Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Thanks to Dark Horse, Western rides again!

Jim Shooter is bringing them back, Gold Key lives! Doctor Solar, Man of the Atom, the new series from Dark Horse comics is in stores as you read this. Magnus, Robot Fighter, new series is scheduled to begin on August 4. Other Western/Gold Key characters also scheduled to get another run from Dark Horse are Turok, Son of Stone, and the least well known of the lot: Mighty Samson. For a preview before you buy of Doctor Solar go here. Doctor Solar is written by Shooter of course, and drawn by Dennis Calero. Magnus is -of course- written by Shooter and drawn by Bill Reinhold. The blurbs on the Dark Horse led me to believe Turok, Son of Stone will also be coming out this year. One of the coolest features, that pays a appropriate amount of respect to history, is the reprinting of the original first issues of the title in each of the latest series. If you haven't checked out any of the Dark Horse archive editions for these Gold Key/Western characters it's a nice preview of what you've been missing. 48 pages for the new Solar#1, 56 for Magnus, at $3.50 for each title. I went through a flood (really it was some 'Noah get the ark out one one more time' kind of mayhem) to get my free comic book day Doctor Solar/Magnus preview issue. Of course I enjoyed both of Shooter's stories, but the art for Doctor Solar from Dennis Calero was too generic super-hero-ie for me. Calero having X-Men: Noir on your resume isn't much of a credit with me. Calero's Solar has too much of what I would call the Jim Lee/David Finch style fluid super-hero art. Solar shouldn't like the type of hero who would get into a fist fight with the villain. The old Gold Key Solar and some of the Valiant run, had what I would call -stiff super-hero art- which is charming to me and suited the character. If Calero was more of a throwback to the original issues  in his style I would have enjoyed it more. I know taste in art is idiosyncratically subjective, but I appreciate frozen moments in time that don't show every character  to have the poise of a Kung-Fu master. That should be saved for the straight up ass kickers like Magnus. Context matters, Magnus needs to look like he could jump off the page and punch you, or use his martial arts to scrap rogue robots.  Russ Manning's excellent art work for Magnus was the most action filled/fluid super-hero Gold Key ever got, and Reinhold's rendering hearkens back to that perfectly. Shooter is a amazing writer, if it was up to me he would be running Marvel again, so you know I'm a fan happy to read his work again. Magnus was awesome on both fronts, and maybe Dennis Calero's style will grow on me...

Turok, Son of Stone, the next book to be brought back by Dark Horse, is another character that was brought back before at Valiant comics. Turok's comic book run before the upcoming Dark Horse series was cut short (along with so many others) by the abyss of Acclaim's bankruptcy. Turok the video game franchise has continued on, and given him more mainstream exposure than any other Gold Key/Western hero. Jim Shooter's view of the new Dark Horse Turok series:
Turok, Son of Stone tells the story of two Pre-Columbian Native Americans swept away by a force beyond comprehension to a Timeless Land.

Turok is Algonquin, born in what is now Quebec.

In his time, no native of North or Central America has a metal weapon except him—a seax, or Viking long knife, made of Damascus steel, given to Turok by a Norse trader whom he befriended during his sojourn to Newfoundland, where Vikings came to trade and forage, and where Viking settlements once stood.  The seax is an heirloom, handed down through generations to the trader from an ancestor who, as a mercenary for the Byzantine Empire journeyed as far as Baghdad.  Another gift from the Norse: while in their company, Turok learned the art of making composite bows with bow staves reinforced with sinew and bone or horn that can propel an arrow nearly half a mile, like the legendary bows of the Turks.  At closer range, they have devastating power, unrivaled by any wooden stave bow.  There is not the like of Turok’s bow in the Americas.

He has traveled far.  Along his path, Turok learned much from the shamans he encountered: first, the secret language they share, but more importantly, that most of what they do is trickery and illusion—though some things he has seen he cannot fathom—and most importantly never to fear the unknown or unfamiliar.  To do so is to give power to the tricksters or more power to what is real but strange.

To banish fear is to be formidable, almost unconquerable.  Now, if he can just keep the young, headstrong Chiricahua Andar out of trouble….

Turok is strong, capable and skilled.  Just a man, but what a man.  Best of all, he’s smart.

There is a new force in the Timeless Land.  A fearless man who will find a way

[From Jim Shooter interview on ifanboy]

The least known of the new series is Mighty Samson. Mighty Samson had a original 32 issue run between 1964 and 1982, the Dark Horse series is the first time since that the character has been brought back. Mighty Samson Archives from Dark is set to be published October of this year.
Shooter's view of the new Mighty Samson series:
500 years after the end of the world….

Amid the ruins of a once-great city, scourged by mutated monsters, marauders and savage, sub-human predators, the primitive N’yark Tribe, ekes out a meager, fragile existence.  But from among them arises a champion, gifted with prodigious strength—a warrior who can strike dead the most fearsome beast and stand one alone against a thousand foes.  Named by the Speakers of Ancient Lore, he is called the Mighty Samson—the last great hope of human kind.

Thermonuclear destruction nearly ended life on Earth.  No one knows how or why it happened—the answers are lost in antiquity.

At first, the few survivors tried to preserve the shattered remnants of civilization, but soon the struggle to merely maintain existence exist overwhelmed loftier goals.  A new Dark Age descended upon the world.

Small bands of survivors gathered.  Some united into tribes.  One such tribe, called the N’yark, occupied the Island of Broken Towers.

The N’yark Tribe suffered hideously for many generations, preyed upon by monstrosities against which they had no defense, hunted by semi-human carnivores and forced to pay tribute to powerful, marauding tribes from the north and west.

Twenty years ago, Alma, wife of Tranquility, bore a child, an exceptionally large and robust baby boy, who soon began showing signs of unnatural, inhuman strength.

As his mother wished, Samson becomes the champion and defender of his people.  He means to help them survive, thrive and lay the foundations of a New World, safe from the horrors of nature perverted, and the brutality of the wicked.

“Upon the Earth walks he who slays behemoths with his fist.  Stone and iron yield before the strength of his sinews.  A thousand warriors cannot stand against his strength.  It is given unto him to deliver his people from the beneath the yoke of their oppressors, and no force under Heaven can stay him from his destiny.  He is called the Mighty Samson.” – From the recitations of the Lore-Speakers in the first year of the Age to Come, at the dawn of the Fourth Millennium.

[Jim Shooter ifanboy interview]

My first exposure to most of these Western/Gold Key heroes was the old Whitman comics 3-in-1 bag reprint editions of Turok, Solar, and Mighty Samson. I was lucky enough to come across a old Gold Key Magnus in a pawn shop having a 'going out of business sale' of all things. As long as Shooter was at Valiant it was a pleasure to read Magnus, Solar, and Turok's new adventures, but the quality suffered after his departure. Creators like: Otto Binder, Frank Throne, Jack Sparling, Russ Manning, Robert Shaefer, Eric Friewald, Paul S. Newman, Bob Fujitani, Matt Murphy, and Alberto Giolitti all set a high standard Jim Shooter has already proven he live's up to. If you want to talk about being 'in good hands' the Gold Key/Western characters are in good hands again. I look forward to reading these new titles, and hope plenty of other readers will as well. 

[With a thanks to Jim Shelley for giving me the idea to write this]


Saturday, May 22, 2010

Dave Sim talks about Mr A, Mr. C- and hey I got a mention!

On the latest Cerebus TV Dave Sim talks about the history of Steve Ditko's Mr. A. He goes from Mr A's first appearance in witzend to the Mr A #1 being back in print ordering information here. Dave Sim mentions I put in a request for a Cerebus as Mr. A sketch which he called "doing Joseph Stalin as Winston Churchill".  Sim currently has up a fantastic piece he did of Mr C- up for sale, depending on the response he may do more. I really enjoy Cerebus, Mr. A, and I love the parody. It's more than just topical in today's times. 

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!/ Do you still make it onto a fatwa hit list if you traced it?

Today's the day, if you haven't heard about it, I don't know where you've been. I'm working on a 6 page comic strip about it, with no artistic ability whatsoever. I can't even trace well truth be told, so you can imagine how the drawing is going... It's not going to be done today for a few reasons:

1. I'm slow, damn slow, plus no drawing abilty.

2. Every time I thought I had a final script, some other damn radical homicidal maniac related event would happen, and I'd have to ask myself: in, or out?

3. I wanted to do a mini-pictorial history of radical Islam out to kill/intimidate the people who say and do things they don't like. Instead of just a long running post like I've done before.

4. I wanted to make sure I said what I wanted to say, the way I wanted to say it. No panel by panel DVD style commentaries breakdown on what I was trying to say with this/that image.

5. Why limit yourself to one day out of the year?

No panel by panel breakdown, but I did want to get in on this day with a little preview of what is forth coming. Various images that all come together like a plan from the A-Team (in my mind at least) to get my point across.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Dave Sim Cerebus Ball Point Head Sketch's On Sale On E-Bay/ Check out my Cerebus as Mr.A sketch!

