Saturday, March 26, 2016

Saturday Revue March 26: Torus Link

Ladies And Gentlemen, Prepare Yourselves

For The Unexpected

Worlds intertwining like lovers, stories waiting to be told. Adventures waiting to be had. In the 'Torus Link', all things are connected by threads as thin as spiderweb and as deep as human desire. The creation of Yasmine Pirouz, Torus Link can be found here. 
In two worlds, two lives are subtly and slowly intertwining; a girl in our world is drawn back again and again to the glimpses in the corner of her eye and  the messages from someone she knows in her heart. In another world, another woman is facing the tragedy of her life. And everything is changing.

The Rating

A lucid dream made real.

The Raves

Done in the style of  urban sketchbooks, 'Torus' is an evocative exploration of places both strange and familiar. The art borrows some manga conventions for facial expression, but it shares stylistic kinship with French sketchbook art pieces such as 'The Rabbi's Cat', ' and illustrated tales like 'Clueless In Tokyo' Sketchbook renderings with loose linework and  color washes give this work the feel of a lucid dream.  The work's greatest skill is in the capturing emotions and reactions, while still telling a cogent and well paced tale. It manages this through a great ability to create atmosphere, a good design of characters and very realistic use of body language.

In story, 'Torus' has much in common with tales like 'Neverwhere' and 'Fables', with intersecting storylines and thematic changeups.  It carries a lot of thematic balls: urban fantasy, high fantasy, travel story and vingette. But 'Torus' keeps them nicely in the air throughout the tale, partly by the clever trick of beginning the two stories as separate sections of a comic. Clicking on the main link takes you to a landing page, and there you get a choice.  The real-world section of the story is dubbed 1 A and will tell you Hazel's tale. Clicking 1B will immerse you in Azalea's world and its rhythms of life at a convent for telepaths. Equally fascinating, these worlds are bound to converge, though the reader can't be sure when.
The characters themselves also allow this story to hold together; they're people with problems you can relate to. Personable, sweet, relatable and well rounded, the characters are probably the strongest thing about the work. You regularly want to give them a hug.

The Razzes

The biggest thing this comic is missing is time. Don't get me wrong, Pirouz is skilled, but you can tell when they rushed a bit. Sometimes you'll get pages that will make your jaw drop, like the one below. But the very next page will be underwhelming. I'd like to see the artist put equal focus into all their pages, because the heights they are capable of reaching are, if they were hit consistently, enough to fall in love with.
Specifically to be worked on: 


Oftentimes, the fine line work disappears, possibly when you color, and this can give a grainy quality to the work and make the eye boggle when it can't figure out where the line for, say, the jaw is. There's several fixes to this really common issue.
1. If you're scanning work in, knock the contrast as far up as you can, and then lower the brightness until you arrive at a place that gives you bright, clean lines.
2. Duplicate your linework layer and stack them one on top of the other, then make the top layer transparent. In GIMP, my program of choice, you do this  by changing the layer's mode to Multiply. Every program is different, but I'm sure there's a way to do this in all cases. Doing this means you can color and shade to your heart's content without EVER erasing your lines, because they'll be on the pristine transparent layer floating above!


Often the creator goes for an extreme version of the human face when displaying emotion, and that's not necessarily a problem...but the jarring dissonance in style is. When you've done detailed faces and then proceed to simplify without warning, the reader is left with the impression that corners were cut. I'd really like to see consistently detailed faces as a reader. A little more patience and attention to detail in the anatomy of the face and body both will be well worth it if you want to up your viewership.


This comic is hand lettered, and that's okay....but not when the handwriting grows too small to read! I suggest either resizing digitally, lettering digitally or just keeping a LOT more conscious of how small your writing gets; take pity on your poor squinting readers!

The Revue

A great comic to curl up with on a rainy day when you want to be somewhere else.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Saturday Revue March 19: Snarlbear

Hang On To Your Hats!
Here Comes

Sometimes, the world can hand you unexpected things. Character lies in what you decide to do with them. And what Daisy decides to do is fight back. That's when things start getting interesting...
This adventurous dive into color and chaos is the creation of 
Natalie Riess, residing at this link
It's the unexpected journey of Daisy, whose drab life is suddenly and unexpectedly flooded with color, adventure, and DANGER. After this, nothing will ever be the same.

The Revue

Beautiful and feisty!

