It was one of my first posts on this site, actually – and it was a hell of a time to talk about the comic, with a storyline that is still a blast to read through. Of course, the best place to start is at the beginning, and that’s true now more than ever. With my current focus on Comic Genesis strips that really step things up to the next level – and with the supreme awesomeness currently dominating the strip – now seemed the perfect time for a full-blown review of Freelance Explorer Indavo!
Let’s start with some general discussion about the comic. The description I gave it last time – “good solid fun” – still holds true. This is a strip that absolutely epitomizes the quest for adventure as our heroes travel from one bit of trouble to another – righting wrongs, saving worlds, and fighting more bad guys than you can shake a stick at.
It isn’t surprising that the storyline is never dull, but what is suprising is realizing that it isn’t just one random battle after another. We learn important things about our heroes. They learn important things about themselves. And the big picture slowly – ever so slowly – starts to come into focus.
The strip has currently reached a momentous point. We’re coming face to face with showdowns the strip has been building up to since it began. The latest arc abruptly shifted from its classic style into stark noir tones, and once again I found myself surprised by how far the artist, one Nathan Bonner, is willing to push his skills into new directions.
At its heart, the strip has all the things that draw me in. Updates come at a solid pace – three times a week – and are almost never missed. The archives are simple and straightforward, with both dates and storylines available for easy browsing. The cast page and FAQ are extremely well fleshed out, kept up to date, and include a sizable run-down of what has happened in the comic thus far.
But all of that – it’s good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but it is what makes a comic professional, not what makes a comic good. It is certainly possible to be one without the other – there are a couple of comics I read that have stuck with me simply due to reliability, rather than because they do anything to actually engage my interest. But Indavo ain’t one of them.
The art is easy on the eyes, and that’s always a good thing. Art won’t make the story good, sure – but it really defines how well a good story can take hold, and the art for Indavo fits the story perfectly. I mentioned earlier that Bonner really pushes his skills in new directions, and its true – for all that most of the strip has an old school comic book feel to it, there are more and more moments that go a step – or two, or three – beyond that.
What really does it is that the art in this strip has a masterful sense of style. You see it in the character designs – the Time Traveler in the Big Hat remains my personal favorite, but most of the cast and crew have the right attention to detail to make them uniquely alive. Little details and themes throughout the chapters – such as the noir style rendition of In His Immortal Name – shift the mood to suite the plot at hand. The cover pages for each chapter, while seemingly ordinary at first, not only set the mood for each individual arc, but also evoke a connection throughout the entire story as a whole.
And, of course, it’s a good story. There are a lot of strips that move from small struggles to epic battles, but Indavo is one of the ones that does it right. From the beginning the steps are laid to build up the story, but carefully enough they never feel obtrusive. When the inevitable payload comes along, it feels like a perfectly natural result of all that came before it, and let me tell you – that takes some doing.
I don’t know if we’re approaching the end of the run – the stakes are big enough, sure. But even with everything at hand… Indavo feels like something that could go on forever, our merry trio of explorers wandering the universe from now till the end of time.
I have always been a fantasy fan, first and foremost. Science fiction – I read it, sure, but as often as not because it was lumped into the same section as the books I loved. I won’t say I don’t enjoy it, but it takes a really amazing work to truly get me invested in the story.
Indavo is one such strip. A damn good comic that captures the sense of excitement and adventure offered by a universe of endless possibilities. There’s an epic tale there, but not one that loses sight of the little things, and that makes all the difference.
My time today has a good number of things vying for attention, so the post today will be short; this is a shame, as there are some recent events in quite a few webcomics that deserve some serious discussion.
Rather than try talk about them and fail to do them justice, I thought today would be a good point to mention a recent comic I was sent to review, a little comic called Fish Tank.
Fish Tank was described to me as a comic about three intelligent fish living in a home aquarium, and their exploits. This didn’t seem like a bad idea for a comic, but my first though was that while it sounded clever, it also sounded incredibly boring.
Even outside of the adventures they go on – taking them from the amazon to Alaska to outer space, the characters themselves are really dynamic, and really alive. Part of it is that they are unique – Ted is a brilliant goldfish with a gift for invention, Angelo is an extremely vain but friendly angelfish, and Hoover is a bottom-feeder who always puts his own interests first. But a lot of it is the way they are drawn. The design of the fish is simple, and feels like a very old school style of drawing – a few loose, flowing strokes that come together to create a complete image.
But the simplicity works wonders where a more complex design would have rendered them completely lifeless.
