Webcomics Wednesday: 6/6/12

There are a lot of webcomics out there. I read ‘em, and if I like ‘em, they end up here. This week I’m talking about The Forgotten Order and Polar, plus: the return of Spacedock 7!

The Forgotten Order

The Forgotten Order, by Christy Morgan, is destined to be about “Trystan, a young witch who is dismal at best with magic …, [and] a cursed doll who escaped the madness of its design by way of dreaming.” The story starts not with Trystan, though, but with a Dreamer who adventures in the dream realms to try to forget about its curse and remember what it is like to be human again. Presumably, then, the Dreamer and the cursed doll are one and the same character.

I quite enjoyed this beginning. For one thing, dream realms hold a special fascination for me (see my reviews for Xander and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, for example), so I was happy to see that Christy was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s dream stories. But I also particularly liked how tragic the Dreamer’s story is. It has intrigued me and makes me want to find out who the Dreamer is, how and why they were cursed, and what can be done about it. If only someone in the comic might be able to help with that….

Enter Trystan, an object of pity for her weak magic and doormat personality, but something tells me she and the Dreamer might be perfect for each other. Along with Trystan comes an entirely new art style, more detailed, less fantastical. I like it in its own way, but I’m also glad to hear that the dream world will show up again at some point.

The Forgotten Order is still early in its story, so now is a perfect time to catch up and jump on board.

Polar

You may have heard of Dialogue-Free Comics Day, but how about a dialogue-free comic altogether? Polar, by Victor Santos, pulls off that trick quite nicely. It is the story of a Nick Fury-esque man who just wants to be left alone, but when a team of killers ambushes him, he realizes that his former masters will never leave him be, so he will have to take the fight to them.

Actually, except for the part where the main character reminds me of Nick Fury (he has an eye patch and he’s an expert marksman, that much is clear) and killers are after him, I made up the rest. That is what I found fascinating about Polar. While I could clearly see what was happening (which mostly involves people shooting each other), I found that without any dialogue or captions, I filled in the “why” myself, coming up with motivations and histories for the characters. The lack of dialogue meant that I took a more active role in the story-telling. That’s a neat trick.

The art itself is beautiful, using only black, white, and red to great effect in the style of Frank Miller’s Sin City but with more of a Mike Mignola feel. The action is almost always clearly delineated, as it should be since the story relies on the art alone. I could try to explain how effective Victor’s art is, but it speaks for itself, really. Check out this image for one example; I think I’ll make it my desktop image for a while.

The site navigation leaves a little to be desired. There’s no “First,” “Previous,” or “Next” buttons, so here’s the link to the first page to make it easier . Your best bet is to start there and then click on “Newer Post” on the left below each page. That minor inconvenience aside, I think this webcomic rocks. I can’t wait to find out/make up the rest of not-Nick’s story.

Spacedock 7

One of the first webcomics I read and reviewed when I started this blog was Cleopatra in Spaaaace! When I was looking for more science-fiction webcomics to read, I naturally followed the link from Cleo to the rest of the Spacedock 7 webcomics, only to find that they were mostly all defunct. Well, it looks like Spacedock 7 is back in action, now with James Anderson’s Ellie on Planet X as part of the science-fiction webcomic crew. I’m already caught up on Red’s Planet, Cleo, and Ellie; I guess I’ll have to catch up on the rest of the SD7 as well!

Here are the other members of the SD7 and their current status (so far as I can tell): Joel Carroll’s Topaz returns on Friday. Dani Jones’ My Sister, the FREAK re-started at the end of May. A new page of Otis Frampton’s Escape from Planet Nowhere showed up on Monday. And as for Katie Cook’s Gronk: A Monster’s Story, it looks like it never went away. I must have missed it before, but as I was glancing through it today, I saw this page about having a Philosophy degree. Yeowch! That burns. Now I have to read the whole thing to see if there are any other jokes that hit so close to home for me.

Quick Hits

Here are some pages from the webcomics I follow that I especially enjoyed this week: Howard Hughes showed up in The Adventures of the 19xx. Oliver faced off with Salvaro in Clockworks. Kick Girl proved that she’s never happy, even in flashbacks. Amya returned with an awesome cover to Chapter Four. Mizha’s looking pretty shattered over at Leylines. Modest Medusa started a Kickstarter for their Season 2 graphic novel. And finally, I’d talk about how fun Power Nap continues to be, but you wouldn’t be able to hear me over the deafening screams.

Up Next

Sunday: Part 17 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. This is Allin’s darkest hour, so lend him your ear as he concludes the story of how his parents died.

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.

The Only City Left: Part Nine

Head back to Part Eight to catch up if needed. And here’s the Table of Contents.

