Saturday, June 10, 2017

Closed For Rennovation. Doors Re-Open In The Winter!

A great deal is going on in the lives of your MC's at the moment. So it's adieu for now dear readers, but not goodbye; we'll begin our reveues anew when the snow flies. See you then!

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Intermission For The Month Of May

Looks Like The Creative Gears Have Jammed In The Revue Engine. 


We'll Be Working Backstage To Get Back On Track.


See You In June!

Sunday, April 16, 2017

IMAGICA=verse

When monsters are terrorizing your city, there’s only one man for the job! And by man, we mean a girl – a magical girl, to be precise. Welcome to the world of…

The Rating
4

The main character’s reason for becoming a magical girl is refreshingly original and believable for a comic of this genre. It’s a shame that potential is wasted on some unfortunate writing choices as the story unfolds.

The Raves

IMAGICA=verse is a magical girl comic – quite explicitly so.

Get used to the typos, by the way. They're in for the long haul.
But hey, there’s nothing wrong with being explicit in establishing your setting. In fact, the comic starts out on a high note, despite the art being amateurish. The premise is that magical girls exist in hordes, called upon to fight whatever monster threatens the city in a manner reminiscent to Power Rangers. The girls are looked up to as heroes, get ample news coverage of their battles, and have a celebrity status. They’re such a phenomenon that girls who have powers will audition what they can do before a panel of world-weary judges in order to gain some form of sponsorship.

That’s a creative and unique take on magical girls that I for one haven’t seen before. Usually, a magical girl is unique, or, at most, part of a small team of girls conveniently living within the same country and chosen by destiny. Instead, the girls are more like superheroes, and there are more of them lurking about than you can shake a magic wand at. So if not destiny, what compels our protagonist, Valencia, to take up arms?
The art isn't this comic's strength, but that traumatized stare says a lot.
As it turns out, it’s to make money and to protect her mother. Not fame, not power, and certainly not because a cute talking animal told her she has to. She’s doing it for her family, which is a far more personal reason, and one that immediately shows what drives her and where her priorities lie. To sum it up, her mother is constantly assaulted and robbed by loan sharks trying to collect on a debt Valencia's father accrued, and Valencia wants to save her. I question the wisdom of this decision, since it seems like calling the local authorities (surely there are police to deal with non-monster problems), would be smarter. Plus, the guys she works for are kind of shady and keep crucial information from her.

Less-than-wise planning aside, though, I still think it paints her as a noble character. If anything, putting herself in danger to make money and being naïve enough to trust a potential con man just shows more of what kind of person she is. Most importantly, her making the choice to fight as a magical girl, instead of being “destined,” makes all of her deeds as a magical girl meaningful to her character. It’s nice to see a comic of this genre stray from the usual clichés of the establishing plot. Unfortunately, the comic is victim to a different cliché, one from the superhero genre – the training sequence. And that’s where the comic has been spinning its wheels since.

The Razzes

The art looks like the creator learned everything from reading shoujo manga. There’s nothing wrong with that style inherently, but the anatomy is stiff and awkward, and the faces look flat. Sometimes backgrounds show decent perspective, but it has little presence or depth. The shading is applied in a sloppy fashion, with no clear light source.

Even if the art is just copying manga, that’s still a valid starting point for learning about style, character design, and visual effects. But if you really want to get good at drawing, at some point, you have to step away from manga and draw from life. I suggest beginning with some figure drawing and apply what you’ve learned to your art. Impossible you say? How can life drawing apply to cartoon-styled art? Quite well, in fact! Knowing proportions is vital to bringing a drawing to life, even if it’s not “realistic.” Here’s a video that shows the most basic shapes of the head and proportions of the face.
When you understand the shapes and proportions and apply those things to your drawings, they will have more depth to them, even though their features may be manga-like. Even if your art style isn’t realism, you can still benefit from an understanding of real anatomy and structure. For good measure, I’ll also leave you with brief guides on lighting and shadowfacial expressions, and foreshortening. These are all areas you could improve in, but with some practice, you’ll get better at them over time.

The art is, unfortunately, the least of this comic’s problems. The pacing and plot direction need so much improvement. As I said before, the story’s been mired in “training sequence” territory. One of the first major tests of her powers that we see is her trying to use some form of x-ray vision to win a game. The setup seems like the people running the game are plotting something sinister, what with the mysterious masks and a tense build-up over several pages as she hesitates to give the correct answer. The answer must lead to something important, right?

