Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Animation Watch: Space-Time Condominium

An interesting aspect of webcomics is their ability to incorporate animation, audio, and other media into their strips. More often than not, of course, webcomics stick to the tried-and-true panels-on-a-page layouts of their print brethren--after all, correctly timing the animation with the reading experience can be tricky, and multimedia comics can easily become gimmicky or distract from the actual comic. That said, I do enjoy creative uses of a comic's web presentation, such as Sluggy Freelance's traditional "X Years of Nifty Darn Comics" annual animations, or this startlingly hilarious installment of Dr. McNinja, or when Starslip shattered its own site.

And tonight I want to bring to your attention another creative use of animation and sound in webcomics--courtesy of Space-Time Condominium, the bizarre webcomic about a man living in a luxury condo with four versions of himself from alternate universes. In the most recent story arc, the five Griffins are joined by a Griffin who is a cow, hailing from an alternate earth populated by talking animals.

Now, turn your attention to the most recent comic. Follow the onscreen instructions.

In my estimation, that's multimedia used to good effect. Coupled with the music, the animation adds an element of comedic timing that enhances the strip's humor. Plus, it evokes the ever-popular eighties music montage--which is especially appropriate in light of STC's ostensible conceit of being a cancelled eighties sitcom.

If you enjoyed it, don't forget that Space-Time Condominium updates Wednesdays. By the time you're reading this, there may very well be a new comic waiting for you! And if you've never read STC before, this is as good a time as any to start. It's one of the more unique comics I've read, and this is coming from a guy who reads comics about Irish ninja doctors and shovel beams.

Friday, April 24, 2009

On Guest Strips

Long day at work? Check.
Delicious root beer float? Check.
TWIW post about guest strips as promised? Check.

Guest Strips are, for the most part, a phenomenon particular to webcomics. I could go into the reasons why the practice is so foreign to newspaper strips or comic books, but suffice it to say that when real life strikes and events interfere with a webcartoonist's production, it's much more feasible for him to enlist the help of his cartoonist colleagues in order to provide comic content.

Brandon Bolt of Nobody Scores has gone on record as "not believing in guest comics," arguing that guest cartoonists rarely produce something consistent with the original cartoonist's idea for his comic. There's some merit to this critique--guest strips pretty much necessarily have to be non-canon, and might even be viewed as little more than glorified fan art. And though not impossible, it's certainly hard to bring dignity to the task of creating fan art for a webcomic. Additionally, as one reader recently stated, "Guest strips can be fun, but I doubt any of us signed up so as to see more guest strips."

But me? I actually like the guest-strip phenomenon. I enjoy seeing familiar characters in a different artistic style, for starters. Additionally, it's a way for an artist to basically share his comic with another artist, a kind of circumscribed collaboration project. From a practical standpoint, it's a feasible way to take a brief sabbatical when necessary, or keep one's comic updated when one gets hit with one of life's little crises. Plus, guest strips can introduce readers to cartoonists that they may not have been aware of.

So, the "guest strip" concept has its critics, but in my estimation there's also some merit to it. That said, let's look at what guest strips we have this week.
  • Scott Kurtz of PVP is currently taking time off from his strip to mourn the loss of his basset hound, Kirby. Pets are often like family members, and their death is no light thing. You can read Scott's reflections on Kirby in the PVP blog and check out the two weeks of PVP guest strips from several prominent webcartoonists.

  • Gordon McAlpin of Multiplex, in order to allow himself time and space for moving, ran guest comics on this past Monday and Wednesday, which take advantage of their guest-strip nature to deliver some very silly Multiplex scenarios. For today's Multiplex update, however, Gordon provided a normal in-continuity strip, and next week will show one or two more guest strips before Multiplex resumes as normal. Interestingly, Brandon J. Carr's Wednesday update provides timely commentary on Earth Day and Disney's recently-released documentary "Earth."

