Saturday, February 28, 2015

Saturday Revue February 27th: I, Mummy


Come And See The Amazing Mummified Girl! 

Roll Up, Roll Up Ladies And Gents!

An insidious plot, a far flung future, an imperiled Empire, a ghastly secret of the ancient world and a malodorous murder. All this and more is inquired into by Miss Jane Webb, a young mortally inconvenienced lady of good breeding, with the assistance of her dear chickadee and her most obstreperous ghost. Dear readers, I invite you to enjoy this most delicious treat with me.

The creation of Andy Purviance, 'I, Mummy' can be found here
 I, Mummy captures the art and emotional tenor in both its writing and artistic style, harking back to the days of Beno and Dandy, The Slopers, and the original Popeye cartoons and Jules Verne novels that our great-grandparents read as children.

At the center of this story is Miss Jane Webb, a thirteen year old tear-away from a family of privilege and standing in Crater City. It's the 22nd century, the Queen is on her throne, all's right with the world, and Jane is sick of school. The story begins innocently enough, but soon involves ancient Egyptian cursed trinkets, terrible powers, and anarchist plots. Oh my, and me without my smelling salts!

In these pages, you get a glimpse of what earlier ages thought the future would be, with personal zeppelins scudding through the sky, gilt and brass contraptions serving every whim and science at the service of polite society. The style makes you want to say things like 'gadzooks!' and watch Hugo while sipping tea once you've finished reading it.

The Rating

A very accomplished and attractive piece, I must say!

The Raves

'I, Mummy' does a great job of capturing both the flavors and the cultural tone of pre-World War culture and giving it a lovely steampunk spin. It's even managed to capture the clean, direct storytelling style so popular in the storytelling of Jules Verne and his contemporaries or the better modern steampunk writers like Gail Carriger, without losing characterization and storytelling craft. The characters aren't shockingly in-depth, but they're nicely well rounded, and the story's writing fits well the outlook of the sixteen-year-old protagonist who's just realizing that life has more complexities than she'd ever realized.
The story is well paced, never slowing down but never making you feel like it's rushing to the next big 'event'. One of its greatest accomplishments is in adding details to nearly every panel that paint this strange world without making us deal with world-building overload. This is done with deft use of  frame and perspective, illustrated nicely in the strip below. 
Almost Myazaki in style, 'Mummy' allows us to see this world as a whole rather than a tight circle focused on the main character, and I admired that quite a lot.

But I have to admit, for me the star of this show is the perfect capturing of the feeling that this page was just pulled out of a 1910 comic for our enjoyment. I'd love to know what combination of artistic medium, 
filters and textures the artist used to so perfectly emulate a style not seen for years, but they've done a great job of it. That vintage print job underlines and emphasizes all the other stylistic elements beautifully, allowing this comic to truly feel like it walked out of another age. The research the author obviously put into what the Victorians thought the future would be definitely didn't hurt either. 
Put all that together, and you get a story that romps along like your favorite tales of adventure from childhood.

The Razzes

Stylistically, the art is on the way to being really great, and by most recent strip I could see my few issues self-correcting. The overall art is good, though there's still some room for improvement on facial expressions and backdrops, which occasionally hint at being afterthoughts.It strikes you oddly as naive and well done at the same time, and while that's charming, it also sometimes weakens the work a little. But aside from the occasional stance or facial expression that needed some work, I had little to complain of.
The one thing that did consistently get on my nerves was the author's attempt to write in a lexicon that isn't naturally theirs. Most of the time it enhances the style, but occasionally there's the distinct feeling that the author just went looking for grandiloquent words to use, and it gets a little overdone. I found myself getting irritated by the end of the comic because it came off as false, especially when used by younger characters.The story is pretty enough without needing to wear so much gaudy ornamentation. 

The Revue

'I, Mummy' is a light, sweet read that will make you grin and dream of vanished days. I recommend it whole-heartdly. 

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Sunday Revue February 22nd: Oi! Tales of Bardic Fury


Heads Up Laddies! 

Here's A Performance You Won't Want To Miss!

How did they do it, I hear you gasp? Well gather round, and I'll tell you the secret....

