I planned to write a post on my favorite winner and non-winner over the months of Zuda contests. Then I decided to ask some of my fellow Zuda reviewers (the usual suspects) out of curiosity what their favorites were as well. It's about what you think the Zuda site missed when a favorite comic didn't get the win, and why it is your favorite? It's also about of your favorite comic to win why did you enjoy those 8 screens so much, and once it started updating did it live up to your expectations, or not? I knew what I looked for in a strip, but I also wanted to know what other people saw in the stories they particularly enjoyed. In the comments section of Zuda its happened more than twice a short critical comment is posted and the creator in question asks "Okay so you don't like x,y, or z -tell me why?" I haven't seen it happen where a comics creator comes back with a challenge to a positive drive-by comment "So x,y, and z sends a tingle up your leg -tell me why?" If people were challenged by the recipients to justify praise just as often as criticism it would be better for everyone the whole way round. Course I understand fawning is easier to take than flogging -unless your one of the lucky artistically creative masochists. Sometimes I get that gut reaction of liking, or not liking something just cause I do, but mostly I have my good enough for me reasons for why I feel the way I do about a comic. Everyone has their own personal favorites/ not all 5/5 starred and a fav comics are created equal. Paul, Mike, and I have different answers for different reasons, but the question of why??? -is one I wanted to at least try to answer.
The only winning comic that I supported from start to finish is Supertron. I also very much enjoyed Melody which won in the April '08 competition, but Melody was only a strong second favorite for me. More about that later. I have in no way been disappointed by Supertron. It is brilliant insanity. Although it's hard to be certain when viewing 10 new artists every month, I could tell that Sheldon at least was an accomplished artist coming in. Despite the fact that the story seems to be a series of gratuitous set pieces, there's a strong back-bone of good decision making leaking out of every page. The word balloons are clever, the color scheme is perfect, the rendering is consistent, and the ideas are hilarious. Not to mention, it keeps getting better. The comic that I most wanted to win is Brave Ulysses, which lost to Melody and then later to Re-Evolution in the Zuda Invitational. Adam Moore deserved a better fate. That man can DRAW man. I think perhaps the fact that his finished layouts have a messy look probably didn't help him with the Zuda crowd. I'm guessing he inked this in nib-pen but Zuda seems to prefer the brush. Regardless, look at the way the camera moves, the weight of the characters in gravity AND in zero-g, and particularly the technology which looks completely plausible in an 80s kind of style. I am amazed at how well he conveyed the tight confines of a spaceship without making it feel claustrophobic. This entry showed some real skill. There've been quite a few entries that looked better, but only due to taking fewer risks. Sci-Fi isn't easy to draw you know? And hand-lettering! I feel as if Adam Moore was climbing a mountain whereas the rest of his competition was taking an elevator.
In regard to Zuda's monthly competition RKB asks me which strip is my favourite from the winners and which strip was my favourite from the losers. He says non-winners, but you know what I mean. You'd think an easy answer to a straight question, but who has asked it or answered it already? Well, many have tried. The thing is it's a more complex question than that and the names of two strips hardly constitute a satisfactory answer.
Comics are by their nature transient entertainment. I know many of them stand up well to the rigours of time and taste but frankly most do not. And neither should they. Comics must 'be' - they are not theoretical. If you know the history of my support (why should you?) you might remember my rabid championing of Maxy J Millionaire by Paul Maybury. He's been busy with other stuff so his baby has gone into suspended animation. My excitement at the prospect of more Maxy therefore has run out. It might be renewed at a moment's notice, but things don't work like that in comics. For me comics are a very immediate artform and a week is a long time. So while I like and admire some strips gone by and some strips current unless I'm getting wow'ed week on week I'm frankly not interested. That interest sometimes transfers to the creators themselves, so I'll follow Paul Maybury's career rather than the adventures of any of his particular characters. It seems to me that the creators are more reliable than their creations.
Back to the question. Taking a quick look through the chips on the 'explore comics' pages I realise that I'm incredibly selfish. I take absolutely for granted the strips that do appear regularly and daydream more about the possibilities offered by those strips that will probably not continue. Anyhow forced into a corner I will say of the winners, the strip that is really delivering more than it ever promised is Melody. It's not an obvious choice as it's not really a genre piece. It strikes me as quite modern, relevant, it persuades me - despite having a musical element to the story – despite being fantastical – that the characters have purpose and meaning and that the story will eventually wrap up as a satisfying whole. It's very well written and very well realised and no way did I expect this to be interesting at all. The nature of the delivery doesn't suit it at all by the way, but that goes for many a strip.
Of the losers, sorry, non-winners then surprisingly maybe, I'll pick out Junk by Justin Jordan and Sami Makkonen. I liked it then and I think it lasts better than a lot of strips because it is an introduction, a prologue, a pre-credit sequence if you will, and a self-contained story with a clear intention to thrill all at the same time. So the sense of it being a complete piece means it's neat and tidy and the idea of more to come is still quite tantalising. I realise that it's strictly a genre piece but I also get an idea of quality thinking and quality design from the creators which make me feel very safe in recommending them to continue. I think it was the invitational that made me realise that simply getting more of a favourite strip is not enough though, it has to be better as well, and some people in that poisoned chalice of an invitational just sabotaged themselves. That's why I say winning and losing are not so far apart. A world beating eight screens might become a sixty screen embarrassment at any moment.
