Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Muffin Time

The comic I was originally scheduled to review today, Casual Notice, has gone on hiatus while the artist improves his craft. I wouldn't have felt quite right reviewing a comic that the artist is currently working on improving, just seems like a cheap shot, so I've switched the schedule around a bit. Casual Notice will now set for a December 26th review. Today? Today it's Muffin Time!

As my schedule is still a bit hectic (you may have noticed I'm a tad behind, see MySpace later this week for details), Steven (BetaPwned's John) has offered to do today's review:

"It's called Muffin Time and there are no muffins. That's stupid. The art is funny though."

Uh huh. Then again, maybe I should just take the time to do this myself. *coughs*

Actually, Steven has given me a perfect segue into the review in that his sense of humor is nearly identical to that of the comic. Almost completely nonsensical, occasionally punny, and intrinsically silly, Muffin Time is what I read when I'm done thinking; when I'm looking for a zany, rainbow filled escape from normality and all the horrible sanity that comes with it. It's a static Saturday Morning Cartoon for quasi-adults, and I love it.

Though the comic began as something quite different stylistically, the humor has remained fairly constant. This isn't the type of writing you hone over time, that kind of approach would require you to take it far too seriously. The art, however, took a rather dramatic turn for the dynamic in 2006 and has become sharper and more fluid with time. The character designs are simple and reminiscent of those odd plastic type bendy animals you can buy to twist around pencils and such. The expressions are varied and attention grabbing and perfectly match the character personalities. The backgrounds are similarly dynamic, adding more backdrop than scene they allow the characters to pop forward in the frame.

The ability to change the "season" of the website ads an interesting bit of personalization as does the ability to easily tag a comic in the archive, effectively saving your place. This function is brilliant for those of us that find ourselves pouring through archives whenever we can find a snippet of time. There's also a rather funny little blog spot beneath the comic, saddled up next to a chat box, a few links, and a flicker spot. There are also some enticing items in the store, and a passable forum. The links page is a bit bare, and I'd love to see some information about the creator, but over all the site design is pretty complete. Especially of note is the Bonus Points page which, though a bit outdated, includes a snazzy how to section, a few desktop offerings, and a nice list of guest comics.

Come on. Where else are you going to find an anthropomorphic udder? Head over and take a break.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Ansem Retort

(Today's scheduled comic was Indefensible Positions, however, this wonderful (and highly recommended) sci-fi/fantasy comic has come to an end. As I've made it fairly clear that I won't be reviewing any comics that have stopped updating, due to either neglect or completion, I will instead be reviewing the last comic on the schedule - Ansem Retort. See, there is hope for those of you scheduled in 2009.)

I found myself on a panel not too terribly long ago discussing how to launch a webcomic. In that panel I offered the following piece of advice: Just say no to sprites. See... the word "sprite" is just a fancy way of saying "using clip art taken from someone else's work". Using other people's work without permission, and possibly a release form, annoys lawyers.

Annoying lawyers is generally a bad idea.

Sprite comics also annoy some potential readers because the artwork is, by definition, repetitious and unoriginal. The images do help tell the story, but not as much as images that were specifically crafted for the script. Additionally, there's no point in critiquing it... so I'm just going to move on.

Ansem Retort is a satire of the modern trend in reality television, with popular game characters as the unlucky house mates. While some of the humor is dependant on a basic knowledge of the characters, readers unfamiliar with the game elements should be able to ascertain the point of most punch lines. Adding a bit of a twist, the reality show is produced by FOX and the house mates are regularly assaulted by enemies in order to keep the show interesting.

Pop culture, drug references, and cartoonish violence are the building blocks for most of the scripts but there are a few character based plot points floating around. I certainly wouldn't stretch to the point of referring to it as intelligent humor, but it isn't Bevis and Butthead ridiculous either. Appropriately, I wouldn't give the comic's contents higher than a PG rating, and I didn't come across anything I would hesitate in allowing my ten-year-old to read. The humor is likely spot on for it's target audience, and even managed to pull a few chuckles from me.