The creation of Daniel De Sosa, OI! can be found here

So, how do you tell a powerful, well made historical story?
First, do amazing research. Know your craft. In this case, Bronze-Age Ireland, Age of Tara.
Then make it your own with wit, humor, amazing understanding of interpersonal relations. Mix in deep, realistic pathos.  Add in strong, realistic social dynamics, issues, and politics. Oh, and then throw a protagonist or two into the mix.
Then draw their story with clarity, charm, snarky wit and  stunning creativity to set the mood.

And viola, instant perfect historical comic!

This story centers around the lives of a small Bronze Age village on Ireland's northernmost tip, where the nights are long and the stories are longer. There's a new bard in town, but if he thinks it's going to be all feasting and bedding the local lovelies, he's in for a BIG surprise.

The Rating

A perfect performance!

The Raves

When I begin to tell you about Oi, it's hard to tell you what I love best. So let me begin with this: I'm half Irish by birth. I speak the Irish language and have been hearing the tales of Lugh, the Tuatha De Dannan, the Selkie, the Salmon of Wisdom and the Age of Tara since I was old enough to listen. I then graduated to reading them myself and telling them to my younger cousins. That should mean I love anything remotely historical or based in Irish mythos, right?
WRONG. In fact, I generally avoid historical stories in order to avert the need to cover my face with one hand and mutter everything from 'do you seriously think that's how it was pronounced?!' to 'Oh are you #@$#! KIDDING me?!' Generally, people writing 'historicals' get things wrong, and what they don't get wrong they do badly.
Now, that's not to say that De Sosa is a slave to historical accuracy. In fact, he's done a truly wonderful thing instead; he's subtly and deftly overlaid the culture of Erin Og with another. Guess which other culture awarded musicians the highest honors, treated them almost as gods and paid them handsomely for their services?
You got it! The world of ROCK AND ROLL!!!
The jokes are subtle, gracefully inserted, which is part of what makes them perfect. While still maintaining period dress, De Sosa has managed to give his characters the look of 60's, 70's and 80's stars. One character's tunic and hose are subtly altered to give a 60's peacing out look, and Bryan the Bard wears a torqe that looks like headphones if you squint. It's perfection. And nothing makes me laugh harder than a rock'n'roll joke I wasn't expecting thrown into the middle of a hurling game or an ancient tale. For me there was also a special treat in seeing so much Irish slang and language used so adeptly.
Oi's use of situational humor is also gorgeously well crafted. 

But gimmicks aside, this story has a wonderful grasp of interpersonal relations, human pathos and motivation. Several intense, emotionally real storylines interweave in these panels, and each one of them has a surprisingly poignant urgency. De Sosa has managed to create emotional and social issues that are perfectly true to their age and still relevant to us. The art catches your eye, but it's the story that keeps you coming back.

And speaking of the art! 

Oi's art is a gorgeously crafted stylistic treat, mixing well-drawn characters with a rich palette of azures interspersed with gorgeously illustrated legends and tales. There's just a hint of clumsiness to the anatomy in some areas and and the linework of occasional panels, but overall it's barely discernible, and gets less and less so the further into the comic you go. The artist's learning curve was a pleasure to see.
Redolent of Erin Og (old Ireland) and kin to the gorgeous art in the movies Song of The Sea and the Secret of Kells, the art in Oi is multileveled and graceful. There's a deft, witty deployment of color, background pattern and texture, as well as a wonderful use of true and faux knotwork (cough celtic knots and designs that kind of look like Celtic knots, sorry my inner professor got out there, don't worry he's back in his office now) to emphasize the comic's atmosphere. That sense of ruggedness is further accentuated by the choice of a heavy, gritty watercolor-paper look to backgrounds Truly lovely stuff!
As a last note, this story has some of the best use of exposition I've ever seen in a comic. It manages to convey entire convoluted legends without EVER making you feel like there's too much text on a page.

The Razzes

I have only three comments on work that needs doing:

 One, a little more focus on the drawing of anatomy and poses that involve foreshortening.

 Two,  the artist needs to slow down. By the end of the story I could tell which panels had been rushed. I know that's a harsh thing to say, I draw a comic myself and boy don't I know the time crunch. But it's hurting the work, making a great piece look clumsy in areas.

