Category Archives: Webcomic Reviews

Character Development Found in the Most Unlikely of Places

The holidays are over, the new year is here, and the various comics that went on break over the last few weeks have returned – and so it stands to reason that commentary should as well. My own hiatus was probably the longest thus taken from this blog, but it was somewhat nice to have the time off and simply enjoy the holidays with friends and family – of course, it also leaves me with a lot to discuss.

So for today, I’ll simply run through some of the webcomic highlights in the last few weeks:

-The latest storyarc in Ctrl+Alt+Del has intrigued me. Not due to the primary focus of the arc, which has been about Ethan’s continuing inability to grow as a human being – and which has, in fact, managed to be despicably vile on a previously unreached level.

But it has left me interested in… Zeke, a largely one-note character. Zeke is a robot built from an X-Box, and has the typical personality one would expect of such a character – the “eventually I’ll kill off all the annoying fleshbags, but until then, I’ll just play my arrogance and spite for laughs” type of character. Fine, fine, nothing special to see there – until he steps into a video game where he gets to play as one of the fleshbags.

Which results in him being afraid, and paranoid of pain and danger, and doing anything he can to protect his frail new form.

I find it works as a joke, and even more, works as insight into the character. And until we stumbled into the trainwreck the rest of the storyline has been, I had been planning to say some very nice things about CAD – but as it is, I suppose it is enough to point out this one moment of intriguing characterization in the midst of every other character failing on every possible level.

-Continuing that same topic, even as Least I Could Do seems to be working to actively cast aside any character development or complexity it has gained in recent years, Looking for Group is growing in depth by leaps and bounds.

LFG’s latest storylines as a whole have been growing ever more ambitious, but I’ve been really amazed by the dynamic between the two core characters – Cale’anon, the naive hero who has lost his innocence, step by step, and Richard, the self-serving and sadistic warlock who is entirely driven by impulse and the desire to cause chaos and death for its own sake.

Cale’anon’s development has been a key point throughout the strip, but the idea of Richard becoming anything more than a punchline has been a ludicrous concept – until now. Recently, in what cleverly masqueraded as a joke, Richard was afflicted by a curse that sapped his powers and gave him an adorable child-like body. Not only was he physically and magically weakened, but he also became an object not of terror, but of amusement – possibly the worst punishment that could be delivered to so arrogant a character.

He managed to break the curse by saving a child in an act of selflessness. We have not yet been offered a true explanation for why he did so – did he know it would break the curse? Did he have a moment of ‘weakness’ and compassion that would seem entirely counter to his typical attitude? Was it in gratitude for the respect the child offered him? Was it as a final chance to prove his power?

We’ve seen a little insight into why, but only enough to make guesses, and not draw a final conclusion. And maybe that is for the best – this is a character who benefits less from the spectre of redemption, and more from the shroud of mystery. The myriad possibilities of what could have been his reasoning seems far more effective than to actually define him down one of those paths… at least, for now.

-I wasn’t the biggest fan of the path Goats has gone down in the last few years – but I was floored by at least one aspect of how it has wrapped up the last chapter of its plot. Various characters may or may not have died – I’m not too concerned there, really. The end of the universe may still be on the way – not too big a deal.

What has drawn me in is Jon’s slow but steady slide into evil.

Because it has been carried out with an incredibly slick sense of inevitability. The actual final step – Jon ending up as, essentially, the man in charge of Hell – seems to come suddenly… but when you take a step back, it has been built up moment by moment, week by week, until it fits perfectly.

He has slowly been losing his connection to his friends and family. His interests have focused more and more on self-preservation… and self-interest. He made a deal with the devil himself – and then, in the end, kicked the devil aside.

The best part is that, at the end, having been fully seduced by the possibilities and amenities now available to him… One Death tries to talk him out of it. And you can tell that One Death thinks Jon is having regrets over what he has done – whereas the truth is entirely the opposite. This right here was the devil’s major mistake, and its a doozy.

…and I still need to mention some of the awesomeness that has been going on in Starslip Crisis, and Sinfest, and elsewhere, but I’m just about out of time for now. So I’ll hold those in reserve for next week, when I might actually start getting fully caught up with all the comics reemerging from their shells.

