Sunday, March 22, 2015

Sunday March 22: Seraphim

Ladies And Gentlemen, I Invite You, Come And See the Starkly Beautiful World Of The Seraphim!

In some worlds, things go well. And in some worlds, things do not. In some worlds, terrible forces hunt the living, and the living must become equally terrible to battle them. The world created by Jessica Kings and James Roughton is one such world. War gnaws the country to the bone, and demons infest their victims, drawn by spilled blood. And I couldn't stop reading about it.
This stark and blade sharp work can be found at this link

Without fuss and without drama, this gorgeous comic draws us into its world and enmeshes us wholly.

The Rating

Gorgeous work, both beautifully drawn and beautifully written. The Seraphim has better art and writing than some anime comics I've seen published.

The Raves

What draws me first to Seraphim is its clean directness. The art is as spare as the body of a seasoned fighter; not an inch of inked space is extraneous, but every stroke is well placed. And it's complemented by scalpel sharp plotting and a dialogue style that cuts away every unnecessary word. Every comment, every hand gesture, every glance is there for a reason. Every one contains information.
There isn't much room for characterization on such a sparse frame, but a good bit is managed through body language and small details, much as the original Star Wars movies did when introducing a young farm boy to the audience.
Body language and gesture play a huge part in this comic, reminding you of the best Japanese films (ahem, the ones without screaming or headbutting through walls)  in their expressive and deceptive simplicity.
And then, of course, the screaming does start. And when it does, the action in this comic is drawn gorgeously.

Sharp as a knife and direct as an arrow, this comic cuts out the tropes that usually bother me about the style it's derived from. I was impressed!

The Razzes

Most of my suggestions for improvement are pretty technical and fairly small. I'd like to see gutter lines that deviate from the norm as in the gorgeous strip above get cleaner and less pixilated; at the moment the lines between the action sequences look a tad jagged. Sometimes waists get a little elongated, and every once in a while heads tip a tad too far to the side on the axis of the throat. I might suggest more being put into backdrops, but the way they're done works so well with the style that I wouldn't concern myself much with it if I were the creator.
My biggest razz is actually not about the comic at all. It's about the Creator's Notes that sit just under the page. Now this may seem a little unorthodox, but I have a request for the creators: please, PLEASE stop denigrating yourselves in your author notes. Your stuff looks great; don't tarnish it in the audience's eyes by pointing out all the little flaws that only you as the creator see. It actually hurts the work when you read that kind of stuff; as a reader, seeing the artist insult and apologize for their work after every page reeeeeeally rubs me the wrong way.
 It's hard for every artist to appreciate their own work; when Van Gogh was an old man a student asked him breathlessly: 'master, what did you feel when you finished Starry Night?' The artist thought, then stated "I never did get the damned tower right." 
Think of it like this: your art is like your child. You could point out every flaw a child has, but that will only make them ashamed and resentful. Or you could be a good parent and, knowing their flaws, gently help them work to become better people. And you can be proud of them. The Seraphim is a great brain child. Be proud of it, and stop telling the world its flaws.

The Revue

A lovely work that is assured to keep getting better. It's on my list of reads.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday March 21: Perpetual Flux

Roll Up Ladies and Gents, Roll Up!

Come Be Amazed by The Macabre, The Magical, The Mad And Madcap

When a story begins with an execution and gets more exciting from there, you KNOW it's going to be good. Especially when said execution doesn't end in oblivion, but in our protagonist dropped into an entirely different world....
Full of bloodshed a la League of Incredible Gentlemen (though far better plotted), plenty of creative intrigue, beautiful art and rapier wit, Perpetual Flux is the creation of Julie Olson and Kat Haynes. It can be found at this link
Whether you like a good yarn, action, mystery or strange and supernatural secrets, you're in for a treat when you read Perpetual Flux. This rollicking story focuses on a fraternity of Purgers and their newest and possibly strangest recruit as they do their best to destroy vampires, djinns, and all manner of things that go bump in the night.

The Rating

Perpetual Flux grabs you by the throat from page one, and never lets go.

