Monthly Archives: August 2009
Last spring, someone asked if they could ask me some questions regarding webcomics for a school project. I happily agreed. I thought the questions were pretty good and quite relevant. I probably would’ve forgotten about it if Ping Teo of Lonely Panel hadn’t posted an answer to one of her reader’s questions (about sprite comics, in her case). I thought she offered sound advice, and I appreciated that she posted her e-mail online. So, being the copycat that I am, I decided to do the same thing. The following is my unedited response to a student with all the questions.
Throughout, I’m peppering this post with pictures of the famed luchador (and movie star) El Santo (not Blue Demon, the guy whose mask I’m usually wearing) … mainly so you can envision me replying to every question while wearing a mask and looking very classy at the same time.
What aspects of webcomics appeal to you the most?
I’m an avid comic book reader, so I’m going to compare this comic books (and comic strips). The most appealing aspect of a webcomic is the accessibility. With most comic books, you have to dig through back issues to get the full story. With webcomics, there’s usually a button that puts you on Page 1. I can read the entire run of “Sluggy Freelance,” “Scary Go Round,” and “Megatokyo” without having to go into the store.
What aspects of webcomics do you think appeal to people in general the most?
In these economic times, never underestimate the value of free entertainment! Webcomics, I think, are really competing with blogs, Youtube videos, and message boards. So what do webcomic writers have to offer? Sometimes, it’s the writer’s unique spin on humor. Sometimes, its looking for a good narrative without having to spend too much time on the internet. Unless things have changed in the last three years, online novels still haven’t taken off, mainly because of the time commitment. Stories with visual aids (e.g. webcomics) seem perfectly suited for the “instant gratification” culture of the internet.
What do you think are the most important parts of a comic? (i.e. storyline, humor, etc.)
For me, it’s definitely the character development. I have to want to follow the characters through any situation. That’s because most webcomics will be published in a span of years. Why should follow a character for that long? Storytelling is important, too, but you can have an awful story with magnetic characters. I haven’t run into many webcomics that have “must-read” stories, but I have have run into many comics where I couldn’t wait to see what the characters were up to next.
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The Sword and Sorcery fantasy subgenre began in the mind of a troubled young Texan named Robert E. Howard. He peppered his stories with aspect of his life. Growing up in the 1900’s, he witnessed the transformation of his state from a wild frontier to industrialized oil towns. He saw the anger and loss felt by disillusioned former Confederates, still bitter about losing the Civil War. He heard myths and legends passed down by his grandmother and ex-slaves. These elements came together in stories of one Conan the Barbarian, a big bruiser from the Far North who loves lusty wenches and despises evil wizards.
After Howard, several authors followed his template. Fritz Leiber (who actually popularized the term “Sword and Sorcery”) attempted to humanized its protagonists with Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser series. Michael Moorcock proved that scrawny albinos built like Iggy Pop could attract an audience with his Elric novels. And Marion Zimmer Bradley proved that the ladies could be just as kick-ass in her Sword and Sorceress anthology.
Yet the genre has always been ripe for parody. I mean, we’re talking about stories where beefy dudes regularly walk around shirtless, hot warrior babes rush into battle in skimpy outfits, warriors have unpronounceable alphabet soup names like “Grignr,” and the prose is so tortured* that Amnesty International is filing formal complaints. Yet everything is taken deadly seriously, like their pulp paperbacks were King James Bibles or something. Sergio Aragonés and Dave Sim got their licks back in the day. It’s only natural that webcomics got in on the action as well.
Verily, we have already laid our eyes upon several webcomics spoofing the venerable swords and sorcery genre. Among their honored ranks are Skadi (reviewed here), Dawn of Time (reviewed here), and Gastrophobia (reviewed here). So powerful is the allure of the female barbarian that the one presented today shall mark the first, and hopefully not last, day we visit a comic featuring a lead of the male gender. For today we shall review Legend of Bill, a webcomic formed from the very fingers of David Reddick. Will Crom smile upon his efforts? Or shall he see this webcomic driven before him?
Amidst all reminders, like back-to-school sales and the dawn of Oscar-bait films in our multiplexes, that summer must one day end. So, put away the air conditioner that you hastily bought at Lowes the one day the temperatures crept over 100. Scramble to finish that 1000 novel that you were supposed to finish for summer reading. Meanwhile, I’ll be right here, bringing you the weekly scrapbook of webcomic-related news from around the internet.
