Disregard last news post

October 30th, 2007

As has been pretty obvious the last few weeks, I clearly don’t have the time to devote to this site that I would’ve hoped I would. Between my sister getting married, various crunch times at work, and looking for interviews for new work because my contract’s running up, I’m swamped.

I still have reviews I want to write, and I hope I will get to them, but this site’s update schedule is hereby “sporadic”. The archives are still going to stay up (as long as I can convince my friend to continue hosting them), so feel free to click through and find some comics you might enjoy. I’m going to put on a bit more draconic comment posting restrictions to chase off some of the spammers that have caught on to the blog’s existence, unfortunately, but please feel free to comment, it just might be a little while until it’s visible on the site.

Sorry to all my readers. Life wins again.

Kagerou

October 15th, 2007

Kagerou (first comic) (nudity, violence, insanity, more insanity, also insanity) is a long story-based, usually weekly (no set update schedule that I can see), color full-page webcomic that takes an unapologetically completely insane main character, shoves them into a fantasy world and demands that he go be a hero. Many people have an image of insanity as either psychopathic killers or raving lunatics, but most insanity is much more subtle than that- it’s some strange way of looking at (or existing in) the world that everybody else doesn’t agree with. Often people who are insane can find a sort of logic within their own worldview or limitations, even if it doesn’t make sense to others. Kagerou is a comic that handles that version of insanity extremely well. There’s 724 pages in the archive.

One of the recurring side comments in Kagerou is Kano (the main character)’s persistent belief that this is all part of the worst lucid dream ever. The other personalities within Kano’s head all seem to take the fantasy world in stride and even fit in better than they did in the real world (shown in flashbacks), but Kano himself has stuck himself with the delusion that he’s actually normal, and all this chaos and magic and such is just hallucinations again. He doesn’t refuse to play along- he’ll play along with the rules until he wakes up, but he doesn’t really believe. It’s a delicate tightrope to walk, that delusion of normality while being functional in an insane world, and Kagerou does a merry little jig along it. As the other characters in the world catch on to Kano’s blindness about his own problems, you can see them do the little mental arithmetic that arrives at the “… I don’t think I want to be the person to break this dam open. I’ll let somebody else do it.” moment.

A decent amount of Kagerou takes place in Kano’s head, and a good amount of Kagerou’s character development is affected by Kano’s personalities and their rules inside his mindscape. A lot of these rules don’t get discussed in the comic, just as a lot of the rules of the fantasy world don’t get covered (or covered late), so often moments will be a little confusing as it’s not entirely clear what’s supposed to work how, and who actually knows what they’re doing as opposed to getting lucky. A lot of this just reinforces the concept of the comic, however. If you can enjoy a little bit of creative insanity, or have completely wild and nonsensical dreams and enjoy them that way, Kagerou is an amazingly written comic.

Kagerou starts off a little choppy artistically- some of the panel layouts aren’t entirely intuitive, and the coloring of text for different characters isn’t entirely obvious quite yet. This improves a great deal over the course of the comic, though, to the point where current Kagerou pages are among my favorite artistically. Eventually (by chapter six or so) the writing and art settles down such that Kano’s different personalities are quite distinct by text color, attitude, and body language, although there’s a few moments of Kano getting angry where the text color shifts but does not present an entirely different personality (I’m pretty sure this will get covered in a future subplot/flashback… eventually…). Some of the other characters are also a little confusing - the Teaolin/Tonbo/Fuuka grouping in particular was a little hard to grasp the relationships between, although a lot of that is trying to keep track of the fantasy world’s rules.

Kagerou’s website also has the most entertaining 404 page I’ve ever seen (visible from a link from the main page, or clicking “next” past the last comic available in the archive). It changes every once in a while, and adds a nice bit of surreality and insanity to the internet.

A note on navigating through Kagerou- each page can just be clicked on to go to the next, but the chapter cover pages require scrolling down and clicking on the “1″ page for that chapter.