  • Putting a rarely-seen twist on the "guest strip" concept, Luke Surl is set to deliver a month of guest artists; while Luke himself will provide characteristically witty writing for his comics this month, we'll see these concepts illustrated in a variety of artistic styles by a broad spectrum of cartoonists. The collaborations began with Wednesday's update, drawn by Cedric Atizado of Familiar Ground.

  • Finally, Penny and Aggie is preparing to make permanent changes to its resident artist. As T Campbell recently announced to P&A's fan community, artist Gisele Lagace, while continuing to be involved with P&A in a consultative capacity, will cede the role of artist to Jason Waltrip (Fans!) and use her time to pursue other creative projects. As Jason prepares to take the reins, P&A will employ a number of other guest artists until he settles in. The most recent story arc, beginning with this comic, is drawn by Sam Romero, and today's comic was created by Erica Henderson.

So, the above guest strips should provide you with some interesting reading, but equally interesting is the idea of the guest strip itself. What do you think about the concept of "guest strips" and their role in webcomics culture? As always, I welcome your comments.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

4/23: Week in Review

This week, the Week-in-Review comes early. Blogger Ari Collins has promised me a guest update on Friday reviewing The Walking Dead, but I still wanted to hit you with a handful of news stories I've found interesting throughout the week. Ergo, this Thursday update.

Before anything else, I'd like to plug a fellow blogger and cartoonist, Bengo, who has been kind enough to provide a few links to TWIW. He co-creates two comics, Lil Nyet and The Scratchin' Post, with his wife, and while I may not read these comics regularly, I can't deny that they're drawn quite competently with a quirky sense of humor. It just goes to show that even if a comic isn't entirely to your tastes, you can still recognize whether it's created with effort and talent. Additionally, Bengo regularly updates The Floating Lightbulb, a webcomics blog that's useful and informative for comic creators, readers, and general enthusiasts. If you like this blog, chances are you'll also like Bengo's.

Anyway, on to the news. Tall Tale Radio featured an interview with Superfogeys creator Brock Heasley this week, which I enjoyed listening to. There are some interesting segments in there about the balance between humor and "the dark bits," the role that major events like character death play in plotting your comic, and even a few words about Heasley's other current project, a memoir-in-progress titled "Bullets and M&Ms." Recommended listening, and it makes me look forward to reading more of Superfogeys when I get a chance.

This past Sunday, Dungeon Mastering posted the second part of its collaborative project with Geeks Next Door, in which the GND characters introduce one of their closet-geek friends to the joys of Dungeons and Dragons. This installment features a concise summary of what roleplaying is, but the real humor is in the creators' commentary that accompanies the comic. Should be of interest to fans of table-top RPGs, and I'm a fan of table-top RPGs, so...

At any rate, that's the news for now. I'd planned to also discuss guest strips in this entry, with a few links to comics currently running guest strips and some reflections on the "guest strip" phenomenon in general, but I need to start getting ready for work. Depending on how late I end up working tonight, I may have time to finish that up in a second post, but we'll see.

This is Jackson Ferrell, signing off. I'll check you later.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Dresden Codak Updates, Crowds Look on in Amazement

Whoa. This just in, guys: Dresden Codak updated. And it's huge, even by DC standards. It'll take some processing and I don't want to drop any hasty assessments, but I think this might be the best thing DC's come out with since Hob started. Check it out and let me know what you think.

Friday, April 17, 2009

4/17: Week in Review

Seems this has been a good week for storylines. It may just be the particular spectrum of comics I read regularly, but while comics like The Book of Biff and Sheldon are good for a daily smile, following the serial stuff has been a real kick this week.

Shortpacked has been crazy this week even by Shortpacked standards. Last week, with Galasso locked up and Ethan...also locked up, Robin proposed that the new manager be selected by fight-probably-to-the-death, while Ultra Car searches for a way to throw pies at Galasso without letting him out of his cage. This week, everything explodes and Galasso is released in the chaos. His first act as a free manager is to fire everyone. Good luck getting a job in this economy, guys, but at least you can go out with a bang. To the shins. Firing the main characters from the strip's titular toy store is a strange move, but we'll see where things go from here.

