Archive for December, 2008

First Law by Rachel Saunders

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on December 21, 2008 by comicmole

Remember in my ‘About this Blog’ post I said that sometimes I would cover a comic that was a little harder to find?  Well this is one of those.  If  you’re after a little gem of a comic that can be enjoyed by both manga and western comic aficionados then look no further than ‘First Law’ by Rachel Saunders.

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This 12 page one-shot comic is based on a short story by classic sci-fi author Isaac Asimov (he of ‘I Robot’ fame).  Before you get into the nitty gritty of the comic Rachel helpfully introduces the two main characters (Gregory Powell and Michael Donovan), as well as explaining Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.

The story itself looks at what lengths it might take for a robot to disobey one of the Three Laws…but I can’t go into much more detail without spoiling it I’m afraid.

The artwork is confident and has its own style, in which you can see influences ranging from manga such as Ghost in the Shell to Disney animations.  The character designs have a lot of personality, the robots have had thought put into their design (which Rachel mentions in her artists’ blurb at the back), and the bleak environment of the moon on which the story is set comes across well too.

‘First Law’ had a short first print run and was available to buy for £1.50 at the 2008 October London Expo.  That might have been the only chance to get hold of it but as Rachel states in her blog, DogStarComics, it will hopefully be available to buy again at Minamicon 2009. If you do see this one at an event in the future, don’t pass it by!

‘Stardust’, An Anthology by Sweatdrop Studios

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on December 9, 2008 by comicmole

This review was written a little while ago but thankfully the book is still available to buy from Sweatdrop Studios’ online store.  Many of the artists whose stories appear in this book have since gone on to even better things, so keep an eye out for newer work from them too.

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This is a collection of short stories that were originally entered into Tokyopop’s ‘Rising Stars of Manga’ competition (Sept 2005). They may not have won, but each short story reflects the artist’s best work at that time, and showcases these creative individuals’ talents.

Stardust is a chunky little book

Strange Harmony by Johanna Zhou (Scorpio)

This is a sweet story based around a country girl (Melissa) and her cousin from the city (Jazmine) who comes to visit. Some funny moments come from showing their differences, like when burying a hedgehog (as Melissa often goes out and gives roadkill a proper burial) Jazmine drapes her necklace over the grave, saying it can enjoy some bling in heaven. The characters are slightly cliched, but they work for the story. The artwork and pacing is very strong, at least on a par with the year’s winners of RSoM.

Dollhouse by Jaqueline Kwong (Marbles)

A dark short story with a gothic lolita style, Dollhouse is about a girl and her relationship with one of her dolls, who is more than she seems. The characters and dialogue bring across the gothic lolita style very well, being well spoken in a slightly disturbing way. Some might say that the scary doll story has been re-trodden quite a bit lately, but then again what hasn’t? The artwork is strong – especially the detail on the figures, faces and clothing, although the placement of the text and lack of backgrounds means it falls short of some other stories in this book.

On with the Show by Rebecca Burgess (Bex)

A heartwarming tale about a rich man who throws it all away to become an actor in the West End. There are a few ups and downs in the storyline (in terms of what happens, not how good it is), but ultimately it is a happy tale about following your dreams. The characters and art style both reflect the Victorian era English setting well. The artist had obviously studied the clothing, buildings and transport of the time before putting pen to paper, and bravely includes a lot of relevant visual information in the panels. The busy line and tonework means that sometimes the reader will have to think about what is going on in a particular page, but that does give you time to appreciate the passion that went into producing this story.

Bad Luck by Selina Dean (Buu)

A slightly creepy short story about a girl who sees a strange dog one night and from then on has terrible bad luck. The story fits very well into the page allowance and has a snappy ending. The characters are not explored in a lot of depth, but this does not harm the story in any way, in fact it makes it nice and easy to get to grips with as a short. The artwork is uniquely styled and has a chibi look, which contrasts well with the more grown up storyline. It could possibly use more detail, but the simple style does make it easy to read and understand. The pacing is well carried out and some interesting camera angles are used in a lot of the panels.

New Year’s Kiss by Sarah Burgess (Denji)

New Year’s Kiss is a shonen-ai short with a little bit of angst and a little bit of fluff. It involves two guys who work in a cafe and war over the affection of the new girl, only to find out their real feelings once she shows her true colours. The characters are slightly stereotypical: the artist, the playboy and the hot new girl, but their motivations are delved into which makes them more unique. The artwork has a sketchy style, which shows promise in a lot of instances but sometimes is difficult to understand. However, the pacing is good and the writing has a strong manga feel to it.

Reya by Sergei and Morag Lewis (Moonshadow and Sun Kitten)

A fantasy tale of a girl from a distant land and her encounters with a group of magicians and their dangerous pets – tigers. The narration has a gentle pace and is written in quite an olde worlde style (not old English, but not completely modern either). Characters are believable and the cast is diverse and well thought out, although they are not particularly quirky or emotional. The art style suits the story very well, having been drawn with a nib pen. Some of the depth may be lost to readers as lineweights do not vary much from foreground to background, however there is a lot of detail to be savoured.

