Monthly Archives: February 2010

Joy of Webcomics is not serious business

John Avatar at the On Life, The Universe, and Everything blog makes a simple plea: stop over-intellectualizing comics.

I love Eisner’s work, and consider him to be the greatest graphic novelist in history alongside Tezuka Osamu (godfather of manga), and of course what he wrote in this book’s pages are the musings of a veritable grandmaster. But even halfway through, I can’t help feeling that he over-theorizes on what is essentially an art of doing. In more recent times, an equall guilty culprit would be Scott McCloud. After skimming through pages and pages of how panels can portray time, how images prompt eye movement and how gestures illicit shared experiences, I wonder how many students of such theory translate these learnings into bestsellers.

But there’s the cautionary disclaimer – knowing the airy-fairy theories doesn’t make anyone a good comic writer at all. In fact my hypothesis is, to get your work to a larger audience, one can use really simple layouts and obvious pictures to win over people who don’t usually read comics at all; that’ll run counter to the complex compositions of Eisner and McCloud.

Despite this being one of the most over-analytical webcomic blogs around, I do have to agree with John Avatar to an extent. Just like any art, webcomics are about doing, and sometimes we do get too serious in analysis. People sometimes forget that webcomics are fun, and when you’re a stickler, you’re a bit of a killjoy.

BUT… that same criticism about critics can be applied for any art, can’t it? Painting, literature, music… you name it. You can spend your whole life studying literary theory to create the greatest novel in the world, but the some guy named Charles Dickens comes along — who is getting paid by the word, mind you — and his wildly popular books leave conventional theory in the dust. But sometimes we also need to reverse engineer what we know (a.k.a. over-analyze) to try to create something new — a fresh approach to how things have always been done.

Different people are called to do different things. Maybe you’re the next Charles Dickens. Maybe you’re the next James Joyce. Either path is pretty great, but for that second path it helps to have some terribly over-analytical people on your side.

In more “wink wink nudge nudge say no more” type news, Dwight MacPherson (of The Surreal Adventures of Edgar Allan Poo and Zuda’s Sidewise) posts about comedy. In a sudden reversal to my previous link, Dwight’s suggestion is to “analyze”:

It is impossible to write comedy successfully without a good grasp of what comedy is. Sure, we all find things that make us laugh, but that doesn’t mean we understand what makes them humorous.

Take a moment to think about a real-life event that made you laugh until you lost control of your bladder or bowels–or laughed so hard your windpipe constricted and left you a convulsing, heehawing wreck on the living room floor.

[T]here is more to effective comedy than a funny word or statement. There are many factors that will make the event comedic. Writing down humorous events is one of the best ways to understand what makes certain things funny, and understanding is one of the first steps to writing effective comedy.

After reading these last two somewhat contradictory posts, The Webcomic Overlook has come to a stunning conclusion: do whatever, man.

Meanwhile, Coyote Trax takes a look at Valentine-themed webcomics.

And while we’re on the subject of Valentine announcements a day late, don’t miss out on the excellent LOST themed Valentine cards at Adventuring Company. I sent my wife, a huge LOST fan, the Sayid one, and she loved it.

One Punch Reviews #26: Scott Meets Family Circus

The spoof Scott Meets Family Circus by comedian Scott Gairdner has found itself an unlikely battle between two titans of journalism: The Huffington Post and the Washington Post. It all started when Huffington praised the spoof and posted several selections on its site. Back at the Washington Post, Michael Cavna of the Comic Riffs section shot back that Scott Meets Family Circus was “a calcified deposit of seriously unfunny on the humorous “humerus” that is the HuffPost’s funny bone.” Oh, snap, son! That’s, like, trash talk straight out of an Ivy League playground!

So who’s right? The Post … or The Post? Perhaps a site that specializes in webcomics can cast the deciding vote. Perhaps a site like … The Webcomic Overlook.


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Captain Nihilist is for the children

It’s one of the biggest jokes in comic reading circles when a newspaper publishes a “Comics aren’t just for kids anymore!” article. First of all, anyone savvy enough to even read one comic book knows that most comics haven’t been kid-oriented in a while. Second, all these articles do is expose newspaper writers as writing on a subject that they don’t know much about.

Yet, at the same time, it’s also a lament. Why can’t comics be for kids again? I’m certain a lot of current webcomic readers remember lazy days burying your faces in comics and/or the comics section of the local newspaper. Don’t you want the same thrill to be available for future generations?

Is it even possible for a kids comic/webcomic to thrive in today’s modern world were precious young faces are buried in the pale glow of the Nintendo DS or glued 24-7 to the Cartoon Network. I think so. I believe kids’ webcomics can thrive for the same reason that an even more archaic form of media, the book, can succeed as long as it’s written by someone as adept as J.K. Rowling.

