Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge 2/50: Girl Genius Omnibus Vol 1

girlgeniusomni1

Girl Genius Omnibus Edition Volume 1
Phil & Kaja Foglio
ISBN: 978-1-890856-40-3

I enjoy a lot of webcomics, but I’ve been intimidated by the deep archive for Girl Genius, so I’ve stayed away from it. How nice then to have a thick omnibus edition to help catch me up. The trade-off for this particular volume is that it is in black and white instead of color, but that didn’t bother me except for some pages that came out way too dark this way.

My first exposure to Phil Foglio’s work was from the Myth Adventures book covers and graphic novels (some of which are online here). Girl Genius, with art by Phil and co-written with Phil and Kaja Foglio, has the same sort of over-the-top humor as those stories, but it is set in a world where steampunk science and magic exist in equal parts. In this world, some people have the Spark, a magical ability that allows them to defy the laws of physics.

Volume 1 starts with our heroine, Agatha, getting mugged and having her locket stolen. This makes her late for her class at Transylvania Polygnostic University, where she has a knack for building clanks (autonomous robots) that fail spectularly.

When Baron Wulfenbach and his son Gilgamesh show up at the university, a series of events leads Agatha into the Baron’s service, although only Gil seems to recognize Agatha’s potential.

Mysteries abound throughout the story and there’s plenty of humor in both the writing and the art, but a large part of the pleasure in reading these is in discovering the details of the world the Foglios have built. I’m a sucker for this type of steampunk fantasy, filled with giant automatons and enormous airships, so it didn’t take much to pull me along through this first volume.

This is good, because until Agatha starts coming into her own a little by the end of the third volume in the omnibus, her story was a little painful to read. She’s misunderstood, underappreciated, and has a nasty habit of ending up in lingerie and sleepwalking. It’s a joke that falls flat quickly but gets used over and over for some reason.

Despite some rough patches like this, the book ends on a high note with plenty of hooks to make me want to keep reading this series.

(This is my second entry into the Mother/Gamer/Writer’s Manga/Graphic Novel Challenge.)

Webcomics Wednesday: 5/16/12

Today’s Webcomics Wednesday focuses on webcomics that offer digital issues of their comic. I like reading comics on my tablet, and for webcomics it is: 1) faster to read many pages in a PDF than it is clicking page-to-page on my monitor, 2) more portable, and 3) a great way to support the creator. In case you’re curious, I have a 10″ Toshiba Thrive tablet and I use an app called Perfect Viewer for reading PDFs.

Valkyrie Squadron

Valkyrie Squadron by Jules Rivera is a science-fiction action-adventure webcomic set in a universe where humanity is at war with machines. Yes, a familiar concept, but a fun one. The year is 2495 and the humans fighting the machines are broken up into female and male squadrons. The story focuses on the all-female 4th Valkyrie Squadron, but the bros from Odin Squad 4 also play a role. The story has humor, action (both close-combat and space dogfights), and intrigue, and I won’t say much else for fear of giving anything away. I can say that by the time I finished Book One, there were multiple hooks to keep me reading, so I purchased Book Two right away. Books One and Two are available at the Valkyrie Squadron store for $2 and $3 respectively. Book Three is currently being serialized at valkyriesquadron.com.

Jackie Rose: The Treasure of Captain Read

The  Treasure of Captain Read, by Josh Ulrich, takes place before the first Jackie Rose story (Legend of the Sixth Seal) but after The Amazing Eddie Ripcord, and finds Jackie and Eddie in High School. In issue #1, Eddie faces his most dangerous mission yet: asking Jackie to the Prom. Well, okay, there’s a bit about air pirates, too. Specifically, the titular Captain Elizabeth Read. She is a not-very-nice thief with a bounty on her head. Will high-school-aged Jackie Rose be the one to bring her in?

I actually snagged a copy of  issue #1 for free through a contest on Josh Ulrich’s Twitter feed, but at $1.50 it is a good deal and I’ll be picking up the rest of the issues as they come out. Josh is releasing pages from issue #1 for free during the run-up to the release of issue #2, so now would be a great time to catch up.

