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.