- Brace yourselves: the internet has just been given a huge influx of cartoon teenagers with huge doe eyes, impossibly smooth skin, and the heightened propensity to suffer nosebleeds. Tokyopop, the publisher of imported and original manga series, has gone through some major restructuring. Brigid Alverson reports that most of the series will go online.
Brigid Alverson: Why did you decide to go this route? Why does it make sense from a marketing perspective?
Marco Pavia: About a year ago, when we restructured the company due to the economy, we told the artists and writers for these series that we wanted to publish their continuing volumes online to get them in front of hundreds of thousands of manga fans. The book retail market was having its challenges— at the time, booksellers and publishers were describing it as the worst retailing environment in memory—and in most cases, bookstores were taking in very few copies or skipping the next volume of a series entirely…and they were also returning books in droves. Last month at Comic-Con, we invited our creators to a summit, at which we let them know we’d begin to serialize these series on TOKYOPOP.com, which has become a destination to enjoy comics, from our published series to user-generated content. We want to continue to give fans access to these talented creators and storytellers.
Brigid: Which comics will go online?
Marco: Continuing volumes of Psy*Comm and Boys of Summer will start the online serialization, and we’ll continue with Earthlight in early 2010. Other series on the schedule include—in no particular order—Afterlife, Grand Theft Galaxy, Dark Moon Diary, Pantheon High, Project DOA, We Shadows, Undertown, Gyakushu. There will be others, too—I’m sure I’m leaving some out—and we’ll update the schedule in the coming months.
- Josh Neufeld goes on tour to promote A.D.: New Orleans After The Deluge (reviewed here), which just became available in book form. Important piece for y’all in the Pacific Northwest:
October 8–11: I will be a guest of Portland’s Wordstock Literary Festival, “the largest celebration of literature and literacy in the Pacific Northwest.” Oregon Convention Center, Portland, Oregon.
- The Halfpixel guys are starting up something called Webcomics.com University.
Fans of our book How To Make Webcomics, and its sister site, Webcomics.com will be interested to hear that we’re starting a brand new live stream called Webcomics.com University.
Our hope with Webcomics University is to feature in depth lectures from comic pros, bringing you their favorite tips, tricks, techniques, and thoughts on making Webcomics.
I’ll be starting things off with our inagural episode, this Friday at 9pm central time. The show will be broadcast over my Ustream.tv channel. Bookmark my page or watch right here at PvPonline.com or Webcomics.com Friday night.
I think this is a good idea; it’s basically mentoring in the Digital Age. Aspiring artists who have the time and money should still enroll in classes at a local art school to learn the fundamentals, though. Watching demonstrations is nice, but direct interaction with a teacher is always better.
- Over at MPD57, Rob Berry takes a look at A Stinking Corpse, which is apparently a comic that features big butts. He also comments on the difference between comics and pin-ups, and how a simpler style can be more effective than a series of Dore-esque illustrations. (Among the examples of “good comics” are panels drawn by Chris Ware and Barry Windsor-Smith). The sample art for A Stinking Corpse features bare buttocks and some topless nudity, so it’s probably Not Safe For Work.
- This Week in Webcomics interviews Lemuel Pew and Aric McKeown of Blank It! Comics. In comic form! I just skimmed through it this morning and I have to say… I think Jackson and Aric are dopplegangers.
- There’s an interview with Ryan Burton, writer of The Stephenie Meyer comic, where he reveals that the comic is going to be narrated … by Dracula?!?!
You have been quoted as saying that a very recognizable vampire will be narrator, I’m guessing Edward. I don’t know if you can confirm this, but did you
try and keep the narration as close to this characters style as possible? If so, examples?
RB: “Well, I’ll give you a hint: it’s not who you think it is. I know there are lots and lots and lots (lots of lots) of fans who want it to be a certain vampire, but that’s Stephenie’s vampire, isn’t it? I can’t steal him. So we’re dealing with a worldly vampire in our story; someone much more menacing. Someone who’s been around for a bit longer. That might be the biggest hint I can give you…”
Admittedly, the interview is rather coy about the subject though. Who knows… maybe it’s Blacula. Or Vampire Hammurabi. (h/t Robot 6.)
