Saturday, August 8, 2009

Zuda Review Octane Jungle/ Cotton candy comic that took a wrong turn

Octane Jungle is another August Zuda competitor, done by Morgan Luthi & Mike L. Kinshella. Here is the synopsis: In an all-too-plausible dystopian future, the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-killing corporate monolith - The Motherbrain - has virtually dismantled the free market with it's monopolistic vice grip on all viable goods and services. The incorrigible crew of Doc's Pie Hole put their necks on the line night after night in the pursuit of preserving legitimate, free enterprise. A surly band of outlaws, miscreants and reprobates they may be, but Doc's crew gets the job done every time. They take pride in keeping the contraband economy rolling and remain unflappable in the face of gang warfare, police brutality and the countless other imperilments lurking in the city's seedy underbelly. Mind-blowing danger, reckless speed and seemingly insurmountable jeopardy are all in a days work for these, our tenacious protagonists. But the sudden emergence of an enigmatic villain is about to propel the denizens of the Pie Hole into a maelstrom of violence and duplicity, which even they might not be able to shoot their way out of. Blood will be shed! Cars will be crashed! Sh*t will get blown up! Limbs will be liberated from bodies! Secrets will be revealed! It's all part for the course in the Octane Jungle!

Too much drive-by weirdness that never takes its foot off the gas

Their was too much of everything in this comic for me to really enjoy it. From panel to panel the creators didn't stop throwing things out to readers, let along screen to screen. Even the quieter moments (two guys talking about a pizza), weren't that quiet. It was really to fill in the blanks about the dystopian nanny state Octane Jungle is set in. I don't care for 'decompressed' story telling where nothing really happens. I don't care for 'hyper-speed' story telling that tries to give me information overload either. It seemed just as I got interested in a character/situation Octane Jungle would make a hard left and be off in another direction, and location. Imagine the creators as oblivious tour guides cracking the whip to move the group along. I know some readers are going to enjoy the thrill-ride pace, but it wasn't for me. The day-glow colors were at first impressive, but they weren't conductive to savoring the story. The expressionist coloring eventually turned the screens into a vaguely undefined multi-multi-paneled blob. It looks like a rainbow threw-up on the finished art! I can only take some much of that. Considering the pace of the story and the actions/words, understated colors would have been a nice counter point balance. With the lettering some of Jackson's -the lead- thought balloons, are hard to distinguish from speech balloons. One thing I really enjoyed about this comic was Baron (Jackson's driver) who is very reminiscent of a gremlin. Another thing is the sound effects. They do fit the story, and they come early and often. It seems some creators just want to skip over 'sfx:', and not use a cool tool comics have. That doesn't happen here, and the lettering on them is great. The art is fine, but too cramped by all the bite-size panels. The story started out very interesting, but then went down hill because of the pace.

Considering they're all pizza delivery guys, will their be a classic porn homage in the future?

This comic ended up being more like Wacky Races meets Death Race 2000, than the gritter story I thought it was going to be. The reveal of the 'pizza guy' twist on screen 4, led to my declining enjoyment of the comic. The story goes back to the characters home base for a Taxi tribute sequence. We see a foul mouth character named Granny who looks like a pig in a domino mask. Numerous parts of her dialogue are redacted thanks to Zuda standards and practices. It's a good gag, but done a little too much to be that funny. You do something once not funny. You do something twice, mild chuckle. Three times you get hysterical laughter. You do something 8,9,10 times your crossing into 'why did the chicken cross the road' country. It ended up being more of a sit-com comic than the genre tags the creators hit it with. Not my go-to genre, but in a technical sense very professionally done. The problem for me was 8 screens over stuffed with too many panels and balloons. The art and dialogue were both cramped by the page layouts after the initial car chase. Then you factor in the expressionist 'mood changing by the panel' coloring on every page... Insane story, plus insane colors, is just too crazy for me.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Zuda Comic Arctic/ A Critical Evaluation

Arctic is a August Zuda competitor done by Ghost. Here is the synopsis: You know your day is going to suck when you wake up with a pounding headache and no memory of who you are. The cold chills your bones, and it might have already claimed a few fingers and toes while you were knocked out. Oh yeah, and the reason you were knocked out was because you’re a survivor of a spaceship crash. So you survived...That’s great, isn’t it? Even with no memory, all you have to do is sit back and wait for rescue. Except this is one of those really BAD days, and you’re not the only survivor. In most cases, that would be good news, except everyone else seems to be madmen, monsters and murders. BTW, some freak in a mask and a sniper rifle really wants to put one between your eyes. Join the man with no memory as his day goes from bad to worse and then some. Will he survive the frozen wastelands? Will he survive the killers and monsters? Will he survive?