The Only City Left: Part Nine

Up or Down, I had to dry off and warm up, so I put my brooding thoughts to the background and focused on the world around me. Unlike my shopping trip at the mall, which seemed like ages ago but was only this morning, the sector I was in was no help in the new clothes department. Whatever End Times the former residents had lived through, they must have filed out in a neat and orderly manner with their belongings in tow, because pickings were slim.

I got to the point where I was shaking so hard the lantern coil was hopping all around my chest, casting weird shadows that made it difficult to navigate the strange halls and rooms. I knew I had to stop looking and focus on warming up, so I stopped at the next bedroom I came across and set about making myself comfortable. There was still a mattress in the room but it was full of holes from where vermin had chewed on it, and anyway, I wasn’t looking for a bed. Much more promising was a small closet with intact doors where I could lie down and hopefully trap some body warmth inside.

I pulled the cocoon off of my back and pressed the buttons to switch it into a sleeping bag. Before I laid it in the closet, I pulled out my towel and unrolled it. Then, like pulling off a bandage, I stripped down as quickly as I could and toweled myself off.

Even though I was freezing, I took the time to squeeze and roll the dampened towel until the reservoir in one corner of it was full. The water was foul but the reservoir had a built-in filter that would make it okay to drink after about an hour of processing. I also laid my clothes out on the floor in the thin hope that they would dry out a little before I had to put them back on.

My teeth chattered violently as I stepped into the closet wearing only my necklace with the coil on it, and I felt achy and miserable as I eased into the cocoon and slid the closet door shut. I curled into a fetal position and the open end of the cocoon sealed itself. I wrapped my arms tight around my knees as my body was wracked with violent shakes, until it grew warm enough that I was able to close my eyes and slip into unconsciousness.

* * *

I had fever dreams, the kind that portend something important, that impart some wisdom just beyond the edge of understanding, but are actually just nonsense. I dreamt of rats scurrying over my body, nibbling at me until there was nothing left. I re-formed and stomped on the rats, who were now as small as ants. I wiped my foot on a wispy blue rug, but it howled and pushed me backwards. It stood up and I realized it was the werewolf ghost. He transformed into my father and looked at me with hard black eyes.

“Come play with me, Allin. We’ll have so much fun.”

I sank slowly to the floor, like honey dripping from a jar, and pooled there, playing dead. My father tsk-tsk’ed my demise and then turned away, saying, “I expected better of you, Allin.”

I found that I rather enjoyed being dead. I could still watch what was going on around me, but it was so restful just to lie there. Other ghosts came by and told me it was time to move on, but I ignored them and they went their own way. It was cold, being dead, and my teeth chattered until they came loose and began to fall out of my mouth. I tried to collect them and put them back in, but for every one I put back in place, two more slid out.

Then I was standing above myself looking down. I could see right through the cocoon to where I lay sleeping peacefully, my breathing even and my arms no longer in a death grip about my legs. I was happy for myself because I wasn’t dead after all, and I wished myself the best. But I didn’t want to stay there, buried in the earth, watching myself sleep, so I floated up and out of the room.

The ceiling was only a foot thick but moving through it was like clawing through hardened foam. I pulled myself into the next apartment up, but the floor trapped my foot and try as I might, I could not pull free. My heart began to race as I realized I would be stuck here forever, and the ghosts were going to come back and force me to leave. They would drag me down with them. Down, down, when all I ever wanted to do was to go Up.

I screamed and screamed and all of a sudden I was awake and whimpering and clawing to break free of the cocoon. I broke the seal and pushed my head free and lay there panting heavily, slick with sweat but warmer than I had been before. My heart still beat furiously from my dreams, and I had to work to control my breathing and to try to relax. I swallowed and wished I had brought the towel inside the closet with me. Oh well, I couldn’t hide in my cocoon forever anyway.

With a weary sigh, I slid the closet door back open, and for a minute I wondered if I was still dreaming. Before my eyes sat a neatly folded stack of clothing and a pair of shoes. Not my clothing or shoes, though. They had disappeared.

On top of the clothing sat a folded piece of paper. I reached out with one hand and brought it to up to my face. It read, in thin cursive script: “Allin Arcady, you are cordially invited to an audience with His Majesty, Emperor Banshee LXXVI. Please accept these gifts a token of His Good Favor.”

* * *

Please accept Part Ten as a token of my good favor, or read my notes below first.

4/15/12 News: All my talk of dreams lately has stirred up my mind and I am remembering my dreams more and more each morning, so it was inevitable that they would work their way into The Only City Left. But they also work well at this moment in the story, so I don’t feel like I shoehorned them in.

Most of what happens in Allin’s dreams comes straight out of my own. The playing dead, the teeth falling out, switching perspective so that I am in multiple places in the dream, sometimes observing myself, and the phasing through a wall/ceiling: all not uncommon in my dreams. (The losing my teeth thing, the worst.)