This piece isn’t going to be mainly about webcomics, but criticism in general.
I’d like to take a look at something called “The District 9 Incident.”
It started when NY Press film reviewer Armond White posted a critical review of District 6. The piece was entitled “From Mothership to Bullship,” and it contained choice quotes like the one below:
Fools will accept District 9 for fantasy, yet its use of parable and symbolism also evoke the almost total misunderstanding that surrounds the circumstance of racial confusion and frustration recently seen when Harvard University tycoon Henry Louis Gates Jr. played the race card against a white Cambridge cop. Opening so soon after that event—and adding to its unending media distortion—District 9 confirms that few media makers know how to perceive history, race and class relations.
This got the fanboys howling. Some of the criticisms were legitimate. However, quite a few were angry that that the perfect 100% Rotten Tomatoes rating was sullied. Armond White was their bogey man. There were some calls that his review be stricken from the annals of Rotten Tomatoes forever.
What followed was a spirited defense from Roger Ebert. He went through White’s article point by point and said that each and every one of them were valid. And then he retracted after someone pointed out that White had awful taste (or, in more civil terms, tastes that did not comply with Roger Ebert or the general movie critics’ standards).
On Thursday night I posted in entry in defense of Armond White’s review of “District 9.” Overnight I received reader comments causing me to rethink that entry, in particular this eye-popping link supplied by Wes Lawson. I realized I had to withdraw my overall defense of White. I was not familiar enough with his work. It is baffling to me that a critic could praise “Transformers 2″ but not “Synecdoche, NY.” Or “Death Race” but not “There Will be Blood.” I am forced to conclude that White is, as charged, a troll.
Let me tell you something, it’s not every day you see Roger Ebert call a fellow reviewer a troll.
This touched off an article in Slate. Daniel Engber wrote about whether critics can be too contrarian in your reviews. (A contrarian being someone who goes against popular opinion just for the hell of it.) You see, Engber was also one of the few who did not like District 9, and he was also pilloried by fanboys everywhere.
The first lesson is that you can’t be a successful critic if no one agrees with you. (No one in the group lives on the contrarian side of the scale.) Second, you can’t be a successful critic if too many people agree with you. (The biggest conformist, Keith Phipps, tops the list at 83 percent.) I wonder if there’s a third lesson, too. It’s striking that White is so perfectly positioned at the center of the graph, while his colleagues cluster so neatly a little farther down—at what might be deemed a respectable level of dissent. Could it be that professional film critics (not amateurs like me) somehow keep track, consciously or not, of how often they rock the boat?
His article also provides a handy visual aid: a scale plotting the most contrarian critics to the most conformist critics. Engber states that White is the most contrarian, yet at only 50% he’s not as contrarian as other will lead you to believe. (The argument is somewhat flawed, however, especially when you get into discussion if 50% is a true midpoint for dissent, but whatever.)
Which prompted Keith Phipps of the AV Club to issue a rebuttal.
…If I’m conforming to something I don’t know what it is. There’s no such thing as seeing a film in a vacuum. When I see a movie with co-workers and colleagues here in Chicago we inevitably end up talking about it after the screening. By then I feel like my opinion is already in place, but who’s to say? (This is to say nothing of some fellow critics who, intentionally or not, change the temperature of a screening with audible scoffs and other unwelcome gestures.)
Looks like we got ourselves a Fatal Fourway of extraordinary magnitude in this piece! Armond White vs. Roger Ebert vs. Daniel Engber vs. Keith Phipps. Clearly, we can only solve this by sitting everyone down for some beer on the White House lawn. Or pitting them all against Shaq. Whatever.
I tend to side with Armond White, since I do think that a reviewer should be free to develop his or her own standards over whether something is good or not. Sure, I don’t agree with a lot of White’s reviews. And he does say some pretty outrageous things, but, truth be told, so does Roger Ebert.
What I do like about “The District 9 Incident” is that it raises a lot of questions. There might be no true webcomic review aggregator like Rotten Tomatoes, Metacritic, or Pitchfork for webcomics, but there is an internal sense of comics that are generally regarded as good and comics that are generally regarded as terrible. Since The Webcomic Overlook has been accused of being both a contrarian and a conformist at different times, I thought I’d address a few things.
