I think it is pretty commonly agreed that Queen of Wands was a hell of a comic – so good, in fact, that it ran a second time with commentary for those who couldn’t get enough of it.
So here I am, getting the word out.
The one thing that I am sad about is that the strip is black and white. Don’t get me wrong – the art looks great, and I’ve been a longtime fan of Striptease, wherein Chris Daily does some amazing things in black and white.
But Queen of Wands was one of those comics that really felt alive, and in large part thanks to the brilliant use of color.
That said, given the overload of work the artist is involved in, I certainly can’t find fault in the quality of the strip. And I’m certainly looking forward to many more comics to come.
It’s a fun little tale, and delivered as brilliantly as usual. People ask me why I like Penny Arcade, and even occasionally accuse me of rapid fandom, but I’ll hold by my guns – these guys have the comic art down. Even aside from my particular enjoyment of Gabe’s art and Tycho’s writing, I find the rhythm of the strip to be invariably spot-on.
But what struck me the most, in the latest two installments, was that I had several moments of pondering whether or not the plan proposed in the strip was grounded in reality. It’s a foolish, ludicrous thought – but immersed in the grand vision of what Penny Arcade has become, it seems almost tangible.
I’ll get back to why that is possible in a few moments. For now, let me make mention that I picked up a copy of the Warsun Prophecies.
As with their previous books, it is an unsurprisingly quality – and professional – piece of work. The only thing that astounds me is how fast they are coming out with these, without even any noticeable slowdown in their production of new strips.
But aside from the book itself, what caught my attention was the bonus feature in the last few pages – some previews of concept art on their upcoming video game, On the Rain Slick Precipice of Darkness. It’s pretty brilliant stuff – the game is set in New Arcadia, a humble city in 1920s America, no doubt infested with hobos, gangsters, and more.
What especially stood out, though, was the following statement: “Rather than simply licensing the property to a developer and then standing back while they make the game, we’re actually partnering with Hot Head and making the game together. That means Tycho and I are writing the entire thing and I’m doing all the concept artwork.”
So, obviously, that both bodes well for the game itself, and again, leaves me wondering how they have the time to accomplish all of this. (Enslaved colonies of clones? Diabolical machinations? Potential radical temporal manipulation?)
The big realization, though, was that I expected the game to rock. To rock hard. Which wouldn’t seem so weird… if I didn’t realize how little faith I had in other webcomic pros similarly branching out into new areas.
The foreward of the book is by Scott Kurtz, and is a clearly tongue-in-cheek attack on the success of Penny Arcade over PvP (along with a brief shot at Ctrl-Alt-Del.) And yet, for all of Scott’s cracks at Ctrl-Alt-Del, and his claims that PvPs animated series was going to blow Buckley out of the water… he failed to deliver.
Oh, the PvP animated series isn’t bad. It also has barely even started – I’m sure it will ramp up as they polish the show and get into their proper rhythm. But I am confident that even at it’s best, it won’t blow me out of my shoes. It will be a nifty little novelty, but not ground-breaking. A nice addition to the strip itself, something for the dedicated fan to enjoy, but that’s about it. And, generally, all I can see from most similar endeavors from many and sundry webcomics out there.
Somehow, Penny Arcade inspires a much higher level of faith in what they can accomplish. Partly because of what they have already accomplished. The most readers of any webcomic, by a landslide, if I remember my numbers right. Child’s Play. PAX. And, yes, it helps that they have the weight to through around to get something like this done.
But having the ability to make it happen isn’t as important as having the drive to make it happen right – and that’s what I’ve got faith in.
That’s why, if they said they were going to sit down and open their own utopia of a gaming arcade, I’d take them at their word. And I know for damn sure there isn’t any other webcomic that would get the same response from me.
Sure, they aren’t perfect – for one thing, they need to fix their archives into a slightly more functional state. (Read: a state wherein navigating feels more like searching for strips, and less like wading through a rabid pack of mutant weasels.)
But damn, New Arcadia is gonna rock.
So I’m recovering from a weekend of gaming my health away, the WCCAs are out and the usual deliverances of injustice have occured, Sluggy is only a day away from a dramatic reveal whose countdown has thoroughly sapped my interest in the matter, and yet… overall, I’m content.
Even better, he’s actually got several months of solid, consistent updates, which is pretty good evidence for the continuance of said solid, consistent updates.
So that’s pretty darn good news.
My apologies for the brevity in updates – hopefully I’ll be back to a more regular schedule once I stop feeling like I’ve been repeatedly bludgeoned into senselessness.
Today, I rant.
I normally tend to look for the positive in a comic rather than the negative. Given that you don’t (usually) pay for webcomics, pointing out bad ones to ‘steer people away’ doesn’t strike me as quite as effective a service as it is for critics in other fields. I’d rather, say, point people towards the good stuff, right off the bat.
But the last few days have been a major pain, what with ice, ice, more ice, and the occasional spider.