Nope. It’s a penis joke. Not even a funny joke at that, and it makes no sense since she was supposed to find the only correctly-spelled word in a box of misspelled words, and somehow the joke is that she picked the correctly-spelled word, but misread it. And all of that is followed up with more exposition on her abilities, instead of showing her learning to use them in a real confrontation. As a matter of fact, show, don't tell is a prevalent issue with the writing throughout this comic, even at its best. So what is the difference between telling and showing? Here's a tongue-in-cheek example.
Credit to Anthony Clark for this image.
Indeed, some exposition is necessary to tell a story, but readers will be even more engaged if they learn about something by seeing it happen, rather than having it explained. Instead of giving a verbal primer on how a magical girl's power works, how about just showing them do it? It's not always necessary to explain the specifics of how it works, either, as long as it's portrayed consistently. Something to consider the next time you want to have your protagonist try a new type of magic.

The supporting cast isn't written all that well either. I find Valencia to be a likeable, heroic girl, although easily manipulated, but most everyone else seems flat. Her mother, although loving and gentle, acts a little too passive and calm for somebody in her situation, and her siblings don't seem to play much of a role beyond yet another one of the things Valencia takes responsibility for. It does make her look good, but it also makes her mother look like a less capable parent. It would be nice to see these characters fleshed out more, show how the mother raises her children, and perhaps show the siblings' reactions to the situation. How does it affect them seeing their mother's arm broken by loan sharks? Are they afraid? Angry? Worried? Were they really so easily fooled by Valencia's verbal backtracking after she let slip where her money is coming from, or are they hiding their concern or simply overlooking it because they don't understand the risk? What will they do once they do understand? If family is going to be at the heart of her motivation, answering these kinds of questions is important. In order to show how strong the family bond is, you need to show who these people are and how they care for each other. It's not enough to just show Valencia's role in it.

As for her mentor figures, Derek and Isaac, they don't seem to have a role beyond dumping exposition, whether it's to Valencia or between themselves. They have a nasty habit of delivering exposition dumps to the audience about things she really ought to know, but for some reason they don't feel the need to tell her.


With mentors like these, who needs enemies?
Isaac is usually portrayed as the nicer one, but really, their roles in the story is interchangeable. They spend a lot of time talking about how special and unique Valencia is because she apparently wasn't born a magical girl but became one later (which she is unaware of for some reason), and this makes her powers even more extraordinary than usual. For all the kudos I give the beginning of the comic for avoiding the cliché of the magical girl being chosen by destiny, this comic really seems to want to veer right back into that territory the further it goes on. And that's a bit disappointing.

The Revue

The writing has so many problems. The one thing the comic does well is it gives the main character a very solid motivation and personality. Even though her decisions aren’t particularly smart, she’s so well-meaning and self-sacrificing that it’s hard to not want her to succeed. Unfortunately, that’s not enough to carry the comic. The art, the pacing and delivery, and character development really hold it back.


Saturday, April 15, 2017

Bite Madness

Hungry for some zombie comedy action? Then sink your teeth into…

The Rating

This comic has some good jokes and a unique approach to zombie fiction, but it has a lot of flaws to overcome.

The Raves

Fans of zombie fiction know that blood, gore, and violence are staples of the genre. You just can’t have zombies without those things…or can you?

What immediately stands out about Bite Madness is that it’s really not all that big on the splatter. Not to say there’s no violence at all or that it doesn’t get messy on occasion, but it’s not what Sir Hellsir focuses on. Instead, comedy and the quirky cast take center stage here. The characters are simple enough; you have X and Y, a duo roaming the apocalyptic cityscape in search of, well, zombies. Y is an energetic, fearless marauder, while X is more the voice of reason. The two meet up with a nutty, overly enthusiastic robot named Pi-Omega who was built by the mad scientist Epsilon. Epsilon has seen…er, better days, but don't worry, he’s been patched up.
Sort of.

And jokes like that are part of what makes the comic enjoyable to read. It has loads of self-awareness and manages to crack some pretty smart jokes about the kinds of things you’ll see in most zombie invasion stories. Combined with a fun cast, if most of them lacking a little bit in depth, it’s still got potential. It has the trappings of a zombie story – society falling apart, scattered people banding together, and action – but it stands out by focusing less on the gore and more on the actual story.

If you come to zombie stories looking for a splatterfest, you won’t find it here, but if you want something that takes a different, more comedic and self-aware approach, this is the comic for you. And don’t worry, even though the comic isn’t all that graphic, there’s still plenty of excitement and zombies to blast.
…but first, let's make sure our fortifications stay sound.

The Razzes

The art is certainly not the strong point here, with somewhat boring backgrounds and color choices. Most pages look very grey and white, and it makes the whole image look washed out. The use of texture is nice, and gives the page some grit, but it doesn’t make up for the lethargic palette or the fact that most of the backgrounds look  flat. For example, the forest here looks scribbled-on and featureless.
But with some more detail, even imprecise, sketchy detail, those trees could look more distinct, have more depth, and even look denser:
Notice also the grass texture and lights on the skyscrapers to make it more obvious they're buildings. The smallest extra effort can go a long way.

