Book Review: Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom
by Tim Byrd (http://tim-byrd.com/)
ISBN-13: 978-0989443302
Amazon: Paperback | Kindle
Doc Wilde on Goodreads

docwildefrogs

I picked up Doc Wilde and the Frogs of Doom during its Kickstarter, where it pledged to “recapture the magic of classic pulp adventure stories, with lost worlds, ancient ruins, weird science, evil villains, and daring heroes, bringing them into the 21st century with contemporary themes, modern scientific notions, the wonders of a close family, and a deep appreciation of literature and of the thinking life itself.”

I’m not sure about the last two items on the list, but the book mostly delivered on its promises. Doc Wilde and his children Brian and Wren are more like gods than humans: in superb physical shape, masters of many languages and scads of obscure knowledge, trained in the most useful mental and physical martial arts. They have nary a negative trait, drawback, or disadvantage amongst them, which definitely gives the book an old-time feel.

The Wildes are joined by rough-and-tumble pilot/driver Declan mac Coul and quote-spewing Phineas Bartlett. Yes, the man named Bartlett is full of quotes.

The adventure begins when the Wildes learn that Grandpa Wilde has gone missing. All they have to go on is an idol of a frog and a picture of Grandpa smiling as he stands before the open maw of a giant frog with shark-like teeth. The family’s reaction to this news is “Grandpa was missing again. Cool!”

The adventure takes off from there and involves peculiar frogs, a cliché South American dictator, dark matter, and more impossibly amazing inventions than you can shake a nanobot at. The book is heavy on exposition at times, but the chapters are short and it moves along at a fast clip.

The sheer perfection of the main characters means that they are rarely in any believable danger, so after a few cliffhanger chapter endings that turn out all right, a lot of the suspense is leeched from the story. That’s okay, though. The outcome is never in doubt, but the fun is seeing what mental discipline, physical feat, or novel technology the Wildes will use to save the day.

Doc Wilde is primarily for young adults, but it could also work for adults who enjoy over-the-top pulp adventure. There is nice artwork throughout by Gary Chaloner, but reading on the Kindle Paperwhite, I found the artwork to be quite tiny. After zooming in on it a couple of times, I mostly ignored it for the rest of the book.

Purchase Doc Wilde on Amazon.

Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom

Pro-Lithic Ramblings: 8/16/12

It’s been a while since my last post but I can say I have spent the time well and I am feeling refreshed. So what’s new? Well for one I have a short story coming out in Electric Spec at the end of this month, called False Negative. There are some kind words about it from editor Lesley Smith here. Needless to say, I’m pretty happy about that. Also, I’m back to work on The Only City Left parts 31 and up and I’m quite excited about that as well. Besides those (and other) writing projects, I have also been reading a lot of short stories to get into the short story mindset, and I’ve managed to read a few novels and discover a few new-to-me webcomics, too. Here’s a sampling.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent (Shared World Anthology)

I grew up reading a lot of books (surprise!), and some of my favorites were the Thieves’ World books, edited by Robert Lynn Asprin and later him and Lynn Abbey together. Not only were the stories full of swords-and-sorcery fun, the characters that each author brought to the book would sometimes pop up in the other authors’ stories, and there was an overarching plot that all the writers were working to build together. I loved it.

So when I saw a Kickstarter for Tales of the Emerald Serpent that promised to revive the old-school shared world anthology model, it was an easy decision to pledge for an e-book so I could at least check it out. How to judge a new shared world, though, against my glowing memories of books I hadn’t read in years? I would be happy if the book had: 1) an interwoven, overarching plot; 2) fun swords-and-sorcery stories with characters that I found intriguing; and 3) an interesting setting. Tales of the Emerald Serpent met my criteria and managed to surprise and impress me along the way. Here’s why.

Thieves’ World had the city of Sanctuary, an outpost city that contained a dangerous ghetto called the Maze. Emerald Serpent has Taux, a stone-carved city whose previous inhabitants fell prey to some Lovecraftian doom, leaving an empty but cursed city behind which was eventually reinhabited by those willing to risk life in a city whose very stones whisper curses at them. As settings go, it has great story potential and it feels well-realized. While this first volume focuses on the Maze-like Black Gate district, there are hints of other parts of the city that I hope will be fleshed out more in another volume, like the Wizards’ Tower.

