Monthly Archives: May, 2006

Build Your Own Government

Several of my friends recently directed me to NationStates.

The site is based off of a book, Jennifer Government, wherein corporations run the world. It looks like an engaging book, but that is neither here nor there.

What the website itself allows one to do is to create a country. Upon creation, you define it by answering a variety of questions – and from there, it calculates how your country does, in terms of civil rights, economy, political freedoms, and so forth. You continue to recieve issues that you must take a stance on (though that stance can be to ignore them outright.)

Based on your decision, your country changes in the appropriate fashion.

I like it. I don’t know, persay, how accurate the calculations behind it all are. But it is a nice conceptual game, and I thought I would direct others to it.

Whatever code runs the show, however, does seem to have a distinct lack of knowledge regarding habitation, as it announced that my country’s national animal, the dolphin, “frolics freely in the nation’s many lush forests.”

But you can’t win them all, I suppose.

Birds of a feather

A confession: I do not read Dinosaur Comics, by Ryan North.

I have nothing against those comics, mind you. I am quite tickled by the concept of it all – I was simply never able to get into it.

Part of it, perhaps, is the intimidating archive, especially given the nature of the material. I know, I know – I wouldn’t need to get into the archive to read the strip. There isn’t continuity to worry about, or storylines to follow. Each strip is self-sustaining, and I could join the readership anytime, anywhere.

But the strips I read didn’t really work for me, and it didn’t feel like it would be a complete comic without acknowledging the archives.

Hence, I’ve never read Dinosaur Comics.

But there is a newcomer in town.

Birdsworth BeginsBirdsworth Comics, done by fellow webcomic’s blogger Gilead Pellaeon, has just begun.

This is good, see.

Right now there is one – count ’em, one – strip in the archives.

That’s a surmountable challenge.

The strip itself looks good. Gilead chose a very, very nice piece of artwork to use – bright, colorful, full of action. I can tell that I will enjoy looking at the image itself, regardless of the content – and while it is easy to assume that a comic like this (where the focus is on the writing) could care less about art, you can’t forget that whatever images you choose will be used, day-in and day-out, forevermore. (Or close enough, in any case.)

So, a good piece of artwork. The first one is also well written, which in no way hurts. I know from his blogging that Gilead is a high class writer, so I have confidence in his abilities to continue producing such quality.

The birds themselves establish an exceptional amount of personality in just the first strip. I don’t know if the strip will be engaging in such shenanigans as continuity… but it is still nice to have some actual flavor to the characters.

In any case, I’m excited about one of these fixed art strips, especially one full of such promise, starting while I can get in on the ground floor.

He’s already got a month long buffer, which is a sure sign of professionalism. My webcomic reading time is at a premium these days, and I have been trying to trim down, rather than expand, my list – but Birdsworth easily found itself a spot. Here’s looking forward to more to come!

Baby Ninjas in My Beard

First off, I just noticed the Sam and Max personal comic generator, and thought it was pretty rad. It’s a nice little thing for folks to play around with, and though my own skills aren’t enough to produce any works of art from it, it may still be worth giving a whirl.

The Sam and Max comic itself is somewhat interesting. I’ve never played the Sam and Max games or known anything of their characters, so this was my first introduction to them. As such, areas of the comics are rather unsurprisingly like being tossed into the middle of a bizarre dream.

That said, they are fun characters, and I like the wacky absurdity of it all. So maybe I’ll have to hunt those games down and give them a try.

Speaking of crazy stories, I’ve been liking Spells and Whistles of late. This was one of my favorite comics, and then it vanished, and then it came back in a different form, and then that stopped and the original started again. So yeah, chaos.

Perhaps as a result of all that (in addition to a change in writers), the plot has gone stark raving mad (not, albeit, necessarily in a bad way), and changed gears several times.

Fortunately, regardless of where the plot is going, the characters stay fresh and the jokes stay funny, and that’s really all I’m asking for.

A Smashing Success

Alcoholistic!
Now, I’ll preface this by saying that I am not, by any stretch of the imagination, much of a drinker. Upon turning 21, I very safely got drunk a single time for the experience, and since then have only dabbled in the beverage arts.

