Webcomics Wednesday: 4/18/12

As promised, I am back to reviews again this week, although I do appreciate the responses and re-tweets for last week’s “Why I read webcomics” post! In case you’re wondering, I still think webcomics are great and I have two more to recommend for you today. As usual, check my Links section for all the comics I have reviewed here.

First up is Ignition Zero by Noel Arthur Heimpel, which is a story of a hidden, magical world hidden beneath the surface of fictional Glory, Maryland, home to Godeliff University. But before I even get into the story, let me say that what initially drew me to Ignition Zero was the artwork. Within the first three pages, you have this wonderful title page and another splash page showing the front of Godeliff U, which really show off Noel’s watercolors to good effect right off the bat. That is immediately followed up with an attack by a monster that is an inky void that reminds me in a positive way of the Demon Bear from Bill Sienkiewicz’s run on the New Mutants. The monster is in fact a personified nightmare, which is a neat idea and an example of the invention that backs up Noel’s fabulous art. Noel uses graphite pencil (outlines), watercolor, inks, and salt for his artwork. (I can say this with authority even though I know nothing about art, because he says so right here under the splash page.) I think this is the only webcomic I am currently reading where the artwork is not partially or wholly done on the computer, and it makes for some very nice pages, such as the splash page I just mentioned and also this one and this one, to share a few examples. To me, the art feels more personal and unique this way, less like I’m reading a story and more like someone is sharing their sketchbook with me. Bottom line: it’s just cool.

Back to the story: Robbie is an artist and has been in contact with Orson online for years. Now he’s moving to Orson’s hometown, Glory, to attend Godeliff University and to meet Orson in person for the first time. Robbie has read Orson’s fantasy stories but he never suspected that they were based in truth. It doesn’t take him long, though, to be pulled in to a world where magical creatures and lands are hidden just out of sight of the mundane world. Sure enough, Robbie gets caught up in a war between powerful forces, but the story does not rush into that potentially epic battle. Instead it takes it time to present the various inhabitants of Glory, the vegans, the aces, the drinkers of soy, and an apple-sharing, blue-headed bug-bearish creature named Hugh. You know, a typical college town.

The story, the characters, and the artwork in Ignition Zero combine for a great webcomic experience. Go check it out.

Next up is Hominids by Jordan Kotzebue. I’ll start off this review by mentioning the navigation and archive system for Hominids. Normally I wouldn’t talk about something like this, but with Hominids it was the first thing that stood out for me. Most comics have the familiar First, Previous, Next, Last buttons and an archive page of some sort, but Hominids has an illustration of a tree for each chapter, with thumbnails of the pages draped and looped around the branches. It has an organic feel that works well with the setting of the comic. I’m not saying every webcomic needs such a setup, but it’s a pleasant, artistic change. The navigation is also nice. Click on any page and it balloons up to take center stage; the rest of the screen is black. Press the left and right arrow keys to scroll back and forward through the comic, with seemingly no load time. As someone who strives to read the entire archives of a comic before I write about them, I cannot express how much I appreciate being able to quickly read through the story this way.

Okay, if you’re still with me, let’s get down to the story and art. Chapter One is in black and white and starts off with a five-page prologue that I mostly forgot as I read the rest of the story. It details the different hominids who inhabit a forest and a nearby mountain, but only describes them and does not give them names. There are ones that live underground, wanderers with nasty-sharp teeth, bear-sized men who live by the water, ones that live in the canopies of the trees, and regular men who live on a mountain with scarce resources. It’s a bit much to keep track of with no labels to put on them yet, so I basically set that aside and read on. The next section is titled “Homo Neanderthalensis AKA Neanderthal,” so I figure each type of hominid will get its due at some point. The first Neanderthals we meet are Keyli, a hunter, and Sno and Gosh, albino siblings. Gosh is set up as being clumsy, and he is soon captured by tiny furry hominids (Australopithecus?). Keyli and Sno rush to rescue him but he apparently can handle himself just fine.

The story continues with a lone human meeting up with the Neanderthals with some information that completely changed, in a good way, where I thought this webcomic was heading. I won’t give away any more than that because it is worth your while to go read it yourself.

The black-and-white art in Chapter One is well done, but the later chapters in color were easier for me to follow and to tell who’s who. The art is very clean and to me I get some shades of Disney’s Tarzan movie mixed with a 300-era Frank Miller/Lynn Varley art style (although much less heavily inked). (I should note here that bare breasts abound in this webcomic, in a sort of National Geographic-like way. It’s not salacious but I guess you might not want to be reading it at work.)

Kickstarter

The Kickstarter for Five Ghosts finished on Sunday and it exceeded its goal. Congratulations! The first issue isn’t due until September 2012, so I hope my future self appreciates the gift that my present self is sending him. (I know, I’m weird.)

Next up on Lithicbee

Friday: Some flash fiction for Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds blog. The theme? Death. (This will actually be up tomorrow to meet Chuck’s deadline, but I am still calling it my Friday post, so there.)

Sunday: Part 10 of The Only City Left. This is the continuing story of Allin Arcady, a young man who is lost amidst the ruins of a planet-sized city called Earth. Think Trantor meets Cube meets Mad Max meets monster movies, and you have some idea of the setting. I am having fun writing and sharing this story and would love for you to give Part One a chance and let me know what you think, if you haven’t already.

Webcomics Wednesday: 4/11/12

I have a list of webcomics to check out but I have been busy working on 1) The Only City Left and even more so , 2) a short story called False Negative, so I haven’t had the time to read through the archives of any new-to-me webcomics this week. In other words, there will be no reviews today. (New to Lithicbee? Check out the Links page for all of my previous reviews.)

Instead I want to talk a little bit about why I am enjoying the hell out of webcomics right now. If you’re wondering why I feel the need to talk about this, it’s directly related to a lot of back-and-forth I have been reading recently about comic books. For instance, here, here, and here. It got me thinking about how my comic book reading habits have changed over time.

