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.

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. 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.

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.




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.


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.



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.


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


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


...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.


Get ready to have your expectations reset!



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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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="">
<link rel="icon" 

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!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Technique Tuesday: Lettering

Laying It Out: Lettering!

Take A Little Advice From Chris Oatley And Nate Piekos On Lettering Properly!

Chris Oatley writes that our layouts should always create The Flawless Diamond

Images were drawn from the eminent article Comic Layout Tutorial: The Comic Lettering Spell By Chris Oatley. For further reading, visit Blambot. Happy lettering!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Simon Nero

Four kids, faced with an onslaught of invading forces, take up arms to save their country and loved ones…

The Rating

This comic has nothing about it that stands out as its best feature. Every aspect of its quality is poor and has seen no meaningful improvement in 17 chapters.

The Raves

Judging by the comments, Simon Nero does have a dedicated fan or two. But I don’t see anything here that I can recommend as a major selling point. Instead, I will attempt to summarize the story for curious onlookers.

The main character, Simon, witnesses a horde of robots (Or maybe just people in armor? It’s hard to tell.) attack his home and kill his mother. While his father fights the robots off, his friend, Diana, rescues him by using a crystal that somehow teleports them far away from the attack. Meanwhile, Kendrick, a man who fights with a power called Dark Armor, saves a girl named Rin from the attack, escaping as the invaders round up their captives onto a slave ship. They meet up with his brother, Xavier (who has the same Dark Armor powers), and Levy, a scientist. Diana meanwhile tells Simon her personal backstory, which…really doesn’t make sense, given that he was there to witness said backstory. It really just serves to drive home that she used to not have friends and also that she has a crush on Simon.
As if it wasn't already obvious.
Eventually, the separate groups converge in the city of Octavius, far from the scene of the invasion, and Levy proceeds to beat Simon up for not being able to protect his mother. Diana (understandably) is enraged and attacks Levy, which gets her knocked out for her efforts. Somehow, this leads to Levy and Kendrick deciding to train these kids to go to battle, and the kids agree to this. Unfortunately, before they can proceed, they have to deal with Xavier's powers turning him into an unstable, bloodthirsty monster. This intricate problem is solved by punching him in the face.
I've seen episodes of Blue's Clues with more natural-sounding dialog.
A three-year time skip ensues and the kids reunite (the boys and girls are separated during training to, in the comic’s own words, “prevent distraction”). What follows is two and a half chapters of nothing but the characters sparring. And for some reason, suddenly now the boys and girls are allowed to spar together because

The city is attacked and the characters boldly go into battle. It turns out the attack was launched by Hale, Simon’s older brother, and at this point, I couldn’t even tell you if this character had appeared in the comic before or not. Let’s just assume this was supposed to be a plot twist. Either way, the fight ends with Kendrick dying and the characters making a tactical retreat and staying with Simon’s aunt and uncle. While making new plans, the group learns that Levy and her experiments are the secret behind Kendrick and Xavier’s powers, and Hale was apparently an experiment gone terribly wrong. And that’s where I’m going to stop the summary.

There is a prequel, which you can also find on Tapastic or on the series blog. I won't be reviewing that today, but if you enjoy this story, you will most likely want to read the prequel, which covers more ground on the characters and setting.

I guess if I had to choose anything at all about the comic that stands out, it would be the Dark Armor. It’s interesting that it has a tendency to turn an otherwise ordinary person into a violent berserker. That’s hardly an original concept, but it’s not a bad one.

Now, the wonderful thing about webcomics is the high accessibility. Anyone can make a webcomic. There’s no minimum standard, and I strongly believe that should continue to be the case. Shutting the door even slightly undermines one of the biggest merits of the medium as a whole, its unfiltered, unrestricted freedom to be creative and to express creativity. So, slowmostevo, if creating this webcomic makes you happy, by all means don’t take this admittedly bleak review as an indication that you should stop. But if you want to attract more of an audience, you’re going to have to do better than this.

