Sunday, 10 August 2014

Lost at sea:Derelict

Initially you'd not think this a genre comic but as a overwhelming sense of loneliness spreads out across  the ocean it becomes apparent that Derelict is a barnacled sea-sprayed attempt at a post-apocalyptic world. It also becomes apparent that humanity is not alone in this new decrepit seascape. There are others that are alien in visage and behaviour. The strip takes enough time to show the main character's standard solitude before injecting some unwanted chaos into her routines.

  We've been here before in Western culture but not very often. Waterworld was deemed a spectacular failure for some reason but at least it attempted something new underneath its high concept high dollar Hollywood bloat. Earthsea perhaps is the most apt response to a watery expanse that rewards nomadic piracy.

I really appreciate the use of silence here in the first forty odd pages as it sets the tone of this work. It's a brave creator that's willing to let the tone of desolation do the job but I find it sets in place the strangeness of this world.

Things pick up a bit after that but that initial pacing puts that narrative into perspective. After that it becomes a pretty dense text with alternate viewpoints of this intermingling of human and otherness. It's the old question about how humans will interact with a sentient other.With these interactions the characters still feel like ciphers, no real flaws but no particular need to follow their adventures as they as yet appear to be disconnected.

If the linework for individual characters can be a bit smudgy at times then the backgrounds are a solid good admixture of shades and tones from the get-go. It approaches an almost liquid viscousness at times. At the moment it doesn't look like a spectacularly stand-out strip but more like a solid attempt to tell a long-format story. I don't fully mesh with the main characters as yet but the background of a failed world provided is an interesting counterpoint to the standard nuclear bomb shelter scenario that typically gets played out.

Sunday, 20 July 2014

Nifty for life: Sluggy Freelance

I'm currently reading the entirety of Sluggy Freelance and I don't quite know if I'm strong enough. It is one of the originator strips, 1997 feels an age ago. It's strangely disappeared from the view of the webcomic critical consensus but it has quite a large and established fanbase. I believe a possible reason for this is the size of the archives and the lack of a common, easy meme-worthy image to latch on to. Having not read the strip for seven years I've found it has become its own ecosystem, a black hole of an endless story.

Not to say its longevity is unworthy. As a strip it has done, and hit most of the landmarks, what few webcomics can claim to do. It is self-sustaining where a plethora of webcomics have fallen by the wayside. Niego didn't even pass 200 strips. There's no real equivalent to the monumental depth of the sluggy archives and its been managed without the revamps and reiterations that other webcomic creators have been forced to rely upon.

For example: Sam and Fuzzy effectively directs the reader to a certain point in the archive where the strip really starts as a narrative. John Allison has worked through variants of his fantastical liminal space via Bobbins, Scarygoround and Bad Machinery and likewise David Willis has used his first strips as training wheels. Megatokyo has slowly devolved into an erratic moe derangement with intermittent updates. As for Penny Arcade it is able to rely on the quick stream of video game detritus to stay current if not somewhat glib.      

Sluggy Freelance has done none of these things. It has slogged on in cheerful nonchalance and it utterly ignores the current webcomic ecosystem in favour of its own reality. There are a multitude of intertwined story-lines cascading into a top-heavy over-narrative occasionally alleviated by gags. This mass of interlocking narratives are reinvented with a new skin every few months. It doesn't care that it jerks back between emo and gag of the week goofery because as readers will attest that's par for the course with this strip.

Abrams isn't afraid to be simultaneously dorky and ambitious and as a result the art can quickly move from basic to a hyperactive stylised action scene. The fantasy elements, to be unkind, can appear to be the worst Conanesque high fantasy schlock content to stay in the shallow waters of parody.

I don't know whether I should believe in the central narrative. Going over the archives what I do notice is that the central scenarios that plague the gang reiterate the seemingly eternal evils of Hereti-corp and the vowelless. It's been close to twenty years but no matter the accumulations of details or scenarios that pile up I can't quite take the sudden changes in tone in my stride. It feels like re-polishing and re-purposing glass. I've seen this before and the extra layers, while well-made, never stop my desire for a final endgame. I need some kind of closure for this strip. I need this to end well.

Saturday, 12 July 2014

New mythologies: happle tea

Happle tea is a mix between a journal comic and an extended analysis of mythological systems and pantheons that works with a cute and coy light touch. It's not ranting like a fedora-wearing atheist but subtly poking at the inconsistencies that all faith systems have underneath the hood. The child narrator adds levity to the proceedings and occasionally this means the strip devolves into some sly kind of whimsy.

What is interesting here is the sheer breadth the creator is willing to get into. I'm reasonably well-read in this field (The Folio society helps with that) but there was a pleasant obscurity that is always explained playfully into the notes underneath the comic.

Some of the jokes are shaggy dog groaners that are forced onto the subject matter in a spirit of blithe 'cleverness'. You'll accept it after a while as a crisp style shows you glib generalizations about religion & mythology.

Just the improvement in the varying degrees of bright crisp colour from the start of the strip shows an artist eager to improve. Compare this to the unchanged slough of despond that is Megatokyo and I'm glad to read this strip at least once a month. It doesn't update that often and certainly isn't essential reading but its cute niche is well worth an investigation. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

You're as cold as ice, willing to sacrifice our love: Shiver Bureau

If cyberpunk's curse is feckless thievery conflated with freedom of expression then steampunk's typical crime is to ignore the societal constraints of industrialization meshed with all the clockwork gears. It can easily become derailed into merely an aesthetic and as much as I appreciate the potential of Shiver Bureau it feels like it relies too much on a surface aesthetic.The unnatural hair and poses reminds of something that's just a bit too cool for school. The Noir/Pulp voice over with its world-weary tang adds authority but is also a familiar device.