The Raves

Lit as if by gas lamps and gorgeously drawn in a digital style than manages to keep all the best qualities of Copix markers, Perpetual Flux starts out by catching your eyes. 
The art draws you in, but the characters and their world keep you fascinated. The creators do a wonderful job of informing the reader through situational details, walking the fine line between information overload and information deprivation with effortless grace. As the reader, you're left with just enough information to keep you constantly immersed in the evolving world, constantly curious and avidly reading to find out what twist the tale will take next. 
Perpetual Flux is definitely steam punk, and I mean that in the best sense of the title. Some great research was done to get the clothes, coiffures, architecture and ambiance of the 1870's right, and every technological addition feels not only natural to the environment, but in fact quite plausible and sensible. The focus also stays solidly on the characters and their purpose rather than getting derailed into an excuse to show off steam punk tech as so often happens in this genre. Instead, Perpetual Flux is kept grounded by good dialogue and intelligent characters. 

This story manages to get a surprising amount of characterization crammed into a very fast paced plot that's mostly action; despite the focus on blood, guts and dying vampires, each character is a distinct individual with their own strengths and weaknesses and a strong sense that motivations and fascinating histories await inside every single one, ready to unfold like Chinese box puzzles into wonderful complexity. Throughout the action, strong streaks of honor and of humor run like connecting threads pulling the weave together. The humor is deliciously dark, by the way, and nicely adds to the action.

Speaking of action, I should mention that I was really impressed by the way in which the action sequences were displayed. The creators have a wonderful grasp of pose, timing, framing and sequential layouts, as well as the capturing of the expressions of body and of face. There was also a nice use of sound signifiers, added well but not obtrusively. The sound signifiers really captured the textures of the sounds that accompany disembowelings, explosions, whistles, even a dog's bark.

The Razzes

At the moment, I really have only one bone to pick with Perpetual flux, and that bone is speech bubbles. Color coded speech bubbles, interlocking speech bubbles, overlapping speech bubbles, speech bubbles with the longest tails you'll ever see. On certain pages, the eye boggles. Now, that's not to say they're unreadable, far from it, and they can be sorted out with concentration, but some pages do get awfully busy linguistically. It's not a serious issue, but it does get a bit overwhelming every once in a while, as below.

The Revue

A definite must read, and a delight. Ladies, I tip my hat to you.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Sunday March 15: Epic Land

And Now For Something EPIC

Preeeeseeeenting Epic Land!

Worlds at stake and Chaos loose. A young girl caught in a destiny she'd never imagined. So begins the adventure of Epic Land. And it does a good job of living up to its name.
This sweet little piece, written and drawn by an  artist by the pen name of Revzet, can be found at this link

At the center of this story is Moe, a school girl with a real streak of cynicism and a good dollop of guts. She's nobody's fool, and messing with her probably isn't a good idea if you want to keep your teeth where they are. She's definitely feisty, but she wasn't expecting ancient prophecies that tell her she's to be a hero.
Moe's world is just coming out of a series of terrible wars, and there's a constant anxiety about diplomacy breaking down and the wars beginning again. Moe has seen a bit too much of that, and it's jaded her. But more's going on than she knows, and very quickly she's drawn into deadly intrigues that have very, very deep roots.

The Rating

Not bad, not bad at all!

The Raves

Epic land begins with quite an ambitious plot line, and for the most part it makes it work through interpersonal scenes and exposition panels laying out the backstory.
The pacing is well done; consistently action-packed and yet expansive enough to allow for several viewpoints and a good bit of backstory. 
The art's whimsical, hand-laid look is reminiscent of staples like Pepper-Ann, Hey Arnold and Doug, and manages some of the same feeling of adolescent adventure and charm despite the subject matter being somewhat darker than what's explored in those pieces.
There's a lot of promise in the direction the art is going; with great shading, good clean color palettes and a steadily improving sense of pose, anatomy and facial expressions, Epic Land is one to keep an eye on. There's also a really good grasp of dramatic mechanisms and when to use them to add a sense of energy to the story.

