Sunday, December 27, 2015

Intermission: Back In The New Year!

Due to a few issues, there's been a noticeable pause in the Strip Show. We'll be back in the New Year. Thanks for your patience dear readers!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Sunday Revue November 22nd: Les Normaux

Today, Fall In Love With Magical Paris

And The Magic Of

Ah Paris. The City of Lovers. No matter who you're looking for, you'll find them. Especially if you go looking in the magical quarter!
This beautiful, gentle tale of friendship and romance is the creation of artists penning under the names KnightJJ and Al, and can be found here
It all begins when Sebastian, a young wizard, arrives in Paris.He came to study magic. What he ends up learning is so much more.

The Rating

As soft and sweet as a spring night in Paris. A wonderful tale

The Raves

There is so much to love about Les Normaux that it's hard to choose what deserves the limelight first, but I think I'll begin with the story. The tales are told as interlocking series of personal accounts as a strange and wonderful group of friends and lovers finds one another in the streets of Paris. Told in personal recounting, in letters, in diary entries, these interlocking narratives let us into the personal lives of a varied crew with gentle authenticity, sweet and funny without ever straying into syrupy sentimentality, the bane of so many romances. Les Normaux works because it is honest, both with readers and with its material. It explores all the delicate, difficult moments that define the formation of a relationship, neither over-dramatizing them nor shying away into the safe 'happy places' that most romances stay in; the meet cutes, the contrived misunderstandings that are easily solved and the non-nonsensical problems that are usually invented. Instead of these ploys, Les Normaux shines gentle light on the small, every day conflicts that go on within ourselves as we make friends and fall in love. Is this real?, the characters ask themselves. Am I good enough? Am I going to mess everything up?
It sounds angsty when I write it down, but this comic handles those real struggles with the delicate grace reminiscent of movies like 'Hugo', 'Chocolat' and 'Waking Ned Divine', so that material that would be angst in the hands of less skilled creators becomes illuminating introspection, at once humanizing characters and illuminating the inner lives of its readers, framing real-life struggles in a powerful and affirming way.
Oh and, by the way, it's not nearly as serious as I make it sound. In fact, you'll burst out laughing pretty regularly.

The story finds its perfect synergistic partner in the artwork, a style that blends the beautifully organic look of pen and ink washes with the technical expertise of good cartooning. The body language is some of the best I've seen, and the character design is delightful, giving us a wonderfully diverse cast of characters.
The grasp of the relation of color to mood is pretty stunning as well, and the understanding of light  is superb.

In fact, the art's so good in this comic that, as you can see, as a reviewer I had a great deal of trouble limiting how many images I used. I hope you go and read the work for yourselves to see its beauty first hand.

The Razzes

Only a few things could really be improved on in Les Normaux. There are, now and again, a few tiny problems with foreshortening that need work, especially in arms and hands. Aside from that, the artist makes a stylistic choice that, while it's cute, jars me as a reader. Take a look at the image below.
Now, it's not a big deal, but the switches between chibi style and realism sometimes feel like they break the flow of the story, and can be really jarring to the reading experience.

The Revue

A lovely and lyrical exploration of love in all its forms. A true masterpiece. You need to read this one.

*A Note From The Management: this review was written two weeks ago, before the terrible attacks in Paris. In the wake of such things, I considered postponing this review because I didn't want to seem insensitive or, worse, to be pandering. I did not do so, because I think that Les Normaux is beautiful work, and in dark times we need beautiful things more desperately than ever. Through works like this, we see Paris and human nature at its very best. We need that. 

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Backstage Pass November: Casey J

Hey, Look What We Got! A Backstage Pass! 

Today, Let's Slip Backstage And Meet Casey J! 

Casey J, or sometimes Notos, is the creator of the beautiful Flash-hybrid comic

Today, we get the treat of sitting down with them for a chat!

So Casey, where do you hail from? What got you into the biz? 

Born in 1982, I showed an interest in art very early on and have been drawing for most of my life. I attended the Alberta College of Art and Design where I got my BFA. I landed my first job as a professional animator in 2007 where I started on shows like Skunk Fu and Three Delivery.
Since, I've been working as an animator and designer for broadcast shows and iPhone apps for franchises that include Strawberry Shortcake, Smurfs, Archie, Babar and Slugterra.

