Fiction Friday: 5/11/12

For today’s Fiction Friday, I have a graphic novel adaptation, a novel that mixes gambling with magic, and a cyberpunk short story.

The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories

I have mentioned it more than once before, so now it is time for my full review of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories, Jason Bradley Thompson’s adaptation of dream-related stories by H.P. Lovecraft. I was very excited to get my hands on this graphic novel and it certainly lived up to my expectations.

Immediately inside the cover is a wonderful map of H.P. Lovecraft’s dream realms that I am tempted to use as the basis of the next RPG I run (someday, someday). This is followed by the short stories “The White Ship,” “Celephais,”, and “The Strange High House in the Mist,” and the main attraction, “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.”

The illustration is black and white and intricately detailed, with each panel filled to the brim with details both mundane and fantastic. Each story except for “Strange High House” involves the main character entering the dream realms. Once there, the dreamer is represented as a simplistic “mock man,” a simplistic, cartoony character with a large flat face, expressive eyes, and knobbed sticks for hands and feet. This is a neat way to set the dreamer apart from the fantastic world they are adventuring in; at a glance, you always know where the dreamer is in any given panel.

Jason’s architecture is a strong point. His dream realms are filled with incredible, gargantuan cities with building stacked upon building, spires, statues, domes, minarets, and residences both grand and decrepit. Likewise, the inhabitants of the dream realm are well thought-out and -depicted, from ordinary human inhabitants to divine and semi-divine beings to the slimy-faced, turbaned merchants whose wide, crooked-lipped smile succeeds in evoking menace and disgust. There are also monsters galore, with ghouls, gugs, night-gaunts, and plenty of tentacled, slobbering nightmare creatures.  And let’s not forget the cats. I’m a sucker for well-drawn talking cats, and the adventurous kitties in these pages add just the right light touch to some dark proceedings.

I think the best parts of the GN are when Jason is filling in background details that are not part of the original text, for here you can really see his imagination at work and how he did not skimp on any page. There is a two-page spread (pgs 20-21) of Kuranes searching for the dream-city Celephais that includes panels of him searching through industrial-looking wreckage, having tea with a dragon, speaking to birds big and small, fleeing monsters up a spiral staircase, and standing on a flying carpet, to name a few of the scenes, all on a page that evokes a Candyland-ish journey through the dream realms. In the center of the page is the actual human dreamer, at the same time asleep in bed and part of a mountainous landscape. Some of these scenes are suggested in the original text, but most are not. It shows the care with which Jason decided when to narrate straight from the stories, and when he let the art speak for itself.

To sum up: great art and a wonderful adaptation of some classic H.P. Lovecraft stories: what more could you ask for?

Vegas Knights

Matt Forbeck’s Vegas Knights is a book I had to read once I saw its premise of magic users in Las Vegas, because it’s a story that’s been plaguing my mind ever since I first drove away from the city of sin with no money in my pockets. With each visit, I would entertain the same daydream: What if I could have used magic to tilt the odds in my favor? Vegas Knights answers that question.

It is the story of Jackson and Bill, two college students who have learned enough magic to get themselves in trouble with it, and who decide to make some money at the blackjack table by using their magic to make sure they are dealt the cards they need. Whenever I thought of writing this story, I would get stuck at the next logical point: if you can use magic to cheat in Vegas, you can be sure that the casinos use magic, too, and they won’t look kindly on your activities when they catch you. Needless to say, Matt did not let that be a sticking point; rather it is the starting point for Jackson and Bill’s excellent adventure. The story spirals out from there as these two college boys experience the highs and lows of Vegas life and learn what’s underneath the surface and who’s really in charge of Vegas.

Vegas Knights ends up being a fun adventure story with a surprisingly personal through-line for one of the main characters. I tore through it and had a good time. It is available from the usual e-tailers, or you can buy a DRM-free version from the publisher, Angry Robot.