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Post #487, in which I review a webcomic.

By next week, I should be back in the groove of updating. NaNoWriMo shall have come to a close, and while I won’t be hitting the 50k mark, I’m relatively happy with what I did write, which seems a reasonable mark of success in my book. But anyway – next week, regular updates. For today, a review of Kukuburi.

I’ll be honest – I like Butternut Squash, I really do, but I’ve never really considered it in the top tier of webcomics… and if you had told me that one of the creators would suddenly start producing one of the most intensely imaginative webcomics around, I simply wouldn’t have believed you.

But he did, and it is Kukuburi.

In the last year, I’ve noticed a substantial growth in the field of delightfully surreal fantasy comics – but this hasn’t diminished my enjoyment of them in the slightest. This strip, which begins with a lizard, seems eager to get to the moment where the magic begins to flow… but that doesn’t diminish the potency of the first ten pages.

I mean, I know Ramón Pérez is a fantastic artist – Butternut Squash made that plenty clear. But the writing in this piece holds up wonderfully, and the rising tension in those first ten pages really latches hold of the reader. The other most impressive factor is the attention to detail – or, more accurately, all the little touches that elevate this beyond just a simple fantasy romp.

The way obscenities are portrayed as small little skull icons within dialogue boxes, rendered not just harmless, but actively cute. The ability of characters and locations to be present for no more than one to two panels – likely to never be seen again – yet still remain interesting enough to catch the eye. The use of color to show us where this is going before we even get there. (The weight of the simplest of things – somewhat later on, I’m impressed by the appearance – and meaning – of a single flower.)

The fact that Pérez manages to follow our heroine’s life for those first ten pages without ever once truly showing us her face, until the moment she steps into the bizarre fantasy adventure awaiting her.

In some ways, I almost like that introduction more than what actually comes after it – but I suspect that is in part because the introduction is complete, while the story itself is only getting started.

Thus far, the plot is simple but potentially complex: Nadia lives a normal, everyday life, until today – wherein she steps into a fantastic world of color and flying whales and floating islands and many other wonders. We don’t yet know why she is here or the nature of the world, though it seems clear she is connected to it in some very important way.

It is a story, thus far, that we’ve seen before – in the works of Miyazaki and Neil Gaiman, in the classic of the Wizard of Oz.

The question is, for all the pretty artwork (and it is very, very pretty), can it stand on its own as something new and unique?

I have high hopes. Even aside from the art, there is a very strong sense of style amidst the absurdities, and that is important. But the real key, I think, lies in the star of the show – Nadia, the heroine of the tale. Because she really stands out as her own character – spunky, strong, and capable of coming out on top despite being in over her head. She’s not something we’ve seen before, and I think she is the key to the story being more than simply an exercise in beautifully illustrated imaginings.

For now, I’m willing to simply sit back and be amazed by the quality of the work and the somewhat frightening speed at which it has been released, considering it isn’t Pérez’s only webcomic.

I’m surprised it took me this long to discover it (especially considering I actually read his other comic), but I’ll attribute that to my usual inability to stay in the loop. I suspect, however, that this is a comic it won’t be so easy to hide from as word spreads – while it might be small now, it certainly has the potential to be one of webcomic’s rising stars.

It certainly qualifies, by my standards, as a damn good comic.

Ultimatum

Chugworth Academy often defies description – so I won’t attempt such folly. Instead, I’ll simply mention that it is back, after having vanished from the web for a time. It’s absence had been so complete and grown long enough that I had actually assumed it had gone forever into the great hiatus in the sky, as webcomics sometimes do. This was reinforced by the fact that, at conventions, I would see signs proclaiming: “We don’t know where Chugworth Academy is! Don’t ask us!”

So when it did reemerge, having resolved technical difficulties or whatever, it was a pleasant surprise. I’ve been trying to remember who these characters are and why they all seem to be in therapy, and despite a brief detour into some braindamagingly terrible filler, the picture was slowly congealing back into its once-remembered whole. As always, Chugworth is an exercise in pleasant nonsense and silliness – which can be a recipe for disaster, but Chugworth manages to succeed where others often fail.