Kagerou’s an amazing comic, and despite its erratic update schedule, a comic I find myself drawn to read and remember. If you’re interested in a story of insanity, you should give Kagerou a read.

Still here (sorta)

October 13th, 2007

I’m not dead, but my life has been eating all my spare time recently. It figures that right when I figure out which comics I want to review next and how I want to do it, that I don’t have the time to be able to do it.

I should probably point out the RSS feed for the site - http://brianroney.com/?feed=rss2 so people can add that to Google Reader or some other RSS reader and be able to see when I update next without having to check the site all the time.

I should be able to post this weekend if not earlier. Sorry for the delay.

(Due to several host computer crashes this didn’t get posted earlier this week like I attempted. Also, my computers are also acting up- in particular input is being flaky. So there’s a chance that this site may go on long blackout while I go attempt to have computers repaired.)

Shortpacked!

October 2nd, 2007

Shortpacked! (first strip) (mostly gag-a-day, daily M-F) is a comedy strip about a toy store taken way too seriously. The megalomaniac manager, the toy-collecting obsessed worker, the really creepy guy who doesn’t take a hint, and a guy who’s obsessed with ninjas all man the store, and entertain the audience by playing off of their (and other character’s) quirks. Most updates are a full color page, and there’s 539 pages in the archive. There’s several chunks of filler sketches, although most of them have some humor in them as well.

Shortpacked! is a comedy strip that has slowly added drama elements, occasionally to the point of excessiveness. It has a few characters that were carried over from David Willis’s previous strip, It’s Walky. It’s Walky was a comedy strip that slowly added drama elements to the point of excessiveness. It had a few characters that were carried over from David Willis’s previous strip, Roomies. Roomies was a comedy strip that slowly added drama elements to the point of excessiveness.

I would imagine people have sensed the recurring theme there.

David Willis is a bit legendary in the webcomic world for just that sort of thing, actually. He’s been doing this for ten years, and he’s done quality strips all through that time. His comedy is spot on, his characters are real and interesting, and the interactions between characters provide interesting advancement of plot while being smart and funny.

… and then he turns on the drama.

Now, the drama doesn’t seem forced. He writes it well. The characters are fleshed out enough and interact well together, so the drama works smoothly with the world that he’s created. The thing is, when he writes drama… he writes lots and lots of drama. Soap Opera, the comic strip? Here you go.

Okay. I think I’ve hammered the point enough. I’m going to go over the good points. I laugh out loud at his strips frequently. The comedy and characters are both extremely solid. He’s perfected the niche comic/cartoon/toy parodies, making fun of the ludicrousness of both the companies making them and the people obsessing over them both with casual ease. He makes the most serious of subjects funny, and they’re even more magnificent due to the contrast.

Unfortunately for readers who are jumping into Shortpacked! straight, the characters that have been carried over from It’s Walky have not been explained at all. So, to catch the reader up on things- Robin has sugar-fueled superspeed. Mike worked with her in government work to repel aliens. I _think_ that’s all that’s necessary to understand the main points. You could read through Roomies and It’s Walky to get the full backstory, but that’s ten years of daily comics, several years of worth are pure drama and not much funny. I’d do it, but then, I’m the kind of person that writes a comic review blog. Not advised for the casual reader.

I really enjoy Shortpacked!, especially the one shot comics where he just picks a current comic or toy or cartoon and does a strip in that continuity. David knows that not everybody enjoys the drama for his cartoons, and that people enjoy the one-shot gags. He has a character specifically designed to make fun of the fact that his strip is heading towards drama, for goodness sake. But you’ve got to write what you’ve got to write, and Shortpacked! slowly gets more and more drama-based, and I slowly get sadder.

The beginning is wonderful, though.

You should try Shortpacked! If you get through to the current strip and you still love it, try out Roomies. If you get lucky, there’s ten years of archives for you to enjoy. Give it a try.