Since “kids” is rather nebulous term, I’m going to address kids ages 4-8 as a ground rule, which is under the School Library Journal’s umbrella of Young Readers. I suppose I can skew a little older too, even up to, say, 11 years old.

Dawn of Time, by Michael Stearns

Dawn of Time, by Michael Stearns

Incidentally, I’m no authority on the subject. Most of the thoughts below were gleaned from internet articles and half-remembered memories about writing stories to my own siblings (the youngest of whom is 10 years younger than me). Thus, I’ll be including references to people who know better. Many are from the world of kid’s books, by the way… tips on how to write a good kids’ comic are very scarce. Besides, the lessons learned are easily transferable from the world of the printed word to the world of sequential art.

“So Captain Nihilist,” you say, “hit me with some tips about how to write a good kid’s webcomic!”

1.) You’ve got to think like a kid.

Here’s the problem: the current crop of webcomic creators are between the ages of 20 to 40. Most don’t have kids. Even those who do have kids have a hard time understanding what kids like. I mean, seriously, how many of you remember being a kid and saying, “Boy, my parents sure understand me!”

Take Axe Cop as a case study. The comic effectively shows a child’s unique thought process. We never dispute its validity (and for the remaining doubters, there is a Youtube video as proof) because WE remember that’s how we made up stories in our childhood. But, man, assuming you’re a well-adjusted adult, you have to work HARD to have a thought process like that.

So how can we, us boring rational adults, ever tap into a child’s imagination? Well, I suppose you can hang around kids like Lewis Carroll and J. M. Barrie used to do, but these days that’s pretty suspect, and will probably lead to you having to register your name on a federal watch list.

There’s an easier way. From the essay Writing SF for Kids, a highly essential piece by young adult fiction writer Justin Stanchfield about kids’ books that I will be referring to again later in this post:

Write what you know.
All right, we’ve all heard this one before. But with children’s lit it takes on a new perspective. Reach back into your childhood. Try to remember how it felt to be a kid at five years old, at eleven, and again as a teenager. Pick out specific times and instances that stand the most clear in your memory, and try to put those same emotions into your characters.

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Metapost: a quick word on review requests

El Santo here.

Thanks for everyone who’s been submitting their webcomics for review. Please keep doing so. Out of the last seven reviews I’ve done, 3 have been requests from the webcomic creator themselves. Two of my scheduled ones, too, are also creator requests. At least one of the requests I received today via e-mail seems interesting enough to put on my shortlist of “potentials.”

I’ve been getting two to three requests a day for several months now, and unfortunately, I won’t be able to get to all of them. At a pace of only doing one or two reviews a week, I hardly have enough time to cover them all.

Despite that, keep sending in your review requests. I’ve encountered and glimpsed many different kinds of interesting webcomics thanks to your submittals. I typically pick the ones that for some reason pique my interest (they make writing reviews much, much easier and more relevant). Please don’t take it the wrong way if your webcomic is not one of the ones picked to be reviewed on this site.

Also, when sending a review request, please use my e-mail (which can be arrived by clicking on the handsome icon on the right sidebar).

Celebrate Heart Health Month with Be The Beat and the Snowflakes webcomic

Did you know that February, in addition to being several other things (like East Coast Blizzard Month) is Heart Health Month? Well, you do now!

I got an e-mail asking if I could help promote “Be The Beat” on this site. I was happy to oblige.

“Be the Beat” offers many activities to help teens to become prepared in cardiac arrest situations. However, one of the most interesting additions, at least with relation to the media that this site specialized in, are all-new pages of the Snowflakes webcomic. (Incidentally, I can’t link to the strips of “Be The Beat” directly due to the entire “Be The Beat” site being in Flash).

Here’s the official press release:

LOS ANGELES, Feb 10, 2010 — The creators of Snowflakes, a web-based comic strip, are collaborating with the American Heart Association to promote the Be the Beat cardiac arrest awareness campaign to teens and tweens.

James Ashby, Chris Jones and Zach Weiner developed a 20-part series that incorporates a storyline about cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and highlights the Be the Beat campaign. The series began Monday, Dec. 14, and will run on Mondays and Fridays until February.

“The opportunity to use our humor and storytelling to promote a great cause was impossible to pass up,” Weiner said.

Be the Beat teaches 12- to 15-year-olds fun ways to learn the basics of cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and how to use an automated external defibrillator (AED). The Be the Beat website features video games, interactive quizzes and 100-beat-per-minute songs to help teach teens and tweens what to do if someone collapses in sudden cardiac arrest.

“Snowflakes has a quirky and fun appeal to reach teens and tweens with Be the Beat’s lifesaving messages.” said Michael Sayre, M.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee. “We hope to encourage more teens to become the next generation of lifesavers.”

