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: 6/13/12

This is not my typical Webcomics Wednesday post, but more of a grab bag what I have read and enjoyed lately. I think this mix of different media will be the new norm for Lithicbee; less one-medium-per-day, more whatever-I-want. To that end, I need a new name for these types of general posts. Any ideas? (Today’s title, “Pro-Lithic Ramblings,” is courtesy of my wife, Danielle, and I may stick with it. Kind of catchy.)

So no more Webcomics Wednesday for me, but does that mean I am forsaking the wide world of webcomics? Hell no! Up first…

Polterguys (webcomic)

Polterguys, by Laurianne “Laur” Uy, is a black-and-white, manga-style  “story of a nerdy college girl befriending a bunch of ghost guys and solving their unfinished businesses.” The nerdy girl is named Bree, the college town is a take on Berkeley, and the guys are all hiding in an old rental house for reasons that become clear as the story progresses. First off, let me say that this is a super-professional-looking manga comic, one that I would not have been surprised to read in Shonen Jump (yes, I subscribed to SJ for 5 years, as an adult; there was much about it aimed at a younger audience, but it was a great deal and I would love to see more monthly digests like that in the U.S., perhaps targeted to those of us older than 13).

The art is excellent and the writing is smart and funny (check out the poster wannabe-doctor Bree puts up on her wall; classic). As a main character, Bree is the right mix of smart and spunky, cute and awkward (oh so awkward). Her high school life was hell, and she is hopeful that college will be better, but initial results are mixed, especially when every dorm-mate she is assigned drives her crazy. This is how she ends up renting a room in an otherwise empty house, or at least what she believes is an empty house. She quickly discovers the polterguys that are living there, and their fates become intertwined.

I don’t want to ruin anything by giving more away, so I will simply say that I cannot stress enough that this comic is fun fun fun and it was just what I needed this week. If you’re looking for a light-hearted supernatural romp, be sure to check out Polterguys.

Ignition Zero Kickstarter

As I was writing this post, I switched over to TweetDeck to procrastinate and noticed that Noel Arthur Heimpel has a Kickstarter up for Volume One of Ignition Zero. I have been waiting for a collected volume since I first discovered IZ, so I was happy to see this news, which comes one day after I posted the piece I commissioned from Noel: The Dream Bear (my name for it). There are good rewards at many levels, so I am pretty certain he is going to blow past his $600 goal in no time flat. I backed the project, how about you?

The Children of Hamelin (short story)

Lately I find that the short stories I am most likely to enjoy and recommend have a strong emotional component. “The Children of Hamelin,” by Dale Bailey, is no exception. This is basically a story of loss and dealing with it, and it makes no bones about it. All the children in the world have gone missing, vanished in a moment (hence the Pied Piper reference), and so this could have been a story about discovering how and why this happened. Instead, it is a story of one father simply dealing with the loss that this bizarre event has caused, and as such the story really spoke to me.

You can find the story in the May 2012 issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

The Confessions of Jonathan Pratt (serial)

The Confessions of Jonathan Pratt, by Robert Wilhelm, caught my interest at first simply due to the design of the web page.  It is set up to look like you are reading out of an old book, and the layout makes it very easy to navigate. It is the best example that I have seen of a web page design for a serial story fitting its content. And with so much free stuff to read out there, sometimes the first look can be the most important. Beyond its look, though, the story itself pulled me in. The writing is good, well-detailed but not rambling. Plus, you can’t go wrong with this subtitle: Being An Account of His Travels Through the State of New York in 1848 and of the Wickedness Which He Found There. This is the same time period as Gangs of New York, which I enjoyed (movie and book), so I am looking forward to what wickedness Jonathan gets up to in the same setting.

The beginning of the tale is compelling, with Jonathan Pratt in his cell the night before he is to be executed for murder. He is being urged to confess and he agrees to do so in order to have some peace and quiet; his written account of his crimes is the story that follows. But while he will admit to many instances of breaking both man’s law and God’s commandments, he claims he is innocent of murder. The story then jumps back to earlier in his life when he takes his first steps off his family farm and onto the path that ends up with him in a jail cell. The story is only two posts in, but it is promising enough that I will be following it and I recommend you get in on the ground floor and follow it as it progresses.

Also, Robert has a companion website, The National Night Stick, a faux newspaper covering “Crime, Eccentricity, and the Sporting Life in 19th Century America,” which is really cool to explore. It is a curated collection of stories from and about the 1800s, and it includes references to original sources, which gives me hope that Robert really knows his stuff and will be serving up a fairly accurate portrayal of 19th century America in his serial as well.

FYI: I found this story at Tuesday Serial, a great place to find new serials to read.

Up Next:

Friday: The Only City Left: The Story So Far. For those of you who might not have read my serial SF/F adventure yet, a synopsis to bring you up to speed so you can leap from your horse of not-reading to the moving train of The Only City Left without serious injury. (No, I could not write that without laughing.)

