Friday, May 15, 2009

Why I hate text boxes/ blame Eric Larsen and Wolverine fight scenes

Again thanks for the question Andrew

Andrew Dimitt asked if I could clarify my anti-text box views. I'll try to do that and be as short and to the point as I can be. [everyone laugh now] The best way to do this is share my general views with you and do some compare/contrasting between Flowing Well's and Andrew's other comic Drockleberry. The reasons I hate text boxes are:

Reason number 1: I like the guessing game

I'm the type of reader that enjoys a little personal projection on the characters I read about. Filing in some blanks about characters and/or the motivations especially of the leads. I don't want too much mystery, but a little mystery is fine particularly in the case of motivations for actions, instead of what actions a character takes. Years ago I read a comment in Savage Dragon by Eric Larsen explaining why he didn't use thought balloon impersonating text boxes in that comic. I don't know if he still holds to this or not, but he said the reason was to keep characters real thoughts/motivations a mystery. Think about that a minute, and the options it gives you in storytelling. The reader doesn't know if a character is doing the right thing for the right reason, the wrong reason, or if their even doing the right thing at all. Not knowing just what's going on in a character's head really grabs me as a reader. It also gives the creators the opportunity (depending on the genre of the story) to do a heel or face turn, even if that isn't what they had planned from the beginning. That wrestling parlance meaning someone you thought was bad from their actions turns out to be good, or vice versa. I like it when writers leave some aspects of the story open to the readers interpretation's based on their own views. What is so-and-so's real motive is one of the most involving things for a reader to guess at. Seeing characters deep thoughts printed on the page takes all the fun out of that.

Reason number 2: The text box that thinks it's a thought balloon needs to shut the hell up

Ever wonder why in most cases (in American comics) except for humor comics the thought balloon has disappeared? It has been replaced (by and large) by a text box thought balloon impersonator. My guess as to why is it's a beauty pageant on the page and puffy odd shaped clouds lost out to straight sharp lines. Text box thought balloons by their look imply focus and direction, thought balloons imply more lackadaisical if not damn meandering thinking. Wolverine, Batman, and the rest just look more 'fanboy badass' with strategically placed boxes on a panel instead of a little cloud over their heads. I don't like thought balloons in general and having text boxes impersonate them, doesn't change what they are. At least thought balloons are honest about what they are and don't try to hide it.

Reason number 3: Reading a character's 'deep thoughts' fucks up fight scenes

[I think I borrowed this bit from Frank Miller, could have been another artists thoughts, whoever it is I agreed with him and am paraphrasing] I have never liked Wolverine [my personal view and example] no matter who is writing him. This most popular X-Men is the worlds worst offender when it comes to 'inner thoughts' on the page during fight scenes. If your a great writer the inner monologue can add to the action, but it does slow down the page and isn't really needed. If your going for a really intense fight scene you don't need characters saying monologues to their opponents and you don't need to take time away from following the action to read text boxes. If your going for a fast paced fight scene between enemies leave the words out, and let the artist do his/or her job and make it look cool as hell. Words can 'hide' [take up a distracting amount of space on the page] excellent art, but they can't 'hide' bad art. That's not meant to be counter-intuitive, just the way it is for me as a reader. Fight scenes should read fast and furious so let the art do the 'talking' save the pithy remarks for the befores and afters. What about a character who is close to losing that all important battle and must draw upon his inner strength? Which is usually shown to the reader by a close-up to extreme close-up of a character with a text box thought balloon which contents amount to a personal pep talk. Actions speak louder than words, a picture is worth a thousand words, a comic book fanboy can come up with his own 'what Logan thinks when the chips are down' inner dialogue. Just because you can have a character thinking deep thoughts while fighting a thousand Ninja doesn't mean you should.

Reason 4: If you really want a quiet moody start -go textless

You have a slow start set-up in 8 screens at Zuda your already taking a risk. You have 8 screens of text boxes that's even more of a risk, plus it's expected and dead common. I like extremes from both ends of the spectrum in terms of art, and the same thing applies to words. Show me the photo realism of Reed Crandall, or the mass of confusion that's was Jae Lee during his Youngblood strikefile era. Same thing goes for words show me a lot of well written dialogue, or do silent no text panels. A good artist can convey all kinds of emotions and feelings without words, and leave things open to some reader interpretation like I mentioned earlier, for an example read Rumors of War. Having no text boxes can make scenes read faster, or much slower depending on the skill of the artist/writer in screen composition/pace. For a slow or high concept start to a Zuda comic I want to be able to savor good art work at my own pace, not see how well the text matches up to the illustrations. It just does more to grab me as a reader.