What brings this all up, however, is not the antics of the regular cast and crew, but rather the latest update – an exploration into Ultimate Chugworth, wherein they demonstrate an accurate knowledge of what makes Marvel’s Ultimate universe distinct. After all – the main continuity Marvel universe is now filled with heroes that blend the line between good and evil, and where everyone lives in fear of the tyrannical government and their Various Acronym Organizations (VAO). What keeps the Ultimates distinct?

Samuel Jackson, that’s what.

I don’t ask for much in my comics, its true. Sometimes nonsense and silliness is more than enough. But an added dose of geekery, and I really can’t do much except sit back and applaud.

Blank Label Comics Appreciation Week: Schlock Mercenary

I owe a debt of gratitude to Howard Tayler for helping me remember the proper way to spell the word “mercenary.”

It is, perhaps, a shameful thing – this is not that difficult a word, and I am someone with a degree in writing, who takes at least some small amount of pride in my writing capabilities… and yet, inevitably, when I attempt to describe an individual who sells their combat skills to the highest bidder, it takes all my focus to avoid speaking of a mercanary – which is clearly something else entirely, some sort of dreaded aquatic monstrosity that is half bird, half fish.

I’m not sure how this problem developed. I know, even as I type the letters, that it is not the proper spelling. But my fingers inevitably follow their own twisted desires, and mercanaries flows out onto the page as naturally as can be. Oh, I make sure to correct it, each time – and after many discussions of Schlock Mercenary, I’ve finally started to train myself to use the proper spelling.

But interestingly enough, that discussion of Schlock Mercenary hasn’t been on here.

I’ve mentioned it in passing once or twice, and that is all. This is peculiar, for it is one of the earliest webcomics I read, and one I can always recall enjoying. I talk about it with my friends, certainly – many of them are science geeks, unlike myself, and able to especially appreciate the scientific mojo brought to the strip. This is also the only comic – web or otherwise – that has actually inspired an RPG character of mine. (Though one that, sadly, never saw the light of day.)

That clearly means the strip speaks to me on some level. That the ideas within it – the characters, the stories, the setting -have wormed their way into my mind and taken root.

And yet, I’ve never seen fit to actually discuss the comic.

I blame the consistency of the strip. It isn’t really a webcomic, after all – it is an inevitable facet of life. Every day, the sun will rise. Every day, there will be a new Schlock Mercenary. I suppose this comparison is horribly flawed, given that people can and will discuss the relative merit of a particularly breathtaking sunrise – but my point is that the strip functions on a level where it never calls attention to itself, but simply maintains a constant harmonious level of quality.

But, I suppose, you may not read the strip, so allow me to try and give a description of it, and explain why I have said the things I have said. (Save for the mercanary problem. I’m not going to try and figure out from what horrible depths my brain procured that strange difficulty.)

Schlock Mercenary is a strip set in the 31st century. It takes place in a science-fiction setting, if that wasn’t apparent from the time frame. It revolves around a band of mercenaries who, in return for appropriate sums of money, will render their usual services, such as “excessive amounts of violence,” or for a higher price, “just the right amount of violence.” It features a lovable cast of flawed characters, many are whom are aliens, and others that are simply scientists. It updates every day of the week. It always updates. Most strips are a standard 4-panel length, sundays are full pages. It has clean, pleasant art in full color. The website has a search feature for the archives, a handy storyline guide, regularly updated news blog, a variety of other useful information, and a short, somewhat outdated description of a sparse handful of the main characters, though not a full cast guide for the many, many diverse members of the crew.

The strip is somewhat hard to pin down in mood – it is light-hearted, generally fond of visual punchlines, and is largely driven by narrative and plot. Being a daily strip that has been running for over seven years, it has accumulated massive, sprawling archives. It has managed to progress the story through a sizable number of events, and does a remarkably successful job of incorporating significant events while still, on some level, maintaining the status quo – or at least the general dynamic of the strip.

And, in many ways, that is probably its greatest strength, and greatest weakness. Schlock Mercenary has established such a degree of consistency, it rarely defies expectations – I know it will be good, and it is, but never in a way that really calls attention to it. Even when it goes through big events, that is just part of the show.