Fish Tank is a fun strip, and it is a clever one, too. But it proves to be a whole lot more than that, and that’s what really makes it great.
I really didn’t intend to write about Order of the Stick so soon.
It is one of those comics that I feel like I talk about all the damn time, and I always feel slightly guilty about this. I’m not even entirely sure why – I don’t want to bore people with discussion of the same material day after day, but a strip like the Order of the Stick is anything but boring.
Especially right now.
Prepare for spoilers, by the way, if for some reason you aren’t all caught up on life with Rich Burlew’s merry band of adventurers.
What amazes me about the Order of the Stick – or at least one of the things that does – is Rich’s ability to keep the story moving. It doesn’t feel too fast – if anything, sometimes I am only too eager for seeing what is coming next – but he manages to work an amazing amount of story progression into the strip.
This is due to Rich having a damn good grasp of pacing, and knowing exactly how much screen time to give a scene for maximum impact. It is even more insane when one recognizes how well he is able to split the focus between all the different characters.
You see, the strip doesn’t follow a single, linear plot thread. There are moments, yes, when our heroes are all together in a group and going about a single task. This was much more true in the early days of the strip – that is essentially what a dungeon crawl is. Even then, however, we would flash back and forth between scenes of the heroes and Xykon, the great nemesis, plotting from his lair with his minions and allies.
We really saw the split storytelling manifest with the appearance of the Linear Guild, at which point the party goes off on three seperate tracks. The (first) Linear Guild saga concludes with Durkon seperated from the rest of the party, and a heartbreaking tale of dwarven romance.
(This, just as a note, is where the strip really starts to shift focus from gaming in-jokes set in a fantasy world, to a full-fledged story that happens to have a fair share of jokes.)
(Speaking of which, it’s a damn shame Dragon magazine is going away, as the OotS strips featured within were quality pieces of work. Seriously, the comic in its current state is fantastic, and blows me away with every update, but it does miss out on the pure level of humor from the first few strips. Those are the strips quoted around one d&d table after another, and those are the ones that really established his presence. The Dragon magazine strips were the same deal – simple one-shots to make you laugh, and I’ll miss them.)
(That’s not to say the jokes have left the main strip – far from it! Rich has a great grasp of comedy, and is adept at balancing action with humor. He even had an entire full page strip that was nothing but one long penis joke.)
(No pun intended.)
Anyway, where were we?
Right, right, lots of characters, storylines, etc. Here we have a strip with a half-dozen main characters, each with their own story. We also have their evil twins, who get plenty of screen time, as well as the main villain and his own merry band of misfits. Finally, the self-righteous paladin whose own personal conflicts have been a focus of many recent arcs. Each of them gets their moment in the sun, which normally I would expect to result in the action slowing down to a crawl – but somehow it feels even more in motion.
Even in battle, which previously would just have the group fighting as a team, now seems designed to give everyone a shot at glory. During the most recent showdown with the Linear Guild, the party basically paired off with the villains one on one. During the current massive battle, each characters has their place and their chance to shine, and each time it is simply freakin’ awesome.
And Roy got the chance to go toe to toe with Xykon. To finally find out exactly what was the first step that led down the path to this confrontation. To demonstrate exactly how far his own skills have come. He had the means and the power to end Xykon once and for all…
…and he blew it. Oh, Xykon doesn’t get away unharmed. Roy landed a few solid blows, enough to give Xykon pause. Roy deprived him of his mount, which isn’t insignificant. But it wasn’t enough. We can’t even really hold Roy accountable – Xykon is leagues more powerful than him, as far as Roy has come. Sure, he came out on top in their first encounter, what with grappling and surprise and ancient magical gates at hand.
But this time, Roy lost.
And now he’s dead.
It’s a pretty big event. I mean – bam, most central character of the storyline, dead. Yet somehow, his fall doesn’t even feel as momentous as Miko’s.
Maybe it’s because adventurers do weasel their way out of trouble all the time… even death. I mean, there are plenty of ways for them to bring Roy back in the D&D world, and we’ve seen first hand they have the means to do so. Assuming the heroes win the battle. Assuming the clerics make it out alive. Assuming they recover Roy’s body.
That’s the thing – there are enough different directions this could go in that I can’t speculate as to what will happen next. On the one hand, I can’t believe Rich would take Roy out of the picture for good, given how central he has been to the entire story. At the same time, I can’t believe he would kill him off and then cheapen the death by easily bringing him back.
I’m not even sure if he was killed off in spite of being the main character… or because of it.
