story style. Nothing particularly wrong.

The Razzes

Problem is, 'nothing really wrong' and 'rather flat' sums up the entire emotional tone of 'Ten Years'.This comic is a little TOO realistic; events happen. People do things. Nothing is really resolved, and though character growth is hinted at there's nothing that calls the character to really rise or fall.

  I've lived in the Midwest, and this is the comic equivalent of sitting on a porch in a small Wisconsin town and watching your neighbors go by. There's nothing wrong with it, and on certain days it's pleasant. But it doesn't' do much beyond comfort.It is, quite simply, ordinary life in Heartland America on paper....and most of us read to get out of our everyday lives.
The creator has grasped all the aspects of comic work and draftsmanship. What they're missing is a soul. I'm hoping they'll use this as their learning project and go forward with a new idea that has a bit more zest. Everything's here but the spark.

The Revue

If you need some mental downtime, grab a seat on the porch, ma will have some iced tea for you. If you're looking for excitement, keep driving.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Backstage Pass August: Hanne DeWachter

Hey Look, I Snitched Us A Backstage Pass!

Let's Go Round The Back And Have A Cuppa With

Hanne DeWacther!

*Pours the Tea* So Hanne, tell us about yourself!

My name's Hanne Dewachter. I'm a Belgian comic artist, currently living in Antwerp. I studied Animation and graduated with a Bachelor degree in uh.. I think 2010? Since then I've been doing various jobs in animation, illustration, comics, storyboarding and just your random regular stuff.

Main Project 

My main comic project right now and for the past 4 years has been Dork Toes! To be ogled at
It's an autobiographical webcomic that started in 2012 and updates every Tuesday. So far I've been able to uphold that schedule relatively well. I've been making autobiographical comics for years before I got Dork Toes up, as a lot of other comic artists do, until I thought it was really high time to collect them somewhere neat and coherent.

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

If we disregard all things artsy for a moment, people who've read my comic in the last year or so probably know that I'm very fond of snails. Really, any creepy crawlies/slitheries you'll find when you have a random grab through the grass interest me a lot.
 I also dabble in amateur taxidermy, liqueur-making and I like to bake things that give you caries.

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

Oh, very early on. I've always been an avid reader and image-browser. I'm not sure where the interest specifically came from, most children are probably interested in pictures, but I remember taking it close to an obsessive level.
Images that told stories just popped out of my pencil naturally, as if that was the way to go. I remember one of the earliest kinds of comic I drew, when I couldn't have been more than 7 years old. It was a kind of life-cycle of a person. It included being born, growing up, having sex, having kids, and dying in a car accident. Uh. Yeah. They were very basic drawings, but that sequence could be described as one of the earliest comics I ever drew, I think. And the thematics are.. pretty telling of what I was interested in, I guess. I haven't really stopped since then.

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

Dork Toes is generally drawn in Photoshop or in ink on paper. Especially in the early days of Dork Toes my comics were usually drawn on paper, with staedtler ink pens and sometimes aquarel paint. Ever since I got myself a Wacom Cintiq my comics have become increasingly digital, though sometimes I do get the need for something tangible and draw a couple on paper again. I generally use some kind of brush pen now and draw on paper a little smaller than A3-size. I am a tiny person. A3 is literally too big for me to be comfortable.
Excerpt from the comic 'Scribbles'

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

Generally throughout the week I'll scribble in my sketchbook and I try do draw out sketches of possible updates when I get the idea. I've found that if I keep the idea in my head for too long without getting anything on paper it tends to dissolve in my brain and be gone when I actually try to draw. Rarely when I have the time and energy I start drawing my comic on the weekend, but usually I start the comic of that week on Monday evening, and it goes live the next morning. It takes me about 2 to 5 hours to finish my comic, depending on how long it is. And it can be long. The comics generally vary from only two rows to 4 or 5 full pages in one update.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

Ooh boy. Erm. This is a difficult question, actually, since it tends to vary from period to period. I guess you could say that updating social media and advertising myself is probably the most difficult part.
 I'm notoriously bad at selling myself, also because I don't see it as a very important part of what I do. Or rather, in a perfect world to me, it wouldn't be important. But really, being able to reach out to your fan-base or expanding it or contacting publishers or seeing new opportunities for your project to grow is a pretty dang important skill to have.
Apart from that I'm painfully perfectionistic. Curiously, in Dork Toes that part didn't really cripple me that much, maybe because the webcomic medium that updates once a week kind of forces you to let go and grow with time. I haven't started a stand-alone comic in a long time because I want the thing to be perfect from the get-go, which is a really good way to never make anything ever.