It also has the downside that it takes place in a setting where just about anything is possible. Characters can be recovered from death, time can be turned back, mistakes can be undone. It doesn’t happen often, and there are plenty of permanent, long-lasting changes that take place – but it also means that any given death isn’t always taken at face value.

The most recent storyline seems like it should be a big one – it features the death (of which our erstwhile heroes are sadly not involved in) of one of the largest antagonists of the series. The only one, in many ways – most villains have been massive corporations, governments, or similar faceless entities, while this guy has been something of a singular archenemy.

But… death isn’t always the end, and there are any number of ways he could come back. So it produces an interesting storyline and results in a variety of unintended consequences for the strip to follow, but it never has the shock value that a different comic in a similar situation would undeniably have.

This isn’t a bad thing – but it means it is much easier for the strip to stay off the radar.

On the other hand, the consistency can be a good thing – with it having been running for so long, and gone through so much, it feels as though the strip has been in its current state forever. But… this isn’t true. When the strip began, the art could easily have been produced by a child using MSPaint. It was readable, all things considered, but it is almost impossible to describe the different levels of quality in what it was and what it became.

It changed, of course, because that tends to be a result from producing art every single day for years on end. Oh, it requires the will to improve and the aptitude to do so, which Taylor clearly had – but it is largely due to all that practice, all that practical learning.

And now, it seems amazing to look back on those strips and see the difference. I’m curious as to how his most recent book will turn out, as it is a collection of the earliest strips. (A collection he initially avoided, as a matter of fact, and instead focused on later storylines whose quality could speak for itself.)

Nonetheless, the strip stands out as an example of how far determination and persistence can get you. Even beyond that, for all the humble beginnings of the comic, it is an icon of how to do a webcomic professionally. Reliable updates, slowly refined skills, accessible website (even if it needs a better cast page.) Howard Tayler is no longer the only man known for using a buffer, but I’d say he is the poster child for doing so. He’s shown what you can produce when you take producing the comic seriously.

Schlock Mercenary is a good comic. In this review, I haven’t actually touched on the characters, or the story, or the setting – I’ll instead leave them to speak for themselves. Suffice to say they are good characters the fill a variety of roles, and have their fair share of stereotypes and original concepts, and that the strip does a remarkable job of focusing on this small and merry band even as it gives the reader a grand sense of the wider universe.

The strip is filled with a sense of exploration and discovery – both for the characters and for us – and that’s a damn fine thing for a comic to be about.

Blank Label Comics Appreciation Week: Real Life

Hey, you know how I said, way back in the distant past of Monday, that this week I wasn’t going to mention Real Life?

Total lie.

I blame Greg Dean, however, because today’s comic demands I discuss it. I have no choice in the matter, because Greg has managed to capture a moment so true to life as to be utterly undeniable and inescapable.

The strip is about obsession, and that is something that has defined my life for as long as I can remember.

It has largely manifested in my gaming habits – I will find a game, and attach myself it to a year, or two, or three. I’ll spend probably more money than I should on the game’s behalf. I will hone my skills, play as often as I can, become a force to contend with. It happened with Magic, with Warhammer, with Warcraft, with Anachronism, and with Warcraft once more. D&D has been a contender pretty much non-stop for the last decade.

It certainly manifests when I’m reading, in the same fashion as demonstrated in today’s Real Life. I find a fantasy series, and devour it in a handful of days. I’ll bring books to work, reading throughout lunch, during breaks. I read while I have breakfast in the morning, and just before getting ready to sleep. When I was younger, I would read – nonstop – on car rides, or when on the school bus. Nowadays, I have to drive myself places, and don’t have that luxury, and I keenly feel that loss when on the road.

The Dresden Files are certainly a guilty culprit – and it isn’t just books, either. Comics, certainly. Webcomics, most definitely – my ability to find a comic and devour its archives is one of the reasons I’ve ended up with so many on my list. My enthusiasm over them is a very large part in why I keep this blog!

My obsessive nature isn’t something inherently bad, of course. I’ve never let my gaming habits overtake my life, or cut me off from my friends. Indeed, with several friends who with the same traits, the same addictive personalities, we often end up focusing on the same games and are able to enjoy them collectively. It isn’t any different than fans of any variety, whether sports or movies or television. It is simply an aspect of how I’m wired – when I get into a hobby, I give it my all.