 Three, a little more site work might be nice when there's time; there are several buttons a little out of place. But all in all, it's nothing that's not easily fixed.

The Revue

A must read. To you, De Sosa, caed mil maith agat! Agus ERIN GO BRAGH!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saturday Revue February 21: Random Things For Random Beings

Aaaaand now for something completely..... RANDOM!

Whether you need celestial guidance from a cat or underwater phone chats, a good laugh or the apocalypse,  Random Things For Random Beings has got you covered. 
The creation of Van Husk I, Random Things For Random Beings can be found here
A three way cross between a slice of life, an adventure and the Sunday Funnies, Random Things For Random Beings makes a niche all its own.
The piece loosely revolves around Sophie Fisher, bike messenger and queen of the color blue. Complementing her short-tempered snark is the stunned choir boy Christian and the lovable strongman Otto. Together, they make  a quirky, off the wall and oddly endearing dynamic that pulls the humor out of those awkward and odd moments in life.

The Rating

Not quite on the mark, but close!

The Raves

There's much to love about Random Things. For one thing, there's Sophie. 

Smart, cute and sassy, she's the most dynamic character in the crew. 

       The art style is reminiscent of Sunday Funnies classics like Foxtrot, Bound and Gagged, Argyle Sweater and Zits, and at moments it pulls off the same amusingly awkward poker-faced humor of Bound and Gagged or Rhymes With Orange. At its best, the art pulls off the clean tightness in art style, color play and line work of  The Far Side and Zits. The characters are wonderfully exaggerated and there's just the right balance of skill and simplification in the drawing style.

The humor is also reminiscent of the best pokerfaced comics, and I'd actually like to see more of a focus on that deadpan situational humor that shows through now and again; it's done cleverly and with a fresh take. The jokes make you blink for a moment and then burst out laughing.

The Razzes

Unfortunately, Random Things can't decide whether it's a longform story or a gag-a-day comic, and both story and artform suffer for it. As a reader, it's extremely jarring to be thrust constantly in and out of a storyline without warning. There is a nifty feature in the archive that lets you read either the story or the gags, but from the standpoint of a daily reader it'd be irritating to me. The constant change in subject left me feeling like I never really got into the material. Yes, it is called Random Things, but I'd actually like to see it become MORE random rather than trying and failing to do two types of comic at once. It doesn't gel, and it leaves the reader feeling a little alienated and bewildered.
The art as yet still has the tentative quality of an artist learning the craft; sometimes it's really great, and then there are the bad days when it's obvious that the creator had to use a scanner and needs to keep up the work perfecting their style. It's getting there though!

The Revue

Something fun to read in your pj's on Saturday morning.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Valentines' Day Double Feature Revue: Sunstone

And For Our Second Act, preeeeeesenting,

A Love Story With A Twist...Or Should We Say, A Kink?

Two people meet through their hobbies, fall in love, move in together, get married. A nice old fashioned love story.
Heh heh heh wellllllllll......if the hobby is bondage games, and if the two people are girls, and if....nope. This is a NEW fashioned love story. And it's a tickler.

The creation of Stjepan Sejic, Sunstone can be found here and bought here

This story revolves around two women, Ally and Lisa, and how they fall in love. They get into it, like we readers do (be honest, come on) for the sex, but we all stay in for the love. And trust me, the love story is worth it.

Before I tell you this, let me tell you a small personal detail.  When I was six years old, I was bitten several times by a black widow and badly poisoned. The pain was bad enough, but what I remember most vividly is the feeling of the poison spreading, enervating my muscles until I was unable to move. I was utterly helpless; couldn't even scream. At one point, I could barely breathe, and had to be intevated. I'll never forget lying there in the hospital, pain coming and going, a machine breathing for me, my body trapped, absolutely unable to move. Around me the world moved and acted on me, and I had no power over it whatsoever. I'll never forget that terror. To this day, I cannot STAND feeling trapped or weak. Even an enclosing corridor or someone backing me into the corner of the elevator all unawares will send a momentary flash of panic through me. My fiancee' once backed me up against a wall during an early date while kissing me, and I nearly ran. So the idea of sex games....never really appealed.  I remember real helplessness too well. I wish I didn't.