The characters are a nice mix of scoundrels, mages, and fighters of various races, and in this universe different races have access to different elemental magic to a greater or lesser degree. I can easily say that I would be happy to read about all the main characters again, which goes along with my opinion that all the stories in this first volume are well-done. Standouts for me include editor Scott Taylor’s story “Charlatan,” for the sheer bravado of its main character, Savino; “Water Remembers” by Julie E. Czerneda, for crafting a story that works well in itself but that also left me wanting to find out what happened before the story began and what happens next; and “The One Thing You Can Never Trust” by Harry Connolly, for creating an unlikely action hero in Emil Lacosta, a mage who specializes in love potions. Talk about the power of love, Emil has it and he’s not afraid to use it, to deadly effect.

Those stories were great, but like I said, all the stories were good. The surprising part for me was how well woven together they were, too. I went into the book expecting the events in each story to follow the events of the one before it, and it took me a while to realize that the stories jump around in time quite a bit. Once I realized that, I also noticed how they fit together like intricate puzzle pieces, and by the end of the book I wanted to re-read the whole thing now that I “got it,” like when you got to the end of the Sixth Sense for the first time and wanted to immediately re-watch it. (I didn’t re-read it, though. Too much to do!)

If you like dueling swordsmen (and -women), magic-filled action and adventure, love both true and enchanted, and stories that work on their own and as part of a shared whole, get thee hence and pick up a copy of Tales of the Emerald Serpent. What Scott and the involved writers have accomplished is not only a solid shared-world book, but stories and characters that call out for a sequel. Here’s to a new era of shared worlds!

Requiem in the Key of Prose (short story)

Here’s your assignment: Write a gripping, touching science-fiction short story that is also a primer on a variety of writing techniques such as first person, present tense, flashback, metaphor, etc. Go ahead. It’s not that easy, is it? But Jake Kerr manages it quite deftly in the July 2012 issue of Lightspeed Magazine with his short story, “Requiem in the Key of Prose.” Kerr manages to speedily set up a world in which the Earth’s atmosphere has become unbreathable, forcing cities to dome themselves off and create their own oxygen. Into that setting enter Adam and Violet, a young couple who become inextricably tied up with ensuring the continued working of one dome city.

I was impressed with the speed and clarity with which Kerr sets up the world, Adam and Violet’s relationship, and the central conflict, and also how each segment of the story is a lesson in a specific writing techniques, without feeling at all pedantic. But don’t take my word for it. At less than 2500 words, this is a quick read I can recommend to even the most casual of readers.

The Adventures of Athena Wheatley (long-form webcomic)

The full title of this reality-skewing, time-traveling, gender-bending webcomic by Sylvan Migdal is The Adventures of Athena Wheatley, or, Warp & Weft; A Graphic Novel. I would describe it as The Time Machine meets Futurama by way of the sexual revolution, but that doesn’t really capture the fun and lunacy of this webcomic.

In the first three panels, a large piece of an Earth-like planet is shaved off from the rest of the planet by some mysterious force. (Maybe it’s the Earth in the future… the landmasses look different and there are two moons, but, well, anything is possible, as we later discover.) Anyway, in the aftermath of this apocalyptic event, we meet super-physicist Athena Wheatley, who is struck in the head by a protester’s rock and wakes up in the year 1841, where she runs a clock shop and, oh yeah, has a time machine in her basement.

So is the vision of the future we saw a true one, or is it all in Athena’s dreams? The answer is unclear because when Athena does travel to the future, it doesn’t look like the one she was dreaming about. The story shifts back and forth between realities as we are introduced to the evil Dr. Moultrie (you know he’s evil because not only does he steal Athena’s journal and claim credit for her work, but he eats some of her cheese and wipes his hands on her curtains, the fiend), an artist named Dave, an edutainment bot with wings named Twan, and a spaceship full of earth cheese, to name a few of the major players so far.

I may not understand what’s going on all the time, but the future world(s?) Athena adventures through are ridiculous and entertaining, and with the evil Dr. Moultrie on her trail and a planet sliced nearly in half, there is definitely an element of danger and tension that keeps the story from being merely a travelogue of future insanity. This is one webcomic that once I found it, I could not stop reading until I had caught up on it, so if you haven’t already, I recommend you go check it out. One caveat: if you’re put off by cartoon nudity and sexually explicit situations, you might want to stay away. The future (or at least one of them) is full of the stuff.

Webcomics Wednesday: 5/9/12

For this Webcomics Wednesday, I am sharing my thoughts on The Wormworld Saga and Amya, and then I’ll bring you my Quick Hits of webcomic pages I especially liked this week.

