Saturday, May 9, 2009

Zuda review Sides/ Sometimes you just don't get it

Another hero triumvirate's story is told

Sides is another May Zuda comic by Zuda vet Alexander Diochon, which after a number of reads still ended up with 3/5 stars from me. Here is the synopsis: Love Morely and his mentor Walter Grim are two of the few individuals who have access to the other side. Like those before them, with access to this realm they attempt to discover its nature and effect on their world. On one such trip Love encounters what they refer to as an Echo: a person whose form is native to the other side but their mind is that of a "regular" person. Unlike the other Echoes he has met, Love has no idea how important Annabell will be. Especially as they come to realize that this new realm is being changed and it is someone from the human side that is changing it. It ultimately comes down to the Love Morely, Walter Grim and Annabell. They will have to confront this agent of change and help restore the natural order. Or will they choose to break it completely?

The colors that's the thing!

It sometimes happens that a comic misses the mark with a reader completely, this is one of those times. My initial reaction to Sides was a 3/5 star rating, but upon seeing it's 'out of the gate' place in the ranks I wondered what I missed? I went back and did a fair number of re-readings of the comic to give it another chance. My reaction didn't change, but I did figure out what put me off in my first reading. The acid trip day glow colors of the other side, along with the tan, brown, brown-green color palette of the 'real world' here mixed as well in the submission as oil and water in real life. Color schemes in a comic matter more and more to me as time goes on. Having characters whose skin tone was the same as wall paper, city streets, and a knitting basket was too much for me. I can only guess Alexander wanted the colors in the physical world to be as understated or bland as possible, to make the other side's spunky rainbow pallette stand out all the more. Going too far on both sides of the spectrum really hindered my enjoyment of this comic. Some 4th cousin to the garden variety color of blue forms the base of the other-side. People who have crossed over have a nice semblance of Casper/ the living get a change in clothes and become some shade of fuchsia. I figure all the color changes will be an important part of the story telling dynamic. The costume change for Morely from buttoned down suit, to something hip and modern age on the other side was one of the most interesting things about the comic to me. I did wonder what the dynamics of this were? Their was an extreme clash in the (what if a flamboyant rainbow threw up?) coloring of this comic strip. We got a page and a half of the regular tan, very tan world. Seeing more of the 'regular' world would have made the other side more impactful. Conversely starting off with the other side and readers more curious about where we are, then using the 'regular world' as a denouncement/ segue to what happens on screen 9 would have grabbed me more as a reader. Seeing the drab tan-ness of their regular world at the very end of the story would have been a interesting twist in the format. As it is we didn't see enough of the normal side to make the contrasts between the two grab me/ hook me as a reader. It's the difference in expectations: nothing really to see here lets move on to the cool (and it was very cool) fight scene vs. okay you've seen what goes on in the other side here's a hint to show you the 'normal' side which is just as interesting for different reasons. The interactions of the two worlds is the draw, and it didn't go over that well with me.

Fighting and dialogue scenes that are damn cool

Generally speaking a safe course for Zuda is about equal parts of talking heads and action. It helps if you can do both well, and business starts to pick up in Sides on screen 5. One of the best things about the comic is well done dialogue that's gets some exposition out there along with character development. Annabell has some great interactions with Morely on screen's 3 and 4. It goes a long way towards insightful characterization for these characters, and Annabell yelling is a funny moment. Screen 5 is the beginning of the fight scene with a panel layout that made these characters actions very fluid. if you got the art chops to do a cool fight scene, then do a cool fight scene -that's what you get here. It helps that the bad guy here reminds me of the old Mandroid from Marvel. A particular well done action sequence is screen 6 it flows easy for the reader. The defeat of the monster was as interesting as Annabell's dialogue for different reasons and the screen composition was well done. Their is a quiet cliff hanger ending with a question, which is kind of a let down after the great action. If you would have left Morely in mortal peril it would have been more grabbing. The structure of the story not coming together for me as a reader (along with the colors) is why the comic stayed a 3/5 with me.

My view is the minority opinion

My view in perspective, it's apparent by more ways than one this story grabbed a number of Zuda readers. Alex's last comic got a 4/5 stars and a fav from me/ I'm sure someone who gave Problems a 3/5 star rating voted for Sides. I was tougher on Sides than I might otherwise have been because all of the story elements I enjoy where there, but it didn't grab me as a reader in spite of all that. On the technical side the colors actively repealed me as a reader. The art (colors aside) is fantastic and most of the dialogue is very fine too. How many times have you seen some creative work and it just did nothing for you when you expected to like it? That's what happened with me and Sides. After seeing the 2nd place early rank I went back over it to find what I missed, and my view still didn't change. It is apparent that a number of Zuda readers would love to see this continue, so congratulations to Alexander on such a good start.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Zuda review Lily of the Valley/ What if Rob Zombie did a remake of Romeo and Juliet?

