Around the web

This month’s edition of “Around the Web” features a comic titled “Joseph & Yusra.”  It is written and drawn by Monique Blaize.

So, a Christian, a Jew, and a Muslim walk into a Manga comic…nah, I got nothing to follow that up with.  What do you get when you add a long standing religious conflict, super powers, and  Manga?  You get this webcomic.  Of course, you probably could figure that out, because otherwise, why would I bother asking the question.  Simply put, this is the story of an unlikely friendship that develops between a Muslim girl named Yusra, and a Jewish boy named Joseph.  Yusra was sent to live with her Aunt in America after an attack kills her parents, and her other relatives only wanted her brother.  On a playground, she meets this boy named Joseph, and they become close friends.  What makes this more extraordinary is that (spoiler alert) she can’t speak any English.  They’ve been communicating telepathically.  Things get complicated a few years later.  I won’t detail how.  For that, you’ll need to read the comic.  Though I will say that it includes super powers, mysteries, intrigue, moral values, etc…

I really want to like this comic, and as I read all 387 pages of it, I mostly did.  Where I think this comic excels is with the day-to-day lives of the characters.  The characters are well defined, and I genuinely cared about what they were going through.  The things that took me out of the story were developments that had to deal with their special abilities and (spoiler alert) Joseph’s Catholic cousin named Mary spying on and testing them.  It’s not like it was bad.  It just make it feel like there are 2 different stories going on.  The story of two friends from opposite sides of a conflict is a fine story on its own.  An unsuspecting person having a special gift, and a larger role to play in the conflict is also a fine story.  But I feel that combining those two elements doesn’t work.  I think it’s the use of a real world conflict that makes it difficult for me to accept.  Had a different world been created with the same circumstances, I may not find any issues with it.  That may be my personal bias, though.

The art is done in a Manga style.  It’s okay.  It’s Manga.  If you like that style, you’ll think the art is fine.  If you don’t, then you’re not going to like it.  There’s really not much more to say about it.  You can tell the characters apart?  That’s good.  I also want to point out my favorite ongoing joke in the strip.  Joseph takes great care not to touch Yusra, because that’s the proper thing to do.  However, there are many moments throughout the story where this just can’t be avoided, and they always lead to humorous, awkward moments.  But, they are rare enough to be enjoyable, and not tire out.

In the end, I do recommend that you read this comic.  Despite what flaws exist, there is plenty to like about it.  And it shouldn’t take you too long to start at the beginning and read all the way through.  I did just that yesterday.

Arounding the web

Both J.R. and I try to spin around the interwebs when we get the chance and check out the seemingly limitless supply on web comics offered throughout.  He usually checks out new ones for our monthly Around the Web feature (which I am not allowed to write ever since I no-showed a month of Crossover Madness) while I peruse for both entertainment as well as pointers on working on my own very long-in-development web comic.

To search out new web strips, I usually Google search a webcomic link list and randomly follow links from the middle of their ranking system (since the top spots are usually reserved for the likes of Penny Arcade and other such “mainstream” strips).  Over my several years worth of searches I’ve found a surprising number of themes (ranging from dull to horrific), schemes and styles, but for every roaring success there are literally scores of half-bred and abandoned failures.  And with that, I feel like I’ve been able to create a sort of guide for the fledgling web comic-er.  It’s what I’ve kept in mind when creating my own.

1) Pick a format
There are basically two types of web comics out there.  The first is the storyline comic – it’s what the typical comic book fan thinks a comic should be.  A cast of characters starts somewhere and a story unfolds.  There are plots, settings, themes, conflicts, resolutions, development, etc.  These are the types of comics that we look at Around the Web.

The second type is what I call the “zinger” type.  This is the type of comic where an edition will have a group of characters basically setting up a joke and hitting the punchline, usually about a specific theme.  Penny Arcade is this sort of comic, where a strip sees its two characters bantering about a certain hot topic in video games.  The two characters really aren’t too developed, nor do they need to be.  They only exist as funny mouthpieces to tell jokes.  There might be small story arcs, such as the characters going to a convention, but the strip still follows the same format, with each edition of the “arc” being a topical zinger in the usual format.

I differentiate the two forms because I see a bunch of comics try to bridge the gap between the two, usually at the cost of storyline pace in the former.  If the storyline comic wastes an update stopping the action to tell a joke about something going on in the news, it leaves readers feeling like they’ve been used as listeners to a soapbox.  This is easily fixed by having a separate area in which the characters might speak on other things out of the normal story.  But if you’re selling readers on a specific type of story, it’s best to stay with it.

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Around the Web

This month’s “Around the Web” leads us to a webcomic titled Snow by Night.  The main story is written by Eric Menge, and drawn by Brittany Michel.