It helps that I’m aware of it, of course – it certainly has the potential to be bad, as all addictions do. But there are far worse ones out there, and I’m able to keep mine in line.

Right now, I’m between obsessions, for the most part. I’ve recently managed to kick my MMO habit. This freed up a lot of energy and time, which I’ve managed to redirect into my writing, and other forms of productivity – but none of them ones that have taken hold of me. I’m simply moving along, waiting for the next craze to come along and draw me in, because I know it will inevitably happen. It is just part of my nature, part of who I am.

And, given that it is a key part of who I am, I feel a very strong connection when I see it so very aptly demonstrated. Sure, my obsessive personality is just a part of life – but it always resonates to see parts of me reflected back in a story, a movie, a comic. Real Life isn’t the first comic that has connected with me, and it isn’t even the first to make this joke – fans are fanatics, after all, and it is something many stories have touched upon.

But just because the joke has been made once doesn’t mean it can’t be made again, and Greg has captured it here as well as I’ve seen it done. That’s the heart of the strip, in the end. I said it a while back, and it holds true – throw out the space junk, the time travel, the mad scientists. Real Life is at its best when living up to its name. Capturing the little quirks of everyday life, of people, of gamers, of nerds, of fans. Forging a connection between the strip and the reader.

Letting us laugh at ourselves, letting us recognize the little truths of who we are.

That’s what makes Real Life such a damn good comic.

Blank Label Comics Appreciation Week: Evil Inc.

I always feel bad when I consider Evil Inc., because I can never quite like it as much as I want to. For one thing, I hate puns. I can tolerate them when they occasionally emerge in Something Positive, and can survive – for the most part – their presence in Dominic Deegan… but with Evil Inc., they are everywhere. It’s the strips formula – when not running through an intense storyline, crank out strip after strip of silly puns.

In the words of a better man than I: “I can’t stand it!”

But… I can’t really find fault with Guigar for this. He likes puns – I don’t. I can’t blame him for that – different tastes are just that, and sometimes, we’re just not the audience a comic – or an aspect of it – is aimed at. So when the puns show up, as they inevitably do, I skim on by and wait for more story.

Unfortunately, there is an element to the comic that I’m less than satisfied with. Don’t worry – as may be obvious, I clearly read the strip, and I’ll get to why in good time. But the one biggest thing that constantly gives me pause when reading it… is that it is built around what appears to be a horrifically flawed premise.

The main concept behind the comic is that Evil Atom, a supervillain who started to feel his age, decided to create a company for supervillainry, with the idea that you could get away with more evil if you did it legally.

Ok. Not a bad thought. A new take on the superhero genre, and one that gives the opportunity to turn a lot of standard elements on their head – which Evil Inc. gleefully does all the time.

But it also, unfortunately, never manages to actually convince me that it is true. The company is constantly involved in all sorts of standard supervillainry… without ever explaining how they get away with it legally, aside from the fact that Guigar says so.

What the strip is actually about is taking a normal supervillain set-up and placing a corporate structure over it, and that’s fine. But the basic premise of the strip – that they are doing all this by the books – is never really justified. (Never mind the fact that many strips indicate they sell useless or misleading products to the majority of their customer base – which, hey, sure, that’s evil, that’s funny… but they aren’t able to convince us how that is good business.)

I know, I know – sometimes, you need to take some things for granted. I mean – this strip is about a world filled with dudes in spandex who defy physics with their every breath, so who am I to argue about realism?

But I’m not arguing that the strip violates the rules of actual reality, because it’s true – it doesn’t have to. But it should be consistent with the internal rules of its own universe, and that is where I see it failing – and it bugs me, because every other strip I find my suspension of disbelief shattered by the fact the strip’s premise is intact through editorial proclamation alone.

So wait – why am I reading this, if I have such an issue with the premise, or the delivery thereof?

It’s because of Captain Heroic. And Miss Match. And Evil Atom. And Iron Dragon. And Oscar. And all the other characters that manage to be entertaining and unique, even while representing the various stereotypes of the superhero genre.