The Raves

To begin with,
Color is the main theme when you're discussing Snarlbear. 
Bright, breathing, Skittles-has-nothing-on-this-rainbow kind of colors. Amazing colors.
These rainbow washes jump off the page, dance behind your eyes and bring the story to life. The characters and their moods are defined by color, and the world around them is beautifully enlivened in all its deadly glory. Oh, by the way, it is deadly. Everything around here wants to eat, cheat or maul you; you  were warned.
In story 'Snarlbear' has a taste of 'The Phantom Tollbooth' and 'the Dark Crystal' about it. (along with just a hint of D&D) There's plenty of questing for the sake of questing and killing monsters because you're getting paid to, but there's also a solid core of valor and friendship woven through the storyline that keeps it true. 
This world runs on emotion and symbolism; leave the logic at home and let the magic ride. if you can do that, it's a great adventure. The characters are given their personalities through well-portrayed actions and scenes, and there's a good grasp of body language and poise to underline dialogue. Between the COLORS and the good grasp of characterization, emotions come across with stunning clarity in this work. I fell in love with Daisy's fierceness and Flint's tricksome charm. I also fell in love with the site design on this comic; as we webcomickers know, a good website is the frame for a good comic, and a bad frame can degrade the whole piece. Well Snarlbear nailed it with solid and sweet designs that are both efficient and charming!

The Razzes

Two things hold Snarlbear back from being a 10 star A+; anatomy and consistency. Style is one thing, but I'd really like to see some more work on anatomy and jointing when drawing living things. Limbs aren't straight; they have bends and curves. That needs a little more attention in some pages of Snarlbear. In fact, inattention seems to be the creator's one great weakness; you can tell when they've had a rough time; the text becomes too small to read, the scenes grow stilted  and the creator's usual skill falters. This was most prevalent in Chapter 6 and the work pulled itself back up to scratch afterwards, but it was a noticeable lurch in what is otherwise a really great piece. I hope not to see another such slip as the work goes forward. It's always sad to see a creator with solid skills slip backwards or get sloppy.

The Revue

Dive in head first and be swept along by a tale of wit, valor and magic!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Monthly Mattinee March: Something Borrowed, An Exploration Of Folklore And Its Use

Want The Next Hot New Idea?

From the Belfast Magical Federation

Go Old School

You hear it a lot of late: There's no new ideas. You never see anything new these days.
And it does seem like the stuff put out by Hollywood follows a painful cycle of alien, vampire, zombie, alien, vampire, zombie, repeated ad nauseum.
From Neil Gamian's 'Sandman' series, Vertigo comics.
Comics used to suffer the same unpleasant blandness until the Indie Explosion of the '90's. Now anybody at all can put out ideas. And yet we seem to have fallen into a new cycle of blandness: vaguely Medieval world, super-hero world, slice of life, repeat.  On webcomic forums, I read the constant cry of the creatively blocked: 'I can't get any good ideas!'
And this is strange, because there is so MUCH fascinating material just waiting to be discovered and used to tell new stories. Our present culture floats like a little boat on a sea of stories, dreams and nightmares from eons past and cultures around the world.
So why does so little of it get used?
One word. Research.
In comics and visual media, there have been some attempts at digging deep into lore and coming up
with gems. Some have been amazing examples; Sandman, Fables, and Runaways to name a few. Others....well they've been less examples than terrible warnings.  Supernatural, anyone? Yeah, let's not go there.

From the tv show 'Supernatural'. 

What Is Folklore?

In his book 'American Folklore', Richard M. Dobson describes Folk-Lore as 'the loving study of old customs, usages, and superstitions.' Myths are often included. But both folklore and myth have become cultural words for untruths; 'the myth of something' has become a synonym for 'the misconception of something.' Unfortunately, that can be true. But it's only one facet of folklore. 

Folklore is the stories people in a culture build around themselves. Humans love stories, because they give us a sense that the world around us makes sense. Stories empower us; this is their universal and eternal attraction. There's power in knowing the story behind things. When we can't find an answer, we as a species will tell a story. And often, we'll find the answer to our question inside it.
Every culture around the world tells itself stories. Stories give us so much; a sense of belonging, comfort, lessons, warnings, coping mechanisms and advice on what to do when things go bad. Folklore often lets we humans cope with issues by putting them in more accessible and concrete forms that we can interact with: this is true from the ancient afreets of Egypt to Hexas in the Fern Gulley movie. Stories give us a way to understand. And this is where stories become important to comic artists.
People have been telling tales for a long, LONG time, and they've come up with ideas far more intricate, interesting and far-reaching than anything one person can come up with alone. The ideas to be had are endlessly engrossing, and many of them, neglected for political or social reasons in the decades past, are just waiting to be revitalized by the right creator. We've seen this recently in the explosive popularity of  Rejected Princesses, which researches, revives and tells the tales of women that were forgotten by mainstream culture. These stories are helping women to realize that, not only are they awesome now, but that they always were. The world needs stories like these. The world needs stories that let us see other people in other ways of life as real and as valid as we are, and stories will let us do that in an entertaining, interesting and powerful way. We as creators just have to put in the work.