So with that in mind, you'll understand the significance when I say that Sunstone made me understand the attraction of bondage play. The character of Lisa, a subordinate, explains it so beautifully when she speaks of relinquishing control and thought to someone you trust in order to stop thinking and simply feel the moment. Sejic's writing and his characters make this sexual hobby not only understandable, but real and emotionally satisfying. And he does it by writing real people and a real romance. And when I say real, I mean REAL. For example, let me show you the first in-person meeting the girls had.

Now THAT is a real world, and a real, honest relationship. No crazy setups, no otherworldly power of attraction on the part of one or the other, no forced interaction. No drugs or mind control, as the writer states it. Just two real people who share a passion, and connect to each other through it.

The Rating

An almost perfect score for Sunstone. And it definitely wasn't the story that got it dinged!

The Raves

Sooooo you can probably tell already that I thoroughly enjoy Sunstone from the intro. And I'll say honestly that the more mature scenes were a definite draw. Sex sells, and I'm as hot blooded as the next young thing.
But anyone who's ever watched Animal Planet or bad porn can tell you that sex, by itself, is really not all that exciting at all but a lizard-brain level of our reactions. As a friend once put it, 'you can have a boner and still be bored.'

The real fascination of this story is the skill with which it takes a mysterious, ominous lifestyle that at once attracts and repels the mainstream and makes it into a simple passion, a hobby, one facet of the lives of people with lives; careers, other hobbies, intelligent minds and normal, well adjusted personalities. It takes something that, in our prudish American and European minds, is dark and twisted, and shows us that it's just another way to enjoy yourself. And then it asks us, why not? What's your problem, exactly?
The characters in this story are the perfect people to get yourself to ask that question too. Lisa is quick, wry, witty, and a wonderfully playful personality.
And Ally is the clever coding chick who's into video games, likes to read obsessively, wears glasses and is always thinking about something, which is sometimes an issue.

The side characters are just as well rounded, as full of life, wit and personality as the main characters, and between them they make one of the most honest love stories I've ever read. The process of letting someone close enough to you to become a friend and a lover is terrifying, complicated, messy, and uncomfortable, even when it's worth it. Sunstone doesn't flinch from exploring every facet of that, including the awkward and uncomfortable moments. There's the deeply emotional things this couple deals with in learning that they love eachother; insecurity, fear, old scars, new jealousies and doubts, including self doubt.And then there's the very human awkwardness of having to tell your girlfriend that your sexy weekend's shot because you just got your period. In Sunstone, all these situations are explored with equal wit, candor, wonderful snark, and compassion.

There is this in the story

But there's also this

and this
And that's what makes Sunstone a great love story.

And then of course, you may have noticed THE ART!!!!! The piece gracefully dances between styles, and it never ceases to be gorgeous, skillful, and well-done. The body language is extremely strong, the anatomy IS ABSOLUTELY PERFECT, and you never question the artist's skill. SUNSTONE IS GORGEOUS. It's made these characters live for me, and it's made me actually consider some things I'd rarely even considered, and then only with horror, as things of beauty and...well, arousal. Enough said.

The Razzes

So what's there to razz?
The typos. OH YE GODS BRIGHT AND DARK, THE TYPOS! Stjepan, PLEASE, please learn to proof read your work, I'm begging you. Work THIS GOOD does not deserve to be marred by stupid, irritatingly blatant typos that would have taken two seconds and the stroke of the space bar or the changing of one letter to fix. Sunstone would be ABSOLUTE PERFECTION but for the glaring typos on every other page. Also, occasional spelling mistakes distracted and annoyed me. A proofreader might be in order. But to give you your just deserts, they'll have to sit in a cold bath while working! 
Someday I'll have to buy the print books, because my one other complaint is the irritation of trying to click through Deviantart's wonky system to read each page where it's hosted. It really makes me miss more traditional webcomic sites, but I understand that Deviantart is the best site for something of this nature....still, as a comic host, it has a lot of drawbacks, and it distracts slightly from a story that otherwise flows seamlessly.

