Funny thing... it isn't enough to write the review on a Wednesday, you actually have to post the damn thing too. Yeesh.
One of the first 10 webcomics I ever followed, Zap! is a brilliant little space adventure with a bit of something for everyone. You want action? We've got telekinetic bad guys and an amnesic hero suffering from a case of bad history. Romance? Here's a quintessential ball room scene to sweep you off your feet. Comedy? Three words - smart ass robot. Pull it all together in an engaging plot bundle, wrap it up with sharp and shiny pacing ribbons and you've got Zap!
What I appreciate most about Zap! is that, being strongly character driven, each aspect of the story is as well written as the others. If it were presented situationally I simply wouldn't care to click because, situationally, Zap! is fairly formulaic. Boy with a dark past meets girl with a broken heart, yada, yada, yada... What keeps me clicking is that I like the characters. I care about what happens to them, I'm anxious about the challenges they face, and I'm rooting them on. When something horrid happens to a character I don't feel it as an intellectual surprise, I feel it as an emotional impact; a feat which is much more difficult to write and worlds more rewarding to read. The writer is skillful enough to pull you in emotionally and then use those emotions to obscure the plot twists - if you were thinking, rather than feeling, you'd see it coming. The brilliance of this approach is that it completely avoids the ridiculous "shocker" scenes so often abused by less talented writers while achieving the same result.
Newbie writers would do well to take note - you don't have to hide the knife to throw your readers for a loop. Intellectual surprise, that jump and squeel that accompanies slasher flicks, only lasts a second - to really go for the gut, you need to make your readers feel the knife strike home... and you do that by making them love the characters.
Do me a favor, right now, before you read the rest of the review take a look at the first Zap! cover. Now take a look at the most recent cover. Do it again. Hell, open each one up in a different window and set them up side by side on your monitor. THIS is why I beg webcomic creators to keep their old stuff online and not delete comics they no longer feel cut muster. Newbie creators - doesn't looking at those two images side by side just make you all warm and fuzzy? Five years of work - that's all that stands between the two images. To be fair, Zap! started with strong character designs and a good grasp on overall drawing mechanics so the progression is really from "pretty good" to "really good" rather than from "awful" to "really good", but I can assure you the artist had an "awful" stage - everyone does. The striking thing about the art progression with Zap! is that it progressed in all aspects equally well - perspective, line work, expression, body mechanics, color, shading, highlighting, backgrounds, composition... everything improved over time.
A beautiful example of a collaboration that actually works, writer Chris Layfield and co-writer/artist Pascalle Lepas have created in Zap! a compelling, entertaining, and gorgeous comic that I very much recommend.
See you next week when I review Autumn Lake!