Comic books used to be magical to me. I spent a lot of my money buying them and free time reading them and trying to draw like the artists (that last part did not work out so much). At some point, they lost their magic for me. There were too many comics to follow, they cost too much money, yadda yadda yadda. Bottom line: I grew out of comic books for a while. I still buy graphic novels when I can, but that excitement of heading off to the comic shop and buying new comics each week, I don’t think I’ll ever get that back.

But with webcomics, and I specifically mean long-form webcomics or online graphic novels or whatever you prefer to call them, I am feeling the excitement again. Why is that?

For one, there is little to no barrier to entry to read a webcomic. They’re usually free or available as PDFs that are cheaper than traditional comic books. You can explore as many webcomics as you want until you find the ones that speak to you.

The sheer number and variety of webcomics is the next great thing about them. I cannot find any sort of definitive list, but it sure feels like there are hundreds if not thousands of webcomics out there. I certainly have an ever-expanding list of webcomics I want to try out; for every one or two I read through and catch up on, it seems like I discover another four or five that sound or look like something I would be interested in.

Lastly, there can be an intimacy, a bond, between creator and fan as each page comes out and is discussed. It’s like the ultimate letters page at the back of a comic book. The wall between reader and creator is thinned, to good effect. The creator is not part of some corporate monolith whose only concern is the bottom line; they are passionate about what they are doing. It is as important to them as it is to the rabid fan. They are free to make the choices that someone who works for a corporation might not be able to.

The end result is that the stories out there as diverse as their creators. It is not all about putting Wolverine or Spider-Man (you can tell I’ve always been a Marvel fan) into as many different comics as possible to bump up sales.

Besides all of the above, and I’m being selfish now, reading all these webcomics has helped me to be creative again. I have started writing fiction regularly in my spare time, which I haven’t done since college. I’ve started this blog to force myself to write write write no matter what and to keep to a schedule. All of this is directly attributable to reading these webcomics, to feeling like I can talk story and character with the creators, like there is not a giant wall between me and them. I have met a lot of great, creative people this way, because the nature of webcomics makes them so much more approachable.

I can only speak for myself here, but unlike with traditional comic books, I want to spend my money on these webcomics. I want to support the creators. I feel excited to get a graphic novel collection of the webcomic, or a piece of commissioned art. I like buying PDFs of the comics for easy reading on my tablet. I feel like my purchase is having a direct effect on the creator and the continuation of the story; it is not just a blip on the bottom line of a shareholder’s report. It matters.

I don’t know if digital comics are the future. I don’t know if creators can make a living by giving their work away for free or selling lower-cost PDFs and then selling physical collections, art, and merchandise. I hope they can, though, because a future of thousands of creators making a living their own way looks better to me than one dominated by one or two corporate monoliths.

Okay, more reviews next week, I promise.

 * * *

Last minute addition: LeyLines updated as I was writing this entry and Robin has her latest podcast attached to it. I hesitated to start playing it because I had to write this post, but it was about dream sequences and how she develops dreams in LeyLines, so I had to give it a listen. Imagine my surprise when she mentioned my blog at the beginning. Thanks again, Robin, and great discussion of dreams in relation to the characters in LeyLines.

Webcomics Wednesday: 4/4/12

Today I review two webcomics and some indie physical comic books that I picked up at WonderCon. If you are looking for more great webcomics, check out my Links page for all the comics I have reviewed so far. And if you’re into science fiction, check out my serial SF adventure, The Only City Left. Thanks!

Planet Pantheon

Last week I covered Hunter Black and this week I am reviewing Planet Pantheon, both of which are written by Justin Peniston. I hope he doesn’t think I’m stalking him. Correction: I hope he doesn’t realize I’m stalking him. Kidding aside, I really enjoyed Planet Pantheon, which is as different from Hunter Black as can be. I have been actively seeking a science-fiction webcomic in the mold of Flash Gordon or Buck Rogers and while Planet Pantheon is not a space opera per se, the art style is exactly what I was looking for, a sort of classic science-fiction comic look, in this case provided by Michael Turda (artwork), Jacob Bascle (lettering/SFX), and Rainer Petter (colorist).

Planet Pantheon is still in its early days, about 20 pages in, but here is what I get from it so far. Alaric is a rogue who stumbles back into his father’s life just as dear old dad, Dr. Argus Abernathy, finds the lost birthplace of humanity, planet Earth. I don’t want to spoil anything, but Earth turns out to be a tad more populated than expected and it looks like it will be up to Alaric to save his dad’s bacon when landfall does not go well.

I like the father-son antagonism present in the comic. Alaric and Argus may be related but it is clear that they are two individual adults separated by time, distance, and attitude. And I cannot say enough about the art and visual story-telling. There are two pages in a row that are my favorite so far: the first showcases the retro-SF look I am really enjoying, while the five panels on the bottom of the second page tell a great story with only one word of dialogue.

I also have to share this page; it carries more emotional heft than anything I have read in a webcomic. It’s horrible but not gratuitous, as it gives you insight into one of the cultures in the comic. Obviously I don’t recommend reading it out of context, spoiler-wise, so be sure to catch up on Planet Pantheon first, but I couldn’t review this comic without mentioning such a strong scene.

Finally, the comic is called Planet Pantheon, so it should come as no surprise that there will be gods involved in the story, or at least people who worship them, and I am really digging the first set of worshippers we run into. Dare I hope for a larger clash of cultures/religions on this retro-future Earth? I think it’s almost guaranteed and I can’t wait to read it. Jump on board now while the comic is still in its early days.

Xander

Xander is a fun adventure through dream-land, written by Taylor Machnick with art by Ian Gibson. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I am fascinated by dreams and I love a well-done story involving dreams. I spent one summer about a decade ago recording my dreams, reading about them, and working on lucid dreaming, and while I don’t have the time to repeat that experiment, it was pretty awesome. So a webcomic about a boy who becomes stuck in a lucid dream? Yes please.