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?

Well this is kind of different for me because of the autobiographical theme. I wait until something happens and then I uh, draw it.

I never script my Dork Toes comics, I find that very uncomfortable for these types of comic. Instead I just make a relatively quick sketch in my sketchbook, which is most often “right” the first time in pacing and look, and use that sketch as the base for my final drawing. For other comics I tend to at least try to write a kind of script, but I noticed that I work better when I just start drawing instead. Less thinking, more doing.

How much of a buffer do you like to keep?

None, really. The first year of Dork Toes I tried to make some comics up front but I noticed that I find it hard to upload a comic I made previously when by that time something else has taken over my attention. I DO have multiple sketchbooks full of first sketchy drafts though, so if I'm really strapped for comics, I'll look through my old sketches and pick one that I've wanted to make but haven't gotten to.

Your comic is a very interesting cross between slice-of-life and social commentary. What gives you ideas, and how do you record them until they become strips?

Ha, thank you. I sometimes just notice when something grabs me by the back of my brain and my reflex is to turn it into a comic as a way of dealing with it. In that sense, when I'm distressed I tend to make more comics because I have stuff I need to get out and process. Making a comic is, for me, a really good way of processing what happened. It's like ruminating.

 I've often throughout my life have had the impulse to write when something is whirling around in my brain, to put it on paper gives it structure to me, and in a way making comics does the same. Giving it humour is also an easy way to make difficult things seem less serious. But like I said before, I try to just draw down a first draft in a sketchbook the moment I have the idea.

 I've recently tried out writing some short sentences as mini-scripts or reminders in my sketchbook since I sometimes don't have a lot of time to draw (also, when you work in animation you can be a little “drawn out” at the end of the day, which is sad, but it can make you draw less at home).

Your work often features your personal life;
how do your friends and family feel about appearing in your work?

I kind of make it a point of asking people if they're okay with appearing in my strips. Sometimes I forget, but over the years I've only had one person who afterwards explicitly told me to never draw them in my comic again, even though I had gotten their permission up front. But, no problem there. I would really feel uncomfortable to feature someone if they weren't on board. Also, I'm normally pretty careful with how I present people in the comics. If I draw a comic about my mom it's with a very different tone than one about a friend, at least to me.

Has anyone told you that you'll never be a successful artist and you'd be better off studying a real field and/or getting a real job?

Haha, no, actually. The opposite. Ever since I was a kid people have been telling me that I'd be “famous one day” and people have been encouraging me to keep it going all my life. .. That might have something to do with the sometimes crippling perfectionism. But really, both my parents and especially my mom are vocally of the opinion that you should always try to study something you find fun and interesting, otherwise it's kind of a waste. I'm thankful for that. And so far my studies have provided me with decent jobs, I don't think anyone right now would have the idea to tell me I should get a “real” job. Or I haven't met them, at least.

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

Oh dear. Uhm. I try not to think of one overlapping message. I kind of hope they find pleasure in the little and big things they find recognisable and know they're not alone in many ways.

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

Honestly, it's almost compulsive. I know that I'll keep making comics like these even if I quit the website, so I might as well keep it going. I'm someone who does well with deadlines. Open ends make me postpone and procrastinate and overthink. Setting this weekly deadline forces me to DO. Dork Toes has been a great way to try out new styles and give me the confidence to go places and do things I otherwise wouldn't have. I'm certain I've grown a lot in those 4 years. Plus, people can be really kind. I've gotten some really wonderful reactions and messages that remind me that I'm not just imagining it or something, people really do enjoy these little comics. And that's a big drive.

Rock On Hanne! Your work makes so many readers happy, and it was lovely to get a peek behind the curtain!
Oh, and thanks for the tea!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Sunday, August 21 2016: It's Just Another Day

Ladies and Gentlemen,
Today I shall regale you with the tale of Jake
And his many exes in the story...

Jake comes home to find his family being evicted from their grandfather's house. It's just another day. He breaks up with his smothering, ultra-religious girlfriend, Brianna, and has to move out of her house. It's just another day. He meets the girl of his dreams working at a local convenient store by chance. It's just another day. His father, St. Nik, has a seizure and collapses.

It's Just Another Day is written and drawn by BluRaven C. Houvener and tells the story of Jake and his quest to find love in high school and dealing with the tribulations of life at home. His family moves from apartment to apartment like vagabonds, but even with these misfortunes, Jake still holds his head up high and keeps trunking on.