Dave Sim is again selling Cerebus head sketches (ball point pen on Aardvark-Vanaheim stationary) on E-Bay. The sketches can be just of Cerebus, or have him decked out as the character of your choice. The price is $25.00 U.S. and it's the second time these types of sketches have gone on sale. I found out about the offer from watching Cerebus TV -new episodes come on Friday's at 9:00 central time.  The current episode is a memoriam to the late, great, Dick Giordano, and Dave Sim talking about his Ditkomania cover (also on sale) featuring Steve Ditko's Miss Eerie. I enjoy the Cerebus TV episodes a lot, plenty of interesting comics history gets covered, and you should really check it out. The first Cerebus head sketch I got is:

 The above (forgive my poor scanning) is Dave Sim drawing Cerebus as Steve Ditko's Mr. A, which becomes Mr. C-! I'm a big fan of Mr. A and Steve Ditko's most recent work so no surprise that was my request. I'm thrilled with my sketch, really enjoyed the funny spin on Mr. A, and wanted the chance to get a few more. No way do I have the cash to fight it out in a art auction, so this is the next best thing. Lucky for me, by popular demand, the sketch offer was brought back I already put in my new order for Cerebus drawn as Judge Dredd, and Cerebus drawn as the Green Hornet. Eclipso (the 60s' version or the one from his own series), or Nukla were the other options I considered.  

If your a fan of Dave Sim's work you still have about a day to purchase a sketch. If you do, you won't be disappointed.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Zuda Review The Adventures of Doc & Shok/ If the synopsis doesn't fit...

The Adventures of Doc & Shok is another March Zuda comic done by Dustin Evans. Here is the synopsis: Doc is an intelligent minded scientist on a quest. He seeks an answer to his family history that has led to his destiny as a paranormal creature of the night. He keeps his secret locked away and dares not to reveal it to a soul. Shok is a simple minded and lazy fellow, who just happened to answer a help wanted ad in the paper to help fund his addiction to quality ale and jump start his own brewery. Little did he know, he would find himself faced with a true Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde for a boss. Shok's daytime job, working for Doc, eventually forges an unlikely friendship between the two. He is faced with quite a dilemma, once he realizes his friend and employer is a creature of the night. The two mismatched pair quest together to find an answer to Doc's dark history in a medieval world filled with modern technologies, danger and horror. Sharika, a haunting and alluring woman claiming to have psychic powers, appears in the village of Tarbon. Her brother was last seen in the village and has since gone missing. She is immediately branded an outcast and finds solace in the company of Doc & Shok. Doc feels drawn to Sharika, but Shok believes there is more to her beauty and charm than she claims. While Doc frantically searches for an answer and cure to his condition, the town's villagers grow increasingly more suspicious of him and his two companions.

I know it's easier to change the synopsis than the story. I also know most people could care less about the synopsis. I do care, so here we go:

 There are a lot of directions you can go in with the synopsis, mostly back story, re-cap the events in the comic, mostly a preview of the future. The best which gives you a little back story, tells readers what's going on now, and gives a hint to the future of the story -which matches up well with the comic. In the 8 screens of the comic some of the most interesting parts of the synopsis (and story going forward), don't even make the slightest appearance. Doc, Shok, and the readers meet a monstrous, murderous family  that never gets a mention in the synopsis. It probably ties together with Shok finding out Doc is a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde type, and the start of his quest into his 'dark history'. The comic ends on a 'danger-hook'  with the characters and readers about to see more of momma monster than just a tentacle. I guess in the course of escaping/fighting the monster family the Doc would change and the rest of the story would take off following the synopsis lead.  Reading that synopsis readers are going to want to see the Jekyll and Hyde transformation, and it would have made for a more impressive ending than the 'danger-hook'. The Sharika character takes up a large portion of the synopsis (and it seems future story) it would have been great to have at least some cut scenes or a one panel cameo. It's only 8 screens a big part of the draw is going to be the Mr. Hyde transformation and seeing that aspect of the character, it would have been even better if it could have showed up without being spelled out so plain in the synopsis. I know creators in past have been able to edit out too many spoilers in the synopsis, I don't know if this is just at the editors invitation, or creators can put in a request. In any case that's too much type in the synopsis not to lead to premature dramatic ejaculation.With 8 screens and the possibility of no more than that if you don't win, end on the best possible dramatic hook with the Jekyll/Hyde transformation in progress. I know 'adventures' is in the title but it's too much Holmes and Dr. Watson-esque without that other good Victorian style twist. You have scary art, a bound to be impressive scene of the Doc's transformation, only 8 screens to grab readers, so why not use it?

What the secret tunnels exploration in the screens did do was allow for some nice dark and moody art, with great use of lighting in the colors. I enjoyed the various lighting effects even as I wondered when Sharika was going to show up. The monster daughter revel was well done, as was the 'there's something behind me isn't there' gag. I enjoyed the art, but it's the coloring done on the comic throughout that made it so impressive. There was some nicely written banter between the two principles, but a little too much of it without the beginning of a Hyde reveal. The letters were all completely readable.  Well lit, good dialogue, but it ended on a humor line instead of the start of the Hyde reveal. A victim of screen 9 syndrome, when the story looks to really pick up in the screen you don't see unless the comics wins, or continues on somewhere else.  If the interest in the comic does result in getting a first issue published it should do very well in another longer format. Had it been Doc & Shok the first 8 pages of a 22 page comic it would have been great story structure, but it's Zuda and some of the potentially best parts of the tale got left in the synopsis.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Zuda Review Snipe Hunting/ I'm familiar with the southern variant

Snipe Hunting is another March Zuda comic done by Ian Williams (Mookie Blaylock) and returning Zuda vet JM Ringuet. Here is the synopsis: Snipe Hunting is an Americanized imagining of the infamous Dytalov Pass Incident. After a group of campers are mysteriously found dead, the "haunted" woods surrounding the coastal New England town of Narranghassett are teeming with paranormal investigators, FBI agents, and curious locals - each confident of the underlying cause of the deaths (Aliens, Terrorists, Jesus, Indian Curses...etc). The longer they search for clues in the woods to support their individual theories, the further they descend into the depths of paranoia, hallucinations, and intense mania. Will one theory be proven correct, or is everyone caught in a violent game of snipe hunting?

It's all right to be left holding the bag, just as long as you don't let the cat out of it.  Using the snipe hunting tradition/metaphor and mixing in some real life weirdness with the Dyatlov Pass Incident is a great start to build a story from.  The story starts off with paperboy Malcolm noticing the headlines talking about mysterious deaths blamed on a compelling force. When then see a benched Malcolm thanks to a coach that either hates him, or is crazy enough to worry about blowing a 18-0 lead in the sixth inning of a little league baseball game. I'm beating on hatred. Screen 2 is also the screen where you get a cuts of pork image in one of the panels, and a inclination Malcolm might not be right in the head. Later, he sneaks out of his house and leaves a 'dear dad' letter that talks about baseball being a red blooded sport  and no pink tea. 3 screens in and the story is already getting creepy as hell, which is a good sign in Sci-fi/horror story. It's start's getting surreal on screen 4 where Malcolm stumbles across two-headed men, evil looking clowns, and pumpkin-heads playing baseball, with a baseball that has a face. Malcolm is the star player in the game -of course- and wants to celebrate, which leads the characters he's playing with to make a dark turn and bring forth the horror element. Their appearances change into more gruesome characters  and 'they' go on a bloody rampage killing a UFO believer, while Malcolm sobs and hits his inhaler. Screen 8 is a full screen shot that shows a demonic crazy looking Malcolm covered in blood, with the corpse of the UFO believer beside him, and a image of the Dytalov Pass map behind him in the art. The text on screen 8 "since honest men are in the slime" accompanying the shot of Malcolm on his knees in a puddle of blood makes you think maybe the kid isn't a crazy/possessed/mind controlled killer after all. Along the way the possibility of a Indian curse causing the deaths is also worked into the story.

All the slaughterhouse imagery conjured up by the words and shown in the pictures will have you wondering what does the other white meat have to do with it? The ending sequence over the last few screens could be too revealing depending on how the story plays out, if future twists are reminiscent of High Tension, or Blair Witch Project 2. It could also be too much mystery if readers try to follow the clues and the story resolution doesn't match-up. Then again the ending could be left wide open enough that any or all of the above synopsis suspects could be responsible. The story is really a Sci-Fi/horror mystery, all the clues need to add up on the last screen no 'deus ex machina' endings need apply. The 'butcher boy' mind-set Malcolm seems to be operating with is either a red herring, red flag, or a little bit of both.  The 8 screens here really set expectations high, but with all the interlocking mystery over what's going on, I'm expecting one hell of a payoff should Snipe Hunting carry on. Regardless of future directions, the 8 screens of various possibilities for whats really going on come together for this submission. I'd particularly like to see more with the locals -maybe- the ones who think it was Jesus, or terrorists.