John Waters this one's for you

Lily of the Valley is a May 09 Zuda comic done by Adam Atherton AKA oysterboy and HarleyQuinn. 5/5 stars, a fav, and my vote. [My little sis isn't a member, but if she could vote it would be here too for the strawberry lip-gloss mention/ it's all the rage with tweens these days] Here is the synopsis: In the small Eastern Canadian town of Elmwood, a teenage girl who commits murders to cope with her mental instability, falls for the elusive night roaming boy who has been taking all of the blame. Lily is seemingly normal, but has chosen a dangerous method of controlling her mental struggles. As the community becomes consumed by paranoia resulting from the wave of unexplained deaths, Lily falls for an odd boy named Thomas, also known as the White Ghost of Elmwood. The pale white Thomas roams the outskirts of town at night and his existence is frequently debated. The “White Ghost” is accused by many to be the town's killer, while others prefer more paranoid explanations. Panic and paranoia are at an all-time high in Elmwood and even Thomas, who knows its secrets and fears like no other, is unable to explain the rapidly rising death toll. Lily and Thomas must conduct their romance away from the suspicious eyes of the community and unlock the magic of Elmwood’s rich history to provide themselves with a chance at renewal and redemption. High school exams, mental disorders, strawberry lip-gloss, and bloody homicides.

May's 'birth flower' is the Lily of the Valley, It's in the May contest, I was born in May, maybe it was fate I would vote for this comic? ;)

We get color mixed in with a steel brown monotone on the first screen and throughout the comic the color scheme's effect on the art truly stands out. The hint's/traces of pink and the color transition done on screen 1 panels 1-6 -just awesome. Color is used as a visual aid to help you follow along in the story -way better than the old school silver age pointer arrows. Adam is a fantastic artist (reminds me some of Josh Howard) , who likes to write stories for Zuda involving serial killings. Which my go to genre's are the horror/crime genres so the art/writing here is like peanut butter and jelly to me. I do hate text box thought balloons with a God awful passion, but it helps if their well written and not overdone. In this comic Adam pulls off the writing just as well as the art. The panel layout/ screen composition is also impressive no where is this more obvious than the (not demonically possessed) rat sequence on screen 2. Showing the characters at a tilted angle instead of dead-on also increase interest. You see a sewer ossuary that is remarkable well done, followed by a forest of pink lawn flamingos on the next screen. It looks like their could be a motif/ symbolic connection between Lily and pink flamingos, and Thomas with white rats. If you haven't already grasped the fact this girl is off her medication screen 5 removes all doubts. Panel 2 screen 5 the art is a little unclear it looks like Lily just stabbed herself in the leg. The next two panels of a blood drenched flamingo bring a sense of dread, and damn what a way to die! The inner thoughts pay off on screen 6, a long with the title card is a perfect fit to a perfectly paced Zuda comic. The shades of blood and the use of identifying colors on this screen is a soft touch, but gets the job done. The use of color here is kind of like what M. Night Shyamalan has done for his movies. Screen 7 shows us Thomas who is wrapped up like a mummy, and we finally get to see some dialogue balloons. Smaller letters were used for a softer worried tone, well done job by the creators on the lettering too. If your a gorehound a Chris Matthews style tingle may run up your leg upon viewing Screen 8 panel 1. Mrs. Bellows does her best impersonation of John the Baptist at a Templar meeting. If your not a gorehound the last screen of Lilly in the Valley will still bring the payoff shock value most 8th screen's on Zuda don't.
The last panel is pure chaos, cop cars with their lights and sirens, all those pink flamingos, a huge trail of blood, and leaves blowing up towards the sky -also the reader since it's a over head P.O.V. shot. SPOILER ALERT --------------------------------------------------------------------------- Mrs. Bellows is the sheriff's wife (I believe) thus setting us up for some possible devil's rejects style action. I'm guessing this is some of the Info Zuda wanted redacted from the synopsis?---------------- I said it for The Crooked Man and I'll say it here, why no instant win??? I also want to personally thank Adam and HQ for not putting the word 'the' in front of the title.