Sunday: The Only City Left Part 18. The flashback is (mostly) over and now you know how Allin’s parents died. (For my new readers, don’t worry, this is not a spoiler: you pretty much know this happened from Part One.) So what’s next? How about some info on the man who sent the assassins after Mom and Dad Arcady in the first place?

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: 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: 3/7/2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Webcomics Wednesday: 2/1/2012

For today’s Webcomics Wednesday, I decided to catch up on The Bean, a comic written and drawn by Travis Hanson. First, some history: My wife and I first met Travis while at the 2009 San Diego Comic-Con. It had been a bad couple of years for us and we went a little crazy with the retail therapy at the Con. One of our purchases was a print by Travis. From there, I discovered his website and his long-form webcomic, The Bean. My wife also recently commissioned a print for me from Travis, which turned out great, don’t you think?

Since that time, I have backed two of his projects on Kickstarter, the first two volumes of The Bean in print. Volume One, available at the Bean Leaf Press store collects the first 150 or so pages, and it wasn’t until I received and read that volume that I decided to go ahead and catch up with the rest online (believe it or not, I wasn’t really into reading webcomics before then. Travis, The Bean was a gateway drug!). In this post, I will stick to discussing Volume One.

The Bean starts out in what feels like your typical fantasy world set-up. There are humans, ogres, elves, and goblins, and the story is centered around an orphaned human boy named Bean whose father disappeared, resulting in Bean having to work as an indentured servant to an ogre who runs an inn. Bean is soon caught up in an adventure that deals with an evil, rhyming troll (my least favorite character of the story, due to the sometimes forced nature of his rhymes) and a revelation about Bean’s missing father.

So what elevates this work above other Tolkien-esque fantasy stories? Travis’ artwork, for one thing. His landscapes (both above and below ground, but more on that in a bit), the fantastical flora and fauna that inhabit them, the run-down feel of the world the characters inhabit, and the style of the characters themselves, all work together well. I find myself examining every panel for the details it holds, rather than simply rushing through the story. Travis is able to breathe life into the world and the characters, so that you believe in and connect to even the most inhuman of characters (see this page toward the end of volume one for a touching example, but if you don’t want to spoil the story, read everything preceding it first, of course).

I especially enjoy the underground worlds that Travis creates, both in this story and his prints. I love stories, fictional and true, about underground environments hidden under the world we know: unused subway systems, the tunnel system under Paris, the under-city in Seattle, even the tunnels under Disneyland (which I like to imagine are much more extensive and nefarious than Disney would have us to believe). Once The Bean heads underground, you have caverns full of decrepit statues, endless staircases, rusting pipes, ancient hieroglyphs, and hints of monstrous things lurking at the edge of darkness.

The other thing that kept me reading was a second plot about a ranger who goes searching for Bean only to stumble onto a larger threat facing the region, which may just loop back around to tie into Bean’s own hidden history. There are also hints of influences of Michael Moorcock and even The Legend of Zelda thrown in here (those might just be my perception), and by the end of Volume One, the series was hitting all the right notes to entice me to read on.

The Kickstarter project for Volume Two of The Bean has funded and is closed, but you can catch up on the adventures of Bean at http://www.beanleafpress.com/, and then perhaps support Volume Three on Kickstarter when it is ready to go.

I followed a link off of the links page on The Bean to Twilight Monk, because it sounded cool. Twilight Monk is written and drawn by Trent Kaniuga and it reminds me of Naruto so far, in a good way. The impish lead character is named Mao, and he is a goof-off who wants to be taken seriously as a hero. He is friends with Rin, a big oaf whose special attack is certainly one I have never seen before, and Nora, who unfortunately seems to exist to be the nagging Jiminy Cricket of the group when she is not fulfilling the Princess Peach role. (The story is still in its early days and I hope to see Nora grow into a more fleshed-out, unique character.)

There is a lot of good humor in this webcomic, both physical and in the dialogue, and some well-done action scenes. And a talking turtle with an attitude, which is a nice addition.

The art is in black and white but uses a wide range of greys; I am not an artist, so I hesitate to use art terminology I may be getting totally wrong, but I would describe the art as having an ink and wash style to it (feel free to correct/educate me on this), rather than just crisp black and white lines. Some dramatic examples include this and this. Indeed, that second link starts a whole flashback sequence that is framed in vivid, thick black brushstrokes that appear to be scraped out of ink (or perhaps blood?).

The backgrounds are usually loosely sketched and then painted in light grey, which lets the more-detailed foreground action stand out clearly against them. Just as with Travis Hanson’s The Bean, the landscapes in this comic are well-detailed and delightful to examine. I like that the village where the story takes place seems to be built into a craggy mountain area, with wood-slatted ramps and ladders connecting everything. It looks like it would be a fun place to explore.

It looks like this webcomic had a lengthy hiatus from June to nearly December in 2011 but is back with weekly updates since then. Twilight Monk has had a great beginning, so I hope Trent is able to sustain the work over the longer term so I can see where this is going (and eventually have a copy for my shelf).

Webcomics Wednesday: 1/25/2012

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


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


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

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