Love in a Time of Bio-mal by Colum Paget

This dystopian, cyberpunk short story is a fractured tale of a tempestuous relationship, set against the backdrop of a world in which neuro-bio-warfare has ravaged the land. The rich live behind hermetically-sealed walls, while the poorest suffer the worst after-effects of the war, such as rogue bio-mal that can make you age prematurely. The narrator has lost his place in the higher ranks of the society, and with it, the woman who was using him to climb the social ladder. The story starts with an emotional punch as we see the lengths the narrator is willing to go in order to win back his former love, and it does not let up from there.

I enjoyed the whole story, especially the bits about rogue Artificial Intelligence, which I won’t ruin for you by getting into here. Love in a Time of Bio-mal can be found in Electric Spec, Volume 7, Issue 1. Links to more stories can be found at Colum’s blog, The Singularity Sucks.

Diane Duane E-Book Sale

There is a 60% sale on Diane Duane and Peter Morwood’s e-books at their website. It started on 5/8/12 and is going to run until an unspecified time. Their books are DRM-free and you can’t beat this deal. I highly recommend the So You Want to Be a Wizard books.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part Thirteen of The Only City Left. Will the secrets of Allin’s family history be revealed at last? Was the werewolf ghost who was chasing him really his Uncle? Be here on Sunday for Allin Arcady’s adventures through a planet-sized city called Earth!

Webcomics Wednesday: This time around I’ll be focusing on webcomics that sell digital issues you can read on your tablet.

Webcomics Wednesday: Birth of Venus

Welcome to a special edition of Webcomics Wednesday. Today, I only have one webcomic to talk about instead of my usual two. In exchange for the second review, I have an interview with the creators to share with you. If this more in-depth approach to my reviews is to your liking, please let me know and I’ll work on lining up more interviews for future posts.

I’ll start off with what my initial take on the comic was, and then get right into the interview.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus is a full-color webcomic by Andrew “MAK” Makishima (Story/Script/Lettering), Matthew “JLD” Rice (Story/Illustrations/Colors) and Rory Walsh (Colors on issues 1 and 2). So far there have been two issues and a 12-page prequel story, and the third issue has begun online. There will be nine issues total.

The story starts with a costumed super-heroine falling to the street from the skyscrapers above. She ends up broken and bloody and we are left to wonder: Did her powers fail her? Was she defeated and cast down to earth by a super-villain? The answer is that the story is not that simple, of course. The story takes place in Vanguard City, which is a sort of sci-fi Metropolis, replete with super-powered bad guys and a lone super-hero, Guardian.

Madison Mercury is a blond-haired, dedicated reporter who believes that the city is overlooking the threat posed by a suspected terrorist group known as the Rebirth. When her twin sister Mara comes to town, she is caught up in events that prove Madison is right. Meanwhile, Guardian seems strangely reactive to threats rather than proactive. Is he kind of a doofy superhero or is there a more sinister reason he is always late to the party?

Some humans were harmed in the making of this scene.It should be noted that this is a pretty violent webcomic. At a guess, I would say the creators are fans of classic Paul Verhoeven movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, where the violence is a bit over the top and there is much dark humor. It is also reminiscent of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, both in art style and in the gritty approach to a world full of superheroes.

After catching up with the Birth of Venus archives, I felt compelled to talk to the creators about their webcomic, and they were kind enough to answer a series of e-mailed interview questions.

Creator Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for Birth of Venus?

Andrew “MAK” Makishima:  Birth of Venus is about a young woman named Mara Mercer who becomes the victim of rape at the hands of a super villain.  The trauma leaves her scarred…and pregnant.  But this is no ordinary pregnancy and Mara soon discovers that she has been imbued with amazing powers by the child growing inside of her.  She faces the dilemma of wanting to use these powers to get revenge on her attacker but also trying to live with the fact that she has this child growing inside of her now and whether she can ever love it.  Its a dark subject matter but ultimately I see it as a story of this woman finding strength she never knew she had and rebuilding herself into a new identity.

You had issues 1 and 2 of Birth of Venus for sale at Wondercon. Which comes first, the physical comic book or the webcomic, or are they concurrent?