Stalking The Wild Story

From the wonderful site They Draw And Travel

If you're looking to plumb the depths of our world's folklore, there's a basic pattern to  doing research on a concept or an idea. But there are minor variations based on where you start. 
The main thing: read. Read everything. Even if you're making up your own folklore for your own world, see how other people have done it so you can do it right.
If you're at that fork in the road in research, here's a few map sketches for where to go.

I Have No Idea....

If you really want to do something but have no ideas yet, kill time by doing lots of life sketching. Go to the park, the coffee house, the woods, and sketch what you see. This will be time well spent. And while you're sketching, let your mind wander. Too often we're so frazzled and busy that there's no room in our brains for stories. The brain needs quiet time to play by itself. Give it that if you want ideas. And start reading.
There are some really great books of stories that will fire the mind, including:
Parallel Myths by J. F. Bierlein, which gets you thinking about the way people think and tell tales.
American Tall Tales by Mary Pope Osborne, which is a wonderful and colorful source of anecdotes.
The Great Encyclopedia of Faeries by Pierre DuBois , a particular favorite of mine and full of all those creepy stories we don't allow in the nursery anymore.
Sharaz-De, Tales from the Arabian Nights by Toppi which is an indispensable example of good research and gorgeous art working in harmony. 

I also really recommend podcasts for those who enjoy listening to something throughout their days. Lore is the first on my list. By turns the podcast enchants, invites and terrifies you, but you always come away wiser.  You never know what kinds of ideas you'll get listening to a tale.
Podfeed also has a great directory listing of podcasts at this link.

I Have A Concept Or Theme But No Story...

This happens to a lot of people. Maybe you got offered a chance to submit a piece for an anthology. Maybe you want to tell stories that empower a group. Maybe you just really like a culture and want to explore it through your art. Okay, you've got a starting point! Now what?

Let's say you want to tell a story about...oh, a raven. Step 1 is to choose your direction. Are you going to go with the germanic-influenced English idea we Americans inherited about ravens: symbols of impending death, doom and decay?
Or what about the Chinook and Inuit idea that Raven brought the Sun to humanity and freed us from darkness? 

Step 1: Google Up A MapGoogle is step 1. Google 'raven stories'. But please, for the sake of everything you love, make googling a FIRST STEP ONLY!!!!! This is where shows like 'Supernatural' and 'Charmed' fall flat on their faces. They do a quick google search, pick up an idea they like, and that's the end of it. They don't even research how unusual words are pronounced, and their well read audience spends the whole show shouting 'it's pronounced Sowen not Sam-hane you morons!' at the screen. Don't do that.

Start reading articles. Not blurbs, articles. If it doesn't have citations or references it's worse than useless. The internet has a lot of quasi-informational mythology sites and about half of them are DEAD WRONG on key information, but since they don't cite sources you can't check. Read stories about ravens until you bump into one you like. As you read, keep a notepad handy for jotting down things like region or group names, new vocabulary and concepts that could be useful.

Step 2: Follow The Trail
Read the resources that your first step garnered you, and branch out to read about the culture these stories are set in if it's not yours. Sometimes little details turn out to be important; for instance, remember the Pied Piper of Hamelin? 'Pied' is an old germanic word for multi-colored cloth, so as an artist if you were illustrating the character and drew him in a nice blue suit, you'd be wrong. The culture is insisting on the detail that he be in multi-colored clothes right in the title. In America we dye food green for St. Patrick's Day, but in Ireland that's a terrible faux pas because it references, for them, the stories of people dying of hunger with their mouths turned green from trying to eat grass. Missing details like this can be the difference between a relevant and informative story and a culturally insensitive one.
Step 3: Dig For Gold
Once you've got notes together, start the easy part: writing it! You've got so much information now, it's just itching to get out and be something!
Haha yeeeah you wish. Writing is hard. Drawing is hard. It's going to be hard. But it's going to be worth it. Keep your notes on hand and see what ideas come out. Try taking that raven and throwing him in new circumstances. Mix and match ideas, and maybe you'll end up with  this: an ancient Cree legend about crows, a desperate need for making the world better and a gritty noir city. That, my friends, is 'The Crow', and it's a multi-million dollar multi-media concept by this point.