Reason 5: Show, or tell -but don't show and tell

Sometimes because of the way you (meaning anyone) structure a story you have to have text boxes -even during fight scenes. This usually happens because of a high concept that can't make ready use of genre expectations short hand with readers. The way I like seeing this handled is well written and very brief. It also helps out tremendously if information is imparted through the text you couldn't get any other way. For an example read Blood Hunter. It's obvious there is something wrong with the more savage native vampires, but only with the text do you find out their inbreeds because of their personal beliefs. The idea of corrupted purists vampire zealots grabbed me right away, so their are some text box exceptions that prove the rule. The worst offender is when you read a caption text like Captain x flies off to save the day, and the art that accompanies the text box is sure enough Captain x flying off into the sky. Some Zuda comics have came dangerously close to failing into this early golden age storytelling mind trap.

Reason 6 Passive voice vs. active voice or text box narration vs. characters talking to themselves

Text box thought balloons are not going to be as engaging to me as character dialogue. Text box narration from the third person makes for a very passive read to me. Reading a characters dialogue is going to be more engaging because I'm hearing a characters voice, their doing something even if it's only talking to themselves. Talking to themselves is a habit a lot of people have, doesn't necessary mean their crazy, but it could. It could also mean their lonely, happy, mad, glad, or sad. It ties in again to leaving somethings open for reader interpretation, or for the writer to surprise us with something later. With third person narration I feel too far removed from the story it's not as involving to me as the characters speaking for themselves. Even thinking for themselves with text box thought balloons has more connection to the voice of the character and not the narrator, whoever that's supposed to be???

Compare and contrast

Go read (if you haven't already) Flowing Wells and the first 9 pages of Drockleberry, then come back. It obvious D-berry starts off with more of a bang than the slow start of FW. You would have to do some editing but screen 9 of D-berry would be the perfect surprise 8th screen cliff hanger for a Zuda submission. I know the method of operation (slow start, or not to slow start) is different, but D-berry is automatically more grabbing to me as a reader. Now notice these are text box thought balloons in D-berry not narration. From the text box thought balloons you get more of a insight into the character, the more interested I am in the character, the more interested I am in the story. 27 text boxes in D-berry vs. 23 text boxes in FL. Look at the average word count of the text boxes in D-berry. It's shorter text boxes (broken up by characters actually speaking) thus more focused and engaging. It's also text box thought balloons (and voice overs) in D-berry vs. text box narration in FW, so in D-berry's case it seems more to the point in introducing that world.

It's all personal opinions in deciding what 'reads' better, but I hope that gives everyone a clear idea of where I'm coming from as a reader. Again, thanks for the question Andrew and feel free to ask more. :)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Zuda review Beertown B'hoys/ Edward G. Robinson would be proud, see

It's like the best parts of Godfather II, only with jewish gangsters

Beertown B'hoys is another May zuda comic done by returning zuda vet Steve Bialik. It got 5/5 stars and a favorite from me. Story and art are all top notch Steve's also shown with his third submission a mystery of different genres and style in storytelling. Here is the formally known as Pet Shop B'hoys (Beertown much better name) synopsis: Brooklyn, 1894 - With the nation sinking into a deepening recession, the fast money of the outlaw’s trade has gained a potent new allure. And in the village of Williamsburg, where wealthy beer barons breathe the same air as middle-class shopkeepers and waterfront “slum monkeys,” restless laddie bucks from every level of society are engaged in a mad dash for ill-gotten riches. For these aspiring rogues New York , with it’s vast and lively underworld, is the Xanadu of their larcenous dreams. But in order to reach it one must cross a river of hellfire. “Jigsy” Quinn and “Pickles” Fleischhauer, two waterfront throwaways, are about to embark on just such a voyage. And, unbeknownst to them, they’ll be making the journey with a man who is destined to become the most feared gangster in the city.