Other review sites

September 23rd, 2007

Since posts have been a little slow for myself recently as I rethink a few things about how I’m handling things here, I thought it might be nice to point out some of the other webcomic reviewers. I hope to be back and posting soon, but I want to make sure that I’m accomplishing something, and to that end I’m going to spend a little time thinking about what I’m doing.

I’ve mentioned Ferrett’s webcomic reviews several times, and he’s a wonderful writer. I’d suggest reading his regular blog as well, as he has a take on many different subjects and writes in his journal daily. He reviews webcomics weekly, and specifically webcomics that have traffic less than his own webcomic, Home on the Strange. The vast majority of webcomics he reviews I end up adding to my list of webcomics (I picked up Mansion of E from him, for instance).

Ferrett also pointed out another webcomic reviewer to me,  Mr. Myth. He updates MWF with his various thoughts on current webcomics, including reviews and news. He often links to several comics in a single post, which may overload those of you who are still trying to catch up on the webcomics I’ve gone over, but there’s a lot of good strips in there, and a lot of interesting news about them.

Tangent also has a webcomic review blog, and he updates nearly daily (M-F?). I may be a little fuzzy on the details, but I’m pretty sure he ended up starting his blog because he felt that Websnark only covered a certain type of dramatic moment, and ignored several strips that Tangent felt deserved recognition. Tangent certainly reads quite a set of comics, and a fairly different one than mine- while we both enjoy some of the same strips, he has a tendency to enjoy more of the long-story based comics, while I enjoy more of the short-story and comedic comics. If you enjoy those sorts of comics, Tangent has quite a list to share, and you’ll probably find something you like there. Tangent’s also ended up getting involved in various webcomic community drama, as he’s a very active forumite in various places, but as I don’t know most of the details of those situations, I’ll leave them as they are.

Hope to be writing again soon.

When I Am King

September 19th, 2007

When I Am King (first strip) (completed, nudity, drugs, sex, violence, vulgarity, animation) is a rather old (for the internet, that is) completed comic and deserves another remembrance. It is a completely wordless (and thus remarkably international) comic about an Egyptian king who wakes up desiring a flower, and has a remarkably bad day. Along the way, the “infinite canvas” of the web comes into play- most strips involve horizontal scrolling, a few involve vertical scrolling, and several actually open the strips into different frames of a single window to show how time flies in different areas. There’s also several animated gifs used for emphasis. When I Am King has 5 chapters, with a total of 63 strips.

The wordlessness of the strip occasionally feels a little weird, but after a few strips it’s remarkably intuitive. The symbols used to indicate what the characters are saying are remarkably clear, and conversation really isn’t a big part of this strip, as most of the strip just follows the current character around without much conversation. It’s also rather interesting to read the strip and realize just how well symbols by themselves communicate. Comic artists who fear that they’re writing more than cartooning should read When I Am King to realize just how much can be communicated without writing at all.

The art is rather simplistic and iconic, which makes the clear communication of the character’s emotions and intentions all the more impressive. When a character’s face consists entirely of an oval, two dots for eyes and a line for a mouth, it’s hard to have the detail to show complex emotions, but it’s there. The simplistic art style never hurts the strip, and the later chapters add complexity to the strip layout that is amazing, creating strips that twist and turn and display real works of art.

When I Am King is remarkably vulgar. I don’t really know how to describe how vulgar it is without giving away spoilers, but let’s just say that it’s really bad. The sex scenes are remarkably open, there’s vomit and bathroom humor… it pretty much hits it all. Do not read this comic if you’re offended by much.

When I Am King actually received much critical acclaim in 2002, when it came out, winning a Web Cartoonist’s Choice Award (for Best Use of the Digital Medium), being covered by Wired magazine, The Comics Journal, and mentioned in many other places. In general they seem to consider it a remarkable underground-style comic. To quote the Comics Journal - Demian5 “treats the underground staples of sex, low humor, and drug experiences with wit and artistic virtuosity.”

