Saturday, 23 December 2006

Dead Tree blues: Estancia

I never thought I'd see the day I'd reject a dead tree version of a webcomic but after yesterday I have come to that bridge and crossed it, gnashing my teeth all the way. Some strips are meant to be adapted to print, the Megatokyo website is merely an online holding point for the books, but Estancia, I am very much afraid, is not one of these strips.

Estancia looks like smooth anime on a computer screen, it looks good, smooth and fully shmik on screen, on paper it looks dull and childish, I like scrolling down as I watch the puzzles play out. It's a consistently good mystery/fantasy strip that works well online. I can see what Hammock are doing - they're trying to expand their empire, but from a reader's point of view it isn't much chop. if they had used callandered paper it might have worked better, it's just hard adapting of course, maybe it's just angst that one of my favourite strips has become more popular than I wanted. If you like drawn out - over the top - cyberpunk strips drawn in pure anime then I recommend looking at this webcomic.

Sunday, 17 December 2006

Some kind of pickpocket chic: of Rogues and Robbers

If crime it has not had a noticeable presence within the realm of webcomics in the way that it is in print fiction it is because of the gravitas evident within the hardboiled mien, the murder can look absurd in a webcomic. Typically online strips are gag driven and slice of life strips aimed at perusing the everyday, crime doesn't seem to translate well.

That said, Of Rogues and Robbers is a fairly intense examination of relationships within a crime fraternity. Jack Vincenzi is a top-level pickpocket who feels the heat when newcomer, the rather gauche Warren, intrudes on her spot within the crime gang detailed here. There's no Sin City malice crunching down into your frontal lobe, what this strip does do well is show a story behind crime, this story is predicated on crime's normalcy as a business and the relationships that are created in a crime gang - the tensions implicit within any organisation or venture. There's a complex world of families and concerns operating within this world and once I was drawn into it I was pretty well hooked.

While Verardi Famiglia has more of dense sketchy look the artwork here has a stylised lightness that at times looks too simplistic for the subject matter but it grows on you, I like the confidence that Charlene Fleming has, she doesn't care what anybody else is creating online she's found a niche and she's starting running with it. (Plus she likes Pulp - always a plus in my book) I like the complexity of intent on display here, even if the plot is plodding along, there's a reason for all the narrative - So, yeah, I like this slow near sensuous strip and all I'm waiting for is more updates.

***Return to sender that includes you as well***

(Musical accompaniment: I agree with Ms Fleming - I like the Libertines as well and Up the Bracket has that scungy mod-punk style fun vibe that suits this strip.)

Sunday, 10 December 2006

The colour of magic: Fantasy Realms

Fantasy Realms was always going to be a difficult proposition for me, I prefer the margins of genre fiction, the liminal spaces that erupt online. Well, there's no genre fusion or bells and whistles in the narrative here. I typically don't read textual fantasy (speculative fiction and magical realism is more my bag). I admit that at first glance this looks like an embarrassing webcomic transplant from all those horrid fantasy novels written by Welsh chainsmokers who are convinced they are the descendents of half-Elves from Lorien.

That is belied by the supremely delicious linework because the use of texture and colour is astounding. The pacing can be a little slow, the chapters are small but the background information is gradually becoming more apparent. The reader arrives in media res and your first inclination is to probably opt out of what looks like a childish RPG Zelda-lite mash-up but once you get past the first couple of chapters, I found something developing here that will stand apart due to the self-confidence of the creator.

Yes, the characters certainly look childish in a stunted mangaesque way and the story follows that sense of wonder to its logical conclusion. This strip is not a stickler for Errant Story style realism but within its boundaries the reader is given a definitive world, something most fantasy strips are unable to do, there's no trimmings steampunk - sexual inuendo - RPG - grue munches your toe style nod-nod-wink-wink - nada - nothing. This is just pure unfiltered genre fiction written as sequential art without a glitch. This is a serious long-term project and I applaud the Lore section for codifying information about this new vast world. A worthy (if somewhat overly sensible) addition to fantasy in the pixelsphere.

Saturday, 25 November 2006

Archetypes and bloodlust: Hector

(This is my Opera is totally munted and I have been forced into minamalism post)

Hector is a new approach to myths in the real world. The artwork is a form of print comic super hero realism which is oddly refreshing. Its use of realism is a welcome antidote to the cartoony mush current in webcomics. Yeah, so, perhaps, the pacing is overblown, it's about myths, I can excuse that, at least it's an effort. I like the wide range of ideas here, for the new reader it can sometimes be too fast and fluid in its application of tarot card archetype schematics but better that than another fucking tepid Harry Potter parody from motherfucking Sluggy Freelance.

The trickster and the warrior are teamed up here in what at is at first a confusing world. There's a seething energy here that can seem confusing if you refuse to give into the internal logic of the detailed fantasy world on display. It's fun, energetic and the central conceit behind it is enough for me to keep reading to see how it is applied to this steampunk version of our world. The bios and extras are amazing and once again an example of what to do...
***cough*** Megatokyo **** cough

(Honorary mention, Mulberry Gallows for making the succinct point that French Canadian mimes will always be second rate, yeah, not a genre strip, but more on this strip later...

Sunday, 19 November 2006

Violence gets sexy: The Whogirl

This bastard spawn of Tankgirl and Transmetropolitan is probably best served by taking it with a grain of salt. Steven Henry's, The Whogirl, looks at first to be a bland Spicegirls rip-off on too much sugar. Typically I prefer my dystopias to be a slice and dice of evil and vice. Schism perfects this stylised world, it's a morass of secrets and a search for redemption. However, I also think there's a place for this strip and its mixture of goofball humour and study of corruption.