The Wormworld Saga

First up is The Wormworld Saga, which I only discovered with the recent release of Chapter 3. This full-color webcomic by Daniel Lieske is unlike any other I have read so far. It is released in whole chapters, and each chapter is one continuous vertical panel. To read through the comic, you simply scroll down. The result of this is that The Wormworld Saga feels less like a traditional comic and more like a movie, as scenes naturally blend into one another. Take this example from the very beginning of Chapter 1 (I have no way of linking to specific sections, but this is right after the dedication; also, if you haven’t read it yet, you might just want to go and do so; it beats any description I could possibly give it. Still with me? Okay then):  The story begins up in the blue sky, with the narrator talking to the reader. As you follow the narration bubbles down, sky meets land as we see a city in the distance (note the tall Orion building) and silhouetted trees in the foreground. We move down further into the darkness of the trees and the screen is black except for the blue narration bubbles. Keep rolling down through the black and light begins to appear, light through the trees, which are now close up in the foreground, the leaves and branches framing The Wormworld Saga title and logo. Scroll down past the foliage and we see out of a gap between two trees. Now we are on ground level, looking at the nearby Michael Ende Elementary School (catch the reference?). In the background, the Orion building looms, reaching the clouds.

I cannot explain how moving that first section is. It flows together so nicely and sweeps the reader into and along the story. As the story continues down, there are “pages” of panels interspersed with larger set pieces, and it almost reads more like a page-to-page comic, but every once in a while, that magic flow returns and drags you along in its wake. Check out the scene about halfway down after our  protagonist, Jonas, enters his Grandma’s house and runs into a room he is not supposed to enter. Incredible.

Okay, enough about the delivery vehicle, the vertical panel. It’s amazing and well used. ’Nuff said. How about the story and art that the vehicle delivers? First, the art. The Wormworld Saga is digitally painted and it looks brilliant and beautiful, photo-realistic with a soft edge for the environments and a little more loose and cartoony for the characters. Daniel is equally comfortable drawing the mundane and the fantastic, and the story calls for both.

So what about the story? Well, it starts off with our narrator and protagonist, Jonas, as an adult, wondering how you can tell the difference between true memories and the memories of dreams and fantasies (a thought trail I have also wandered down). He is wondering this because of the fantastic adventures he recalls from when he was a child in the summer of 1977. These adventures involve traveling to another world, a fantastical place full of wonder and danger. I won’t give away more than that. For one, the story has barely started, so there’s not much to tell. But also I wouldn’t want to ruin a second of it for you.

I will say that The Wormworld Saga can be seen as a loving homage to Michael Ende’s The Neverending Story, with the school being named after Mr. Ende and there being quite a few similarities between Jonas and Bastian’s stories. As a fan of the movie (and the first half of the book), I don’t have a problem with that. Daniel is certainly doing his own thing with the same basic premise, and in a different format, to boot. There are more Easter eggs in the comic as well, with references to Ender’s Game, to Jason Brubaker’s reMIND (how did that poster fall back in time? aw, who cares, it was fun to see), and more I have probably missed.

Bottom line, The Wormworld Saga wowed me. If you haven’t done so already, go check it out!

Amya

My second webcomic today is Amya, whose creative team is Savannah Houston-McIntyre (Producer/Writer), Andrew Hewitt (Co-Writer), and Rebecca Gunter (Artist). Amya is in black-and-white with the occasional color splash page, usually at the beginning and end of a chapter. I would define it as a fantasy adventure (magic, divine beings) in a low-tech (trains, pistols), highly-politicized setting. I actually gave Amya a look because I saw that Michael Sexton of Everblue was doing guest pages for it; of course, I was drawn in to the story and art of the original team as well.

The story starts out with one of our main characters, Faye Eolande, dreaming of the end of the world. I’m sure this dream will come back to haunt Faye and the rest of continent of Amya, but don’t expect its portent to be realized within the first three chapters of Amya that currently exist. Instead they are more about getting to know our main characters and the land of Amya itself. There is Faye, a noble’s daughter who is mute and communicates through written notes, but who also is spell-touched, meaning she can perform magic. Then there is Accel, a charming rogue who is on the run from his own noble family. Faye gets caught up in Accel’s troubles and ends up on a train heading out of her home land of Perennion, but in this highly-contentious world, Faye’s disappearance could lead to war between Perennion and its neighbors. That’s the premise of the beginning of the story, and it spirals out from there. As Faye and Accel try to make their way back to Faye’s home, they end up picking up more members of their adventuring party.