When I Am King is an excellent comic if you enjoy underground comics. It’s simplicity, low word count and short episode count means that it’s a very quick read. If you’ve spent this much time reading the review, reading the comic should be easy. Go give it a read.

The Mansion of E

September 17th, 2007

The Mansion of E (first strip) (daily) is an epic fantasy story of… hmm. Well, it’s epic fantasy. It starts with Sylvester and Mortimer and Rosemary Ripley, three humans in a world of strange and fantastical creatures. Sylvester and Mortimer take care of the Mansion of E, a mansion so full of strangeness that it’d take a lifetime to understand even how to survive in it. Rosemary arrives and prompts a small quest that turns epic. There’s very few jokes, and a lot of reading, but there’s a fantastic world here for people who enjoy that sort of thing. The Mansion of E updates daily and has 1,495 strips in the archive.

You’re probably going to see the word “epic” appear a lot in this review, because that’s really the best way to describe this strip. As the strip goes, more and more characters are introduced, to the point that it’s hard to remember all of them. They’re all distinct visually and generally have their own plots to distinguish them politically, and the author generally has links to their last appearances if it’s been a while for people to remind themselves who’s visible. But there’s thirteen people in the cast page, and that’s a drop in the bucket for how many characters there really are. Most of them know of the others in some way, and they generally have some political feelings regarding them, leading to some rather epic political maneuvering.

Along with the epic, The Mansion of E is also… a bit slow. Strike that. The Mansion of E is glacial. I’ve commented that action strips are generally a bit slow, but Mansion of E trumps them all and isn’t even an action strip. Imagine the busiest day you’ve ever had. Now add a few people interacting with you and having the busiest day they’ve ever had, too. Now chronicle every little conversation and situation you go through throughout the day and post it in webcomic form. This is approximately what The Mansion of E’s pacing feels like. On the plus side, it’s also the most interesting day you’ve ever had, too. There’s a lot happening in this strip. Even if every strip doesn’t advance plot (there’s full weeks of scenery display), the strip never slows to the point that I felt that nothing was happening. I always felt that things were happening, we’d just get back to them in a minute. Or a year or so. But we get back to it eventually.

The fun thing about having an epic strip like this is that the world, the mythology, and the characters can be built up to places that most strips can’t ever get to. When a character makes an offhand comment with a word that we’ve never heard before, it’s clear that there’s a backstory there. And we’ll get to see it, eventually. Things are filled in, backstory is fleshed out, information about history and what’s going on is laid out. And slowly, the world advances.

It’s a fascinating world. I would love for more stories to have these kinds of mansions- filled with toys and devices and buttons and levers that all do interesting things. Mansions with connecting tubes and events and tunnels… with elevators and an ecology all by itself. I love the kind of world that feels like there’s new amazement around every corner, and The Mansion of E provides. As long as you’re patient enough, a rich world will be displayed for you.

The Mansion of E is not for everyone. It’s generally not funny. The art isn’t wonderful (although it grew on me), and there’s not enough drama or action for it to be all the strip has to offer (there’s some of both, admittedly). There’s quite a bit of politics. But mostly what the Mansion of E provides is a rich world to explore. It was rich enough that I spent several hours reading through the archive, waiting to see what happened next.

If you’re interested in a fantastic world with a rich mythology, give Mansion of E a try.

Jack

September 14th, 2007

Jack (first strip) (MWF, anthropomorphic, nudity, extreme violence, extreme gore, death, perversion, anything offensive you can think of (including the occasional misspelling)). Every update is a full page, although color or black and white varies. There are 1086 pages in the archive. Updates are generally part of story arcs (there’s 30 currently) that run for a series of pages, anywhere from 10 to 87 pages long. In between arcs there’s short strips and bits of gift art, either for or from other comics.

