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.

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.