And your main project is? 

Buying Time

Other Hobbies and Obsessions

Movies, video games, anime, and generally all things geeky.

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

I've always been interested in comics since an early age. Mostly for the art and visuals above anything else; I'd buy a random Iron Man issue because it had a cool robot enemy, or a random Shadow Hawk issue because I liked how his suit looked. At the time there wasn't any attachment to a particular character or story, it was almost entirely the visuals that attracted me. I have such a random collection of comics.
It wasn't until I was about 11 or 12 that I started to fully appreciate the story and narrative side of it as well and started to have some sort of method to my purchasing habits. By that time I started to get familiar with anime, I saw Akira when I was probably too young to see Akira and it jump started my interest in animation, it was like nothing I had ever seen before. I was interested in drawing and animation ever since, I wanted to create stuff like that.

You have a really innovative take on the webcomic format. How did you get the idea to make an animated webcomic? How did you get started on this project?

'Buying Time' was originally going to be an animated short. I had done a couple by that point, and liked the idea of doing a cyberpunk themed one. I thought up the concept and found that I really enjoyed the idea and felt it had legs, something I could expand on to be more in depth than just a 2 minute short, so I thought about doing a standard comic with it.
With a standard comic though, I felt I'd be missing the ability to show the flashing neon lights, animated holographic ads, and general 'eye catchers' that I wanted to show off in the animated short that would bring the city to life. I started to look into animated webcomics to see if I could meld to two formulas and came up with the format you see in Buying Time, it's sort of a mesh of different animated webcomic 'features' I saw others using, with some tweaks of my own to make things snappy and give it it's own unique feel.

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

Buying Time is produced entirely in Flash. I will rarely use Photoshop for some features that Flash (at least, the older version I prefer using) doesn't have, but generally everything you see in Buying Time is produced in Flash.

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

I have my script written out, with is basically a brief description of what is happening in the panel and the dialogue needed. (Vinnie is sitting on the end of his bed talking on his P-Comm. "S-sure, if you say so...")
I'll look at everything that the script calls for on that page and lay out how many panels I'll need, and very quickly and roughly sketch things out.
I'll then do a second pass on the roughs to do 'more legible' roughs.

From there I'll generally go right into cleans, generally doing the characters and all their poses first as they take more time, and backgrounds after.
Then I'll do any effects the scene calls for, animations, glows, general 'eyecatchers'.
Finally I'll go about adding the text and word bubbles. The whole process takes about a week and a half per page, depending on how complex the page is.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

The nature of 'Buying' Time's format means I have to decide how characters are posed and how they move throughout and interact within the space of one frame without changing camera angles to suit what is going on. For example if the scene is of two characters talking at the dinner table, I need to consider that the whole scene will be taking place within one panel with no camera change, so I have to arrange the scene so we can see both characters expressions and gestures, I won't be able to switch camera angles back and fourth to show each character when they speak, if that makes sense. Essentially I have to more carefully compose scenes so the bulk of it can all take place within one panel.

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

I think my method is somewhere in between. I had the entire story for Buying Time laid out in my head, and generally pen out the concrete dialogue a chapter or two before actually getting there, so it has some time to "sit" before I get there and can give it a second look before putting it in the comic.

How much of a buffer do you like to keep?

The more the better, in case anything comes up that would cause a delay or I find production goes through periods of sluggishness. I generally like to have 3 or 4 pages.

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

I had a friend in high school that was very uppity and didn't consider being an artist a "real" career path. She didn't explicitly say I wouldn't be successful, but always turned her nose up at the concept of me considering attending a Fine Arts College or wanting to pursue a career in animation. Otherwise I generally had a lot of support.

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

In the context of Buying Time, be aware of how things are changing around you and don't brush off gradual changes as things that can be ignored or things that won't have an effect. It's really frightening how complacent people can be under terrible circumstances if the changes that brought them to that point are small and gradual enough.

Outside of the context of Buying Time, in general, I hope people are inspired to create their own stories and art, that would be the biggest compliment to me, I want to inspire creativity in others.

