Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Geek Tragedy

Today I'm reviewing another one of my top ten webcomics. Unfortunately, it's a bit difficult to give a decent description of Geek Tragedy without presenting at least one major spoiler. Luckily, it's a spoiler that's revealed in the first two strips, so... go back to the beginning, then read the second one, then come back.

Okay, now we can begin properly.

Greek Tragedy has to be the only webcomic I've ever read that starts with the death of a main character. Despite it's titular beginning, it's also one of the most habitually funny comics I read. Each of the characters has a clear voice, and it's that voice that keeps me smiling. Every joke becomes an inside joke between friends, a heartwarming display of character, and occasionally a twist of the knife. The plot lines are varied and interesting, easily conjuring emotion from the reader. I'd almost classify it as a dramatic comedy, if it weren't for all the action. Even with that wide a range, the comic never seems scattered, nor do you get the impression that the creator has simply lost direction.

While the larger story lines are often punctuated with shorter, gag oriented strips, there's never enough of a lull to lose the plot and the character development continues to progress throughout. A good thing too, because while much of the comic is situational, it's clearly character driven. Yes, these are ordinary geeks - the perv, the techy, the couch potato, and the... well... ghost, but who they are as individuals is important. Their actions don't come from a blind, you know them, and expect them to react to events in a certain way. When they surprise you, as they sometimes do, it's always in a welcomed way and never comes off as trite or unbelievable.

The art has also progressed; though stylized and professional from the start it now has a great deal more depth and the coloring is simply fantastic. Shading, highlights, textures, body mechanics, expression, it's all a pleasure to study and supports the writing style perfectly. I especially envy his ability to use rich colors without blinding the reader, something I certainly haven't mastered yet. (It must have something to do with the gradients and highlights... hrm...) I also greatly appreciate his use of frames; they're not simply content holding boxes, they're clear perspective guides that occasionally even appear as background behind a character. He expresses mood wonderfully - the art, framing and composition all flowing with a natural ease.

As for the site - it's clutter free and the navigation is easy. For extras there's an active forum, one in which the creator actually contributes, and a very small store. The archives are arranged according to year, with both date and comic title as guides. Also of note - alternate strips, guest strips, and fan art are given their own space in the archives so new readers won't have to compete with them while working their way up to the latest comic. The cast pages aren't currently accessible, but I have a sneaking suspicion they're simply being updated with new artwork and additional characters, so a bit of downtime is perfectly acceptable. Also inaccessible from the website is the creator's contact information - though he's readily available though both his MySpace and ComicSpace accounts. He's damn nice too. *smiles*

So - looking for a character driven story that has humor, drama, tension, action, and truly professional art? Check out Geek Tragedy. You won't be sorry.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Elsewhere

Before I begin the more formal aspects of this review, I need to mention one remarkable thing about the highly recommended webcomic Elsewhere:  creator Stephen Waller draws this strip on the train as he commutes to work.  Heaven help the rest of our rankings should he actually do his work from a stationary location.  I can only imagine such work would be brilliant beyond tolerance, as the jostled commuter artwork is quite professional.

Done entirely in black and white, Elsewhere may best be described as a fantastical slice-of-life akin to Ugly Hill.  The circumstances are familiar, but the characters and reactions lie beyond reality in that place our imaginations wander.  Occasionally disturbing, it's never overtly so, instead requiring the reader to ponder the strip rather than simply relying on a visceral reaction.  It's unusual for short strip comics to attain an intellectual subtlety, but Elsewhere certainly does, whether by design or by the creators innate personality.

While the comic does not conform to a strict schedule, it updates frequently enough to maintain interest, sometimes several times a week, and as several comics are displayed at one time there's no need to click through to peruse comics you've not yet seen.

Fanciful, well written, visually pleasing, and certainly amusing, Elsewhere is a definite don't miss.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

The Jellyfish Coddle

The Jellyfish Coddle is another comic seemingly suited for print that has instead been adapted for the web.  Sectioned into issues that are updated as complete works, one navigates the site much as one navigates a printed comic – by turning through page by page, thanks to a nicely written graphic script.

Each issue is presented in a color, full-page format which consists of a collection of smaller episode comics.  The artwork is simplistic by design, but no expression is lost, giving the characters a charming feel.  The content is quite varied, ranging from the animal humor of When Nature Goes Nuts, to the religious ponderings of The Misadventures of the Enlightened Ones.  Despite venturing into territory that can sometimes be dangerous ground, the comic has a light hearted feel that repels offense.  In addition to the main comics, there are also a couple of children's offerings and a History section that shouldn't be glossed over.  The comic updates regularly, and the additional content that's added from time to time expands the site's focus beyond a simple frame for the latest issue.  The Omniscient section, for example, houses How To articles and interviews with various webcomic artists.  Also of note, merchandising has been arranged in such a manner that the reader can quickly find items from a favorite episode comic, rather than simply lumping them all together under one header.

All in all, The Jellyfish Coddle delivers a fun, colorful experience for readers.  Issue number 12 is up now, check it out!

Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Akimbo Comics

Akimbo is another comic I found through MySpace, and I've been pestering  creator B. Patrick to publish them in print form ever since.  Unlike most other web based comics, Akimbo is really a collection of independent stories; not unlike the pulp fiction and horror comics of the 50s.  You're not going to find that same cheesy story telling here though; Akimbo is an edgy, realistic, and sometimes harsh collection that easily engages the reader with it's introspective narratives and frankly honest dialogue.

While the subjects vary, the vast majority fall into the adult slice-of-life category.  While not often visually graphic, these are not comics for children.  Highly character driven, the complexities in plot are typically psychological rather than situational.  These are sensitive, personal, thought and emotion provoking stories.  Occasionally shocking, one never gets the feeling the creator glories in shock value for its own sake.  Often humorous, there is a biting wit that comes through both narrative and dialogue without the taint of undue bitterness left by lesser writers.

The artwork, mostly black and white, is perfect for the genre.  Patrick's skillful portrayal of subtle emotion enhances the writing and never seems out of place.  If a character is smiling on the outside and smirking contemptuously on the inside you know without being told.  Some of the single shot comics in the Eat Shit and Die section are composed entirely of a single character's face and narrative, and even with that narrow of a scope, there is still a great deal of visual appeal.

The site itself is visually gorgeous, featuring several cover works and a graphic menu broken into two sections:  Comics - three longer, in progress works, and Shorties – shorter works, five out of seven of which are completed.  (Not including the previously mentioned "Eat Shit and Die" Shortie which is composed of single shot comics.)  The site is updated with new work each Tuesday and Thursday, and each update is tagged for easy navigation.  I absolutely recommend this one.