Category Archives: 4 Stars
I have a startling confession to make: I’m a pretty big fan of the probably cancelled NBC series Siberia. (I was also a fan of The Cape, so maybe I’m just attracted to failure.) Siberia starts off by fooling viewers into thinking that they’re watching a reality show. Contestants are dropped off via helicopter into the forbidding wilderness of northern Russia. Like all reality shows, they start things off with a silly challenge. Race to the cabins! The last two get eliminated! The trappings are familiar to anyone who’s watched TV in the last decade. There’s filmed confessionals to flesh out character personalities, alliances being formed, and mugging for the unseen cameramen.
Show’s true format and statement of intent reveals itself by the end of the first episode, though. One of the contestants is presumed dead. Brutally mutilated. It slowly dawns on the characters (and the viewers) that nothing on the show is as it seems. Slowly but surely, the safety net disappears. The characters arrived in Siberia with the assumption that, no matter what goes wrong, there’s a support team hiding just out of view to deal with the really serious stuff. Like food rations, medical care, or keeping away dangerous animals or people. Scary moments are initially brushed off as just being part of the show. The real horror creeps in when the characters suddenly realize that nobody is in control, and they are all at the mercy of whatever dark, unspoken mysteries lurk just beyond the campgrounds.
The same sense of primal eeriness permeates Katie Rice’s difficult to spell webcomic Camp Weedonwantcha. (“Weedonwantcha” is a play on words: it’s both a parody of camps that takes on Native American names and what Avengers director Joss Whedon says when he wants to pick up chicks.) The encroaching sense of desperation isn’t at the forefront, though. This is primarily a humorous comic about kids having adventures at camp. One that they seem to be unable to leave. And not because the crafts classes are super fun.
(This is Part 2 of the massive Homestuck review. Click here for Part 1, covering Acts 1-4.)
I get it.
I totally get it. The appeal of the trolls, I mean.
When Andrew Hussie’s MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck started out, the characters could be best described as perhaps being tied to one personality trait. John is nerdy, Rose is gothy, Dave is cool, and Jade is sunny. They’re pleasant enough protagonists, but they’re pretty much video game heroes. Whether you’re Master Chief, the marine from Doom, Mario, Sonic, or the guy from BioShock, the main character is typically a stand-in for the player (or in this case, the reader). There has to be enough wiggle room for you to, in a way, become that character.
The trolls are different. I have a weird feeling that when Hussie started off Chapter 5, he was intentionally trying to tax the reader’s patience. We’ve been following the same four characters for four whole acts, when all of the sudden they disappear and are replaced by twelve all new characters that we hadn’t been invested in at all. Now, as an avid reader of fantasy novels, I’m pretty used to chapters where we abandon our main characters for long stretches to flesh out and establish new characters and communities. I have a feeling, though, that when this act came out, long time readers were throwing their hands up in disgust but about, say, the fifth troll introduction.
Yet, at the same time, the trolls ended up becoming the most visible symbol of Homestuck. I remember distinctly when the initial supporters (usually posting some variation of “Wake up, boy”) gave way to the cavalcade of troll fan art and cosplayers. I’d read some Homestuck before, though I’d stopped before even the end of Act 1. And I remember scratching my head, thinking, “Wait. This is the same webcomic?”
All the same, I totally get it.
(NOTE: The following review will compare Homestuck to friggin’ James Joyce and George Bernard Shaw. For readers with low tolerance for pompous malarkey, discretion is advised. Then again, PBS and Tor Books’ Mordecai Knode made the same comparison, so nyeh!)
A couple weeks ago a buddy and I were watching Game 6 of the Miami Heat/Indiana Pacers game. Guys like Chris Bosh and LeBron James were flopping to the ground to get the referees to call the fouls, our discussions turned to our favorite teams. My buddy was a big fan of the Heat. (He was pretty much the only one in the bar rooting for them. Everyone else was pulling for the Pacers to upset.) Me, though, I had to vouch for the team nearest and dearest to my heart: the Detroit Pistons.
And when you’re talking about the Pistons, inevitably the discussion turns to the legendarily thuggish team of the late 80′s-early 90′s called The Bad Boys. Dennis Rodman. Isiah Thomas. Bill Laimbeer. Vinnie “The Microwave” Johnson. Joe Dumars. “Man, I miss those days,” I said, pointing to the players as they gingerly hit the ground after every foul. “Back then, not only would they have taken the elbow to the stomach, they would’ve come back at you and returned the pain tenfold.”
(Ah, the glory of being a Pistons fan. Even when they’ve won the championship as recently as 2004, you never forget your first love that is The Bad Boys.)
Am I naive to dream of earlier, more brutal time? Maybe. But maybe it’s also… the future! At least, that’s how it looks in Scott Sava and Alex Kolesar’s basketball themed webcomic, Hoop Fighter.