Roy is the leader of the group. That’s a given. Not only does he give them direction, but he is really the bond that keeps them as a team, that manages Durkon’s standoffishness and Vaarsuvius’s thirst for power, Haley’s greed, Elan’s innocence, Belkar’s hatred of all living things. They wouldn’t even be here if Roy hadn’t brought them together for his own quest to go after Xykon. Most of them certainly wouldn’t have anything to do with each other without his stabilizing presence.
They are all important, that goes without saying. They have all developed into central figures in this grand tapestry. But Roy brought them together, Roy forged them into a team, and Roy is the single reason they have come down this long and winding path.
Maybe that’s why we need to see what will happen without him.
I don’t think this is the end for Roy Greenhilt. This death – it is dramatic, it is momentous, but it’s not a good death. Roy didn’t die succeeding in his goals, he died failing them.
He failed to fulfill his father’s blood oath.
He failed to stop Xykon in his quest to conquer the world.
He failed to even weasel his way out of one simple fall.
I don’t think we’ve seen the last of him. I don’t think Rich would consign a character to such an ending, especially not a character as pivotal as Roy. Not a character with such distinct a voice – even more than the guy who drove the story along, he was the perfect straight man for so many of the jokes. Sure, V or Durkon might be able to fill in that role, but can the comic really go on without him?
I guess all we can do is keep reading, and find out.
I didn’t intend to write about OotS, but this really is a scene that can’t be denied. Regardless of what happens next, this moment will have an impact, on everything. (Not just’s Roy’s skull.) Roy was their chance to stop Xykon from getting to the throne room and setting his plans in motion, and he couldn’t cut it. The others are engaged in all manner of difficulties, and even if Xykon wasn’t in the picture, they are up against potentially overwhelming odds.
And Rich has shown he isn’t afraid to pull punches. If he can kill off Roy, then anything goes. We don’t have the slightest idea what is going to happen next.
But I’m damn well going to be there to find out.
As many of you have heard by now, Steven Cloud, the man behind Boy on a Stick and Slither, has entered into a web syndication deal with United Media.
Today is the offical launch day of the strip at Comics.com, so go and check it out. It’s always nice to see an artist land one of these deals, and to see the chance for a clever webcomic to come more prominently into the public eye.
Confession time: I haven’t actually read BOASAS. It has been one of those strips I’ve heard about a time or twenty, and continually hovers on my “to-read” list, but I’ve never actually had the time to sit down and go through the archives.
Fortunately it worked out – here’s a chance for me to get in on a brand new start, and see where it goes from there. Steven gave the warning that it isn’t your regular gag comic, but something a bit more subtle, a bit more philosophical than most. He mentioned a pretty heavy influence from Peanuts and Calvin and Hobbes.
Right there, honestly, is the best recommendation for the strip one could have.
Rêveillerie is a fairy tale, but not in the way you think.
It starts in an entirely ordinary fashion, with an altogether ordinary looking young girl, lost in the streets of what could be a perfectly normal city. By the second page, that illusion is dispelled – this world may be similar to our own in many ways, but magic is a part of everyday life in Tamhaile, and that’s all the difference it needs. The first people we meet, aside from our protagonist Emilind, are denizens of an only slightly unusual library – but are undeniably strange and elfin.
Of course, Emilind herself is far stranger.
Rêveillerie does a lot of things that have really won me over. The storybook feel is one of them – and something that is the product of far more than merely being set in a world of magic and fae. Little details lend it an almost classical weight – for example, the use of small pieces of text that feel like excerpts from an old-fashioned story. Sometimes these little lines fill in small pieces of background, sometimes they set the scene, sometime they give insights into a character’s mind… but all in all, they give the comic a sense of being grounded in more than merely pretty pictures.
Like any good fairy tale, Rêveillerie is built around a sense of mystery. Emelind is on a quest… though we don’t quite know why, or what she is truly looking for. We know a bit about her past, but not how it all connects, and certainly not what makes her so seemingly special in this strange world.
And as with any good mystery, with every answer we get, only more questions arise.
Rêveillerie has its moments of action, but at heart is a character driven story. Each member of the cast definitely plays their own role, and even the characters that are around only briefly still have enough personality to feel real.
Including Emelind herself, whose status as the hero of the story is slightly undermined by her vast self-centeredness. She treats other characters as… no more than tools, in many ways. They are useful to her if they will help her in her quest. She can’t trust anyone but herself. The opinions of others don’t matter to her, and she has a certain ruthlessness that indicates she’ll do what she has to to get her own way.