You'll notice the silly sloganeering at first, 'I am the girl that all girls wish they could be', ignore that, ignore the hyped up mid-1990's rave wear the heroine wears and ignore the Mozza style hair on the Emo looking kid. If you don't like manga this won't convert you but if you let yourself look at what Henry is doing here with this jokey brand of speculative fiction then all that silliness is an apt accompaniment to a world gone sour. Carpe Diem with bad haircuts.

The energy concurrent in the strip can be a bit off-putting, the first fifty strips haven't yet mediated between post-feminist braggadocio and the background of a dystopic state. Once this is resolved Steven Henry has matured the strip into something approaching an alternate darkness. Looking at the artwork, yes, perhaps there is a certain cartoony roundness evident but once you understand the narrative and its inherent darkness the spirit of the silliness and antic violence starts to make sense.

Musical Accompaniment: Fun Lovin' Criminals, Loco. This album is my dirty secret, I guess you could call it Afghan Whigs lite but really I have got the jonses for this album because of the dark skanky froth within that makes sense emotionally, an album for a cynical drunks in a decaying city.

Saturday, 4 November 2006

The Devil is our energy resource; Scary Go Round

I'd been getting worried about Ryan from Scarygoround for a while now, he's a key character in the series, the slouching goofball with tastes in Americana, who listened to Gomez then moved on to Richard Buckner, the easy-going guy in the bunch, the Everyman to Tim's steely spirit of the Enlightenment.

John Allison has killed off characters in the past, the interstice between life and death seems to fascinate him. So the supernatural and the fantastical have become is bread and butter, it's a fantasy strip set in a British Provincial city. He likes fairytales just as much as Andrea's No rest for the wicked, except that he coats them in a modern glaze of noughties irony.

Whereas Allison's trainee strip, Bobbins, started out as situational comedy, it slowly developed into a more surreal experience for the reader, characters took on the form of various archetypes and memes. Now with the welcome return of the skankalicious duo, Rachel and Tessa, the long-term reader is reconnected to some characters we'd assumed had fallen by the narrative's wayside and it's a clever twist to bring these two dashing malingerers back into our lives.

Hell, they were always too cool for school and now that evil has some sassy
new handmaidens I can sit back and relax.

Saturday, 21 October 2006

I really want to own a flying cat!: Errant Story

Fantasy has always been a despised genre in the pixelsphere, thankfully it has been influenced by manga which maintains a certain levity where fantasy novels are typically torpid sub-Tolkien travesties (Eddings, Dragonlance, we are looking at you.) I had previously neglected Errant Story because I’d assumed it was a mere continuance of Exploitation Now with its screw ball comedy. It has progressed considerably since I’ve last seen it.
What interests me is the use of the intertwining narratives that adds complexity to the narrative as a whole. This is a strip more than willing to indulge in flashbacks and large chunks of narrated back-story. It surprised me because I’d always though of Poe as a one trick pony with crudely proportioned mangaesque art and stale jokes regurgitated into a pop-culture stew.
However, the subsequent development of Errant story shows me what I’ve been missing, I’ve been going through the archives and what I see impresses me. The mixture of a twenty-first century magicised Tokyo and an outside medieval world denotes a flair for genre-mixing. There are slight cyberpunk/steam punk touches and Poe’s artwork has improved measurably into a far sleeker and more mature mangaesque style.
The inter-species warfare and religious intolerance evident in the backbone of the story bares everything else along with it. If half-elves are supposedly insane then the rest of this fantasy world doesn’t look any saner. Here, Poe is tackling the interactions between technology and faith as well as nature versus nurture. Meji’s adventure started off as something specious but the story has progressed into something more mature as parts of it have been slowly fleshed out.
Of course the mixture doesn’t always come off, there are moments in which Poe is unable to contain either pathos or badly paced humour, these moments have been getting rarer though and the strip has meshed these disparate forces together, becoming far more serious in its intent. The strip is aiming at a serious examination of what it is to be human and that’s probably it has been mostly neglected by an audience needlessly happy with ‘slice of life’ and fantasy in-jokes.

Tuesday, 17 October 2006

Burn down the disco and hang the DJ!: Ornery Boy

Uh, is it just me or is the latest from Ornery Boy's undead MC Brian just pure heat? It's like the Beastie Boys actually got some talent in their veins after the dribbled mess of To the 5 Boroughs, sort of as if they'd continued in the vein of Paul's Boutique.
Here's some quotes from Brian's mad flow,

Like all good MCs he gives props to his DJ:
Cuz he's doubleplusgood when he gets in a state
Gets you all riled up for the two minute hate
With his hands on the decks in a Mad symbiosis
He's like Gregory House, he's got the diagnosis

And there's no point in being an MC if you don't have the arrogance of Easy E:
Writin' rhymes in my books like Atrus in Riven
Open the covers and y'all get imprisoned
Cuz the words I write are just so damn fresh
gorg-eous-ness and gorge-os-ity made flesh

Lalonde has really impressed me with the evolution of his strip, it's sometimes the closest thing to slapstick in a webcomic. This is good because most webcomic humour is based on puns or half-hearted attempts at jokes. He isn't scared of Hip-Hop either and that's quite rare in the webcomic realm. The geek references don't hurt so it's almost as if Buck 65 stopped fucking about with his dismal folk experiments and went back to being a Science Major and a top geeky MC. Good stuff.