The writing delivers on the 'freaky shit going down' vibe I'm sure the creators were going for. JM Ringuet is an artist who does excellent work and the excellence continues here. Readers do have to pay attention to catch everything going on in the art, even then it's no sure thing you caught everything. A 8 screen submission with a high re-readability factor -genius! The colors fit the comic well, and all lettering is completely readable. Concerns about how it all plays out aside, It's a great start to a mystery I would enjoy reading on Zuda.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Zuda Review Leon and the Savage Fountain/ The lead character could be straight out of a cannibal exploitation film

Leon and the Savage Fountain is another March Zuda comic done by WEB99, w.a.r28, and klortho. Heere is the synopsis: Leon and the Savage Fountain is an epic tale of good vs. evil. The story is set on the backdrop of the New World, 1513. Leon has the misfortune of of traveling across the North Atlantic Ocean, with a crew of murderers and thieves, in search of myths and legends. The Fountain of Youth is said to keep old men young and bring life back to the dead. King Ferdinand II of Aragon demands this treasure to be not only the King of Spain but ruler of the world. Ponce de Leon will find this treasure thus making his king immortal and unstoppable. Long Live the King!

Have you ever seen any cannibal films? Yes, this does have something to do with this comic. Cannibal Holocaust, The Mountain of the Cannibal God, basically any one in the genre and you'll get the thematic feel of this comic right away. Noir style stories make an appearance this contest, but this was a surprise which made it a more interesting read.  Take out the cannibalism/exotic wildlife snuff film elements and you're left with some unsympathetic in the extreme bastards going 'exploring', pillaging and plundering the native people they encounter all along the way. You can also mix in the tone of Alan Moore's pirate comics EC tribute from Watchmen. It's the classic set-up of showing someone so horrible (in this comics case Ponce de Leon) that however awful their final fate is readers cheer it on. My problem is I don't know if this comics creators meant for Ponce de Leon to be such a villain, or they were intending Ponce to be a 'anti-hero'  and got cross of my Wolverine-types hatred. To me a character that has his sick men killed and thrown overboard, shoots a crew member in the head for being afraid of ghosts, and shoots a native child to show he wasn't a demon, lost anti-hero status back at 'has his sick men killed...' I don't mind reading stories where the main character is a villain, but trying to put a anti-hero spin on it would decrease my interest. If the evil is Ponce de Leon, and the good is the native people/ anyone but Leon, then this comic will have a regular reader in me. If Ponce is going to get a little redemption treatment in the storyline they have planned, that would be too much shades gray characterization for me.

Some of the opening text box thought balloons show a military man fanatically devoted to his king and country. In addition to being great writing (art and words in this comic are equally kick ass) it can't help but remind you of the self-justifying excuse of various atrocities committed 'in service to my country'. The story starts off bleak and gets even starker still. In some historical based comics I believe sticking as close as possible to real world history makes for the best story. In Leon and the Savage Fountain I think the story making up it's own history from this point on in 1513 would be the more interesting way to go. The magical element of the fountain of youth is already there, and otherwise Ponce de Leon dies from a poisoned arrow in 1521. Ponce de Leon finding the fountain and making the King of Spain immortal would definitely be a departure from history!

The text and dialogue make Ponce de Leon a memorable character, along with the high quality of art make this a very professional looking submission. The best screen of the comic for me is the splash page on screen 3. The previous screen lead up to it in the dialogue, and then in a well designed screen you see scores of dead bodies sinking in the ocean from a bottom-of-the-sea view. The art reminds me some of Marc Silvestri inked by Art Thibert. The homage studios look is still alive. Various other elements in the art from the George Washington Crossing the Delaware-esque silhouette in the top panel of screen 5, to the Where the Wild Things Are attired native boy shot and crawling back to his people on screen 8. The colors match the story, and all the lettering is readable. My concerns about the future treatment of Ponce de Leon considered, this is a horror comic that can send a legitimate chill down your spine. Not the kind of thing you find competing every month on Zuda, it's a shame it isn't higher ranked.         

Friday, March 19, 2010

Zuda Review Aleksander Christov: Assassin/ I thought it was wetworks, 'wet affairs' sounds slightly...

Aleksander Christov: Assassin is another March Zuda contestant currently ranked first place done by J9Naimoli and kenfrederick. Here is the synopsis: This is the story of a boy named Aleksander, who was raised by an abusive and alcoholic father, in Moratovo, Russia, during the cold war era. When Aleksander is faced with a decision of survival, he is launched into the biggest fight of his life – one that leads him to Leningrad and propels him from boyhood to the life of a skilled mercenary for the KGB’s Department 13, dealing in “wet affairs” such as spying, kidnapping and assassination. It is in this organization that Aleksander's every kill, or decision not to, unknowingly impacts the events of the cold war itself.  

The last line of that synopsis portends a bit of  'Forrest Gump style' choice seat for history story-telling. It could make for some sweet narrative twists and turns seeing Aleksander Christov unintended, or intended consequences. Hindsight being 20/20 there are any number of opportunities to work the lead character into the history of the Cold War. The historic aspects of this story is a draw to me because I'm such a history fan. The reason being back in my grade school days it was one of a few classes I was a lock for top marks. I have a appreciation for it only a report card payout of $10.00 an A  in my tween years could instill. Should Aleksander Christov: Assassin hold on for a win integrating real world history is one of the draws to keep me coming back for further updates. I hope this comic doesn't rewrite actual history for it's own world, beyond the possibly obligatory who was that masked man on the grassy knoll scene.

Enough about future possibilities, the 8 screens themselves had a surprising 'slice of life' quality to them considering the title implied action/adventure genre. This is owed to some fantastic art, scripting, and colors that fit the story. Letters being legible always a plus on Zuda. With the right amount of research, or actual Russian roots, it would be a fascinating story just to see a 'hard knock life' kid growing up in the U.S.S.R. Add on the promise of KGB skulduggery suspense this could be one of the more impressive titles to win a Zuda contest recently.

The 8 screen introduction to Aleksander shows readers a young teen having to hunt for food, and dealing with an abusive father. It lays all the groundwork for the ironies of life to be introduced later. His father taught him how to kill, wanted to be in the KGB, and ends up dead after a confrontation over a gun in the last screens. Text box thought balloons generally irk the hell out of me, but the ones here were well written, and not too lengthy. The realistic portrayal of domestic booze fueled violence was more griping than many Zuda offerings, right down to young Aleksander trying to escape out of a window, but being unable to. I once wrote in a review "if your going to do a western comic, you need to know how to draw a horse" so I appreciated the well drawn animals in the hunting part of this. The screen layouts don't do anything flashy, but they do tell the story in a straight forward way any reader will enjoy. A classic cliff hanger ending that leaves readers wanting to know what happens next, means it's no surprise this comic is fighting it out for the win.         

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Caption this/ People that make your skin crawl


Rielle Hunter & friends... on a bed... now say eeeeewwwww in a Jim Varney voice. 
Putting Kermit through something like that, GQ should be ashamed of themselves, the bastards. 

Monday, March 15, 2010

Zuda Review Night at the Western/ When a nameless narrator doesn't set the mood

Night at the Western is a March Zuda competitor done by lancebailey, CesarSebastian, and fonografiks. Here is the synopsis: California, winter, the late 1980s: lost on their way to bigger things in Los Angeles, a small-time conman and a thief reluctantly stop over for the night at the run-down Western Motel, in the agricultural hinterland. What should be just a short rest on their way to the big city becomes a wrong turn toward death itself. It is a detour one of them will not survive, and the other will never forget. Nick, the greedy conman, is drawn into what seems like an easy $10,000 scheme by Laura, the pretty night manager of the motel. He figures one quick score on the way to Los Angeles won’t hurt. Our nameless narrator, tired of a thieving life and hoping this will be his last job, follows reluctantly along. As the tension comes to a boiling point, the pair find themselves dragged into a plot that neither of them understands, unwitting players in a high-stakes game with opponents far more desperate than they. Nothing at the Western Motel is as it seems. Before sunrise, more than one person will be dead, and the lives of everyone will be turned upside down by a collision of lust, greed, jealousy and desperation. The plot twists, and twists again. With a full cast of honorable thieves, desperate criminals, disturbed relatives, and a femme fatale whose depths nobody understands, Night at the Western is a crime tale that pays homage to noir classics such as The Postman Always Rings Twice, Detour and Blood Simple..

You have some nice text box narration in this comic starting out, and some nicely design screens in the art. The beginning screen has some sepia-tone 'picture' panels which show the Western back in it's halcyon days of glory along with a modern day (for the story) sign having some busted lights, a nice set-up to seeing just how run down the place is on screen 2. There are some nice uses of shadow throughout the story, and lighting a character by the lights of a vending machine. Letters are all readable, the colors fit the story. It's not all good. This comic goes for too much text box narration to invoke the noir feel and fails to avoid the standard pitfalls of the genre.