Thanks to the premise, the comic is conveniently portioned into individual "seasons" - meaning that it's not entirely necessary to start at the beginning to find a good entry point. The website is dedicated to more than one comic so I couldn't find any of the additional goodies associated with single comic sites, but the navigation is simple and the comic takes center stage. All-in-all, it's a fairly entertaining comic and certainly worth a look.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

A Fine Example

Napoleon is an ankle biter, but only during pledge week.

I really shouldn't have to say anything else. Every freak among you should be popping over to A Fine Example just for the sake of What The Fuck.

What the fuck was, by the way, my most prevalent reaction as I toured through the archives. A Fine Example is neither character driven, nor situational. It's driven by some sort of random insanity. It's a good insanity... the type that drives you to come back time and again just to see where the hell the creator is going to wander off to and who might come along for the ride. It might be a fancy feast eating... something-or-other. It might be a slogan wielding horde of "Undead Americans". It might even be, well, assorted body parts oddly joined at unnatural angles. Oddly enough at it's very base, deep down under layers of madness, A Fine Example is a family story. Dad, girlfriend, son. There are family dynamics at play, deep seated issues between a young boy and the woman that plays the role once held by his departed mother. The silent conflicts of the man that loves them both. Yes, deep down, this is the stuff that dramas are made of. Only it's not. It's an oddity, an oddity formed of excellent writing.

The artwork is also a bit of an oddity. Sketchy black outlines and cross-hatch shading seem to hover over the simple backgrounds, almost as if made of layered bits of torn paper. The drawings have the feel of newspaper lithographs with an added stylistic flare. The children of the comic are especially enthralling - faded as though lightly erased bringing them immediately into the foreground. The effect extends to the son's expressions which are muted and faint, and a vague white aura surrounds him. He seems isolated, intelligent, and acts as an anchoring force for the quirky and animated personalities that surround him.

The website is simple and functional, though not all the bits are up and running. The Store, for example, seems to be under construction and the Blog is somewhat neglected. (The last post was July 27th) The About page is flooded with the same humor that makes up the comic and is likewise worth the read. Though there was a bit of a hiatus, A Fine Example may well be back on track now - updating "Mondays, Thursdays and more".

Go on now... the parrot waits for no one.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Devil's Panties

Realizing that life quickly gets in the way of artistic endeavors, artist Jennie Breeden discovered a delightful way to force daily practice - she started a webcomic, The Devil's Panties, the second in my personal webcomic trinity.

If there is a Queen of the slice-of-life webcomic world, it must be Jennie Breeden. Aside from obvious elements of fantasy, the strip is often a word-for-word rendition of her real-life experiences. Armed with a tape recorder and an ear for snippets that will readily entertain others, Jennie captures those seemingly mundane moments that will resonate with the majority. The intimacy of the story telling would make it tempting to swamp the comic with inside jokes, but that's seldom the case here. In fact, on those rare occasions where an inside joke pushes it's way to the surface, the joke exists in the simple fact that, without context, the comment is almost completely nonsensical.

The artwork is mostly black-and-white with bright splashes of color acting almost as punctuation. Cross hatch and line shading gives a sense of tone, and the plentiful detail work is done in a simplistic style that compliments the casual feel. Many weekends, and the Portfolio page, bring an extra treat in the form of colorful portraits in various degrees of abstraction. (Don't miss the black-and-white artwork that appears beyond the first page of the Portfolio.)

The website is simple, but functional, and includes a number of fun side projects and giggle spots. Also present is an awesome FAQ section that is a must-read for new webcomic creator's hoping to turn their hobby into a full-time job. Speaking of making webcomics a full-time job, Ms. Breeden has done just that and you'll find a number of items in the online store that helps keep her going.

Above all - The Devil's Panties will always be special to me. It was one of the first truly slice-of-life comics I read, and one of the ones that made me feel as though I should give it a go myself. The whole thing has a friendly and casual feel, like a text-message from your friends. There's no pretension, no smarmy drama, just life presented in a fun and engaging way. Definitely worth the daily read.