The Revue

Sunstone lives up to its name: it is a gem. Please read it. And then go burn a copy of 50 Shades Of Gray in its honor.

Valentines Day Double Feature Revue: Harlequin Valentine

Annnnnnd Now, For Your Viewing Pleasure!
A Valentines' Day Double Feature!

For Our First Act, We Present to You:

Harlequin Valentine!!!

"It's Perfect, Magnificent, Marvelous and Magical.
It's Valentine's Day, isn't it?
Who could be cold upon Valentine's Day?"
-Neil Gamian, Harlequin Valentine

What happens when you give your heart to another? What happens when you give your heart away?
In the surreal tale of Harlequin Valentine, that question is answered,  rather literally in fact.

A surreal, dreamy dance through city streets on a cold February holiday, Harlequin Valentine is a tale for the dreamers, the wistful ones, and the people who see through tawdry decorations to savor the message of St. Valentine in all its strange and lovely moods.
In these pages you'll meet Harlequin, who has pinned his heart to the door of his Columbine Valentine of the day.  He is truly the spirit of infatuation; by turns syrupy sweet, capricious, cruel, careless and kind as the mood takes him. He is the lusty fascination that sweeps you off your feet, and the melancholy mood that engulfs you when you sit at home alone on Valentines' Day. He's infatuation; its joys and its pains, all in one package.
But this time he's set his heart at the feet of a woman named Missy, and she may just be more than he expected.

Written by Neil Gaiman and illustrated by John Bolton, the book can be found through Amazon or here at TFAW comics.

The Rating 

Take a bow, Harlequin. With one or two faults, your performance was most excellent.

The Raves

Told in lyrical prose and with surreal, half-photographic art that captures odd poses and altered states of consciousness,  the short story Harlequin Valentine is an updated retelling of the commedia dell'arte tale of Harlequin and Columbine, which the authors discuss in their 'notes' in the back of the book. For once, the authors' notes are as fascinating as the actual story, and  their deep, cynical and oddly moving riff on the original tale really hit a sweet spot with me. Between the art and the writing, I was transported into a waking dream where love is a dancing, cavorting animal leaving chaos in his wake.
In this world, dead men speak on their autopsy tables, girls can be transformed by being wrapped in ribbon, and the right woman can change the world. I won't tell you the ending, for that would break the spell and spoil the magic, but I will tell you that it's a must read. 
This is not a long book. At 32 pages, it's shorter than some single issue comics I've read. But packed into it is a heady and somewhat disturbing exploration of this saint's day. Gaiman and Bolton remind us that love isn't always kind. In fact, they murmur in your ear, quite often it's cruel, caring nothing or who it harms. Despite his light-hearted cavorting and syrup-sweet pining for the 'Columbine' he's chosen in honor of the day, you realize very quickly that Harlequin, spirit of Valentines', is as self-centered as a gyroscope. He isn't in love with MISSY, his professed beloved; rather he's in love with the idea of BEING IN LOVE. The way in which this story explores the ideas we hold on falling in love and pokes holes in them are fascinating. The story at once discomforted me and pulled me in deeper page by page by its weird and wonderful juxtaposition of real and false in both the writing and the art.

The Razzes

So, I'm a young woman in my twenties....and I had to hold this book up and squint in order to read the text. Admittedly the font is a lovely thing, but someone along the line should have mentioned that it should be lovely and LEGIBLE. Most of the time the art is gorgeous, but at certain points its mixed media approach is more jarring than interesting, and distracts from the story. But hey, what performer doesn't have a missed step somewhere in his routine?

The Revue

The perfect read when you need an antidote to overdone 'romance genre' stories.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Monthly Matinee: The Art of Making Love....Stories ;)

Roll up, Roll Up Folks! Come See The Matinee!

This month: The Art Of Making Love (wink) Stories

Aah the month of February. Valentines' Day season. Cards, flowers, chocolates, romance. How....nice.

So why do so many of us detest it?

Simple: Valentines' day, like any badly crafted romance, is forced.  People are going through the motions not because they necessarily feel the emotions they're showing, but because they have to. And we can tell the difference. False emotion leaves a bad taste in the mouth.
So if it's true in life, why not in art?