A Opinion is: Your comic is average.
A review is: Your comic is average, and here's why I think that...

The art and colors are fantastic, the snow looks like snow, and drawing sequential action wasn't a problem for the creator at all. The speech balloons throughout the comic are done in square boxes. At first I thought this was a neat depiction of a voice-distortion caused by the mask the lead character was wearing. Then I realized it's just the way Ghost decide to letter the comic. The letters are completely legible, and that's a good thing. The art is the strong suit here, and it would have been a better read had the creator let that be more of the focus. With Ghost's artistic talent he/she could have just used facial expressions, without the average quality wordage detracting from a screen. Ghost has a nice Vincent Locke quality going, but didn't make his words mesh with his art. Others have said that already, but I repeated it cause it's true. One time the dialogue does work well, is when the main character is talking to himself. On screen four you see him think of a text box thought balloon question, then another box word balloon to answer it. It turns out his name (maybe) is John Davis, Space Marshall. He falls down in the snow, and then stumbles across an alien 'Hagen' -who promptly gets shot in the head. Screen 7 is positively beautiful, and a factor in that is: no dialogue/captions, just sound effects. The way the snow blows down from the figure on the crest leads viewers to look at John Davis. Not to mention the pool of alien Hagen blood developing. The figure who fired that first shot, loads another round -with a nice sound effect. It ends with a title screen that has John Davis saying "oh God" one more time, with a pink laser-sight dot on his forehead. The lead character having amnesia didn't bother me that much, it's a tool to add to the mystery. What did bother me was all those oh lords/oh Gods/ Where am I/who am I -in the script. It would have been a much more interesting 8 screens without any words beyond sound effects. I'd say this to Arctic readers, click back through the comic, ignore the words, and see if you can't still follow the basic narrative? The art's good enough that you don't need sub-par dialogue -let along text-box thought balloons. Screen 4 was the one exception where the words/thoughts were well scripted. It could also keep the dialogue that's in 'alien' just so people know it's an alien not a mutant. If the art is that good, and it is, why wreck it with fugly square balloons? legible font alone can't justify that.

I don't see much daylight between a B+ review from Bryy, and a 3/5 stars opinion from Bluescale

I know I'm not a journalist, and have never claimed to be one. I know you can't have a personal bias against a comic book creator you don't even know besides their handle: 'Ghost'. I know I have more than one follower, but everyone 'comic blogging' started off with none. I know what the differences are between the first 5 minutes of a James Bond film, and a movie trailer style Zuda submission are. Those first 5 minutes, are to get a viewer excited about another installment after the title sequence. Most people already know who the major player is as well. It is James Bond, so you have a reasonable expectation of what kind of story your getting. If the first 5 minutes don't do anything for a viewer, you might as well stop watching. On Zuda their is nothing after the title screen if you don't win, or continue on elsewhere. Arctic was told with a 5 minute Bond action sequence style structure, with none of the history that plays on. The potential for excitement in Arctic got trampled on by the dialogue/captions. Movie trailer structure gives an overview of the various characters/events that are going to happen in the story. It doesn't do one whole scene, it jumps around to show off some of the more impressive/enticing story-beats. Movie trailer story structure for Zuda submissions is very similar to its name sake movie trailers. Ghost didn't show enough of the Arctic 'world' for it to have that kind of appeal. If it's comics, or movies a good trailer doesn't mean the actual story will be good. You do a gut check and make your own judgment. On Zuda you make that same judgment with self contained/cliffhanger stories cause it all only adds up to 8 screens. It doesn't work as a self contained 8 screens, because it ends in the middle of the action with a shot being fired. It's intended to be a cliffhanger, but it's not one that is done well. The reason is: no way do I believe John Davis gets wasted. Cliffhangers that involve solo main characters facing immediate peril aren't very good, because I don't believe their getting whacked in screen 9. Screen 60 maybe, but this early no way. Cliffhanger's that set up a danger to your leads family and friends, or some innocent third party is more suspenseful early on. Setting up a impending threat only the hero(es) know about also works. Any kind of moment a reader can't reasonable guess what happens next, is a good one to end on. My guess is John Davis doesn't get shot, or if he does -it's just a first step to fix his amnesia problem. [For more of my views on Zuda story structure (with examples), see this previous post.] My gut check on Arctic: fantastic art got knee-capped by repetitive, uninspiring, and unneeded captions/dialogue. In 52 more screens I don't think that will change.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Stephen Thor Interview Part II/ Gone Zombie lives!!!