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

The nature of a webcomic does a lot for motivation; having a large reader base and the promise of providing new content on a schedule adds a sort of obligation that helps move things along production-wise. Though ignoring that, I've always have a drive for story telling, I think that is what drew me to being an artist in the first place; I love to create, and I'm driven to do it by the things that inspire me. I thinks thats why I enjoy putting so many blatant references and homages in Buying Time; these things have been such a huge creative inspiration for me, they make me want to create, so I have to show them some love back.

Thanks so much for your time Casey! Rock on!

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Saturday Revue November 14: Buying Time

Hurry! Hurry! Hurry!

Today's Show Is One You Just Got To See!

Their Moves Are Nothing You've Ever Seen Before!

For Your Viewing Pleasure, We Introduce To You,

Have I got a treat for you, dear readers. Perusing the strange and wonderful bazaar of Comicfury, I stumbled on a gem! This pearl of genuis is called 'Buying Time', the creation of  the artist Notos, and can be found here.
This story tops the charts in several categories. Gorgeous art.Wonderful dystopian world building. Great GLBT story. Kickass cyberpunk enviroment. Sweet love story. 'Buying Time' has it all. And to make it even more amazing, all of it MOVES.
You read that right. Notos has created a flash-hybrid comic that MOVES. The neon really sizzles. The rain really falls. And every single page is interactive! In a true step into the future, 'Buying Time' takes the webcomic format and the dystopian genre to a new level.
The story revolves around Vinnie, his boyfriend Galvin, and their slow and rocky road to love in a very difficult world. In the sprawling future metropolis of Hyperion City, all forms of entertainment, including your  social life, are regulated by a micro-transaction monetary system called Daily Leisure Credit. Say hello, you get charged DLC. Give somebody a hug, it's going to cost you. Want to have sex? You better have a good paycheck...which Vinnie doesn't. Let's just say it's not an easy way to live or love...

The Rating

The perfect package. Hands down.

The Raves

To begin: The art. The ART. THE ART!!!! 
*ahem* excuse me. As I was saying, the art is truly a work of genius. Its slick, stylish grasp of line, clean layers of shading and impeccable grasp of perspective, anatomy and expression draw you deep into its futuristic metropolitan depths, and before you know it you're immersed in a world of darkness and neon, hope and oppression. The Flash elements manage to integrate with perfection into the artwork, bringing tiny details such as neon signs and faulty light bulbs to life while remaining in the background, staying endlessly enriching but never intrusive. The interactive nature of the comic, once you adjust to it, is a wonder of a tool, since it allows each page to tell an entire cinematic scene that would have been impossible to squeeze into such compact spaces otherwise. It's a masterful use of scripting and space.

And then you start getting into the story. The conceptual structure of Hyperion is one that strikes a deep cord with anybody born after 1970, with its expression of a faceless, heartless system that instills a kind of pragmatic apathy in those caught up in it. People don't get up in arms in 'Buying Time', they just try to get by. Again and again, the interpersonal interactions of this characters underline this leitmotif, and yet you as the reader never feel as if you're being beaten over the head with the point. In fact, the characters speak and interact so casually and honestly with their world that you're led into accepting this world where the poor are denied even social contact and the mega-rich keep other people as expressions of their wealth as a form of normal.
I have to say that understated honesty is the greatest strength of the storytelling in this comic. Through these characters infatuation, first-date jitters, love, loss, friendship and stress are explored with some of the most earnest reality I've ever seen. You can really believe in Vinnie's nervousness and his fears, really feel for Galvin's losses. I've rarely met characters that I believed so much in. Notos has a flare for drawing you into a world and making you a part of it. In line with this creation and acceptance of new normal, the creator has also, without the reader really noticing, created an amazingly sex-positive world. It's so sex positive that the sex present in the comic doesn't even need to be remarked on. It's treated as just another part of life and love, an organic part of a whole. The simple, natural way in which romantic relationships are portrayed really floored me as a reader. (though, heads up, NSFW because things will show and there are a lot of annoying prudes around our present world) and I loved every minute of it.

The Razzes

Welllll...I don't have much on this one. It's too good! The navigation takes some getting used to, but Notos eases us into it with a nifty little intro note at the beginning of each chapter, and once you've adjusted to the new normal, it flows just fine. I wish the comic didn't go on regular hiatus, but considering how much work goes in, I completely understand why it does, and since these breaks are scheduled and filled with interesting behind the scenes goodies, I don't feel it denigrates the readership.
Occasionally the tone of self-conscious mockery gets a little heavy in scenes with Big Gold, but the guy is a walking joke, and it never crosses the line into 'no longer funny', so I won't complain.