How to handle genre expectations well

Either embrace genre expectations totally, or reject them totally in art and/or story just don't be a middle of the roader. When it comes to genre expectations of art/story (in this case crime comics) their are two ways to go about it. One is to play into those expectations with fairly realistic art work that fits the subject matter, the other is to go in the opposite direction with more 'cartoony' artwork. The same principle applies to comic book scripts. You can live up to the hard boiled standard laid out by Crime Does Not Pay, and followed up by Crime SuspenStories, or you can give it the Woody Allen treatment. When it comes to my genre expectations I like extremes, either give me photo realism, or new style caricatures. With Beertown B'hoys the art work isn't 'heavy' it looks like light hearted modern day superhero art work. Why this works is Steve has a command of his own style and can adapt it to varied themed stories. In this case seeing someone get shot in the head rendered with this style of art has a surreal aspect I enjoy. Steve rejected genre expectations in the art and the strip is better for it. With the script it's the same dilemma, but Steve chose the other answer and embraces genre expectations beautifully. A guy getting shot in the head by screen two should have been a tip off, if it wasn't the slang sure was. Slang in comics dialogue is either something you understand and enjoy, or you don't. I actually understood all the terminology without a lexicon, but for those who didn't Steve has provided a lexicon here. The plot of gangsters working their way up in the criminal world is well done. The pace of the story really fits Zuda, and by the time you get to that last panel you really want to find out the fate of these characters. It was great characterization from the script & art for all of the leads featured. Good panel layout, I particularly liked the one way arrow on screen 4. That old gangster staple of betrayal with no honor among thieves is spry and kicking again in this story.

It's always great when the art and dialogue work together instead of engaging in a pissing contest

That happy synergy in reading this story isn't just due to Steve being a solo creator either. Sometimes it seems on Zuda with writer/artists the left hand doesn't know what the right hand is doing. However good the writing, or art maybe the other half is working against it, or just doesn't measure up. Steve manages to make the pictures aid the words, and the words aid the pictures. A strong draw of this comic is the buddy movie aspect of Jigsy and Pickles as a two man crew of crooks. The excellent dialogue between these two is helped out by the great art in showing their various expressions and how they're arranged in a panel. The last 4 panels on screen 8 are a fine example of the art and words coming together to show you their friendship. You just know it's going to get tested by a life of crime. In addition to the slang, and period looks of this comic, the gray scale helps to really bring the effect home. It's a morally smokey gray world (for the lowdown on the how to go here) their living in so the look of the comic should and does reflect this in an amazing way.

Give the 'ole fishhook to the competition

It's not a comedy, but it does have some damn funny lines. Screen 6 panel 5 'interrupting a Briss maybe' if you know what that is laughing your ass is the result. Letters are easy to read, which is what you expect from a Zuda vet. A aspect of the comic that can't be over looked is the kind of 'real life' countdown this strip shares with a past comic The Crooked Man. That comic had the great quake in San Fran, Beertown has the life and times of Monk Eastman to guide the story.
Everything comes together to give Zuda another really fantastic comic, which may unfortunately end up in the Zuda graveyard. I hope Beertown rises up in the ranks over the course of this month's contest, it deserves to finish in the top three.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Zuda review: Flowing Wells/ It's like the Matrix meets grumpy old men

White snow and yellow text boxes

Another May Zuda comic is Flowing Wells done by it's solo creator Andrew Dimitt. It got 4/5 stars and a favorite from me primarily based on the amazing art, and a very intriguing high concept you can read about in the synopsis. This is one of the times when reading the synopsis first will help you understand the story better. [As if on cue] Here is the synopsis: Flowing Wells was the most popular social-networking simulated game-world ever. Imagine the SIMS if it were hosted by Google-Earth, with billions of registered users going to and fro, building, selling and purchasing content for the world. - Then imagine that world again, when the only remaining survivors are a small population of service employees - the garbage men, the pizza delivery boys, the street cleaners, the gardeners, the mailmen, the prostitutes, the nannies, the doctors, nurses and handymen. And despite that world laying in ruins, frozen solid, overrun with zombies, aliens and monsters, none of them would chose to live anywhere but Flowing Wells.