MAK: The webcomic comes out first.  We’ve been printing the comics out after the issue wraps up online and have just started bringing those to conventions and comic shops.  We’ve only printed a very limited run of the comic books due to cost.  If we see a demand for it, we’ll print more and probably offer them for purchase on the website as well.

Matthew “JLD” Rice: We both grew up reading traditional printed comics and intended “Birth of Venus” to be done that way. (We actually did our first printing of the first issue as a pitch device… which was an expensive lesson. Ouch!) After re-evaluating our game-plan, we realized that we could release BoV one page at a time as a weekly web-comic but still stick to the traditional comic book format for printing purposes. The story has been tailored to work for BOTH purposes, having each page pack as much punch as possible and stand somewhat on its own while delivering the proper page-turn reveals needed to serve a printed book.

What is your expected timeline for completing all nine issues?

JLD: Whoo-boy! That’s a tough question and it really all depends on how this thing takes off. If we don’t hit any brick walls along the way, I hope that we can keep doing our weekly page-a-week frequency until we’re done… We should be done with Issue #3 by the end of the year and get about an issue and a half in the can each year after that…

What are your plans, if any, for a graphic novel for Birth of Venus?

JLD: We have the story broken into 3 distinct arcs, (or Trimesters if you will) and the plan is to finish the third issue and figure out a way to get some collected editions printed either by an interested publisher or possibly through a Kickstarter campaign. Each Trimester of BoV is meant to work strongly on their own while functioning as three major acts of a larger story.

MAK:  So that’s potentially 3 graphic novels of roughly 90-100 pages.  An omnibus of the whole series would be cool but at the rate we’re going, that’s a ways off from now.

What are your backgrounds, in education and work, that brought you to the point of making Birth of Venus?

A page of JLD's artwork for Helen KillerJLD: Graphic storytelling has been in my blood since I made my first comic book in 4th grade and I’ve been honing my craft ever since, now as a freelance illustrator and storyboard artist. After my first published comic work on “Helen Killer“, I knew that a follow-up would have to be something that I was passionate about. (These things eat up a good chunk of your life!) From the impetus of BoV we both knew that we really had something quite unique.

MAK: Echoing Matt, I grew up reading and collecting comics and wanted to be a comic artist/writer.  In high school, my interests drifted towards animation and filmmaking and I ended up getting a film degree at Cal State Long Beach.  I still loved comics though and wanted to write something in that format.

How do you know each other?

JLD: We first crossed paths at the introductory video production course at OCC Community College. After each completing our first solo projects we both saw the potential in one another’s work and we’ve been close friends ever since and creative partners as often as possible.

MAK:  I’ve known Matt for over 10 years now and he’s one of my best friends.  Once he finished his run on Helen Killer, I pitched him the idea for BOV and luckily he was game for it.

Is this your first project together?

MAK:  This is our first comic book collaboration.  Prior to that we made student films together.

JLD: And hopefully we’ll get around to putting all of them up on YouTube soon.

I guessed at some of your influences (see above) . Am I on the right track? What other films/comics/books/artists/authors influence your work?

JLD: The Verhoeven nod is quite apt, yet unintentional. We are both fans of his films as they tend to intermingle thought-provoking concepts, engaging characters and a good dose of ultra-violence! Good call! “Invincible” is a HUGE influence, as is “Savage Dragon”, “Powers” and even “Ultra” by the Luna Brothers. My art-style has also been greatly influenced by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s “Invincible” work, as well as the energy and organic line of Paul Pope’s ink-brush techniques. I am also a huge fan of Frank Cho, Walt Simonson, Will Eisner and Mike Mignola so I’d like to think that those influences might show up in my work from time to time… if I’m lucky!

Birth of Venus revolves around the results of a brutal assault and rape; was this difficult to write? Did you have any concerns that someone who picks up this book might stop reading at that point?

MAK:  It was difficult because there is a very different tone evoked when that is introduced into the story.  It has, and still is the most concerning thing for me that the subject matter be treated responsibly and in a non-gratuitous way.  It is dark so there is a certain level of discomfort that is unavoidable I’m afraid.  All I can say is that I hope by the end of the story, if people stick around they will feel that this was earned and necessary to the story we set out to tell.