It's a special challenge to tell the story of a romance in the pictures and dialogue of a comic or graphic novel. Internal dialogue is less common and weaknesses show up quickly on the sparse frame of a comic. But we comic connoisseurs and creators also get a special set of gifts; we get to play with body language, expression, the movements of hands and eyes and shoulders, in a way that prose authors would kill for. Comic authors get to quite literally follow the precept 'show, don't tell'.
The trick is showing it in the right way. So, how is that done?
There's no magic formula for a good romantic story, but there are a few signs of a good romance.

  • There's More To Characters Than Plot Points
In good stories, the characters are people too. They live, they breathe, they feed the cat and have hobbies. There is NOTHING worse in comic storytelling than the Damsel Objective Syndrome. Characters afflicted with Damsel Objective Syndrome have no real personality. They are simply there to be won when the hero has become impressive/strong/confident enough, rescued from tall towers, villains and calamities. 

 Unfortunately, this is especially prevalent in comics and comic-derived works. Want to show that the superhero's life is getting better? Have him get the girl he's lusted after from afar. Never mind who the girl is, he got her, that's the point.
And that's not romance. That's lazy writing. 
That's not to say that winning somebody isn't important, but it needs to be done well. There needs to be something more to the attraction than adolescent mooning. A lot of great romances start that way, but very, very few continue in that way for very long. Good writers show us WHY this person is worth loving beyond their physical attraction. Are they clever? Are they witty? Are they tough guys/gals with a heart of gold? Good writers give us a reason to fall in love with the protagonist. Even better, they give us TWO protagonists, not one protagonist and one love interest.

Here's a good example of the contrast: 
    GOOD / BAD
Hawkeye and Black Widow are two soldiers in a dark war, two people with a LOT of history. They banter, talk, commiserate, yell at each other and support one another. They're fine apart, but they're even better together.
Thor, on the other hand, gives a very clear sense that 'oh, I should probably have a love interest in here somewhere, shouldn't I? To complete, you know, my heroism' His love interest is so forgettable that I had to look up her name. That's not a satisfying romance. That's just an excuse to rescue somebody. I'm not impressed.

  • There's More to Chemistry Than Lust
This is a failing particularly strong in the YA area, but it's universal enough to make me mention it here. Thinking a guy is cute and that you'd like to kiss him isn't love, it's atavistic hormonal reactions. Good writers know the difference between having the hots and falling in love.
This is best examplified in the gorgeous comic Habibi, where pretty much every stage of falling in love is shown as the story progresses. At the beginning of the story, the characters are very young. As the story progresses, the young man wants to have sex mostly because he's a teenager.
But as the story progresses and the characters themselves become more complex, he falls truly in love with his beloved, connected to her by shared suffering and shared experiences.
That love abides. Lust does not. Good writers step beyond infatuation and into love.
  • There's More To Challenges Than Angst

To put this another way, give your characters something to DO while falling in love. Love is fascinating, frightening and bewildering, when you're feeling it. But it's a little like running a marathon. From the outside, it's not too interesting to watch. Good writers have to give us a reason to care.

 Some writers duck this by throwing people into dangerous situations and having their protagonists agonize about it. "GASP, my beloved is in danger, I MUST RESCUE!"

Prince Valiant

Everybody writes those scenes, and once in a while they're a lot of fun. But that kind of love is easy. You're not challenged to love a person. You're just rescuing 'the beloved.' Emotionally, that's easy. And it also gets ridiculous really fast. The situations that this kind of writer create in order for characters to 'prove their love' can wring so false that you can't help but groan, even when you like the story itself. 

It's also emotionally easy to obsess about your feelings for another person, and you see a lot of this in certain genres.

But really, that's not love. They aren't thinking about the other person as A PERSON. Only as an objective.

Good writing avoids both these pitfalls by giving their characters real, solid challenges to overcome. Now, real challenges can be internal, and in fact some of the best romance challenges are; overcoming personal history, parents who aren't supporting the character's life choices or insecurity are all valid challenges in the right writer's hands. The trick is to make them real. Challenges should be more than excuses for the characters to 'prove their love'.
  • There's More To Love Than Romance
And finally, love should DO something for the characters and the plot.  The romance should change them as people. The best romances make the characters grow into stronger people. Having a good partner allows them the confidence to overcome a weakness.
Three great examples show up in the comics Girls With Slingshots, Questionable Content, and Tripping Over You. In each case, the characters are well rounded people before they ever find a love interest, but that love interest allows them to strengthen a weak aspect of their characters; to stop being self conscious,

Get past family problems, or realize what you truly want in life.