So, my appreciation of such things is lower than most. That said, I’m quite engaged by the latest little barhopping spree in Nukees. I still don’t know what is exactly going on in the big picture, but there are lots of little things to savor – in particular the well dressed gentleman who enjoys a midmorning brew, and the use of such terms as “bartrendresses” and “alcoholistic.”

I don’t have anything of especial wit to say about them, sadly. But Nukees has had me grinning a good bit of late, so I figured, hey! Why not share the love?

A Curious Thing

Today’s Count Your Sheep is not a new joke. The curiousity of children is something I’ve seen referenced in any number of places, something you expect in any tale of youthful mischief.

And yet, the strip is still good. It’s a new take on something classic. It works, even for all that the punchline is to be expected.

Perhaps that is one of the reasons I am such a fan of CYS – it takes standard little pieces of philosophy and merriment, and brings them to life through its own unique view.

People have compared it well to Calvin and Hobbes, which was know for doing the same, and I can’t disagree with that comparison.

My best friend is a huge fan of Count Your Sheep. He is a gamer (once a goth), fond of dark humor, intense games, and the like – but this is one of his comics of choice.

He is a math teacher at an all girls school. He can hardly go to his workplace and post strips from comics like Something Positive or Penny Arcade.

But Count Your Sheep? Simply perfect. I think he appreciates the fact that he can share a webcomic he likes with that environment. That there is a webcomic that transcends communities in that way.

So keep it up, Adrian Ramos. The strip is as good as when it started, and I think we can all appreciate that.

Portrait of the Artist as a Shadowy Octopus Man

Lies and Peace. As mentioned last week, I’ve been meaning to do a heavy review of My Nemesis.

First, though, I think I’ll read back through the archives to really get myself back up to speed.

…alrighty, all set. It’s a quick read – the full archives only take around 20 minutes. Being less then a year old, and with fast moving comics, makes it a surprisingly smooth read.

So. My first introduction to the comic was through a scathing review that loosely detailed how every aspect of the comic was a failure.

Given that, it might be surprising I decided I liked the comic so much.

Well then. Let’s take a look at the reasons why. It’s hardly a perfect comic, but there most assuredly are a lot of aspects that really work well.

In my humble opinion, at least.

ART:

Ok, I like the art. I really dig the art. Even from the start, when the strip was just a strict four panel formula, I liked the look of the characters. I liked how well the artist conveyed emotions despite exceedingly simple facial designs. And I liked that even early on, he made good use of color, even if it didn’t always seem to fit the scene’s mood.

More recently, the art has grown. There is a good reason for the change, and I’ll get into that later – but I don’t think there is any denying that right now, there is a helluva lot of visual elegance in his strip. The art is powerful and dynamic, and the artist seems inclined to keep pushing exactly how much he can accomplish with it.
Kal's Shadow.
DESIGN:

There is, in many ways, a sense of the surreal abounding in the strip.

Kal himself, the main character, is first presented as… a strange shadowy figure. Clad in a massive cloak of shadows, his appendages invisible save for his gloves, with not the slightest explanation – or even recognition – of his appearance.

So yeah, kinda weird.

The strip continues with that sort of thing. There are peculiarities to the world that are taken as granted. Sure, Kal’s a creepy shadow-man. Sure, he’s a genius and built his own city – and hey! No worries, his roommate tossed together a teleportation unit.

The same element of the surreal and the exaggerated continues throughout the strip – and, for me at least, it is a nice touch. I like the sense of fancy, and I like the way it shows up without any expectation of acknowledgement.

CHARACTERS:

One of the critiques I’ve seen is that the characters in My Nemesis are two dimensional and unrealistic.

To some extent, that is true, at least for the majority of the story. Kal is dark, Rob is dorky, Gabe plays video games and Truman smokes weed. Etc.

That said – they work well together. They have plenty of scenes that do, in fact, remind me of real people. They have the same casual banter that I see with my friends, and for all the differences despite that, it resonates.

I don’t expect every character to walk into the picture with a complicated backstory. Depth of substance does not define realism.

There is… change, as the stories go on. We see glimpses of character here and there – and, due to the speed of the story, it almost seems forced, over the top. I mean, we’ve never seen the characters do anything other than bitch at each other, why would they start showing emotion now?

