Wednesday, August 29, 2007


I was first introduced to Bardsworth in a popular webcomic forum artist Peter Tarkulich and I are both members of. Five strips in I was hooked, and I've been a fan ever since.

Though the light humor and cute character design certainly helped catch my attention, it was the realistic relationships that really won my affections. Perhaps it's an extended quality of the natural dialogue, or an aspect of the casual pacing... regardless of it's cause, the relationships are almost instantaneously endearing. So much so that I hesitate to say the story is character driven as much as relationship driven. It's a refreshing change of pace, especially considering that, at it's base, Bardsworth is a fantasy comic.

Yes, I almost hesitate to mention that this falls firmly in the fantasy genre. It's been done poorly so often that a simple mention is enough to turn some people away. This one is a bit different though - yes, there are fairies and elven girls present and the concept is riddled with magic and burgeoning power... but Bardsworth isn't cloying. Stylistically the comic is more reminiscent of coming of age stories than typical fantasy, and I suppose I prefer to think of it that way. The fantastical elements of the comic offer humor and plot, of course, but they also advance the story and provide insight into the characters.

The artwork started out as a clean black and white, only to transform into a brilliant full color strip over time. Appropriate use of light and shadow bring the characters forward into center regardless of the backgrounds, and the use of rich colors in clothing and other textiles more than makes up for the necessarily monotone castle walls. Accurate body postures and proportions, combined with detailed clothing, rounds out the character designs and gives a sense of movement and fullness. Backgrounds are sparse on occasion, but never at a detriment to the individual strip. The character's expressions are absolutely delightful in their simplicity and range.

The website itself is quite nice, with easy navigation and clear menu items. There's a wonderful blog space under the comic serving up the latest news as well as a paragraph or two featuring the current Spotlight Comic - webcomic's the creator feels are worth another look. A Twitter box, Chat widget, and forum round out the communicative aspects, giving the website it's own friendly feel. The About page offers not only information about the comic and it's creator, but also a declaration of intent titled The Bardsworth Manifesto. Quite worthy of respect, indeed.

Bardsworth is one of the few comics I read I don't hesitate to share with my kids. Not because it's childish, but because of it's good natured appeal and quality story telling. Updating thrice weekly, I look forward to following this story through to conclusion.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Bear and Kitten

Before I start this week's webcomic review of Bear and Kitten let me say this to the writer, Andy - Naruto has also eaten a great deal of my life, regardless of the fact that I too find it less than remarkable.

Now, down to business.

Bear and Kitten, though it sounds cute and cuddly, is quite a quirky little disturbing romp. The premise is simple enough - an anthropomorphic slice-of-life, the comic follows the day to day adventures of two unlikely room mates. Fairly new to the webcomic scene, it began in April of 2007 and has updated on a mostly consistent twice weekly schedule. Each strip is a quick read as even the most verbose consist of only one or two sentences a panel. Thanks to this stylistic brevity it doesn't take long to plow through the archives, and I certainly suggest you do.

Before anyone assumes the succinct nature of the comic points to poor writing, let me assure you this isn't the case. There is a simplicity to the writing, certainly, but simplicity shouldn't be mistaken for poor form. As most comic aficionados are aware, a great deal of the writing takes place beyond the scope of dialogue - it's the totality of the scene that tells these short stories and it takes the skill of both writer and artist to pull off a mostly silent script.

It's this skilled teamwork that makes Bear and Kitten such a joy to read. The artwork is a soft comfort that lulls the reader into a mindset that makes the disturbing aspects of the comic even more so. Just as a cold ice cube down the shorts is more shocking on a hot summer day, the relatively mild violence and uneasy concepts come across as much more tantalizing when everything else is so warm and fuzzy. It's an excellent blend. It's dainty meets deleterious, antipathetic adoration, eerie enchantment. Okay, okay... it's late, give me a break.

I like the comic. I like gazing at the first panel and knowing that before the story ends something odd and possibly horrific will have happened. I like feeling as though I'm getting a virtual hug from something delightfully wrong. The comic isn't twisted - in fact, I suspect that if you took any of the scripts and drew them in a realistic fashion they would loose not only their charm, but also their punch. It's the mix that makes the comic work, the parts aren't all that spectacular when taken alone, but the sum of those parts makes for a great read.

The website is simple and easy to navigate. I rather enjoy the picture used for the About page, though I wish it were simply featured off to one side rather than panelled as a full background - I had to highlight the text in order to be able to read it. The Forum appears to be popping along quite nicely, and there's a great poster for sale in the Store along with the opportunity to buy prints of any comic. There's also a promise of shirts eventually... a promise I hope they keep. Baby dolls, if at all possible, please. T-shirts make me look boxy. *grins*

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Chris and Smith

I've always suspected it. There have been hints and clues along the way, even one or two personal experiences. This week, my suspicions were confirmed. Canadians are freakin' nuts. The final nail in the loony coffin? Chris and Smith.

Probably best described as a gag-a-day comic, this thing is all over the place in a zany, completely insane way. It's not entirely nonsensical, the characters have distinct personalities and the environment is basically stable, but complete consistency of plot is clearly not the goal here.