Love isn't about desperate passion. It's about knowing someone loves you, feeling the deep contentment of being truly sure of something in your life, and of feeling truly safe. That internal security can give a character a strength that allows them to do amazing things. That is the real strength of love.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Sunday Revue February 8th: The Shadows Over Innsmouth

 Ladies and Gentlemen!  We Cordially Invite You!

Join us for Afternoon Tea and some Light Vivisection at

 The Shadows Over Innsmouth

Ahhh. A light brunch. A cup of tea. Oh, and a quick game of Disembowel your Prey! Jolly good!
If the creators of Downton Abbey and Call of Cthulu were ever shoved in a room together and told to write, they'd probably come out with something like (but less amusing than) The Shadows Over Innsmouth. In this small town where things are not quite as usual,  you get a sense that all the REAL people are the monsters.

The creation of Seth Witfoth, The Shadows Over Innsmouth can be found lurking here

Our main character of interest is Jaunt. He's a dandy of impeccable and charming manners. He's a Dapper Dan. He's also a Dimensional Shambler who will walk through worlds and, if he's vexed, gut the offender with his bare talons.

There's a very strong sense of Britain-reminiscent black humor in this strip, mixed with a little noir humor; a sense that the clever investigative humans who keep snooping around are more entertainment for the monsters than anything. In fact, the way the 'people' and the 'monsters' are portrayed makes you start to question who the real 'people' are. There's regular Lovecraft mentions and references; one character even says 'I ain't grown gills yet'. You also get a strong sense of plots unfolding, of things moving unseen under the surface of events. Machinations, manipulations, plots and intrigues are seen just out of the corner of your eye, and that brings a thrill up your spine...and a grin to your lips.

The Rating

The Shadows Over Innsmouth earns itself a very respectable 7; well done, chap, but you may want to work on your stroke, wot wot?

The Raves

 This isn't just another monster movie, folks. Here the monsters have very real motivations: boredom, the need to feel purposeful, wanting a drink and a card game with the blokes...and wanting to be safe. These guys come across as people, and that's a good mark in my book.
In addition to clever dialogue, there's quite a lot of clever design in Shadows. This  comic uses a mechanism I particularly enjoy of, when a character of a new species is introduced, a sidebar with a book illustration of said species is shown.

 There on the page is the fearsome beast, and there you see the rather woebegone Jack. I enjoy the way the mechanism makes you subtly question your assumptions on the subject of men and monsters. What really makes a monster? Fangs and claws, or behavior?
In fact, subtle wit and well-paced plot are probably this comic's strongest points. The characters are clever, wryly cynical and really charming (even when they're up to no good). The hints of dark plots unfolding like weeds lends a nice spice to the storytelling brew.
The art shows real promise, and shows a nice grasp of pose and very adept deployment of action and splash panels. A slightly marine color palette and deft use of a grunge texture throughout add just the right touch of 'vintage'. What exposition is used only serves to emphasize the feel of a movie or novel of the 1920's, and politely steps aside when it isn't needed.
 The story is much like a perfect English Tea; simple, graceful and nicely timed.

The Razzes

While I admire Shadows' work at making us take a deeper look at monsters, it needs to look a little closer at its human characters. They're not nearly as nicely drawn as the creatures, and the difference is somewhat jarring. While the creatures in the story are nicely drawn and well-rounded, the human characters are drawn in a style that makes them look flattened and washed out, especially around the face. The bodies and proportions show a good grasp of anatomy, but the faces need some work, especially in their expressions, which come across rather stiff and boxy. Women characters in particular aren't quite right around the face. The creator mentions in his notes that this is something they're working on, and to give them their due I did notice and admire the steady improvement on human expression from the first page to the last.
The line work is occasionally a bit pixillated and shows some need for improvement, but that too is improving as the comic goes on. Practice makes perfect! I'll be interested to keep reading this and watch it steadily improve.