Why It's better than Bleed

Adam's last comic Bleed ended up with 3/5 stars from me, Lily got the whole works -so why the difference? I mentioned the lack of color on bleed more than once, Lily comes into the contest, makes pink lawn flamingos an object of terror, and I'm awed. When it's mystery vs. suspense in comics format suspense is going to win most every time. It's a question of what's more engaging to me as a reader? Instead of playing fanboy detective I enjoy the story more if I can follow along with the killer in question. Generally speaking the payoff of who the killer is isn't that much of a payoff. If it's some major twist fine, but comics don't have all the options of film or books. In a theater you can't rewind to check to see if you just heard /saw what you think you heard/saw, you can't cheat in a clue hunt you have to pay attention and remember. In a comic you can flip back or click back to go over the details panel by panel looking for clues, not an option the in-story protagonists have. Which adds to a creators difficulty in paying off the reader during the denouncement. With books vs. comics in the mystery genre you have the opposite problem. Books can go on forever and some seem to when it comes to page count. Plenty of room to expand characterization, and offer up red herrings with clues hid throughout the work. Comics in general and web comics on Zuda have a limited page count. You might get a season II you might not, the only thing you can be sure of is 52 more screens. Is that really enough room to work the whodunit angle? The longer a plot question lingers in a story the bigger and better the payoff is expected to be. If it's the equivalent of the butler did it why bother keeping the murder's identity a secret? I'd rather dispense with that and follow the killer along to see if they get caught, and what their reasons (if any) were for murder fully explored. With Lily of the Valley you have the added option of the anti-hero angle with possible shades of natural born killers. The difference in the depth of characterization found between Bleed and Lily of the Valley in the first 8 is profound. Hence me voting early (but not often) for Lily of the Valley.

So much for this not being an epic length post drat, drat, and double dang it!

Their isn't another Zuda comic that looks quit like this and that's what wowed me right off. You follow that up with a very interesting narrative and your grabbed as a reader. The letters are well done, and the pace fits Zuda perfectly. It's always nice to see creators who improve on what they have done before. Seeing the difference between Bleed and this comic shows me by the time we get to screen 60 of Lily it's just going to be unbelievable. Theirs always an element of promise/hope about what to expect from 52 more screens of a Zuda comic. Adam's and HQ's track record speaks for itself, so no worries. Lily of the Valley more than earned my vote.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Gone Zombie/ sounds like an un-dead Alan Jackson song doesn't it?

As sure as the sun rises in the east, their will be a zombie comic on Zuda

Zuda comics in May: first up for review is Gone Zombie by Stephent, Slave2Robotz, and DrewMoore. [one of those 3 names is an alias, so who are your really DrewMoore, and what do you have to hide?] It surprised the hell out of me, but this -zombie- comic got 4/5 stars and a fav from me. Here is the synopsis: Kurt and his sister Nancy never really got along. They drifted even further apart after their parents died during “The Event” – when an unexplainable phenomenon brought the dead back to life and plunged the nation into months of terror that ended only when the undead were pushed back to a large quarantine zone. But the shock of the event spurred quasi-religious groups, derisively called “End Timers,” to seek out the undead in an unholy union where followers voluntarily – and sometimes involuntarily – submit to becoming undead themselves. Mentally and spiritually devastated by The Event and its Biblical ramifications, Nancy and her young son Billy fall in with one of these groups as it makes its way deeper into the quarantine zone. It’s up to Kurt to find them and get them out before they’ve “gone zombie.”