In their “About” section, they summarize the premise of the comic as:

Life is pretty good for Blaise and Jassart. The pair of thieves makes an easy living in the rich, frontier town of Sherbourg. The fur trade is booming and wealth is there for the picking. And down on Iniquity Row, the saloons and gambling hells provide plenty of opportunity to spend their ill-gotten gains. But when a mysterious rival steals their prizes and robs from their wards, Blaise and Jassart are forced into the unfamiliar role of thief-catchers. How do you find a thief who can slip locks and leaves no traces? Regardless, they must catch the thief. Their gloire and fortunes are on the line.

The comic is updated every Monday and Wednesday, with an Almanac entry coming on Friday.  But enough boring information.  Let’s get on with if this comic is any good or not.

In short, I’d say it’s enjoyable.  The characters are well crafted with defined personalities.  The story is engaging.  It’s clear the author has created a large detailed world, but he doesn’t make the mistake of trying to throw that world at the reader all at once.  That restraint should be commended.  It would be easy to get ahead of yourself and want to show the readers just how much effort you put into the creation of this world.  But had that happened, we’d have much less character development, and character is what is important.  You can come up with the greatest story line ever, but if your characters are uninteresting, then no one is going to care.  (Done beating the dead horse.)

In between chapters of the main story are small vignettes.  These are used to flesh out the world a little bit more.  My favorite was the first one that was a fable of why leaves change colors in the Fall, and birds fly south for the Winter.  It was creative, and still plays a part later in the story.

The art is alright, too.  I never say much about the art, because it’s not something I focus on.  Yes, comics are a graphic medium, and the art is important, but for me personally, a story is what keeps me reading.  But long story short, the art here was fine.

In the end, I do recommend that you read this.  I will warn you that it make take a few pages to get into it, but you should enjoy it after that.

Around the Web

This month’s “Around the Web” features a comic titled “Cloudscratcher.”  The comic is written and drawn by Cody Baier.

On the comic’s FAQ page is the following description of the comic:

Cloudscratcher is the story of a group of freedom fighters in their struggles against the Margoth Empire. Squaring off in a world high above the clouds, where people build their civilizations atop craggy mountains and lifeless plateaus, the crew of the Cloudscratcher–a motley crew of various heroes of great skill, all united by lives torn apart by the Empire’s machinations–fight the seemingly endless fight for the future. It won’t be an easy fight, however, as the Margoth Empire boasts superior numbers, advanced technology, and leaders that are as skilled as they are ruthless. And making matters worse, a terrifying new Emperor has taken control, and under his rule, the Empire has grown even stronger, and their goal of complete global domination seems to creep ever-closer…

Cody also says that the comic was inspired by the 1990s Disney animated shows, and the Don Bluth animated movies from the time.  I can see that.  The art style is very reminisent of the Bluth films, while the content of the strip is pretty kid friendly.  But, there’s nothing wrong with that.  It is a serious story told in a lighthearted way.  With the opening dog fight (airplanes, not two dogs fighting, though one pilot is a dog) it is a death-free encounter because of villain blunders.  However, we do get some references to an Imperial nation (of snakes) that is seeking global conquest, and has already wiped out the Pig nation.  One of the pilots on the Cloudscratcher is a Pig, and revenge has been foreshadowed.

So yes, it is a story with cute animals as the main characters, but unlike so many other stories, there is actually substance behind it.  I believe that far too often, writers rely on blood and cussing to try to make their comic seem “edgy,” but they often forget that they are there to actually tell a story.  In closing, I recommend that you read this.  There’s only one chapter currently up, and it consists of 25 pages.

Around the Web

This month’s “Around the Web” features a comic called The Poperty of Hate.  I couldn’t find an actual name for whoever is writing and drawing this comic.  Just the username “Mod.”  Which is sad, because I would love to acknowledge whoever is creating this imaginative, little comic.

There’s not a whole lot of story to summarize.  This being with a television for a head named “RGB” recruits a child to be a hero.  They pass through a doorway in the sky into a…unique world.  In this world, ideas like lies and doubts have become creatures.  Their peacefulness is interrupted when they are attacked by a set of scratchy lines.  And that’s where the series leaves off.

I know I’m doing a horrible job describing it, but you really need to take a look at it yourself.  The charm of this comic really is within the art.  And I really don’t have much else to say about it.  There’s just something about this comic that I like, but can’t quite put my finger on it.

I think you should check it out.

Around the web

It is once again time for our monthly installment of Around the Web, where I search the entirety of the series of tubes that compose the Internet, to find a web comic to read through.  My past history with this column has told me that if I find an ongoing series, I’m not going to like it.  And so, that is the mindset that I set out with, browsing through a list of “recently updated” webcomics, and found Pirates of Mars.  I use quotes because this webcomic hasn’t actually been updated since October 10, 2011.  But that doesn’t really matter.  There are just over 100 entries in this series.  The first 96 entries compose the first volume.