It's far from just another comic...


I tend to enjoy slice-of-life work and that's an aspect of this story that appealed to me. Admittedly, when I judged the webcomic upon seeing the first page alone, I thought this was going to be some kind of "cool, strong man fights ninjas" kind of story (Jake looks pretty cool in his sunglasses), but by the start of page three you finally get to the meat of it. Fighting ninjas. Knocking someone's block off because they ticked you off. These are Jake's idle daydreams and a far cry from who he is and what his life is like, but I think we can all relate to daydreams like that. I mean, Jake's obviously a lover, not a fighter.

The writing is what makes this comic stand out and it's what kept me reading through the entire archive. Jake's narration isn't pretentious and the events and emotions from his various relationships are laid bare. The story beats move along fast and it never drags. We get to the core of each relationship he has with Brianna, Ryoko, and Nikki fairly quickly.

Brianna's relationship seemed like one of convenience. She let his family stay at her house and Jake goes between arguing with her due to their different moral compasses and enjoying the sex they have together.

Almost immediately as that relationship ends, we meet Ryoko: the hot girl. She's literally introduced as a catgirl dressed in neko-ears and a leotard, which is Jake's fetish, but her wishy-washiness and her strange relationship with another boy lead to jealously and their breakup.

Since the comic focuses on Jake and his relationships, it makes me wonder: how well does this story treat the women presented in it? I don't think we're trying to pass the Bechdel test here, since it's a portrait of Jake's life and his relationships to his family, friends, and the women he dates. The only thing I can think of in regards to women in this comic is: She's Just Another Girl.

Until we get to Nikki...

Jake thinks she's the one. They connect over the same things and their relationship grows steadily until Nikki breaks it off for reasons unknown (and through e-mail, no less). Of all the relationships portrayed, this is the one that haunts Jake and the one I found most interesting because of how it ends. It made me wonder about her life beyond the frame of the comic. What was she going through and why did she break it off? There's a great flash-forward panel later in the comic where we get a glimpse of what happened to Nikki. I wonder if the comic will ever bring her character back.

But...almost immediately after that, Jake's on to his next woman (kinda).

There's another interesting relationship that builds over the story, and it's between Jake and his father which is contentious at best. There is a cool factor about Jake's dad that he admires -- being in a biker gang and being a rock musician, but at the same time, Jake's dad also complains about his laziness and puts his son down every time he can even despite Jake's efforts to be responsible and do well.

Jake talking about his dad...

The part that hit home for me was when his father had a seizure due to his brain cancer and went into a coma. My father fought cancer for five years before passing away. I can say for certain, when something that dire happens in the family, whatever minor heartbreaks you were suffering before slip away from your thoughts pretty quick.

Jake also moves on pretty quickly...


Most of the razzes I have concerning this comic is the art. The one thing I notice the most about the art is how flat it is. We see Jake and the other characters mostly from profile or front shots. There are a few attempts at dramatic angles, but they definitely need some reference to help refine them.

This kind of angle is hard even for me. The head looks too smushed.

Andrew Loomis has some good examples of heads at different angles

At first I thought BluRaven might not know how to draw glasses in profile because of the way Jake's glasses are drawn, but he certainly does know how to do it, because other characters look correct. There's a conscious choice to keep Jake's eyes hidden at all costs, but doing that in profile is hard. BluRaven is bending reality to hide his eyes. The sunglasses could be curved to wrap around his face, but the way they're drawn, they always appear flat.

There are some issues with head proportions, especially from profile. Sometimes it appears the back of Jake's head is too small.

Back of the skull looks too small. Could be his hair is covering it though.
I think some of the lips and eyes on various faces could also use some work as well. The lips are oddly curled when characters smile. Eyes look too almond-shaped.

When I started learning how to draw, one of the first books I had was from Andrew Loomis, and if you're looking for great instruction on drawing human heads and bodies, getting the correct proportion and how to hang figures so they all appear composed in perspective together correctly, I recommend Figure Drawing For All It's Worth. Loomis' book was reprinted a few years ago and is one of my go-to books. This is how I learned to draw heads when I began drawing 12 years ago, and I still use it today:


It's Just Another Day is a great read. It's quickly paced and you might find something relatable in Jake's life to your own. Well, unless, maybe you're one of his ex-girlfriends.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Intermission for the week of August 14th

Lads And Ladies! Your Masters of Ceremonies Need To Do A Few Things Backstage

Back With More Revues Next Week!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Sunday Revue, August 7th: Area 42

Aliens. Demons. Robots. Oh My. 