Saturday, 14 October 2006

Sweet dreams are made of this: Harker

The tropes evident in Harker have been used before, the main character Harker represents science and the enlightenment and he is suddenly plunged into a world where the supernatural palpably exists. Before you notice the vampires you'll see that there is a charming primitivism evident in this strip, both in narrative and the artwork.

Harker delves into fairy tales and then examines their macabre underbelly. Vampires and Werewolves are the order of the day here and the story exists in a landscape of castles and heroines; good and evil are intertwined in an eternal battle. Unlike the botched genre-mixing of The league of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the simplicity of the narrative here brings us back to classic archetypes.

The artwork interests me because my original interest in comics stems from Herge's Tintin, not the tripe from Marvel or DC. I can detect the use of Herge's Francophone art style, Ligne Claire (straight line) evident in this strip. This pleases me, aside from Johnny Crossbones, I can't think of many webcomics using this style.

As for the background in which the tale is set, the first adult novels I ever read were Jules Verne and Conan Doyle's, so
this excursion into Victoriana pleases me, the story is foremost on Lars' mind, not gags or ineffectual fourth wall cop-outs. You don't see many adventure webcomics unsullied by fantasy or science fiction and this is a good, consistent webcomic.

(Audio accompaniment: The Decemberists, Castaways and cutouts: scurvy seadogs, legionaires and rogues hustling together, the perfect soundtrack.)

Saturday, 7 October 2006

Speak of the devil: Soul-D

The main way in which I discover webcomics is via the link-pages of strips I've enjoyed, this creates an interwoven stretch of sequential art largely untouched by the various ranking systems and Soul-D is one of the great strips I've discovered just in the last month or so, it's under the radar and because it's not part of a boutique collective like Dumbrella you'll probably have not seen it before.

The myth of the struggling jazz player who sells his soul to the devil is reinterpreted here as a young woman's hopeful struggle to become a singer is intertwined with the machinations of Hell's internal power struggles. I like the depiction of underachieving twenty-something misery displayed here, there's so good characterisation involved and even if it is all surrealist there's enough going on in the narrative to keep it all stuck together.

That said, the pacing isn't much chop and it can seem that it is only slowly joining the strands of the story together. The artwork is a smooth mixture of pastels and soft lines and the constant soft cartoony vibe is a pleasant change to all the grim dystopic webcomics I've been reading on-line. Overall, regardless of all the diversions this is a great story using an archetype that translates well to an age overly devoted to fame.

Monday, 2 October 2006

Hopping out of the nest

The Kea's Nest is closing down, this saddens me as there hasn't really been an antipodean presence in webcomic criticism. I didn't read it for too long but I consider it to have been a consistent comicblog with a wry sense of humour. The Kea states that the blog took too much time and I can see what she's saying.

Likewise Weekly Webcomic Reviews is also on hiatus. I think the reason behind the faltering of comicblogs is that they are is usually a sideline for people, a way to embellish their fanboy/girl fervour and in times of stress it's usually the first thing to go, you notice a lot of gaps in updates in comicblogs because sometimes it can all be too much, there are too many webcomics to view as opposed to five years ago, I've looked at The Webcomicker's Piperka list and it is quite long.
A long webcomic list has become a bragging rite, showing everybody how much you read in order to prove yourself as a critic. Then it's not about pleasure anymore, it's about keeping up the list. So, I think once you start up a blog some of that innocence gets lost.

Friday, 29 September 2006

Maybe Fred Durst will now front Noosehead (Sam and Fuzzy)

I'm really enjoying the direction that Sam and Fuzzy has been taking lately, if there was any strip that deserves to be congratulated for pulling off a 'Cerebus syndrome' well, then S&F deserves that prize. Sam Logan has subtly positioned the strip towards a continually evolving narrative without losing the humour. This recent Noosehead subplot could have turned into some bloated 'Oceans Unmoving' psych-out but the balance evident here shows us what a good webcartoonist is capable of doing.

Sam and Fuzzy has never really had a gimmick to separate it from the rest of the pack and the strip could have continued in the relatively shallow and amusing vein of the first hundred strips but slowly and surely surrealism and tragedy have melded together into a consistently good webcomic.

Tuesday, 19 September 2006

What lies beneath: Victim 12 & Schism

If you read slice of life strips you probably won't like this dystopic excursion, I find that most of the better webcomics I've been reading have either been mangae styled or come from a genre fiction background. Here are two examples of cyberpunk's contingent online:

Victim 12 is an examination of memory loss and underlying conspiracies, there's not much there yet but it looks like a narrative that's ready for the long haul, there's not much action as of yet but the narrative is a stand-off between two varying forces. This is a classic conspiracy theory/dystopic narrative that bodes well to my perverse sensibilities.

The artwork is mangaesque but not noticeably so and the lightness of the line work is a welcome change to a lot of the heavy-handed inky sludge online. The background to the story is also relatively profuse, a good sign in a comic-verse of piss-poor background management. We haven't really delved beneath the intro but it's showy enough to keep you coming back for more.

Schism is a different kettle of fish altogether, the story is far more attuned to the regularities of everyday life, but underneath it all of this a mystery. This is quite a dense strip in terms of the background information delivered and its primary aim is to distil a sense of paranoia in the reader. It has gathered together much more of an archive and there is far more use of personal background present here in this dystopic harsh realism.

If you're so inclined you'll find hints of the Matrix series here but it's clearly more of an old school cyberpunk anti-authoritarian narrative. The use of colour is clever, it isn't overbearing, more of a bruised smear than a bright intensity, more chiaroscuro than pastel blandness. I like the intent shown here and the sensibility that mixes family and corporate mismanagement together, an enthralling read.

