Archive for the ‘Comics’ Category

Notes/First Impressions: Zombie Nation by Carter Reid

May 26th, 2015 by Reinder

So in my post about Sex Criminals, Rat Queens and Saga, I added a bit at the end, saying

There is one more [Hugo] nominee [for Graphic Story] that, for reasons I've outlined before, I will skip for now. If I have time, I may check it out and if it rocks my world, it may end up on my ballot. If it turns out to be the only complete work on the ballot, the benefit of the doubt I've given these four works will not apply and they may all end up below No Award (in the same order), so there is ample scope for an upset.

Then I actually took a quick look at Zombie Nation and any thought of a radical change to my vote went out of the window. Here I was tut-tutting at Saga for feeling, in a way that I couldn't quite put my finger on, a little bit dated. Zombie Nation is the kind of webcomic that people have in mind when they talk about webcomics that only made it big because they were around in 1998. But for fuck's sake, it's not 1998 anymore. These days, when I think of a newish webcomic that I hadn't heard of before but that somehow got nominated for a major award, I expect it to look more or less like, well, like Rat Queens looks: possibly not entirely well-rounded in terms of the artist's ability, but at the very least able to fake professionalism well in most areas and really really good in some. If it can't claim that about itself, it should not be up for an award like the Hugos. Zombie Nation is just ugly, and worse than that, it's ugly in a really dull way. Everything about it looks copied from other comics. That includes the writing, which is based on just a small number of stale, sexist jokes and pop culture references that need to be retired. Who in their right minds nominated this?

Notes/first impressions: 3 Hugo-nominated graphic novels

May 25th, 2015 by Reinder

Sex Criminals Volume One: One Weird Trick – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky
Rat Queens Volume One: Sass and Sorcery – Kurtis I. Wiebe & Roc Upchurch
Saga Volume Three – Brian K. Vaughn & Fiona Staples

When I read Ms. Marvel vol.1, I thought that it was a bit flimsy for a graphic novel, especially what with it not being a complete story but more of an opening chapter. Having now read three other works that have been nominated for a Graphic Novel Hugo for 2015, I have to walk that back a little. These three other candidates all have the same problem, and it's the very smoothness of G. Willow Wilson's storytelling that makes it more readily apparent. In a direct comparison with Ms. Marvel these three suffer rather badly. Ms. Marvel tells its story in a very clear and straightforward way so that pre-teens and young teens who may not be the worlds biggest comics fans and who won't have decades of media consumption under their belts will be able to read it easily. Sex Criminals, Rat Queens and Saga are all aimed at older, savvier audiences and try to do different things with how they tell their stories, but they don't do their thing with as much flair and accomplishment as Ms. Marvel does its thing.

Sex Criminals for example, is aimed at adults. Its narrative is dense and multilayered, mixing present-moment, flashbacks and in-the-moment-asides throughout, as well as using colour and effects to indicate when time is stopped or when an aside visually interacts with the present moment. Sometimes it goes quite far in smooshing these approaches together, such as when a character tells a story of something that happened in her past, and interrupts her narration with a "zzzz" sound when the past version of the character in the narration falls asleep for a moment. Thing is, it doesn't always work, and when it does, it ends up papering over some big continuity errors, not the least of which is about when the lead characters know what about their antagonists.The art is also not as lively as that of Ms. Marvel and there are quite a few questionable design and colouring decisions throughout, such as the use of dark(ish) colours and gradients in word balloons.
None of this stops the first volume of Sex Criminals from being a perfectly enjoyable, often witty and thoughtful comic to spend an hour or so with. The lead characters are relatable, flaws and all and there were several good laughs in it. I will check out the next volume some time.

