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.