Saturday, 24 February 2007

Val Kilmer remade as human: Niego

Niego is an irresponsible strip, half slice of life, half skanky surrealist pop-culture melange. It worked though, the cheesy gags about Val Kilmer could have gotten old real fast but they didn't. The strip was sometimes crude, but it was an worthy measure of crudity, a joyful silliness that I have missed. Surrealism is a word often bandied about, however, in the case of this strip it is a skilled combination of character driven plots and pure puerile fun. It uses swearwords like a spice, skanking up the mix in a webcomic universe of geek-bot humour. It makes webcomics look like they're created by normal people.

Going over the archives I've been thinking how it's odd that so many webcomics veer on the side of good taste, perhaps Sluggy Freelance as a classic slice-of-life strip has family friendly precursor descending through to the trite bleauggh of You'll have that. So, when Niego came back in December last year I was pleasantly surprised. It hasn't quite hit its stride yet, but it's already showing the irreverence and piss-taking I'm used to reading. This is a welcome return to a stalwart of the webcomic community.

Saturday, 17 February 2007

The ties that bind: Netherworld

Out of the many books I've read the Bible is one that is most scorched into my mind, I was once a Pentecostal, and as a basis for archetypes it does a swell job. I've always pitied the Atheists who were brought up atheists by Liberal parents. The Bible provides so many archetypes, a tapestry of figures, a mythology to mirror and even supass the Norse Eddas or Greek myths. If only as a story the Bible works and it also makes for a good basis for a narrative.

Netherworld is an apt supposition of the mundanity of everyday existence inserted into an off-kilter mirror image of our world (Serenity Rose would be a good comparison). Now, I'm not merely continuing with the theme of the afterlife from last week, this strip is based on our world after a great flood, there's a seediness implicit in the setting here, a land-locked equivalent of the Waterworld universe. The repercussions of the flood are reinserted here, Esperanza is a society just like ours in what looks to be a post-apocalyptic world. If the promise to Noah was predicated upon the fact that there would be no more floods, then faith in the biblical narritive is moribund, Netherworld is created in a world where the covenent that the Christian faith was based on has disappeared.

It's an interesting premise and creates a grimy forsaken atmosphere that I really dig.
Elamparo is aiming for an examination of belief here, in the faq he admits to be a promiscious genre-mixing whore. Sometimes the strip seems to be a proxy for E's own examination of faith, though this doesn't create one of those allegory ridden 'novels' that some Christians have plagued us with (C.S.Lewis' Pilgrim's Regress anyone?) The influences are here as a backing, not a catch-all basis for the strip.

In any case, I think the emphasis on the fantastical supersedes the genre boundaries here.
If the linework of the characters reminds of you a manga's sharp lines then the backgrounds are a textured and detailed haze. I'd never thought shades of grey could work this well on a webcomic but they do, lending the strip a certain elan. The introduction of colour into the strip adds a bejewelled virtuousity here when used. The dream sequences and the quotations frame the strip as something that is breaking and entering into profundity. I don't know if that's an altogether good thing, but at the moment all these mysteries and clues have got me hepped up and I'm waiting to see what the strip brings in the next bout of updates in the Northern Hemisphere summer.

Saturday, 10 February 2007

All of death's a stage: A Divine Dramedy

(I did a mini-review of this strip some time ago but there was a muck up with Firefox's formating so I had to scrap it.)

Usually when I purchase dead tree comics I focus on the gothic and the strange published by Slave Labor Graphics and Oni Press. I have never felt the inclination to blather over fucking Spiderman and the hordes of spandex clad bogan louts. A Divine Dramedy should follow Agnes Quill and go for a deadwood cross-over once it builds up a sizeable archive because it follows that particularly wry approach to darkness for which I am the target market. This strip examines 3 'friends' as they find themselves in a a graveyard. They're dead, but death is just the begining...(I had to put that cliche in there, I'm sorry.)

In the begining the state of being post-mortem was mined for weirdness and laughs as the central trio of 'friends-enemies?' explored the afterlife and its numerous fluid quirks. It also allows what could be deemed a 'slice of life' webcomic to buck the trend. There are still gags here but these tend towards surrealistic sight gags based upon the afterlife. If the afterlife isn't all that different from the absurdities of breathing there is still the remains of friendships and simmering hatreds from their previous existence.

Recently the strip has been living up to what looked like a coy little reference to Dante's torpid epic to Beatrice. There is drama here amidst the baroque Lethe of death, how to make a living, how to keep up with the jonses. Likewise, from its sketchy origins, the strip has gone for an increasingly realistic vein of linework. Tierney is taking something I'm always in favour of complexity and emo storylines so this appeases my sensibilities. Don't worry, it's not Fall Out Boy Emo, it just looks as if the strip is aiming for examination of the bread and butter problems of human interaction. Still, It's hard to tell so far as Tierney has only just begun to inject some thematic muscle in the storyline. This is going to be hard after he built up the afterlife as an ornate glass menagerie of wierdoes and talking rabbits. Now that we're seeing glimpses of human emotion as opposed to goofing around it will be interesting to see how this is handled.

(Musical Accompaniment: I know I'm lifting this from Jimmy Tierney's profile but I think Interpol's Antics is a good selection for this strip. Far more rougher and angular than Turn on the bright lights, death will never sound so apathetic.)

Saturday, 3 February 2007

In space no one can hear you scream: Banished!

I suppose one can blame the Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy in my upbringing but i think
Banished is part of a tradition of space opera spoofs that work quite well online. The clearcut linework is refreshing. The first strips are primitive but then there's a progression into something light and succint with depth and colour you don't typically see online with the artist changeover. So, Ryan Smith has created something goofball style playful but it has also segued into a decent narrative that hasn't neglected the strips's strengths.

If the strips orginally mines the absurdities of science fiction then the progression to the strip's most recent updates shows some nous, a lot of webcartoonists merely restart their strip - though this isn't a Cerebus syndrome overly serious venture, the fun is still omnipresent within the upgrade - resembling classic Sluggy Freelance, if a little constricted in its narrative. I like the interplay on genre-specific trends, if gamer comics can burn up cable in their pursuit of Leet jokes then Banished needs far more recognition.

Rak is the long-suffering malcontent anti-hero stranded on Strix 13 and Timbo is the robot optimist and using this dynamic the strip takes on a lacksadaisical adventure. Space Opera can provide a broad canvas for a creative team to look at anything they desire, for better or for worse, Smith and Anderson have not fallen into the trap of mere parody, they use science fiction as a origin, not a destination, and they have come up with a rather silly character driven webcomic that is consistently enjoyable.

(Musical Accompaniment: Be your own Pet - self titled - Raucous energetic indie spazz-out rock - perfect music for the monotony of a spaceship ride)