Obviously, these are just suggestions and not commands. What you see above you was just one approach to making the background on this page more interesting, and make no mistake, backgrounds matter in a story like this. In a post-apocalyptic setting, readers expect to see damage and chaos. The environment is a big part of driving home the feeling of danger and catastrophe. Without that, the audience is merely being told that society has collapsed, instead of seeing it before their very eyes. Instead of ruined cities, the characters look more like they’re running around in a Portal test chamber. Of course being well-written is the most important thing in a comic, and your writing has a lot to like about it, but the art could do a much better job of supporting the writing.

Inconsistent dynamics are also a problem here. The characters look too stiff most of the time. There isn’t a lot of energy to their movements, with one exception. Pi-Omega has some of the best poses and angles in the comic. Just compare how he looks to how X looks on the very same page:
In the post-apocalyptic future, our glorious robot overlords will be more flexible than the meatbags.
Sir Hellsir, I don’t know if you realize this, but you already understand something important about poses and dynamics that you’re not applying to your human characters. Namely, that it’s all about using shapes and lines of action to build the form. Because Pi-Omega is so sectioned, you seem to have a really strong grasp on how to build his form using the shapes his respective parts, and what comes out of it are some darn good shots. If you apply those principles to how you draw humans, you’ll get results. You’ve already got the skill to do it! Just break the human character down into parts and try to use the same approach you’re using with Pi-Omega. You’ll get the hang of it soon enough.

Aside from all that, the comic also suffers from typos and bad grammar. In fact, it seems to actually get worse as the comic goes on. I’m not sure why that is, but it bears considering. Try to spend a little more time double-checking the writing for mistakes.
Bad grammar makes dialog awkward to read. In this case, awkward on a few different levels.

The Revue

I have to admire this comic for taking the zombie apocalypse setting and focusing more on the cast and the comedy, rather than yet another viscera-encrusted romp. Despite its flaws, this comic could be something unique and fun to read. It has its own kind of brilliance already, and with some improvement, that brilliance will get some real crunch to it.

Saturday, April 8, 2017

Intermission Week of April 8

When Life Gives You Lemons, Make Lemonade And Sit Down For A Spell!

Lots of exciting changes are going on backstage, curtain back up next week dear readers. Get out in the sun, we'll see you next week!

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Monthly Matinee March: Who Is Mary Sue, Anyway?

Who Is Mary Sue, Anyway?

Anybody who is into the writing scene, and especially into fanfiction, has heard this term before. But what does it mean? And why it is seen as a Bad Thing? How do you successfully identify a Mary Sue and what steps do you take to fix the problem? Is it really a problem at all? Let's talk about it.

The Origins of Mary Sue

This misunderstood bit of fan-speak originated from a satirical fanfiction called A Trekkie’s Tale, written by Paula Smith. This very short story points out a number of common traits that the author saw present in fan-made Star Trek characters. Namely, characters who were blatantly created for authorial wish fulfillment. This Mary Sue was an inexplicably beloved cardboard cut-out with no meaningful personality and a contrived role in the story that pushed all the other characters off to the side to soak up as much of the spotlight as possible. She was a simple, concise image of how flat and boring original characters like this really are stripped of all the purple prose, fluff, and ego-primping of these fanfictions.

The Evolution of Mary Sue

But odds are, most of you probably imagine somebody more like this:
Yes, Enoby Egogy Evony Ebony Dark’ness Dementia Raven Way was quite the odd creature, inhabiting Tara Gilesbie’s infamous Harry Potter fanfiction, My Immortal, a work so bizarrely awful that many people suspect it's a troll-fic. Not only did the protagonist share the same signs of poor character writing as Smith’s Mary Sue, multiplied a hundred-fold, but the story itself had an incomprehensible plot, with spelling and grammar errors so absurd it seemed intentional. What’s more, the entire cast appeared to be of the same caliber, either a pastiche of what the author liked, or else an arbitrary antagonist representing everything the author deemed uncool. Everything you need to know about this oddity can be found in this dramatic reading (NSFW for language).
No doubt about it, the characters represented here are Mary Sue characters, all of them blatant self-inserts, or else canon characters warped beyond recognition to serve the author's fantasies. Whether genuine or stealth parody, the terribleness of the character-writing in this story became legendary. But with the infamy of this fanfiction came a number of stereotypes associated with the term.

Teenage characters. Characters who dress “cool.” Characters with long or extravagant names. Characters who are half something other than human. Characters who are “pretty.” Characters who are “angsty.” Characters who are “overpowered.” Where is the fine line between a Mary Sue and a character who merely has these features? Sites like TV Tropes having over a dozen variations on the term (and another page on the same site admitting the confusion surrounding the term) do nothing to clarify what a Mary Sue specifically is, beyond being a Bad Thing.