Where other representations of steam-punk overdo the lush gilded embroidery this strip overall is represented by sharp crisp line work juxtaposed over a hazy soup of melancholy  greens.Admittedly the artwork is gorgeous within its limited palette constraints but sometimes veers into unrealistic stylised sharp corners.

 The plotting is decent enough and gets going quickly but challenged by some bravado nonsense and the over-clever smarminess that the genre typically carries with it. The strip is adequate but I've seen enough nonchalant adventurers in this vein before. I'm sensing that there's lots of poise and cool here and it's not quite enough.

 The horror elements, mainly the idea of the Inspectres of the Shiver Bureau policing the restless dead likewise seems a bit too glib. I just can't suspend disbelief here. It sounds good, a little too good.

All my petty hairsplitting realistically shows this is a strip, with all its delusions of grandeur, that only could have existed since 2010. Unlike the tortured births of the mainstream slice of life establishment webcomics (Something Positive, Sam and Fuzzy,  Bad Machinery and Questionable Content) Walter Ostlie's strip comes fully formed with its own internal logic and a narrative arc realized from the first strip.

I'd consider it a vote of confidence in the webcomic format's ability to deliver a cohesive voice. This is a decent rollicking adventure and the fact I've moaned about its slight issues shows how spoiled for choice I am compared to the strips I used to write about in 2006. 

Wednesday, 11 June 2014

Space prison blues: The Lydian option

This webcomic is a heady mix of space opera sci-fi and the hard realism of inter-species bickering.The Tha'latta have captured a 'motley crew' of humans and they are stored in a massive multi-species prison, it's a contained prism of villainy and despair. I think maybe it jumps the gun in getting to the main point of the story, the prologue is a bit too brief.

 The art style is sharp and angular, a mixture of bright colours meshing together in what can be perhaps too much  haze in the background adding a fluorescent ambiance to the grit of the prison shown here.

The Lydian option refers to the possibility of the guard species voiding the airlocks. Characterisation is minimal before the escape starts but you get the gist of various basic character molds: brash, stealthy, arrogant. We'll call this survival science fiction or a blast of violence in a genre known for specious star trek hippy lovey-dovey morality.

The various species on display here are fascinating in their differences, there's no star trek milksop 'we are the world' pissant analogies here, it's pretty much brutal warfare and intrigue. It is admittedly a 1 trick pony with a tense but simple endgame of escape. Basic but worth your time. 

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Kicking it old school: Niego & Hellbound

Part of the difficulty of assessing webcomics is the ephemeral nature of the medium itself. It's easy to forget the endless array of webcomics that have just tapered off. Success is unusual and the ability to actually survive monetarily alone from your webcomic is exceedingly infinitesimal. Lots of worthy strips fall by the wayside and I want to show you some from Comic Rocket's handy archive from the mid noughties you might have originally missed.

Neigo  At a certain point this strip was part of the guest strip love-ins that popular strips like Sam and Fuzzy and Questionable Content used to engage in. Like those strips it's a slightly surreal take on 'slice of life'.

It's a gloriously stupid glaze of nebbish slackerdom spread over everyday life. It wasn't self-consciously hipster or nerdish; just dumb kids living in suburbia. The inclusion of Sigala's original notes is tops as well. Certainly willing to indulge in stylised splashes in a black and white palette this strip dropped off primarily due to the creator's personal situation.

Hellbound is far more idiotic and slapstick as a strip but it powers on through its wretched jokes by sheer verve alone. It's willing to press a stupid point to death through a colourful wonderland of lowbrow humour. The narrative is asinine and the characters are all cads and reprobates but it doesn't stop this from being a hyperactive carnival ride. Sadly it's a fruity effervescence that just popped one day and never came back.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Letting off some steam: Widdershins

Prolapse is presumably involved here...somehow

Steampunk is a fairly nebulous sub-genre at the moment; you'd be forgiven if you thought it was solely based on surface aesthetics of cosplayers inserting clocks & bolts into florid Victoriania but originally it was a counterpoint to cyberpunk vivid anger. The difference Engine by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling was a key text looking at technology-led power structures and how to devolve them from the inside. It wasn't the sad sexualized fetish we see today.

Kate Ashwin's Widdershins is a steampunk webcomic but it certainly doesn't delve into the societal anomalys caused by technological change; it exchanges it for a series of vaguely connected picaresques and fanciful misadventures from a fairly hefty wellspring of ideas. I like the feeling of confidence here with an array of coy little in-jokes and remarks.

 The linework is likewise charmingly sinuous, colouful enough to denote the magical undercurrents that emerge from the cobblestones. It's cartoony in just the right way like a warmth spreading over your irises.

Nothing's forced here; that's the rub. There's no specious social justice anachronisms inserted here, our droll narky hero, Harriet Barber, isn't forced into petty gendered binaries, there are no attempts to redress current problems.

It looks like fluff at first but by the third chapter there's an emerging mythology present. It's not yet an essential webcomic in the league of Unsounded as some story-lines can be somewhat erratic and fey, but the underlying sense of wonderment makes it an enjoyable read.