The Revue

This. Is. GOLD. A true must read for anyone interested in the craft of webcomics, the future of said craft, or just a really great story to read.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Sunday Revue November 8: All For A Punchline

Curtain Up!

On Stage Today, All For A Punchline!

Ever been to an improv show? Well then, you'll know what you're getting into when you grab a seat for 'All For A Punchline'.
The story behind this off beat comic is fascinating, and the finished work has its moments of true hillarity. Imbued with the spirit of the Stage, 'All For A Punchline' is the work of Daniel Anderson.

The Rating

Cute, but don't count the house. You're leaving the audience cold.

The Raves

'All For A Punchline' does have the power to occasionally earn an offbeat giggle, but the real fascination of it is as a new and innovative way to mesh disparate art forms into something new.Th creator produces their work by going to improv shows and taking pictures. He then sorts through the photos, picks one or two that he likes and puts them into Adobe Illustrator to hand trace, adding any props and costumes that he sees fit, thus blending stagecraft and comic craft into a symbiotic art form that creates some odd and unexpected laughs.

The Razzes

Unfortunately, the novelty of this idea is neither capitalized on nor realized in this work. If the creator wants to catch eyes with their innovative concept, this is what they need to think about as they improve their craft:
  • PURPOSE. This work would benefit hugely if the creator put a note on the main landing page detailing the purpose and process of creating the comic, e.g. SOMETHING discussing the stage improv tie-in to give a clue as to why readers should see this work as anything other than a series of very random jokes. The creator SHOULD NOT, I REPEAT NOT require the audience to read the adjunct pages to get a clue. Many readers will not bother.
  • ATMOSPHERE. Please please please give the work some atmosphere! Make we readers feel like we're seeing stage performance. Perhaps cash in on the whole concept of stagecraft by making the website look like a stage, a theater, posting pictures of the acts that inspired each comic with credits given, ANYTHING other than blank white backgrounds and an uninformative site design. As of now, it looks like instructional manual art; not inspired, and not inspiring.
  • A PUNCHLINE IS NOT ENOUGH! Despite the comic's title, readers need more than JUST the punchline! When you take out all context and setup for the joke, we as readers are left with only vague, disconnected images and awkward vignettes that leave a reader feeling that they must be missing some sort of in joke. These uninformed, uninformative oddball scenes are more off-putting than funny.
  • FIX YOUR SERVER!!!!!!!!!!! Half the time the site loads with the speed of glaciers or fails all together. We're in the digital age. Nobody's patient enough for long intermissions anymore, and the concession stand isn't open.

The Revue

I'd like to see such an interesting meshing of art forms go big....but right now, it's playing to the haircuts. I'm afraid this act flops.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Halloween Revue: After Daylight

You Wanna See A Show?
Come See Something Fangtastic!

"For this I rose from the dead?!" That's the refrain of Cat, a seventy five year dead vampire who found out that being a master of the night isn't all it's cracked up to be. Not only does he have to mooch around goth bars in order to get a quick bite to drink, deal with girls who are Tweeting instead of falling under his spell and read completely inaccurate literature on his species at his day job, now someone's dumped definitive proof that there are vampires onto the Web. This is just not Cat's decade...
The creation of Sarah Roark, 'After Daylight' can be found here
If you're sick of sparkly and annoying/pompous, monologing and annoying/ impossibly perfect and annoying/devilishly hard to kill and annoying/MAUDLIN and self pitying and ANNOYING vampires, 'After Daylight' is the answer! It explores the ins and outs of being a modern vampire with more wit and candor than I've ever seen before.

The Rating


The Raves

From page 1, I was laughing and loving 'After Daylight.' It, out of all the vamp lit out there, really gets to grips with the central feature of vampire existence: the precarious nature of their power. Vampires alternate to extremes: extremely strong at one moment, totally helpless at another. And they've got the intelligence to be completely aware of  it too. No wonder so many of them are twitchy!
And then you add in ethics. Being an ethical vampire is NOT a fun life. Being an ethical modern vampire is...well...
'After Daylight' explores this to its fullest and most hilarious logical ends, with sharp, snarky social commentary, hilarious moments of 'old world meets new' and gorgeously sarcastic wit.