Moe continues its storyline from last week, in which Moe attends an anti-evolution protest rally at the museum to impress a girl he met. With no particular allegiance to the cause, however, he is easily swayed when the other side has a cuter girl on it. It's a ridiculous parody of the debates of our day, in a world where everyone is dumb, especially Moe. Read the week's comics beginning with Monday's.

This week, Gill initiates a new storyline: with Gill's birthday coming up, he has his heart set on a birthday party at Cheesy Chester's Pizza, but his mother insists on having the party at home. The week ends on a horrifying cliffhanger in Gill's darkest nightmares--what will become of Gill and his desire for a Cheesy Chester's party? Start with Monday's comic and start following the story arc.

Over at Starslip, the crew of the Fuseli Paradigm has encountered the Quel--the highly-advanced hive-minded inhabitants of a planet within an uncharted nebula. This week, Vanderbeam endeavors to facilitate cultural exchange and share the fruits of his own advanced civilization, but the Quel aren't biting. However, when an unnaturally grave surge of bug-predators attacks the Quel, the crew prepares to step in and violate the crap out of the Prime Directive. We'll see soon enough whether their actions are justified, but in the meantime, the week for Starslip starts here.

Penny and Aggie draws its present storyline to a close today. Picking up where Part 10 of the Popsicle War left off, Duane finds a common interest of literature and a new friend in Christian fanatic Charlotte--but also finds that Charlotte is far more interested in him than he's comfortable with. Find out whether he can defuse this relational bomb without turning his overzealous new friend into an enemy: read the ten-page storyline from the beginning.

Finally, Dr. McNinja continues his descent into the Ancient Mayan Tennis Temple, defusing traps, navigating architectural hazards, and dealing with unforeseen complications. The whole thing is light on plot, but heavy on parody: it's a relentless spoof of video-gamey Indiana-Jones-style adventures in which the whole point of the architecture is to kill you. Why not enjoy the whole spectrum of spoof, right from the point that Dr. McNinja enters the temple?

And that's a wrap for this week--though I'm sure with so many storylines going on, I'll have plenty to talk about come next Friday. I may have a review or suchlike ready next week, but one thing's for sure: you can always count on the Friday rundown. And, as always, feel free to drop a comment with anything you've enjoyed this week. Have a good weekend, and adios for now!

Friday, April 10, 2009

4/10: Week in Review

Well, it looks like the D&D-focused role-playing website Dungeon Mastering is reaching out into the world of webcomics. Last week I reported on its collaboration comic series with Geeks Next Door, the first installment of which posted last Saturday. Now Dungeon Mastery has also posted an interview with Penny Arcade's Jerry Holkins, better known as Tycho Brahe. In the interview, Holkins talks about his past role-playing experiences, his thoughts on 4th edition D&D, and his contribution to the April Fool’s Day preview of the "witchalok" class. For the most part, it's solely of interest to RPG enthusiasts, but Penny Arcade fans may want to tune in for his characteristically loquacious humor.

On a related subject, here's a comic I came across a few months ago that will be of interest to old-school video gamers: The Final Fantasy 6 Comic. The FF6 Comic, whose creator goes by the handle "Orinocou," is nothing less than an unofficial comic-form retelling of the Super Nintendo RPG whose name it shares. The storyline and characters will be familiar to anyone who's played FF6, but they're also quite accessible to newcomers, even to comic fans who don't play video games. The art starts off decent enough, but in recent installments it's gotten downright exceptional. Just goes to show what drawing regularly will do to improve one's skills! If The FF6 Comic sounds like your bag, be sure to go check it out.

Also in the realm of fantasy, this past Sunday's The Princess Planet features a truly bizarre situation when the local graveyard comes to life. Princess Christi springs to the rescue once again, and we find in the punchline panel that she's the one responsible for the living-graveyard situation. How? Well, do I look like I'm going to give away the funny? You can read it for yourself, via the magic of hyperlinking.