Jack is the story of life and death. Each arc tells the story of some people, and the struggles their souls go through, generally before their death. Death is almost always involved in some way, and in this story the Grim Reaper is played by Jack, who has earned a place in hell as the Sin of Wrath. The other Deadly Sins play rather large parts as well, and all have their own motives and methods. Generally the story arcs allow us to get to know one or two mortals who may appear later on in various stories (generally in Heaven or Hell or Purgatory), and the recurring characters will play smaller parts in the stories. Every once in a while, however, the story arcs are about the main characters completely, and we get to see part of the pain and toil that doing duty can cause.

I feel inadequate talking about Jack. I don’t know how to describe the suffering he can capture, the beauty of life and death. Some other webcomics make me tear up a little, when the stories are sad, or particularly poignant. Jack is the only comic that I go get tissues for, regularly. I can’t get through the archives without taking breaks, because the story arcs are written so well I feel a need to stop and think about the beauty and art that I’ve just seen.

Because there’s a solid beauty in this comic. That seems a strange thing to say about a comic that’s full of gore and disgustingness, but the art is amazing and communicates exactly the intention- emotion, intensity, action, drama… if this sort of content would ever be allowed on TV, it’s already clear exactly how it would be laid out just by reading the comic. There are stories of survival, of accepting death and doing the right thing, of judgement, of horror… I have claimed that Preacher is the most offensive published comic I’ve ever seen. Jack goes further. And he captures something of the world while he’s there.

The only weakness in Jack’s pacing is in the arcs that contain a lot of action, and the Jack mostly suffers from the same weakness all action comics suffer from- action pages feel really slow when updating on the web. They’re better in the archives. There are times where the large amount of detail in the drawings gets a little distracting during the action scenes, but generally the detail just provides for amazing art. There’s a lot of very sensitive subject matter here. Rape, blackmail, murder, genocide… anything that could be considered a sin is covered somewhere in the comic, as the people who cause and do those sins are examined. I don’t expect this to be a comic to suggest to many people.

But if you can stand offensive material, and you’re interested in stories that make their characters face their mortality and morality, Jack is an amazing comic. Give it a read.

Bookhunter, Fleep, Bus Stop, Meanwhile (Jason Shiga)

September 11th, 2007

I get to do another multireview post, because Jason Shiga has several completed comics under his belt and available on his site. He has even more that are unfortunately not available online, and I’m not aware of him doing any more art, sadly. What’s there, however, are some of the most interesting stories I’ve read, and stories that I gladly come back to time and again to read. Regardless of the story, the characters feel real, the logic makes sense, and the tension is thick, making reading the next panel a necessity. Fleep and Bus Stop have a lot of monologue in them, but Shiga’s writing is so excellent I wouldn’t dream of calling this too much text.

Bookhunter (completed, violence) (while there’s two formats available, “read book” is probably easier) is a story about a book forgery mystery. But in this world, book theft is of the utmost importance. SWAT teams, federal agents, car chases, action scenes, shoot outs, even librarian ninjas. Seriously, librarian ninjas. It totally works. This is one of the most interesting action comics I’ve ever read. Jason takes this world to the logical extreme-the bookhunters clearly value books over human life, and book thefts are treated with the paranoia and preparation you would expect of a dangerous terrorist.

More than the action, though, the investigation and the mystery itself are extremely well done. The story is set in 1972, so the only equipment available is from that time period. The library records aren’t computerized, and all the equipment feels legitimate (I have no personal experience with library technology in 1972, so I can’t say for sure). Following along as the main characters piece together the mysteries and solving the crimes is a blast, and make me wish for a CSI: Library. Definitely give Bookhunter a look.

Fleep (completed, lots of math) (”read scroll” is probably easier for this one) is the story of a man trapped in a telephone booth, with no memory of how he got where he is, no way to get out, and very little equipment to do much of anything with. This entire story takes place with a single character in a phone booth and yet is one of the most gripping dramas I’ve read. The main character knows a lot of math and physics and uses these abilities to slowly deduce things about his situation. There’s no strange world trick on this one- it’s a person legitimately thinking through the problem presented to him and trying to figure out how to save himself.

