Pro-Lithic Ramblings: 6/13/12

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

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

Polterguys (webcomic)

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

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

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

Ignition Zero Kickstarter

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

The Children of Hamelin (short story)

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

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

The Confessions of Jonathan Pratt (serial)

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

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

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

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

Up Next:

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

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

Webcomics Wednesday: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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!