Wednesday, January 27, 2010

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.

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