Rat Queens has an ensemble cast, and features elves, witches, brawling and beer. One of its selling points according to the blurb is that it has female characters who are written (by Kurtis J. Wiebe, who is a dude) and drawn (by Roc Upchurch, who is a dude and holy shit it's someone I've followed on DeviantArt for years, and holy shit he's not drawing the comic anymore as of November 2014 because he was arrested for domestic violence that month. I'm out of touch) realistically, with proper characterization and different body types and all. Now that I'm actually typing that sentence, it feels like it's 2004 all over again. This is supposed to be noteworthy? I don't even think the artist does the range of body types all that convincingly, at least not between the four characters that make up the main cast. But I digress. Like Ms. Marvel, this uses lineair style of storytelling, but much more loosely, with harsher, faster transitions and bigger gaps between scenes and chapters. I found it hard to follow in places, though that may have had to do with me being tired at the time, and some of the transitions might have worked better in the monthly or bimonthly installments. There actually appear to be bits missing from the collection: I can't for the life of me figure out what the phrase "what the assassin said" referred to. The assassin, in that one scene, said "Dicks" and then died. Could be bad script editing, could be a page that was accidentally left out of the book. Don't know which option is worse.
I also found the art very uneven. Upchurch has won quite a bit of praise for the things he does well, such as fighting scenes and facial expressions. But in scenes where the backgrounds play a prominent part, his perspective is often off and the compositions can get a bit messy. His page layouts aren't the most readable.
Finally, I found that the sass part of "Sass and sorcery" got on my nerves a bit, as American comic-book witticisms often do. I enjoyed Rat Queens despite its flaws, but those flaws did add up.

And that leaves us with Saga The nominated work here isn't even a first part, but lands the reader in the middle of a story spanning multiple years and a vast fictional universe. This made it difficult for me to get into it at all, but what I could see in front of me honestly didn't help. It's competently done, I guess, and the characters look interesting, but the overall impression I got was that I was looking at a lesser-known Vertigo title. There seemed to be a large number of different things thrown in for no other reason than that they were cool. I might have got more into it if I'd started with volume I, but for the purpose of judging it for the Hugo, to say that is to make excuses for it.

Above, I've dwelled on the flaws of the comics discussed a lot, and I would like to mention that I really did enjoy two of them and found things to enjoy in the third. They have flaws but they're not disastrous ones. As the incompleteness problem is apparently par for the course for this category, I've decided to ignore this and give all works the benefit of the doubt on that score as far as award-worthiness is concerned. I have decided to vote all four above No Award for the Hugos, in, as it happens, the exact same order as I read and discussed them. My preliminary vote for the category, then, is

1. Ms Marvel
2. Sex Criminals
3. Rat Queens
4. Saga
5. No Award.

There is one more nominee that, for reasons I've outlined before, I will skip for now. If I have time, I may check it out and if it rocks my world, it may end up on my ballot. If it turns out to be the only complete work on the ballot, the benefit of the doubt I've given these four works will not apply and they may all end up below No Award (in the same order), so there is ample scope for an upset.

Notes/First Impressions: Ms. Marvel Vol 1: No Normal – G. Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona, Jake Wyatt (illustrators),

