Everytime I check out Josh L.’s webcomics blog, the title has gotten a little less jubilant. I predict that within a month, the title alone will be a manifesto on the darkness inherent in the webcomic world.
Anyway, Josh has used the blog to, by and large, shake things up a bit, as it were, and give some criticism (some much-needed, some seemingly a bit more for its own sake) on various fictures in the webcomic world.
His latest post is advice for webcartoonists. Some of it is mainly there for shock value – but a lot of it is genuinely stuff people need to hear.
One of the things he stresses is learning to draw better. And… he’s right. I mean, there is almost always room for improvement in any given comic, both artisticly and otherwise. But the web, as a self-published medium, is a place especially filled with work that has room to grow.
This is something that was especially true when the webcomic scene was just beginning. I mean… there are tons of comics that have come far that started with truly deplorable art. College Roomies from Hell is a good example of this – a strip that started with some really rough art, but has become a top dog amongst webcomics. It has has become genuinely well drawn. It was carried along by the story at first, but the artist put in the time and effort, and the strip evolved, and grew, and succeeded.
And there are a lot of cases like that out there, of comics that started poor and then actually became nice looking comics.
Which is why I want to emphasize Lesnick’s advice – learn to draw better. If you think your art is crap, and it will forever limit your webcomic? Don’t give up. Keep at it. Work at making it better. It will get there. You’ll learn from doing your comic all the time, and you’ll learn in other ways that you can apply to the comic. And if, after months of working at improving it, you take an honest look and realize that you’ve only gone from being violently atrocious to being merely craptastic?
Keep at it some more.
The webcomic world is one made for evolution, and as long as an artist has the persistence to endure their own growth – and the drive to make that growth happen – they can join the ranks of all the others who went ahead, regardless of the work… and learned to draw better.
Scott Kurtz of webcomic powerhouse PvP is well known in the webcomic world, both for the quality and accomplishments of his comic, as well as for his willingness to speak his mind frankly on many different topics.
He recently had a story arc in his comic that was nearly a month long, dealing with several of main characters of the strip getting sent back through time and space to interact with the heroes of his previous gang, “Tales by Tavernlight.” It was an impressive attempt, though it came as a surprise when he said it was his first story arc that had lasted that long before.
Thinking back on it, it seems true – he has done a lot of lasting stories before, but they are usually broken up over numerous little arcs. This monthlong plot, in any case, was a good one – I enjoyed the concept, and liked several of the jokes worked into it.
It was only afterwards, when he posted his thoughts on the arc – talking about what he had hoped for it, and how he felt it fell short – that I noticed the ways it could be better. And they were there, sure – some parts of it moved a bit too fast, and left too little room to really see the full interactions between the different casts, or to really reveal the little twists behind it all.
But that said – I did not notice it at the time. I enjoyed the arc. I liked what it did. And for all that it had room to grow, I wouldn’t even have noticed it without Kurtz feeling free to give his thoughts on it and some of the things he cut out in order to get it finished quickly.
I don’t think Kurtz should feel bad about the way the story panned out – and I think, in the end, that sort of personal constructive criticism is a good thing, and is almost always an even more discerning eye than that of a reader.
At the time, I did not have much to say.
Others, by and large, said it all, and that was part of it. Part of it, though, was that… it did not touch me quite as hard as it seemed to hit many.
Which is strange, in a way. All my life, I have been very emotionally invested in characters in fiction, even though I am much more stoic in real-world matters. I can understand, accept, and move on when an actual relative dies, when trauma occurs in my own life. But when that happens to a character in a story, that is when I feel it keenly, that is when the tears come.
But Faye died, and I took it in stride. Oh, I’m not saying I was numb to it – I felt it for what it was. But I was also able to recognize that it could have been so much worse for Faye – to die peacefully in her sleep, after a day spent with the love of her life, before the infirmities of age had crippled them… that is about as good as it gets.
