Sunday, February 19, 2017

Dobble & Ed: A Door Revisted

Aliens among us! Doors to another world! Abominable snowmen! You think you’ve seen it all? Wait 'til you feast your eyes on…
Dobble & Ed: A Door Revisited

The Rating

For fairness’ sake, consider this rating to be…relatively arbitrary. This is a spin-off of a pre-existing comic. Given the choice between seeking out the source comic or simply judging how Revisted holds up as a stand-alone work, I have chosen the latter.

The Raves

The first thing that struck me about this comic was how fast-paced the storyline is. If you want something that takes off like a rocket, boy is this the one for you! Right off the bat, you have an alien named Advice Box being taken away to another world right in front of his friends and they waste no time cooking up a plot to find him. That seems to be the main story, though a lot of other subplots are worked in along the way. In less than fifty pages, we see extraterrestrial portals, a living snowman with a grudge against our main characters, a woman toting a flamethrower, a strange alien world, and a rooftop battle against an evil pink rabbit! There’s always something going on and it’s always strange, unexpected, and gleefully silly.

The plot, which I’ll get to later, lost me a bit at several points. One thing that didn’t lose me, though, was the plethora of creative ideas this comic throws out at high speeds. The sheer insanity of this comic reminds me a little of the edgy, offbeat magic in cult classic cartoons like Invader Zim. It seems like anything could happen in this world. The chaotic setting is also paired with a slightly dry sense of humor, though usually more good-natured, rather than cutting. The occasional fourth-wall gag also sneaks in, for those who like those kinds of jokes.

To go along with the crazy setting, the art is also packed with a lot of detail and creative energy. I can’t help noticing how energetic the composition is. Something interesting is always going on. 
While the art style is simple, notice how everything looks to be in proper perspective. The machine in the foreground frames the characters and there are small details like carpet texture and photos on the wall to keep the room from feeling empty and stark.
The comic uses a very wide variety of angles to show the characters and their surroundings. Since I haven't read the source comic, I can't rightly judge, but it does seem from this page that the background art has evolved a lot over the years. I really like how the cityscapes look in particular. The buildings look properly three-dimensional and the perspective is usually correct, building an interesting skyline in the wider shots.

The Razzes

Part of what makes a spin-off successful is the ability to bring newcomers up to speed on the setting and characters. While I like the fast-paced writing, there were several points where I felt like the comic had lost me. It does go back and explain some things—for example, where Advice Box came from, and how Andy the Snowman came to be—but there are also a lot of parts where I feel like I’m missing too much context to be fully immersed. No doubt a fan of the main series would get way more out of this comic, but as an outsider, I don’t feel like I’ve been given a proper introduction.

The biggest problem is the characters. It’s obvious they’re already established from the main story, but here, I can barely get a feel for them. I don’t have much of a grasp on their relationships or why the main human characters care about getting Advice Box back. From there, it feels like a flood of cameos that get only the slightest continuity nods. 
You know how they say "show, don't tell"? This is telling me about the character, but it's not showing who he is.
Characters just come and go with minimal context. Andy the Snowman is probably the most well-developed character so far, being a grouch with a clearly-explained backstory and motivation, but most everyone else seems like too much is missing for me to feel all that invested in them.

With that out of the way, let’s talk about art. First, I want to point out a problem with the lettering.
You see that? That’s not a thing that should happen. You gotta give your words room to breathe! Don’t let them get so close to the edge! Not every word bubble has this problem, but it still happens quite a lot. Also, consider the shape the text forms. It should be roughly in a diamond pattern. Most of the word bubbles do exactly that, but I've seen more than one instance of text lines being uneven in this comic. Try to avoid that.

As for the rest of the art, though I like the composition, the linework and colors leave much to be desired. For one thing, the lines are a bit on the sloppy side and lack any variety in weight. Even a little bit of variation on the line weight can make a big difference. Try starting with using slightly finer lines for smaller or more distant details. Add a little more thickness on lines near a shadow. If you want more in-depth information on line weight and how it effects a drawing, check out this video.
As for the colors, they’re flat and murky. The shadows look as though they’re made by adding more black to the base color. There aren’t any highlights either. I’m not saying the comic needs to start doing a bunch of fancy blending, because with cartoony art, usually less is more. but try throwing in a highlight here or there and use richer hues for your shadows. Combine that with some variety in line thickness, and you’d be amazed at the difference.

Finally, it seems the characters are very stiff. They look like posed action figures most of the time. Since this is such a cartoony art style, giving advice on human anatomy won’t help much here. In this case, I actually think the best thing to study would be animation. Here's some fun homework; watch a whole lot of Looney Tunes and look closely at how the characters move from frame to frame. Pay attention to the subtle movements, as well as the big, exaggerated ones. And if you see a pose you like, reference it! 

If you're wondering how they do some of this, take a look at this tutorial on walk cycles. Most of the later steps won’t apply to your art, but notice how before the animation itself comes into play, the person writing the tutorial takes time to talk about the torque and basic shapes of the body?  These kinds of tips can help you get some ideas on what a body looks like in motion and how to capture a single “frame” of that movement. Take some time to read up on the line of action, too, since having a grasp on that really does make all the difference in drawing good poses.

The Revue

As I mentioned before, my review is strictly judging the comic on how well it holds up as a stand-alone comic. So how well does it?

Not too well, in my opinion. The story is a bit half-baked and the art, while visually interesting, has a lot of weak points. Whether the comic would be better for having read the main series isn’t for me to say. If you're interested in seeing more of Wes Parham's work, you can follow him on Tapastic.

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