Getting on with the story

Some copy/pasting and expanding on my thoughts written in the comments section of MPD57's blog. I hate text box thought balloons (and narration) with a passion, and they come at you non-stop in this comic. The action aside from snow shoveling is nil, the creator uses 3 panel, 1 panel, full page splash screen composition throughout the comic. On the plus side this gives his art room to impress, on the other hand the repetitive scenery and actions make it less impressive the more times you read it. Why try to hook a reader in 8 screens? well cause 8 screens is all you get to make a first impression on Zuda. Moody build up that is still building by the last panel on the last screen, gives all the other comics a chance to get out in front of you. The pace along with the narrative device (not even text box thought balloons, narration boxes) curtailed my enjoyment of the comic. The three paths story pace/ composition-wise for a zuda submission I like are: 1. movie trailer overview: Think Lifespan, you get a number of vignettes/locations that serve as a great introduction to a ‘high concept’ world/ story. 2. Self contained story: Even if the comic doesn’t win you still have a assessable ‘done in one’ story -exemplified by Terrestrial and Vic Boone. 3. Cliff hanger character study: one of the most popular formats for 8 screens. You follow along with the lead(s) and gain insight into their character’s nature by their actions and the reactions of those around them -High Moon and Lily of the Valley come to mind. If a creator can mix it up a bit with pacing styles even better, cause hybrids are all the rage. Trying to do a character study without a cliff hanger, and not many genre expectations (thanks to the high concept) that a writer/artist can play into as a shorthand (like werewolves or superheros) for readers to understand the story puts a comic at a disadvantage. Why text box narration, again? Considering the set-up it would have been more involving to me as a reader to have the lead character taking to himself. Accomplish the same ends only with dialogue. With the high concept it might have been easier to get into the grove of the story, if we had seen short 'snapshots' of different characters. We know about Donald, but what/who else is in this world of Flowing Wells created by Andrew Dimitt? The text was a little on the poetic side at the beginning, but with all the talk of game designers, avatars, and cheat codes it got better as the screens clicked by. It gave the reader a little bit of that 'what the hell is going on feeling', which makes people want to know what happens next. The story ended up not shining enough of a light on what is going on, however. There is such a thing as too damn much mystery. The fact most everyone left the game also makes me wonder what happened in the real world to bring this about? The elements in this story got to be repetitive and slow, along with the very passive read text box narration gives you. I wonder when the pace would pick up, or a character would speak? This isn't the kind of opening that's going to really grab readers regardless of how great the art is. The level of promise a reader hopes for of a Zuda comic (i.e. how kick ass will the next 52 screens be, should it win) always has to be taken into account. I have no worries about the art, but where the story is going to go I have no idea. . It could be a flip re-working of the Matrix (after all Donald and the snow are in a second life style world), maybe their was a snow crash and only the NPC's are left alive. The synopsis mentioned zombies, aliens, and monsters (damn shame we saw none of that in the first 8), so readers could end up with some survival horror/ video game shooter style action scene screens. We could get some superhero action give Donald a blaster and a sidekick, or magical realism by way of cheat codes for fire balls. If Andrew wants to show everyday joe's characters reactions to their virtual world, have the pizza guy get eaten by zombies, aliens, monsters, or all three. You get the feeling the story isn't going to be about all this outlandish elements, but everyman style NPC's who get over looked and taken for granted. This provides ample opportunities for quiet refection and third-person voice overs. Unless that's all Flowing Wells is going to be, please at least touch on some of the other elements in the story, or show more than one character, although the snow is almost a character in and of itself. Andrew's other comic implies this could get really good, but some of the competiton this month went above and beyond in the 8 screens allowed. I kept waiting for something else to happen in this comic, but nothing did.

It's not “Kim possible meets Resident Evil”, but it's still pretty cool

The high concept of characters in a video game world provides the opportunity for a ending like the Soprano's cut to black, that wouldn't feel like a rip off -somebody pulls the plug. You also wonder did world war III go down and the explains why the player characters disappeared, or was it everyone left for a new fad? Whatever the case my be it provides some interesting directions this story could go in. I think the art is what has really impressed the people who have been reading it. My comment was it's like Mignola from classic X-men covers inked by early Sin City Frank Miller, and I feel (throw in Guy Davis and Vincent Locke too) that's pretty apt. The art work is awesome, and Andrew does a good job in screen composition/ layout. Some highlights are:

Screen 3: Nice full screen shot, and I really enjoyed seeing the 'beware of rex 84' sign in the background.
Screen 4: Panels 1 and 2. I enjoyed the different P.O.V. shots of Donald, and this is some very Mignola-esque character drawing.
Screen 5: Another cool full screen shot
Screen 7: Panel 1 nice inks!
Screen 8: Nice thoughtful, mournful poise for Donald.
You made snow a sort of character in the story (man vs. nature and all that), that's a accomplishment regardless of where you end up in the rankings.

Could have been and might still be a winner

If shoveling snow got this comic a 4/5 and a fav from me (and I'm sure others as well), showing less 'quiet' scenes could have left this comic in a better place for fighting it out for peoples votes. As it turned out May 09 was a better than average month with a number of amazing (read favorited) comics, in another month Flowing Wells could have fared better. The first 8 pages of Drockleberry are much less quiet and a better read. Andrew Dimitt got a new Drockleberry fan in me, and Flowing Wells could stil make a climb up the ratings depending on how well the creator gets the word out/ how much of a fan base he has.