And I’m not saying it wasn’t a tragedy, that it wasn’t sad – but the tragedy, as it all too often is, is for those left behind. And even though her husband Fred recognized that things could be worse, no one can say there wasn’t sorrow in her death for him, and for all those whose lives she touched.
And maybe that is why her funeral is really what got to me. A chance to see those who loved her, or remembered her. Some were familiar faces, others were not – but we saw their emotions, captured with only a few simple lines each. And it hit me, and hit me hard.
There is a lot captured in that page of panels. There is a lot of emotion, and depth, both on the surface and idling underneath.
And in the end, it is a credit to R.K. Milholland’s writing that I felt the death of Faye and reacted in much the way I would in life – quiet acceptance and understanding… but felt true sorrow for all those who were left behind.
Felt sorrow, deep and cutting, at the sheer sense of the loss that they had suffered.
Goats was a comic that I had heard about on numerous occasions before finally getting around to seeing what all the fuss was about, and finding myself surprised that I enjoyed it. Zany antics, some decent character interaction, and a nice evolving art style that was enjoyably active, made for a combination that really grabbed hold of me.
It’s come a long way from where it started, and has recently been undergoing some intense changes, both in the characters and the nature of the strip itself. Much of the past year has been taken up by one storyline – Infinite Typewriters. This is a deep and complex story arc that seems to have intense, lasting implications for the characters. Drama rears its ugly head. Characters are placed at bitter odds with each other, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Goats will never be the same again.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I loved Infinite Typewriters. There has been a slew of interesting concepts throughout this plot that have really engaged me, while the strip still continues to consistently deliver its somewhat absurdist humor. It features my favorite character in the strip, Fineas. It does some remarkable things with other characters, including the change of Diablo the Chicken from the crazy psycho who stirs up trouble in the strip, to the sole remaining voice of reason.
There are great scenes throughout the entire arc – The Lords of Death, the confrontation between Fish and Fineas, the pub stub. All great moments, all the sort of things that were leading me to really crazing on Infinite Typewriters, and eagerly checking each new strip. And it got to the conclusion of the story arc and… and…
And, by and large, I was letdown. Some adversaries were disposed of in an almost offhand fashion, as Toothgnip the Goat and his alien minions are simply portaled away to parts unknown. Oliver and his minions are similarly removed from the picture.
The moment of climax that the story seemed to be building up to was almost casually defused. And suddenly an even more looming threat appears – the universe is unstable. It is threatened by Total Permanent Fatal Shutdown. ‘The Programmer’ must be found to save things, and suddenly all manner of other random characters are popping into the picture in pursuit of unknown ends, and more questions arise than answers. And less than a month after Oliver was banished away – one of the few real resolutions thus far – he is being retrieved.
And, well… I can’t say I’m unhappy with the strip. Even throughout all the crisis going on, the jokes are still funny, the characters are still lively. The most recent strip is a great example of this – “There is no amount of sarcasm that will allow me to adequately express just how terrible this plan is.” I mean, that’s a great line. It’s simply perfect punctuation for the strip, the sort of thing I can really groove on. So the strip is still good, sure.
And yet, you see my hesitance. Long, involved stories are a good thing, but a climax has to come eventually. Perhaps the fault is mine, for expecting the build-up at the end of Infinite Typewriters to result in such a climax. But on some level, only so much build-up and anticipation can be endured before things need to reach some level of closure. And with so many open-ended questions being added into the picture, I am unsure how long this plot will continue, and whether it will continue to be able to sustain itself as it goes.
I’m not going away, of course. The strip still has a lot to keep me there, and keep me enjoying parts of it. But the anticipation I was feeling over the storyline is starting to fester, and turn more into tedious expectation. And I don’t want that to be the way I’m looking at this story I’ve been enjoying.
So I’m going to stick with it, and see what happens – and it might be that things become clearer and quicker, and I get pulled back in kicking and screaming.