May 5th, 2015 by Reinder
  • This is very much not made for me. Its target audience is about 30 years younger than I am, and I need to keep that in mind.
  • Small-capacity iPads and ebook editions of full-color comics don't go together well. I read this on the 27" iMac. That does not affect my impression at all, but it's worth noting in case I want to read more comics as ebooks. Wonder how it looks on my phone...
  • That said, it looks pretty good on the big screen. I love the art: bright colours, dynamic, distorted yet always on-model and easy to read. A few panels had line tangents, but only comics professionals care about those, and then only when it's somebody whose work they already dislike or who is asking them for advice. Line tangents are amateurish unless a known great of comics makes them. I should teach myself not to notice them.
  • As for the writing, my biggest problem with it was that it was over too soon. It's called a graphic novel but it's really only the beginning of a novel. That's what you get if you collect, what, six monthly issues into a larger volume without considering if it's really a good place to end the volume at. Ah well. It's the Marvel way
  • Other than that, I really had no complaints about the writing. It's a superhero origin story that covers all the expected beats when your newly-minted superhero is a sixteen-year-old Pakistani Muslim girl. Of course she has to juggle her new life as Ms. Marvel with the expectations of her strict family, her school, her mosque, her friends. You know what to expect, and you get it.
  • That said, this could have been a train wreck if the writer hadn't done her homework. I've seen one comic where the writer as well as the artist had both failed to do that, and just assumed that the story to write about Muslims in America is that of a young man's radicalisation, and will a veil out of 1,000 Nights do? Sure it will. Well, here's G. Willow Wilson's Wikipedia bio. Lady did her homework and more, and luckily any bum notes were avoided with ease. I could believe in Kamala, I could believe in her family, her wider circle of friends and the people at her mosque. Lines like "delicious, delicious infidel meat" bring back memories of listening to Muslim teenagers talking about food on the train during Ramadan – as well as being simply a very funny line.
  • I laughed out loud quite a few times, both at the sight gags that Alphona put in the background, and at some dialog/situation-based gags. This doesn't normally happen as I usually find superheroic witticisms tiresome.
  • Much as I enjoyed it, I am reluctant to judge it as a Hugo-worthy effort, though perhaps the full run of the series will be. It's just a bit too unsubstantial at this point for that. I guess it won't look that way if you're 13, but for me that's what I was left with.

24-hour comic

October 24th, 2012 by Reinder

Last Saturday, I made another attempt at creating a 24-hour comic. My first one was in 2008, failed to reach the required 24 pages and will never see the light of day. This second one failed worse than the first one, reaching only 11 pages. However, it allowed me to develop a concept that had been knocking around in my mind for over three years, and I'm actually rather pleased with the results. It also got some good responses through social media. On Tuesday, I added four pages to wrap up the story - or rather, the chapter, as I see this as a chapter in a much longer story that I very much want to make.

Read it here. All of it is as originally posted, including a typo that at the time of writing, I have not fixed. As a 24-hour comic, it's not the most polished art-wise, but you get used to that very quickly. I see this as a first draft of something that would need to be polished up and reworked later.

For a change, it's a G-rated comic that you can let your kid read as well, and I intend to keep that up, for the most part, if I ever get to continue it. Doing a child-friendly comic with children as lead characters again, six years after my work for Malmberg ended, was a revelation to me; I didn't remember it being as much fun as it was during this 24-hour comic event.

Please feel free to criticize any aspect of the story apart from the rough art - I already know that it's rough. As this is a first draft, there will be an opportunity to fix issues with character design, pacing, tone etcetera - but while I've got a laundry list of issues myself, what matters more is what other people spot. You can critique here (within 30 days after this is posted, after which the comments section closes automagically) or in the comments to the comic itself.

American Gothic update notice

October 13th, 2010 by Reinder

Work on Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan is still very slow, but while you wait, you may want to go to see my fiancee's comic, American Gothic Daily, which has started updating again.

Rapid comic development

May 27th, 2010 by Reinder

A couple of weeks ago, Carson Fire of Elf Life started a new webcomic, Oopsie-Doodle, pretty much making it up as he went along and posting whatever he'd come up with that day on the website for people to look at. I didn't like it much, and just prior to the official launch, I posted a critique, telling him what I thought was wrong with the concept and the execution and predicting that it wouldn't have legs. That same day, he launched it formally and ever since, it's been building up a readership, which has been pretty good about donating money to Carson so he could make more (Carson has had severe financial troubles for years, as mentioned here before). It's not Penny Arcade and probably never will be but by any reasonable criteria, I was wrong and his new comic does have legs.

I still don't like it much, but that's neither here nor there. It's just not for me. What I do like is that rapid-development approach Carson has taken: make a few strips, post them, build simple website, receive feedback, make some more, refine the concept but leave the earlier, flawed batch up, collect more feedback, refine more, build out website. It's not how you're supposed to do it, but it's an approach that has some advantages. The immediate feedback means that flaws are corrected quickly and if the concept doesn't have legs, you can just scrap it after the first few updates, which will still have entertained at least part of the audience.

