Sunday, 20 January 2008

Of walking abortion: Dead Winter

Dead Winter is a zombie story that doesn't pall as much as you would think, I'm fully aware that it's a genre that's been over with a fine-tooth comb but it's not one that has made a decent show in webcomics, I guess this would be the start because this is a thrilling hijack into the realm of the walking dead.

Including one of the most extensive and acerbic bio pages I've seen in webcomics, even from the first page, the style is a fluid blend of bent snarky retakes on the zombie genre. The main protagonist, Lizzie, is a waitress, a miserable waitress in a horrible diner about to be inserted into zombie bloodlusty abandon. As the epidemic spreads she finds herself instructed by a dream/space that mirrors the chaos of the outside world.

This doesn't feel like a starter webcomic, there's a clear feeling from the start that this has been planned into a long narrative arc.The strip uses the now standard trope of medical infection leading to zombification, (I am Legend, 28 days later, Resident Evil). if the actual origin of the zombies here are ambitious, then they are just one layer in this strip, a menacing background against which our protagonists are struggling against in various ways.

The artwork is complex but overlayered with a fluid cartoony sheen, typically this would be a contradiction in terms but the artwork gells quite well with this hyperactive paean to the zombie misadventure. I've not seen various shades of grey used so artfully and the shadowing used adds a certain background élan.

For once in webcomics the action sequences are credible, hyper-active matrix style scuffling littered with invective, carried out by the character of hitman/sociopath Black Monday Blues, an injection of vigour and pure fun into the zombie proceedings, if nothing else his insults are these adjective driven pieces of slick murderous bile.

Likewise the use of vibrant red in his sunglasses and Lizzie's bandanna are a nice touch against the typical grey used. The dream sequences are something else entirely, the occasional use of background motifs (the stylised skull in strip 42, the near filmic cut scene in strip 84) are again, not something you typically see in webcomics of any genre. There's an underlying complexity here that the reader would be brash to ignore if they merely see the cartoony vibe of the strip.

Black Monday is not alone in being over the top in this strip, there is a lot of melodramatics and clichés present here and a lot of emotional complexity used for what is even in horror a sub-genre seen as particularly shallow. This is an incursion of the real into the slapstick gore of the zombie gig. There are dark undercurrents present here and the nature of the zombie story typically is another take on the survival, looking at what it means to be heroic. Overall, everything is tight, the dialogue can be somewhat corny, but it's a self-aware and sharp approach to the strip. It pulls it off because it doesn't falter in its brief to be a an energetic mix of pathos and pure fun.

*I just had to put in a Manic Street Preacher reference for the title, it just felt so right.

Monday, 14 January 2008

I really need a talking cat: Breakdown

The premise of Breakdown is self-evident in the title, a young man, Alan, after his car breaks down swiftly finds himself in a landscape driven by his dreams., he immediately goes into a dream-scape and is guided through this landscape by a talking cat, 'Blue', that may have been a childhood companion. The chronicles of Narnia are an obvious starting point, but Mercury hat has created an imaginative work that, if continued, would be a self-conscious and humorous examination into dreams.

The artwork veers between primitive and skilful. There's a sketchiness here, a minimalist black and white, there are some improvements, the beginning of part four shows an increase o complexity in shading and texture. There could have been more build-up, we've seen this type of story before, so the strip has to reach out into with this minimal set-up of this new dream world, maybe, hopefully, there will be more exposition later.

Still, this feels like a start-up comic (aka Nazi High or Hellbound ) and thus the writer is writing on the go, letting the story take him and while this is adventurous I can't help thinking of these numerous web-comic dead-ends when the story outgrows the original construct of the webcomic, the presentation and pacing betray a mind searching for ideas.

That said, a little more mystery would have added layers to what is one journey out of the dream-scape. The abrupt end to the strip is indicative of how fickle webcomics can be, how many times have we been disappointed by leaving too many questions unanswered to what was at the least an adventurous start to what could be a decent webcomic. (Niego anyone?)

That doesn't mean this isn't a worthy effort, if the landscape of this world is based on emotion, and as Alan as the main character is the force which has authority over it. So the puzzle at the basis of the strip is shown to the reader from the start, how to journey through an emotional state dreams being an obvious vantage point to since Neil Gaiman's Sandman. 

Here dreams are a far more prosaic and linear proposition, here they appear as a space to explore with one exit point. 9thElsewhere has perhaps gone over this trope more subtly but I can't help but feel cheated by this promising incursion into the fantastic that ended far too soon.

Saturday, 5 January 2008

Phallic metallic: Build your own boyfriend

The original premise of build your own boyfriend looks at first glance of the title a childish extension of the Japanese robot fantasy, a lecturer at a university dissatisfied with her love-life builds a robotic companion, it's a collection of the worst stereotypes imaginable with only an inversion of the typical male pervert role.

From the beginning however, this is a strip that is willing to playfully skewer the robotic genre, there's no real manga background here , just the basis of a low-key yet interesting strip willing to ask questions about romance and human consciousness.

Most of cyberpunk's existence has been posited around questioning what posits essential humanity, a robot with something approaching consciousness fits within that bill, the only fantastic element within a sleepy campus.

Gwen Anderson decides to take her love-life into a whole new zone by going DIY. One interesting element is the pretense that Owen is a human and all the lies and half-truths that needs to keep the cover story going.

This is also an in-depth examination of modern gender roles in the west, Gwen has been let down by men, she tells us, ' The engineer in me had to wonder, why not make a better version'. This 'perfect male' is also attractive to other females.

Admittedly, the scene where Gwen glowers at her competitor is standard practice in rom-coms, the inclusion of the robot here is a clear twist in the tale. 01 or Owen is not just a pliable sex-slave but someone possessing free-will and this is where the story gets interesting because it veers inadvertently into questions about human consciousness.

 There were earlier prototypes but Gwen fails to see the point of creating a lover be-smitten with her, romance, she tells us, begins with a challenge. This is a short sweet story and there haven't been updates for some time, even so, this is an worthwhile examination of romantic need.