The Razzes

Simon Nero is in need of massive improvements in just about every aspect except for the website, since the comic is hosted on Tapastic. A somewhat plain-looking site with an irksome archival system, but it’s still functional and simple to use. The fact that the comic is at least accessible is the reason I gave it a 1 instead of a 0; whatever I might think of the comic, I’ve still seen webcomics of a similar (lack of) quality with far worse choices in platform.

The Eight Deadly Words

“I don't care what happens to these people.”

This is about the worst thing you can ever get as feedback. See, in a character-driven story, which I am assuming this comic is meant to be, having a cast the audience doesn’t care about means the audience won’t care about the story, either. How do you make people care about what happens to your characters? Well, for one thing, you need to make them sympathize with the characters.

You might be thinking that means the reader needs to feel sorry for them. And you’d be wrong. Sympathy isn’t derived from seeing trauma after trauma piled onto a character. Sympathy comes from being able to relate to the characters. They need to act and think like a real person would. And for that, you need to learn about character development.

Character Development

Let’s start with a simple exercise. Look at these 100 Character Questions and see how many of them you can answer. The first step to writing a good character is understanding who they are. The next step is understanding motivation. What drives your character is as vital to the story as any plot device you throw at them. The problem is, some of your characters have shallow motivations. The girls, for example, seem to get easily distracted by romance in situations where a character really shouldn’t be thinking about that. These are people in life or death situations! You need to make them take it more seriously.

You also have some characters who are extremely unlikable. Being boring is one thing, but being outright detestable, especially for a non-villain character, is a big problem. Levy is the biggest offender of them all. Having her beat up two teenagers is not a good way to endear an adult character to the audience. It doesn’t make her seem “serious” or “stern”, it makes her seem cruel and abusive.

On the other hand, you have Simon, who seems driven by his desire to protect his country, and also his guilt at failing to protect anyone. That's honestly not a bad starting point, but these personality traits only seem to come into play when the plot decides it's important for him to feel guilty. Otherwise, he shows little personality beyond being blandly nice. There's not much progression on how he deals with his trauma, nor does he seem to have a goal beyond the vague "save my country." But why does he want to save his country? Why does he care about saving his family? What attachments does he have? How did he feel about them? What personal goals and desires did he have that were forced aside when his home was attacked? Ultimately, we don't know much about who he is, just what he does. And what he does is run away, train, battle, run away...later, rinse, repeat. It's time to start exploring why these events matter to him and what the stakes are.

Pacing and Plot

Pacing is another major problem with the writing. You have this tendency to rush through conflicts without properly developing them. For example, Xavier's Dark Armor-included bloodlust being resolved by simply punching him is what we call a deus ex machina. You can’t just throw in cheap fixes like that. Conflict in a story is good, but not if the resolution is contrived or anticlimactic. Furthermore, it seems that Xavier's Dark Armor going out of control only happens when it's convenient. He doesn't go into a frenzy during sparring, battle, or any other event that would likely trigger it. It makes the potential threat of his Dark Armor seem insubstantial and the singular event where it does go out of control look like rushed filler.

A lot of the comic seems like filler, in fact. Like a lot of shounen manga, you draw out fight scenes for a long time, but many of the fights seem to accomplish nothing. The sparring matches are the biggest offenders, seemingly intended to show how the characters have grown, but not really demonstrating any growth other than them apparently being better at fighting. The fight scenes might be more enjoyable if the art was better, but the visuals aren’t exciting enough to make the action fun to read. Instead, it just becomes a big empty hole in the story where nothing happens. Besides, action for the sake of action doesn't work well even when it does look good. Without a purpose that brings about story progress, it's nothing but pointless violence.

Here's another exercise for you: can you answer the journalistic questions as they apply to the plot? These questions are tied closely with the 100 Character Questions from before. The events of your story are mainly instigated by character actions, so it's important that you understand your cast and be able to answer who and what made things happen, and why, when, where, and how. These are simple, exceedingly direct questions, but being able to answer them is vital.

Sequential Art Essentials

The art needs massive improvement. I’m going to hit on what I see as the most vital aspects you should work to improve on and offer you some good, solid resources you can learn from. To get you started, I suggest reading Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It’s one of the best primers on sequential art out there.