When Everyone Is Sue, Nobody Is

Removed from its fanfiction-specific roots, Mary Sue becomes harder to define. It’s become increasingly common to describe characters outside of fanfiction as Mary Sues. Because so much of a Mary Sue is defined by how the original characters react, it's difficult to truly pin down a Mary Sue in original fiction. The hallmark of a Mary Sue is a lack of audience engagement and an overabundance of pandering to the author. What do we making of Barnes & Noble listing a number of characters as Mary Sues, placing iconic figures like James Bond and Little Orphan Annie, of whom there have been many variant interpretations and loving parodies, alongside the notoriously unpopular Bella Swan? Are Mary Sues actually a pervasive archetype in fiction, or is the term being mishandled? The overuse of this term has made it a cliché unto itself, losing its meaning and its usefulness in criticism when it comes to original fiction.

Perhaps it’s time to simplify who Mary Sue really is...and is not.

Mary Sue Is…

...a character who panders to the author.
Does this character get to do or say whatever the author wishes they could do or say? Does the plot hinge around these things? Does this character constantly trumpet the author's views and agenda, and does everyone else either conform to these views or serve as the enemy for not conforming? And does the author get personally offended if a reader criticizes the character? These are usually strong signs of a Mary Sue.

...a character around whom the morality of the story revolves.
Mary Sue is more often than not the product of ego. Even when they would clearly be in the wrong for something they say or do, the story will bend over backwards to insist they are just the best person who ever lived. They can do no wrong, and even when they do, there's always an excuse that makes it justified somehow.

...a character who is free from consequences.
This doesn't mean that the character never gets hurt or that nothing bad happens to them. It means that no matter what, that character will get to do whatever they please at whoever's expense and there will be no meaningful repercussions. If there are repercussions, the story will present them as an injustice to the character no matter how deserved they might be. Even if the character dies, they will always be right and the story will reward them.

...a character who has no faults.
It's commonly said that Mary Sues are characters who have no flaws. Even when they do have flaws, they'll be either cute quirks that never really impede the character or informed flaws that we know exist, but don't actually come into play. Because a Mary Sue is the idealized avatar of the author's wishes, they will be flat characters who have no significant failings.

Putting all of that together, we can form this simple definition:

Mary Sue (n.) [mair-ee. soo]
1. A character archetype centered around wish-fulfillment and/or personal gratification on behalf of the author.
See also: soapbox

Mary Sue Is NOT…

 ...a protagonist.
Simply being the main character is absolutely not a sign of Mary Sue. The plot usually revolves around the protagonist to a large degree and that's not objectively bad. Most stories have a protagonist, so be wary of using the Mary Sue label on a main character.

 ...overpowered.
Being good at too many things isn’t good or bad. It all depends on how you justify it. Did they work for their skills? Are they ridiculously good at some things, but bad at others? Context is key. It's common to whip out this criticism when it comes to hyper-competent characters, yet being boringly competent is the only fault audiences can find about them. Hyper-competency can itself be a writing flaw, but it's not helpful to aspiring writers to call such characters Mary Sues when the problem with the story isn't author-pandering, but rather a lack of satisfying conflict.

...an escapist character.
Mary Sues serve to satisfy the author’s fantasies. An escapist character identifies what the audience likes and lets them live it out through the character. Video game protagonists often fall into this category, but virtue of a medium seeking to make the player to feel empowered. Pulp fiction (the genre, not the movie) also frequently features escapist characters. Being escapist doesn't automatically make them better than Mary Sues; like all archetypes, they can be handled poorly. Even so, it's best not to mistake the two.

...attractive, cool, or trendy.
These things are fluff, window-dressing that has nothing to do with actual character development. Yes, Mary Sues are usually attractive and hip to whatever the author likes, but in comics especially, this isn't a good metric. Character designs tend to focus on things the author finds pleasing to look at and illustrate.

...a self-insert.
Mary Sues are usually self-inserts, but not all self-inserts are Mary Sues, and a character being similar to the author isn't a surefire Sue indicator. As they say, write what you know. Most writers put some of themselves into the characters they write, whether it be their interests, their habits, or their culture. Even direct author avatars aren't automatically bad; many webcomics feature the author as the main character, relating personal anecdotes about their daily life. A staggering number of gaming webcomics have the author frequently stand in for the game character, usually to poke fun at the game. Needless to say, this type of self-insertion is clearly distinct from Mary Sues.

...cliché.
This isn’t to say a cliché character is a good thing, but being cliché does not a Mary Sue make, even if many Mary Sues suffer from a load of cheesy clichés. Switching them out for more original ideas won't solve the core problems with a character; in fact, a lot of Mary Sues are infamous for being loaded down with overly-elaborate specialness.

Mary Sues? In MY Story?

This is a question many authors ask, especially as they start to worry about appealing to an audience. And they will invariably turn to one of many Mary Sue litmus tests on the internet. But tests can be cheated and they don’t get to the heart of the matter. By all means, take the test if you wish, but if you find yourself finagling on some of the points to manipulate the score—well, you’ve already got your answer. If you think your character is a Mary Sue, chances are you’re right.