The Razzes

There's a lot of promise to Epic Land, but it's definitely still got some things to work on. I'd like to see a little more attention paid to anatomy and form, especially of unusual objects. At this point in the art, I can tell exactly when the artist is drawing something they're familiar with and when they're not, and that's not a good thing. Take the bird in the panel below, for example.

The color and shading is great, but the line work is pretty clumsy on this birdy. Now, simplistic is fine, it works well with the style, but a figure can be drawn in a simplistic style and still look polished. It might help to google up a few reference photos when working on something unfamiliar, whether it be an expression, a stance or an object that hasn't been experimented with before. Even better, go to the park and try doing some life drawing; it's great practice to make you really see the world and note all its details.

There are also occasional moments of clumsiness in the storytelling, mostly stemming from a slight overload of detail without a solid backing. The story starts out strong with a prophecy, but five minutes later there's a fight scene going on between alien characters, and suddenly we're thrust out of fantasy and into sci-fi. At another point in the story, we're thrust between scenes, leaving the reader thinking 'um....wait, where are we now?' I quite like each disparate piece of storytelling, but more work needs to be put into making them feel cohesive. Right now we as readers keep getting handed puzzle pieces that we're expected to find places for, and that can be a little off-putting. So can some of the explicit narration that's used in word boxes. There was some good utilization, but often it was totally unnecessary and broke the flow of imagery. That wasn't helped by some of the word choices used in said narration, which got pretty clunky.  I was glad when the artist dropped it from the flow for the most part.

My last thought is something of a nitpick, but some of the font choices also didn't sit well in this piece. The style is loose and impressionistic, and yet a very Times New Roman font is used whenever The Voice Of Prophecy is heard or explicit narration is done. Denoting the gravitas of those scenes is great, but I'd recommend a font that doesn't seem so terribly out of place with the rest of the style.

In a nutshell, I'd like to see the story become more tightly focused and cohesive, and it looks like it's headed in that direction, which I was glad to see. As long as the creator remembers that we as readers are completely new to their world and can easily get lost, they'll do fine.

The Revue

Keep on plugging at it Epic Land, you're getting better with every strip!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday March 14: K and P

Heeeeyyyy Fellas!

        Want To See Something You Ain't Seen Before? 

Come See Kay And P! 

This is One Show You Don't Want To Miss!

Have I got a treat for you, dear readers! 'K And P', written by Jackie Musto, is a gorgeous piece of work that can be found at this link.

K and P is a very special and unique animal; a wonderfully real and casual urban fantasy that you can actually believe in. Most of the time, it feels more like a really well done slice-of-life piece than a true urban fantasy....granted, a slice of a VERY interesting life. In fact, you wouldn't be surprised if Kay moved into your apartment building, though you may or may not see her roommate P; it all depends on how much magic is in your blood!

The Rating

A tour-de-force of art and artistic storytelling.

The Raves

For once, I'll start my rave with the art. AKA, the art is just that good.

Even daily tasks look gorgeous when taken up by this comic's style. It's one of the best realistic comics I've seen, done in a gorgeous style that is at once evocative of a good photographer and a good pastel artist. The anatomy is always spot on, even when dealing with difficult non human characters, but the artist captures the feeling of events as much as the reality with a wonderful color palette and wonderfully done facial expressions.

There are also some really wonderful mechanisms used to denote atmosphere in Kay and P; music is represented as coruscating ripples and waves of color, for instance, which communicates its feel so much better than a simple set of musical notes.