The tour of Eisner-nominated titles for Best Digital Comic continues with Bandette, by writer Paul Tobin and his wife, artist Colleen Coover. Best Digital Comic is not, incidentally, the only award associated with Bandette. Ms. Coover is also a nominee for the Best Inker/Penciller Award. Fantastic news, as I am — above all — easily swayed by pretty pictures. Talk about setting me up with ridiculously high expectations!
Bandette may also be the first nominee that isn’t a “webcomic”, per se. The comic falls on the “digital comic” side of things. Bandette is downloadable through Comixology, which means that you gotta shell out a dollar an issue. Being not made of money (or a measly $3, which I then turned around and reinvested in the latest issue of IDW’s Transformers: More Than Meets The Eye), I did this review based on the first issue (which is currently free) and on the three page previews of the subsequent issues.
The Eisner nominees for Best Digital Comic often include some absolutely bizarre entries that look like they were done under some sort of chemical influence. I think Dash Shaw’s Bodyworld may have been one of them, but the geometry-based digressions, while challenging from the standpoint of linear storytelling, were so lucid it makes me doubt my assessment. Still, the webcomic itself was about smoking drugs, so I think it fits in some way. The thing about these sorts of comics is that the writer can wave away inconsistencies, plot holes, and artistic decisions under the catch-all excuse of “Just not getting it.” Which isn’t entirely untrue. But still!
Here’s what you need to know about Michael DeForge’s Ant Comic: the first sequence shows a depiction of two homosexual ants having sex. The second shows some ants marching into a giant ant vagina.
I was tempted to put up an NSFW tag, but I think most curious co-workers looking over your shoulder would have an impossible time figuring out what was going on. Still, probably not something you’d want to recommend for your kids.
One of the most mockable aspects of anime is when the characters have a big brother/little relationship when the two characters are not actually related. (And, let’s face it, sometimes when they are.) There’s usually a sizable age difference. The girl will be barely into her teens, and the guy will be college age or older. The girl is typically portrayed as somewhat infantile, especially when mewling something along the lines of “onneeeeeiiiiisaaaannnn!” (Alternately, “neeeesannnnnnn!”) The guy, on the other hand, is some aloof, emotionally distant dude who appends the heroine’s name with “-chan.” While this is typically portrayed as sibling closeness, there’s a little bit of creepiness in the subtext of how that same closeness can easily translate into something more serious. (And it can get really weird when it actually does happen.)
In Strays by Samantha Whitten and Stacey Pefferkorn, we’re introduced to a young 12-year-old girl named Meela. She’s homeless and trying to survive in the big outdoors by herself. Suddenly, a fight breaks down nearby, which destroys her rickety lean-to. She meets the 28-year-old Feral. Feral, while being a silent badass, takes some pity on Meela and decides to let her tag along.
So many alarms were going off in my head.
So many alarms.
(Incidentally, I was writing this on the day before Easter — a huge shopping day, due to the many sales at the mall — while sitting at a window facing an American Girl doll store, which is abundantly populated by many tiny girls. I imagined a terrible scenario where someone called security, and they confiscated my laptop which currently has the first paragraph written up without any further context. I think that chances were high that I would’ve had to register my name on a list of not very nice people. These are the sorts of sacrifices I make for you, dear readers. Blogging is more dangerous than it sounds.)
At some point, I’m going to have to make peace with the fact that exposition is a very hard thing to do in high fantasy comics. It’s more natural in books, where characters can stop at the ruins of an ancient kingdom, then ponder the long elaborate history of Fantasy Magic Land while gathered around the fire eating roast oliphant. It’s actually pretty natural in video games, too. If you ever want to go more in depth into a world’s history, you can head over to the nearest abandoned dungeon which happens to have a fully stocked library regaling the history of Middle Landia.
Elaborating the history of a fantasy land in webcomic form, though, is more difficult. Sure, you can banish all the relevant stuff in a separate tab, but most of the time it functions in the same way an appendix works for a novel: it’s more or less ignored except for the diehards. If you try to do it the same way as the novels and have the characters spout exposition every time they see something culturally significant, it can seriously halter the pace of what is a visual medium. Out of webcomics, Order of Tales struck the balance between plot and exposition the best. The main character was a scribe, which gave the story a ready made excuse to switch to prose in order to flesh out the world’s background story.
In most webcomics, though, attempts to explain the backstory come off as rather forced. This is, unfortunately, what happens in Gaia, a comic by Sandra and Woo creators Oliver Knörzer (from Germany) and Powree (from Indonesia).
The most eye-catching aspect of Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life was its excellent use of the infinite canvas. The technique is often touted as the future of comics. It was well executed and tied thematically to a story about two robots traveling in the solitude of the solar system.
For the follow-up, author Kit Roebuck goes with something more traditional. The webcomic Opplopolis, which is really tough to find on Google due to its tongue-twisty name, feels very old-school. The panels are laid out like a traditional comic book page. The colors are solid and not very flashy. Character designs are retro, but from eras that are difficult to pinpoint with precision.
In fact, Opplopolis feels very much like a Vertigo comic published in the early 1990′s. Specifically, Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles… only not nearly as weirdly metaphysical. And that’s a good thing.