The story is about a widow named Victoria Lovelace, that became a pirate captain after the death of her Naval husband.  She must lead her band of pirates that includes the loyal Chief, the disgruntled Sadir, and a murderous robot.  Like all pirates, they have to deal with the day-to-day problems of being pirates:  how much money am I going to get, how high is the crew’s moral, will I get to kill lots of humans.  (Well, that last one is just the robot’s concern.)  And aside from the concerns of being pirates, they find themselves tossed into the middle of a rebellion.

After reading the entire series, I must admit that I really liked it.  It was a very fun.  The dialogue was entertaining.  The characters were all given distinct characterization.  The story seemed well thought out and focused.  It didn’t try to do too much.  The story mostly stayed with the main group of pirates, which helped to develop the characters personality, and endear them to the readers.  I believe this is what separates this webcomic from others that I have read.  When the characters are put in danger, I care what happens to them because I’ve gotten to know them.  It’s amazing how simple of an idea this is.  If people get to know and care about your characters, then they will care about what happens to them.  The action and plot twists will have meaning.  If people don’t care about the characters, then it simple doesn’t matter how amazing the action is, or how surprising your twists are.

The art is also pretty good.  The website says that volume 2 will be in color, so I’m interested to see how that changes things.  Currently, it is in black and white.  There were a few panels here and there that weren’t very clear, but those were in the minority.  There were also a few spots where it was difficult to tell exactly who said what.  But those are few, and since each character has their own voice, the reader can figure it out.

In the end, I highly recommend that you read this story.  I think you’ll enjoy it.

Around the web

The last two times (only two times) I have done this feature, I’ve ventured forth into the depths of the Internet and sought out a webcomic to read.  Overall, it was not a pleasant experience.  Both were serious, ongoing tales that I felt had problems with characterizations.  Or lack thereof.  So, not in the mood to make it three months in a row, I wimped out and selected a webcomic from one of the one’s that the Joystiq blog on Huffington Post highlighted.  This webcomic is titled Awkward Zombie, and is written and drawn by Katie Tiedrich.

I’m not really certain why it’s titled Awkward Zombie.  The closest thing to a zombie was an undead World of Warcraft character.  But whatever.  In a nutshell, the strip is mostly a satire on video games.  There are some instances where she does a real life comic strip, but mostly, the strips point out the humor, often unintended, within video games.  Or, as with her Super Smash Bros. strips, some funny “behind the scenes” moments that could be happening.  The strips mostly have Nintendo properties (Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Super Smash Bros.), but there is also quite a few World of Warcraft themed entries as well.

The art isn’t really good, but it’s good enough to get the point across.  She makes fun of her own art in her comments section, adding things to the list of stuff she can’t draw.  But, the strips are usually funny.  In prepping for this entry, I had only intended to read some at the beginning and some at the end, but I ended up reading all 237 of them.  There were only a couple strips that I didn’t get, but if you have any history with popular video games, you should get the jokes.

I highly recommend that you check out this webcomic.

Below the break is one of my favorites.

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Around the Web

This month’s edition of Around the Web features a webcomic called “Catspaw.”  It is written by John C. Hocking, and drawn by Storn A. Cook.  Their website says that it is updated every Tuesday, so I’ll see if that is true come tomorrow.

The story is about a trader named Talene, who comes from a land called Akuronda, the land of 27 Tribes.  Traveling with her is an unnamed bodyguard.  They travel to the royal city of Janarax, where they are greeted by a Lord Ambassador, who promises her that he will help her sell her gems and invites her to the Debutante Ball that night.  Instead, Talene meets with a young woman that gives her something called the Philosopher’s Spike.  Immediately, Talene and her bodyguard have a fight, and kill several assassins.  After the battle, they go out for a drink.  And that’s the end of Chapter 1.  Chapter 2 starts with Talene lying in bed, and the Philosopher’s Spike speaks to her, telling her that there is violence hidden in her and she needs to wake up and let it out.  More assassins break into her room.  She fights them off for a bit, then her bodyguard comes to her aid.  And that is where it currently leaves off.

First, the art is pretty.  The fight scenes are nicely drawn.  Which is a good thing, since they make up 7 of the 15 pages of the comic.  And there lies my issue with this web comic.  There’s very little characterization.  We know both of the characters can fight and kill people, and that Talene is young because we are told that she is young.  Oh, and she has a destiny ahead of her, but that’s not characterization.  That is foreshadowing.  If the writer doesn’t want to dive into what has previously happened to these characters to make them who they are, then that needs to come from the dialogue, and how they speak and what they say.  And why don’t we know the bodyguard’s name?  The end of chapter 1 is a perfect time for Talene to mention his name, but she doesn’t.  So, are we to assume that she doesn’t know his name?  And if so, why isn’t that a plot point from the beginning.  It’d add some mystery to him, and leave open a way to develop that character.