Fun in Babylon: Girls with slingshots

I feel guilty about finally looking at Girls with Slingshots, it's the hidden webcomic that I've neglected in favour of reading genre strips. Sometimes its easy to lose one's faith in slice of life strips, the parameters  centre upon what 'life' mean and they can become mere humour strips that are sugared with sentimentality. GWS is a strip that deals with externalities of average sexed-up twenty-something American life.

The current link to Wapsi Square on the site is quite telling because the scheming girls that are the central characters remind me of something that's a rarity in Webcomics: a female-centric strip.So, it's a slice of life strip and I can't shake off the resemblances to Butternutsquash, but the difference is there's an underlying jaded slacker vibe that's a welcome change. A lot of the time humour strips only deal with the geek world view, it's why I can't stand gamer strips such as PVP or Penny Arcade. I'm not willing to make the mental leap to pretend to laugh at inane binary jokes.

The opposite happens where a hipster strip like Questionable Content lays on the indie music cred as a conversation piece, it dates easily and Jeph Jacque's taste in music is a narrow kind of indie. In opposition to this, GWS is general enough in its parameters to work on numerous levels. There's angst, a talking Irish cactus to operate as a mascot, boy trouble and enough non-sequitur humour to lift this up from drab predictability. It's a subtle substrata of unmined existence that gives us something joyous and chaotic. Check it out.

Monday, 11 September 2006

Shadows out of the corner of your eyes Elsie Hooper

I prefer darker webcomics and genre fiction in webcomic form, Elsie Hooper delivers this to me quite well. The protagonist Ridley is searching for his sister Elsie Hooper through the deserted town of Campbell falls, their hometown. 'Shadowmen' have taken her and as Ridley engages in this quest he encounters other people who have survived the vicious enslaught.

Elsie Hooper is also a first for a webcomic as it has been optioned for a film, it uses small succinct strips and black and white is usually de rigueur for good horror strips, there's a dark new wave feel to this strip. The smallness of the beginning strips are offset by an attention to detail. An interesting point is that the 'shadow people' were created after a particularly harrowing hallucination the creator Robert Krzykowski had while he was ill. The pacing for this is very good, you can certainly see the filmic influences here, there's a lot of stream of consciousness evident that elevates this strip from mere action or adventure. The gore level is pretty high, Robert K does murky blood splattering very well!

(Audio accompaniment: New Order, Ceremony, your lead singer Ian Curtis has just died, well, do you give up or do you go on and make a killer record?)

Tuesday, 5 September 2006

Zelda gets an upgrade: Myraclice

I have been drawn in against my will into the world of Myralice, I'm usually not a big fan of fantasy strips but Myralice is a good example of a mangaesque strip that I think can translate well for a mainstream audience. The cross-over using a video game as an entry point into a fantasy world brings back memories of The Chronicles of Narnia. The artwork is just sublime, it's a soft deft touch of ink on the page, the colouring is so subtle that it revokes my preference for black and white manga.

So, Myralice is a video game world created by Sarah Nevers and a team of friends. As with most manga and mangaesque strips there's also some goof ball humour here amongst the game developers. That takes the shine off the fantasy webcomic's biggest drawback, plodding exposition and dullard serious characters with noble goals and hopes of conquest. Myralice deflates this tepid genre-standard by inserting modern scepticism into this wondrous dream-world.

Monday, 4 September 2006

Your goofball gothic fix for the week: Hellbound

Hellbound feels like a throwback to Sluggy Freelance before Abrams went all mopey and overly narrative-rich. It's the adventures of Guy and a ragtag bunch of antagonistic goofballs and their inane adventures. There's not a lot of webcomics that cause me to laugh out loud, I mean, I like Rob & Elliot and Butternutsquash but with those strips it's more a series of chuckles.

Hellbound takes pacing causality and really mixes it about until it totally implodes, it goes off on to tangents that shouldn't work but they do. Guy's uncomfortable pauses are really good and filmic.

Usually 'funny' webcomics go all
'Cerebus syndrome' because their idiocy was a ultimately forced silliness that gave way as narrative concerns emerge. The only way to really avoid this is to include a planned mixture of comedy and some cogent narrative structure from the start of the strip. Sore Thumbs does this and so does Hellbound, it's a hard equilibrium to force together and Hellbound has created a good consistent strip.

Tuesday, 29 August 2006

Mitch Clem's New Tangents

Okay, so maybe Mitch Clem hasn't been updating Nothing Nice to say as much now but I think San Antonio Rock City is a far better vehicle for his talents. It uses a far smoother style, more fluid, it's a clean start and I think NNTS was Clem's 'trainer strip' and SARC is the culmination of his warped vision of existence. Mitch Clem has always been about slice of life and here he evades the usual rut journal webcomics fall into by some welcome self-deprecation. There's some music trivia referenced here but it falls into the background of daily life.

Monday, 28 August 2006

Crazy Train: Paper.Eleven

Finally someone has created a worse train ride experience than Estancia. Paper.Eleven is part of Daniel Kim's Clone Manga series which is a great dark slab of surreal manga with some of the most delicate linework I've seen online. When you see the ammount of quality manga he's done you'll think the bloke is a living marvel. I like the gleaming darkness evident here and the sheer scale of the micro-detail is above and beyond the call of artistic duty. I think using black and white (and shades of grey inbetween) adds a constriction that forces the artist to work harder. The puzzle of a narrative also quite tickles my fancy.