His characters stand out. His storylines about the characters stand out. The dynamic of Captain Heroic and Miss Match was what got me to read the strip in the first place. Evil Atom was never really interesting to me until I saw a bit more of his own personality, his interaction with his family, his background with his old partner – until he congealed as a character, not just a device for the story.

Brad Guigar writes good characters. And if the background of the strip bugs me… well, I’m not reading the strip for that. I’m reading it for the people whose stories happen to take place within that setting – and as long as their stories are good ones, I’m a dedicated fan.

Blank Label Comics Appreciation Week: Ugly Hill

It is to my profound disappointment that I rarely find the opportunity to quote the linguistic stylings of Hastings Kilgore.

The latest storyline in Ugly Hill has served as evidence of how well-executed the comic really is – as demonstrated by the fact that it is one of the few comics I can read through a series of strips time and time again, and still find them funny on each go around.

Snug narrowly avoiding a grimly demise? Hot pink promotional tabs of ecstasy? Seeing Hastings out to fulfill his citizen’s arrest quota? These things will never not be funny, as horrible as they are.

Ugly Hill is one of those strips that has few to zero redeemable characters. The two main characters, the brothers Kilgore, are shallow and petty beings. Eli is selfish and unmotivated to do anything in life other than mooch off his family. Hastings is a workaholic filled with disdain and wrath for all other life. Their parents are ten times worse.

And yet, they make for entertaining and exciting protagonists. The readers are invested enough in them to follow the strip, but able to have enough distance to laugh at the horrible, horrible things that they are subjected to, usually through their own doing, as well as celebrate when things manage to actually work out in the end.

Ironically enough, despite the fact that misery and mayhem is Ugly Hill’s stock-in-trade, it always has an upbeat, cheerful atmosphere. The bright colors and cartoony figures are certainly part of it – and despite all the troubles, the characters always seem to bounce back from their failings.

I’ve been rambling a bit here on the nature of the strip, in part because I find it hard to pin down a single element that makes Ugly Hill great – it is the composite of all the things it does well that really make it stand out. It is true that I have been enjoying some of the more quotable lines, of late – Hastings especially has been in rare form, but all the characters have had dialogue that resonates. (And I don’t mean in the emotional sense, but rather in that the lines work their way into my mind and sit there, echoing back and forth, all day long.)

I don’t think I’ll ever sit down with friends and engage in an Ugly Hill quote-fest, as has been the case with Penny Arcade – but it certainly comes the closest of any other comic out there, especially for one that actually follows a narrative.

So maybe that is the great success of the strip – hitting those moments of zanity and hilarity while still being constrained by an overarching story. And doing so, all the while, with a grand sense of style.

Paul Southworth is a gifted cartoonist, no doubt about it. Also, it looks like he’ll be a father in the next few days – so why not head over to his site to give him some congrats and best wishes, and lets hope the joy of caring for a child only further enhances his ability to inflict hilarious cruelty upon his beloved characters.

Blank Label Comics Appreciation Week: Wapsi Square

Lately, the gentlemen at Blank Label Comics have been excelling on several levels, and I have had trouble deciding which one to discuss next. This week, I came to the realization I didn’t have to decide, and that now was a good time for some general appreciation for what they do!

So, I’ll be spending the remainder of the week discussing several of their strips that have really been on my mind. I won’t be focusing on every last one of them – I’m still guilty of not reading Sheldon, and I don’t really have anything to say about Real Life that I didn’t say last time. But most of the others have had my attention for one reason or another, so it seems proper to give some recognition to how well the collective has been collectively rocking out.

For today, Wapsi Square.

This may seem odd, since I last spoke about the strip very recently indeed. But at the time, I was commenting primarily on one character – Katherine – who I felt Paul Taylor was doing an excellent job of portraying. The last few weeks have served to remind me that there are other characters in the strip – and that he was doing a surprisingly successful job with their development, as well.

I say surprising, because the characters in question are the Golem Girls – who have been at the heart of the strip’s transition from dealing with ordinary lives to dealing with strange mythological mysteries. It is a change that had, for a very long while, turned me away from the strip – the plot became surreal and complicated, and quite frankly, a bit difficult to follow. I had enjoyed, previously, Paul’s ability to write real and exciting characters, and his exploration of their lives and their personal growth. Switching gears didn’t make his strip a worse one – it just made it something other than what I was interested in.