Lilith Dark

Lilith Dark, by Charles Dowd, is a fun look into the imagination of one fierce little girl (or is it more than that…? Time will tell.) Lilith is a sort of Calvin without a Hobbes to be her moral compass, so she gets into all sorts of trouble as she fights devil-dogs, mysterious beasties, and in a laugh-out-loud scene in issue #1, a uni-horn. Both issue #1 and #2 are available in the Lilith Dark shop for 99 cents each. Charles is also releasing pages each week for free, but as issue #2 has just started being shared in that format, it is well worth it to buy the issue to read the story in one go. Plus, you will get to see the special moment at the end of the ninth page that much sooner. I dare say no more.

So there you have it, three webcomics I was able to enjoy on my tablet. Are there any more you can recommend? Creators, what are your thoughts on releasing digital compilations of your webcomics? For me, it seems like a great idea, but I get the sense that not many people want to go this route.

Quick Hits

Modest Medusa page 200: An epic panel of Medusa-osity to end the chapter!

Little Guardians: Check out this monster splash page. Awesome.

LeyLines: Whereas this monster is as suave as he is scary.

Xander: Oh no, Xander has fallen into my least favorite type of anxiety dream. (Speaking of anxiety, I just read that Xander is ending in 20 pages or so. Bummer.)

Ellie on Planet X: Such a beautiful splash panel.

Aedre’s Firefly: It’s Aedre vs. the outhouse. I can feel the stench rising off the page.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part 14 of The Only City Left, my SF/F serial about Allin Arcady’s adventures through a planet-sized city called Earth! In this episode, we return to Allin’s past to find out what happened when he fled back to Glin’s Rising.  How did his parents die? Did he really kill them? Was it all that teen angst that did them in? Be here on Sunday to find out!

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: Birth of Venus

Welcome to a special edition of Webcomics Wednesday. Today, I only have one webcomic to talk about instead of my usual two. In exchange for the second review, I have an interview with the creators to share with you. If this more in-depth approach to my reviews is to your liking, please let me know and I’ll work on lining up more interviews for future posts.

I’ll start off with what my initial take on the comic was, and then get right into the interview.

Birth of Venus

Birth of Venus is a full-color webcomic by Andrew “MAK” Makishima (Story/Script/Lettering), Matthew “JLD” Rice (Story/Illustrations/Colors) and Rory Walsh (Colors on issues 1 and 2). So far there have been two issues and a 12-page prequel story, and the third issue has begun online. There will be nine issues total.

The story starts with a costumed super-heroine falling to the street from the skyscrapers above. She ends up broken and bloody and we are left to wonder: Did her powers fail her? Was she defeated and cast down to earth by a super-villain? The answer is that the story is not that simple, of course. The story takes place in Vanguard City, which is a sort of sci-fi Metropolis, replete with super-powered bad guys and a lone super-hero, Guardian.

Madison Mercury is a blond-haired, dedicated reporter who believes that the city is overlooking the threat posed by a suspected terrorist group known as the Rebirth. When her twin sister Mara comes to town, she is caught up in events that prove Madison is right. Meanwhile, Guardian seems strangely reactive to threats rather than proactive. Is he kind of a doofy superhero or is there a more sinister reason he is always late to the party?

Some humans were harmed in the making of this scene.It should be noted that this is a pretty violent webcomic. At a guess, I would say the creators are fans of classic Paul Verhoeven movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Starship Troopers, where the violence is a bit over the top and there is much dark humor. It is also reminiscent of Robert Kirkman’s Invincible, both in art style and in the gritty approach to a world full of superheroes.

After catching up with the Birth of Venus archives, I felt compelled to talk to the creators about their webcomic, and they were kind enough to answer a series of e-mailed interview questions.

Creator Interview

What’s the elevator pitch for Birth of Venus?

Andrew “MAK” Makishima:  Birth of Venus is about a young woman named Mara Mercer who becomes the victim of rape at the hands of a super villain.  The trauma leaves her scarred…and pregnant.  But this is no ordinary pregnancy and Mara soon discovers that she has been imbued with amazing powers by the child growing inside of her.  She faces the dilemma of wanting to use these powers to get revenge on her attacker but also trying to live with the fact that she has this child growing inside of her now and whether she can ever love it.  Its a dark subject matter but ultimately I see it as a story of this woman finding strength she never knew she had and rebuilding herself into a new identity.

You had issues 1 and 2 of Birth of Venus for sale at Wondercon. Which comes first, the physical comic book or the webcomic, or are they concurrent?