So now what?

Forgive Me Father, for I Have Sued!

One thing people often overlook is that just about every writer starts out making characters like this. We all have stories we’ve made up when we were less mature that we look on with fond cringing. But there’s no reason to cringe! The wish-fulfillment and fun of making up a story where YOU get to have everything you want is often what kick-starts your imagination and makes you want to write stories. Just look at all the people out there who started out writing fanfiction. Writing with a target audience is mind is the big game-changer that gets writers to start caring about what people think and how to improve. Now, you have to answer big “why” questions.

Why are you writing this story? Why should the audience read it? Why did you make this or that character? These are the essential questions. And they aren’t easy to answer! Good writing, of course, isn’t easy. A novice author might insert a Mary Sue into their work because they just want to live out a personal fantasy, and if it’s for their own amusement, there’s no real harm in that. Certainly they might put their work out there and wonder why people don't care for it, but if they haven't answered the “why” questions, then they haven't reached the stage where they understand how to reach a target audience. It’s the author who is mindful of an audience that should take heed. Fortunately, mindfulness of an audience and a desire to please and entertain readers is probably the first indication that Mary Sue is probably not present here.

But all of that probably don't stop you wondering, right? So for your consideration, may we present...

Ten Simple Dos and Don’ts for the Sue-conscious Author.

DO evaluate your character’s role in the story and consider their personal motivations.
DO answer the 100 Character Questions.
DO NOT take a reader’s dislike of your character as a personal attack against you.
DO NOT load down a character with random flaws to make them seem “not too perfect.”
DO listen to your readers' constructive criticism about your character.
DO use your personal experiences as inspiration for your character.
DO NOT use your character solely as a personal soapbox for your all views and interests.
DO allow the character to make bad decisions or make mistakes.
DO your research when it comes to things about your character that you don’t have much personal experience with.
DO NOT attempt to force an unpopular character down your audience’s throat by making a popular character talk them up.

What if I Find a Mary Sue?

If you found a genuine Mary Sue in your own writing, odds are good you’re going to have to fix more than just the character, because a true Mary Sue dominates the entire story. But the first real step for fixing the problem isn’t writing-related; you must be willing to put aside your own ego and consider why you’re writing this story and what your target audience is. Answering that is the first and pivotal step into good character writing. And from there? We really can’t stress those 100 Character Questions enough.

And if you find a real, genuine Mary Sue in somebody else’s work? Well, let us ask you this—did they want your feedback to begin with? Remember, we all have to start someplace and not every writer is mature enough to understand or care about what the audience wants. Delivering feedback informing them about the nebulous world of Mary Sue might not be as helpful as you intend.

Sometimes it’s better to just let Mary have their fun.

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Daniel: A Grave Tale of Horror

Ladies and Gentlemen!
Today, I present you a grave tale of horror!
The story of Daniel!

Are you gonna mop that up, Daniel?


Daniel, created by Sara Nelson, is set in 1934 and is a story about the titular character, Daniel, his crush, Christine, her family, and potential rival,Wayne. Daniel is mild-mannered, introverted, and awkward, but after an encounter with Wayne, events take a bad turn for Danny-boy, who finds himself among the undead. Turned into a vampire. How? You'll have to read to find out. Over the course of the nine chapters (it's not completed yet) we're presented with an intimate look at Daniel and Christine's encounters after his transformation and slowly unravel the mystery behind him.

Rating




Raves



Story

I tend to like intimate stories like this one. It's focused almost entirely between Daniel and Chrissy. Epic adventures are fun, but I get lost with the sea of characters and their motivations. This story begins with a cute romantic moment and a lot of awkwardness and stuttering by Daniel, which I found that mildly annoying after a while, but as the story unfolds, Daniel becomes unhinged in latter chapters as he seeks vengeance against Wayne and lusts after Chrissy's blood.

I thought Sarah handled Daniel's transformation from shy and introverted to unhinged pretty well. The chapters are long and the pacing a bit slow, but it's enough time to really settle in and have nuanced moments with Daniel. It's those moments that give us the gradual progression into the darker chapters later in the story, and they do get pretty dark so if you're squeamish when it comes to blood and gore you may want to skip it.

Art

I dig the black and white look of Daniel. It's set in 1934 and the black and white gives it that old-timey charm.

The characters are really well drawn. They show a good sense of proportion. The clothing is detailed and looks from the era. Everything is cleanly inked and softly shaded. The character expressions are exaggerated but help sell a lot of the emotion. I like the eyes in particular where we can see a lot of the fear and craziness come through in later chapters.

Razzes

Art 

One of my qualms about the art in Daniel is the backgrounds in the panels. Yes, they're rendered nicely in black and white but they appear sterile.



