The Webcomic Overlook #43: High Moon
After hating them because they were basically the pretty new thing on the block, I’ve warmed up to DC’s Zuda Comics format. I love how you can press the Full Screen button, and the page occupies a huge portion of the laptop screen. It’s a great format for art-heavy comics. The best comics on the traditional image-based format seemed best suited for simple, uncomplicated artwork. The Zuda viewer lets you admire the detail to the tiniest cross hatch.
However, I found myself agreeing with a recently posted rant on the Scienteers website. Zuda Comics is slow. Really. Goddamn. Slow. I run on a home wireless system that runs off a cable modem that is usually quite speedy. Yet each page takes somewhere between 10 to 20 seconds to load. Some readers have informed me that they are still running on dial-up modems; I can only imagine the sort of load times they have to suffer. The problem only compounds when you consider that the type of comics hosted on Zuda are the more traditional types that are meant to be flipped, page after page, as you would a comic book. This is the Era of Instant Gratification, and readers don’t like sticking around when they perceive they’re wasting time.
And this is a goddamn shame, because a part of me says that it’s unfair to judge the comic because of the slow medium it runs on. After all, does one judge an Ernest Hemingway novel based on the quality of its paper? Thus, in reviewing writer David Gallaher and artist Steve Ellis’ Western/horror mash-up, High Moon, I’m not going to give the creators red cards because, at times, the suspense and anticipation built by the storyline were completely killed off by the download times, symbolized by a slowly filling word balloon with cruel, mocking eyes.
Full disclosure time: David Gallaher solicited a review from this site. There’s nothing wrong with that. Artists and writers are hard-working people, and, in the current glut of webcomics, they need to get the word out whenever possible. Lately, though, I haven’t been able to get through many reader requests, mainly because of real life and online commitments.
However, Mr. Gallaher did something wily to put High Moon on my “Must Review” queue; he included an eye-catching sample panel in his e-mail. It depicted a cowboy wrestling a werewolf in the middle of the desert. Look at those words again: “A cowboy wrestling a werewolf.” That, my loyal readers, is the world’s most effective hook. It’s a universal advertising constant. If Buick aired a commercial featuring a cowboy wrestling a werewolf, I’d be the first guy in line for the Lucerne at the local dealership.
High Moon takes place in the Wild West, where men were men and women packed Winchesters. The town of Blest looks like something out of a Sergio Leone movie: dry, desolate, and forbidding. By day, the tiny town is awash in dusty hues of orange and red, while at night it’s lit by the pale, yellow glow of candlelight. The place is anything but quiet, though. Its sheriff has recently gone missing, and a little girl has disappeared as well. It could’ve been kidnappers or it could’ve been wolves. Or it could’ve been something more sinister. No one speaks about it, but around Blest, there roams things that are supernatural.
At around this time, a mysterious stranger of few words walks into town. His name is MacGregor. True to the spaghetti western nature of the comic, he looks like Clint Eastwood if he styled his hair to look like Wolverine’s. He’s not unknown in these parts; the excitable deputy recognizes him when he mentions his name. It turns out that the hombre used to work for Pinkerton, and he’s here to clean up on a bounty. He ain’t looked upon favorably by most of the locals, namely the town founder and Tara, the daughter of the sheriff, but you don’t get into this sort of business to make friends.
Of course, those townsfolk might be right to be suspicious. Is MacGregor here to save the innocent? Or is the man a ruthless, amoral killer, unflinchingly resigned to the fact that anyone possessed by the powers of evil must be destroyed immediately? He may look like the Man With No Name, but inside beats the dark, enigmatic heart of John Wayne’s Ethan Edwards.
High Moon emulates its Western forefathers by being sparse on words. Instead, it lets the art do the talking. Steve Ellis’ art is incredibly attractive, gritty and sleek at the same time. (He cites High Plains Drifter, Django, and El Topo as inspirations.) The attention to detail brings to life a secluded town where wooden buildings show signs of wear and where brothels look hazy and smoky. While the action scenes are some of the best you’ll ever see in a webcomic, High Moon can get downright elegant in its quieter moments. There’s a wordless sequence where MacGregor watches over a sleeping Tara. He picks up different items — a knife, a box, a gun. Panel by panel, we realize that we don’t know enough about MacGregor to deduce what exactly he’s going to do. Hats off to Gallaher and Ellis for trusting in the art to build up reader suspense.
And then there are the creatures who stalk the night. They’re frightening, yet they’re drawn solid and imbued with such a sense of realism that it never occurs to the reader that demonic creatures and cowboys belong to two different genres.
High Moon moves at a fast clip from the start. That’s a plus for the Zuda format: to win a contract, you have to wow the readers over the span of eight pages. (While this is a heavily criticized aspect of Zuda, it’s really not all the different from how editors choose to award book deals. Only this time, we’re the editor.) Gallaher and Ellis plunge right into the story, which includes, surprise of surprises, that cowboy-fighting-a-werewolf panel I was gushing earlier about. From that point on, the two never let up on the gas pedal. High Moon is very economic: no page is wasted on anything other than the plot. At the same time, Gallaher builds toward the future. We’re still in Season One (which is set to end at page #60), yet Gallaher has already planted clues and flashbacks that tie into MacGregor’s mysterious past.
When compared to other webcomics, High Moon seems out of place. It’s just so polished and professional looking. The traditional style of artwork seems to clash with the predominantly flash-generated output of the majority of webcomics. Shouldn’t something like this, and its Zuda brethren, be release in print? Maybe if people actually bought Westerns, then yeah.
Ignoring solid Western-themed blockbusters like Marvel’s Dark Tower series and Dark Horse’s Serenity series — both which owe a great debt of gratitude to the popularity of mainstream creators like Steven King and Joss Whedon — Western comics haven’t sold well since, oh, about the 1950’s. (In fact, it can be argued that those two titles aren’t even Westerns at all. They just happen to star dudes in chaps.) Lesser known properties, like DC’s Jonah Hex and Bat Lash, occupy the lowest rungs of the Diamond comic book sales figures (#143 and #147, respectively) and are lucky to sell 13,000 copies.
It’s tempting to say that the webcomic format is a better outlet for non-superhero comics. There’s not enough evidence, though, to say that Zuda is doing enough to promote them. I’m not privy to Zuda’s official numbers, though the High Moon site shows that it’s garnered over 98K visits since its launch in October of 2007 (many of which are, undoubtedly, repeat viewers). On the other hand, Compete.com shows that the entire site (Zudacomics.com) garnered only 16.5K viewers last month. I suppose you can claim that there’s growth potential with Zuda, but Compete.com, again, shows that the site hasn’t really seen a growth in number of visits since August 2007.
Maybe kids aren’t just into Westerns these days, their love of cowboys tainted by boring visits to local Pioneer Villages. Don’t let those memories drive you away from High Moon. It taps into the spirit that inspired Kurosawa to make samurai movies and Kid Rock to declare it to be just about the most badass occupation ever. I’ll be honest with you, I probably would’ve loved this webcomic if it were just about cowboys. The werewolves and demons just happen to be the cherry on the sundae.
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
Posted on May 30, 2008, in 5 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, dramatic webcomic, gothic, horror webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics, western webcomic and tagged High Moon, Zuda Comics. Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.