Nothing to do at this point, but wait and see what Rosenberg is going to come up with next.
Suffice to say that Narbonic manages to succeed on pretty much every count. It consistently delivers a comic nearly every day of the week, with enjoyable, clean and lively artwork, an incredibly engaging story, and a exceedingly clever and quirky brand of humor. It has pretty much mastered the art of the comic strip, and there are few others out there that can rival it’s perfection.
Now then, on to the current events of the strip. Narbonic has never been one to shy away from drama, in as much as main characters are constantly getting killed, coming back to life, falling in love, and being polymorphed into all manner of things.
Recently, however, the strip has done the unthinkable – Dave and Helen, the two main attractions, who provided the height of sexual tension, finally got together, and were enjoying lovely bliss and the occasional kinky lesbian sex.
Now, most comics, once they eliminate a tension that is at the heart of a strip like this, need to find a way to bring conflict back in. Conflict can’t be resolved, after all! The audience doesn’t want to just read about daily lovey-dovey stuff! (Well ok, maybe they want to read about the lesbian sex, but that is irrelevant to the point.) But in general, people want action, want tension, want commotion. New developments need to occur. Drama must bloom again!
So it is in Narbonic – though in this case, it manifests as a lot more conflicts being resolved. The worries over whether Dave will need to be eliminated to save the future, whether his mad scientist genes will rise to the surface, whether Helen can handle him while they are in a relationship, are all dealt with… by dismissing him. The core premise of the strip – that Dave, an ordinary comp-sci guy is taken aboard at a laboratory for evil science – has ended. It has been degrading for a while – especially the ‘ordinary’ part about Dave, but now it has fallen apart.
(Admittedly, it has done so to degrees before, such as when he died, or they got dragged off to various parts unknown, or so forth. But this isn’t an ending leading off into another beginning – this is an ending leading off into an ending.)
Now, I’m not so silly as to actually think that. I’m sure we all are pretty confident that the plan to have Dave leave the ‘mad science life’ and go on to an ordinary job just won’t work. I also suspect that the other likely scenario of what might happen when a guy like Dave – being a technological (evil) genius with a developing gift for mad science – goes through circumstances like this – having his whole world overturned, his heart broken, and his life of adventure abandon him. (I mean, really, did the gang at the labs honestly think this was the safest way to make sure Dave didn’t go insane? Well, I suppose it was the safest way to ensure he didn’t go insane near them.)
But as tempting as it is to think that Dave will fall into his evil genius powers and go on a rampage, I suspect the actual hijinks will be something else entirely – Shannon Garrity has a gift for taking the stories in unexpected ways that seem the perfect path nonetheless.
In any case, I have to give props to her. A lot of strips, when they had achieved the zen of comic perfection that she has, wouldn’t shake it up with this crazy thing called drama.
But Narbonic not only does it, but does it well – every development seems to move along without feeling forced, overdone, or out of the blue.
Hmm, I guess this turned into a rave review of Narbonic anyway. Ah well, some things are meant to be.
It has been one of my favorite strip for years, and the sole motivation for my subscription to Modern Tales. Narbonic might not throw its weight around in the webcomic world, but its influence is there nonetheless – if nothing else, as an inspiration and a role model of how to do a comic right.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is, in my opinion, the Far Side’s evil twin. Yes, with goatee and everything.
There are more and more comics cropping up based on this type of humor – jokes that are essentially based on twisting and subverting expectations. Some of them work well, some of them fall flat.
SMBC does it’s job well. The format is simple and straightforward – typically a single panel, oftentimes with a caption beneath it.
The amount it is able to accomplish with that is pretty staggering, on the other hand. Most of the jokes are of the ‘delayed punch’ variety – you see the strip, register what it says or shows, and then a moment or two later, the joke hits you. The humor is often dark and sometimes cruel – but then, most humor is in some form or another.
Then, on the other hand, we’ve got the Perry Bible Fellowship. Pretty much the same approach – take a concept, turn it on its head, often in dark but still humorous ways. The big difference is that each of these strips are three panels long.