Ladies and Gentlemen...

Welcome to the crazy world of Area 42!

Area 42 is created by Mike Podgor and tells the story of Charleston Charge, an amateur paranormal investigator, and Subject M, an alien crashed on Earth. The two of them are thrown together (in side by side jail cells) and become fast friends discussing Godzilla movies and other fandom, and because of their rapport, they become apartment roommates in Area 42, which appears to be some kind of government experiment. From there, the story follows an unpredictable and increasingly surreal trajectory that vacillates between the mundane day-to-day and extraordinary moments that include fighting a succubus, demons, robots, and even a wizard.


There's a lot of promise, but the plot vacillates wildly.


In Area 42, some of the smaller story arcs in the beginning of the comic were interesting when they were about Charleston and Subject M and their day-to-day lives. Charleston and M act like normal roommates for the most part despite M being an alien. They engaged in doing nerdy things -- playing D&D, binge watching Doctor Who (Portlandia-style), and forming relationships with the people in town.
Fezs are cool.

That was a progression of events that I was able to follow and that world was growing on me. I wanted to see the relationship with Imogene and Charleston develop. I wanted to know more about Charleston's interests in paranormal investigation.

I liked the creepy story about Michael Smith and his preoccupation with being normal. 

...on being normal.
Later in these first 70 pages or so, Charleston questions his own interests in hunting paranormal activity and this idea of what it means to be normal pops up again. Trying to be normal when propped up against the fantastical side of Area 42's universe, seems like an interesting thread to follow.

As I read through Area 42, I did notice some other neat worldbuilding things, things I'd love to do for my own work. The Fictosphere contains other stories that are based around Riverwood -- the town Charleston and M reside in. Subject M appears to be in another story. Events in the comic also seem to have auxiliary notes and plot threads that live on tumblr. It seems like there are a lot of different ways to explore the world of Area 42.


Over the course of the comic, as strange things happened to them to altered their slice-of-life existence, I began to lose the thread of the story. From a fantasy angle and a writing angle, it felt like everything and the kitchen sink was thrown at this story: robots, demons, wizards, a succubus, aliens, and clandestine X-Files styled government conspiracies. At one point M shifts into an alternate dimension dysoptia (or so I believe, since it's told to us through M's exposition) and then the comic becomes a reality TV show about interior design.

Finally, this all leads to this author note from April 14, 2015: Mike writes, "I have no idea what I’m doing or where this is going and I’m regretting my decision to make it about a reality show! Watch as I try to steer things back towards something resembling coherency, and hey, what’s more coherent than time travel?"

I stopped reading on that page.

My biggest problem with Area 42 after reading 100+ pages of it: I'm not sure where it's going or why I should care. 

As I read the comic, I also read some of the author notes, and it seems that Mike improvises pages of the comic the night before. This includes major and minor decisions about the story and it leads to some really awesome moments and plot ideas but it also leads to some big misses. 

When I was writing fiction, I remember folks talking about two main schools of thought for plotting your novel:
  1. The seat of your pants. You write it word-for-word and let it go where it will;
  2. You outline it and plan it out ahead of time. 

I always preferred method #1. It was fun and joyous. You put words down on page and a whole universe with characters sprang to life. You molded everything as you wrote it down. Conversations happened in realtime. It's exciting because you're in the moment of creation. 

But... it would also create some gaping plot holes. You don't really think through things in-depth -- it's all just lampshade hanging and hand-waving to move from one scene to another.

It's fun... for the writer. 

Not the reader, and I think that's Area 42's problem for me.

Whereas Area 42 might be fun to write for Mike, the whiplash from having the story change itself up so quickly really began to pull me out of it. It's like the story never found what it wanted to be and the author never stuck to it, so to fix it, why not add a new wrench -- an alternate dimension, a new character, or time travel.

It makes me wonder how much of it is thrown together as short-term filler without a longer term narrative goal in mind, and that's why I unfortunately dropped it. 


At best, Area 42 is a rough draft. There are plot threads and ideas that are interesting. There are some jokes that work. There are characters worth exploring and fleshing out, but the work needs a second pass, and that is no easy feat being a comic where hundreds of hours over multiple years have been spent to produce it. Hopefully as Mike continues to create the Fictosphere we'll get more polished pieces of work.