There's so much unseen experimentation happening on the fringes with mangaesque webcartoonists that is typically ignored. If a mangaesque webcomic does break free from the pack (aka, Megatokyo) the webcomic critical community doesn't understand it and the rules of the genre and josh it as mere emotive trash. Visually, this is one of the best webcomics I've seen this year and the minamalism present in its storyline pleases me greatly.

(Audio Accompaniment: DJ Signify's Sleep no more, dark noir beats with both Sage Francis and Buck 65 on the mike, totally ace.)

Mysteries and hysteria

I don't know why but against my better judgement I really like the Minus strip on Kiwis by Beat, there's a childish simplicity here, it's like Counting Sheep done right, with lots of magical realism added to spice things up. It's a hard genre, the 'childlike simplicity' gig because it can often devolve into mere simplistic whimsy. Instead of going down this track some of the comics here are laugh-out-loud funny.

There's also the sadness present that is implicit in a lonely childhood that Ryan Armand truly understands. Boundless imagination is on display here and frankly you don't get this feeling from a lot of webcomics.

The use of shade is interesting as well, the colours aren't really copperresque intense but within its metier it works. It's filled with lots of pastels swirling around on a white background so there's no colour overload, just a softness floating on the screen.

(Audio Accompaniment: The Grates; Gravity won't get you high, heh, all that high-spun energy, florid colours and punky shouting, perfect.)

My MegaTokyo dilemma
I'm unsure as how to grade this latest strip from Megatokyo. This is either the Lovegirl mafia's first open move or Gallagher has really warped with the consciencespace/realworld continuum and decided to finally go buck wild on us. I think it is really the first option though, the world in which Megatokyo functions works in two streams, Largo's sci-fi Zombie/Zilla hyperactive world and Piro's introspective romantic comedy world. Gallagher hasn't ever fully melded these two streams together and I don't think he intends to do so. The inclusion of the CEA Sera into the real world would completely change the dynamic of the comic and make it far more chaotic, so I'm eagerly awaiting what this all means.

Some old School humour
Usually I try to stay away from printcomics on Zhi but I
think that
Barnacle Press is a good portal of old American comics that anybody with an interest in the artform should check out as a part of their visual education. (Unless you're a lame gamer freakazoid who drools out Leetspeak and other sub-vocal mangled rubbish.) As my childhood comic background is in TinTin and Asterix; it's a good eye-opener into the basics of American sequential art.
Now, milquetoast from The Timid Soul is not a word I have often used before but I think it will be now. The American Heritage Dictionary lists it as part of an ongoing osmosis between comic culture and general pop-culture:

The first instance of milquetoast as a common noun is found in the mid-1930s. Milquetoast thus joins the ranks of other such words, including sad sack, from a blundering army private invented by George Baker in 1942, and Wimpy, from J. Wellington Wimpy in the Popeye comic strip, which became a trade name for a hamburger.

Now if only 'sad girl in snow' became part of the general lexicon, then that would show me that webcomics have truly engaged with the general public's imagination.

Tuesday, 22 August 2006

Blood trickling through the canals: Verardi Famiglia

I think I'm going to enjoy Verardi Famiglia's particularly vicious brand of violence. Set in Venice, its emphasis on the misadventures of Valerio as he navigates life after betraying his mafia 'family'. Admittedly, it is hard to tell if this is going to be a great webcomic as there's less than twenty pages now written, however it looks as if Sires has a masterplan already set up. The addition of some Italian into the script is also a nice addition, it makes the strip less whitebread. There's a lot of complex perspectives here and some very clean linework. Hopefully it will develop into a consistent and violent Noir-style webcomic.

(Aural accompaniment: You know that really dodgy Ja Rule song, 'I think the rain is calling murder, I think the rain is calling muuurder!', the filmclip has Patrick Swayze as a corrupt cop and Irv Gotti trying to play hard as a gangsta, anyway, I think a corny song like that would really help because of all the violence in this strip.)

Monday, 21 August 2006

Darkness at the edge of town: Either way, Blue Zombie & Jump

I don't know why I'm attracted to horror and supernatural themes, I was raised as a Pentecostal so there must be some kind of nascent spirituality underneath all my neurotic agnosticism. I seem to be attarcted to genre fiction because all that slice of Life Stuff out there isn't really good for webcomics in my opinion. Lately, horror webcomics seems to be a good springboard for emotional intensity in a way that fantasy hasn't been able to do so far. So, here are three webcomics that use horror as a springboard for something else.

Either Way made a false start but I quite like the look of the artwork and where the story could be heading. It uses the supernatural as a backdrop to various dramas and it adds some sly humour to what can be a particularly dour subject. The level of cross-hatching is pretty heavy and I think Nekko started off with Blacklight Twilight as a trainee comic and moved on to this one once she was confident enough to do so.
I'd seen her around on
comic genesis and I'd been put off by BT but I think this webcomic is good enough to launch her into something different. The creator's emphasis is on how horror impacts on real life, so it's traumatic thriller and a slice of horror on the side and enough self-consciousness to drag it out of mere genre-fiction status.

(Audio Accompaniment: horror and weepy tendencies, so, The Arcade Fire: Funeral)

Blue Zombie has a lot more back-story to it than what it looks like at first glance. It's mangaesque without overtly showing any influences, it's also able to transform blue into a gothic colour and I also like the clean level of shading here.

It also keeps on alternating between bleak streams of consciousness and goofball adventures. It's an alternate version of our world with all its real-world problems with the intricacies of magic and demons added to make things just that little bit harder.

Also, the
character section is essentially a how-to for upcoming webcomicker's, it's really dense with information, now if only Fred Gallagher was willing to learn some new tricks...