The art is light and playful and very well done; it fits perfectly with an action/adventure story set in a fantastical dream world. The story could be a typical hero’s quest, but the main character, Xander, is likeable and excited by the possibilities of adventuring through dreamland, and this is infectious. In one scene he says, “So you’re giving me a quest? I have to cross the dream world, facing all kinds of danger along the way? And if I don’t make it fast enough, my own life will be in peril? Awesome!” It is a kind of knowing nod that this story has of course been done before, but who cares as long as it is fun and exciting.

Since anything can happen in dreams, the possibilities for story-telling are endless and could easily spiral off into the bizarre, but in this dream world, there are distinct locales each with their own story or theme, which keeps things under control. The different realms are populated with a number of interesting characters, from Sir Henry the knight, to the cyborg children of the City of the Future, to co-dreamer, goth girl Leila. And let’s not forget Xander’s unnamed dog, who is as cute as can be and also serves to point the way to the familiar First, Previous, Next, and Last comics.

This comic may resonate more with me due to my research into lucid dreams and love of dreams in general. I actually did a double-take because the small house on the hill on page 89 is very similar to a location I visited in my dreams more than once. Perhaps it is an archetypal dream location? (At any rate, the inside of the house was different.)

I am also curious to see if Xander’s lucid dreaming abilities come at any cost. I know that when I pulled off those sort of world-bending powers while lucid dreaming, it tended to wake me up, but Xander is stuck in the dream world, so can he work as much magic as he wants to? I think this may be discussed soon in the comic (as of this writing, it is up to page 92).

In the end, whether or not you have had these types of dreams, I think you’ll find Xander’s adventures fun and exciting, at turns light-hearted and foreboding, like any good night of dreaming.

WonderCon Comics

To wrap up my report of my day at WonderCon, I want to share some of the comics I picked up there. Once upon a time, I actually went to comic book conventions primarily for the comic books. Now that I am not as into collecting comics, I still like to stop by some tables and see what’s what in the world of independent comics.

One of the tables I approached was that of Committed Comics. The guys at the table were friendly and fun and did a good job of running down the comics they had on offer. I left with all three issues of a comic called Java!, which is a fun/silly action story about a future in which most of the world’s coffee supply has been tainted, causing the caffeine levels to be so high they are lethal. It falls upon the B.E.A.N. Force to protect the remaining, untainted supply of coffee. The heroine, Java, wears a caffeine patch to control her levels of caffeine, because if she has too much, she goes crazy with super-strength and fire-breathing. If it sounds ridiculous, it is, but that’s the fun of it. And as a coffee drinker who needs his cup in the morning to function, I appreciate the comic’s premise. The creative team is: Kensuke Okabayashi (creator/illustrator), Peter Palmiotti (inks), and Lee Stacy (digital colors).

Forever Freshman (and the Cunning Code Crackers of the Girl Network!) issue #1 is a black-and-white comic written by Ray Mendivil with art by Neil Segura. It is a comedic take on some clueless band geeks in high school who are look to the “girl network” for information on a new classmate, rather than talk to the girl herself. Think less “American Pie” and more “Li’l Archie” for this high school adventure.

I picked this one up because I can relate to being clueless about girls in high school and to support two guys who went the extra mile and made a comic book out of their (mis)adventures.

Wuvable Oaf #1 by Ed Luce… how can I describe this black-and-white comic? Let me just share the beginning of the book: Oaf is asleep in bed in all his hairy glory, surrounded by his cats. They proceed to give him a tongue bath and then a hairball assault. He wakes up, takes a shower, shaves off all his body hair and collects it in a box. With a grunt of effort, he regrows the hair in seconds. Then he uses the hair he collected as filling for little stuffed animals he has handmade, which he then sells to a store called “Debbie Does Dollies.”

It sounds crazy but it is a lot of fun. Wuvable Oaf, the man and the comic book, is weird, sweet, and funny. Of the comics I mentioned, I would have to say Wuvable Oaf is my favorite. I should note that it is probably for mature audiences only due to sexual situations, but there is nothing truly graphic in here.

One final note: The Five Ghosts Kickstarter is well over its goal, but I wanted to mention it again. The art looks great and the premise is pure awesome. Here is the synopsis: “Five Ghosts follows the story of Fabian Gray, an infamous 1930’s treasure hunter who makes a living seeking out rare items for private clients. After an encounter with a strange artifact known as “the dreamstone,” Fabian finds himself possessed by five literary ghosts (Merlin, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Musashi, and Dracula) and is granted access to their unique abilities.  These powers have come at a price, however: the dreamstone consumed the soul of Fabian’s closest ally, his twin sister, and has left her in a lifeless coma.  Fabian now tirelessly travels the globe searching for a “cure” for her condition while trying to control his own ghostly affliction.”

I recommend getting in on this Kickstarter while the getting is good!

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/28/12

For this week’s Webcomics Wednesday, I am reviewing LeyLines, which I discovered through the #lfwc hashtag on Twitter, and Hunter Black, which I had heard about but never checked out until after I met the creative team at WonderCon. Speaking of WonderCon, I will be sharing some links to the great artists I met there, too.

First up, LeyLines by Robin Dempsey. The story is actually very intricate, so I’ll start by sharing the logline from the site: “Three siblings from a broken family are caught in the conspiracy that claimed their mother’s life. To save their family and nation, they seek out ancient gods for answers — but the gods give nothing for free.” Of course, that barely scratches the surface of this fantasy story about High Sage Koruval va Naza, his daughter Mizha, son Tama, and adopted son Zhiro. The va Nazas are Tamakepe, a tall, pale race, while Zhiro is a Timu, a short, darker-skinned race. While Zhiro is technically part of the va Naza clan, there is some bad history between him and Mizha, perhaps to do with the fact that Timu are considered lower-caste.