But maybe I just demand too much characterization when reading an original story from the beginning.  It’s not too late to develop the characters, and at least the story is focused.  I would recommend taking a look at this if you’re bored and are a fan of fight scenes.

Around the web

This month’s featured web comic is titled “SAGA,” and comes from Close Call Comics.  Writing and art credits for the comic were not listed anywhere on the site, but the characters were the property of Maxime Garbarini.  So, let’s assume that is who is responsible for the comic.  There are currently 59 entries in Season 1, and I went through all of them.

The story is set during World War 2, and is about a group of people that have gained super-powers from an electromagnetic phenomenon in the Himalayas.  An English scientist, after discovering that his kids have powers, tries to discover others with abilities so that my may examine them.  We later find out that the Nazis are also trying to find these people with powers, after they kidnap the English scientists wife and kids.  There of course are more details to the story, but that’s the gist of things.

First off, what’s good about this comic, the art.  I was actually surprised by how good the art is.  It reminded me a little bit of Frank Quietly.  Each character has their own unique look, and is easily recognizable.  Unfortunately, that’s is about all I found to be good with with comic.  The story is often a disjointed mess.  For the first 34 episodes, every odd episode was some bit of information (stuff you see as bonus material in comic books) or a random shot of some scenery, and every even page was a page of story.  On the story pages, they would have a panel at the top of the page, the title, and then the rest of the panels.  However, the title appeared with the normal webpage background, so it took me several pages to realize that I had actually been skipping the first panel of most of the story pages.  And with those story pages, it wasn’t until episode 36 that one story page started where the previous page left off.  This made it very difficult to follow the story, and grow attached to the characters.  And since I wasn’t attached to the characters, I didn’t really feel anything for them when they were put in danger.  Also not helping matters is that I think this a French comic that has been translated into English, that is sometimes a very rough translation.

In conclusion, I don’t recommend reading this web comic.

Around the Web – April 2010

This Month’s Webcomic – Sarah Zero

Drowning in a sea of self-importance.

Where can it be found?
Right here.

How did you find it?
Honestly?  I Googled ‘worst webcomic ever’ and found it on someone’s list.

How much did you read of it?
I started at the beginning and went probably about a fifth of the way through.

What’s it about?
Well, I’m not really sure.  It’s mostly made up of single panel images spouting off psuedo-intellectual, nonsensical phrases while trying to make the art look profound.  The result doesn’t make a lick of sense, but it proves that the creator obviously thinks he’s pretty damn smart.

I suppose I could look at the author’s description:

Sarah Zero is an ongoing story about a feisty redhead and a group of malcontents struggling to find love and validation on the internet. Sarah’s trying to overcome her failings, find the strength to get her priorities straight and unstrange the estranged relationships in her real life.

SZ is a semi-autobio examination of human behaviour, digital culture and our constantly-changing world. It’s about making the right choices to become more than we are.

Huh.  Totally didn’t pick that up while reading the comic itself.

What happened in the part you read?
The main character was saved from floating adrift in the ocean (losing her clothes in the process) and meets a guy who takes her to a bar where she quickly loses him, brushes off someone hitting on her, then takes the stage with her guitar while someone goes in and talks about her stealing his music demos and clipping her wings.

Strengths?
The strip occasionally looks pretty.

Weaknesses?
The damn thing makes no sense.  It’s like someone took a bunch of motivational calendars, jotted down all the sayings and then drew images to it.  Eventually, it gets into a huge stand against media censorship which looks more like bitterness towards someone rather than ideals.

No, seriously, what do you REALLY think?
I have learned from YouTube that there is an audience for absolutely EVERYTHING, and this comic is no exception.  According to the site’s tracking info (which is available on the front page), he gets an average of 2000 hits a week.  And I’m sure a lot of those people think that the comic is downright profound.  I would humbly disagree.  I think Sarah Zero has a lot of effort likely put into it, but the fact remains that it’s just a bunch of ‘Wise man says’ quotes pasted to images that may or may not completely reflect it.  There’s no discernible plot to be found, and no characterization…since the characters hardly ever talk.  It’s pretty much what an emo kid wishes their mind was like.  I found myself unable to connect with the strip because I didn’t buy into the preachy BS I saw there.  It’s one big metaphor (and it’s aware of it) but I don’t think it even understands completely what it’s going for.

Final thoughts?
Sarah Zero is a comic that is pretty confident that it’s being smart – after all, the creator is calling it ‘semi autobio’.   I’m sure that a lot of people agree.

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