Now, I love both these comics. They aren’t afraid to throw punches, and even if I might end up somewhat horrified by half the comics they deliver, it’s usually while laughing for several minutes over it regardless. It feels somewhat sinful to enjoy their brand of humor, but that somehow makes it all the more enticing.
But I can also see the various differences that their styles make. The Perry Bible Fellowship strips come off as much more refined, and the humor is also a lot more built-up – which makes for a much softer punch when it comes. There is often more of a general recognition of the clever nature of the comic, rather than really full-blown ribaldry.
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, on the other hand, is much more crude – but at the same time, this gives it a lot of its charm. The jokes are often a lot more intense, and a lot more likely to get a sudden laugh out of me once they hit.
In the end, both are freaking hilarious comics, and well worth a shot – and if you enjoy one, you are pretty likely to take to the other one as well.
Sometimes one has to be cruel to be kind, and I know that despite the fact that I was horrified by both of them the first time I perused the archives, I just keep coming back for more…
So I’m right in the middle of a very enjoyable fantasy series.
Stop me if any of this sounds familiar:
So the world is threatened by a god of darkness, who was cast out from his own kind for his defiance against them.
Ages have come and past, and his power has been held back every time by the combined forces of men and elves.
Once again he is a threat, and a Company goes forth to lead the Bearer into the heart of his lair, where they will perform a small task to defeat him.
Along the way the Company is split up, and the Bearer must continue on his quest with only one companion for support.
The Wizard is lost, but returns reborn as the White Rider. He rejoins the armies of men and elves, who are led under the banner of a King without a land, the last son of his line who will lead the armies agains the Enemy and usher in a new age of peace.
Only…. the Company, the Wizard, the King, and all those folks above?
They’re the bad guys.
The Sundering, by Jacqueline Carey, is an excellent story that takes place over two novels. Despite the similarities, it isn’t simply The Lord of the Rings told from the enemy’s perspective. The similarities are there, but they are superficial at best.
At its heart, it is its own story. It is filled with unique and flavorful characters, many of whom remind us of typical fantasy archetypes, but many of whom are also developed and distinct beyond that. Good and evil are turned on their head, and the reader is rooting for the ‘forces of darkness’ to prevail.
The idea of perverting darkness and light is not a new one – it has been done before, both in the extreme and in the specific.
Villains by Necessity, by Eve Forward, takes such a role to the extreme – a handful of villains must band together, as the world is in danger of being consumed by the goodness that has overtaken it, and utterly destroyed. They must fight their way to the place where the armies of evil were sealed away, and release them and restore the balance. It is a very good read, and above all a fun book – clever, humorous, and quick with the action. But at the same time, such a perversion of good and evil is much easier to handle when placed in such a light-hearted setting.
Anti-heroes, and redeemed villains, are also present all over the place – from the Punisher, a hero who murders those who do wrong, to Drizzt Do’Urden, the inspiration for countless bland ‘dark elves who have seen the light’ in role-playing games everywhere. These characters have become archetypes in and of themselves, just like the villain who ‘was just trying to do the right thing’.
And these aren’t bad characters, of course. Roles of such built-in conflict present massive potential for character development, especially when done well.
Which is why it is all the more impressive when an entire world is turned on its head in the self-same way.
The Sundering is a well-written story. It is a serious fantasy work, and a genuinely enjoyable literary read. And while many other tales have toyed with twisting the idea of good and evil, very few have done it on such a level, or done it so well. The fact that I can only recall one other such novel off the top of my head (Villains by Necessity) emphasizes this.
One of the curses that has come upon me since pursuing a career in writing has been gaining much more knowledge and awareness of books – and thus I was forced to admit that many of the books I read were not actually all that good. I am now all too aware of when I read bad writing – or writing that was put out just to cater to the masses. And in many ways I miss being able to just grab some of the random shlocky pulp fantasy works that are mass produced, and enjoy the read.