I Have A Character But No Concept...

"I have this character, they're really cool and I want them to do cool stuff but I don't have a story for them..."
Oh boy is this one familiar. I myself held on to a strange little character for YEARS waiting for the right story for her. This held me back from, you know, actually TELLING a story. Not a good thing.

Step 1: Put It Into Words
The hardest thing about the nebulous character driven ideas is that they have no roots. There's nothing to go on but the image of this character. They're more like perfect statues than ideas, and your job is to make them live and breathe and move. Let's say you want to tell a story about a puppy, and maybe about cruelty to animals, but not in a boring or preachy way and not in a way that's already been done. And you're stumped.
Okay, what has Puppy done? What does it want to do? Do you know? Or do you just want to draw a puppy? That's okay, but if so you need to know that.

Step 2: Give It Something To Eat 
What've you read lately? Not a lot?
First problem.
If you can at all manage it, read a LOT of history and folklore. If you don't like to read, try podcasts or Youtube videos. I reccomend history as well because these are the stories of things that have happened, and the crazy chances that come out of millions of people interacting over thousands of years are a LOT more interesting than what any single person will come up with, as I said earlier. 

Do you like a certain culture? Start getting all the videos and books on it. Let's say you like ancient Egypt. Read endlessly about it. Read about the animal-mummification factories employed to kill animals and turn them into offerings for the gods that were sold by temples to their worshippers. Put your character into what you've been reading, and you may find yourself ending by telling a powerful story about a jackal puppy who is taken as the avatar of the god Anubis to tell humanity that treating his favorite animal badly is NOT what he wants them to do. And if they don't listen, well, things could get messy!
Alternately, decide you want to do a gag-a-day piece about the pup. Carry a notebook, and jot down anything funny that happens during your day. For a while. A few months at least. Then sort through the ideas and find the good ones. THEN start drawing. Ideas first, concept art second.

I Have A Story But No Concept...

Boy and girl holding hands on the edge of a cliff. Boy has to save girl, because girl is dying. He saves. Happily ever after. But what's she dying from? Um....
These ideas are much the same as the no-story characters, and the same steps apply. Books of folklore are particularly appropriate aids in this case because they tell short, sharp conceptual stories that will help you gain focus. Try their stories on your idea like sets of clothes, until you find what fits. You may be surprised at how deep and sharp your story will become when it's based in myth.
From the Comic 'Fables'


Lessons To Learn

Whatever you're doing with folklore, read it all. Learn it all. The more fertile the soil of your mind, the more ideas will spring from it.

Examples To Follow

There's a handful of really good comics and animated films based in folklore out there. The movies I most reccomend are 'Song of the Sea' and 'The Secret of Kells', 'The Rabbi's Cat' and 'The Prophet.' In fact the comic of the Rabbi's Cat is also a good choice. as is the endlessly deep and lush Habibi. The amazing Vertigo comic Fables drops all our folktales into the nitty gritty big city, A Redtail's Dream explores Swedish myth, magic and shapeshifting in style, of course the classic Sandman Chronicles  is a must, but there are also sources like the tongue in cheek  Hamlet and Juliet and No Rest For the WickedBreaking The Lore is also a really good choice.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Saturday Revue March 12: Diebold

Make Way! Make Way!

Here Comes Something Wonderful!

Here's a comic that can really speak for itself! When this is the first page, you just know you're in for something good.
This is 'Diebold', a comic created by the triumvirate of John Holland, Brian Clifton and Javi Laparra, residing here and being hilarious. It's the tale of the mysterious Ed the disembodied head, his quest for good beer and sarcasm, and everyone else's quest to find his body, find out how he really lost it, and find a way to get him to stop being so crude. That third part of the quest is probably doomed to failure...

The Rating

A Golden Age Comic with bite. A treat.

