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.

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: 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.