In a nutshell - take every bizarre, caffeine and/or alcohol fueled conversation you've ever had with your friends after a day long geek inspired movie fest and throw it in a blender. Add some pigment, a maple leaf, a touch of political commentary, and a communion wafer and you've got Chris and Smith. Aside from it's random humor, Chris and Smith is also an excellent educational tool. For example, I now know that JFK was, in fact, assassinated by a large purple triangle and that Bronson Pinchot knows the only way out of hell.

A proper reflection of reality isn't intended in the art any more than it is in the writing, leading to an appropriately cartoonish style. Though somewhat static, the artwork conveys both emotion and tone, providing a suitable base for the dry humor. Taking a look at the first strip and the latest strip side-by-side the first clear improvement lies in the addition of backgrounds. A closer look reveals a number of more subtle improvements including more pleasing line work, panel design, and composition. The text bubbles and lettering have also become blessedly clear over the years, leading to a much more polished look over-all.

It is my understanding that the website is currently undergoing some changes, so please take the following with a grain of salt:

For most of the comic's history, navigation buttons were absent... now they're there but are a bit of a mess. The First button brought me either to the current or the latest comic, but the others work as expected, at least where they're available. There is a nearly complete archive, but each comic opens as a stand alone image, which leaves you hitting the back button after every archived comic. Adding to the archive difficulties is the lack of change when a link has already been followed, forcing you to try and remember which number you were on. The Links button doesn't seem to be functional either. Other than that, *coughs*, the website design is clean and the comic takes center stage.

Updating Sundays and Thursdays, Chris and Smith offers more than just an odd-day webcomic read. It offers an odd experience, and more than a few "what the...?" chuckle moments. You're clearly a weird man, Mike Thomas, keep up the good work.

Wednesday, August 8, 2007


Today's webcomic, Lifelike, presents me with a challenge due to a unique and masterfully executed format - one very talented writer, and many very talented artists. To be truly fair, each of these comic stories ought to be reviewed separately. Unfortunately, I can't justify dedicating that much time to a single webcomic when so many others are waiting for review. So, forgive my awkward brevity, and trust that the comic speaks very clearly for itself.

A series of succinct independent stories, Lifelike is everything the dramatic slice-of-life genre ought to be. Each vignette is a snapshot in time, some moments little more than a mist of touching memory, others a tortured exercise in penance. There is no central theme beyond life, and it's presented here with a varied richness that I greatly enjoy. Fans of realistic fiction won't be disappointed.

The author, Dara Naraghi, births each character mid stride and carefully completes each profile before the story's end. By giving each character a distinct voice, Mr. Naraghi allows for a sense of familiarity beyond the artwork, and for him this is especially important. As I mentioned earlier, Lifelike utilizes the talents of many artists. In fact, each story is illustrated by a different artist, in their own distinct style. This ads yet another layer of perspective as each story comes together in a blend of creative voice and artistic expression.

One of the Stan Lee Sunday Comics presented on Komikwerks, Lifelike updates twice weekly and will soon be available as a Graphic Novel thanks to IDW Publishing. (Pre-orders are being taken at a 32% discount through now.) A full list of contributing artists, along with biographies, can be found on the Lifelike main page.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

Geek Blather

What I remember of High School is that I wasn't very good at it - academically or socially. Of course, my High School was nothing like Eyrie High, and the students there were nothing like the cast of Geek Blather. Had they been, I would have at least been far more entertained.

Populated almost entirely by High School students, there are those that won't give the comic the chance it deserves. Add to the cast a sprinkling of homosexuality and the potential readership probably drops a touch more. I doubt that creators Quinn Gillespie and Kara O'Brien will notice their absence, however, as the comic seems angled toward an abundant demographic. Set in the present, Geek Blather is a shiny slice of life comic with a definite middle-class feel. This isn't to say that the comic's setting is a fun filled wonderland like the ones foisted on us by those bubble-headed tween flicks - Bullying, drugs, and even casual prostitution rear their heads here. Happily, these issues are artfully handled with a realistic sense of the frustrating nonchalance that permeates their real-life mirrors rather than with angst riddled stereotypical behavior.

From my perspective, the characters seem older than the plot dictates - though it's quite possible this seeming discrepancy is due to a simple generational gap. Regional differences, writer's prerogative, and the fact that the characters existed in RPG form before hitting webcomic fame may also play a part in this apparent time warping. Interestingly, I don't believe I would balk if the characters were portrayed as college students - apparently a couple of years makes all the difference for me.

The artwork is similarly realistic and very well done, especially considering the update schedule. The backgrounds lack detail, but one would have to drag their attention away from the characters to notice and they deserve the focus. Accurate body postures, complex facial expressions, graceful hands, and rich clothing designs overlayed with appropriate shading and highlights testify to the artist's talent. In fact, the artwork is so natural it may not be fully appreciated - take the time to really look it over once you've worked your way through the archives. I'm especially fond of her ability to clearly depict the characters in a realistic style without making them appear forced.

Various web goodies include a step-by-step "making of" tutorial followed by a spiffy video that allows you to see the process in action. A visit to the Glossary is mandatory, if only to finally name that horribly undeniable urge to draw or write something regardless of what you ought to be doing. Also, speaking of being distracted from what you ought to be doing, there's a lovely little paper doll flash that ate a good 20 minutes out of my review time.

Regular story lines update Tuesdays and Thursdays, with grab-bag strips thrown in for good measure on Saturdays... though to be perfectly honest I would love to see the Saturday strips evolve into their own stand alone slice-of-life. Come on gals, what do you say?