MAK: The webcomic comes out first.  We’ve been printing the comics out after the issue wraps up online and have just started bringing those to conventions and comic shops.  We’ve only printed a very limited run of the comic books due to cost.  If we see a demand for it, we’ll print more and probably offer them for purchase on the website as well.

Matthew “JLD” Rice: We both grew up reading traditional printed comics and intended “Birth of Venus” to be done that way. (We actually did our first printing of the first issue as a pitch device… which was an expensive lesson. Ouch!) After re-evaluating our game-plan, we realized that we could release BoV one page at a time as a weekly web-comic but still stick to the traditional comic book format for printing purposes. The story has been tailored to work for BOTH purposes, having each page pack as much punch as possible and stand somewhat on its own while delivering the proper page-turn reveals needed to serve a printed book.

What is your expected timeline for completing all nine issues?

JLD: Whoo-boy! That’s a tough question and it really all depends on how this thing takes off. If we don’t hit any brick walls along the way, I hope that we can keep doing our weekly page-a-week frequency until we’re done… We should be done with Issue #3 by the end of the year and get about an issue and a half in the can each year after that…

What are your plans, if any, for a graphic novel for Birth of Venus?

JLD: We have the story broken into 3 distinct arcs, (or Trimesters if you will) and the plan is to finish the third issue and figure out a way to get some collected editions printed either by an interested publisher or possibly through a Kickstarter campaign. Each Trimester of BoV is meant to work strongly on their own while functioning as three major acts of a larger story.

MAK:  So that’s potentially 3 graphic novels of roughly 90-100 pages.  An omnibus of the whole series would be cool but at the rate we’re going, that’s a ways off from now.

What are your backgrounds, in education and work, that brought you to the point of making Birth of Venus?

A page of JLD's artwork for Helen KillerJLD: Graphic storytelling has been in my blood since I made my first comic book in 4th grade and I’ve been honing my craft ever since, now as a freelance illustrator and storyboard artist. After my first published comic work on “Helen Killer“, I knew that a follow-up would have to be something that I was passionate about. (These things eat up a good chunk of your life!) From the impetus of BoV we both knew that we really had something quite unique.

MAK: Echoing Matt, I grew up reading and collecting comics and wanted to be a comic artist/writer.  In high school, my interests drifted towards animation and filmmaking and I ended up getting a film degree at Cal State Long Beach.  I still loved comics though and wanted to write something in that format.

How do you know each other?

JLD: We first crossed paths at the introductory video production course at OCC Community College. After each completing our first solo projects we both saw the potential in one another’s work and we’ve been close friends ever since and creative partners as often as possible.

MAK:  I’ve known Matt for over 10 years now and he’s one of my best friends.  Once he finished his run on Helen Killer, I pitched him the idea for BOV and luckily he was game for it.

Is this your first project together?

MAK:  This is our first comic book collaboration.  Prior to that we made student films together.

JLD: And hopefully we’ll get around to putting all of them up on YouTube soon.

I guessed at some of your influences (see above) . Am I on the right track? What other films/comics/books/artists/authors influence your work?

JLD: The Verhoeven nod is quite apt, yet unintentional. We are both fans of his films as they tend to intermingle thought-provoking concepts, engaging characters and a good dose of ultra-violence! Good call! “Invincible” is a HUGE influence, as is “Savage Dragon”, “Powers” and even “Ultra” by the Luna Brothers. My art-style has also been greatly influenced by Cory Walker and Ryan Ottley’s “Invincible” work, as well as the energy and organic line of Paul Pope’s ink-brush techniques. I am also a huge fan of Frank Cho, Walt Simonson, Will Eisner and Mike Mignola so I’d like to think that those influences might show up in my work from time to time… if I’m lucky!

Birth of Venus revolves around the results of a brutal assault and rape; was this difficult to write? Did you have any concerns that someone who picks up this book might stop reading at that point?

MAK:  It was difficult because there is a very different tone evoked when that is introduced into the story.  It has, and still is the most concerning thing for me that the subject matter be treated responsibly and in a non-gratuitous way.  It is dark so there is a certain level of discomfort that is unavoidable I’m afraid.  All I can say is that I hope by the end of the story, if people stick around they will feel that this was earned and necessary to the story we set out to tell.

