Wednesday, November 28, 2007


Those of you paying an inordinate amount of attention may have noticed that I did a bit of shuffling with the review list. Why doesn't much matter, I had my reasons, but the end result is that this week I will be reviewing a comic that's mostly new to me - Kaspall

It's always a treat for me when I get to take a first look at a comic, especially one for which I haven't been inundated with ridiculous hype. My first impressions are actually my own and that's rather pleasant. Unfortunately, my first impressions of Kaspall were rather confused. However, what started out as bits and pieces of something I wasn't quite sure about transformed into an engaging murder mystery about 45 pages in and I was hooked. A handful of pages later and another puzzle piece was locked in place, instantly converting my earlier confusion into a firm sense of foreshadowing. Further puzzle pieces were instantly recognized as such, pulling me happily along. Yes, I'm a bit excited - it's been a while since I found a new bit of fiction I really enjoyed, let alone one in comic format. I readily admit I cursed aloud when I reached the current page - it's a bit like getting knee deep in a novel and then finding a "to be continued" page half way through. Quite upsetting.

You know what else? I'm not going to tell you what it's about. Go read it, damn it. It's engaging, it's good, and it's beautifully done.

Though it may be a rarity in the webcomic world, Kaspall is both wonderfully written and skillfully drawn. Done in highly detailed black and white, the artistry is just as creative and enveloping as the writing. Rich in variety of textures and environments, the comic has such a natural feel that the alien forms of some characters are immediately comfortable and nothing feels out of place. Body postures, even unfamiliar ones, have a wonderful sense of flow and character and both clothing an scene give a steady impression of distinct cultures. Facial expressions are so well defined that one can even tell when a character is lying. Certainly the framing and pacing assist in such subtle feats, but it's still quite an accomplishment. Structurally, I enjoy some of the panel layouts nearly as much as I enjoy the artwork itself. They're used not only to move the story along as expected, but also do a great deal to create an overall mood and control the pacing.

The website is simple but functional and integrated well enough to be passable. The Cast page is quite complete, and includes the first appearance of each character. The About page is brief, but as with other story comics, I still feel it gives away too much to be read before the comic itself. The Blog feature beneath the comic is typically more about the artist than the comic, and a nice insight it is. A guestbook has recently been added, though I do wonder why the creator didn't take the extra step and install a forum. The archive is nicely arranged by chapter and page, and there is an RSS feed available for those that might forget to check in every Monday when the comic updates.

I know I won't forget.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Beaver and Steve

Just in time for the holidays I bring to you Beaver and Steve, a comic suitable for the whole family. Well, suitable in that there aren't any naughty bits. It's still mildly insane and likely to be considered confusing by the average eight-year-old. The confusion isn't caused by metaphorical explorations of cultural and linguistic themes, however. No, it's caused by funny wrapped in nonsense. Pure. Comical. Nonsense.

Wowsers. This would be easier with less nonsense. It wouldn't be as funny... but I'm not really sure how to categorize writing that ranges from cereal munching panda infestations to Quiche vanquished daemons. The writing is good, clearly, because within this nonsense is enjoyment. Oh, so much enjoyment. It's like play-time for your brain. The story lines are generally brief, and often include completely unexpected twists and turns. Occasionally science laced, I certainly wouldn't consider the comic educational in any way - more "geek friendly". Most punch lines are a clever combination of slapstick and one liners, very few of which are groan worthy.

The artwork is as whimsical as the writing. Fluid outlines and bright colors abound, but the hues are tame enough to avoid being obnoxious. Most strips could be considered full comic pages, though they do very in size. I'm fairly sure that no other art style would support the writing as well as the one creator James Turner has developed here. A quick look at the first comic will show you just how far that style has come in the three years the comic has been running.

The site is great visually, and my only real complaint is the lack of an About page and navigation links at the top of each comic. Granted, the navigation beneath the comic is more than adequate, and the archive is nicely arranged by comic title and date, so I won't complain too much. The blog section is a must read, offering both humor and news. There's also the ability to post any comic on your own site, send a comic to a friend through email, and sign up for the newsletter and RSS feed.

Honestly - I'd be amazed if there was a single one of you that wasn't well aware of Beaver and Steve long before this farce of a review. If, for some bizarre reason, you haven't read it in a while - go do so now.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Cat and Girl

Unlike last week's comic, Cat and Girl is tame enough for a child to read. Assuming, of course, the child in question is a prodigy with a finely tuned interest in sociopolitical trends.