The Raves

Stylistically, this comic is beautiful. Reminiscent in cartooning style of 'Andy Capp', 'Mother Goose And Grimm' and a range of classic late fifties and early sixties comics, it's charming. The weird and wonderful animal designs, the exaggerated colors and the whimsy combine nicely into a world that is at once vibrant and dreamy. The artist has a deft grasp of style, and color is a perfect mode of conveyance for its humor.
And the humor is also great. Not quite gag-a-day but close, 'Diebold' loves dirty tricks and goofy wisecracks, but gets away with some of the most direct and lucid storytelling you'll see around while performing its shenanigans. The strip loves its running jokes, and they're good ones; nobody really knows how Ed lost his body, but everybody has a story. Ed has nothing nice to say for anyone, and everyone pretends he's not as rude as he patently is. As the reader you're in on the joke and snicker up your sleeve the whole way through. 

The Razzes

Unfortunately, all good things come to an end. Due to the death of the artist we may not get any more Diebold, which is a real shame. This comic is in print and I may buy a copy just for the crazy animal designs, but it's sad to realize we'll never know where Ed's body is. The site for the comic is kept up in tribute to Mr. Clifton.
I would like to see a better archive button on the site; if you're trying to pick up your place in the comic, it's annoying clicking through every page. But other than that, there is nothing to improve here. This work is a gem.

The Revue

The perfect world to escape into. I only wish there were more. 

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Saturday Revue March 5: Heart of Keol

Ladies And Gentlemen! Today, I Bring You 


There's a place where magic reigns. There's a place where power flows like the sea. And it's not hard to get there....but it might be hard getting back.
This is 'Heart of Keol', the creation of Keiiii, and the gate into this fantastic realm is here. Trust me, this is a gate you want to pass through.

The Rating

Beautiful art and beautiful message. A rare bloom.

The Raves

To begin with, FEAST. YOUR. EYES.
Keiiii has the kind of artistic ability you usually associate with animation studios. Every page is a treat (even the ones Keiii complains about in their commentary.)
The powerful color palette and evocative style combine to immerse you in a world brimming with energy. Keol breathes a vivacious energy from every blade of grass and every panel. Every brushstroke and pattern helps create a living environment.  Every character is a living, moving being, evocative in their poses and their gestures. Even sound is a living thing, and the sound effects in this work are some of the most artistic I've ever seen.

And not only is the art exquisite, but the strip remains eminently legible, blending its dialogue into the layout without missing a step.

And then you get into the story.
I'll admit, dear readers, I was never an anime girl. I grew up on Menominee legends, Irish folk tales, Sherlock Holmes and the Greek and Roman myths, so by the time friends tried to show me Sailor Moon my response was a perplexed 'you like this? Is there a point to it?' That continued through high school (Fruits Basket. Tenshi in Tokoyo. The hurt....) until I was introduced to Baccano, Miyazaki and Avatar: The Last Air Bender in college. I still have issue with a lot of anime and manga writing conventions. I tell you this because it will let you understand that Heart Of Keol was working a tough crowd with me. And it won me over completely.
'Heart' has all the wonderful straightforwardness of storytelling and forthright manner of manga, without the over-the-top emotionality common to the genre. In emotional tone and in skill, it's a blend of Avatar and Miyazaki's more reflective works, with wonderfully personable characters who you want to hug and comfort and say things like 'don't worry, it'll work out' to. There's a zen-like state of innocence in the writing style that allows even the troubled characters to be happy people too. And just to spice it up, there's a mischievous sense of humor that plays games with gender norms, culture norms, bilingual puns and everything else people get too used to taking for granted. 'Heart' is great at taking us gently by the shoulder and helping us change where we're standing so that we can see from a new perspective. You're never beaten over the ideological head, and no one tells you what to think, but you are very gently asked to think about the way you see the world and the people who share it with you. And we can all use more of that.

 The story is deeply rooted in Korean culture and beliefs, and that leads me to another thing I loved; with every page, I learned new, informative and often funny tidbits about both the culture Keiiii is creating and the one they are rooted in. It's been a wonderful thing to be given a guided tour of another culture through the eyes of such a well versed host. I felt both charmed and honored as a reader to be respected in this way.

The Razzes

My biggest complaint is that, while the creator respects both their readers and their source material, they don't respect their own talent. Keiiii, love, please please stop apologizing or worrying aloud in your author's comments over whether a scene was good enough, whether it was interesting enough or was perfectly executed. Your work. Is. Beautiful. It deserves love. Please learn to love it like your readers do. It's sad to see such an AMAZINGLY talented person worry with every page that they're no good. You're better than 99 percent of the stuff on the Net right now. Pleeeeeeaaaaaase realize that and stop beating yourself up! You're giving us beautiful art! Be proud.

The Revue

A comic that will open your eyes and warm your heart. A must read.