For me the biggest deciding factor in whether or not a noir style comic works is how it handles the inner monologue of the lead character. With movie voice-overs and comic text boxes you can't do too much repetitious, or non-sequitur thoughts. Even what -mostly- worked for Frank Miller in Sin City comics got to be too damn much for a movie. It's not prose with pictures (moving or not) you don't need to rely on text box narration to describe a character when readers can just see the character for ourselves. You have something you want readers to know? Show it in the art, or tell it in the words, but don't do both in the same panel. This happens more than once in this comic with the narration description of people readers can see in the comic what they look like. it's not like the various descriptions added any particular insight, for example: Nick's general shiftiness/ reaction to Laura is well established by the art and character dialogue. It's not a bad thing 8 screens into a story to let readers imagine for themselves just how much of a bastard somebody is.  Screen 7 has the text box narration describing a kids crazy laugh as: It was the laugh of a lobotomy case, meaningless and loud, and as he laughed, his head nodded up and down like a jack-o-lantern on a stick. It also included some Sfx: HuhhuhhuhHuhHuh HUHHAHAHA! I liked the background didn't change for these three panels and the passage of time was shown by the dancers movements towards then away from the little boy. All that thoughtful descriptive laugh commentary was needless and detracted from the story. Have the letter go crazy with putting that laugh sound effect on the page, with even more/bigger font  than what was actually done. Comic fans see a character laughing crazier than the Creeper they can figure out for themselves the kid has problems. It's a comic ease up on the noir tribute speak and play up those kooky cool sound effects. The comic ends with the nameless narrator getting all reflective about his little brother Frankie who was abused by the other kids because of his disabilities. 'Nameless' tracked them down so now they leave Frankie along. It wasn't much of a insight to character, and unless Frankie is going to show up in this comic just more unneeded narration. I get the kid brother 'identify with' tie-in with the crazy laugh kid, but it wasn't much to end on.

Having a nameless narrator doesn't do much for the atmosphere here. The Continental Op had a title, and Clint Eastwood in the 'man with no name' Dollars trilogy had a variety of monikers. If a character has a name (at least a title) that stands out I can identify with the character better. The more I can do that, the more likely you are to get my vote on Zuda because I'll want to see what happens next.

Once again this is a comic that is synopsis snake bit. The synopsis actually did a good job of setting up the mystery, it's a pity the comic didn't hew closer to it. "It is a detour one of them will not survive, and the other will never forget" is a good line that had me wondering while I was reading who was going to get killed. Maybe Nick was going to die, or maybe the creators were going to pull a switch and have the narrator killed off and Nick take over narration duties? My looking forward to being surprised was over by screen 4 when it's revealed Nick dies. You can have suspense where readers wonder who killed one of the main characters. You can have suspense where readers wonder which main character gets killed, and who killed him. Zuda readers which would you find more suspenseful as the story goes along?

Night at the Western isn't a bad comic, it just tried too hard to establish noir cred. Less narration, more leaving things up to readers interpretation of the art, and I'd like to see these creators back again.

Zuda Review Island, Alone/ Cool monsters, kick ass island babe, and a touch of Heart of Darkness

My vote February in Zuda  was for Island, Alone (blog here) which is written by Zuda vet creator Shawn Aldridge, and drawn by Rich Fuscia. Island Alone was in the lead for most of the contest, but lost in the final day. Here is the synopsis: For John Wharton discovering the island Mayda was to be his greatest triumph, but when he finds himself on its shores, not as explorer but as castaway, his greatest triumph may be just surviving the night. Wharton soon realizes, though, that surviving is easier said than done, as the island and its inhabitants are unlike anything he has ever seen. If he has any chance of returning home, he must unlock the secrets of Mayda—secrets it doesn't seem all that willing to give up. The key to its mysteries and to his own survival may lie in the hands of the only other “human” on the island, a girl who seems to have a few secrets of her own.

The jungle adventure/explorer story with it's accompanying damsel in distress has been around a long time. Comics have came a long way from the days of Denny O'Neil thinking it would be empowering to have Wonder Woman lose her powers and learn judo instead. Here in this comic the Buffy the Vampire Slayer tradition is continued of turning that outdated trope up on it's head by having the damsel rescue the endangered guy's ass. I'm jumping ahead to the last few screens, but I loved the ending as a cool cliff-hanger. Island girl shows up and is playfully confident in telling Wharton she is his friend, but the big scary monster behind him isn't with a wag of the finger. She looks like she's ready to kick monster ass on the last screen, he looks scared shit-less -which is probably a good thing. All the words are readable, and the colors suit the story throughout. The creators said they had some unexpected twists and turns in store for the story, so I hope somewhere/someday we get the chance to seem them. All the genre expectations are met, and in the lasts screens I think those unexpected twists started to emerge.

The story starts off with Wharton and his friend Kozlov on a dirigible looking for that fabled island. Well designed monsters making a dramatically timed appearance only adds to my enjoyment of stories like this. A cool looking creature shows up to wreck havoc on the characters and give readers a inclination of what's in store for them. The attack leaves Kozlov presumed dead and Wharton airship wrecked and floating on the sea in a robinsonade manner. The text accompanying him making his way to the island had the tone of a survivor's diary journal from a few hundred years ago, with a hint of Heart of Darkness. It's well written, not too long, text box-less, and invokes a mood that's largely lost today.  

My favorite panel in the comic, which shows the artist can do just as fantastic a job with people as with monsters:

All it's needing is some kind of immanent threat to fully invoke those old 'eye injury' panels from the golden oldies of comics which I enjoy. It's also a good depiction of a person's face just before something really bad happens. Screen 1 starts with an establishing shot and ends on this, which is a good way to get you to click to the next screen where the monsters start showing up. Writing for Zuda isn't like doing a submission for other comic companies, readers decide who gets in on reading 8 screens, so you need to get on with the story-telling. Island, Alone made full use of the Zuda parameters with its words and art to get readers to want to see the strip continue. It tells a effective cliff hanger story in 8 screens, no wasted space or wasted screens. Island, Alone had my vote for the previous month. I hope even if this strip doesn't continue (somehow/someway) we will see more work from  Shawn Aldridge and Rich Fuscia.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Be The Beat/ Snowflakes team up for Heart Health Month

We hope to encourage more teens to become the next generation of lifesavers.
-Michael Sayre, M.D., chair of the American Heart Association’s Emergency Cardiovascular Care Committee

February is Heart Health Month and the Snowflakes comics crew is working with Be The Beat to get the word out to tweens and teens about cardiac arrest awareness, and to teach young people CPR.The Be The Beat site is aimed at 12-15 year old's, from my little sister I know if you want to get teens and tweens attention you need a interactive web site with games and prizes to hold their interest. With Be The Beat younger people learn about what to do in case of a emergency that could save someone's life, the more involved in the site you get  the more prepared you are. The games, quizzes, and comics all combine to help teach kids to save lives, along the way they win points which entitle them to various rewards on site. The more points, the better the prize, the more they explore the site to raise their score, the more they learn. It's a nice bit of synergy for a very good cause.  From the press release the goal is: According to the American Heart Association, during a cardiac arrest, the heart suddenly stops beating normally and the victim collapses into unconsciousness.  Oxygen-rich blood stops circulating.  Without quick action, such as immediate CPR, a victim of cardiac arrest can die within four to six minutes. By increasing the number of people who know how to respond properly to sudden cardiac arrest, Be the Beat will help increase the odds of bystander CPR and AED use and give more cardiac arrest victims a better chance at life.

That is the definition of a good cause, and I love seeing comics used to help spread the word. Snowflakes is actually a very funny comic it's not that easy for a ongoing gag strip to make me laugh, and making readers think at the same time is a real accomplishment. The creators behind Snowflakes are Chris Jones, Zach Weiner, and James Sandlin Ashby. You should give their web site a read as well the American Heart Association/Be The Beat is one storyline/ it is also accompanied by a ongoing Snowflakes storyline featuring the characters Sloan and Wray. Snowflakes is about young kids in a mountain orphanage and the various predicaments children can get themselves involved in. It's smart and FUNNY!

I know Be The Beat is aimed at a younger audience than I normally get, but there is very useful information on the site regardless of age. There is also a link for teachers, parents, and adults to go to.  I think it would be worthwhile to pass it along to younger people, your children, or any kid siblings you may have.
Hi Gwen! ;)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Zuda Review NewBot/ Simplicity in storytelling is a virtue

NewBot was created by Chuck Harrison and finished 2nd in January at Zuda. Here is the synopsis: A new world waits for a small integrated circuit. Superficial visions appear as our NewBot realizes that it’s not alone. There are more. Blockades are breached as communication is achieved. Obstacles materialize in our electronic heroes path. NewBot is a comic on the subject of the creation of a tiny integrated circuit with a metallic exterior and lustrous green eyes. NewBot is a narrative about how something new perceives the world around it. Binary is the only language used. 01010110100010101000101000110101

01001000 01101111 01110111 00100000 01100011 01100001 01101110 00100000 01111001 01101111 01110101 00100000 01101110 01101111 01110100 00100000 01101100 01101111 01110110 01100101 00100000 01110100 01101000 01100101 00100000 01110010 01101111 01100010 01101111 01110100 00111111 

I was tempted to do this whole review in binary, but I figured that would be madding. The most important thing I got from this comic -besides the awesome robots- was how charming straight forward storytelling can be. The robots speaking in binary was a nice touch, equal parts cool and cute, but for the most part this is a silent comic. Silent comics are harder to do than works with dialogue, whatever story you want to tell has to be easily readable in the art, so any reader can figure whats being said. There is bound to be variations, but a general consensus on what's going down needs to be attainable. Here a new little robot is created, his creator introduces him to his brother robots, the inventor gets too happy/excited and has a heart attack then dies. The other robots are confused about what happened, start to gather around, and ask the NewBot, who tells them their inventor is gone. The old bot's blame NewBot, their eyes turn read, and as the comic ends NewBot seems to be facing a angry mob that irrationally blames them for their creators demise. You can  take the story a number of ways depending on your point of view. It can be just a cute little robot facing a hostile world you empathize with, or you can get more serious and see this story as a example of the dangers of a angry mindless mob, unjust persecution, and scapegoating justification. The secret of success of this silent story is the basic plot can be followed, but each reader is going to project their own feelings and experiences onto the lead character. It doesn't just 'work' on any number of levels it works on each individual readers level. If you've ever in  your life felt singled out as the fall guy, you can root for NewBot. If you like cute little characters trying to make their way in the big bad world, you can root for NewBot. It's a robot so anyone and everyone can identify and cheer him on. 