I have a number of non-ROCR ideas floating around in my head, and most of these would be easier for me to do than ROCR itself. ROCR, after nearly 20 years, is a comic with a lot of baggage and complexity - probably even more so for me than for a new reader who is faved with an archive of 1000+ comics. So the next few months, while I'm working on some pretty important changes in my life, would probably be a better time for trying out some of those concepts on that rapid-development model than for continuing doggedly with ROCR.

Art from 1999: Display design, self-portraits and… Ezra Pound?

September 12th, 2009 by Reinder

The images below are all from a single sketchbook from 1999, and are all that remains of that sketchbook.
First, two self-portraits for a solo magazine called IK (me) that I put out in the late 1990s. It consisted mostly of autobiographical stories, some of which made it online.

Penciled self-portraits of me, myself and I. Yes, I too have done the pencil-biting self-portrait schtick.

Penciled self-portraits of me, myself and I. Yes, I too have done the pencil-biting self-portrait schtick.


Display art for a convention. I was winding down as the editor of another fanzine, <i>Impuls</i>, and one of the last issues was a special dedicated to the Devil. We got some good devil-related comics in including a very nice page by Erik Wielaart, and I wanted to make some displays for a convention. Then I crashed and burned on conventions, hard, and didn't go to any for years. Needless to say, this display never got made.

Display art for a convention. I was winding down as the editor of another fanzine, Impuls, and one of the last issues I worked on was a special dedicated to the Devil. We got some good devil-related comics in including a very nice page by Erik Wielaart, and I wanted to make some displays for a convention. Then I crashed and burned on conventions, hard, and didn't go to any for years. Needless to say, this display never got made.

That year, I was also considering creating a graphic novel about the life of the poet Ezra Pound, of whom I'd been reading a biography for some reason. I'd got fascinated by the complexity of his life and his obsessive, larger than life and ultimately very unpleasant personality. In my head, it morphed into an online graphic novel that would fully use the formal advantages that Internet as a medium has to offer, and so we can all agree that we dodged a bullet when I decided to abandon the project. Aaaanyway... while working on it, I tried a number of approaches to drawing the main character:

Semi-abstract or manga-influenced

Semi-abstract or manga-influenced


Realistic

Realistic


White House in Orbit-esque

White House in Orbit-esque


Something more like my default style of the time, so it'd be easier for me to draw

Something more like my default style of the time, so it'd be easier for me to draw


Before scanning these images, they go through a second round of selection. Sometimes there are images that I think are interesting the first time around (at least in the context of when they were drawn and why) but that don't look so interesting on a day's reflection. In this batch, there was an image that I felt I'd be really better off without: yet another attempt at redrawing the cover art for The Green Knight's Belt from 1992. Every few years, I get a wild hair to redraw that cover (the current version is from 2005)... I'll do it again sometime, but the last thing I need when I do that is a lackluster version from ten years ago to refer back to. So that one is gone, and good riddance.

Art from 1998: White House in Orbit sketches

September 11th, 2009 by Reinder

I've gone through my sketchbooks over the past week to pick what all I was going to keep and what was going to get thrown out. Pickings from the year 1998 have been slim: unless I find another sketchbook from that year that I haven't torn up yet, the images below are all that I want to keep at all.
All are early sketches for White House in Orbit and what's noticeable is how little character art I did. It was pretty much one or two drawings per character, no turnarounds, no height charts, not even many repeat drawings to hone and stylize the characters. Just one or two, and then I got on with drawing the actual comic. Things have changed a lot since then.