If that seems like a lot of new words and information to get your brain around when reading a new webcomic, I wouldn’t worry. Ms. Dempsey shares bits and pieces of the story bible with each new page, so you can learn as you go, or you can just let the story unfold and all will be made clear. For those who enjoy seeing behind the scenes, Ms. Dempsey shares a wealth of information on characters, the land, the gods, the politics, language, etc. It is evident that she has done a huge amount of world-building and plotting before page one of the story, and this pays off more and more as the story goes on and you see how it all fits together. So far there are three chapters of about 40 pages each and Chapter 4 has just recently started, and already it bears re-reading the story to appreciate early events in light of later ones.

It would take me many paragraphs to lay out the story and all the characters so far in a way that does the comic justice, so instead I will just talk about what I am enjoying in the comic: 1) an extended, prophetic dream sequence in Chapter 1, and the commentary below it; 2) Mizha’s illusion powers; 3) the high-caste/low-caste forbidden love history between Mizha and Zhiro; 4) the hyper-alert but odd Pakku; 5) Ms. Dempsey’s ability to show subtle action taking place without needing a caption to describe the action (for example, this exchange); 6) nicely-laid out pages such as this one; and, of course, 7) whenever characters look like they are ready to kick some ass, like someone hiding knives under his robe.

LeyLines is an intricate fantasy story full of gods and intrigue, dreams and visions, base villains and plucky heroes, and genuine characters. Check it out!

Hunter Black, written by Justin Peniston and illustrated by William “Will” Orr, is an out and out fun fantasy noir. It is in greyscale with occasional use of color for emphasis (red blood, green cough SFX, yellow crazy eyes). The art is flat and geometric, and very angular, which looks really cool. I especially like the jagged, thick-pixel blood splatters (as in the picture to the right and also  here, but don’t follow the link if you don’t like spoilers). Mr. Orr’s art in Hunter Black reminds me a bit of Samurai Jack, which to me at least is a good thing.

The premise of the story is that Hunter Black took the fall for a huge crime and was sent to an inescapable prison, which he of course escapes from. While in prison he contracted a wasting disease and he would surely be dead already if not for his sword, The Revenger. When he uses Revenger to kill someone who betrayed someone else, the sword feeds him their life force. When he kills someone who didn’t betray anyone, things don’t work out as well. The magic sword reminds me of Michael Moorcock’s Elric and Fred Saberhagen’s Sword books, both of which I really like, so a story with a well-done magic sword is one I will tend to favor. The Revenger is a worthy addition to the ranks of famous magic swords, and there are apparently more of them out there in Hunter Black’s world, so I can’t wait for him to clash with the wielders of those weapons.

Anyway, back to the story: Hunter Black wants to find out who set him up, and he wants to kill them. It’s a simple setup but the payoff is in the characters that Black has to interact with and (often) fight along the way. As I mentioned in the LeyLines review above, I like it when characters kick ass, and Hunter Black, although only about 75 pages in, is already full of them. I am looking forward to following Black’s ups and downs as he Revenges his way through the world. Will he kill all his betrayers before they kill him or he falls prey to his sickness? Damn right he will, and we get to watch.

My only complaint, and a minor one, is that I wish each page had a comments section attached to it. As it stands, you can leave comments by going to a blog post that may or may not have been posted on the same day as the page you are reading, which makes it a bit confusing if you want to actively participate in the commenting.

I’m glad I met Mr. Peniston and Mr. Orr at WonderCon—and especially glad I picked up the three Hunter Black posters—or else I might not have gotten clued in to this awesome webcomic. Read it for yourself and watch the blood fly.

Speaking of WonderCon, I promised last week that I would share more about the art that my wife and I liked, so here are some links in no particular order:

Eunjung June Kim had some very nice, whimsical prints that my wife described as making her feel happy. Check out “Three Indian Girls,” “Fly pig,” “Bedtime Story,” heck any of her prints. They do make you feel happy.

I felt the same way about some prints by Pascal Campion. Check out “Midnight Friends” or “Cinemascope” on the first page of his store. I could totally put these up in my girls’ room, they are so sweet.

Along the same lines, we both liked Nidhi Chanani’s prints. Her express goal with her art is to make people happy, and she shares her art daily as a means of everyday love. Mission accomplished. I won’t even single any particular print out; any of them would be great to own.

In the just plain cool category, I really dug these East-meets-West prints from Moira Hahn. I especially like “Year of the Rooster/Attack of the Hummingbird” as it reminds me of some of my cat friends past, and “Year of the Rooster/Attack of the Tengu” because it is a samurai cat. ‘Nuff said.

Finally, last week I showed a picture of Arlyn Pillay of Ogre Shop working on a painting and he has since posted a sped-up video of him working on it. I am still blown away that he used leftover house paint to create such a cool piece.

Okay, that’s it for this week. Next week I will finish up my WonderCon sharing by talking about the handful of indie comics I picked up there.

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/21/12

This is a longer post today because I have two reviews and a run-down of my visit to WonderCon, which was great fun. First though, let me mention that if you are into long-form webcomics (or online graphic novels, or whatever you prefere to call them), check out the #lfwc hashtag on Twitter. A lot of great creators are discussing their craft using that tag.

For this week’s Webcomics Wednesday, I decided to focus on two webcomics I had never heard of before reading comments from their creators in that #lfwc discussion. There are still several more comics I have to explore by creators who chimed in to the part of the discussion I was following.

First up, Power Nap by Maritza Campos and Bachan is everything I wanted in a webcomic without realizing I wanted it. I mean, it’s about dreams, reality, and a Kafka-esque future that reminds me of every office job I’ve ever worked. The influences on Ms. Campos’ writing are all from movies I have enjoyed, like Brazil, the Matrix, Blade Runner, Back to the Future, and Minority Report, and the art by Bachan is frenetic and exaggerated/cartoony where it needs to be.