K and P is also one of the few urban fantasies that manages to invest daily life with magic without focusing so much on the magic that the daily life gets lost in the background. The two facets of Kay's life weave effortlessly together, intermingling her life and her second sight into a gorgeous whole.
And that blending is done with wit and with a tongue in cheek grace that never ceases to catch the eye.
The comic explores a great many facets of Kay's life, from romance to the difficulty of being  a 'special child' whose parents never quite get it. As a reader, you'll laugh and empathize with many of the emotions shown (especially if you're an art student, because some of her jokes about art teachers are PRICELESS)
Like life, it's not all fun, and Kay and P handles pathos as well as it handles humor; with empathy and a wry compassion that makes it strike home all the more. Dealing with the world when you're different is HARD, and Kay and P explores that fully in several ways. I really enjoyed the way it handled the exploration of mental illness in our society as well as the explorations of social mores on the subjects of romance, relationships, and this concept we have of normality. But I have to say, I adore the humor. It's intelligent without being unwieldy, relying heavily on repartee and situational drama/humor to move the story forward. Characterization is also well done. While some characters begin very much as caricatures (crazy landlady, nutty rapper)  each character is given time to grow as a person, and yet we aren't hit over the head with character life stories as so many urban fantasists insist on doing. The author strikes a perfect balance between reality and artistic license in the design and the execution of their characters. And they do a gorgeous job of pacing the story, breaking up weightier events with plenty of fun and occasional wacky situational humor that can ONLY happen when you've got the kind of life Kay does.

The Razzes

I have to say, I'd have to get REEEAAAALLLLY fussy to find anything Kay and P needs to improve on. Occasionally hands and faces aren't quite anatomically correct, but it works so well with the style that I don't really see the point of complaining on the point.
In issues one, two and three there were a few too many talking head panels, but that problem was very quickly done away with, and at this point, I have almost nothing to comment on. Once in a while the lines get a little heavy and the  highlighting can get a little overzealous and lead to some oddly over-bright patches on skin, but...yeah that's pure nitpicking.

The Revue

Rock on Jackie, your work's DIVINE.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Saturday Revue March 7th: Stardust The Cat

Jaded? Cynical? Sour?

Have I Got A Strip For You!

So, have you had enough of dumb hippies, commercialism and crass sentiment?
Stardust the Cat knows your pain. And he still doesn't care.

This fully completed, witty and wry creation of Stephen Leotti can be found here for your reading pleasure.

If Sylvester had a younger brother who gave up on chasing small rodents, moved out of Mom's house, double majored in Philosophy and Social Sciences and really did something with his life before settling down to cohabit with a Buddhist who isn't very good at it, that would be Stardust. In the tone of one who's seen the world and suffered its myriad stupidities, Stardust begins as a philosophical gag-a-day comic and evolves into a dryly lovable storyline.

Our main characters here are Stardust himself and his chirpy, chipper mouse roommate Freddie, who injects some much needed levity and one liners. Together, they explore life and our culture from their own very individual point of view.

The Rating

Stardust, your Phil. 101 prof would be proud.

The Raves

By the time the project finishes, the art is a beautiful blend of classic Sunday Funnies strip style and ink-and- pen illustrative work. Even when I wasn't in love with the story, the illustrative style kept me reading. At its best moments, Stardust harks back to the golden era cartoons such as Loony Tunes; wry, rollicking, clever and irreverent.  In fact, it even explicitly nods to the days of the old Toons.
It's also amusing how much cultural and social commentary is worked in with this strip's signature sour wit reminiscent of Sunday Funnies staples such as Doonsbury and Mother Goose and Grimm.
When somebody manages to wrap up a quotation by Frost, a social commentary on Seinfeld and the kind of joke above in a few strips, I'm definitely amused.
The structure is an ambitious one, trying for a gag-a-day style with an underlying long-form plot structure comprised of interlocking stories. It doesn't always work, but when it does it's a lot of fun.
By Episode 11, I was really in love with Stardust the Cat. The art style had become solidly and unquestionably stylish. The use of color becomes a treat for the eyes and a well-used signifier for changes of mood or character state, and the plot lines get a lot tighter, much more focused and more dynamic.
By episode 14, I was sad that the story was complete.

The Razzes

So, I'll be really honest, I had SERIOUS trouble getting into Stardust The Cat. It took me until the 9th episode to really enjoy reading it, and at first I couldn't pin down the reason it didn't work for me. Then it dawned on me; I was suffering the reading equivalent of taking a step that wasn't there again and again. Everything about this strip told me it was a gag-a-day piece, but I'd get through three or four strips before I got to a punchline. It left me as a reader slightly irritated at all times. The irritation was exacerbated by a bad habit of skits degenerating into long-winded soliloquistic sermons. There was an attempt to break these up by spreading them over several strips, but that left you with numerous 'orphan' strips that were pointless out of context, like the one below.