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There are many ways a webcomic can catch my attention. In some cases, a webcomic will hook me in with its concept. A ninja who is also a doctor? Awesome! In other cases, a webcomic will grab me with the art. And in very few cases, a webcomic will attract me due to the creators behind it. This was the case with Dreamless, which features an unlikely team-up: writer Bobby Crosby of Marry Me (reviewed here) and artist Sarah Ellerton of The Phoenix Requiem (reviewed here at ComixTalk).
This means that plenty of angst from critics about being shunned, speculation over whether or not Paramount was gaming Rotten Tomatoes, and general handwringing over the transformation of “A Real American Hero” to a bunch of international grunts. (I liked the movie, personally. Rossman nailed it when he said it was basically a Saturday Morning Cartoon come to life.) A few webcomic creators also weigh in:
- PvP is driven mad by the over-use of the word “Joe,” but not too upset over the visually appealing Sienna Miller.
- Hi-Jinks Ensue runs a gag about too many explosions … which, let’s face it, could’ve been used for any summer action movie, but did echo something I said coming out of the theater.
- Interestingly, Shortpacked!, provider of Joe-related content for years, has been quiet on the movie. The world isn’t right when there’s no GI Joe movie commentary in the Shortpacked! comic. So, anyway, let’s revisit this classic.
- And, just for fun, here’s an animated music video Dr. Smoov did two years back with Serpentor rapping the Busta Rhymes classic “Whoo-Hah!! (Got ya all in check)”. I figure I’d set myself apart from all those other guys just discovering those Fenslerfilms.
So… not many webcomics about the GI Joe movie. Way to go, Paramount marketing guys. So now, let’s move on to other webcomic news of interest:
- Lemuel Pew talks about webcomics and mobile applications at webcomics.com.
- A while ago, Morgan Wick put together a two-part essay on Scott McCloud’s Reinventing Comics. Here’s Part One and Two.
- Olaf Solstrand, meanwhile, has made his masters thesis about webcomics available online (in Norweigan, though… sorry, Anglophones!). He’s begun translating piece in English, though. In one segment that he made available in the linked blog post, he speculates on the nature of digital documentation.
- Comics Worth Reading comments on two of their webcomic faves: Sinfest and Comic Critics!
- Just when you thought you got out, they pull you back in! Dark Horse Presents returns to My Space. Here’s a few excerpts from the announcement on Comic Book Resources:
“We’ve been working on this ever since the cutbacks at MySpace caused the gap,” Dark Horse editor Scott Allie told CBR of the move back to MySpace. “The goal all along has been to get MDHP back up on MySpace in the same place that it’s always been because we feel that, even with the changes at MySpace, the project is still something that we’re very, very proud of. There’s still a tremendous amount of traffic despite the cutbacks, and we feel like it’s still a great opportunity for us. We didn’t want to let this sudden economic problem kill something we’d been involved with for a while.”
Going forward, Dark Horse intends to use MDHP as a platform from which to launch new series and other initiatives. “With a lot of them, you’ll get your first story for free on MySpace, just to get a taste,” Allie said. “What we generally try to do is have a totally self-contained thing on there, showing you the creative team” and what you can expect from the subsequent print book.
- The staff of Cracked has joined us on the Dark Side and put together their own worst webcomics list. Way to jump on the bandwagon late, guys. We were all over this, like, two years ago. OK… maybe I’m just a little bitter that they put together a Most Badass Presidents list to great fame and infamy sometime after I got my own licks. Oh, what could’ve been. I might be rating US Presidents this day if it weren’t for that little setback. Anyway, they’re actually pretty original with their selections… not the same terrible webcomics that everyone’s been hatin’. Check out the 5 Circle of Webcomics Hell.
Do you know who should’ve played the Baroness? Aishwarya Rai. Deep down inside, you know this is true.
UPDATE: Whoops! I’d meant to add this to the post earlier, but to be honest, I just plum forgot. Nancy White e-mailed me a link to the Brainz.org site on the 20 Funniest Webcomics! Naturally, I don’t agree with everything on the list … different things strike different people funny. (Like Ebert says, greatest lists are propoganda … though the best propoganda suggests at what you should be looking at and what you should be giving another look.) It’s always nice to see what kind of webcomics other people embrace. Though I do have one quibble: FreakAngels on a funny webcomics list? Really?