'After Daylight' is one of the most common sense and direct takes on the vampire genre that I've ever seen. Beyond exploring the issues of getting a bite (heh heh heh) the creator gets down to brass tacks and modern tech. It's awfully hard for vamps to stay hidden in a world full of cheap hand held laser thermometers. It's a lot harder to hide anything in the Age Of Internet, when people across the world are nattering at one another non stop. So what are vamps to do? Come out of the casket of course.

There's an element of delightful genre-mocking that I've only seen the sainted Terry Pratchett pull off as well when handling the vampire mythos, balanced with great exploration of political maneuvering and posturing, herd mentality and societal shifts,all wrapped up in a wryly funny slice-of-life package. The writing has a flare for giving characters the chance to say just enough to realize how foolish they sound, whether it be people realizing that they're more bigoted than they think, ancients realizing that for all their supernatural abilities they can't figure out their Smartphones, or daily working stiffs dealing with every day issues and finding that they need a lot of ketchup for that foot in their mouths...
but that's not the only place the writing shines. There is some really moving exploration of rhetoric and the power of public speaking as the vampires take to modernity, go on TV and speak to the people, drawing fascinating parallels with present and prior civil rights movements in America; taking the idea of 'vampires among us' out of spoof territory and into the realm of powerful social change fable, before it lets we readers back in on the joke with snarkily spot on portrayals of how the news and the social media world would go about handling this.

The art gives the smudgy, off-the-cuff impression of an underground 'zine without jeopardizing the artistic grasp of pose, anatomy and scene framing, underlining the wry noir nature of the work.

The Razzes

So, about the 'zine's cool, but that smudgy aesthetic can be carried too far. While the line work of the comic is gorgeous, I often got the feeling that it was dragged down by the shading style, which isn't nearly as sharp or professional. Compare the two images below:
 I have to say, I actually prefer the uncolored version. If the shading style used in the promotional picture that headlines this blog were used throughout the comic, the work would look a LOT sharper. It'd also help if the work was loaded a bit larger; a lot of scenes seem a touch diminished and shrunken. This comic has grown a lot since its inception, and I look forward to seeing its artistic style continue to grow and improve on its weaknesses.

The Revue

This is one you definitely want to sink your teeth into. Yum!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Sunday Revue October 25th: Brave Resistance

Hang On To Your Helmets

Brave Resistance Is Going To Be A Bumpy Ride!

World War 2. Bombers and bombshells and nazis. Yeah yeah, heard it all before....but have we?
As Americans, we get a very one sided and narrow view of the war; good guys and bad guys, fighting the good fight. We still share an emotional concept of it as the last 'honorable war'.
But we forget that it was a world war. And 'Brave Resistance' makes us remember. The creation of Grecian Tantz Aerine and American Diedre Rae Crouch, 'Brave Resistance' can be found here. Set in a tiny Greek village, this is the story from the Greek perspective: a more stoic, pragmatic approach of a people who didn't go 'over there' because the war was all around them, sweeping over their homeland. Death or glory didn't come into it. In Greece, this was a desperate fight for the soul of their nation.
The story focuses around Hunter, an American pilot downed over Greece, the village who protects him and the soldiers who hunt him. It is an intimate vignette of a tale, and the gut wrenching terror and the algebra of survival are all the more powerful for being compressed into a small space.

The Rating

a complex, understated and fascinating look at a war we thought we knew

The Raves

Some of the most adroit examples of emotional interplay I've ever seen in a comic show up in 'Brave Resistance'. In this comic, the psychology of threat, guilt, honor and the wartime mentality are deeply plumbed, creating a powerful tension both inter-character and between characters and their environment. War isn't honorable, and 'Brave Resistance' doesn't try to trick us into thinking it is. But people have honor, and that we're shown time and time again in subtle ways that stay with you long after the page is off your browser.
There's a lot of reliance on facial expression and body language to manage this feat, and 'Brave Resistance' pulls it off wonderfully, displaying at least a quarter of its storytelling in scenic rather than expository ways. The color palette paints a tired, gaunt world and the art style lends a gritty roughness to the work in keeping with a life lived day by day, a life and a world on a knife's edge. This comic may feel so real because of the depth of research that has gone into it. And when I say deep, I mean deep. There are unobtrusive tabs on the page for cultural facts, historical information, and no end of beautifully done touches that put you there and then in the artwork itself. This creators really did their homework! Even their sites were well researched.  Let me quote the author's notation of a page here: 'The church is based on an actual one in one of the villages from which this village is inspired. It’s supposed to be great in size, at the very center of the square of the village and behind it is the cemetery. The church in those types of villages is the centre of social life and also stands in for other functions if necessary such as school, gatherings and large meetings.