So you get a rant.
When I do tend to focus on the weaknesses of a strip, I tend to focuses on strips that have promise despite those weaknesses. Like I said – singling out an irredeemably horribly strip is pointless. A strip that has potential, if it can overcome one tiny hurdle or another.
In this case, Trouble Konflik might have potential, or it might not. For the last six months that the strip has been updating, I have been entirely unable to discern what is happening or whether it is interesting or not. That in and of itself should be a sign something is wrong.
Now, let me pause for a moment, and read through the archives…
There is currently just over one chapter updated. And, reading it in one fell swoop… it’s actually not that bad. The art is really cool, with vibrant and engaging character designs. The plot… well, hard to say, as the story is exceptionally slow-moving.
Which is the problem. Or part of the problem, at least. A story doesn’t have to move fast to be good – but Trouble Konflik is relatively unique, in that each update consists of no more than one. single. panel.
There are good single-panel strips out there, sure – but they are gag strips. A new joke every update. They don’t have to deal with the struggle to tell a story, because you can’t tell a story with one context-less frame every week. It is completely incapable of conveying the necessary information to actually understand – let alone enjoy – the story being told.
Until I read through the archives today, my impression of Trouble Konflik was essentially a memory of watching a slideshow of disjointed images. Indeed, there were times when I wasn’t sure if it was updating with a story, or just… sketches, filler, meaningless images. I could not tell.
That, I say, tells me there is a problem at hand.
Reading the archives – having the entire story on a single page – is a different situation entirely.
And, sure – anyone reading the strip can skim back through the archive with every update, to refresh themselves on what is going on. And once they’ve done so enough, it will probably start to fall more into place with each strip – though some will still feel empty on their own.
When a strip relies both on what comes before for the entirety of its context, and what comes after, and is presented independent of either of those, it isn’t a strip at all. It is nothing.
That’s the tragedy of Trouble Konflik. Looking back through the archives, I can see a promising tale. But I read it for half a year without getting anything out of it. A newcomer, glancing at the latest strip, will be completely lost. Sure, the archives are there, but isn’t the purpose of a strip that updates on the web to be about the updates, not the archives?
The strip is just now starting to hit its stride – from what I understand, just starting to see newly crafted pages (panels) twice a week. Which is great – if anyone is still reading. If anyone will continue to remain reading.
The solution is a simple one – don’t update one page at a time. Cut the updates from twice a week to twice a month, and update four panels in one fell swoop. Update, basically, with one full page at a time – or hey, only update three or four times a year, but give a full chapter every shot. It might seem like less output – but it would be output that a person could actually read.
The whole is more than the sum of its parts. Alone, they are nothing more than pretty pictures. Together, they tell a story. Which is the goal of the comic? That’s the decision that has to be made.
As a reader of what is, in all honesty, far too many webcomics, I tend to find myself often trying to share my favorite strips with my friends. Occasionally I manage to spread a winner like xkcd through the whole crowd – occasionally I’ll ramble on about Cigarro and Cerveja, and everyone will just smile and nod.
It was something of a surprise when one of my friends gave me a taste of my own medicine, and told me – repeatedly – to read Storm Corps.
I’m ashamed to say I didn’t listen to her for months.
Partly because I already read – as previously established – far too many webcomics. I’m doing my best to keep my list manageable – adding another to the pile is just asking for trouble.
But nonetheless, I keep stumbling across ones that I just can’t say no too, and trying to find the time in the day to keep track of them all.
Hence, when I finally got around to taking a look at Storm Corps, I resigned myself to yet another addition to the list.
Storm Corps is science fiction that I can get behind. It has just the right amount of action and deliberation, it is filled with its own nifty brands of sci-fi tech, and it has interesting – and mysterious – otherwordly happenings shrouded behind it all.
The art is gorgeous (I’m a sucker for pretty much anything fully colored and developed.) The characters are distinct, the premise is great.
Most of all, it leaves me wanting more. The second major story arc has just kicked off, and I’m even more desperate to find out what is going on. There is a ton of things currently up in the air, I’ve got no idea what is going on behind the curtain, and I’m loving every moment of it. That’s a very nice trick to pull off.
If you like a good story and good art, and a fair share of almost psuedo-mystical science fiction, check it out. And hey, if you feel up to it – tell your friends, too.
Of late, Modern Tales has definitely been winning me back.
The site’s design remains… well, not what I would expect from something calling itself “professional webcomics.” Navigating to the latest updates requires extra clicks, trying to determine if you missed updates requires checking every strip one by one, and the design itself is a tad cluttered.
But, you know – I can live with that. Because MT has finally gotten it’s groove back, with a ton of new content that seems perfect for the site. Being able to load the page and see over a half-dozen updates a day? That means the site is alive, and that is totally awesome.
The latest additions in particular have been a great crop. Not long ago I reviewed the brilliance that is Alma Mater – now that the rest of the line up has hit the page, I see that they definitely know how to pick ’em.