It's never as easy as it looks, every panel, and the composition there of matters. The only color in this comic is the eyes of the robots and their chest plates. Which  came in handy in the depiction of the robots anger later on in the screens, even at the start strong narrative decisions were made. These robots creator's face wasn't seen till screen 3 which was a nice split between NewBot's P.O.V. and the inventor's. You also see physical comedy as NewBot shakes with fear as it is first picked up and doesn't understand what is going on. NewBot's surprise is shown when it is presented before the rest of the robots. NewBot's 'Hi everybody' meeting of the rest of the brood can't help but remind you of the first day of kindergarten when kids begin their school attending odyssey. When the inventor first starts to have chest pains (and presumably drops dead)  it's a surprise considering the tenor of the previous pages. Things go from light and fluffy to deadly serious -but the cute art work remains. To do something like that without it being a glaring juxtaposition takes story-telling skills that deserves even more appreciation than a second place finish. By the end of the 8 screens Chuck had got me to care what happens to NewBot next, especially as it is a well done cliffhanger danger ending . Having readers wanting to see what happens next is the most important quality a Zuda creator can hope for, so that even if a competitor doesn't win the contest readers will still want to see the title live on.
If you haven't already checked out the strip, give it a read and see if you don't want to cheer the little robot on!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Zuda Review War Of The Fallen/ If you have pretty young people, and a ancient evil -they'll get together

War Of The Fallen finished in the 4 spot January on Zuda it was created by Quinton J. Bedwell . Here is the synopsis: Hannah Sephan is a normal girl attending a University in the quaint town of Northwood Hills. Her goals and everyday life is much the same as any young woman her age. When fellow college girls start disappearing she begins having horrific dreams of their mutilated corpses warning her of impending danger. She dismisses the dreams until the disappearances get closer to home and the dreams become more ominous and violent. The FBI's Agent Frank Shepard, is sent in to investigate the disappearances when he discovers that everything leads back to Hannah. Their destinies collide spiraling them both into a web of intense secrecy and suspense. The closer they get to the truth the more they realize that what's going on is infinitely bigger than either could have imagined. There is an ancient evil residing in Northwood Hills that has been patiently waiting and searching for something that could tip the balance in a war that has spanned the ages. Soon, Hannah's simple life of books, friends, and fun is transformed into blood, gore, and war.


The first thing I noticed was you couldn't read the font in small screen, and its not that easy to read it full screen. There is a lot of dialogue, most of which is well written, so ease of reading would have been a improvement on something already well done. It starts off with a nicely done establishing shot that moves into Hannah and her friends having a conversation about some missing  girls. The dialogue is handled very well reveals useful facts, and the banter moves along characterization. Hanah has the classic 'bumping into each other scene with F.B.I. agent Shepard, and a good use of silhouette with her friends telling her way to get that number. This goes along with the 'kooky old professor type'  Professor Locke who's giving a lecture coincidentally enough on the 'fallen'. Hannah falls asleep in clash and has one of those ominous dreams of the missing girl coming back as a monster and repeating "I wanna go home" and "all your fault" over and over again. The lettering style fit the creepy dream, and the whole way the sequence was framed was a nice touch. Screen 4 is the stand out screen here. Half the screen is Hannah's confrontation with the dream monster girl done with all angles askew, the other half of the page being her taken to a hospital depicted in level rectangles. The coloring isn't horrible, but it is 'just good enough to pass' colors are too rich considering the subject matter. Very good dialogue, and great screen design are this comics two strong suits.


I'm not kidding about that cliche business this comic has every element of the 'supernatural horror/chosen defender' genre shoe horned into these 8 screens. Even with all that it still got a favorite from me because it combined so many horror standards together so well. That's part compliment, and part wish on my part that instead of putting everything but the kitchen sink in this comic, Bedwell had left a few influences out to put more of a original spin on what he had in the title. I'm no comic reading novice, or purist -I know there is nothing new under the sun, and the wheel doesn't get reinvented too many times when it comes to stories. More of a effort can be made to put your own spin on things within the submission so readers can see them, instead of waiting for that fabled 9th screen. Hannah wakes up in the hospital with Shepard by her side in the course of the conversation they mention Locke moving the story along. On screen 6 some mysterious looking men in black arrive and start killing their way towards Hannah. A nice touch on the part of the creator was a Jay Leno monologue included since he was on the TV one of the soon to be dead humans were watching. Screen 7 is a nice suspenseful screen (Bedwell does great layouts) plenty of long shadows, turns out the men in black are monsters, and as Shepard and Hannah hide behind a curtain the two monsters are beheaded with a loud SPLATT! Readers don't actually see them beheaded, just two shadows behind a curtain, then two headless shadows, then a man with a really big sword.  The last screen is the reveal of Professor Locke moving aside the curtain holding the sword saying he believed Shepard had some question. Locke is also the one who arranged for Hannah's protection, and spoke Latin just like the monsters. It's a action cliffhanger ending, to set up the characters future struggle. I would like to see this creator back again with a more focused title giving readers more of his take on a genre, instead of making sure all the parts of a horror heroine story get thrown in. 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Zuda Review Beyond The Borderlands/ If only the comic had been more like the synopsis

Beyond The Borderlands was a January Zuda contender finished last in a nine comic race. It was created by Brian McLachlan, here is the synopsis: In a low-fantasy world, heroes wander Beyond the Borderlands of the civilized kingdoms looking for adventure. Tree-man Norn and sword scholar Moriarty Muscletooth find an empty graveyard that leads them to an even creepier empty town. Jellyfish Cove has been cursed by the MerKing with eternal winter. While the town is mostly abandoned, there is one sorceress who has plans to fight back against the fish folk. Meanwhile the wandering heroes uncover threads of a deeper plot afoot.
This is a sword and sorcery story of intrigue and action. The setting is a pseudo-feudal world where people of various skin tones mingle. There is a sense of history with ancient legends, ruins and thriving cities. People commonly take up the wanderer's life when they don't want to be nailed down to their parent's profession. Think of adventurers like musicians in the real world. Some are wannabes, some are DIYs, some are rock stars and some are has beens. It's just the monsters that will kill you, not the heroin.
The Jellyfish Cove story arc follows a group that's beginning their first great tour. Spoiler alert - In the full-length story you will meet parasitic vampires, a werebadger and a beautiful young necromancer with a heart of gold.


The synopsis biggest hook was recasting fantasy adventurers as the musicians of our day, but this high (good) concept wasn't realized in the 8 screens. Too many screens were wasted on tip-toeing through the tulips -so to speak- to get to the mausoleum on screen 4. The two lead characters are  Norn some kind of fantasy  creature -could be a wood sprite- and some other unnamed wizard sort  spend the first half walking and engaging in some pointless dialogue. They spot a mausoleum and wander off -slowly- to check it out, arguing between themselves if they should give it a look. Some of the back story of the synopsis is revealed and you see some 'sword scholar' magic on display with the human looking of the two using his powers. None of that adds up to enough reason to spend half the comic on set-up, it's a fantasy comic the characters should have been walking through that door by screen 2. It's only 8 screens in a Zuda contest, you need to hit the ground running in the telling of the story if you want to win. The colors are okay, lettering is legible,  the art has moments of showing a Mike Allred influenced style that's not a problem to me. The pace does pick up during the exploring of the mausoleum, turns out a sarcophagus is empty and the cemetery hidden beneath has had all the bodies removed  by underground tunnels leading to the surface, which established a nice mystery. The pace immediately gets slowed down again by the comic ending on the adventures following tracks to the abandoned snow-pocalypse town of Jellyfish Cove. I understand the characters following the clues to solve the mystery, but the last screen was so devoid of good layouts/dramatic action it left me wondering why I should care what happens to this comics leads? If your going to end on a abandoned town  do something a little atypical in the layout from the rest of the comic to let readers see something screwy is going on.  Having 4 itty-bitty squares showing empty beds and abandoned food  is less than impressive, it's boring. Nothing about the last screens layout would ever reach out and grab readers, and you want to end on a high note.

A full screen of a creepy looking snowed in town would have had more impact on readers instead of the 'one side of a small Rubik's Cube' style ending McLachlan went with.