Let's just start off by being honest - not everyone is going to get it. Like most forms of intellectualism, Cat and Girl is destined for a niche audience. That being said, the comic isn't typically linguistically challenging, nor is it peppered with higher mathematics or other forms of exclusionary collegiate knowledge. Mostly philosophical in nature, it's the references that are likely to throw some potential readers. Be they political, literary, musical, or otherwise; these references often form both the set up and the punch line and are left, necessarily, unexplained. I don't find the writing elitist by any means; but if you have to be coached through it, you probably wouldn't find it terribly funny anyway. Happily, the subject matter is eclectic enough that you'll probably have better luck with the next one.

While the titular figures aren't the sole population of the universe, they often carry the comic and are the most deeply explored characters. Girl's bitterly sardonic views are often juxtaposed with Cat's heady optimism; giving the comic a playfully oscillating feel. The black and white artwork is clean and supports both characters and tone quite nicely. The visual flow compliments the pacing well, spacing what could have easily been an overly verbose strip into progressive bites with skillful ease. Body postures and facial expressions are constructed in such a way that the overall mood of each comic could be readily determined without script, without being so prominent as to be distracting.

The website itself is clean and functional, though I'm ambivalent about the use of an all white background. Sometimes I feel it's too sterile, other times I feel it's actually complimentary. In addition to the navigation buttons beneath the comic, a Random Comic link is nestled in the main menu - a feature I love in stand alone comics.

In closing (wow... how pretentious is that?) Cat and Girl may not be for everyone, but I feel as though it ought to be. There just isn't enough thought on these here internets; and it heartens me to see comics like this one filling that void.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Debasement *NSFW*

This week's comic Debasement is Not Safe For Work. As an intellectual look at Internet based culture, particularly porn, its premise alone is NSFW. Unless you work in the adult entertainment industry - then have at it.

Yes, I said an intellectual look at Internet based culture, specifically porn. It is, in fact, possible to have an intellectual discussion of such things in an entertaining fashion; though I may not have believed it if Debasement weren't on my regular reading list. Reading through the archives is far more likely to stimulate your brain than your genitals. Or, at the very least, it's likely to stimulate both.

I fear we've actually stumbled upon something new. Breaking it down to simple visual elements I suppose the comic could be described as a photo-based-sprite comic with an excellent sense of composition and balance. The writing could be described as philosophical and nuanced. All of those things are true - but they ring hollow here. Debasement (and its related comic - Aarin's Desk) seems to me more than a sum of its parts. Personally, I consider each episode more a launching point for thought and discussion than a neat little finished package. My own fascination with the psychology of language and sexuality begs me to dwell on each offering, happily picking it apart and inserting my own opinions. It's important to note, however, that the comic isn't wholly collegiate in nature - peppered with humor and resplendent with 1337 speak, there's something in here for just about everyone.

Well, everyone not offended by base humanity of course.

The flow and stature of the writing is really what makes this a comic worth reading and the complexity of the overall universe allows for a full exploration of the writer's skill. Though the plot is probably best understood by newcomers through a study of the Characters page, the comic is only on it's 91 single panel episode so there's really no excuse for not starting at the beginning. If that doesn't appeal to you, however, click the Modes link under the current comic and you'll be taken to a fancy little archive that's arranged by individual story arc - a very good idea as the story arcs don't run sequentially. Another brilliant aspect of the Mode structure is that the comic links work within the chosen Mode - they'll take you to the next comic in that Mode rather than the next one in sequence. Also, the chosen Mode is clearly displayed in both the title graphic and at the top of the comic to help avoid confusion.

Yeesh. Its hard to describe, but really nice to use.

Among the Bonus Goodies you'll find a spiffy little Glossary (though if your troubles are in deciphering Hax0r text you'll need to Google up a translator) and the Blog section is a must read. My only real disappointment with the site came when, having thoroughly enjoyed myself reading through the blog, I headed over to the Short Stories link only to find it "Down for edits". Extreme sadness followed - Aarin Edwards is a damn good writer. Honest and thoughtful, I'd love to have an actual book to page through but I couldn't find anything resembling a store. Hopefully I'm wrong.

The review doesn't do the thing justice. I'm captivated. Go read it - from home or some other place where the occasional glimpse of digitized boobies isn't going to create a scene.