The church it’s based off is St. George in Negades, at Zagori in Epirus.'
Now that, dear readers, is some serious devotion to your craft!
Speaking of devotion, 'Brave Resistance' has a strong point in its devotion to honest emotional interplay between its characters. Cynical sometimes, sometimes harsh, but always genuine. There's very little of the war-movie band of brothers bravado here, but there is the quiet camaraderie of people against great odds. And the creators point out deftly that not everybody was 'on the good side' even if they were allies. Most people in the villages just wanted EVERYBODY to leave them ALONE already, and this is nicely explored in the attitudes displayed throughout the comic. The annoyed wariness with which the American pilot is treated is refreshing; it's nice to see Americans portrayed as something other than the beloved saviors in work related to World War 2 for a change. The chance to explore real emotions in a wartime setting is a novel and interesting take.

The Razzes

I only wish that novel, complex exploration had extended to the Nazi soldiers as well. With one or two notable exceptions, they're your classic Indiana Jones Nazis: either handsome, brainless automatons or slavering (in one case quite literally slavering) evil beasts. Honestly, when I see this

is 'Whoa, man, you over did the ugly! Dial it back!' These were people. Some of them were good and some of them were evil, but they were people. Don't make them Hollywood monsters.

I'd also like to see the color style improved. The gritty line work is great. Seeing brushstrokes is fine, but not when they give an untidy, unfinished impression and remov much of the contrast on darker surfaces. A cleaner, more nuanced color palette would really help give the work a professional appearance. As a last, tiny detail, if I were the creator I'd do a little spell checking. English is a HARD language to spell as someone not native to it, but it really helps give a professional look to the work. (that being said, the creators' grasps of my language is better than some of my countrymen, so that's only a very small complaint!)

The Revue

Reminiscent of MASH 4077 and pulling no emotional punches, 'Brave Resistance' puts on a brave and powerful showing.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Monthly Mattinee October: A Recipe For Magic

Time To Mix Up A Brew! 

This October, Let's Cook Up Some Laws Of Magic!

Fillet of a fenny snake,
In the caldron boil and bake;
Eye of newt, and toe of frog,
Wool of bat, and tongue of dog,
Adder's fork, and blind-worm's sting,
Lizard's leg, and owlet's wing,
..............hmmm, still needs salt.....
You know, if you think about it, the laws of magic and the rules of cookery actually have a lot in common. Do it wrong, and you get a nasty mess either way. Follow the recipe, and you get what you want. It looks impressive and difficult to those who can't do it.  And, of course, you very rarely do either one just for the sake of it. 

Hernandez's great rendition of some
of our favorite American
As comic readers, we see a lot of magic systems cooked up in a lot of ways, everything from the classic superheroes to the difficult and involved systems of something like Quantum Vibe, to the strange and wondrous madness that is Sandman or the vastness of Saga (note, I include sci-fi in this discussion; a wise man once said sufficiently advanced science is indistinguishable from magic, and the same rules of world design apply!) They have very different techniques, but all of them strive to mix their elements up in just the right way to give a powerful story that leaves you feeling something and wanting more. 

So what are the ingredients for a powerful magical system?
Let's see, what have we got in our creative cupboard....

One Part Concept

That first spark of an idea can flare into a creative inferno...but sometimes all you do is sit there trying to light creative matches that keep going out. What to do?
For inspiration, RESEARCH! I find particularly fertile ground in science news headlines and historical anecdotes. Try this: take a short title of an article, and let your mind mull it over. See if you can get a story out of it.  'Scientists get cells to kill each other' could lead in a thousand directions: what if an army was trained to somehow make the enemy's body literally tear itself apart? What would such a power do to society? Take that idea, and RUN LIKE HELL with it. Go crazy when conceptualizing. Then, when you have a concept that makes your blood fizz, start researching. And don't stop. A concept that isn't really understood  by its author is not a concept that can support a story. Research until you dream about your subject matter. Make it a part of you; only then can you tell a tale fully immersed in it. The creators of 'Fables' did this; Bill Willingham, according to legend, read nothing but folktales for a year.