I enjoyed the Mercury and Clay prequel story about McCoy and Madge’s first date. Are there more prequels planned for between later issues?

JLD: I would definitely love to do some more Clay McCoy short stories! What pulpy fun!

MAK: Hey, if you want to add more drawing duties to your plate, I can write some more!  The prequel comic was actually something we created to pitch the comic with initially so we had it in the can ready to go when issue #2 ended and Matt needed the buffer for issue #3.  There are some ideas for other prequel stories but nothing for sure yet.

What webcomics do you enjoy reading?

JLD: Probably my favorite long-form web-comic stories that are currently running are “The Meek” by Der-shing Helmer, “Sin Titulo” by Cameron Stewart, “Bearmageddon” by Ethan Nicolle and “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett. “PVP“, “Battlepug“, “Hark! A Vagrant“, “Hunter Black” and “Escape From Planet Nowhere” are also good, fun reads.

MAK: Don’t forget Ratfist!

What does success look like for you with Birth of Venus? I.e., you can quit your day jobs, this leads to more projects, etc?

JLD: If Venus can find a steady foothold out there with a growing fan-base to support it, then I would love to keep one foot permanently in that world while toggling between other projects. There is much fodder for potential sequel ideas to BoV.

MAK:  I would love to see BOV completed and out in the world for people to enjoy.  After that, more comic work would be great.  I don’t know exactly what it looks like but creating a sustainable model for creating content, whether it’s online or in print would be a dream come true.

Where can interested fans pick up copies of Birth of Venus? Stores? Conventions?

JLD: We just exhibited for the first time at Wonder Con in Anaheim and we plan to possibly get a table at APE in October and the Long Beach Con in November. We’re keeping things pretty local for the time being. We also currently have copies of the first two issues for sale at Meltdown Comics and Golden Apple in Hollywood, The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Comics Unlimited in Westminster and Nuclear Comics in Laguna Niguel. We’re also planning on selling printed copies through the BoV website soon.

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Well, there you have it, my first big interview here at Lithicbee and I hope you enjoyed it. I would like to thank MAK and JLD for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly and for pointing me to some more cool webcomics, to boot. I wish them the best of success with Birth of Venus.

If you haven’t checked out Birth of Venus yet, please do so and tell them you heard about it from Lithicbee.

Next Up on Lithicbee

Friday: The third installment in my series on SF/F/H Webzines, for readers looking for stories and writers looking for markets.

Sunday: Part 11 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.

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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: 3/21/12

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.

Webcomics Wednesday: 1/25/2012

I checked Kickstarter for comics for the first time in quite a while and found a slew of them to check out. Here’s a couple that I checked out today:


Namesake (W: Megan Lavey-Heaton, A: Isabelle Melançon) is about a girl who discovers she can enter literary worlds (a story which I always enjoy) and has black-and-white art with select splashes of color for emphasis. I have only read the Prologue and the first chapter of Book One so far but it has hooked me and I look forward to catching up (about 200 more pages so far). The Kickstarter project is to put Book One in print (144 pages). I pledged $5 for the PDF version. With a month to go, this project is at about $4,000 of a requested $7,000.


Plume (W/A: Kari Smith) is still in its infancy (about 40 pages up so far), but is a well-drawn manga-ish webcomic set in an alternate early 1900s with some magic thrown in. This one has potential and I hope to see it continue. The Kickstarter project will collect the first 24 pages in print and has met its funding goal. I have not pledged for this one; $10 for one comic book is more of a donation than I feel like making. (I submitted a question to the creator to see if a PDF could be made available for $5 instead.)

Speaking of comics I did not Kickstart but that are cool, check out this update for an adaptation of the Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Even though I did not Kickstart it, I have since pre-ordered it through Midtown Comics. It looks great, and I really enjoy Lovecraft’s dream stories, so I can’t wait until April when I get my hands on this.