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.