Where things go wrong is Brian McLachlan trying to create his own slang to help add realism/ extra layers to his story - I guess... It's been done before and failed before on Zuda instead of striking a note of originality it just turns off readers who don't get what the characters are talking about. It also isn't needed in only 8 screens save the experimental dialogue for if you win, deliver as good as story as you can without a self imposed handicap of oddball fantasy speak. The classic example in this comic is the line "Help me a hand" which just sounds awful. I used to play D&D, I've read Lord of the Rings, I understand the feeling of wanting to immerse readers into your world by having unique dialogue, but you have to fight it. It just doesn't work on Zuda because of space limitations, it's not that big a draw in these types of stories anyway, and there are always a few who wonder if it was written so clunky in spite of a creators effort instead of on purpose. Having your own terminology for a comic on Zuda doesn't do anything but make it harder for you to win past contests have proved this. The best part of this comic was Norn in the tunnels. The coloring was well done, and his thought balloons made him sound like a regular person. The more fantastical elements included in a story the more 'real earth' your characters should sound as a counter balance. Norn's thoughts in the tunnels were perfect "Many men mine for gems and gold, but bodies...? What creeps within this crypt?" see those lines had the flavor of made-up medieval, but weren't twisted around so much as to make readers think the creator was trying too hard. If the 8 screens had shown more of what was in the synopsis in a dynamic way, less ostentatious dialogue,  the comic would have finished higher than it did.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Zuda Review Pavlov's Dream/ Spending eternity in Candyland

Pavlov's Dream was a January Zuda comic which finished sixth, but is set to continue on off Zuda here. It was created by Shari Chankhamma and Kelsie Yoshida. Here is the synopsis:  The afterlife is different things to different people. To some it's a fiery pit of doom and suffering, others envision it as eternal paradise, and some don't believe it exists at all. Brothers Sasha and Micha never gave it much thought until the day a living shadow enters their lives. Of course, no one believes the tall tales of a sentient shadow Sasha spins, not even his elder brother, until it sweeps both boys away to the land of the dead, a place that is everything and nothing like they'd been told.
Once there they must find their way back home with the help of their new friend and a dead pet goldfish with a penchant for blowing bubbles, avoiding the dangers of a world where just about anything can happen, few things are what they seem, and possessing a pulse makes one a tempting target. But that’s just the start of their adventure, because when the afterlife spills into the land of the living, things really start to get messy.
Now it’s up to two young boys, a wayward spirit and a fish to set things right before the whole world unravels around them. 


It's not my go-to genre, but I can definitely appreciate the quality work in this comic. It starts out with Sasha doing shadow puppets on the wall, then the shadow comes alive. It was a well designed screen with very well rendered characters. One of the unique aspects about this comic is Sasha starts out speaking in pictographs as he tries to explain the weird happenings to his family. Sasha doesn't actually speak in words until screen 4, and that doesn't happen till Micha sees for himself the shadow boy on the wall. Between the funny pics and character expressions it works to make readers more curious as to what's going on. Seeing that actual words will be used is a sign in and of itself to readers things are moving on to the next beat of the story. Picto-speak isn't that easy to pull off but it works to convey the excitement of this young child in a more expressive way than just a bigger font could pull off. It also fits into the characterization that Sasha can't slow down enough to be really understood by anyone till his bother knows he is telling the truth. A smart bit of narrative there that takes advantage of the medium of comics. The dialogue-dialogue also fit all of the characters and was just as well done.The colors also aid this comic in pulling off the story-book feel, not too harsh, not too light -it just fits the story.  You have a nicely done action sequence of the shadow boy turning into a bird and leading the brothers into a bureau that happens to be the gateway to the afterlife.


The afterlife Sasha and Micha end up in is actually a fairy tale landscape style place with big yellow leaves and mushrooms all around. It's a nice -but not surprising- twist on the standard gloom and doom of the afterlife. I also appreciated the technical details of the story AKA effective use of comic book short hand. The creators have the good sense to leave what's unnecessary in the gutters between the panels. As the brothers and shadow boy make their journey to the portal to the land of living  I enjoyed how changing the colorful background conveyed a lot of travel in few panels. The comic ends with the boys crossing paths with the goldfish mentioned in the synopsis and readers get the impression the little band is finally completed and the rest of the story is about to begin. For younger readers, or older readers going for a more up-beat story book read they will probably enjoy this story. The only real failing is it doesn't have that cross over appeal a story like this needs. How many times have you read something and said to yourself 'it isn't normally my kind of thing, but something about this story makes it stand out from it's genre/style confines and grab me as a reader'? That hook that expands creators predictable audience is missing from this comic. If your more into story book tales that skip the grim -then do give this comic a shot over at it's new home.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Zuda Review Phantom Sword/ The amazing technicolor fantasy adventure

Phantom Sword was a January Zuda competitor done by Nick Edwards which finished in the third spot. This is the synopsis: Henry, a young, adventurous boy and his guardian Gumb take on a quest that could be their greatest yet. They once again run into the notorious demon wizard, Shanks, as he corrupts the forest and turns the once good creatures against them. Through use of Gumb’s book of monsters and the power of Henry’s Phantom Sword they must slay and capture the beasts of the forests. Yet not all the creatures can be defeated so easily. Therefore the duo must take on multiple quests in order to obtain the necessary trinkets, armor and weapons needed to slay or free the beasts. As these events unfold and our heroes get closer to Shanks’ lair we start to discover more about our intrepid adventurers, the mysteries behind the Phantom Sword, the secrets of Henry’s father, Gumb’s origins and Henry’s forced premature jump into adulthood. Phantom Sword mixes epic fantasy, a buddy movie and the smaller more significant accounts of a young boy becoming aware of the world around him.


Gumb is a egg shaped fuzzy, wuzzy, with magical powers, Henry is the young errant knight on a  acid trip crusade. The thing that stands out most about this comic is the coloring work. The star characters stand out like a neon sign in a already colorful back drop. They're looking for a forest god named Gregory and they find him on screen 3. The character design on Gregory is as tripy as the other characters, it serves to draw you into the story. Turns out Gregory has a translator -who's an owl- who offers our heroes a quest. Henry accepts the quest with a flourish as he pulls  the Phantom Sword out of it's scabbard and readers find out some evil forest flower is tainting everything causing the woods and woodland creatures to rot and die. The comic has a good pace that moves right along through the story without wasting screens. Shanks is a demon believed to be responsible for the evil plot and the art works well with the character narration to tell the story. The reward for this quest added some humor to the comic. With a bag of gold, and a bag with badges on it offered, while Gumb wished they had heard what the mission was about before accepting it. The lettering was done in a fun style that stood out on the page. It ends with Henry coming face to face with a huge -fairly scary- monster summoned by Shanks, and Gumb being knocked out cold by a lighting bolt.


The most impressive quality this comic has is how well Nick makes use of the 8 screens you have in a Zuda contest. You have a good bit of story with no drag assing around till you get to the payoff confrontation at the end. It's not my go-to genre, but I do appreciate the effort that went into this comic. It is more of a all ages/younger readers tale in style, and it didn't have enough elements for adult readers to grab me. No lines or jokes that worked on two levels and would be a wink and a nod to grown-up readers. For younger readers I don't think it would be challenging enough. Scary monsters and a powerful sword are nice, but a more complex/convoluted plot line would have helped not hindered this comic. Everything was well put together but more background on the two lead's, lines aimed at older readers, or more expository dialogue would have made me feel there was something here for everyone instead of just younger readers. As it was, this comic either missed my age group -or I'm too old and grumpy to embrace the whimsy.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Zuda Review War Of The Woods/ The winner and latest champion

War Of The Woods by Matthew Petz is the winner of Zuda January 2010. It got a favorite from me and my vote, here is the synopsis:  War Of The Woods is a classic alien invasion story told from an entirely unique point of view, that of the animals of the New Jersey Pine Barrens. Father and son otters Nathaniel and Phinneas Waterbrooks will embark on an adventure with close friend, turtle Issac Brownshell. They, along with the rest of the animal kingdom, will not only survive but fight back against the greatest threat the planet has ever known.
Phin is a young Otter who loves reading the forgotten comic books of hikers and campers. Nathaniel, his father, is a fisherman descended from a long line of fisherman. He has cared for Phin alone since the death of his wife. Issac is his good friend and a grandfatherly figure to Phin. Through the eyes of these three we begin to witness the invasion. When UFOs begin descending upon the Earth the lives of all animals will never be the same. War Of The Woods is sprawling saga that will introduce us to the animals and their societies during this crisis. Phin will find himself at the center of a great war, a war that will take our characters all over the world, and a war for the future of the planet.
War of the Woods is an epic adventure along the lines of The Road, Lord of The Rings, and Aliens. It follows the quiet moments of survival and the explosive moments of a planet on the brink. At its core it is about a father and son and the bonds we all share during extraordinary times. 