But I like it. Most of the time friends hang out, they show their joking sides and not much more. That doesn’t mean more character isn’t there – one of the very points at hand is that the comic, up to that point, almost willfully ignored the depth of its characters.

The speed at which it did a turn around may have been a bit fast – but given the pacing, the story and character growth holds up surprisingly well.

And taken by themselves, those screenshots of Gabe and Truman showing emotion are pretty powerful little pieces.

Still, let’s put them aside. They are secondary characters – what about the main focus of the strip?

Kal himself… is a different story. His deliverance also seems too forceful, too cliche – and after it is done, it remains hard to get a grasp on him. He seems to almost be trying too hard to show how he has changed.

Kal started out as an asshole from the start. He bitched at his girlfriend, his friends. He was arrogant. He expected the world to hand itself over to him.

It is hard to accept a sudden character shift into a giving, generous human being.

But I don’t think that is what happened.

See, I know a lot of folks who sometimes are assholes. Interesting people often are.

I don’t think Kal has magically transformed into someone who will shower hope and joy over the world. I suspect he still has plenty of arrogance, and plenty of willingness to screw with his enemies – or even folks he merely has contempt for.

I think he is trying to show that he can look out for other people, but I suspect, at heart, that will by and large just extend to his friends. That the asshole within is still there – but tempered by a bit more understanding of relationships.

We’ll see. But I don’t think his own development has been as one-sided or cliche as it truly appears.

And of course, the final character of the hour – Rob.

Poor Rob.

I can sympathize with the guy. He’s the nice one, the responsible one. He’s the one who looks out for his friends, and the ones who gets the most shit from them.

And his best friend, Kal, goes off and vanishes. His other friends don’t seem to especially care about him, even when he’s confronted by heavy moral dilemmas.

Poor Rob.I really was wondering how Rob would turn out, after being made beautiful by Hollywood.

I almost was expecting him to actually come out… bolstered.

As someone who could stand on his own, whether he ended up siding with the ‘evil’ of hollywood, or his old friends.

But no.

As ever, Rob is the victim, and things turned out about as badly as could be.

But for all that Hollywood seems to have twisted and corrupted him here, there is the feeling of truth in some of the words he says.

Sounds like character to me.

The story is called My Nemesis. It never really provides exactly who that nemesis is. Is it the readership that demands satisfaction? Is it Kal himself, his own worst enemy? Is it Rob, now Kal’s worst enemy?

Or has it been that Kal, the hero, has been Rob’s worst enemy all along?

I don’t think the question has been fully answered, yet. And it might be that any number of possibilities could all be true.

But pondering the question gets me thinking, and that is a good thing from any comic.

BACKGROUND:

A lot of the strip is based on the author. Ken Krekeler has said himself he set out with the intent to create a fast and easy strip to make buckets of money.

It didn’t work out so well.

He might have been able to do it, if he didn’t have such immediate expectations. He had the formula down pretty well – a bunch of witty characters, who sat around gaming, doing crazy hijinks, with various superhero jokes and humorous anachronisms.

And the jokes are good. Not every one is a grand slam, but he hits a punchline well, and writes the sort of dialogue that makes the reader consistently chuckle.

But, as mentioned… he thought the fame and fortune would come in instantly. And when it didn’t, he got tired of pandering to the perceived audience, and instead decided to do the comic for himself.

Guess what? I think it is a better comic by far. You can see it in the art – he let himself indulge his inspiration. You can see it in the story – for all of its cliches, it was still compelling. And it practically invited the cliches, and indulged in them – much as the art itself and setting were exaggerated and symbolic, so were the characters, so was the plot. Sure, webcomics aren’t necessarily meant to be taken this seriously – but in the world of the story, they are. And that’s ok.

I like a lot of the little touches in the comic. I like Kalbot’s attitude. I like that the Wiseman accepts Kal’s offering of art.

I like the almost unrecognized appearance of Marla.

It isn’t a perfect comic. More of the development could have been drawn out. Some of the behavior is too forceful. Some of the philosophy is overdone.

But it’s a fun read. It has a lot of potential. It has developed into a good story, and it is hard to say how far it will go from here – I know the author has an ending planned, but I don’t know when or where.