Oh, she acts pleasant most of the time, and when she does mistreat others, she seems to feel it was almost accidental – but that attitude is still there, and it is part of what really brings the story to life. Heroes are, after all, defined by their flaws. Hers are very real – and justified, certainly, by the fact that she was abandoned into a world that wasn’t her own, and the sense of betrayal that brings. It is easy to understand why she is the way she is – and again, thats the difference between a character a reader can be invested in, and a simple image on a page.
Not that the images on the page are bad, of course. The art is well put together, with soft colors that fit the mood of the tale pretty much spot-on.
The comic’s only real weakness, like with many on Comic Genesis, is that updates are intermittent. It isn’t any surprise – artists have lives, and work, and school, and making comics often has to take backseat to more pressing matters.
But that doesn’t make the strips themselves any weaker, and Rêveillerie has kept itself going for quite a few years now. Here’s hoping for plenty more to come.
Today I’ve come across a surprising number of dragons in my daily comics.
It wasn’t a great surprise in Order of the Stick – OotS is a fantasy comic, and dragons are a staple in such worlds. This particular dragon has been around for several strips now – though I felt it was a key enough plot point in today’s double-feature.
But I found today’s installment to be especially grabbing nonetheless. There wasn’t any plot or even much point to the strip, but it felt like a fantastic example of Tatsuya’s skills, with some absolutely brilliant energy flowing through the art, and an extraordinarily Charlie Brown-esque moment to finish it off.
Finally, we had Funny Farm, which turned out to have nothing to do with dragons at all. When I first saw today’s update, however, I thought otherwise. A closer examination revealed that the street sign seemed to depict a bird perched upon the back of a crocodile, but my first interpretation was that it was simply a stylized rendition of a dragon.
Despite being wrong, the comic got the biggest laugh out of me of any strip today, so I felt the need to give it some recognization regardless of what strange occurence actually elicited Mewn’s funny little smile of anticipation.
(I can practically hear the voice running through his head, over and over again – “This is gonna be awesome!“)
Nothing more substantial today, save for congrats to the strips nominated for the Eisner awards. I’m a fan of all the comics up for the award – though it should be no surprise that I’m rooting for Minus.
Hannelore is fast becoming my favorite character in Questionable Content.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of most of the cast and crew. But I tend to have my ups and downs with QC – sometimes I can appreciate the witty dialogue and slightly surreal hijinks, and sometimes it all feels a little bit forced.
Except with Hannelore.
The first arc that introduces her reveals that she has been sorta stalking Marten and co. for several weeks. The rest of the cast have quite a few issues of their own, but Hannelore is quite definitively crazy. And Jeph Jacques manages to write her as realistically crazy, and that’s what impresses me so much.
It’s hard to write characters who act crazy, and more often than not, the result is simply to have characters who behave erratically and spout random gibberish. It is an altogether frustrating thing to witness, and certainly not my cup of tea.
Intershadows has at least one character who has severe mental problems, and demonstrates it well – but to the point that it is almost horrifying to see what she is experiencing. Hannelore isn’t at that level – she is crazy, but managing to function relatively normally in society despite her disorder. That’s not just interesting, it’s impressive, and means that every scene she is in has an underlying level of conflict intensifying the moment.
In her very first appearance, she comes off as a decidedly different individual than she appeared to be thereafter. She’s smoking – in more than one sense of the word – and positively exudes an aura of confidence and control. This may have been due to her opponent in the conversation being extremely drunk, or the fact that she had several weeks of stalking him helping her plan what to say, but for that one page, she is totally in control. But… her confidence slips as she worries over her ruse being found out, and nervousness takes control, and shortly she moves from sexy, smoldering temptress to… cute, slightly maniacal friend.
Which makes it easy to forget that first appearance, and how in control she was. It makes it easy to forget that it must take an awfully solid will to operate relatively normally in society, and an awfully clever mind to make her OCD actively work for her.
Right now she is joining up with Marten’s rock band and plans to teach herself to play the drums. This might be an entirely bad idea – but that right there is reason enough for her. To prove she can do it, regardless of what others think. And she just might have a gift for it.
QC is, by and large, about two things. One is the interactions between characters – both the clever bouts of dialogue and the deeper developing relationships. The other is the characters themselves – both their unique natures and views at the world, and how they themselves are changing and growing.
Hannelore’s developments might have less to do with crushes and makeouts, and more to do with friendship and finding her place in the world – but somehow, I’m perfectly ok with that.
Have you ever had a comic that is so good it’s frustrating?