Where are all of the people in these backgrounds? Even one or two would help sell the illusion of human presence otherwise it looks like a ghost town. Now, maybe that adds to the horror of it, but my initial reaction was the stage felt devoid of life. I don't know if these are 3D models, but they give me the feeling they are mostly barebone 3D models traced-over and textured. It's not a bad job by any means. The texturing fits the perspective and and line work is really good, but the building facades look flat and too perfect. Some bumps on the building silhouette could help show the unevenness of the brick, plaster, or concrete. The windows and doors could be deeper inset to show thickness as well.



I also notice some issues with building proportions and perspective issues. Whereas the character proportions look decent, the windows, door frames, and various aspects of the buildings don't seem to be proportioned well. The windows of the house (above) and in the previous perspective example appear too wide.

Anime artist Thomas Romain has some great tips for drawing buildings in perspective, which you can read here on Kotaku (or find on his twitter account).

The first example talks about building proportions. There are more tips in the article on Kotaku.




Here's a tutorial on constructing a building using a flat image manipulated into the perspective using Photoshop's transformation tool.



Word Bubbles

Another small nitpick I had was with the word bubbles. The words are arranged in a square and then circled with a word balloon, but it leaves uneven spaces around the dialogue and the bubble. The letters come close to the edge of the bubble in this case. The word bubble carrots appear too thick and in a few instances I saw them implicitly criss-crossing over one another. It's not a big deal. I was able to figure out which character was speaking, but these are minor things that could be fixed in future pages to make a great presentation even better.

Revue


Daniel's a story that unveils its mystery and insanity over time. It's well drawn and an enjoyable, intimate, and at times a deeply unsettling and an uncomfortable horror story.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Re:Set

Ladies and Gentlemen!
In my hands I hold a box
that can unlock your every desire


But...


...At a cost!



Re:Set is an anime inspired webcomic by azureXtwilight about Michelle Vinson, a lonely and unhappy girl, who oneday opens Pandora's box and unleashes demons back into the world. She makes a deal with Sloth and it changes her world and ours.

Rating


Get ready to have your expectations reset!

Raves


Character

Michelle curses like a sailor and wants to fight demons. It's a stark contrast when we meet her in chapter 3 versus the first one. When she's introduced, she seems to play to a lot of anime tropes: twin tails, chibi faces, and school uniform. All of these tropes are subverted by chapter 3 when she really lets loose. At first it felt out of character, but I was glad to see my expectations shattered in this regard. My only issue with Michelle: I don't understand her motives or goal in making a deal with Sloth.

Art

The art is colorful, lush, and beautiful. It isn't without its flaws -- there are some bodies that are anatomically stretched and distorted in odd ways, but every effort is made to make Re:Set appear cinematic and full of motion and action. It feels very anime even down to the occasional use of chibi faces for a chuckle or two.

Vibrant reds in this scene. Lots of cool cinematic effects throughout the comic.


Video

In fact...

Check out the trailer for Re:Set, I thought it was really cool to hear voice actors portray the characters and see motion graphics for the characters.



Use of Audio

I know folks generally hate having random audio pop up when they're viewing a website. I didn't expect it towards the end of chapter 2, but it worked. The audio combined with the imagery really made it come alive in a way that you couldn't do in a traditional manga. Webcomics have the luxury of an infinite canvas, bits of animation, and even the use of audio to give life to the story the author is telling, and it's used effectively here. The music track is anime or visual novel inspired and fits with the comic pages well.

My only issue was that it had to start itself over on the next page. From a technical standpoint you'd want the audio to be able to continue across pages. This means you'd either have to use AJAX to load pages or have the audio sit in some pop-up window or iframe. AJAX loading of pages would be a very custom code solution. Pop-up windows and iframes might get AdBlocked ruining the effect.

BTW, another page in the comic uses audio too, but one drawback: if I'm reading the comic fast, it may not give the audio a chance to load. I only noticed that another page in the story had audio because it had fully loaded in time for me to hear it while I was deciding if I wanted to crop that image for this review.

Valentine's Day Special

I liked this one shot comic V-day comic from the serial. You will have to read through the comic before you read this, but it's worth it.

Razzes


Disjointed Storytelling

From Chapter 1

The first three chapters shift in tone and made them feel disjointed. In chapter 1, Michelle gets the box and ends up making a Faustian deal with Sloth, the demon in the box. As the chapter progressed, I like how Michelle knew the potential consequences of her actions, and it seemed to be a twist on the usual morality play between mortals and gods. She shuns her guardian Gerald. She knows that the contract will probably cost her something dear, but she does it anyway. Seemingly because anything is better than a neglected life.

That is a really good question, Michelle. (From Chapter 2)

I'm not sure where chapter 2 takes place. The colors shift from the dark tones in chapter 1 to bright blues. There's a lot of fighting with some zombies and at the end Michelle greets Gerald by calling herself the "future world empress," which, if nothing else, is very anime, because I don't know what else it means.