The synopsis is a bit on the long side, but it does a good job of setting things up, and previewing future events. The lettering is completely readable, and I'm glad the comic is in color, black and white wouldn't have been as impressive to me for this story. The art and story was a perfect fit and this really impressed me. You had big moments in the art like the screen 6 full screen shot of Phin, Nathaniel, and Issac, riding off on Darby the deer, and smaller touches like the spaceship reflections in panel 2, screen 2. With the dialogue you had Phin shouting WhooHoooo! as he rode off using Issac as a helmet, and Phin and Nathaniel worried this would be just like the alien invasion they read about in issue twenty of Super Adventures. All of this adds up to great characterization, and the more readers care about your characters, the more inclined they are to vote for it. That elusively defined 'story-book' feel is what makes it, or breaks it for a story like this, and it looks easier to pull off than it is. Heroic good-guy characters not hit with not too many gray strokes coming together in a fantastical story to face some sort of danger. The use of animals as main characters doesn't just provide a different take on the classic alien invasion story (just what are animals up to with humans are fighting an invasion), but they can also engender a great deal of sympathy, and a quicker connection to readers than human characters. Reading this comic is almost enough to make you want a pet otter, similar to the 'naked mole rat' effect of the Kim Possible cartoon. As the story goes on you're introduced to more denizens of the forest as the animals go from listing to the radio to watching TV. The cliffhanger last screen was well done revealing the alien menace, and showing the animals surprise -which matched my surprise. Those are some scary looking aliens to be going up against!   


To use technology, or not to use technology? Or, just how human-like to make these animals anyway? I actually enjoyed the idea that most of these animals know how to operate a TV, a radio, and -evidently- read discarded human magazines. I understand it was a question to Matthew about how tech-savvy to make the characters, but I think making them just a little more human in that regard opens up story-telling possibilities. The big hook of this story is seeing what the animals are doing, while the humans fight off the alien invasion. You can guess that the animals will confront the aliens sooner, or later -but how that goes I couldn't guess. The future direction of this strip and possible twists and turns was a big draw in it winning the contest. You just don't really know what's going to happen next? The reason I think it won (besides a get out the vote effort) is how well it managed to make you care about the characters with great characterization in only 8 screens. Just because that doesn't happen often in any given  contest doesn't mean it can't be done.     

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Zuda Review Road Monster/ A road trip with characters who care about life

Road Monster is another Zuda competitor this month done by Nicolás Raúl Sánchez Brondo and Diego Cortés. Here is the synopsis: Road Monster is a quest, an attempt by father and son to free from a curse. They must travel across a country that is packed with monsters, demons and horrors. They will face terror the best way they can. They will try to help the innocent and pure, seeking to stop the evil they see around them. They follow a legend of an exorcist, who lives on the road and fights the forces of darkness. They will not stop until they find him. Will they survive the madness and horror? Will they escape the curse?


From screen 1 on  that Grindhouse film feel transposed over to the comics medium is alive and kicking. It starts out with two men pulling up to some out of the way hell-hole house in a appropriately dissolute landscape. They look like a pair of bad asses and you just know some violence is going to be going down by screen 8. On screen 3 they pass by a young child begging for help on their way into the house, which was a nice dramatic moment. It was very effective way of revealing character without having to resort to a lot of dialogue. I figured it for a artistic decision, the trouble is that kept things too quiet between the characters, when more of a conversation on later screens would have given this comic more of a chance to standout. Minimalistic dialogue is all well and good, but the more you can establish about what the hell is going on in your story the better you avoid being a generic entry. How dare I call their work generic!!! Two guys ride around in a kick-ass car fighting demons, what does that sound like to you? No the answer isn't the Supernatural T.V. show. If 'two guys ride around in a car fighting demons' was all  Eric Kripke had when he made his pitch Supernatural never would have ended up as a show even on the WB network. Originally they were two tabloid reporters, but that got changed to two brothers. Here in Road Monster the two men are father and son, lots of drama can be found there. The problem is if you only read the comic (a lot of Zuda readers don't go near the synopsis) you don't even know they're father and son. If you only read the comic you don't even know they're father and son. Just how hard would it have been to have the younger man say "okay dad" just one time. I automatically care more about a father and son, instead of just two guys, in a story because of all the possibilities that opens up. If something goes wrong will the father be forced to sacrifice himself for his son? Will the son sacrifice himself for the father?   How does a family end up in this kind of situation? How does the dad feel about the son tagging along risking his life? These are all questions readers would wonder about, and pay more attention to this comic to see what happens next, if the readers knew they were father and son. Give  readers a reason to give a damn about the characters.The coloring of this comic moves from nice and edgy to something more along the lines of Grendel: Black, White, and Red. The transition to so much red and black was jarring, but jarring worked to make the art more impressive. The comic ends with a cool looking demon exploding out of a out-house while taking a shit at the same time.


I've only ever seen one episode of Supernatural (don't like the show), but come on, this comic lends itself to an obvious comparison to that show. The creators probably are going in a different direction from that show, but it doesn't matter. Two brothers riding around fighting demons, a father and son riding around fighting demons. The comparison is going to happen. It happened with past Zuda winner Celadore done by Caanan Grall . It has a young woman who fights vampires, Buffy the Vampire Slayer has a young woman who fights vampires -comparisons were made. The two stories are actually nothing alike (I think Caanan even said he never watched the show), but the comparisons were still made. It happened with the original Captain Marvel and Superman, even though besides good guys in capes with vast super-powers in common, the characters are very different. Comparisons are going to happen, it's up to the creators to take things in a different direction than what readers might be expecting. You can't show all that in 8 screens, but a little more conversation could have given a little more insight into the characters.

Zuda Review Iron Sam/ Wonder what the Yojimbo program does?

Iron Sam is another Zuda competitor this month done by David Dumeer. Here is the synopsis: Iron Sam, a pipe wielding robot-samurai, is found kicking ass in what appears to be a dystopian future, or more specifically, a scrap heap in some sort of dystopian desert future. What Iron Sam has to do with a gang of bikers, a little girl he saved, and a local bordering town has yet to be uncovered. What we do know about Iron Sam is that he doesn't "play nice" when threatened and usually literally carries out whatever taunt is hurled at him. What we'll learn is where he comes from, why he follows his directives so violently, and what the deal is with the local town, in the future adventures of Iron Sam.


I'll get to the comic in a minute, but right now I'm just slightly in awe of how well that synopsis is done. It names the major players in the comic, talks about the set-up/world of the story, and previews future events and conflicts. It also doesn't go on forever, but just covers what it needs to cover. Dumeer could run a clinic for synopsis writing, and the way things are looking, he needs to. Most people seem to care less about the synopsis, but I'm one of the people who do care.


You had a very well designed first screen that mixed Iron Sam's Robocop style directive screen, with the dark interiors a little girl is hiding in. The art and story mix well with Iron Sam getting some nice action hero style bad-ass lines. It always helps when you have some dialogue to go along with the action scenes. The fight scenes were pretty graphic for a Zuda comic: arms chopped off, people cut in half, those previously mentioned guts hanging out all over the place. Whenever there was some serious blood-letting going on the panels were tinted red, which made for a nice effect. The colors were very well done, and all the lettering was readable. I liked the style of the art in individual panels, but the actions scenes were more gory, than kinetic. So what the hell do I mean by kinetic? Great action scenes in comics do a better job of representing movement, the transition between one fight to the next flows better, and looks smother. Iron Sam here was a little stiff  -swing your weapon, strike a poise, kill a bad guy, strike a poise. The other half of the bikers body still standing, then a last spurt before it tips over on screen 5 didn't really work well either. It's fully possible David didn't want to show Iron Sam having any moves besides hack, and then slash as a way of representing he's a tough character against some weak opposition. I think it would have been a more interesting 8 screens if Iron Sam would have had more of a opponent to overcome. Quality not quantity of villains and bloody severe 'kills'. Heroes and villains only look as good as their opposition, it's only a 60 screen contract, no need to beat around the bush too much with nameless henchmen, show us the really impressive things Iron Sam can do.


A samurai character with a young kid in tow is a nice nod of the head to Lone Wolf and Cub. Flip things around so you have a dystopian, apocalyptic, and mutant filled wasteland with a robot samurai, and you have a whole bunch of action filled genres coming together at one time. One of the really impressive scenes in the comic is when Iron Sam discovers the young girl and pronounces her threat level... minimal. Iron Sam 'rescues' her then rides off into the sunset (literally) with the remnants of the dead bikers in a cart on the back of his bike. The last screen is three panels of the girl being impressed with in the final one some kind of Spider mutant's face coming into view. I was a little surprised Iron Sam would just ride off and leave her, but it must have something to do with his Directive 2. It ends with a danger hook cliffhanger and also a nice bit of mystery. Aside from the stiff fight scenes, it is a fun read with plenty of talent on display from the creator. I'm not that sure this title would be able to grab my interest (not just be action filled fun, but find some way to stand apart from what's gone before) enough to be a must read for a remainder of 52 screens. Iron Sam has everything and the kitchen sink, but you should have left the kitchen sink out of it. Meaning: robots, wastelands, sword fighting, kids in peril, mutants, this comic in 8 screens has everything you could imagine, but doesn't really hint at anything action fans wouldn't expect to see in a amalgamation. Still Iron Sam had some neat moments in dialogue and design, and I hope to see David Dumeer back in Zuda with a even more ambitious entry.