According to the American Heart Association, during a cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops beating normally and the victim collapses into unconsciousness. Oxygen-rich blood stops circulating. Without quick action, such as immediate CPR, a victim of cardiac arrest can die within four to six minutes. By increasing the number of people who know how to respond properly to sudden cardiac arrest, Be the Beat will help increase the odds of bystander CPR and AED use and give more cardiac arrest victims a better chance at life.

Snowflakes is a family-friendly comic strip about a small orphanage high in the mountains, filled with imaginative, smart, and unusual kids. Three times a week, readers get to find out about the humor, adventure, and intrigue that goes on in the complex world of 8 to 15 year old kids. To find out more about Snowflakes, visit http://www.snowflakescomic.com

Do some of those names sound familiar? Chris Jones is the accomplished artist behind Grumps and Captain Excelsior, while Zach Wiener is the wickedly humorous fella behind Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal and also works with Chris on Captain Excelsior. (Ashby, the main plotter, has had no previous experience with webcomics, but is a screenwriter and playwright.)

Heck of a pedigree, and heck of a good cause.

The Webcomic Overlook #107: The Dreamland Chronicles

3D CG Art webcomics. Brrrrrrr!!!!

The very term sends shivers down the spines of right-thinking webcomic readers and reviewers alike. In the past, I’ve mocked pixel art and stick figure comics as the aesthetic nadir of webcomics. However, no one practicing these two “art forms” ever tries to convince the readers that the artwork is actually good, and the good webcomics compensate fairly well with writing. I don’t know if you can ever make the same excuse for CG art, because in this case the art itself will always be front and center. So I’m not exagerrating when I say that 3D CG Art webcomics, hands down, are the worst looking webcomics EVER.

It’s counterintuitive, because 3D animation does pretty well with respect to movies. It’s gotten so mainstream that we can ignore the technical nuts and bolts and focus on the content… like how both Up and Avatar are both nominated for the Academy Awards for Best Motion Picture and not just for the technical categories. Unfortunately, your average webcomic creator doesn’t have access to James Cameron money, and, as a result, the stuff coming out of their cheap-o 3D programs is the epitome of terrible.

When you think 3D CG art webcomics, you think dead, unemotional faces. Eyes not fully lodged in their sockets. Stiff marionette poses. Plastic skin textures. On one hand, you have waifish and impossibly smooth 3D Poser lookalikes with slightly different hairstyles. On the other hand, you have the “artists” who put so little effort in their work that they’re basically just captioned screenshots from Sims 3 and Team Fortress 2.

Fellow webcomic reviewer Ping Teo at Webcomic Finds did a better job at distilling the pitfalls of 3D CG art on her blog when reviewing Sunset Grill:

Given that you work with 3D stuff, I’m guessing you should already be familiar with the Uncanny Valley Syndrome…. I think this is the biggest obstacle you are going to have to overcome. People are weird with regards to this thing. The more realistic the art looks, the less they tend to like it. Especially if it’s 3D. I experienced a little bit of this when I started reading your comic, it took a couple of chapters before I could stop feeling uncomfortable about it.

So why am I so keen on reviewing Scott Christian Sava’s The Dreamland Chronicles, a webcomic full of 3D artwork? Chalk it up to an ineffable curiosity and an unshakable faith that any medium can be tamed by a good storyteller. Can the worst artform in webcomics be redeemed by a skillful artist? Or can an artform be so bad that all it can deliver is migraines? Will The Dreamland Chronicles forever be doomed to wander the Uncanny Valley as well?


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The Anders Loves Maria poll

I thought I’d try out this poll feature on the site. Should this be a success, I may try out other polls in the future.

Rene Engstrom’s Anders Loves Maria just ended. What did you think?

Metapost: so lazy

Apologies for no new reviews this week. I’ve been busy wasting time, what with Lost premiering this week, me lurking on Lost communities, me inputting crackpot Lost theories on my wife’s Facebook, and generally being Lost. (Seriously, this is an issue. I think the same thing happened early last year when my wife and I plowed through the first four seasons on DVD in preparation for Season 5.)

(In related news, Joel of HijiNKS Ensue may need to detonate a nuclear warhead to put his mind at peace.)

(EDIT: And while we’re on the subject of Lost, Nedroid’s Spoiler-Free Lost Spoilers.)

Also, the Superbowl. So my mind’s been in several places at once. I will let you get a peek into my next three planned reviews, though, if you’d like to play along this February:

Also, once upon a time, El Santo was once in a collaborative storytelling circle, where you post three or four paragraphs and then another writer takes over. It went through a pretty good run until we got bogged down by our own mythology. (Though, now that I look back at it, it was not nearly as confusing as Lost.)

Well, the folks over at Witch’s Brew are trying the same thing, but with webcomics. I checked out a few panels, and frankly it’s badly drawn/copy-pasted and makes no goddamn sense… but it does look like everyone involved is having a lot of fun. And what more could you ask for? The Webcomic Overlook sorta hopes that this kind of thing catches on as a sort of fun past time.

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