Three Parts Reality

Now hang on, I hear you cry, what's reality doing in my magical brew? It'll spoil the whole thing!
Well, no, it'll make it relatable and much more readable. Your characters live in a world, and that world should feel REAL.  I could go on and on about  reality, but there are five key concepts to a real world with magical elements


Too often, creators take their magical concepts, plop them into some vaguely appropriate world (sword and sorcery, anyone?) and have done with it. 'Hey, it's here, it works.' But that's not how cultures or people work. People, cultures and concepts interact, clash, blend and flow. Make your cultures and concepts interact. Remember how cultures and people think when you're world building.So, you want a race that's not human? How hard is it for them to get a job? Are they restricted to menial labor, treated with respect? What cultural traits allow them to do well in society? What traits cause them them problems?
If you want a powerful example of doing this right, read 'Doomsday, My Dear,' a terrible and beautiful exploration of what happens when humanity comes up against something they have trouble coping with in their midst. I'll warn you though, human psychology under pressure isn't pretty.

A lot of writers duck this issue by going the 'magic is a secret we all have to keep' route, but that's a bit of a cop-out (sorry J.K Rowling, I still love your books, but it's true) because people don't keep secrets that well, and they don't keep secrets on the basis of the usual defense: 'if people knew it'd be too terrible'. Groups of people don't keep secrets that are hypothetically dangerous, because we're not good at hypotheticals as a species. Groups of keep secrets that are imminently dangerous or all together forgotten, and not well even then. Things come out. Look at the crypto-Jews of Isebella's Spain for a really powerful example of the point. (see, historical research again!)
'X-Men' is probably the popular comic that has best explored this, and as often as it's failed to make the point well, it's also triumphed in making the fact of humans who aren't quite normal a part of the social and political conversation in their world. 'Saga' explored this beautifully as well in its discussion of war mentality and propaganda; the pragmatic willful blindness that living in a war situation brings on in the mind.

One last note on psychology and sociology:  you'll notice that all the good stories I've named have characters interacting with a living world, not a text book lesson followed by some characters doing things. The best writers build their worlds organically around their characters. THE AUTHORS know what's going on, but they don't need to tell the readers EVERYTHING in gigantic info dumps. And comic readers, to be blunt, skip text walls. Be the writer of a world, not of a lecture. 


Conservation Of Mass. Euclidean Geometry. Quantum Physics. All these are names and complicated ways of saying one, very simple thing:  The Material World Has Rules. You can't break them just because you want to. You can circumvent them, you can bend them, or maybe do something clever with them,  but some things can't be broken. Period.
Long before we had science, we as human beings already had a strong understanding of the fact that the world was made of rules. It's an inherent pact we have with the universe as homo sapiens: I will learn your rules, I will understand them, and then I'll learn to use them to my advantage. A lot of ancient magical systems were based around this basic, instinctive tenant, and a lot of our first sciences too. Wise people then and now treat the world as an interconnected set of rules and variables that could be adjusted if you had the knack, but not without affecting the rest of the system. 'The Dresden Files' is a classic example of magic done right: no matter how much crazy crap is thrown at you, no matter how weird it gets, the story stays cohesive because Butcher plays his characters by the rules.
Make your magical systems with this as your guide, and keep three things in mind:

Constitutional Rule

The rules of your magical system are like the constitution of your story, a pact of trust between the creator, the created, and the consumer. When a government breaks the constitution, it is unconstitutional, aka illegitimate. When an author breaks their constitution, the same thing happens: they lose the trust of the people they made the pact with, and then they lose readers. This happens a lot of ways: the moth eaten comic-book revolving door deaths (I'm looking at you again X-Men, and not in a good way...), rabbit out of the hat abilities that arrive just when they're required (Yeah, not cute) conveniently ignored contradictions or 'retcon' of something for convenience's sake, or plain deus ex machina contrived endings. This is probably the greatest sin against narrative in my book: breaking the rules of the world indiscriminately.  Once you've made your rules, THEY ARE MADE. Revise sure, expand on their intricacies and find loopholes, but DO NOT BREAK THE RULES. Don't break your rules because they're inconvenient, find a clever work around. Don't break your rules for shock effect: it's demeaning to you and your readers. Don't break the rules for the sake of drama: 'hey Bob look the new kid can break all the rules we just painstakingly introduced, he must be special!' is deus ex machina and damaging to your story. Because once your rules lose legitimacy, your story loses authenticity and tension. If readers have seen you pull dirty tricks before, they will not believe you when you set up a problem. They'll simply wait skeptically to see what you're going to pull this time.