If that sounds a bit like a video game, that was my intention. Similar to Little Guardians, Amya pays homage to classic RPG video game tropes. At one point, the characters end up in a town with an inn, an apothecary, a general store, and a little problem with the townsfolk being murdered each night! The characters haggle on the price of needed goods, healing potions, and rooms for the night, and have to decide whether or not to take the side-quest (mysterious murders) or continue on their main quest (return to Perennion). It isn’t stated that explicitly, but it definitely has that video game feel to it.

The number of characters and their different motivations can be overwhelming at times, specifically in Chapter 3, but upon closer reading and re-reading of a couple of pages, I got the gist of what was going on. By the end of Chapter 3, the cast has been pared down again to a more manageable level.

Amya is currently delving into some characters’ backstories, with art courtesy of Michael Sexton, as I mentioned earlier. If the main story has to be delayed, at least we get Michael’s art in exchange. I do not mean that to be a slight on the regular series artist, Rebecca; her style is clean and clear in black-and-white and in color (I love those color pages, especially), and serves the story well. But I did visit Amya in the first place for Michael’s art, so I am happy to see he is sticking around for a while.

There is plenty of adventure and inventiveness on hand in Amya. I am enjoying the different magic wielded by various spell-touched, and the hints of a greater threat and a larger role for Faye. There is also plenty of action to keep me entertained and mysteries to keep me coming back for more. I say, check it out if you haven’t already.

Quick Hits

Derelict has a new page up. This is a great comic but pages go up infrequently, so I am excited each time this mysterious dystopian action story has one more piece of the puzzle added to it.

Hominids, Chapter 3, page 12: The art, action, and story combine for a fun page. And, is that a Lord of the Rings reference in the last panel? Warning: Boobs.

Xander, page 101: Xander and crew face the prospect of being split up upon entering the Valley of Nightmares. This page strikes the right heroic, hopeful tone for me. Here’s to another 100 pages.

The Adventures of the 19XX: Montezuma could get a job as a wrestling announcer.

Birth of Venus: “Stop hitting yourself, stop hitting yourself!”

Delilah Dirk: Did you see the preview for the new (physical) comic book, now available for purchase? I can’t wait to get this in the mail!

Kickstarter

Holiday Wars could still use a little love from the webcomic community to reach 100%. I’m in for a copy of the graphic novel; pretty reasonable at $15. Just sayin’.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Friday: Because no one but me demanded it, my review of Jason Thompson’s Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.

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: 5/2/12

For today’s post, I present unto you: Holiday Wars and Two Keys. Let’s get right into it, shall we?

Holiday Wars

Some mean-looking Holidays (and Tegan)

First up is Holiday Wars by Scott King (writer/creator), Michael Odom (penciler/Volume 2 inker), Giuseppe Pica (colorist), and Arturo Said (Volume 1 inker). With 300+ pages in Volume 1 and several multi-page prequel stories written by Scott and drawn by guest artists, there was a lot for me to catch up on with Holiday Wars, but with Volume 2 and the Kickstarter for Volume One both starting last week, now seemed like a good time to dive into the archives.

Holiday Wars starts with a quaint, snow-covered house, the sounds of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town” echoing from inside. As we step through the front door, we see that things are not quite as idyllic as they first appear. The singer is the Easter Bunny and he is torturing poor old Santa Claus, extracting fingernails and information. You see, E.B. is after the Holiday Spirit, but Santa won’t spill. Thus the stage is set for Holiday Wars, with some holidays on the side of the Bunny and others with the Claus.

After the initial setup, the story moves forward sixteen years to focus on an orphan named Tegan who has a mysterious snowflake tattoo on her neck. Turns out she will be instrumental in tracking down the still-missing Holiday Spirit. Tegan is a pretty fun viewpoint character. She quickly gets a handle on the whole Holidays-as-actual-beings idea and is able to stick up for herself and make her own way when she suddenly finds herself surrounded by these supernatural and sometimes super-powered beings.

What is really fun for me about Holiday Wars is the inclusion of lesser-known holidays such as Talk Like a Pirate Day and Ask a Stupid Question Day, and seeing how their personifications look and act. There is a nice mythology brewing about holidays vs. mere observances, what happens when a holiday is no longer observed by humans, and the like, and the central battle between holidays is over a key philosophical debate between them: should they keep their existence hidden from humans or not?