The Revue

All around a jolly good read, especially on a dark and stormy night.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Saturday Revue February 7th: Consolers

Consolers: the Gaming Buff's Comic

Ladies and gentlemen, new to the stage, a budding talent!

Last week set the bar rather high with two truly stupendous acts, but here at the Strip Show, every talent gets their time in the spotlight. So without further ado, I present to you, 


Are you a true gamer? Not just a player but one who follows every release with avid eyes and knows all the dirty little corporate secrets, the feuds, infighting and industry arguments that make Game of Thrones look tame? Then you might want to take a look at Consolers.

In this comic, the greats of videogame creation are each represented as young avatars, with all their corporate intrigues and infight competition portrayed as highschool-esque shenanigans. Here you can see Nintendo, portrayed as a cheerful tomboy.

The creation of Silke "Zanreo" Erland, Consolers can be found here.
There's a certain charm to this idea, and the style is somewhat of a cross between Manga and political cartoons, amusing if you know games. It's quite a catchy concept if you need to get a gaming gentile like me interested in a very industry specific subject. The strip shows a lot of promise, if it can overcome several rather off-putting writing flaws.

The Rating

Consolers racks up 4 points out of 10. It's got good points, and room for improvement.

The Raves

I love the idea of taking the strange, technical and overly complicated world of game design, the game industry in general in fact, and re-imagining it in the form of interpersonal interactions. If Consolers had gone just a little further in that direction, it would have been a really great comic.
The style is a nice minimalist one, and with a little practice it'll be charming. As a budding artist, Zanero is on the right track. And her imaging of each game company is amusing in its own right; Nintendo as a cheerful, wisecracking tomboy who dabbles in everything, Sony as a  beatnik slacker, and Microsoft as an uptight know-it-all who talks a game much bigger than he plays. That aspect made me grin.

The Razzes

Unfortunately, Consolers seems to expect a lot from its audience in the way of prior knowledge of the intricacies of the gaming world. It does supplement this with author notes quite well, but if I have to read the author notes of every page in order to get the jokes, I feel the author hasn't managed to do their job.
But what's that I hear you say? You'd get the jokes if you were a gamer? Ah, but my friends, this isn't about the subject matter, it's about the delivery. I repeat, this isn't about the media involved. I'm not an expert in Lebanese  politics, but many of their cartoonists can make me smirk at the ridiculous situation politics happening in Lebanon with a few well placed images and words. I know little about the Higgs-Bosun particle, but the redoubtable XKCD strip can still make me laugh about it. If this comic is to gain a wider audience, it needs to follow in the footsteps of comics such as XKCD and Nasereden Hodja, and make these inside jokes more accessible to a wider audience. This may sound lazy, but as a reader, I really don't want to have to read up on your subject to get the jokes. If an occasional comic makes me say 'huh, I should google that' all well and good, you've challenged me and made me think. But I shouldn't as a reader spend the whole time with a sense of slightly annoyed bafflement.
If the caricatures become more concrete and less like vehicles for the joke, I'll be happier. Conversely, if this comic picks up the cleaner, sharper style of a short-panel political cartoon, it'll be great. As it stands, it's got some work to do.
There's also some work to be done on the art. There are moments where it shines, and its cute, slightly cynical wit makes you smile, enhanced by the minimalist anime style. 

But sometimes it misses the mark and simply comes off as sloppy. Some serious study of a site like Posemaniacs and a book on drawing anatomy (in anime style or otherwise) would be really helpful here. The facial expressions are quite nice, but the bodies are blocky, somewhat out of proportion, and drawn in very stiff poses. Basically, the art needs work.

Don't get me wrong, though. The style the comic reaches for is a good one, and hints of that are beginning to show. With a bit more practice, Consolers may just grasp the style it reaches for. But for now, it's not a bad beginning.

The Revue

If you're a gamer, you'll get a few laughs. The rest of us will probably be scratching our heads. But I look forward to seeing what this starting point becomes if the creator keeps at it and keeps improving their style, working on their anatomy and trying to get all their readers in on the joke.