Monthly Archives: January, 2006

The Return of Avalon

Avalon is one of those “old-school” comics on the web – something that was bright and blazing in its youth, with a powerful fan base and many friends throughout the webcomic world – as evidenced by the plethora of guest artist strips scattered throughout its archive.

But things change. And after over two and a half years of rock-solid updates, Avalon… faltered. Josh Phillips came out and created a post to tell his readers the state of the comic – he had a conclusion planned, but he simply found himself with other concerns and other issues preventing him from bringing it out. A handful of jump starts came over the next few years, but he never really got the ball rolling again.

But now Avalon is back. I’ve been surprised by how quiet things have been regarding this – perhaps there has just been other events in the comic world on people’s minds. Yet this return is important to me, and I’m sure many others who wouldn’t have expected it: Avalon is updating again, day after day, and in the creator’s own words, “we’ll finally get to see the conclusion the way it was meant to happen.”

Avalon is and always has been a fantastic comic. While a lot of webcomics start off clearly weak – and due to the years of archives, many can see the long, long strides many artists make along the way – Avalon has been solid from the start. Clean distinct art, good self-contained stories, memorable characters – it’s a comic with a tale to tell, and it does it well.

The comic takes place over several years of high school, and deals with the students who attend. There is a lively cast of characters consisting of not just the students, but often their families as well. The story consistently brings out humor and jokes – but also covers all the drama, silliness, depression, love, hate and other crazy and stupid things that are a part of life – both in high school and beyond.

I’m glad to see that it is back, if only to conclude the series properly – and I want to get the word out to anyone who will listen: Avalon has returned! Come back to remember the good old days if you were there for them… or check it out and discover a great new comic just in time to see it wrap things up.

I’m confident you won’t be disappointed.

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Crayon Creation

The Order of the Stick, by Rich Burlew, is a relatively recent success in the world of webcomics. There have been many gaming comics before him, and there have even been numerous rpg-specific gaming comics, but few were able to corner the niche as succinctly as he has. His comic is unique due to his art – we’ll get to that in a moment – but it also completely masters the art of gaming references as few others do.

It helps that the comic takes place entirely within a universe defined by a single game – Dungeons and Dragons. That allows it to have a lot of ‘inside jokes’ that might turn off those with no knowledge of the game. What let’s Rich surpass that is that, in the midst of the constant gaming references and jokes, he’s stealthily weaving an incredibly good story.

We have a ton of characters that readers get to know and love. We have evil twins, heroes that rebel against their expectations, secret backgrounds, unrequited love, and every other cliche in the book. And the fact that they are cliches is half the fun – and makes it all the more entertaining when our expectations are subverted.

The art itself, meanwhile, gives the comic a good bit of charm. The characters are stick-figures, but they are stick-figures done well. The strip is fun to look at, and is occasionally able to do especially nice visual effects through its own special style of art.

Today’s comic is a flashback to the Dawn of Time, which leads right into what appears to be the creation mythos of the comic’s entire world.

And it’s freaking amazing.

The creation myth itself seems, at least thus far, to be one of the best crafted mythologies I’ve ever seen. Coming up not just with alternate pantheons, but recognizing all of the pantheons seperately, as well as how they interact, goes far beyond the care and attention that normally is paid to such things in fantasy gaming universes.

It again emphasizes that Order of the Stick is not just a stack of gaming jokes that uses the comic as a delivery method. The jokes might pull people in, but the story is really what traps the reader there.

So we have this elaborate mythos that is developed, and it is slightly different than the normal art of the strip. Instead of the solid colors and clear lines of the norms, the tale of the history of the world appears in crayon.

Let me say that again – in crayon. Fuzzy, loose, frenetic colors that only mostly stay within the lines.

It’s genius. We have this world of stick-men, so it seems a logical conclusion that the dawn of time was made in crayon – its more primal, more basic, more youthful in this world.

So here is a strip that wins on every count. Cleverly crafted art to backdrop a dynamic and detailed creation mythos. The fact that it does this while ostensibly being a stick-figure comic about a fantasy gaming universe? Just icing on the cake.

Edit: Oh, and Order of the Stick appears to be updating every day this week. Cheers all around!