I enjoyed the Mercury and Clay prequel story about McCoy and Madge’s first date. Are there more prequels planned for between later issues?

JLD: I would definitely love to do some more Clay McCoy short stories! What pulpy fun!

MAK: Hey, if you want to add more drawing duties to your plate, I can write some more!  The prequel comic was actually something we created to pitch the comic with initially so we had it in the can ready to go when issue #2 ended and Matt needed the buffer for issue #3.  There are some ideas for other prequel stories but nothing for sure yet.

What webcomics do you enjoy reading?

JLD: Probably my favorite long-form web-comic stories that are currently running are “The Meek” by Der-shing Helmer, “Sin Titulo” by Cameron Stewart, “Bearmageddon” by Ethan Nicolle and “Lady Sabre and the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether” by Greg Rucka & Rick Burchett. “PVP“, “Battlepug“, “Hark! A Vagrant“, “Hunter Black” and “Escape From Planet Nowhere” are also good, fun reads.

MAK: Don’t forget Ratfist!

What does success look like for you with Birth of Venus? I.e., you can quit your day jobs, this leads to more projects, etc?

JLD: If Venus can find a steady foothold out there with a growing fan-base to support it, then I would love to keep one foot permanently in that world while toggling between other projects. There is much fodder for potential sequel ideas to BoV.

MAK:  I would love to see BOV completed and out in the world for people to enjoy.  After that, more comic work would be great.  I don’t know exactly what it looks like but creating a sustainable model for creating content, whether it’s online or in print would be a dream come true.

Where can interested fans pick up copies of Birth of Venus? Stores? Conventions?

JLD: We just exhibited for the first time at Wonder Con in Anaheim and we plan to possibly get a table at APE in October and the Long Beach Con in November. We’re keeping things pretty local for the time being. We also currently have copies of the first two issues for sale at Meltdown Comics and Golden Apple in Hollywood, The Comic Bug in Manhattan Beach, Comics Unlimited in Westminster and Nuclear Comics in Laguna Niguel. We’re also planning on selling printed copies through the BoV website soon.

* * *

Well, there you have it, my first big interview here at Lithicbee and I hope you enjoyed it. I would like to thank MAK and JLD for taking the time to answer my questions so thoroughly and for pointing me to some more cool webcomics, to boot. I wish them the best of success with Birth of Venus.

If you haven’t checked out Birth of Venus yet, please do so and tell them you heard about it from Lithicbee.

Next Up on Lithicbee

Friday: The third installment in my series on SF/F/H Webzines, for readers looking for stories and writers looking for markets.

Sunday: Part 11 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.

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.

Late to the Webcomics Party!

Okay, so I read Penny Arcade and I am vaguely aware of some other webcomics out there, mostly by seeing them trying to put out print versions through Kickstarter. But I unlocked a whole new corner of the webcomics universe today, thanks to a Google+ post by +Eddy Webb, who shared the latest Battlepug strip.

Where to begin with Battlepug, written and drawn by Mike Norton with color by Allen Passalaqua … It is the story of a warrior whose mother, along with the rest of his people, was murdered by a giant, cute seal (yes, a gigantic killer seal with kawaii eyes). The warrior ends up enslaved to the Northern Elves and their red-suited, un-jolly master, before setting out on his own and running into a giant dog, the aforementioned Battlepug. The comic manages to skirt the fine line between silly and serious as the warrior learns more about the greater world and the magic forces that destroyed his village and set him on his current course.

Oh, and the story is told by a naked woman to two talking dogs, one sweet, the other sarcastic. This is my kind of weird.

Battlepug, in turn, led me to Lady Sabre & the Pirates of the Ineffable Aether, which looks to be a science-fiction/steampunk/western combo replete with airships that float through the aether, western towns, sword fights, gun battles, fortune tellers, gas-mask clad bad-guys, and the violin-playing Lady Sabre herself. The art is clean and colorful and reminds me of the old full-page Sunday comics from before my time, like Flash Gordon or Terry and the Pirates. Lady Sabre is written by Greg Rucka with art by Rick Burchett.

What I only discovered as I writing this and doing a little research, is that these are all creators who also do more traditional comic book work , so it comes as no surprise that these webcomics seem so professional. The surprise, for me, is that there is such well-done, free comic fare out there. And each site links to more webcomics, so it seems I have plenty more to discover.