"Also, never go against a Sicilian when death is on the line!"The setting and mythology make for some fun (and funny) action sequences, and Holiday Wars mixes the serious with the ridiculous at every turn. Scott comes up with some good one-liners for almost every character, like when Tegan and Arbor Day are trying to get away from a murderous Easter Bunny (see picture on right).

I also appreciate the giant cyber-turkeys and their varied deaths, such as by Christmas Tree and Air Elemental. (I never thought I’d be writing about of the demise of giant cyber-turkeys. That’s why I love webcomics, so many grand ideas.)

Holiday Wars has action, humor, and a clever premise, so go check it out and consider supporting the Holiday Wars Kickstarter before time runs out.

Two Keys

Next is Two Keys, a black-and-white supernatural noir by Chloe Chan and Aliena Shoemaker (aka Nuu and Schumie). Note: I found Two Keys through a sidebar ad that lead to www.two-keys.net, and there are 11 chapters there (chapter 11 is not completely up to date yet). However, Two Keys is also available at mangamagazine.net, all the way up to Chapter 19, so you might want to read it all there. Confusing? Yes, but I am here to be confused so that you don’t have to be!

The story starts off with retired Private Investigator Colin Aston sitting in a diner with a blonde femme fatale. She wants him to come out of retirement to help find a high-profile missing person whose disappearance is being kept hush-hush. So why does she want Aston, since he now runs the crummy diner they are meeting at and claims he wasn’t a very good P.I.? It doesn’t take a noir aficionado, or a retired P.I., to smell a setup, but Aston takes the case despite his own misgivings.

With that, we’re off into the underworld of Exodus City, where the “occult” (any beings with supernatural blood in them, whether they look inhuman or not) are a hunted underclass, and the AFIA (Anomalous Forces Intelligence Agency) practices extraordinary rendition in attempts to “cure” the occult of their affliction. Funny that no one has ever come back from such a cure.

As the story progresses, you learn more about the past of Exodus City and relations between the humans and occult. There was a war between them that ended seven years ago, but the cold war that has ensued since may be heating up again. To discuss the plot more would be to give too much away. Needless to say, mysteries pile up as we learn more and more about the history of the human/occult war.

The world that Nuu and Schumie have created is an interesting one, the art is good, the characters are fun, and the mysteries and history have me hooked.

Quick Hits

Here are some pages from the past week or so that I especially liked:

The Bean Page 377: Ravna gets some good advice on how to handle the death of a loved one. This page spoke to me.

Everblue, Volume 1, Vignette 2, Page 3 (whew): Looks like Ten may have met Luna earlier than he realizes. I like the flashback and the hopeful look to the future. Plus, Luna and Ten are so darn cute, I am just happy there is a new page up!

Hominids, Chapter 3, Pages 8 and 9: Sno is a Neanderthal ninja apparently. Some badassedness on display here.

reMIND, Volume 2, Pages 19 and 20: Victuals SMASH!

Leylines, Chapter 5, Page 25: A light moment of bromance amidst the danger.

And check out the first page of this adaptation of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Doom That Came to Sarnath, by Jason Thompson. I just finished my first read-through of his hardcover graphic novel, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath & Other Stories (review to follow at some point), and if that is any indication, this planned 20-page short story adaptation should also be excellent.

Next Up on Lithicbee

Friday: Fiction Friday, including a review of Chuck Wendig’s Dinocalypse Now.

Sunday: Part 12 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.

Kickstarter Fiction: 4/20/12

Okay, so even though I posted a flash fiction story yesterday to meet a deadline, I still want to have a Friday post. It just feels right. Luckily, there is plenty to discuss in the realm of Kickstarter Fiction, aka The Place Where My Money Goes.

The first thing I should mention is that science-fiction author John Scalzi has opened up a forum on his website where people can post pitches for their crowd-funding projects. He reports that he has up to 50,000 daily visitors, so this could be quite a marketing tool to match up projects with those looking to spend their disposable income.

Next, I would like to say “Congrats!” to the Tales of the Emerald Serpent team for their successful project. As I mentioned before, this is a fantasy shared world anthology, which is pretty much all they needed to tell me to get me to pledge.

