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.

Webcomics Wednesday: 5/30/12

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 Clockworks and Spine.

Clockworks

Clockworks, by Shawn Gaston, is self-described as “a steampunk/fantasy story, set in a world of giant stompy robots, outlawed magic, forgotten and dangerous old gods, ether driven mad science, and goggle wearing heroes who travel the world in search of danger and adventure.” Sounds good! It is also based on Shawn’s actual RPG sessions where he is running a home-brew campaign using the Savage Worlds RPG. Sounds… scary. Why scary? Well, everyone pretty much thinks their RPG sessions would make a great story. Not many RPG sessions actually make great stories, in my experience. So I had some reservations going in.

For the most part, I am glad to say that I needn’t have worried. For one thing, the artwork goes a long way toward making any worries I might have had disappear. The characters look dashing and cool in their steampunk gear, and the city feels gritty and fantastic, with its true immensity only hinted at so far. I really dig the scenes in which characters are tiny silhouettes hopping up and over buildings as they chase or are chased.

There are some clever nods to the RPG world. The main characters are Private Constables who patrol their neighborhood fighting crime that the National Police are not interested in. Private Constables/Player Characters, get it? Oh well, I thought it was funny. There is also a flashback story told by one of the character’s grandfathers about a similar group of adventurers that he used to be a part of, and as Shawn says in the comments, “those guys scream Group Of Player Characters.” That’s okay for me, though. Any group of diverse characters in a team (The Avengers, anyone?) can scream group of Player Characters, since they usually serve specific roles in the larger group.

Where the RPG origins betray the story a bit is in the formula of bad things happen-PCs find clue(s)/trap(s)-PCs confront bad guy(s)-PC is injured and healed by mage-bad guy is taken down-repeat. The healing magic, especially, removes much of the sense of peril from the comic. Perhaps a main character might die if the human player behind them leaves the group, but I suspect most every main character is safe.

In the end, I got past this concern and just enjoyed the story for the fun, steampunk action-adventure that it is. Okay, so maybe our heroes will always survive the impossible odds stacked against them. As long as they adventure in style, I’m in for the long haul.

Spine

Spine, by Cihan Sesen, is a dystopian action-adventure story that mostly focuses on the exploits of the pseudonymous assassin, Spine. The art and story styles remind me of issues of Heavy Metal that I used to read when I was a kid (borrowed from my older brother). As with them, I don’t always understand what the hell is going on in Spine or where the story is going, but I enjoy the journey. In that, and its dystopian themes, it reminds me a bit of Derelict, although the world of Spine feels much more populated than the lonely world of Derelict.

So who is Spine? She is a daredevil assassin with a spiffy pair of goggles that give her a detailed view of the world around her. She is also a baker who works for some sort of covert organization called the Bakery, which is simultaneously a collection of chefs and a socio-political power. I don’t know. I don’t care. It’s fun. The third, and current, chapter of Spine is a flashback to Spine’s origin. It breaks from the high-flying action to tell a more touching family story, and in that ends up being more powerful than the previous chapters.

The world of Spine is one of fossil fuel shortages, raised coastlines due to global warming, and warring world powers. The tech level very much feels like a conglomeration of whatever can be scavenged from the old world, as when Spine is chased by a fleet of converted Beetles. (That sequence is a blast, by the way.) The one truly high-tech device present in the story appears to be the Sundrive that everyone is hunting for, a device that can supply unlimited power.

Cihan’s art has a very rough, loose feel to it, which fits the story well. Most pages in the first two chapters have a predominant color theme for the page. Interestingly, Chapter 3 feels markedly different from the previous chapters, both in the use of cleaner, thicker lines and more colors. Whether this is a natural progression in Cihan’s art or a specific choice for the flashback, time (and more pages) will tell.

Spine, the assassin and the webcomic, is violent, as you might suspect, so if messy deaths aren’t your thing, be warned. I think the action scenes are fun, the world has piqued my interest, and Chapter 3 adds depth to Spine’s story that promises that this will be more than a simple assassin-killing-people type action adventure thriller.

Quick Hits

Ellie on Planet X: What does Jeff look like in full-color? Well, like Jeff, only better.

The Doom That Came To Sarnath, Page 4: Wow. Amazing details on this page. And I am sure that these humans will suffer no repercussions for their actions….

Everblue: I may suffer from a cuteness overload thanks to Luna and Ten. And it’s going to be twice a week again soon, so I’m in even more danger.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Friday: Oh heck, I think I’ll stick with my Fiction Friday theme for the time being. More about what I’ve been reading and enjoying lately outside of the world of webcomics.

Sunday: Part 16 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. In Part 16, Allin’s flashback to the time of his parents’ death continues.

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.