Is that her goal? Is that part of the deal she made with Sloth? She ends up making a deal with Gerald though, which left me scratching my head. At the end of chapter 1, I was expecting the story to be about Michelle and Sloth. This chapters makes me wonder even further why she made a deal with Sloth from the get-go.

EFF YEA.

In chapter 3, the tone and genre of the story seems to shift to something more urban fantasy/paranormal. Chapter 3 onward, Re:Set introduces a ton of characters -- magicians and minions alike. There's a lot more combat, and it takes on a plot to retrieve various artifacts before they can combat the seven deadly sins who have been released into the world. Everything feels coherent as we now have an ensemble cast that we can bounce between and hold a longer story with a McGuffin plotline.

Each of these first three chapters felt like the start of a new story and not a continuation of one narrative. I suppose you could say these changes reset one's expectations as my expectations changed chapter to chapter: I thought it was a snarky, twisted morality play, but then it ended up being a McGuffin hunt in a paranormal urban fantasy anime. There's nothing wrong with any of those genres. My own work even has some sudden and jarring shifts like that in the first few chapters, but having done that and looking back at my own work, I think it hurts it, because I'm not sure where my expectations as a reader are supposed to be. If I find myself latching onto an idea only to have it tossed in chapter 2 and again in chapter 3, then I might bail on the story.

tl;dr: it's a long wind up to get to the main story.

Big Ensemble Cast

New character are introduced to pull the story along. Characters have henchmen characters. There isn't one guy after a McGuffin but teams of magicians.

One issue with all these characters: I don't feel any attachment to the majority of them, but chapter 6 appears to be a bit slower, so maybe we can get a moment to breathe and learn about a few of the characters.

Typography and Speech Bubble Issues

Early in the story, chapter 1 mainly, there are some typography issues I had. Sloth's font face is difficult to read and blends into the background color. I understand the idea of using a different font to show her otherness, but it should be readable at a glance.



There are several bubble placement issues in earlier pages. They would float between panels making it difficult to discern who the text referred too or which order to read the text in. Later on in the webcomic, these issues mostly seem to go away.

Art: Unintentional Sharp Angles, Unnecessary Rimlighting

Art-wise, when drawing bodies and clothing, sometimes they appear to have hard planar surfaces or sharp edges because of how they're rim-lighted. One example is the abs on Gerald early on in the story.




They're smoothly shaded, but then there's a hard, white rim-light outlining part of his pectoral and abdominal muscles and this makes them appear very sharp looking -- like there's a hard crease between the light and shadow.

The same style of highlighting is used on clothing making it appear blocky and planar.

I know adding a bit of lighting around the edges can make a feature pop, but since most of the work in Re:Set appears painterly it might help to have the highlights blended in with the rest to avoid the odd angular appearance.

Revue


If you're fans of anime serials like Inuyasha that go on for hundreds of episodes, you may enjoy this webcomic, because it has plenty of demons, magic, and enough McGuffin chasing and demon-slaying to last that long.

Sunday, March 12, 2017

Sunday Revue March 12: The Chanterelle and May Life

Hang On To Your...Well, Just HANG ON
Because Coming Your Way Is


....Who's got the absinthe? Pour a glass, you're going to want it. This is The Chanterelle and May Life.  The creator describes it thusly: The sweetest little sociopaths you know are spreading their darling brand of sadism like a sweet, sweet cancer across a magical kingdom of victims.
You were warned...

The Rating

Sorry kiddos. You may want to stop skipping art class.

The Raves

Now, I'm not saying this work is awful. There's an interesting sense of design. There's some nice attempts at calligraphic flourishes. The characters are cute. And of course, for anyone who likes bright colors  the palette is wild and vibrant. There's no shortage of energy or creativity here.


The Razzes

As for what needs work...whoo boy. Let me roll up my sleeves....ooooookay then.





Letter Up

First of all, this comic ABSOLUTELY AND DESPERATELY MUUUUUST improve its font, lettering layout, and kerning. Because-and I hate to say it but I will- I can't read it. I don't mean I don't like to. I don't mean I don't want to. I earnestly can barely decipher the first pages.
Let me speak to the creator: look, I admire the hard work you put into hand lettering. But this isn't working. Please, please head over to Blambot and find a good font.
Chewed PenArtist Alley, even Blambastic, anything would be better than as is.
And PLEASE study layout. Here's a few good pointers.






If you'd like some more tools in this area, try the program ComicLife.

Clean Up Your Act!

Once the lettering is cleaned up, get started on draftsmanship. Because right now, there's a problem with sloppiness. Yes, this is watercolor. Yes, there is something to be said for style. But colors bleeding into other areas and smudges here and there aren't charming. They're clumsy. Beyond that, the pages are so busy and disorganized that readers have trouble following much of anything; visually it's just a colored blur. 
Clean it up!