Power Nap 1st PageThe story starts out in action, as a man in office wear is being chased by a very large and very mutated-looking creature (picture on left). From there we jump back to the “real” world and the science-fiction ideas start flying. The protagonist of the story is Drew Spencer, the ultimate office drone. He has a long commute, a pointless job, and an inability to stay awake. No, he doesn’t have narcolepsy, he just can’t keep up with everyone else because he’s allergic to the pills everyone takes to keep them awake 24/7. The ramifications of this allergy are teased out in very inventive ways and are really the basis for the entire story up to this point. How does a man who needs to sleep keep up in a world of the sleepless? Answer: He goes a little crazy.

Or maybe it’s everyone else who is crazy. Either way, questions of what is reality inevitably crop up as the dreaming and waking worlds collide in this comic. The art style is very animated and the sound effects are fun and work well to emphasize the action.  Between the wickedly fun- and idea-filled story and the beautiful and imaginative artwork, I am hoping this webcomic continues for a long time.

The second webcomic today is Little Guardians, written by Ed Cho, with art by Lee Cherolis. If you have ever played Legend of Zelda, or Dragon Quest, Pokémon, or any number of other video game RPGs, this webcomic should be instantly recognizable to you. It contains all the tropes of those games, like the Item Shop, monsters with unique abilities, heroes who can capture and release animals and monsters from magic orbs, healing potions, and the like.

Little Guardians is both a loving homage to these video games, and a way to play around with the format as well, because in this story, the hero has been switched at birth with the son of the man who runs the Item Shop. (I don’t consider this a spoiler; it is in the Prologue and it is the premise of the whole comic.) This is because the hero is a girl, Subira, and the Guardian of Yowza Village can only pass his training on to a son. So Subira ends up Cinderella-ing it at the Item Shop while Idem, who is actually the shopkeeper’s son, grows up in the shadow of the Guardian Tane and fails miserably at his training.

This one twist makes for a lot of tension when disaster strikes the village. Can Idem overcome his shopkeeper’s heritage and step up to be a true Guardian? And will Subira’s Guardian heritage manifest itself despite her subservient existence in the Item Shop?

Tension aside, there is a lot of humor in the comic, especially centering around Yowza Village’s Zucchini Festival and zucchini farmer Thoom. By the end of Chapter 1, I found myself invested in the lives of Subira and Idem, concerned for Thoom, intrigued by new arrival Soma, and pitying the Guardian, Tane. It is the fact that Little Guardians can juggle humor and drama, action and emotion, that makes it a webcomic I want to keep reading, and elevates it above a video game parody.

Chapter 1 has ended and Chapter 2 starts up again on April 16th, so now is a perfect time to catch up on Little Guardians. (4/9/12 update: Per this post, Little Guardians is now set to return on April 30th.)

WonderCon

I had a blast at WonderCon last Friday. Even though I couldn’t go back on Saturday and Sunday because I have to pack and move instead, my wife and I did walk the entire floor, and we got to meet and talk with a lot of talented writers and artists, such as:

Jason Brubaker of reMIND:

Jason Brubaker of reMIND.

Travis Hanson of The Bean, holding up one of the prints we purchased:

Travis Hanson of The Bean.

Paul Roman Martinez of The Adventures of the 19XX (that’s me on the left; I felt like a dweeb asking to be in the picture, so this is the first and last picture with me in it):

The Adventures of the 19XX.

Justin Peniston of Hunter Black (he’s on the left holding my five-dollar bill hostage):

The Hunter Black Team

Justin was a really welcoming guy. I haven’t read Hunter Black yet, but after talking to him I definitely want to check that one out and also another webcomic he writes, Planet Pantheon.

Here is a rundown of some of my other WonderCon highlights, in no particular order:

Lackadaisy is a webcomic I have seen linked to many times but I have not checked out for myself yet. While I didn’t meet the creator, Tracy Butler, the artwork was so beautiful (plus, gangster cats!) that I picked up Volume 1 and a poster.

Arlyn Pillay of Ogre Shop was working on this really cool piece of art:

Arlyn Pillay/Ogre Shop

Ed Luce of Wuvable Oaf had a great WonderCon 2012 print that I picked up, and I snagged Wuvable Oaf #1 because it looked both funny and gross.

Finally, here is one of two prints we purchased from Martin Hsu:

Martin Hsu

I also picked up some independent comics and the business cards for a lot of great artists. There were so many prints we wanted, but we started to run out of money and energy. Oh well, next Con.

Next week I’ll share the links to the artists that caught my or my wife’s eyes, and I’ll talk about anything else WonderCon-related that I left out of today’s post.

Overall, I really enjoyed WonderCon and it reminded me of what San Diego used to be before it became overwhelmingly huge. Luckily, I now live an hour outside of San Francisco, so WonderCon will be my new regular Con to attend.

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/14/2012

In today’s post I talk about Webcomics, Kickstarter projects, and serialized wuxia fiction. Hopefully next week I can recap my time at Wondercon, if my computer and internet connection are all working again after my move!

Webcomics

Jackie Rose by Josh Ulrich: This webcomic is a WWII-era action-adventure story along the lines of the Indiana Jones movies or The Adventures of the 19XX. The first story is the five-part Jackie Rose and the Legend of the Sixth Seal, and it is up for free online. In it we are introduced to the treasure-seeking Jackie, who when she isn’t living a life of adventure is a… waitress. Yes, seems she isn’t earning enough hunting treasure, so like the rest of us, she has a day job. Plus, her dad isn’t really keen on her risking her life on adventures. Not that they’re very risky, unless you count the Nazi robots that are attacking her. Oh wait, maybe dad has a point.

The characters in this story are fun nods to familiar archetypes, like the Frenchman, a blindfolded, beret-wearing man of mystery (I fully expect him to have awesome kung fu), The Black Fox (a Catwoman/Black Cat analogue), and Eddie Ripcord (ace pilot and wheel man, and love interest for Jackie). The story itself is a nod to Indiana Jones, with world travel, underground cities with hidden treasure, and Nazis trying to take over the world. Luckily, there are enough twists and the character interaction is genuine and fun, so the story doesn’t get bogged down in cliché.