Every few years I get the urge to read Fleep again, just because it’s so well done. I like to think of myself as a smart person, but stuck in the same situation as the main character there’s no way I’d think of even a third of what he manages to try. There’s no cheating, either, with calculations behind the scenes and “And then I discovered this”. All the calculations are done completely up front and are logical conclusions. I am amazed every time I read this story how powerful math can be. Give Fleep a read.

Bus Stop (completed) (I prefer “read book” for this one) is a sad story of obsession. The main character believes he can deduce things about the people around him just by watching them at a bus stop. This comic is his journal as he keeps track of these observations and the things he figures out. Partway through some new twists are explained, and the reason why he obsesses about the bus stop is revealed, leading to even more obsession and investigation. I always feel sad reading this strip, because the lost dreams of the main character are so very clear. He has a goal, he understands what he’s losing to pursue this goal, and he has decided it’s worth it. I have to respect that dedication, even if I can’t support his choices.

Bus Stop is at its core a study in what we can learn from people just by surface observation- no interaction, just watching. It’s fascinating the things that can be figured out if you’re dedicated (and creepy) enough to try.

Meanwhile (completed) (violence, gore) is one of very few well done interactive branching comics on the web. Every once in a while a choice must be made, and two branching lines go to the sides of the screen. Clicking on one of these nodes opens up a new page, and a new part of the story to follow. There’s really not much I can say about Meanwhile without spoiling at least parts of it, but there’s a great mystery involved in Meanwhile that the user can solve. Each branch through the story can teach you new tricks and new solutions to apply to the story until the whole world is laid out to view.

Incidentally, I’d suggest the chocolate ice cream. It may not be as satisfying, but it’s more interesting.

Something Happens

September 10th, 2007

Something Happens (first strip) (weekly on wednesdays, gag-a-day, no continuity) is a self-described surreal sketch comic, “as if ‘The Far Side’ were filtered through ‘Monty Python’”. It certainly lives up to its reputation, bouncing around from weird possibility to strange plot setup and having fun while it goes. The strange is taken as a given, and the ludicrous is commonplace. There are 95 strips in the archive.

Something Happens is Thomas Dye’s second strip, the first being Newshounds. Despite Newshounds being more frequently updated and with a much larger archive, I enjoy Something Happens quite a bit more, so that’s going to be the focus of my review. While I’m on the subject, though, Newshounds started as a gag-a-day strip about a newstation of animals, and gradually turned into a dramatic strip about the same. I really enjoy the early work and have not been a big fan of it recently.

On the flipside, I really enjoy Something Happens’ recent work, but thought some of the early pieces were a bit slow. Just a few strips in, though, they’re all solid strips with wild ideas. Each new strip brings another view on reality, and it’s never clear what the rules’ll be when they start. There’s a strip where the main character has wheels for feet, one where the planets are the main characters, a time travelling commercial… each strip is its own self-contained sketch, and generally ones that you could imagine being an improv comedy skit. Each one’s quite good.

The characters in Something Happens have a tendency to be angry a lot, and I think it influences the pacing of the strip- people tend to speak in exclamations and loud rhetoric, so the strip generally reads either very slow or very fast, with not very much middle ground. It doesn’t detract from the humor, it’s just a particular style for the strip that’s a bit unique.

The art for Something Happens is quite reasonable- Thomas had many years with Newshounds to improve his comic style, and it’s quite distinctive now. The characters tend to be very cartoony, with large eyes and mouth, which probably contributes to the feeling that they feel emotional a lot. Characters are also very free with motion and interaction. Characters are distinctive, although given that there’s no continuity or characters carried over, this isn’t really saying a whole lot.

Something Happens is a nice wacky gag-a-day strip that deals with the insane ideas accepted as commonplace. Go give it a try.