Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Mob Ties

Just in time for Halloween, I present to you Mob Ties! Mind you, I originally felt that line was going to be a complete farce. After all, there isn't anything terribly terrifying about most Manga and with only a passing knowledge of the comic before I sat down to read through the archives I had no reason to believe this one would be any different. There's plenty of tension here though, and now I'm hooked on the damn thing. Yeesh.

Mob Ties starts off a bit slowly, but once the main plot is established it takes off at an engaging pace. A large part of the story is tied up in the reveal of various twists and turns so I'm not going to say much about it - no point in spoiling it for the sake of a review. I will say that the writing is a balanced blend of light and darkness that keeps you clicking on the next link. It seems awfully tempting for Manga writers to bog their plots down with so much overly emotional trauma that the entire story sinks in a mire of angst; happily, this is a temptation the creator avoids by utilizing a zany sense of humor to meter the punch of more dramatic moments. Another temptation that was happily avoided - displaying the comic in traditional Japanese Manga format. Writing a comic in English assumes the comic will be read by a primarily English speaking audience. As such, it should be written left to right and top to bottom. Yes, it may seem authentic to write it right to left and bottom to top - but you're far more likely to confuse your intended audience than intrigue them. No such confusion here - saving the creator a tongue lashing. Oooo... scary.

The artwork is mostly in simple black and white with the occasional use of full color panels or effect colors. Chapter titles are also done in color and serve to give the comic more of a print feel. Emotions are displayed in both facial expressions and in perspective and character size in classic Manga fashion and I admire the artist's ability to use those visual effects without relying on them for pacing. Each comic page has an easy flow, excepting, of course, those that are specifically created to give the feel of either confusion or jumbled memory. There's been a steady progression in artistic skill and staging; a clear indication that there are even better things to come.

Mob Ties is hosted on Drunk Duck... which means I would have critical things to say about the website if I actually knew what was in the creator's power to change. Though you do have the option to email individual comics to your friends and pin it to various services like Digg and Reddit, I'd love to see those elements I so love in self hosted comics. The author does do a decent job of communicating with the comic's audience in the blog beneath the comic, allowing the readers a peek into motivations and news. The archive exists as a drop down menu which lists issue and page - certainly not enough to go on if you're looking for a specific comic, but helpful if you're reading it issue by issue.

Personally, I suggest you start with issue number one. Now. Go.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007


A little question for the RPGers among you - ever feel sorry for the NPCs? I mean, seriously - ever felt a twinge of guilt as you walk through the blood of that kobold family you just slaughtered around their own hearth? Ever wonder if there was a family at home waiting for that wandering villager you just speared and relieved of his belongings? Ever wish you could give them a little of the power you hold? Watch them kick some ruthless newbs ass and steal his shit? Revel in your humanity, what shreds are left in your gamer soul, and head on over to Goblins.

Goblins is an epic tale of a small group of... well... Goblins that have declared themselves player characters. The premise may seem simplistic, but creator Tarol Hunt has written a deep and affecting plot that pulls the reader though the full range of emotions. A careful construction of character first plays on the reader's sense of empathy and justice while tying them to the individuals they'll follow throughout the story. There are certainly some touching moments along the way, but I've never found the comic cloying. The humor is genuine, the plot engaging, and the action easy to follow - in fact, I don't believe there's any writing aspect in which the comic falters.

Originally drawn in simple black-and-white outlines, the comic quickly progressed to full color. Characters are easily differentiated, and body postures and structures are consistent. The backgrounds are varied and quite complete, giving a full sense of scene without being over bearing. It's difficult to say if the colors are realistic, considering the completely fictional nature of most characters, but they are pleasant and easily accepted - not a single Muppet poser in play. Facial expressions display emotion and personality with ease even when accompanied by scars and other obstructions. Clothing has been styled with a variety of textures and matched nicely to each character.

The website has displayed an under construction banner for some time now, but it's still mostly functional. (Only the Languages and Creators links seem dead.) While there is a FAQ section I still feel the site could use some kind of about page as I couldn't readily find mention of an update schedule. There are a number of backgrounds available for fans, and a couple of items available for sale as well as links and additional artwork. An extra feature, Tempts Fate, is probably the most ingenious donation drive I've ever seen. Goblin adventurer Tempts Fate is faced with a new series of challenges each month. Written in D&D crawl style, each obstacle is linked to a donation amount - if the amount is reached, Tempts Fate clears the obstacle and comes closer to the dungeon reward. Should the donation goal fail to be met, Tempts Fate will die. A tribute to both creator and gimmick - he's still alive and going strong.