If you enjoy the Legend of the Sixth Seal, I recommend that you download The Amazing Eddie Ripcord, which is a shorter, black and white  one-shot available to buy in PDF format for $1.50. (Note, after you purchase it through Paypal, click “Return to Josh Ulrich” and your download will start; somewhat non-intuitive.) It is the story of Eddie and Jackie’s first meeting, when they were kids, and it is actually really sweet and full of action. It makes Eddie’s abilities in the Legend of the Sixth Seal more believable, too.

The next multi-issue story arc for sale is going to be called Jackie Rose and the Treasure of Captain Read, and it will be in color (and have air pirates!) The current planned release date is March 19th.

Everblue by Michael Sexton: The story starts when Ten arrives in town on a flying sailboat and is promptly shot down by Seta, a city guard, who thinks the boat is an attacking sea-serpent. To make up for his mistake, Seta brings Ten to see Luna (his half-sister?), who repairs boats. Okay, the story actually starts earlier with Luna, but I would say the action starts with Ten’s arrival. As Luna and Ten work on a new boat, they form a friendship and maybe something more is budding. I have to admit, the looks they give each other are so darn cute and sweet. It evokes feelings of first love (aw, I’m an old softie). There are also abandoned underwater cities, an evil general, ancient technology, astral projection, and what looks to be a big honking monster.

The town in which the story starts is an island in the middle of ocean (the Everblue, I presume) with docks that point in the cardinal directions. My guess is this is a post-apocalyptic world where global warming has raised the ocean level, hence the island towns and ancient underwater ruins. Also, Luna mentions to Ten that his name means Heaven in one of the old languages, which makes me think this is our own world in the future (ten = heaven in Japanese, right?).

The beginning of this comic is in black and white, then the artwork switches to color starting in Chapter 2 (I think Chapter 1 may be redone and colored at some point). There are also three black and white vignettes planned between Chapter 3 and Chapter 4. The color pages look great, but the black and white/greyscale pages work well, too.

This comic is still in Volume 1 with a planned four volumes total, so I can’t wait for the continuation of this epic story.

Kickstarter Comics Projects

The Giant! A Mini-Graphic Novel Kickstarter, which I mentioned last week, ends tomorrow. Congrats to creator Chris Wharton for reaching his goal!

Five Ghosts is a comics project about a treasure hunter in the 1930s who ends up being able to channel the spirits of “five literary ghosts (Merlin, Robin Hood, Sherlock Holmes, Musashi, and Dracula) and is granted access to their unique abilities.” That sounds like a cool, fun concept and the sample art looks really good, so I’m in for this one.

The Gastrophobia Volume 2 Kickstarter should be ending successfully just as this post goes live, so congratulations are also in order for creator David McGuire!

Writing News

I am enjoying working on my own serialized story, The Only City Left, and I would like to recommend another serial I found, The Traitor and the Monk, by Atomic Robo writer Brian Clevinger. If you enjoy wuxia movies like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon and are looking for some fiction reading in a similar vein, check out this story of a barbarian whose rebellion against the Jin emperor failed, a drunken master monk that he meets on the road, and the Jin investigator who is on their tail. The story is smart, funny, and has great action scenes.

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/7/2012

It’s Webcomics Wednesday again, and I am getting excited to be attending Wonder-Con in a couple of weeks and meeting some of the great webcomic creators that I have mentioned here. Off the top of my head, I know that Paul Roman Martinez of The Adventures of the 19XX will be there, as will Travis Hanson of The Bean. I can’t wait.

Today I am reviewing Kukuburi and Ellie on Planet X, both of which are full of wonderfully imaginative creatures in fantastic settings.

First up is Kukuburi by Ramón Peréz. I will warn you straight off, this is an on-and-off webcomic; Mr. Peréz has stated that he has a busy life outside of this free webcomic and if you look at the dates that each page is published, you can see that this means that Kukuburi is not always updated on time. So, no guarantee that this story will continue, but let’s have hope, shall we?

Kukuburi is the story of delivery girl Nadia, who steps into a world of talking lizards, battlewhales that float through the air, bizarre creatures that speak all sorts of languages real and imagined, and a stylishly-dressed skeleton who takes Battleship way too literally. In other words, there is some crazy stuff going on wherever it is that Nadia has ended up, and Mr. Peréz does a wonderful job illustrating the craziness. Reading this is like having a direct line to his super-inventive imagination and that is a wonderful thing.

In particular, I really enjoyed L’Académie des Chapeaux, which is a sort of team of bizarre-but-lovable, Monsters, Inc-ish characters who all have hats with different superpowers, who live in a fortress that looks like those hats. No offense to the token human, Nadia, but I wouldn’t mind if the story was solely about these guys, and I really wouldn’t mind a movie or cartoon series based on their adventures.

Mr. Peréz also handles the creepy creatures well, including an army of black and red manta-like creatures that coalesce around something en masse, devour it, and break apart again.

Kukuburi is a fun ride where you don’t always know where it’s going (or if it will successfully get there), but the visuals and ideas are so fun you can just enjoy the ride.

Ellie on Planet X is a web comic strip (webcomicstrip?) by James Anderson. It is done in blue and orange tones (and some green on special occasions), and like Kukuburi, it is populated by inventive, fantastical creatures. While I tend to stay away from comic strips, this one actually has the sort of continuity I am looking for in a webcomic, and on top of that, it has a very Calvin and Hobbes-ish vibe to it (especially the poem strips), which is a good good good thing. Also, because it does not have to come out seven days a week, it doesn’t feel as forced as some newspaper strips tend to feel.

Ellie is a space probe who looks like a little robot girl and she has been sent to Planet X to study it. She is kind of like a more adorable Mars Rover. She quickly teams up with Subject A, aka Jeff, and Subject B, aka Muffin (Ellie’s names for the creatures). Jeff is very much the carefree, silly Hobbes-like character of the strip, while Ellie is the adventurous, curious Calvin. Muffin rounds things off nicely as the group curmudgeon. To get an idea of their different personalities, check out this double-sized strip.