The disconnect between what I was led to expect and what I was given really started to irritate me after a while, though in time it did get less and less frequent. 

My other major irritation with this strip did improve around episode 10, but until then it was a definite downside. And that downside would be size. The comic above is the original hosted size; small enough to make reading slightly difficult for one strip, really irritating after you've been archive-diving a while and find yourself squinting like your granny. When it began to improve I was really relieved, but the project would have been a lot better if the strip size had been consistently large and readable throughout.

The art style goes through several experimental permutations, and while I do admire experimentation, it actually came off as a drop in quality sometimes, especially when the artist experimented with a very grainy texture style that just doesn't work.

I was really happy to see the artist dump that texture after a while; it denigrated great linework. But experimentation is the way an artist grows, so I won't call it a mistake, only an experiment that didn't quite work.
 All in all, watching the artistic trial and error and the eventual perfection that came from all that work was a great treat.

The Revue

The perfect thing to read with your gourmet coffee on a Sunday morning, once you've finished your Kant and your perusal of the Journal of Philosophy and before you get into your Plato. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Sunday Revue March 1: Social Hangover

Been Overdoing It?

Maybe it's a Social Hangover!

Ever had one of THOSE jobs, the kind that makes you cringe? Ever had the kind of day where you just need to curl up and hide? You're not alone.
The creation of Christina Poag, Social Hangover can be found here.

The comic is designed as a very auto-biographical, almost personal journal and a place to explore the problems of social anxiety and depression that crop up in the creator's life. Considering that we live in a culture that to this day stigmatizes and misunderstands these diseases, I consider it a brave thing to give people a window into these very real but very much invisible diseases. It's great that people like Christina are out there providing outlets for connection and understanding to the wider world and to other sufferers through her sharing of experiences. Through her art and humor, we get a whole new perspective on how everyday issues feel to someone suffering depression and social anxiety.

The Rating

There's some things to be improved, but Social Hangover is definitely working its way up!

The Raves

First, I have to tip my hat to anyone brave enough to grapple with mental disease and all its accompanying issues in such a public way, without coming off as whiny. Social Hangover is direct, upbeat and honest about the issues.
I admire that quite a lot. 
The humor with which situations at work, in life and in love are addressed is also a big selling point of Social Hangover. Even a simple day job becomes an exploration of the human condition here, along with an exploration of human weirdness...which there is a LOT of.

The color palette really makes Social pop off the page and keeps its upbeat tone strong, and I found its coloring and shading very inviting. The minimalist style and  lack of definitively deliniated panels also enhances the sense of a personal journal and invites the reader to connect, reminding me of the art in such wonderful books as Eat Mangoes Naked and Seven Wild Sisters. 

The Razzes

There are a few things holding Social Hangover back, and one of the biggest is the text and speech bubbles. Were they cleanly done and neatly lettered, this comic would instantly lose much of the amateur, first-try feel that the awkwardly drawn hand-lettered bubbles give it. It'd also make reading a bit easier; often the bubbles look as if they were drawn shakily and the words within look squashed, which deters readers at first glance. I'd really like to see this comic switch to digital lettering with a nice, clean font that fits its personality.
I think 'needs practice' sums up most of my critical commentary on this work. It's got some great ideas, but it needs to decide whether to really go for a chibi or realistic style; often it looks caught between the two. There also needs to be some work done on facial expressions, proportions and the anatomy of arms and legs, especially when bending. 
Most of the humor is enlightening and interesting, but every once in a while there's a sense of trying way too hard for a joke or a funny moment, and that can strike a reader the wrong way. But that I saw rarely, so I wouldn't worry about it too much if I were the creator.
Mainly, my advice is to try using reference photos or an anatomy book while working, it might help. And, of course, the best way to improve is to keep practicing!

The Revue

A brave, honest comic that wears its heart on its sleeve always deserves respect and admiration. Rock on Social Hangover, and hang in there!