(Audio accompaniment:um...really ashamed to say this...Portishead; Dummy, mellow depressed menustrating women, yep, bet all you blokes are really uncomfortable now...)

Of the three horror webcomics I've been looking at,
Jump, is probably the bleakest in terms of narrative texture. It's also the most stylised artisically and the one more in keeping with the conventions of the horror genre, but if you read through you'll see some sinuous sleek magical realism hidden underneath, it's dark and seething with neurotic desires. Even if you have to wade through the pencil sketchy style at the begining, the lushness of the colour added later on adds some Wildean glamour to a narrative filled with the tropes of sin and redemption.

(Any thing by My Red Cell for some really psychotic violent tendencies)

Tuesday, 8 August 2006

I wish my cat was as cool as Mr. Pickles!: Lola, Wasteland, The Dreamwalker Chronicles

Victoria Smith has pulled off an unnoticed coup in creating Lola, the strips are somewhat self-contained but also lead on to a continuing narrative, obviously I've been entrapped by the gothic meanderings of Lola's existence but it's the slow subtle build-up of the story that really impresses me. It uses a bleak style, all black and white and very minimalist. There's hints of an anime fluidity here but I like the fun behind all the gloom, Lola's just trying to work things out, if the story-template is gothic then Smith veers away from that pretty well, it's more a journal of an alternate version of Smith's teenage angst years. It's very successful in its balance between kitsch and deliciously morose teen ramblings.

(Aural accompaniment: this is one webcomic that is able to take the playful moroseness of the Smiths, so, The Queen is Dead.)

The Dreamwalker Chronicles is a narrative concerning a small boy who finds himself in the woods and some distorted fairytale version of our world. The use of colour reaches a Copperesque sheen and the fantastical logic behind the story really impresses me.
It's as if all of childhood's creepy darkness has come to us in sequential art form and we have to decode it! The inclusion of native American mythology also adds another layer to what could become a dense and subtle work. The monsters have climbed out from under your bed and are now getting proactive about catching you! Delightful stuff!

(Aural accompaniment: So dreamy and melodic, The Coral; Magic and Medicine.)

You probably haven't heard of
Wasteland but this is a good example of psychological distress and sexy sketchy mangaesque mystery. There are so many tangents here that I don't know where to fully start! It retells a crime scene from a number of angels, it's full of fortellings and dour murderous dreams and pale fey youths moping about, It's like a guilty pleasure and the artwork is a sketchy black and white style, there's so many red herrings but I guess I prefer chaos to a petite narrative. I still have no idea about what's fully going on after the end of chapter two but I 'm truly enjoying putting the pieces together.

(Aural accompaniment: Emo sad, crazy linework, screaming ex-Can member crazy, Sixtoo; Chewing on glass and other miracle cures.)

Tuesday, 1 August 2006

Horror comics get vicious: Agnes Quill and Revenger's tragedy

I only occasionally look around at all the decay that the webcomic community has to offer and it occurred to me that my viewing habits weren't as broad as they could be, we always put up various biases between ourselves and new experiences and it's sometimes hard to get out of a webcomic rut, so I went looking...

The multi-authored approach to
Agnes Quill creates a sense of the underlying character, the artists that Dave Roman works with all operate using a lush template that suits the particularly baroque world-view of the writer.

I usually don't read adventure webcomics, even though I was brought up on various Francophone Ligne Claire style adventure comics I've felt that nothing has ever lived up to Tintin and I thereafter neglected the genre. Either that or I saw the usually shit selection Keenspot has and that turned me off for life (That or
Everything Jake got way too emo and tainted me for life.)

But AQ doesn't use the usual static clean lines I'm used to and regardless of the artist, there's always a sense of movement here. The artwork is a stunningly rendered black and white rendition of a complex world and the creator's own cartoony version set out in story-lines such as , 'Invite only', add another dimension to the strip. So, it's horror and mystery mixed up together and once you get past the initial unsettling acceptance of the undead then it becomes a good plot-driven read. Slave Labor Graphics is putting out a AQ anthology and I'm going to try to pick it up if at all possible.

The gothic aesthetic in webcomics usually exists in a morass of linework and that's usually a good thing, thus, I additionally like the way
Revenger's Tragedy uses various typefaces, for example:

As it stands, horror seems to add an edge to artwork, it adds vistas that would otherwise be unseeen, it can also go all Poe and stifling on us but the majority of horror webcomic writers look like they know what they're doing, horror might not have the cachet of arthouse webcomics like Cat and Girl and a lesson is learned... but these two webcomics impress me mightily. RT takes off where Dante's Inferno left off, it's an ambitious examination of how an underworld would work in practice and if Smith isn't as crash-hot at human bodies, his backgrounds have an expansive feel to them that carries the whole work, his artwork doesn't look like anything else, it's sometimes more like art connected to a story. It sometimes looks sketchy but sketchy can be good sometimes, some webcomics have too much of a polished sheen to them. The early exposition is heavy but you can hardly explain the geo-political scheme via pictures, overall, a good solid webcomic.

Monday, 24 July 2006

Busting up da flow: Combustible Orange

I'm not a real big fan of Penny Arcade and I don't think Becky and Ben from Combustible Orange are either. As for lyrical analysis: it looks like Tycho is going all 1992 west coast on us, the rhyme scheme is basic but the clothes are skankily wiggerlicious. The bling is pretty good though, if you're going to front on the bling you have to go hard or go home ( I mean, Flava Flav rocks his clock like a drunken telemarketer and everyone loves him.)