But lately… well, lately the strip seems to be focusing a bit more on people again. And in this case, the people in question are Bud, Brandi and Jin, whose background I don’t really pretend to understand. What I do know is this – despite being strange and unimaginably powerful supernatural entities… they are trying to fit back into society, and live a real life.

And their attempts to do so makes for a very powerful story indeed.

The moment that most emotionally resonated with me involved Bud being told she can actually go and decorate her apartment. Here is her chance to act more human, and to do so, she goes shopping at a massive furniture store…

And she returns home with a single lamp, which she assembles herself, and that’s enough to make her happy. Now, the next strip is a solid one, and helps get into her head even a little bit more… but this was the one that really made me stop and think.

This is a strip that works on several levels. Visually it is well-delivered, demonstrating how to tell a story without needing any words. The art is efficient in what it does – and the expression on Bud’s face in the last panel manages to convey a lot of emotion despite it’s simplicity.

There is a feeling of accomplishment in a job well done, even as small a job as assembling a lamp. There is the sense of appreciation in having something to call her own, as well as a place in which to keep it. A recognition of how little it takes to make a place home… as well as exactly how much having that home means.

And there is a sense of independance and individuality. If Bud was simply concerned about emulating humanity, she could have purchased all sorts of furniture. Instead, she bought one simple little lamp. That’s all she wanted, all she needed.

In making that decision, she also demonstrated exactly how little she needs to pretend to be human.

Taylor has done a good job with all his characterization lately, but the Golem Girls stand out. I’ve enjoyed seeing Bud and Brandi interact and debate what it takes to fit into society. I was intrigued seeing the interplay between Jin and Shelly.

But overall, I’m impressed by the fact that Taylor has made me care about the three characters I had, not long ago, viewed as the low point of the strip… and now am looking forward to their every appearance.

That strikes me as the mark of a damn good comic.

Floppy Ears and Woodland Fears

Modern Tales continues to add quality comics to its roster – which is certainly not a bad strategy, as these things go. While recent days have been seeing all manner of discussion on Zudacomics, and ComicMix, and all manner of other BigName webcomic sites planning on launching, Modern Tales has continued to quietly chug along, and has resumed developing its steadily growing collection of enjoyable comics. I suspect it would take something big to really get attention (such as replacing their terrible archiving system and website layout), but it is nice to have a site that serves as such a reliable resource for first-class webcomics.

The latest addition to the site is Gothbunnies, which I stumbled upon today. It is a recent addition – so recent, in fact, it doesn’t even seem to have been officially announced! (Which, I’ll note, isn’t the first time I’ve reviewed a newcomer to Modern Tales before its official launch on the site.)

Gothbunnies clocks in at 85 comics, which I consider a nice and juicy number to encounter in a new strip – not so many that the archives are overwhelming, but just enough to give you a real sense of characters and story. It updates once a week – a bit slow for my tastes – but with full-sized pages, and what seems to be a good ability to move the action along at a steady pace. (Though I won’t really be able to judge that until after I’ve been reading for a while. For good or bad, reading a comic’s archives is a vastly different experience than reading it week to week.)

The art faintly reminds me of the works of Sylvan Migdal – which, rest assured, is a compliment, as I consider Migdal to be one of webcomics’ greats. The first page is amazingly gorgeous, with similarly striking moments ocassionally appearing throughout. Even when it is just portraying characters walking about, or conversing, the art is both clean and expressive – both of which I rate highly in the comics I read.

I have some small complaints about the character design – namely that, especially with some of the recent additions to the cast, some characters can be slightly difficult to tell apart. Similarly, it was almost fifty pages into the story before I realized that Larch, one of three main characters, was male rather than female. Of course, it didn’t actually change my view of the story in any real way, and I won’t deny that I fundamentally like the character designs – but a bit more distinction might not hurt.