The three main characters wander around and interact with Planet X-ians such as The Insufferable Gob Holler, several varieties of caterslinks, Mr. Amblebath, and the aptly named Balloon Boy. All the creatures and environments are a pleasure to examine.

Ellie on Planet X is funny and has a genuine sense of wonder and adventure (and silliness) that makes it a delight to read for us not-quite grown-ups, and I could easily see sharing these with my kids when they are old enough.

On a final note, there is a Kickstarter campaign for a “mini graphic novel” ironically called Giant! It looks like a fun story and the pledge levels are really reasonable, so check it out and maybe help the creator reach his goal.

Wednesday Webcomics: 2/29/2012

Welcome again to Webcomics Wednesday and Happy Leap Day! One of the ways I am using to find webcomics lately is a site called Ink Outbreak. It has a “More Like This” button that generates a list of “Most Similar” and “Fans Also Enjoy” webcomics, or you can search by categories like Science Fiction, which is what I did to find today’s comics: Mystery Babylon and Cleopatra in Spaaaace!

Mystery Babylon is a full-color comic by Val Hochberg. It is the story of a girl named Mystery Babylon aka Kick Girl (she could also be called Punch Girl or Stomp Girl, but she does indeed kick people a lot), and a boy priest named Zero. Kick Girl is surly, cynical and hyper-aggressive, definitely not a people person, which is why it is funny that sweet/naive Zero likes her so much.

I have read Chapter One so far, which is the first 43 pages, and the plot that is brewing in this introduction involves the pit that holds the Devil, a group that wants to unseal it, and a map that purports to reveal the location of the pit. While I am interested in the story, it is the relationship between Kick Girl and Zero that has me turning the pages and laughing out loud right now. The art is well done in a manga style and some of the funniest parts of the comic are the expressions on Kick Girl’s face as she has to deal with all the idiots (as she sees them) around her.

This is a fun action-comedy with Christian-religious themes (check out the FAQ if you are concerned about the handling of the religious themes one way or the other) and I say go check it out!

Cleopatra in Spaaaace!, by Mike Maihack, is another fun action-adventure webcomic that, as the name implies, takes place in outer space and is about Cleopatra. Yes, that Cleopatra. She has been sent into the future and the story starts out with her battling aliens called the Xerx alongside her talking cat, Khensu. And then she jumps on a spaceship/motorcycle in the shape of a Sphinx. I was pretty much hooked from the beginning of this one—Cleopatra looks really cool in Egyptian/science fiction clothes holding dual ’50s-style sci-fi laser guns. Throw in a talking cat and a Sphinxcycle? I’m in for the long haul!

Chapter One of Cleopatra is in black and white; thereafter it is in full color. I bought the PDF of Chapter One (the only PDF available; Chapter Two is only available in a hard copy) for $1.99 and it includes some nice sketches and guest artist pin-ups along with the first 28 pages of the comic. Now for some bad news: Cleopatra in Spaaaace! has been on hold since June 2011 except for some recent guest strips. Why? Because Mr. Maihack knew he could not keep up the weekly pace of the comic once a new addition to his family arrived in October, so he decided to put off Chapter Three until he could focus on it more. The webcomic fan part of me is bummed by this, but the new dad side of me understands completely. Mr. Maihack reiterated as recently as 1/27/12 that there will be a Chapter Three, so keep your fingers crossed. Cleopatra in Spaaaace! is a genuinely good webcomic, full of heart and action, well-drawn and -written, and by the way, it has a council of rulers who are all talking cats. No more need be said.

Final note: Namesake finished its Kickstarter successfully with nearly double its goal. Congrats!

Webcomics Wednesday: 2/22/2012

It is time again for Webcomics Wednesday! Let me start off by stating the obvious: I am having a blast finding and reading webcomics. I love the variety of genres, the unique stories that are being told, and the varied art styles. I like when creators have comments underneath each page, whether it explains that day’s comic or just shares some insight into their lives.

I am checking out a lot of comics in order to find ones I like and that I want to share here. Some work for me, some don’t. Likewise, I imagine some of the ones I share here might have you scratching your head. That’s why the sheer number of webcomics out there is great; there’s something for everybody. That being said, I looked through a lot of webcomics this week that just didn’t spark for me, but still took me a lot of time to look through, so I only have two to recommend right now: City of Cards, and The End.

City of Cards, written and illustrated by C.J. Joughin, is a black-and-white webcomic set in a Kafka-esque future where everyone is controlled by the system/government/corporate entity. The story starts off with Plato, a kind of shlubby guy who is running a nightclub called The Cave, which he is barely keeping afloat. He cannot get his liquor license until he is able to show that he can run the nightclub profitably, but he can’t make a profit without a liquor license. Enter Ace, a mysterious young man with amnesia and no official ID. Plato starts to take care of Ace out of the kindness of his own heart or perhaps more likely an attraction. It soon turns out that Ace, even though he can’t remember who he is or how he got there, knows things he shouldn’t. Perhaps he is psychic, perhaps there is something deeper going on. I mean, “Plato” is running a place called “The Cave” and the Allegory of the Cave is quoted at the beginning of the comic, so we are primed to doubt the reality of the world we are reading about straight from the get-go.

City of Cards has a kind of slow, gentle feel to it, even in the most recent pages which depict a fight scene. The characters, almost all of whom look kind of stocky and solidly built to me, talk a lot and kind of meander through life, while we learn bits and pieces about the world they exist in. I normally don’t go for this slow of a pace in a story, but it works well here, as I kind of feel that I am along for a ride and I am intrigued as to where it will go and what sights we’ll see along the way.

The End, written by Cory Brown and illustrated by Ran Brown*, is in full color and is the story of an alien race, the Fiah, who collect sample populations from planets that are about to be destroyed. The latest mission brings Navigator Endi and Monitor Ethma to Earth to nab some specimens. And not just anywhere on Earth, but a comic-book convention. Part One of the story is all about the setup of who will be collected by the Fiah, so we jump from one group of characters to another, getting small glimpses into their lives before Part Two, where the action moves to outer space.