I really dig the clean design of the CO website and after the 'reboot' the linework has become more mature and the humour has become far more subtle. It's essentially a dig at the comic industry, thus, the Jhonen Vasquez piss-take was also pretty apposite (heh, stabbity stab!)

Tuesday, 18 July 2006

Does the bandage on the face mean he's a shit rapper like Nelly?

As an Australian I'm proud to see some antipodean influences on an American dominated internet. Anyway, it looks like there might be a new webcomic collective coming up! Koala Wallop is going to collect together a number of webcomics that I'm currently excited about.
It will contain webcomics such as:
Dresden Codak New surrealism and beautiful, evil science.
Perfect Stars Bitchy fashion and Wildean languor shouldn't work in a webcomic...but this does.
I am a rocket builder Really clever use of hyperlinks.

(Seriously, Nelly goes platimum or whatever and Bun B gets the consolation prizes? Make it stop...)

Dirty pixels: In the webcomic ghetto

Abstract: This is an examination of how a webcomic's popularity stems from its friends.

If you look at the structure of webcomics today it's clearly the smaller collectives that are the most visible,
Keenspot still continues to lumber on, dutifully creating a monochrome slather of unconnected webcomics. The boutique collectives such as Dumbrella, Boxcar, Blank Label and Dayfree Press, all band together, it's a team effort that pays off via goodwill.

A number of the more popular webcomics based on these collectives are the result of years of work, they're more established and they're the product of 'trainee strips', John Allison could only start on Scarygoround after Bobbins, really. The trainee strip isn't a conscious decision, the web-cartoonist merely moves on from it when they realise it is not flexible enough for their new ideas.

The first hundred strips are pretty tough for the web-cartoonist and sometimes painful for the reader, just look at the first unsophisticated 100 strips created in Questionable Content or Sam and Fuzzy. Persistence wins, If Bobbins started now in this new competitive environment do you think it would be as popular as SGR?

There's a whole skanky underbelly of unloved webcomics out there and sometimes I feel guilty for sticking to the comics created by the more experienced webcomic creators. I guess my 'discoveries' section is my way of assuaging my guilt. The collective webcomic critical consensus has already created a canon of webcomics and a number of webcomic in that canon are on the boutique collectives. I know they're dependable but I'm wondering how the next generation is going to get through the undergrowth.

Saturday, 15 July 2006

Elephants beware! Girly: Part one - The Sidekick

I copped this last week, it collects the first 122 Girly strip and gives them a thematic wholeness that you might not otherwise perceive. This is a good thing because Lesnick has always added a moral proportion to his characters and I guess Girly is his attempt to create something of emotional intensity after his 'trainee strip' Cute Wendy ended. He does chaos well and the fluid mangaesque style creates a comic that can easily move between joyous and sorrow in an eyeblink

Reading through these strips as a whole, one can see that there's also a sense of moral proportion underneath all the hijinks and japes. Aside from some additional art in the margins there aren't that many extras and at first it feels odd to read two strips per page but once you get over that,you'll be reminded why you fell in love with this hyperactive strip. If you're not a convert then this is a good way to get into a crazy adventure.
(and not in the juvenile Neo-Soul-coffeetable Gnarls Barkley style either) adventure.

Monday, 10 July 2006

Print/web comic crossover: Flight 1

Okay, perhaps I'm a little late here but I think that Flight 1 is perhaps one of the slickest print trade paperbacks I've read in some time. The paper is callandered really nice so the colour really shines through to create something fully shmik. It also got me back to looking at Kazu Kibuishi's Copper and I appreciate that. It's a fusion of print and web comics, Kibuishi has edited the collection and if not completely thematically in tune, it shows a sense of adventure that most comics don't possess. Ideas swirl around and there's no bog-standard fuckwit gamer comics here, just the fantastical and the magical.

Most of the artists have art-sites as opposed to webcomics or otherwise write strips intermittently. Interestingly, Scott Mccloud is also present as a mentor and isn't as pretentious as he usually seems. A good introduction to some talented artists that are somewhat unknown.

Monday, 3 July 2006

Sad without the Emo: Neilcomics

I recently discovered Neil comics and I think it's a good source for print comic gossip. Okay, maybe overall the archives might be a little small but I like the melancholic disposition displayed here. Most of Neil's comics are on Girlmatic and this is essentially a clearing house for news and gossip.

It's a little photo-heavy and is filled with industry chatter but I'm a convert because the stuff he did for Flight is pretty amazing. Look under
'Stories' for his comics, he makes up for the small amount produced by his sincerity.He's also pretty funny as well, the Sacco and Zetti stories are the visual equivalents of summer. Now, if only Jhnonen Vasquez were so upfront instead of putting up hack websites with no content.

Thursday, 29 June 2006

One black heart broken in two: Stuff sucks

Stuff sucks has 'it', this fantastical Amsterdam inhabited by English speaking ex pats is a weird place. The 'it' is the whole sluttish mix of different characters. If the artwork somewhat resembles Return to Sender, then the narrative is a free-flowing haze of emotion and japery. (Though Zemi is like a skankalicious version of Colette) I like the looseness here and the willingness to explore sub-plots. It's also what the strip doesn't do that makes it stand out. Liz Greenfield could have added in the goldfish as a talking mascot goldfish but she didn't, she showed restraint.

this strip has the emo kid, Adam, twisting the whole Emo vibe around. He should be a recurring character.Usually the Emo kid gets a bad rap, Nothing nice to say uses the usual stereotype.I mean, I hate Emo kids, All American Rejects makes me want to hit frogs with a hammer, Dashboard Confessional makes me want to bring public crucifixions back as a spectacle. But I think the Emo kid is good in this strip, Liz Greenfield didn't go down the obvious route and that's always a good thing.