On a final note, I am catching some continuity errors during the editing phase of these posts. I am 9,000 words into the story, so there are already things I talked about in the beginning of the story that I am forgetting now. (Example: I had Allin pull a thermal blanket out of his cocoon bag in the first draft of this post, but as my faithful readers will remember from the very beginning of this tale, the cocoon bag is also a sleeping bag that completely seals up, so I didn’t need the extra thermal blanket.) I will of course try to fix these errors before you see them, but if you catch one that slips through, please feel free to let me know. And you can feel warm and fuzzy knowing that you have made this rough draft that much smoother.

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

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Dreams: 4/6/12

I have seen dreams used a lot in the webcomics I have been reading lately, as prophecy and insight into past events in LeyLines, as the setting for Xander, as a vision of another world in Shadowbinders, and as a vision of the past in The Bean. All those dream references made me want to write a bit about dreams myself, since it is one of my favorite subjects. (4/8/12 Edit: I forgot to mention Power Nap, another great dream-oriented webcomic!)

I am fascinated by the dreaming world and the use of dreams in stories (can’t wait for my copy of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath graphic novel to arrive!), and I have spent a lot of time recording my dreams and trying to explore them more fully. For one, they are a great source of story ideas. And for another, I cannot help the nagging suspicion that, as in H.P. Lovecraft’s Dream-Quest or in Xander, the land of dreams is a place, like the waking world, that persists over time.

That may sound fantastical and it is not something I would necessarily go to the mat for, but it is a fun idea. At the minimum, I think that perhaps our own personal dreamscapes persist over time, because of the number of locations I have visited in my dreams that I return to again and again. Nor are these locations frozen sets that are unaffected by the passage of time. Frequently when I visit them, there is a sense or outright confirmation that time has passed.

For instance, I mentioned on Wednesday that this house on a green hill in the webcomic Xander reminded me of a setting from my dreams. It is one I have not visited since childhood, but at the time it was a bakery or sweets shop of some sort. The last time I visited it in a dream, however, it was boarded up, disused, dusty. (I know, how’s that for some heavy, end-of-childhood symbolism.)

Another location I have visited numerous times is a mashup of an amusement park and a bazaar. I have been here so many times and from various entrances that I have literally drawn a map of the place. The parking structure, front entrance, business office, carnival games, bazaar, and rides remain in the same place, although the contents of the bazaar and the nature of the rides can change. The rides themselves are often gargantuan roller-coasters and water rides, while the bazaar has an inordinate amount of used book stores. (Actually, browsing imaginary books and comics in used book stores is a common, and favorite, dream for me.) So, is this all wish fulfillment for a kid who has never really grown up? Does the amusement park exist in my mind in some permanent way or am I making it up each time from my memories of previous dreams? Or is it truly a shared realm that other dreamers can visit?

Well, I suppose if anyone reads this and has been there, you show me your map and I’ll show you mine and we’ll go from there.

Leaving the question aside of whether or not dreams are a gateway to another actual place, my other fascination with dreams is how it is possible to “wake up” inside a dream. This is known as lucid dreaming and is the premise of the aforementioned Xander and the movie Inception (and now that I think of it, even an episode of Fraggle Rock, although I doubt they called it lucid dreaming). As I mentioned earlier this week, I once spent an inordinate amount of time exploring the practice of lucid dreaming. If you are interested in trying it or just reading about it, I recommend the books Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge and Creative Dreaming by Patricia Garfield.

The quick description of lucid dreaming is that you regain consciousness and control of your actions while you are still asleep and in a dream world rather than the waking world. It seems impossible at first and I remember thinking people were just making this up, but I eventually mastered the art of lucid dreaming, for a time, and I can say there is not quite any other experience like it and probably won’t be until we have some sort of virtual reality.

Like Xander, I had some fantastic “powers” I could wield when lucid, because I realized that “it was all a dream” and so I could effect changes on my environment. I could fly, I could walk through walls, and I could shake the dream up like an Etch-a-Sketch and remake it if it wasn’t going the way I liked it, like if it was getting too nightmarish.

I would try to program dreams by focusing on certain subjects before going to sleep, and I was able to have some very therapeutic encounters this way. It may seem trite or cliché, but in one dream I had gone to sleep with the intention to meet my younger self in the dream. I did, and he was being bullied, and I chased the bullies away and had a nice chat with myself about hanging in there. It felt very real and was quite cathartic.

Well, I could go on and on about my dreams, but I know that listening to other people’s dreams can be a tedious experience because it is so difficult to truly convey the emotions and knowledge that the dreamer feels while dreaming. Needless to say, I recommend trying to learn lucid dreaming if you have the time and the patience. (I haven’t had truly lucid dreams in a while. It is something that takes work and practice, and at this point in my life I don’t have the time to put into it.)