Though D&Ders may have a larger spot in their hearts for the comic, the overall plot isn't dependant on specific RPG knowledge and I highly recommend the read. Head on over and cheer for the underdog.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Plush and Blood Presents The Unstuffed

Described as a graphic novel in electronic format, The Unstuffed is an action filled Science Fiction/Fantasy populated by living stuffed animals locked in an epic battle against a Hitleresque hamster.

Yes, I do know how silly that sounds. No, it doesn't come across as silly at all in it's actual telling.

There are a number of serious subjects lurking here, from the ethics of dictatorship to the nature and value of free will. Such subjects could easily become weighted to the point of burden, but when viewed through the lens of this lighthearted fantasy format they can be pondered as hypotheticals without losing their emotional impact. So far a great deal of the story has been action based, and being an individual that isn't typically fond of extensive action sequences, I was surprised by how eagerly I followed this one along. Of course, my interest can mostly be explained by the dialogue that accompanies many battles - I love the interplay between the characters that brings out their personalities as well as a touch of humor. Now on page 86, we've only just begun to delve into the fullness of the plot but I've enjoyed the story line thus far, and have been pleased by the manner in which it has been doled out. It would have been tempting to simply info-dump the necessary information, but the creator has instead wisely used a mixture of dialogue and flashback that runs seamlessly along with the unfolding events.

The artwork is quite good - detail varies with distance and the coloring has full range without being garish. History panels are given a soft look that simply feels like memory. Action lines are given a similar treatment, widened and stretched beyond the typical black slash, they give an impression of airflow rather than simply indicating the direction of movement. While this technique wouldn't work with all artistic styles, it works beautifully here. The creator employs interesting panel layouts that add to the over all look and flow of the comic and makes excellent use of "silent" action panels; using the artistic medium to it's full extent rather than simply having the action explained.

The web design is nicely integrated with the comic, wrapping it like a frame rather than crouching behind it. Extra features include the typical FAQs, About, and Links sections as well as a complete Cast section and an assortment of gallery works. Also included is a Story section that may actually be a bit too complete if read before the comic. The archive consists of thumbnail images of each comic page along with the chapter title; a layout that is certainly quite helpful when one is looking for a specific comic they've already seen. Because the comic is story based, and in graphic novel format, I would like to see the holiday and other special strips moved to their own section rather than having them in the archive where they tend to break the flow - but that may be a petty complaint considering the ease with which one can simply navigate to the next page. The Unstuffed updates Tuesdays and Fridays, and has only just begun. I suggest hopping on board now.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Something Positive

I'll be damned if this isn't just one of the hardest reviews I've ever attempted to write. Something Positive was one of the very first webcomics I ever read, it's certainly the first one I read with any sense of regularity, and it's remained in the top five comics I check on a daily basis when time is short. It heads the webcomic trinity that gave me the inspiration to start my own little life draining webcomic adventure. I've read through the archives more than a few times. Hell, I've read through the FAQ section more than a few times. I've often found myself identifying with the lead character, Davan, and I've never had the inward decency to be ashamed of that fact. Never once has it forced me to roll my eyes and wonder if the creator had died and been replaced with a putz.

As a result, everything I write sounds like it's coming from a fluid soaked fan girl. Possibly one with cat ears, and that sort of thing just shouldn't be tolerated here.

So, to Mr. Milholland, I apologize. It's highly unlikely you'll garner anything useful from this review beyond the fleeting ego boost of knowing some chick thousands of miles away really likes your comic; and considering your typically sardonic views, you'll likely squash your own buzz by assuming I'm merely a stalker in training. Also, your review is late.

Here we go - take three.

Something Positive is a strongly character driven slice-of-life that began in December of 2001. It updates frequently, and the short bursts of inactivity that pepper it's nearly 6 year history haven't done any discernible damage to it's rather impressive readership - a fact that speaks quite loudly for the quality of the writing. My personal history with Something Positive came in the form of an email containing a link to the first strip. As my coworkers and I gathered around to read it a brilliant sociological event took place - only two of us laughed. We were then clearly identified by the others as freaks and eventually became best friends. It seems that not everyone is comfortable with their inner monsters. Pity, that.

Taken over all, I'm convinced the comic isn't nearly as edgy and shocking as some might have you believe; but bold moments have a way of sticking in the mind and overshadowing the more mundane. The humor is quite often dark, aggressive, or both, and it does tend to flirt with the razor edge of social taboo, but those are all things I adore. When presented with something reprehensible in a clearly fantasy setting we're free to explore those feelings without consequence. This isn't shockabilly bullshit though - it's a readily defined story with all the depth and complexity of real life. The affect of the writing is so great that some readers have apparently forgotten from time-to-time that the comic is, in fact, a work of fiction despite the presence of impossible characters and highly illegal plot lines. The creator states in the FAQ section that most characters are based on real people, either singularly or by amalgamation, and his writing skill is such that one couldn't easily determine which.