So it may not be perfect, but I like it. And as always – I like to focus on the good, rather than the bad.

Ken Krekeler may not have attained instant fame and fortune through his comic.

But he draws cartoons that make people laugh and make people think.

That’s a good thing. That’s worth being proud of.

Friday Frenzy.

Man, I had all this stuff to talk about, and now can’t remember half of it. Isn’t that how it always goes?

Let’s see, let me take a quick glance through my notes…

1) Holy Cameo Crossover, Batman! Word on the street is that the two mac users are Penny Arcade’s Gabe and Tycho (the real ones. Not the pixel ones.) The truth of that is yet to be seen, but I can certainly see hijinks ensuing.

That aside, I also really liked yesterday’s comic, or more specifically, the way Jade and Miranda talk at each other, rather than to each other.

Also, I just took a look at the PvP Cast Page (which I rarely glance at), and was impressed by its quality. Gimmicks are a good thing, folks.

2) While we’re mentioning all the big names: Sluggy Freelance!

I am still reserving my final judgement on the current storyline. It is exactly what fans have been asking for, without being exactly what they have actually wanted. We’ve had some good stuff and some bad stuff, and it still has a lot of potential to go in either direction.

But what I am really digging is the art. As usual, Abrams is more than willing to flex his artistic muscles. It can be really easy to look over Sluggy art as less refined than other comics, especially during random daily strips – but the comic has a style of its own, and Abrams really takes things to a whole new level during intense storylines.

So I might not yet know where the story is going, but I’m definitely enjoying the ride.

3) Let’s go from the big names to the almost unknown ones: My Nemesis. (No, not Nemesis. Not Mnemesis either. Yeah, I get confused too.)

My Nemesis was introduced to me in a somewhat unusual fashion. Those others I discovered through pretty positive feedback in the web community (Nemesis through the artist’s connection collaborating with Burns of Websnark fame, and Mnemesis from having a cameo of a character from It’s Walky.)

But this comic, instead, I first learned of through the most painfully aggressive review possible.

It was rather surprising when, after the review sent me to check out this terrible comic… I discovered I actually kinda liked it. I actually really kinda liked it.

There is a guest comic today talking about some of the changes in the comic – in the look, in the movement from humor to drama, and so forth. It felt like a good time to mention it. The comic is at a definite turning point, and it has left me with a lot of things to ponder – hopefully I’ll get up a full review of it next week.

Well, I feel like I’ve tortured everyone enough for today. I seem to be in recovery from my allergies (the year-old medicine did the job frighteningly well… almost diabolically well.) So hopefully next week I’ll have my groove back and be able to get some more competent writing out here.

Till then, keep on keeping on… and don’t forget Free Comic Book Day!

Celebration!

Just a notice that it is Online Comics Day 2006!

I imagine it comes as no surprise to most readers that there are, in fact, comics on the web. But nonetheless – it is still a nice occasion to celebrate.

So go out and hug a webtoonist today!

The patriotic screams are a nice touch, I thought.

Pacing is key to a good comic. It is key to humor, and it is key to drama.

And, unsurprisingly, it is the key to blending the two.

Sure.
Despite how much I tend to be turned off by heavy politics in comics, Southworth’s latest story-arc has been easily holding my attention. I wasn’t expecting things to escalate to the sort of action at hand, but I can’t argue with how well it has been executed – or how perfect the entire thing is brought together in this strip.

It helps that a harbor a private joy in using the word “sure” to confound my enemies – but that is a story for another time. For right now, this strip really works wonders. I don’t know whether to break down laughing, or stay glued to attention to find out what happens next. And I get the same thing every time I look at the comic.

It can be easy to make a comic do what you want, to toss out an easy punchline that works once. But coming up with a comic that still holds the punch even once already read?

Now that’s good stuff.

Another Short Post…

Nothing from me today, as I am busy having my ass kicked by allergies.

All hope is not lost! I have discovered a cache of allergy medicine I had secreted away. It is, admittedly, a year old, but the label says it doesn’t expire for another week! So hey, what’s the worst that could happen?

I’ll be sure to let you folks know if I end up with some hideous freak mutation. I’ll post pics, even!

In any case, I’ll be back tomorrow in strength (and hopefully sans mutations.)