Agent X8.5 in a checked suit. I decided against that for the very obvious reason that they're a pain to draw

Agent X8.5 in a checked suit. I decided against that for the very obvious reason tht they're a pain to draw


Jane and X8.5. "Rocket Bandits" was already being written by the time I got around to working on "Orbital Germans"

Jane and X8.5. Rocket Bandits was already being written by the time I got around to working on Orbital Germans


President Perkins was inspired by an old cartoon of President Roosevelt that I saw in a book.

President Perkins was inspired by an old cartoon of President Roosevelt that I saw in a book.


The Servo-Maid. I'd have liked to do a robot revolt story some time.

The Servo-Maid. I'd have liked to do a robot revolt story some time.


Freiherr von Schwanzwald. I'd forgotten all about that name...

Freiherr von Schwanzwald. I'd forgotten all about that name...


Junker Von Schwulenbad. The Germans all had vaguely, or sometimes not so vaguely, insulting names, very few of which we actually ended up using in the comic

Junker Von Schwulenbad. The Germans all had vaguely, or sometimes not so vaguely, insulting names, very few of which we actually ended up using in the comic


X8.5, one more time

X8.5, one more time

Trust me, it will get better as I zoom through the years.

Art from 1998: Cast art for Mana Tracers

September 4th, 2009 by Reinder

Aphid the non-nude pixie - two character drawings from 1998
Two character drawings for a comic I worked on in 1998, called Mana Tracers. It was supposed to be captioned strip like I the ROCR storyline The Corby Tribe that I would work on three years later. It floundered because I couldn't spare time from working on ROCR (which at that time was not a webcomic) and the other projects I had going, on top of a full-time job I got started on in September with a one-hour commute. Also, I had no confidence in my ability to write prose fiction in English at the time. I still managed to get 23 episodes drawn and every once in a while I tell myself I should do something with those episodes.... as I'm trying to get some sort of closure on the period in my life that will be ending soon, I just might. Maybe. Possibly.

Art from 1996 – Krakatoa, trolls and proto-White House in Orbit

September 3rd, 2009 by Reinder

I'm cleaning out my bookshelves full of old sketches, and I'm planning to be quite brutal. I've already thrown out two whole sketchbooks, pausing only to tear out the sketches below so I could scan and post them. The paper versions of these sketches will also be thrown out, but I do want to share these drawings.

The sketches are from 1996, my first visit to Norway. I stayed there for three weeks as a guest of Daniel Østvold, Geir Strøm and Anne-Kristin Mathisen, and his brother Trond and Trond's wife Tanja. Being around so many creative people and around so much good if expensive Norwegian beer meant that a number of ideas got spawned there: a beery conversation with Geir resulted in him writing The Eye of the Underworld for me a year later. But there was another idea from those conversations that we only touched upon and Geir only revisited a year later:

Sketches for a proto-White House in Orbit character and robot

Sketches for a proto-White House in Orbit character and robot


I doodled this 1920s-looking charater and the robot, briefly discussed retro-sci-fi with Geir, and evidently forgot about it until Geir came up with the script for the first White House in Orbit story, a lightweight, flimsy little piece that nonetheless introduced the principle characters and setting well.

I also drew these trolls:
Trolls for a comic called "Hej, Kalle"
as preparation for a story called Hej, Kalle! for which Trond wrote the captions (but not the script). This story is not currently online, which is a bit of a pity as it's by far the daftest thing I've ever done.

Finally, there was this:
My first attempt at capturing Krakatoa from Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan/Chronicles of the Witch Queen
Geir and I had already discussed what would happen if Kel from Rogues of Clwyd-Rhan met the Baron von Fieffelfalsfaffel from The Double. From that came the idea of a meeting between the general casts of both comics... but I already had other plans for Kel, so Daniel and Geir ended up creating a young witch as a prototype Kel. Krakatoa Hekludottir, of course, ended up in my comic instead... The above drawing was the first time I tried to draw her, and as you can see, she looks nothing like the present version.

More old art coming soon as I find, scan and destroy it!