But at the same time, I am that much more able to appreciate good writing.
And regardless of what definitions of good or evil are being used, I certainly find that I can very much appreciate the work of Jacqueline Carey.
Dominic Deegan was once one of my favorite webcomics. I loved the little references to Dungeons and Dragons. I loved the rich fantasy environment, set against the humble and dour protaganist. The idea of a seer who saw his gift as a curse is nothing new, but one who saw it as such because he was constantly pestered by people looking for answers was a brilliant take on it.
Dominic Deegan was clever and silly and cute, and I loved it. And then the epic hit.
It was more than just one storyline – stories begin piling up, each one raising the stakes and getting more involved than the last. Eventually the fate of the world was at hand, and I? I found myself preferring the good old days.
I can hardly call down Mookie for raising the storyline to such an immense level. I recall my own days as a Game Master, and how easy it is to accept the insatiable urge to create a story of epic proportions. It feels culminating to do so – a chance to see the characters forged in blood and sacrifice, and triumph over evil and destruction!
And Dominic Deegan had its epic storyline, and the title character saved the world from danger.
And things died down, and we had some calm. We dealt with the aftermath of the event, and overall, things were nice again for a while.
But recently things are changing. We seem to be building back up towards chaos and commotion.
But my concerns, by and large, were seperate from those of most others. The rape itself – and the motives behind it and its placement in the story – weren’t what bugged me. What I was concerned at was the fact that people in the comic suddenly seemed to be acting out of character.
The basic story going on here (Spoilers ahead):
Melsheena, an orc prone to temper and emotion, is confronted by someone she has not seen in ages – Stonewater, an orc who, many years ago, raped her when they both were youths.
He is accompanied by two friends – Grench, an orc female, and Bulgak, an orc infernomancer (demon-serving warlock).
We see her approach him, remembering the rape – and, surprisingly, forgive him for what happened. The event seemed, in ways, to be over – for closure to have been found for them (even if the backstory remained unexplained to us.)
Moments later, when discussing a completely seperate issue (Bulgak and his being a filthy demon worshipper), she suddenly drags the rape back up and throws it out in the open. Tempers flare, people get assaulted for sometimes almost no reason, and we have the entire story dragged out in front of us.
And it pissed me off. Because it had seemed like these characters started acting irrationally simply so that there was an excuse to have a flashback, and to give us the backstory of these characters. It seemed, in short, like bad storytelling – that the author wasn’t able to figure out how to naturally introduce the story, so forced it out in front. And no one else seemed to notice it – all the discussion going on was focused on the story itself and the message it might be giving, not on the actual development of the plot. And that was what frustrated me about the entire storyline.
Only… I was wrong. The characters were acting crazy, and confrontational, and violent… because they were being manipulated by demons. (Who woulda thought?) And it makes sense, and it works because the characters seemed so out of line and irrational.
And it is part of the lead-up to this next big story arc – the War in Hell. And obviously it is getting epic again – demon lords duking it out, the reappearance of several old favorite villains, from the remorseless killers to the ones who were just trying to make things right.
And as for me? I find myself desperately eager to see it. God help me, I want this epic story. I want to see what happens with these villains and fallen heroes. And part of it is that Mookie seems to have a special gift for making some villains that you can’t help cheering for (though that’s a seperate essay that I’ll break out on down the road.)
But a lot of it is just that the current nature of the series has really caught up to me – the characters are powerful now, and you can’t really go back to the ordinary after going through that sort of change.
So we have the War in Hell coming up, and all I can find myself doing is looking forward to it. I want to know more about the old characters who will be involved. I want to know more about some of the new characters, like Bulgak the Infernomancer.
I guess what I’m saying is that… well, Mr. Mookie, sir… I really like what you’re doing right now, and just wanted to let you know, I’m eager to see what’s coming.
I’ve come back to the fold.