I also recommend you take some art classes. Start with something basic like beginner drawing, or a figure drawing class that provides live models. The best way to learn how to draw well is to learn how to draw something as it is, and not as you imagine it. Cartoon art isn’t meant to look exactly like real life, but having a good foundation in practicing still life and model drawings is an essential foundation for any aspiring artist.


This is an all-important principal to any medium of art. Composition is defined as the way an image is arranged, such that the eye travels the picture. Perhaps you’ve heard of the golden spiral, also known as the golden ratio. It looks like this:
Notice how this asymmetrical shape grows in size at an exponential rate. This shape is naturally pleasing to the human eye and we tend to follow its movement from the inside-out. This pattern appears quite frequently in nature.
Shamelessly lifted off Pinterest.

Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, c. 1830
It's also common in art. Not every example of this spiral pattern is as clear-cut as what you see here, but the point I’m making is that good composition has a central point that immediately draws the eye, and the rest of the image follows a roughly circular motion around the image. The golden spiral is merely a mathematical concept to explain why certain compositions are more pleasing to look at. Now let’s compare these images I showed you to a random section of your comic.
Ah. You see now how unbalanced this is? In the first panel, you have a character cut in half by a panel. In the next, you have her dangling out by her leg. In the third, there’s a huge empty space that makes the shot look bottom-heavy. The fourth panel is probably the best-composed, but it would have looked even better as a bust shot, bringing her further up the panel. In all of these shots, the eye is stuck in one spot. There’s no background, no interesting angles, it’s just one singular piece of the panel occupied by a character surrounded by empty space. I’m not saying every last panel needs to follow the golden ratio, but it’s a good starting principle to give more consideration to how you compose these shots.

If you want to read more about this concept, check out this article on The site has a lot of useful tutorial besides this one.

Aside from that, there are also serious problems with the composition in terms of understanding what the characters are doing. In comics, composition also refers to the readability of the action, and your readability is confusing. Even stick figures can be composed in such a way that it's easy to understand what's happening. In fact, we see xkcd do that on a regular basis. The trick is to clearly show where everything is in relation to everything else. The panels have this sense of detachment. Action doesn't clearly flow from one shot to the next. Which brings me to my next point...


If you’re going to insist on drawing action scenes, then you must understand gesture. For starters, watch this video.
Notice how there’s an emphasis on curves. Your art is stiff and angular, but the human body tends toward round, squishy shapes. You need to loosen up your line work a lot. Just look at how static this shot is.
There's also a lot wrong with the anatomy here, most glaringly the girl who's throwing a punch from her forehead.
Improving your anatomy would be a welcome change, but if you practice gestures, you’ll find yourself naturally getting better at anatomy in the process. Trust me, your action scenes will improve by leaps and bounds if you take the time to practice gestures on a regular basis. But lest you think I'm suggesting you need realism to make something dynamic, remember, even stick figures can be effective at conveying movement. 
I cannot stress this enough. If you want to draw action, learn to draw gestures.


This is one part writing and one part visuals. First of all, your writing is full of typos and grammar mistakes. You badly need to either spend more time editing, or get somebody to beta read for you. The only thing I like about the lettering is the rough texture of the sound effects. It looks jarring and loud, which is exactly how it should look. The dialog font you’re using for the later portions of the comic is also good, but you need to work on the shapes of the word bubbles. You seem to be stuck on either circles or…whatever this is.
The text size also varies without rhyme or reason. You should try to stick with a standard size indicating regular volume.
A change in font size normally indicates a change in volume, but that’s not happening in this scene. Pick a standard size that’s easy to read and stick with it. Don’t change it just so you can fit it all inside the bubble. Make the bubble fit the text and don’t make the text larger or smaller unless you’re trying to convey that somebody is shouting or whispering.

But mostly, please work on those typos and maybe take a writing class to learn how to write dialog better, because nothing about the way the characters talk sounds remotely natural. I could go on about other specific ways the art and writing don’t deliver, but working on these things before all else will help put you on the track to improvement.

The Revue

We all have to start somewhere, and most of us start at the bottom. It’s going to take a lot of practice and dedication to improve this comic, but if this is really something you love to do, then it’s worth it to try a little harder.