RKB (referring to myself in the third person makes me feel like an out of touch politician) says:
My favorite winner of a contest is my second favorite comic on Zuda -Dual. Michael Walton is the creator. The synopsis: At age ten, Bill Jensen and his “imaginary” friend, Yasu, inadvertently unleash a devastating power that kills three schoolmates. A decade later, Bill wrestles with making his way in the world while dealing with the inner turmoil of determining whether Yasu is devil or delusion. Still haunted by the confusing events of their childhood, Bill and Yasu struggle to recognize their extraordinary power and purpose. Bill’s secret power mysteriously begins to attract the interest of bizarre creatures, including a bulimic werewolf and a man claiming to be an ancient soul-eating dragon. The power’s pull might also be contributing to Bill’s turbulent romance with an unstable witch, named Corina, and luring the attention of a psychotic serial killer. New aspects of the power begin to manifest just in time to help Bill and Yasu deal with escalating threats, which send the companions spiraling toward an uncertain destiny-- heroic salvation or evil oblivion?
Dual also happens to be the first comic my semi-cursed vote was cast for that won. I was a big supporter of Dual from the beginning everything It was looking for in a comic in general not just on Zuda was there. The set-up of Bill and Yasu and how they come together with their powers is an updated horror version of the alive/ghost brothers who made up Captain Triumph.
My favorite non-winner/ or loser of a contest twice would of course be The Crooked Man, by Gabriel Hardman and Corinna Sara Bechko. Here is the synopsis: Early April, 1906 - San Francisco's residents have no idea that their world is about to be engulfed in chaos. Vice cop Piter Rassmussen has a comfortable home with a wife and daughter who love him. His beat is Chinatown, a place both uniquely American and very foreign. Amon Pen is a disfigured Veteran just returning from China. More than five years have elapsed since he fought there in the Boxer Rebellion. He and Rassmussen couldn't possibly live more different lives, but now Amon is hunting Piter throughout the young city. Loyalties will be tested and broken as secrets from the past are exposed to the harsh light of day in a city first shaken by the Great Quake, then stripped bare by conflagration. Even when society is reduced to its most basic components, the need for vengeance remains.
I voted for this comic once when it was in the regular contest, and again when it was in the Zuda Invitational. Rob Berry was right, if I could have voted for it ten times to ensure it made it back into the invite I would have. Saying it hit the equivalent of a comic book fanboy g-spot with me, is somewhat of a vulgar understatement. I freaking love this comic!!! There are other 5/5 stars and a fav, and then their is The Crooked Man. The art inspired by Milton Caniff, Noel Sickles, Alex Toth, etc; is the first thing that hits you it could be right out of a 30's/40's newspaper funnies section. The classic look to the strip was a big draw to me. The writing doesn't let you down either, it's dense without excessive wordiness, tightly paced/plotted so everything moves along at a brisk clockwork pace. In both the first 8 screens, and the next 8 screens the cliff hanger you are left with makes you want to read more. MPD57 has a point about the Invitational: some of the favorite comics of yestercontest crashed and burned on the next 8 screens. The Crooked Man had me wondering even more why in the hell it didn't get an instant win??? This comic even makes use of the old rule suspense is more engaging for an audience than surprise. The specter of San Francisco's great earthquake hangs over the story like a doomsday countdown. The two leads show they're not evil or vile, but at the same time you as a reader know something happened and you want to find out what that 'something' is. You know by the time you find out the rich history behind it, the showdown between Amon and Piter is going to be something to see. Suspense, mystery, well crafted characters who you actually care if they live or die, how often do you get that in 16 pages of any work any where? Just as impressive you have a crime and corruption sub-plot going on which leads to a bigger and just as well characterized cast. You even get the flavor of San Fran way back when by 4 different languages being used (text notes tell you this), by screen 2! The story starts off at April 14 1906, the great quake hit on April 18, not that many days for all hell to break loose. I know Caper used the same natural disaster to round out the Man vs. Self, Man vs. Man, and Man vs. Nature triumvirate, but it didn't do it nearly as good. It literally has everything I could ask for, or want in a story. One of the biggest draws for me were the creators were going to break the Zuda mold. Most contestants want a season II of their comic with the extra screens/ paychecks that go along with that. In The Crooked Man's case they stated this story has a beginning, middle and end -so don't look for an extra 60 screens. I would personally love to see a creator jump on board Zuda and say it's a 60 screen story -self contained- and that's it. It would cut down on cliff hanger endings left hanging on by their nails, for sure. You could see The Crooked Man was a compact tightly put together story, and it raised the quality of it. This comic looks like it could have been done 70 years ago in the golden age, it has that kind of appeal and charm. If Zuda does the Invite again and heathen comics is still interested, Crooked Man is going back on my feedback list in the top spot.
I would like to thank Paul and Mike for sharing their views with me, and of course all the folks out in Internet land for reading.