It's been awhile since this blog paid a visit to the Blank It universe, so let's make that the next stop on our journey. After navigating such hazards as windstorms that blow away the light, exploding robot bugs, and intelligent hair, our heroes come full-circle and return to the shovel beam. And in Thursday's installment, our heroes discover that a town has sprung up around the Shovel Beam. Some of our heroes are more eager to discover who populates it than others. In any event, we'll all find out who its inhabitants are on Monday. My money's on "more bug people."

In other news, Boxer Hockey creator Tyson Hesse has received a print publication offer and is taking steps toward turning Boxer Hockey into a quarterly comic book. Hesse himself delivers the announcement in this video, where you can hear the news in his own words, and hear him respond to a few of his readers' inquiries. However, he does plan to reach some closure in the current webcomic story arc before the move to print, and his comic recently wrapped up the game against Australia's team (which starts here). It's an interesting move, going from web to print, and I'm curious to see how it turns out for him.

And, let's conclude with a handful of quick shots:
  • Cat and Girl's unemployed Boogeyman goes looking for work, but appears to be hilariously out of his element for the job interview in Tuesday's comic.

  • Over at Starslip, uptight Protocol Officer Quine makes Vanderbeam look positively mellow by comparison. Vanderbeam gets snarky.

  • For Arthur the Duck, the bathroom mirror provides opportunity for philosophical speculation in Tuesday's Sheldon.

  • This past week, Moe from Moe tries to impress a Christian girl he's met by joining an evolution protest. While other cartoonists might treat this as an opportunity to make fun of the side they disagree with, Moe creator Michael Firman delivers hilariously naive absurdity from all parties. It's less making fun of the issues and more simply making fun--and I like that.

  • If you purchase one piece of webcomics merchandise this year, let it be Dinosaur Comics' Time-Traveler's Survival Guide Shirt. Actually, it's probably still too early in the year to make that call, but still.

  • And something would almost certainly be amiss if I didn't mention today's epic clash of webcomic titans over at Least I Could Do. Today the Final Civil War Crisis Whatever reaches an apex of unmitigated violence!

So, that's a wrap. Don't forget: I don't just update on Fridays! Recently we've seen reviews of Jump Leads #3 and Superfogeys #1. Have a good weekend, happy Easter, and I'll catch you next week.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Superfogeys, Chapter 1

My fellow webcomic blogger, Larry "El Santo" Cruz of The Webcomic Overlook, has a way of writing his review introductions. He comes in from an unexpected angle, relating an anecdote, or talking about "stranded in the universe" as a science-fiction plot trope, or beginning with a line like "One day, I will be reduced to a quivering neurotic heap in need of serious psychiatric help." It adds instant interest to the review, as you wonder what his introduction could possibly have to do with the comic up for review. And sometimes I try to mimic this approach, but other times I am not feeling quite so clever, so I'm just going to drop right into the review here. Today I'll be reviewing the first chapter of Brock Heasley's Superfogeys.

Superfogeys employs the familiar retired superhero trope as its premise: the characters are retired superheroes or villains with a career of super-powered adventure behind them. You'll see some familiar archetypes among the cast, some based directly off existing superheroes: the Superman, the Flash, the evil scientist, the sidekick, and the action girl. With a few humorous diversions, the basic story arc of the first chapter is that lecherous sleazeball villain Dr. Rocket tries to take advantage of Spy Gal, but his plan backfires--rather unpleasantly.

The "retired superheroes" premise would be an old, tired choice if it were played as straightforward parody. Fortunately, it's not. To be certain, there are jokes--some of the expected "dirty old superheroes" variety, and some not--but superhero parody isn't the name of the game. The characters are funny not because they're poking fun at tropes, but because they're humorous characters in their own right. Captain Spectacular's amiable acceptance of retired life puts a unique spin on the Superman archetype, as does sidekick Jerry's secret unrequited love for Spy Gal. In particular, Speedy most perfectly embodies the picture of a "superhero past his glory years." As his powers have dwindled, the world moves too slowly for him, so he's bitter and just wants to sleep all day. Also, there's a running gag with a "space pig" that's an amusing touch. There's humor, but there's enough spine and skeleton of characterization to hang the humor on.