The Revue

...sorry, not impressed. 

The Chanterelle and May Life

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Saturday Revue March 11: Hominids

For A Swingin' Good Time, Look No Further Than


Imagine Avatar re-written in an intelligent, soul searching manner. Imagine Tarzan with a brain. That, dear readers, is Hominids. Created by Jordan Kotzebue, this is the adventure tale you always wanted and never got. All the adventure, all the beauty, all the raw living power of the jungle is here, but this time there's a heart and mind to match. This story will steal your heart and entrance your eyes. Prepare yourself for a trek into a tale.

The Rating

A True Tale Spinning Feat.

The Raves

This rave must begin with the art. Gods, the ART! Lush, rich, vibrant and viridian, the artwork of Hominids is stunning. The creator is truly a master of their craft, capturing body language, expression, lighting and atmosphere with a breathtakingly deft hand. The color of a flower, the light on a leaf, the gleam on a blade all draw the reader eyes-first into a living breathing ecosystem. You can almost smell the loam and leaves, breathe the humid fragrances of strange flowers and sweat and feel the grass between your toes. This art is exemplary.

But beautiful artwork is only the first strand of the web. Onto the storytelling, which is more than a match for the art!

Hominids is aptly named, for it is, in effect, a story about people: their loves, their hopes, their dreams, their motivations, and what circumstances and culture can make them into. Angel or monster, heathen or heretic or high priest, it has nothing to do with who you are and everything to do with who your culture THINKS you are. The best people can be twisted into beasts by a culture with a domineering mentality. And the angriest people can be eased by a culture that focuses on peace and cooperation. Hominids is a parable about interacting cultures on one level: what has in other places been called 'the dance of the givers and the takers' is portrayed here. Cultural interaction between cultures with entirely different priorities can very quickly get problematic.

On a creative level, you can't help but be impressed by the creative worldbuilding and scientific dedication that went into this work. For instance, the ecosystem is based on and in some cases drawn directly from anthropological research on what various branches of the human family tree might have been like, and exploring a time when we coexisted is FASCINATING. The subtle attention to plant and animal species appropriate to the setting really impressed me (being a horticulturist in my professional life, people who get plants right make me happy!) and there are many deft and subtle bits of ecological and evolutionary design: for instance, the tree dwellers are perfectly designed for their forest home. They even have dappled patterns on their skin that aids them in concealment. THAT impressed me. This creator did their homework!

 On another level, this is a story about the interaction between individuals and the moral code of their culture. In Hominids, people ask eternal questions: do I believe what I was taught? Was I brought up with the right beliefs? What if there's another way? As the characters ask themselves, we're all encouraged to ask these questions along with them, and we all grow stronger for it.

But wait, there are still more layers! There is a spicing of sci-fi hidden under the fantasy of this tale, a hint of an older and far more technological civilization hidden under the vines and creepers, metal under the jungle loam. Now what happened here, the reader must ask. What indeed...

But that hint will remain, for now, just a hint. This vibrant ecosystem of story works holistically: none of these elements jar or push out the others. It's part of what makes such a complex story work.
 Another key element is extremely strong writing. The dialogue is crisp, clean and believable, the story moves along at a perfect pace, and there's just the right amount of pleasant, sweet and amusing banter mixed in to keep the story upbeat in the face of deep, difficult and complex themes.

In a true master stroke, every single character is well-rounded, strong and believable in their motivations: serious homework having been done is evident again in the careful use of psychological motivators, but this story reads as a STORY, not as a text book, and that's what takes it from good to great. You can understand and sympathize with every single character, even the ones you despise. And that is true greatness in storytelling.


The Razzes

There's not a lot to be said against this comic: it's stunning. But a few little areas could use some polishing up.
First off, dearest creator, when you've made something as AMAZING as this it doesn't deserve the rookie mistake of missing a page favicon. I'd add one as soon as possible. As a reader I noticed this little detail when, flipping through the tabs on my taskbar, I couldn't find the one for Hominids at first. Because it had a blank favicon that looks like any other neglected waif of a page. Let's fix that!
Simply put this code into the header of your site's HTML: 

<head profile="http://www.w3.org/2005/10/profile">
<link rel="icon" 
      type="image/png" 
      href="http://example.com/myicon.png">

and replace 'example' with the url where you store your image. Done and dusted. Your icon should be 160 by 160 and say something about your page....for Hominids, might I suggest a leaf?
The only other thing I might suggest is a little work on tangent lines and dialogue layout. Occasionally the reader's eye is confused about the direction of speech in a conversation. The creator has color coded the speech, which helps enormously, but careful attention to word bubble placement is still essential.
Always remember that English readers read up to down, left to right. Throw that off even a little and you have confused eyeballs.

The Revue

A wonderous and enchanting MUST READ. Fern Gulley for adults, Avatar for intellectuals. Enjoy!