[This is the second part of my Interview with Gone Zombie creator/writer Stephen Thor]

7. Did you do any research to prepare for writing this story?

Pulls out law book. Flips it open. Transcribes:

“Any similarity to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.”

All kidding aside, the societal elements addressed in Gone Zombie have long been a part of our collective consciousness. No research necessary.

8. In these first screens you’ve given readers a great deal of characterization for Kurt, and shown a real dark corner in a dark world. Another dark corner is the religious cult the ‘End-timers’ that Kurt’s sister Nancy and her son Billy joined. Did you base part of this storyline on the tragedies of real life suicide cults? How do you plan on making these cultists sympathetic, or do you even want to?

Did I base it on “real life” suicide cults? No. But on the ideas such groups propagate? Yes. And sympathetic? No, absolutely not.

9. To reveal, or not reveal the cause of a zombie outbreak: what’s your stance on this, with Gone Zombie?

I h
ad one planned and removed it. It doesn’t matter for the scope of this story. These characters have to deal with the fallout of this unnatural catastrophe, not its cause. If the story was about a bunch of scientists trying to prevent such an unholy plague, then the reason behind it would become much more important. There’s also a more practical reason: I don’t have that many pages to work with here and would rather use what I have to follow these characters.

10. What’s your take on zombie fatigue? Did you anticipate running into that feeling with this Zuda submission?

The whole “zombie fatigue” thing did take me by surprise a little. More than one commenter said the equivalent of, “Oh, zombies. Forget it,” probably without giving the story a chance. Had the story debuted a few years ago, as intended, maybe we could have avoided that. Be that as it may, I think the folks that gave it a shot came away happy enough with what they saw.

11. What themes do you want to explore with Gone Zombie? What are some of your inspirations to tell this story?

Themes? Power, fear, anarchy, family, love and hope. That sounds like a lot, but
I really do believe they flow naturally from the tale: I’m doing my best not to force a fit where there isn’t one.

Inspiration? Let’s come back to this one if we’re fortunate enough to wrap up the story.

12. What can old and new readers expect to see in the upcoming updates?

I’m torn. I want to answer this in a mannered and intellectual manner, such as:

“Human drama, with hair-raising adventure and even a touch of humor, as our protagonists make their way through the merciless landmines of an insane world.”

But I also want to say:

Zombies, man! Freakin’ zombies!”

[A big thank you to Stephen Thor for taking the time to do the interview, and now you should give Gone Zombie a read]

Stephen Thor Interview Part I / Gone Zombie Lives!!!

This is a interview I did with Gone Zombie writer Stephen Thor. Gone Zombie finished 6th in the May 2009 Zuda competition. It stood out to me with great writing, great art, and is one of the few zombie comics I actually like! Gone Zombie lives on, on its own web-site updating every Wednesday. Thor is still writing, a new artist (Eduardo Garcia) is drawing and doing a great job too, and I'm still enjoying reading it. In part one we cover the set-up to Gone Zombie, getting into Zuda, and getting another fantastic artist to carry on doing to comic, not to mention what Gone Zombie hopes to deliver to readers.

1. Steve would you like to tell us a little about yourself, and how you came to be writing comics? Are you working on any projects besides Gone Zombie?

I think the origin story of every writer includes similar elements: he or she loves the medium, wants to be a part of it and works diligently to make that happen. Certainly not as exciting as the origin stories that feature radioactive spiders or exploding planets under a red sun, but there you have it. I just got to a point where I really wanted to contribute something. And Gone Zombie was born.