As for the story itself, it is currently a solid blend of mischief and mystery, and is just beginning to hint at something more serious. The story begins with our three protagonists (who are, indeed, anthropomorphic rabbits that are also goths, as one might infer from the strip’s title) moving into a new house (warren.) Unfortunately, the house has a garden filled with plant monsters, a predisposition for unnatural weather, and is next door to mages, cemeteries, and all manner of assorted spookiness. Two of the roommates find the situation exciting, the other one is wary but resigned, and adventures, inevitably, ensue.

The characters have very distinct personalities right from the beginning, and the creator, one J. Wojtysiak, does a remarkably good job with the usual hurdle of expositing a character’s background. However, at least thus far, this doesn’t really appear to be their story – like many good adventure tales, the three of them (along with the reader) are plunged into a mystery in progress, and all they really need to do is survive it (and possibly learn what is truly going on along the way.)

Tied into the odd happenings in the neighborhood is Vetiver, a stranger in the woods and owner of a tome of magic, whom they find tied to a tree in the forest. (By plant monsters.) While Vetiver joins forces with them, after a fashion, to help get to safety, it seems clear he knows more than he is telling – and given all the other mysterious figures around who seem to wish him ill, there is clearly a lot more to him than there initially appears to be.

More than that… well, we don’t really know yet. We’re only just starting to stumble into deeper plot, and the story has a lot of directions it could go in from here. I am certainly eager to learn more – I find myself curious even about characters that have shown up only in the last handful of strips, but who already seem to have backstory that promises to be interesting.

And for all the discussion of story and plot above, this is a fundamentally light-hearted strip. Humor is present throughout, with occasional trips into raw silliness. I particularly like the sword-fight with a shovel-wielding bush. The jokes aren’t too over-the-top, and they don’t try to force their way into every scene, but they do set a cheerful tone that infuses the strip’s atmosphere. That is, in my opinion, just the right balance to aim for.

So, all in all? Brisk art, personable characters, engaging mysteries and an enjoyable mood all adds up to a damn good comic – and a good addition to Modern Tales, and a happy discovery for myself.

Endings and New Beginnings

Stuff Sucks coming to a close took me by surprise – and though it was sad news at first, it helped me realize a number of things about the comic, and for that I am grateful.

I hadn’t seen the ending coming – or even suspected one was in store – because I had become accustomed to the many, many webcomics out there with perpetually ongoing plots. Stuff Sucks, I naturally assumed, would be another such comic – the characters would continue to have wacky hijinks and interactions, relationships would hover up in the air, and resolutions would only come one small step at a time.

Instead, however, the comic has a cohesive storyline that has been heading for a very specific end. It reached that end perhaps sooner than intended, but the ending is a genuine one nonetheless.

It may not be an entirely satisfactory one – there are some open-ended questions, some plots left unresolved, some characters ending up together in a fashion that is both jarring, and yet all too tidy. And yet… I found I didn’t mind.

I realized that the story has never been what drew me into the comic. This isn’t to say the story was bad – but it was the art, the character designs, and the everyday extraordinariness of the scenes and concepts that won me over. All elements that will be just as fascinating regardless of what story is being told.

The story was a perfectly fine vehicle for delivering all these excellent moments, and phrases, and personalities – but I didn’t need it to be anything more than that.

Which just means that while I may have had a moment of sadness at seeing the current comic come to an end, I am all the more eager to see whatever Liz Greenfield comes up with next. Cause let me tell you – I’d bet good money that it will be awesome.

Meanwhile, DM of the Rings has come to a close as of today (and while the final comics were inevitably anticlimactic, I do fully approve of the farewell speech given, and wrapping things up with precisely one hundred and forty-four comics.) With this close, however, we immediately are moved forward to the new comic – Chainmail Bikini: The Nightmarish Legend of Deuce Baaj.

Right off the bat, it is clearly a different creature than the previous comic by Shamus Young – but the work of the new artist, Shawn Gaston, is quality, and the same irreverant humor is immediately present. While the LotR jokes may be left behind, this may open things up for more general commentary, and I suspect this strip will be a top-notch addition to the likes of Order of the Stick, Goblins, and Erfworld.

The first page itself certainly isn’t bad, and had some solid humor present – but it is the character profiles that already has me eager to see what comes next. The site is a little hard to navigate – but I’m willing to give that a pass on the first day of the comic.

For now, it’s got potential, and that’s all that really matters on day one.