For me, it’s The Wings of Change. It’s a strip that has been around for some time now – over half a decade, in fact. I’ve been there with it throughout that entire run, as it began during the Great Framed Escape of ’01 – and let me tell you, that brings back memories.
So it was, drawn by their part in the crossover, that I was there for the first strip of the comic’s actual story. It’s a damn good start, too – we get dropped right into quite a bit of action, in an exciting and clearly fleshed out world with several interesting characters – a dour minidragon who happens to be a ranger, a young (and winged) half-elf who wants to be a ranger, and a sentient unseen tree-being with a somewhat vicious sense of humor.
The strip immediately sets itself up as a fantasy style adventure with a solid emphasis on light-hearted jokes, as our protagonists start out trying to convince an extremely senile elder dragon that he should take on a human form when in human lands, rather than wandering about in his normal massive form and inadvertantly causing a war. Various hijinks ensue, they eventually manage to make him change…
…and his human form promptly falls from the sky onto a pixy house, killing the parents and leaving a half-dozen children instantly orphaned.
It’s a rather shocking transition – but not quite as shocking as the fact that the story doesn’t let this change the tone of the strip. The kids recover, Mitch and Hazel argue over who has to become their caretaker, and life moves on. To the strip’s credit, it manages to make this work almost flawlessly, and the reader finds themselves forgetting the awful incident almost as easily as the cast seems to.
The rangers and the pixies start to settle in, and we get the sense the strip is going to focus on the friendships developing between them, and their own personal growth and character development.
Of course, only a handful of strips later, we get a prophecy (from a surprisingly irreverent godly voice) about a storm on the horizon that might change the very nature of the world. It’s the standard vague and almost entirely useless spiel, but it definitely sets the tone of the strip a few steps higher.
From there… well, quite a lot both happens and doesn’t happen. The artist, Mari Rose, has created this fantastic cast of characters, and almost every one of them is having their own adventure. We get to see everything from the god of knowledge outclassing magic with simple smarts to the botanical version of Gumby squishing deformed mutant fish. The strip is filled with fantastic art, a good sense of humor and a compelling story. Well… several compelling stories, as it were, and that seems to be both a good thing and a bad thing. Right from the start, she’s beset by Robert Jordan syndrome, and that means the plot is going nowhere fast.
You may have heard of Robert Jordan – if not, he happens to write a little fantasy series called the Wheel of Time. It’s a powerful, compelling epic story that has thousands upon thousands of pages to its name… and is in danger of never coming to an end.
You see, Robert Jordan wrote a world filled with interesting characters… and found himself paying equal weight to each and every one of them. Early on, events proceeded without difficulty, but as more and more characters appeared, and each went on their own way… time slowed to a crawl. In one of the more recent books in the series, the entire book essentially takes place over the course of a single day, with us being shown the events of that day for every one of his myriad heroes and villains.
I like most of those characters – but it impedes the story. Without a focus, there will never be progress. This has been one of the greatest concerns regarding the Wheel of Time – and one that The Wings of Change has been suffering from as well.
Let’s compare this strip with Dominic Deegan. The clearly have a similar setting, and both favor a crisp, clear art style. Even aside from those similarities, both comics have the same sense of purpose and the same balancing act between personal developments and epic, over-arching plot lines. Even, occasionally, the same flair for painful little puns.
These days, Dominic Deegan is one of the most well-known strips around. It has had dozens of story-lines and more than a handful of epic, world-changing arcs. The Wings of Change, meanwhile, remains a nice comic, but certainly not a mover and shaker in the webcomic world – and since the comic began, less than half a week of time has passed.
Dominic Deegan started almost a year after the Wings of Change.
The difference, of course, is in the update schedule. It may not be the only difference – but it is the biggest one. I’d easily say TWoC has just as strong a sense of story, art and characterization – but time moves along at a crawl. Updates come once a week, not once a day, and filler is an all-too-common occurance. This doesn’t make it a bad comic, of course, and the artist certainly doesn’t owe us more comics…
But still. You can see that sense of potential unfulfilled. You can see how much more this comic could be, and how far away that inevitable epic plot really is.
Fortunately, the artist saw that too. She recognized the difficulties that have cropped up in folowing so many different characters at once. She noted that more updates certainly wouldn’t hurt. And that’s step one – recognizing the issue. From there… well, that remains to be seen. Regardless of where it goes from here, I’m confident that the strip will at the least continue on as it currently is – an enjoyable look into a world filled with a diverse cast of unique and engaging characters.
And I’ve got a feeling it’s on its way to being so very much more than that.