Part 2 of my view on zombie comics

I hate to self reference a former blog post, but for part 1 on my view of zombie comics check here. To expand on my knee jerk comments any zombie story that tries to start off with the mystery of 'the event' is heading down the wrong path with me. Like I said the longer the mystery of what caused the zombie outbreak builds, the expectations from readers build for the eventual payoff. After wormwood in Night of the Living Dead the payoff has never lived up to the expectations since. Last I checked The Walking Dead is still going with the don't reveal the cause of the outbreak option, which makes me go off on a rant. Robert Kirkman and others have shied away from revealing why because of one of two reasons: Number 1: They can't reinvent the wheel either it's some government created bio weapon gone wrong [sort of like The Stand only with zombies], It's supernatural/ or some other explanation we have seen before, or Number 2: They think they're doing the reader a favor. "It doesn't matter what caused the outbreak just come up with your own reasons readers whatever you think is right..." I do have an imagination which I use on a regular basis. I enjoyed the what's in the brief case mystery in Pulp Fiction, and filling in the blanks with my own ideas, I don't enjoy trying to fill in the blanks with what caused the brain eating plague. The difference being 'what's in the briefcase' is a fun little mystery for viewers that doesn't really have a grand effect on anything. It knows it's a McGuffin and is damn well treated like one. The 'I'm never telling' what caused the zombie outbreak mystery becomes a never ending excuse for bringing on scientists and soldiers for some pointless plot point action. If it was lab geeks gone wrong that surprises no one so why drag it out? If it's quasi-supernatural (Hello Wormwood) reveal that early on, cause again it will surprise no one. If it's aliens causing it, burn your script and forget you ever thought of it. The what caused 'the event' mystery is a McGuffin (to show it doesn't take much for human society to go feral) that doesn't know its place. This is aided and abetted by writers who don't come out and say zombie stories (unlike some other monster genres) aren't about the zombies at all, they're about the people who are still living trying to stay alive. If Stephen Thor had revealed the cause of 'the event' by the end of the eighth screen -hell even better in the first panel- this comic would be fighting it out for my vote. A zombie comic where the cause is revealed right from the start would be a twist I would love.

Assumed room temperature rape -Zuda crossing that PG-13 line

Was the dead world mention a reference to the comic. We finally see (on Zuda) necrophiliacs in a zombie story, it was the most disturbing and consequentially interesting part of the comic. Two stereotypical vile scum human bad guys have a naked zombie woman tied to a bed to rape and apparently pimp out if the opportunity presents itself. Not the sort of thing you generally expect to see on a Zuda comic. The panel composition and the pace from screens 3 to screen 5 are excellent. Take particular note of screen 4 panel 3 it's a panel open to an imaginative readers interpretation (I guess it's his sister's picture, but I don't know that), but whatever it is -it seals the deal on Kurt going back to take care of business. On screen 5 there are cut out panels (outside of the house) used with the blam sound effect. There was no real need to show the bullets impact, plus the last four panels help with the next screen transition, it's not so jarring time-wise. Kurt ends up dressing the zombie in a sheet, and leaves her, so that it can get free and go on looking for brains I guess? For some reason he leaves behind the gun, and doesn't rob the two dead evil human bastards for their weapons. First rule of a zombie apocalypse -get some guns and bullets- so didn't really get that. I also figure this will come back to haunt him...

So why wasn't this comic called end timers???

The other half of the story starts on screen 7 with Nancy and her son in crazy cult land. The kids are funny in spite of the circumstances playing who's afraid to touch the zombie. I liked the 'hello kitty cap the girl was wearing nice counter balance to being in zombie land. The dialogue between mother and son expressing their fears was very well done. The comic ended on a rather up-beat note for a zombie story, which also surprised me. The art/letter/story/colors are all well done. The dialogue for this comic was spot on. The art really served the story especially in the silent panels, impressive work. The letters were easily readable, so thanks for that. The colors didn't get too crazy just a nice professional looking job. The most impressive panel was #5 screen 8. Bonus points for awesomeness if the plan is to color the zombies different colors/ or different shades of green depending on how long they've been dead. Seeing the zombie arm sticking out of the cart I don't think that's what you have in mind. though.

Breaking the millstone of genre expectations

There's a number of ways to do it:

1. Have a zombie comic where we never actually see the zombies -ever!
2. a page one, or at least by page 8 reveal of what caused the zombie outbreak.
3. Make the comic be about, or partly about how animals deal with the zombie outbreak
4. Set it in a historical time period like for example: the dark ages.
5. At this point everyone expects at least one if not all of the leads in a zombie story to die, so surprise people by not killing them off -this would apply to Kurt, Nancy, and Billy in this case.
6. You know what people expect so just go against those expectations, no need to reinvent the wheel to have some good twists.
7. Create you own kind of monster that serves the same purpose, but isn't as easy for people to pigeon-hole. For example: a virus starts turning people into Lovecraft style monsters. You could have the same kind of story without the automatic zombie genre straitjacket/stigma.

Everything about this comic was very professional, but if it hadn't been on Zuda the zombie rapists wouldn't have been nearly as shocking to me as a reader. See the creators played on my Zuda PG-13 (more or less) expectations and surprised me. I know a lot of people do love zombie comics and they will love this, and vote for it -if they know where to find it. The creators got a 4/5 star and a fav from a zombie comic hater, and if it wins I will follow it despite my anti-zombie leanings.