The art is polished enough and decidedly competent, though not outstanding. Characters have strong outlines with a a touch of detail work, and coloration strikes an appropriate balance between bold and subdued. Cut-and-pasted elements are noticeable in parts, a flaw which the creator acknowledges and endeavors to correct as the chapter progresses. And the art recycling won't jump right out at you unless you're looking for it, so it's a forgivable offense. Overall, it's good artwork, and the balding Captain Spectacular's persistent Superman curl is a funny visual touch.

My only complaint with the humor is that off-color jokes are used a little too liberally--which isn't a moral complaint, as the off-color humor is no more offensive than, say, PVP or The Office, and I'm quite fond of The Office. But in Superfogeys #1, the lewd jokes often feel like a crutch-like substitute for real humor. Still, it's a minor complaint, and I get the impression that as the characters receive more development, it will be less of an issue in future chapters.

Overall? Superfogeys Chapter 1 is a not-too-shabby beginning for this tale of the supertired. It has the earmarks of a creator getting a feel for his own story, but it's still a promising start. And, at 28 strips, you can easily read through it in a few minutes and get a feel for whether this is your kind of comic. I'm looking forward to reading the second chapter and seeing how it develops.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Poll Results: The Readers Have Spoken

Behold the voice of the people!

The results are pretty clear: you want more reviews! To a lesser extent, you also want more interviews, and free waffles. There are numerous opportunities for me to do reviews: ranging from my long-promised review of Rice Boy (I haven't forgotten!), to another entry in my Jump Leads review series once Issue #5 is completed, to any one of the comics from Recommendation Rampage Friday. Interviews should be quite possible as well--I've actually got one in the pipes at present. As for the free waffles...well, that's a bit trickier, but I'll see what I can do.

I'm going out of town this weekend to visit friends in NC for Easter, so this week's post will be on Thursday. See you then!

EDIT (4/7): Somehow I neglected to mention The Book of Biff's April Fool's Day joke. In the same vein of last year's "eyebrows stunt," we have the April Fool's version and the revised "official" version of the strip in question. Dated news, sure, but I'm nothing if not thorough, and there's an extra "layer" of joke there for regular Biff readers.

Friday, April 3, 2009

4/3: Week in Review

Geeks Next Door Dungeon Mastering comic team up
Webcomic geeks are rarely just webcomic geeks; find a webcomic enthusiast, and chances are he's also a video gamer, an anime nerd, or a tabletop RPG geek. Hence, from time to time you get comics like Penny Arcade's Fallout Puppet Comics, or the following news item which I received via press release...

The comic Geeks Next Door is teaming up with Dungeon Mastering to deliver an exclusive comic storyline starring the GND characters. Veteran gamers Matt, Jessi, and Barry will be introducing Jessi's closet-geek sister Maggie to the ins and outs of D&D, with Matt in the role of dungeon master. I've happened across Geeks Next Door a few times before, and it's a funny comic with colorful and upbeat artwork. The collaboration looks like a cool project, too, so if you're a tabletop roleplayer, be sure to tune in. The series starts tomorrow, 4/4, and will update every two weeks at DungeonMastering.com, with a new comic and commentary from Matthew, Jessi, and Maggie.

And Geeks Next Door isn't the only comic teaming up. Least I Could Do, in its most recent storyline, is teaming up with every webcomic in existence for the LICD Ultimate Final Civil War Invasion Crisis Thing. It's a comic event so big, it prompted the creator of Goblins to pull an April Fool's joke in which he threatened to sue Ryan Sohmer for unlicensed use of his characters. More about April Fool's Day later, but you can start reading LICD's Ultimate Crisis Thing right here with the intro spread.

After a long absence from the online cartooning world, You'll Have That creator Wes Molebash returned this Monday with a new comic: "Myron and Charlie." I've been looking forward to the launch of his new project ever since Wes announced it late last year: Wes has a sharp black-and-white style, and to be entirely honest, I've missed his down-to-earth sense of humor and storytelling. Rather than the gag-a-day format of You'll Have That, this new strip has an ongoing storyline with a definite end to it. It's too early to tell exactly where it's going, but so far, we've been introduced to Myron, a boy with an artistic streak and a desire for a best friend. You can catch the updates every Monday, Wednesday and Friday over at the You'll Have That site.