Monday, 26 June 2006

Discoveries: Edwitch

I first found out about Edwitch via Scarygoround as Josh Rosen did a strip for Scarygoround idol.I like the sketchiness of the artwork, it gives the strip a looseness that is quite welcome. There's a sense of childhood moving onto twenties and thus it's a charming read because I usually am converted to a strip based upon its evocation of a fantastic world, it's mis-en-scene as well as character interation. Gaming comics don't usually provide this, instead it's usually in-jokes and bumble-fucked misogyny. I prefer the liminal spaces between normalacy and the fantastic and Edwitch easily provides that.

The gothic is also a preoccupation of mine and Edwitch would not look out of place on the Slave Labor Graphics roster. It's the gothic crossed with slice of life humour. Usually gothic visuals are accompanied by varied lush backgrounds. Here, the minimal backgrounds gives the strip a sense of space and lets the characters perform as themselves, I like that.

Saturday, 17 June 2006

Changes in the scenery: Webcomics vs. Print comics

So, I was skulking around my local comic store, Minotaur ,on Thursday and I picked up a trade paperback copy of the first volume of Stray Bullets and the trade paperback copy of Next Exit. Minotaur is a large pop-culture/comic store in central Melbourne. As I was going through them, I was luxuriating in the finality of a collected work. 

I’d already collected all the single issues of Next Exit and as I read the first volume I could see the master plan emerge. The first six issues were always intended as a thematic whole as a graphic novel instead of disparate parts. I could now put the story together it is a whole. Yet when I look online all I usually see are gag strips and even the longer narratives are disconnected and formulated around jokes.
I think the medium of the internet is against the webcomic functioning as the equivalent of a graphic novel. A single issue comic that is collated later into a graphic novel has a length that allows a thematic unity; in opposition to this the webcomic is usually punctuated by the necessity of daily or weekly updates. In order to get to the stage of a graphic novel, it’d a slow trawl through the story and thus ‘slice of life’ comics prevail because the webcomic is if nothing else an immediate artform. 

Even longer narratives such as Something Positive are usually constructed around a joke at the end of each strip. The medium that supports the webcomic makes it far harder to create graphic novels. Webcomic viewers want instant gratification; each strip has to make sense on its own. If you don’t like it you can just skip to the next webcomic, hurry, hurry along. So, a webcomic doesn’t have the luxury of a continuous narrative that is encapsulated even in a single issue print comic. The demands of an online audience creates narratives broken up into updates or snippets of narration. 

Thus, a comic like Fell wouldn’t work online because of its slow-burning narrative. Things can build up where a webcomic usually is required to possess a thematic whole with each strip, it can’t afford not to be. This retards overall narration. Stray Bullets online would result in outraged noobs on the forum asking for the punch line, it’s an interrelated narrative and that works better in printed collected work, not in an archive of disconnected strips in a webcomic. 

If you do try and buck the trend you get accused of overextending yourself, the clearest culprit in webcomic critical circles is Megatokyo. Perhaps Megatokyo isn’t a good example because as the Webcomic examiner stated in their roundtable on the history of webcomics, it’s a print comic that’s found itself online. The complaints that ensued when Rodney Caston was edged out were indicative of an audience that preferred gaming gags to long term continuity.
Even a webcomic stalwart such as Sluggy Freelance is lop-sided because of the continual need for jokes to keep the audience reeled in. Abrams only attempts emotional complexity in the adventure sequences such as Fire and Rain and more recently in the technically brilliant Wayang Kulit storyline. It seems outside of fantasy sub-plots, characters in SF are not allowed to fully express their emotions. This makes reading through the archives a distorted reading experience as normalcy comes back after what should be moving forward.

I’ve seen and purchased the print editions of Megatokyo at Minotaur, I’ve also seen print versions Penny Arcade and Sinfest there. The move of the more successful webcomics to print versions was perhaps inevitable. PVP and Megatokyo are the most popular, there are smaller variants of this, Sam and Fuzzy has printed up some of its strips but only on pre-order and not in a more thematic whole in the way ScaryGoRound presents its archives.
I’m pretty sure most print versions of webcomics are peripheral to the main enterprise, usually purchased by the converted as an add-on. Print versions of webcomics, with the exception of Megatokyo, aren’t graphic novels, they are collections of individual strips, as already stated, they could hardly be otherwise given the internet’s ferociously fast attention span. They are a way of adding physical form to what you love and are far easier to read that to trawl through years of archives. 

Yeah, okay, nothing beats the thrill of looking for comics online but I think the printed versions are usually a luxury reserved for the more successful webcomics and will continue as such, there might be a crossover into print comics but nobody I know in the comic stores even knows about webcomics. That’s not to say they’re inferior, I wouldn’t be reading webcomics and writing this blog if they were, webcomics have weaknesses compared to print comics but the strengths outweigh them. 

Webcomics are more fluid and energetic than the majority of print comics. The top of the field in print comics is supposedly Marvel and DC’s superhero wankery; the top of the field within webcomics is far more exciting artistically and supports far more interesting work. 

Quality usually prevails because in order to survive or move up to being funded by your artwork you have to attract more people. There’s no company funding you, it’s fully freelance. The biosphere in webcomics is far more complex and forums force together a sense of community that you rarely see in print. The webcomic creator talks to (rants at) you via messages each update, (e.g. Sore Thumbs and Questionable Content). Yeah, I get a thrill from both print and webcomics but only webcomics gives me that rush as I check each day for a new update.