In the end, I remain fascinated by dreams and if you ever want to discuss them, feel free to comment here or you can find me on G+ or Facebook (you can find my links in the About section of this blog).

Webcomics Wednesday: 4/4/12

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

Planet Pantheon

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

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

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

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

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

Xander

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

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

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

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

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

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

WonderCon Comics

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webcomics Wednesday: 3/28/12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Future History: DreamTV

The year is 2034. Scripted television is a thing of the past. Reality TV has played itself out. The final niche documentary show—Ozark Raccoon Celebrity Matchmakers, which detailed the love lives of a small group of genetically engineered, intelligent raccoons—was canceled by Animal PlanE!t in 2031 after five strong seasons. Once that show went off the air, there were no further demographics left that had not already been documented by a reality TV show.

Reality competition shows had ended when the extended family of contestants from MTV’s Real World/Road Rules franchise had taken each other out in a true Last Man Standing event, with the final contestant dying of liver failure soon thereafter. The resulting lawsuits from family members and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Game Show Contestants had such a chilling effect on other competition shows that they all closed up shop en masse, stranding some contestants on deserted islands or in foreign countries.

Luckily, Dream TV stepped in to fill the gaping hole in the TV landscape left by the dissolution of every single other form of entertainment. Born out of technology that took its first crude steps into dreamland in the early 21st century, DreamTV allows viewers intimate access into the dreams of the rich, famous, imaginative, and depraved.

 Excerpt from a DreamTV advertisement: “Let’s face it, you don’t remember your dreams, do you? Or if you do, it’s that one where you’re walking around the office naked, or you’re taking a surprise math quiz even though it’s been years since you’ve been in school. Why suffer your own petty, shallow dreams and nightmares when you can watch the creation of professional dreamers, with fresh content provided daily on thousands of channels? With DreamTV, only the best dreamers are chosen to take you into exotic landscapes of the mind where action, adventure, exploration, romance, and a mixed bag of fascinating neuroses await! Each Dream Creator lives a life of luxury by day, and spends each night hooked up to a Quantum Imager that translates detailed scans of their brains into audio-visual extravaganzas for your viewing pleasure.”

 Excerpt from the paper ’zine Hide Your Dreams: “Is everything copacetic in Dreamland? There are rumors that the so-called Dream Creators are actually unwilling prisoners subjected to an endless regimen of bizarre stimuli, images, music, and hallucinogenic drugs in order to, in effect, program the dreams that DreamTV writers have written for them. So are you watching real dreams or has the Writer’s Guild of Earth simply found a new way to write and produce new fiction shows with a cast and crew of one? Are the supposedly spontaneous and free-form stories that each Dream Creator shares each night actually programmed in ahead of time?”

 Clip from 20/20/24/7 News:

DreamTV spokesman John Shale : “We strenuously deny these vile rumors that have no basis whatsoever in fact. Our dreams and nightmares are 100% created in the subconscious minds of our Dream Creators. Have you watched these dreams? To suggest that they are the purposeful work of a group of writers is ridiculous.”

20/20/24/7 Correspondent Alicia Wilde: “Still, the rumors persist, as do those that the United Nations Security Division is extracting information from dissidents not through torture, but simply by recording dreams and sifting through them for nuggets of fact. If our dreams are no longer our own, sacred playgrounds, a place where we can work out our imagination and explore our hopes, fears, and anxieties without worrying what someone else will think about us, if they can be visited by government spooks or by anyone who owns a TV set, what refuge is left to us, dear viewers?”

The year is 2036. DreamTV ended in scandal when it was revealed that the rumors had been true. Entire prison complexes of forced dreamers were found and most of the so-called Dream Creators were insane beyond the point of rehabilitation by the time their plight was confirmed. The head of the UNSD stepped down amidst the revelations that he was personally responsible for funding the program, which provided the “Dream Creators” to DreamTV after the UNSD was down strip-mining their dreams for intelligence.

Luckily, by the time DreamTV collapsed, the children of the original Real World/Road Rules contestants had come of age. As part of their winning lawsuit against MTV, they received the right to have a competition show of their own. The age of reality TV was born again.

[I was working on an unrelated short story all day Saturday and it wasn’t until the end of the night that I realized I had no Sunday blog post ready. I had been thinking of writing about current technologies that could one day lead to the ability to view one’s dreams, perhaps using some improved form of functional magnetic resonance imagining. The post I started to write was kind of dry and bland, so I figured, hey, only one or two people at the most (Hi Mom, Hi Jeff!) will read this anyway, so I might as well have fun with it. It is meant to be silly but contain some real questions about where such technology might be problematic.]