It’s a simple enough setup, but there appears to be a lot going on under the surface of this story. Without giving anything away, the end of Part One kind of changes the whole ball game, and the intermission between Parts One and Two introduces even more questions about what is really going on.

The End looks great; it is really well-drawn and colored. There are some scenes where the characters are backlit and I had to strain to see the details of their faces, so I felt it was a little too dark, but that could just be me or the gamma correction on my monitor. The story seems very deep, and you can tell from what Mr. Brown has shared of his world-building notes, that he has put a lot of thought and energy into this setting.

The End is exciting, fun, and looks to be full of mysteries and secrets to uncover. I could easily see this as being an ongoing TV series, sort of like Lost, except in space instead of the Island. Lost, in Space. But not, you know, Lost in Space. Okay, you get the point, go check it out.

*I am assuming from the comments I have read that Cory writes and Ran illustrates, but I could not find an “About” section that explicitly stated this.

On a final note, I am always scanning Kickstarter for more comics and this time Gastrophobia Volume 2 caught my eye. I only read the first few pages of the webcomic and then opted to pledge for the PDFs of Volume 1 and 2, because the story and art seem fun and it’s a good price for the 2 PDFs. As it says on the Kickstarter page, it is “about a single mom Amazon in Ancient Greece and her less-than-athletic 8-year-old son.” Hilarity ensues. Check it out.

Webcomics Wednesday: 2/15/2012

Welcome back for another edition of Webcomics Wednesday. As always, if you have a suggestion or just want to say you were here, please leave a comment below. Now on to the show.

The Adventures of the 19XX is a dieselpunk webcomic by Paul Roman Martinez, and I am only covering Chapter One in this mini-review. The story takes place sometime in the 1930s, or 193X as it says in the comic, the X being a wildcard to give the story some leeway as to how much earlier than World War II it takes place, I guess. The 19XX is actually the name of an organization which I would describe as fighting the good fight against the forces of occult evil. This first chapter is a bit of an introduction to the characters and setting, but manages to include a couple of nice action sequences and a number of surprising turns right off the bat.

This is the type of fun pulp story that I love to read, like Lobster Johnson or the 1930s-era flashback Iron Fist adventures in the Brubaker/Fraction Immortal Iron Fist run. Like those stories, the 19XX have both magic and science on their side, including “mojo bags” that give their user some measure of protection against injury, and (my favorite), the world’s smartest rabbit. Of course, the evildoers have both magic and technology at their disposal as well, with villains like Demonhand and Aleister Gurdjeff (presumably referencing Aleister Crowley and G.I. Gurdjieff).

The art itself is mostly realistic, with special detail paid to period vehicles and architecture. It looks like it was printed on newsprint, which is a nice touch to make it feel more like a historical document. Under most every page, Mr. Martinez has some historical information or pictures that he used in the making of that page, even down to the type of paperclip that would have been used in the ’30s, and for me these are as fun to read as the comic.

All this adds up to a fun read and I am looking forward to catching up on The Adventures of the 19XX.

Tinkers of the Wasteland by Raúl Treviño. I am about 110 pages (out of 356 as of the time of this writing) into Tinkers of the Wasteland and I would love to unequivocally recommend it. But I can’t. I really like the art style and the action scenes in this post-apocalyptic tale; I even like the story, although it is oddly chicken-centric (you have to read it, I can’t explain it). But the dialogue in the story does not work for me. It’s supposed to be funny, but I just find the characters to be dumb and unlikeable. Maybe that’s the point of these characters. but that doesn’t mean it is fun to read about them. The dialogue is pretty crude, mainly consisting of cursing a lot and using homosexual epithets. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against R-rated comedy, but it falls flat for me here.

Yet for some reason I keep clicking, page after page, because of the car chases, fights, bizarre weapons and fighting styles, and the environments. Now that I think on it, the art and action actually make me think of a grungier One Piece, where part of the fun is seeing all the bizarre fighting styles.

So for now, I am continuing to check this one out, and I can definitely recommend giving it a look to see if it suits your taste more than mine, but if at some point the super-lowbrow (like subway level) humor doesn’t let up, I’ll probably give up on this webcomic despite enjoying the rest of it. Oh, and needless to say, it is NSFW.

Widdershins, by Kate Ashwin, is set in the 1830s and is done in a pleasant, cartoony style. It begins with the story of Sidney Malik, a wizard and magician (explained in a bit) who has been expelled from his wizarding university and is about to be evicted from his home. You see, Sidney can do magic tricks and some true magic (wizardry), but he has an unfortunate malady that got him kicked out of school and makes it somewhat difficult to even be a practicing magician. To give away his malady would be to spoil the fun; needless to say, it is vital to the plot, which is about bounty hunters, thieves, and of course, magic.

Per Ms. Ashwin’s commentary, Sidney’s story is just the first chapter and it will be ending this month; the second chapter will switch to other characters that are seen in passing during the first chapter. I will be curious to see where Widdershins goes next, as I have already become attached to Sidney and his associates and want to read more about them.

Two short bits to end this post:

I ran across a new webcomic and I can’t even remember how, but I wanted to mention it here. It is called Cocotte and it is written and lettered by Kat Vapid, and drawn and colored by Ryan Kelly. It is about a cook (not a chef!) at a restaurant in Minneapolis. No kung fu, no hidden world, no airships in the background. In short, nothing like anything else I am reading, so I thought I would give it a try. Perhaps you’d also like to get in on the ground floor of a new webcomic, too. Check it out and give the creators some love; starting a webcomic has to be a bit of a leap of faith, and knowing you have readers keeps you up in the air longer.

Lastly, I reviewed Plume back in the end of January, and I wanted to mention that the Plume Kickstarter funded successfully, tripling its $3,000 goal. Congratulations to Kari Smith and Plume! I also mentioned Namesake in the same post and you still have time to back Namesake Volume One on Kickstarter if you are so inclined.