The artwork is full color, well rounded and genre appropriate. His background style integrates well with the character designs, adding to the feel of casual reality - they're not a stage for an act, simply depictions of every day surroundings. Character expressions are fluid and do a great deal in pushing forward their individual personalities and expressing the energy of each conversation. Body postures are accurate and allow for a sense of motion without resorting to action lines. Traditional panel layouts are occasionally interrupted by frameless scenes for effect, usually to highlight a single statement or moment in time. The artist's black and white works reveal that he isn't hiding flaws behind color as the varied outlines are quite capable of holding their own. That isn't to say that the color is superfluous; it adds depth, personality, and occasionally even comic relief.

The steady improvement in timing, plot construction, framing and artwork makes the archives a must read for any aspiring creator and the blog posts hold hidden gems as well. I don't know that I'm terribly fond of the formatting on some of the extras pages, which typically consist of punctuated lists of links, but they're still functional. It's also worth noting that Something Positive isn't Mr. Millholland's only strip, and links to his other works can be found near the title header on the main page.

The urge to wrap up with something pithy like "Something Positive rarely is" bears down on me like a ridiculous weight. I'm not sure why - maybe it's the sweet, sweet overdose of humiliating sarcasm bringing forth the need for falsely casual defenses. Hardly matters. Something Positive is by no means a one-size-fits-all laugh fest. It's a dry, sardonic, and intelligent look through a slightly warped glass that hedges between humor and tragedy. Dewey-eyed fan girl ravings aside, I recommend the comic for it's strong characters and engaging story lines. It's good stuff.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


* NOTE - Because of last week's glitch this week's Wednesday Webcomic Weview will feature two comics - the scheduled review of Something Positive will be posted later this evening. *

Where do Superheroes and Supervillians alike go to spend their golden years? Why, Valhalla of course - Home for the Supertired, and setting for today's comic The SuperFogeys.

SuperFogeys is one of those rare cases where the premise alone was enough to get me interested. I've read my share of superhero comics like most geeks, and I've worked as a nursing assistant in "adult care facilities" - how could I not relate to a combination of the two? I did have a slight fear, however, that the whole thing would be nothing but a slapstick mess. Happily, my fears were never realized. In many ways the writing reminds me of those earlier superhero comics; peppered with foreshadowing, character associations, and flashbacks; but with a much appreciated dose of humor. While many of the jokes are spurred by depreciating powers and advancing age, I never get the feeling that they're dependant on them. The punchlines are appropriate for the characters they frame and not at their expense.

SuperFogeys is only 70 strips in, which is early in the plot development stage for this one. It isn't dragging by any means, but the nature of the characters practically demanded that they be introduced before they played their parts for the collected audience. Atypical characters require set-up, a fact the creator clearly understood, and artfully executed. No boring bios here - you're introduced to the characters in a playful manner, allowing you to settle into the plot lightheartedly.

The artwork is absolutely enjoyable. It would have been easy for a lesser artist to over-emphasize the physical aspects of age for comedic effect, but just as the other potential pitfalls were avoided, this one was dodged as well. Line variation and subtle touches add depth to each panel without distracting the eye, and the colors chosen round out the feel of the comic rather nicely. Backgrounds are simple but more than adequate, giving a full sense of scene without pulling the eye from the characters. There's a great deal of variation between the characters - no chance of getting one character confused with another should they suddenly change hair styles. To quickly garner an appreciation for the artist's skill, take a look at the amazing detail of Comic 52, absolutely beautiful.

Created by Brock Heasley, The SuperFogeys was picked up as an exclusive earlier this year by Th3rdworld Studios.  As such, I'm not terribly sure if he has any control over the website at all.  Nevertheless, it bears mentioning that while the website is very clean and certainly functional, I just don't like it very much.  There's a big numerical block in between the navigation buttons and the comic that stands as an archive, and the menu links all lead to th3rdworld items rather than anything specific to the comic you're actually trying to read.  The strip is also available over at Pixelstrips, but it's much of the same there.  Syndication is generally a good thing, especially in terms of marketing and reach, so a creative approach to offering those items fans look for is in order - adding an About Me, FAQ, and/or Extras section to the MySpace group for example would be a welcomed addition.

Petty spoiled bitching aside, head on in and smell the ointment. Now if I could just find one of those damn space pigs...