Speaking of shared worlds, check out Have Blaster, Will Travel: A Bulldogs! Story Anthology. Like Tales of the Emerald Serpent, these stories are based on an RPG, but this one is billed as “sci-fi that kicks ass.” From the project page: “Have Blaster, Will Travel is an anthology of space opera adventure that follows the Bulldogs, people who signed on with the TransGalaxy interstellar shipping company to run away from the law, the criminals they offended, or a past that haunts them. Inspired by Firefly, Star Wars, and lots of other b-movie sci-fi, Bulldogs tells the stories of those who are desperate enough to take a job hauling volatile and hazardous cargo to the most dangerous places in the galaxy.” Sounds like fun, and very tempting…

I hardly need mention this next project since I have seen it talked about all over the place already, but since I overlooked it in the previous Kickstarter Fiction post, let me redress that wrong here. Tim Byrd has a series of young adult pulp adventure novels starring Doc Wilde and family. It has already surpassed its goal, but with over a week to go, you still have time to get in on the pulp goodness. You can find a sample of the first book here. Doc Wilde is over the top, more perfect than perfect, but this is the exactly the sort of adventure I enjoyed reading as a kid, and since I haven’t really grown up, it is another tempting possibility.

And speaking of pulp goodness, Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy is now even more of an amazing deal. As of this writing, you can get 7 ebooks and 2 RPG PDFs for $10. Remember, there are psychic dinosaurs, kung fu detectives, and an ape on Mars. Words fail me. If you have not pledged, do so now; the project ends on Sunday.

Sigh. I was going to make a disclaimer at the top of this post about how I am not necessarily backing each project just because I mention it, but writing about the projects made me excited and so I added Have Blaster and Doc Wilde to my list of backed projects. (I already had Dinocalypse, of course!) Don’t tell my wife, okay?

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: 4/4/12

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!

Kickstarter Fiction: 3/30/12

It hasn’t worked out that way recently, but I’m trying to keep Friday as a sort of grab bag post between Webcomics Wednesdays and installments of The Only City Left on Sunday. So here is where you might read about webzines, e-books, philosophical ramblings, or whatever I happen to be researching at the moment. These are the posts that most feel like I am writing into the void, but every once in a while someone’s Google search brings them here, and hopefully one or two people enjoy what they find.

Today I want to share three Kickstarter fiction projects that I am backing. Why am I backing independent publishers instead of (or in addition to) buying the latest thriller from Amazon? As a writer, I am fascinated by the possibility of independent publishing. I see in it the possibility for a lot of new authors to make their name, and dare I hope, make a living, outside of the big publishing houses. Time will tell. In the meantime, it is fun to be a part of these ventures.

Spirit of the Century Presents: The Dinocalypse Trilogy: This Kickstarter is for a series of novels based on an RPG setting I am not familiar with, but it sounds like a blast. 1930s-era pulp adventure with psychic dinosaurs, talking apes, jetpacks, and heroes with names like Sally Slick and Jet Black? Yes, please. I am going in for the e-books, which at this point is up to four books with the possibility of more if the funding total rises high enough.

Tales of the Emerald Serpent: Shared World Mosaic Anthology: Thieves’ World is one of my favorite series, and I followed a lot of the authors from that anthology back to their own books and also to other anthologies like C.J. Cherryh’s Merovingen Nights. I am definitely a fan of a well-done shared-world anthology. Since this project references Thieves’ World and other anthologies I have dabbled in, like the Man-Kzin Wars, I have high hopes that it can be as fun to read as those anthologies of yore. The only writer on the book that I have read before is Julie Czerneda, whose books I have enjoyed, so this seems like a great way to find new authors.

As of the time I am writing this post (Tuesday! Look at me, building up that buffer again), the project is 43% funded with 22 days to go.

Singularity & Co. – Save the SciFi!: This project is a little different than the previous two as it is not for new works of fiction, but rather a way to save older works of science-fiction from obscurity and copyright limbo. Here’s their plan: “Each month we’ll choose one great classic, obscure or otherwise fascinating sci-fi book that’s no longer in print and not available online, track down the copyright holder and/or author (if they’re still around), acquire or otherwise clear the copyright, and publish the title both online and as an e-book, for little or no cost.”

I have run into so many books that I cannot find as e-books, so I really appreciate the premise of this Kickstarter. While there is no guarantee the books I have looked for will show up here, I still think it is a great idea and a worthy project.

Are there any Kickstarter fiction/comics/video game projects you think I should check out? Let me know.

Update: More Kickstarter fiction projects and/or updates here.

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.