Over at Real Life, Greg Dean has been running "open letter week," in which comic-character Greg reads open letters to a variety of individuals, including Family Guy producer Seth McFarlane, everyone on Greg's Facebook friends list, Neil Patrick Harris, and others. The open-letter action starts here, and wouldn't end right if it didn't end with a twist punchline. Bonus points if you saw the twist coming, but Greg's expression in the final panel really sells it.

And in what was possibly the most stunning update this week, this comic from Penny & Aggie dropped a bomb on me. Uptight religious fanatic Charlotte displays a surprisingly tender side, and what's more, the girl can write! Holy Sonnet, Batman! Comics are a visual medium, but this one showcases the power of good writing to flat-out knock you off your feet.

And, seeing as Wednesday was April Fool's Day, it's time to conclude this entry with the...

April Fools Watch:

And that's what's awesome this week. Have a good weekend, and, as usual, I'll see you next week with more awesome.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Jump Leads, Chapter Three (and Four)

Welcome back, everyone, for another Monday Tuesday night review of a chapter from Jump Leads--which, by the way, has jumped URLS from Soulgeek to its own independent site at jump-leads.com, rendering all the links from my previous reviews useless. Hooray! In all seriousness, though, the new site looks impressive. It's got a cohesive independent look, and incorporates all the helpful information and extras from the old site. Tonight's review brings us to Issue #3.

This issue follows the same dimension-of-the-week format of the previous two, with Llewellyn and Meaney navigating their jumpship to a brand-new alternate universe. This adventure opens right in the middle of an altercation with the locals, resulting in Llewellyn sustaining a painful injury. When our protagonists seek medical help, they run into what appears to be a familiar face, but is actually just the alternate-reality double of Meaney's girlfriend from his home universe. This leads Meaney to a crisis of conscience: follow the girlfriend lookalike, or stick with his friend and wait for Llew's surgery. Meanwhile, all is not as it seems in the operating room, as a twist in the medical procedure reveals our antagonists: body-stealing parasites that use the host's musculature and memories to their advantage. Before the mess gets resolved and Llew and Meaney can get on their way, there are a host of other twists that will keep you gripped and guessing.

In brief, it's a thoroughly entertaining self-contained plot that you can read through in maybe fifteen minutes. Meaney and Llewellyn still embody the familiar trope of the dumb nice guy and the witty cynic, but it's the way that they embody these tropes that makes it interesting. There are individualized quirks here and there, such as when Meaney's darker side comes to light, and it's pretty much just as light as the lighter side. Or when Llew delivers the following quip:

Yes: the writing is the same level of witty, humorous, slightly snarky adventure that you've come to expect if you've read this far through Jump Leads already.

The art is also what you've come to expect: sharp, stylized, dynamic artwork that goes the extra yard in technical details. The well-rendered technological elements and predominantly blue-and-silver color palette help to evoke and characterize the sci-fi metaverse that the protagonists travel through. Jump Leads artist JjAR sticks with his established style, which adds a consistent and professional feel to the work--unlike other webcomics, where you can see the artist's style developing over time. This isn't really a complaint, though. It's just to say that here, the artist started off strong. One especially nice touch is the rippled, distorted lettering to indicate Meaney's shivering and chattering teeth in this chilly scene. It works well with the atmospherics in that scene.

While I'm at it, I might as well review Issue #4, which is a humorously brief four-page dimensional hop wherein Llew and Meaney accidentally park their jumpship on a civilian's car. If you like Jump Leads, it's everything you like about Jump Leads in a tidy and amusing little package.

In short, these two installments of Jump Leads are well worth reading, especially for sci-fi enthusiasts and fans of quality artwork.

Jump Leads review: Issue #1
Jump Leads review: Issue #2