Zuda Review Candy From Strangers/ Nietzsche's abyss is a koi pond


Candy From Strangers is a comic done by Jim Rodgers and Byron Jackson in this month's Zuda competition. The art and story is impressive, it fits the 8 screens on Zuda very well. It starts out at a double murder crime scene as various members of law enforcement try to reconstruct what happened, and help the young traumatized only survivor. The comic reads like crime story with psychological and noir elements included to better grab readers. It's a little dialogue heavy at the start, but better to get the information readers need in characters interacting instead of text box narration. The dialogue is what you would expect characters to say (if you've read/watched any amount of crime stories before coming to this comic) so that's not that impressive. I know the set-up doesn't lend itself well to memorable lines, but nothing the characters utter sounds too clunky, or out of place. What the writer did to rise above standard dialogue was establish the pace of the story. The way the authorities attempt to reconstruct what happened (we see their theory play out in the panels as they talk about it)  lends itself well to a Rashomon tribute. You figure the way the little girl, and her brother the shooter, will remember the events that happened will differ. There are a number of reveals as the story goes along, which came at the right moments to build and build up reader interest -a snowballing effect that makes readers want to know what happens next. I credit the writer for using the environment (in this case rain is pouring down) to help establish the mood of the story.  Everyone from Peter David to Dave Sim has made the point comics aren't movies, you don't need special effect dollars to have rain, snow, earthquakes, and use the environment to help tell your story. What you do need is a artist who has enough skills to pull off everything that comes up in your story. Weather, structures, and characters who convey emotion in there expressions are all well rendered here.  For the most part the various points of view chosen for the panels to show the story was well done. From blood splattered on a framed family photo, to characters reflections in the rain as they talk about the little girl -all nice touches. The coloring of the comic was a fine fit. The lettering is legible, but the balloon placement in the second panel on screen 1 makes it confusing who's talking when. It would be all good except for...  


The worst  synopsis in the history of Zuda:
Two very troubled young runaways are united in their attempt to evade capture from the law. Separately they couldn't survive--one has only the skills and the other only the means. Together they can make it and they begin their decade long murderous road trip across America. They learn about love and life in their own perverse way as together they become adults. Pursued by a Chechen gang called the Movladi and by a lone, desperate ex-cop tragically affected by their crimes they travel aimlessly from state to state, from thrill to thrill in the ultimate tale of nihilism.

I was amazed at just how horrible the synopsis was, for a variety of reasons I will go into detail about. The creators have expressed some surprise at the negative response to the synopsis and how it affects voters take on the comic. I was just as surprised as the creators by how much the synopsis repelled me. Jim Rodgers asked over on MPD57's blog review comments section just what about it people didn't like. It's a good question that deserves as good a explanation answer as I can give:
Two very troubled young runaways are united in their attempt to evade capture from the law. [The synopsis doesn't tie-in to what we see in the comic well enough. The boy shooter is one of the runaways I guess, but who is the other person? The writer has mentioned various twists planned out for this story to happen later on. Well, if you don't win whatever you have planned in screen 9 and beyond doesn't matter. there is no reason not to give names to who the story is about, that's what I expect from a synopsis. Too vague -I need to know who these future leads are in order to care what happens to them. If you can't show them in the 8 screens because of your set-up and the ghosts of plot twist future, at least name them so I know them when I see them.] Separately they couldn't survive--one has only the skills and the other only the means. [That makes no damn sense at all, just what are you talking about with that line? If you said 'make your best guess' my surmise would be one has 'street smarts' making cops, hot wiring cars,  dumpster diving, and the other  Starkweather prodigy has the indomitable will to carry on, and blow someone's head off if needs be. I could be totally wrong from the synopsis you just can't tell.] Together they can make it and they begin their decade long murderous road trip across America.  [The synopsis makes you think the direction the comic is going is something like Natural Born Killers, or The Doom Generation. I didn't like those films, and have no interest in wandering across the same genre landscape in comics. Nihilistic characters that are unrootable/unredeemable can make for interesting lead characters in a story. To see if they 'get away' with their bad deeds, or get caught gives readers a reason to keep coming back. Nihilistic characters on a 'road trip' is not something I care to read though. Mixing the 'road trip' journey of self discovery contrivance with the 'ironic' twist of characters who live like 'life is without objective meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value' -gives no  meaning, purpose, or intrinsic value to me as a reader. The whole format is a set-up they made me worry the creators here were just going to try too hard (like Oliver Stone) to get the message/meaning of their story across.] They learn about love and life in their own perverse way as together they become adults. Pursued by a Chechen gang called the Movladi and by a lone, desperate ex-cop tragically affected by their crimes [The Chechen gang Movladi should have just been left out completely, we don't see them in the 8 screens so no need for an explanation for them. It seems from the synopsis they're going to be a foil for the other characters so why not save them as a surprise for the readers. I don't think Zuda editorial would have came down on you for not introducing later villains in your synopsis. We see -I guess- the future ex-cop in the first 8 screens so glad that got a mention. Again, do some name dropping in your synopsis.] they travel aimlessly from state to state, from thrill to thrill in the ultimate tale of nihilism. ['from thrill to thrill in the ultimate tale of nihilism' are the words that sealed this comics fate with me.That line is just too hip to be trendy, meaning you seem to be trying so hard for a tag line that's almost poetic -it ends up a farce. Actually using the word 'Nihilism' in the synopsis is a red flag that reminded me of all the pointless debates I suffered through back in the philosophy classes I took in college. It just felt like forget the crime story you read in the 8 screens, this is going to be a comic with unrepentant ass-hole killer twenty-somethings pontificating on the lack of meaning to life, between various violent encounters. I imagine the two runaways would be just eat up with angst  that I would care nothing about. The 'ultimate tale' business is just pretentious at worst, or trying too hard to be sincere and ending up a caricature of a good pitch at best.]
The biggest problem with the synopsis is with just about every other Zuda contestant what you like about the first 8 screens you will only get more of should the comic win. With this synopsis it seems to disregard the 8 screens in the contest and say should the comic win things will be going in a different direction. Criminal Minds and Natural Born Killers have a different tone/perspective, being a fan of one doesn't imply your a fan of the other, same here with the 8 screens vs. the synopsis.


If the disparity is having such an effect as to diminish the reader’s experience then I will admit it as a failure on my part. But, to me, if the work is strong as you admit and the synopsis is accurate as I claim, then is there a problem? [Jim Rodgers, MPD57's review, comments section]

Yeah there is. I don't think the synopsis is that accurate (based on other comments made on another site, and later comments made by the author on the same review), anything that drives away favorites -if not votes- you otherwise would have had based on the 8 screens, should be considered a problem.

More from the same comment section, different post: I’m starting to think that people like it but not enough to win and in order to justify whatever it is within them not sparking up a vote they yearn for a reason. When the reason is intangible the synopsis becomes the foil. The triteness I understand–it shakes confidence in the creator. But if someone needs the synopsis to describe what happens in the 8 quick pages they’re asked to read I can’t help but wonder if they’ve ever called AA to provide a series of indicated maps for their grocer at the end of the street.

Wrong again, in two different ways. The reason isn't intangible, the reason is the synopsis. As a reader you have expectations of what comes next should a Zuda contestant win, the synopsis throws all that away, and leaves readers unsure just what they would be voting for. A synopsis usually comes in one of three flavors, leaving aside gag-a-day strips which are a different kind of creature.  1. yes, you do have synopsis's that repeat what is already in the comic, but they're rare on Zuda, and not what people are looking for anyway. 2. Another type is the back story of how we've gotten to this point, and a little preview of the future synopsis. 3. Is the synopsis that picks up where the comic leaves off, and has a preview of what's to come. The problem with Candy From Strangers is too much of a disconnect between the comic and the synopsis.

The creators did a interview: Robot 6 at CBR:

The overall tone is that of a tongue-in-cheek, modern, pulpy crime tale. The whole story is driven by short gruesome interstitials about two teenagers on the run. The interstitials are sensationalized and unrealistic--the kids are good looking, they drive cool classic cars, fantastic weaponry, each kill is topped by the next one in terms of graphic reward... but the real heart of the story is in the chapters themselves. In the chapters we see the true effects of their actions on the lives of their victims' loved ones and we see the kids for what they are: ugly and objectionable. 

Which is a lot like a further comment made on Mike's review by Rodgers:

The road trip/junior killers story will be shown in the interstitials. There is a plot line that that story follows but it is comically grotesque over-the-top violence and mayhem. This kind of story has been done well numerous times before us where we follow the main characters through their violent journey (like Natural Born Killers, Wild At Heart, etc.) but how we want to be different is to tell individual chapters that will all overlap each other that describe violent events in the lives of the tertiary characters. Events that shape or are shaped by the interstitials.
The interstitials will push the boundaries in terms of mayhem but it would be tiring and less impactful to cram 100 pages full of that so we opt to balance that with telling the heart of the story through the eyes of those horribly affected by their senseless violence. I guess that’s the true synopsis! But it’s kind of a boring description and Zuda only gave me something like 1500 characters so I went for the exciting sales pitch.
I don't think [The road trip/junior killers...]   is boring, it seems like a more accurate description than what the creators ended up going with. If you add in some character names, cut some fluff, that should have been the 2000 character synopsis, it would have got the comic a favorite from me.