One of the other big winners that has really grabbed me is Steverino! The title character is a hopeless little guy who fails at life, and relationships, and yet makes for an incredibly charming read. It’s odd, because normally I shy away from humor that revolves around failure, and people making fools of themselves – but Steverino is a modern Charlie Brown, still forlornly chasing after his Little Red-Haired girl, and I’m able to empathize with his heartache even while it keeps me laughing.
Now I’ll just cross my fingers for Girlamatic to breathe again,and then I’ll be a happy camper.
While not an incredible surprise – Burlew has always written a strong story – what has impressed me is how strong and fast the hits have been coming. The recent arc with the linear guild was brilliant, we have a confrontation with Xykon moments away – and suddenly we have a brilliant series of strips focusing on Miko. Things get taken from one level to the next with every single strip, and I’m confident OotS has been at the top of a lot of reading lists for the last couple weeks.
But what I really wanted to make note of? That Burlew has been churning out double the content over the last week and a half. We’ve recieved nine pages over the last four updates. We’ve had two triple-length days!
Now, that is clearly awesome, yeah. But what it tells me is that as much as we are enjoying reading the latest plot developments, Burlew is enjoying writing them twice as much. And, really, I’m perfectly ok with that.
OUTSTANDING COMEDIC COMIC:
I find myself having a difficult time making a choice in this category, and not for the usual reasons. Usually the problem is having too many outstanding comics and having to choose just one. In this case, despite pretty much all of these comics being on my reading lists, and being among my favorite comics, none have really blown me out of my shoes this year.
The exception would be Sinfest, which had a fantastic year – though less due to its humor, and more due to the addition of full color sundays and some genuinely strong storylines. Still – it did so without losing its sense of humor, so I’d say that would be enough to put it at the top of the pack in my book.
OUTSTANDING DRAMATIC COMIC:
Something Positive. The death of Faye. Mike having a kid. Aubrey and Jason’s marriage. The fall of Kharisma. No way this doesn’t win.
OUTSTANDING LONG FORM COMIC:
I’m gonna go with Order of the Stick, which had a really good year – and one primarily built around long, well-developed storylines.
OUTSTANDING SHORT FORM COMIC:
Penny Arcade remains, in my opinion, the masters of the three panel strip.
OUTSTANDING SINGLE PANEL COMIC:
Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal is the only one of these that I read, so… yeah.
OUTSTANDING ANTHROPOMORPHIC COMIC:
This is a rather tricky category. Many of the comics that end up in this category have anthropomorphic characters, but don’t really put any emphasis on that in the story itself. Digger has always been a strong choice, due to actually having a great deal of background and detail on the wombat element itself (and the occasional psychic slug). Personally, I’d like to see Dan and Mab’s Furry Adventures win, as a comic that is pretty much defined by anthropomorphism at it’s core.
But my money’s on Digger taking it home again.
OUTSTANDING FANTASY COMIC:
This one is a genuinely difficult choice, with all the comics being top notch. I’m torn between Gunnerkrigg Court and No Rest for the Wicked, but I suspect GC will be the popular choice.
OUTSTANDING GAMING COMIC:
Toss-up between Order of the Stick and Penny Arcade. OotS had a stronger year in general, but is much more confined in its gaming roots. And Penny Arcade is, well… Penny Arcade.
OUTSTANDING SLICE-OF-LIFE COMIC:
I might like Questionable Content and Something Positive, but they don’t really fit the category in my mind. They might capture life well at times, but they have a lot of absurdities and unrealisms that should take them out of the running. Sadly, I suspect one of them will be the winner, though I’d take any of the others over them, as The Devil’s Panties was my pick last year, and Stuff Sucks one of my top discoveries of this year.
Smile, really, is the best of the lot – perhaps unsurprisingly so, given its autobiographical nature, but it really is much more true to life than any of the rest. It won’t win, I suspect, but it really deserves it the most.
I’ve heard good things about Red String, though I still haven’t managed to get around to reading it. Still, I’m rooting for Girly – some of the romantic plots going on this year have been years in building, and have been incredibly well done.
OUTSTANDING SCIENCE FICTION COMIC:
I think Schlock Mercenary really resonates as science fiction more than almost any other comic out there, and will win accordingly. I’m hoping for Girl Genius to win, myself, but with the other comics on there, it will be a tough run either way.
OUTSTANDING SUPERHERO / ACTION COMIC:
Given the plethora of superheroes in print comics, it remains a surprisingly small category online – though still solid enough to produce a lot of quality choices for this category. I think Dr. McNinja will take the cake, which I can’t really complain about. Nonetheless, I’m going to have to root for Magellan, which has really been on a roll this last year, and deserves the chance to finally win this one.
So there are my predictions – accuracy will be verified in some two and a half week’s time. I’m looking forward to it – if nothing else, the online ceremony has always been a clever and enjoyable production, and I suspect that is something that won’t be changing any time soon.