As a person raised with magic, this one hits home for me. I'm a Pagan, and I grew up with magic. I was doing charms to keep the house safe with my mom at the kitchen table at the age of nine.
From right to left, a protection against bad influences, a house protection charm and a protection against violent humans.

And about the first thing you learn is that the law of conservation of mass isn't just for science. In real magic, the results you get are directly proportional to the trouble you take. My grandma told me time and again, 'you get what you put in.' which is pretty much the law of conservation of mass in plain language.  And she was right. So when writing magic in your comics, think about how much energy goes into what your characters are doing. Got a character who flies without wings? What's doing it? And please, please don't just say magic.  Nothing makes me roll my eyes more than stories where stuff just 'magically!' happens. This is lazy writing. Not magic. You don't have to know physics or get technical, but if your character  is throwing giant boulders around, somebody's going to ask where that power comes from. Have an answer and a price. This can go all the way from the magically gentle systems of 'Avatar', Tamora Pierce's The Circle books or Diane Duane's The Young Wizard Series (by far my favorite example of a magic system out there!)  that rely on channeling the dynamic powers of nature and natural law through yourself to make something happen, to the terrible price magic makes the users pay in stories like Simon R. Green's The Nightside Series and Garth Nix's spine chilling Abhorsen books. But remember that there's a price; years of study, tons of energy, even life. Energy comes from somewhere. It doesn't just appear.
In old fashioned terms, to each thing its price


Magic is a trait, a force, a gift and a responsibility. It is not a get-out-of-jail-free card. When it's used as one, the story isn't fun any more. When everything is fixed with supernatural ease, your characters are impossible to relate to and your story devolves into a series of pretty pictures instead of a gripping narrative. If magic fixes everything, there's nothing left to say. End of story.

Two parts Respect

To balance out all the ingredients of your magical world, add respect. When you respect your source material, you don't pull a Supernatural and screw over every mythological concept you get your dirty mitts on. When you respect your audience, you don't write in contradictions, conveniently 'forget' or 'find' new abilities for your characters at the drop of a hat with the thought 'eh, nobody will notice'. When you respect their intelligence, you don't create contrived situations or poor explanations. When you respect the magic you create, it will work for you.

One Part Beauty

And now that we're over the hard and heavy stuff, let's talk about making magic in comics PRETTY!
Comics are a visual medium, and it's the artist's job to get the magic across. It doesn't have to be neon red sparkles. In fact, it can be quite subtle: just one thing out of place can do it. 'K and P' is a master of this.
Sparkles are pretty useful though, and used well they can get magic across beautifully. Color is also a really useful tool. If you remember that darker colors recede and brighter colors come to the fore, you can make a lot of use of the way the human brain works. If you put bright, hot colors denoting magic over muddier colors of the real world, you can make magic seem to pop or float just above the page. Color contrasts can denote power as well, as in this example from the comic 'West': 
if you prefer the more sigil-driven forms of magic, there's a LOT out there you can do. You can start with alchemist's symbols, which look mysterious but are frankly just shorthand for the periodic table. If you like glyphs, here are links to several great brush patterns: 

And there's a lot more hiding out there; for this purpose, Deviantart is a great resource. A character drawing or chalking arcane symbols is always exciting, and if you use an airbrush to layer such sigil brushes over an image, the sigil will have an unreal, floating look, great for magic drawn with light in the air or cast as a spell. Play with it, try it out, and you'll get some pretty great results.

A Pinch Of Wonder

As a last note now that I've railed on and on about rules and regs, remember as a creator that magic at its heart is about wonder. Have fun. Create something that delights you, that intrigues you. If you are in wonder, your readers will be too.