I actually do have another title I'm working on - and it couldn't be more different, really - but I'm going to wait a little while on that one. Starting up a comic is remarkably time - consuming and I'm going to concentrate on Gone Zombie right now.

2. For those who may have missed Gone Zombie in the Zuda Competition would you give the set-up to the story?

Gone Zombie is about a young man searching for his sister and nephew after they join a religious cult dedicated to "transitioning" their members to a undead state. His quest places him in direct conflict not only with the zombies that roam the landscape, but with militia members and cultists too.

3. Scott Wegener and Eduardo Garcia are two well known artists, how did you manage to get both of them involved in this comic? Any tips for writers looking for artists?

I started working with Scott on this story several years ago, before he hit the stratosphere with Atomic Robo. I'd actually stumbled across his art blog one day and said "This is the look I'm going for." But once Robo took off, Scott simply couldn't devote the necessary time to Gone Zombie. Completely understandable. But that meant I was off in search of an artist again - and it would be a long time before I found someone I felt was as good as Scott. Thankfully, in Eduardo, I think I've done just that. In both cases, I think I was able to conect with them because they liked the script.

As for looking for artists, I think it's important to go where the artists are, places real and virtual such as:

  • Conventions (as a kid, I spent most of my time at cons looking at comics; now, I spend most of my time in artists alley)
  • The Zuda site
The artists you'll want to work with are the ones who conduct themselves in a professional manner, so make sure you conduct yourself in a professional manner: explain what your looking for, the scope of the project, your plans for distribution and compensation. About compensation: if you can't offer any, your project is a non-starter. Even if you can't offer the moon, make the best offer you can. The good ones deserve it.

4. What was your experience in Zuda like? Is their anything you would do differently, and do you plan on entering again?

I loved my Zuda experience. Loved it. But I almost missed it. Here’s how:

I’m sitting at home one day while some workmen install a new bathroom door for me (don’t ask). Amid all the hammering and drilling, my phone rings.

Me: Hello?

Them: Hello, is this Steve?

Me: Yes.

Them: Hi, this is [garbled; I can only hear the hammering going on] from DC Comics. You submitted a title for competition at

Me: Yes, I did!

Them: We want to include it in our upcoming lineup, but haven’t heard back from you.

Me: What do you mean, you haven’t heard back from me?

Them: You never replied to our e-mail.

Me: I never received an e-mail!

Them: We sent one a couple weeks ago. You must not have gotten it.

Me: Honestly, I haven’t!

Them: Would you like to be a part of the Zuda competition?

Me: (perhaps a little too emphatically) Yes!

I hate to think what might have happened had that phone call not been placed. Thankfully, we worked everything out, I got their next e-mail, and it was off to the races.

5. Gone Zombie updates on Wednesdays, but have your plans for the structure of the series changed since it won’t be on Zuda? 60 screens, more than 60 screens, is their a definitive end for this comic planned?

I’ll be honest with you: until you mentioned it just now, I didn’t know there was a 60-screen limit. Gone Zombie is going to go a little beyond that. There’s a definite end, but room for the story to continue. Although only a few pages have been published to date, I’ve had a completed script for years and we are progressing nicely with the finished art, so I’ve had time to really fall in love with these characters. It’d be great to be able to continue it beyond the pages I have planned right now.

6. ‘The same, but different’ has become a mantra of mine. Meaning: Genre clich├ęs are writer shorthand so readers can get invested in a fictional world quicker. You have to meet reader expectations, but also do something to stand out from the rest to draw in more readers. With Gone Zombie you have meet fans of the genre’s expectations. You also have to that extra something ‘different’ that sets your story apart from all the other zombie stories out there, and attracts non-zombie fans. ‘The same, but different’ moment in Gone Zombie for me is the zombie rape scene on screen 3. It was a little surprising to see on Zuda, but very compelling to me as a reader who doesn’t like zombie stories. How do you plan to continue to set Gone Zombie apart from other zombie comics.

Zombie fans, non-zombie fans, comic fans, and non-comic fans are all looking for the same thing: a compelling story expressed with believable characters. That’s what we hope to deliver.

[Monday we go into the themes of Gone Zombie, zombie fatigue in comics readers, to reveal, or not reveal the cause, and what readers can expect as they read future screens of this comic.]