Funny 1; Drama 0

David Willis has written some of my favorite webcomics. The two for which he is most well known, these days, are It’s Walky and Shortpacked.

The first of these was filled with a powerful and epic storyline, and while it still consistently delivered some incredible doses of humor, at its core it was about the story being told. Characters fought, loved, died, came back to life and died some more. It had intense, serious moments.

The core of the story concluded, and though there is something of a spin-off ongoing, the main tale of It’s Walky ended, whole and complete.

Shortpacked was Mr. Willis’s next endeavor. It was a return to the simple and the silly. It was about the casual life of a bunch of toy store employees, and their world-domination-planning boss. Hijinks ensued, and even with several characters from his previous series around, it was just plain fun. No worries, no melodrama.

And a lot of people liked it for that. They were entertained by the characters, and even more floored by the frighteningly hilarious references to pop-culture or comic book characters.

But more recently there are those who have spoken out, beseeching a return to drama. When a storyline with potentially powerful ramifications concludes with no actual fallout, many readers are upset, feeling cheated out of the story they deserved. The ‘depth and emotion’ that the storyline had seemed to promise them.

The retaliation from Mr. Willis was an entirely new storyline that dove headfirst into drama, and was suddenly full of angst and love triangles and danger. And in an impressive feat of meta-storytelling, one of the characters themselves sees the drama unfolding, and tries as much as they can to restore the humor of the strip, breaking out zany antics and meaningless acts to try and deal with the drama. The attempts, by and large, are unsuccessful – the rest of the characters are too caught up in the drama already for her randomness to do anything other than confuse and hurt them.

Which brings us to today’s strip. Now, I’ll be honest here – up to this point, I haven’t been entirely a fan of the recent storyline. I was disappointed in the previous storyline for building up a moment of drama just to ignore it, and I was bored with the current one as it seemed to go far overboard with the attempts to show the battle between the humor and the drama. It felt, to me, as though the strip was trying too hard to deal with the problem – and rather than just continuing on and doing its own thing, it wanted to address the issue of ‘drama’.

But this last strip?

Floored me.

It captured in a single moment all that is great about both worlds. The batman references – the idea that batman makes anything funny is a long running joke in the strip, and probably the best in my opinion. When I see people quote the comic, they quote one of the batman strips. And here we have a moment that captures that joke at its very core.

Meanwhile, we have a scene of triumph: a moment of intense bad-assitude. But we have it blended perfectly with the most powerful humor in the strip. When I see this comic, I can’t help but feel the urge to both laugh and cheer – I don’t feel worry over the drama or exhaustion at a tired joke. No, I simply see perfection here, of story and humor – and that is something that is very, very rare to find.

Way to go, Mr. Willis. Well done!

How to be a writer: Capture your words now, or lose them forever.

Tonight was a good night to me for a variety of reasons – I completed a lot of random chores and tasks, and the feeling of progress and accomplishment is always a good one. But the evening culminated, as I lay in bed with countless words running through my mind, with a realization.

I am a writer, or at least aspire to be such a creature. But in order to be a writer, I need to write, as successes in the field often tell me.

A writer must go out there every day and write, come hell or high water. Find your story, overcome your excuses, and put words to paper.

Otherwise you aren’t a writer – just some mook with big ideas.

Now, I am working on this writing thing, and plan to make sure I output content on a regular basis, whether it be heaven-sent or the foulest dreck this earth has seen.

But! I realized tonight that a big key to going places is to make sure I put down my thoughts, my words, my ideas when I have them.

I cannot wait a day… or two… or more, and hope to have the same power and emotion as when they first sprang to mind. No, I need to drop such petty tasks as sleep or food or entertainment and write my goddamn words.

It is amazing what relief this discovery brings. And to be honest, I likely will be better off than if I tried to wrestle myself to sleep while the words demanded output, dancing through my brain like a pair of drunken elephants. No, I’ll put these words down and let my mind get some rest as well.

And when I hit the sack in just a few moments, I bet that I won’t have my normal struggle to settle myself enough to sleep. No, my money says I’ll be sleeping like a child. A child pumped full of oh-so-delicious tranquilizing darts.