Different for Girls by Laura Watton and Jake Laverde

A manga with an English edge, this story centres around student life and romance here in good ol blighty. It about Angie, a student who’s looking for her perfect man but doesn’t realise he might be right under her nose. Its a sweet little tale -you may work out whats going to happen almost straight away, but enjoy the ride as some quirky elements have been thrown in (like featuring the lyrics from a song which complement the story). The characters are easily identifiable. Some might say they’re quite sterotypical, but the story is somewhat using this to its advantage with a message that stereotypes of ‘perfection’ are possibly not that great after all. The artwork is professional and at least as strong as the winners of this RSoM competition. There are also some little Japanese manga moments which are a nice touch.

FanDanGo t-shirts now on sale!

Posted in Other with tags , , , , on December 9, 2008 by comicmole

Kate Holden has now made two of her popular t-shirt designs from her webcomic FanDanGo a reality with a new online store!

There are two designs available at the moment (in multiple colours): ‘Mad Hare Day’ and ‘You Guessed Wrong’

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Needless to say I’ve ordered one of each already ^_~

‘TwoSidesWide’ and ‘TiSiWi’, by TwoSidesWide Studios

Posted in Column with tags , , , , , on December 5, 2008 by comicmole

You know I nearly wrote a completely new review for this post…then I copped out and decided to post another old Webcomic Mole column (sorry about that).  But hey they’re well worth it – check out TwoSidesWide Studios!

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Where can you find a crazy Kat, two Puppies and an armadillo?  It could only be TwoSidesWide Studios!

This time I’ll be kicking back and having some fun looking at two webcomic strips available from TwoSidesWide Studios: ‘TwoSidesWide’ (which spawned the name of the studio) and its little sister TinySidesWide (or TiSiWi for short).  As well as these two comic strips, the Studio also produce their own manga-styled comics.  However seeing as their website is chock-a-block with content I’ll be focusing on just the strips this time.  If I piqued your interest though, go check out the website where there are lots of different comics available to read for free!

TwoSidesWide Studios are Susan Golton and Steve Cook (aka. Kat and Dave).  Their webcomic strip ‘TwoSidesWide’ ran for over 3 years from 2003 until early 2007 with multiple weekly updates.  However in order to give the creators more time to work on other projects TwoSidesWide has now been replaced by TiSiWi.  TiSiWi is a sprite comic, made out of pre-drawn building blocks of characters’ bodies, expressions and panel backgrounds etc.  It’s therefore quicker for the creators to produce, but with the same level of wit that fans of TwoSidesWide will remember!  TiSiWi is still running currently although it has less regular updates nowadays.

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The great thing about TwoSidesWide and TiSiWi is that they are simply full of crazy antics that will appeal to lots of different people.  The genre of the strips runs from slice-of-life comedy through to geek comedy.  There are some internet, movie and video-game references, but not all the time, so people who aren’t into geek things in particular can still find a lot to enjoy here.  It is aimed at mid-teens upwards I think, seeing as there are some adult references in the jokes, although no other adult content in particular.

Being a gag strip, there’s not a lot of overall plot to either TwoSidesWide or TiSiWi, but I’ll attempt to give you an idea of what you might be reading about.  TwoSidesWide opens with Kat and Dave feverishly chatting over IM about starting their own webcomic (this is the characters Kat and Dave, not actual conversations by the TwoSidesWide creators…its all a bit meta really).  As their webcomic takes shape (a kind of wonky shape I think), the overall story of TwoSidesWide pans back and shows you more of Kat and Dave’s daily lives.  More characters are introduced as the strips go on, starting with their cat, Whiskey, and their housemates Ben the gamer, and Treh and Lu, the somewhat-maniacal inventors.  What stands out about the new characters in TwoSidesWide is that they seem to make themselves known as if they had a life of their own, rather than being at all one-dimensional.

Complementing the strips which have a little bit of plot are ones that are almost totally insane!  There are Random Days, where 3 panels from random strips are joined together with new text to make some really funny situations, and even a series where Kat (the character) cops out and makes a comic using photos of her stationery and desk equipment (the fluffy desk tidy is my favourite character).

Many more utterly unique characters and situations are introduced later on (an undo button for life anyone?) but I don’t want to spoil the best bits, so I’ll move on.  The Studios’ latest comic strip, TiSiWi, carries on the legacy of TwoSidesWide by using a lot of the same characters.  However, readers don’t need to know an awful lot about the background of the characters themselves to enjoy the comic.  At times a few strips may be joined together into a mini-story, but on the whole both TwoSidesWide and TiSiWi can be dipped into any time (they can also be devoured in longer sittings, which is what I did when I first found TwoSidesWide).  In case there is any confusion, there is a helpful character reference page on the website.  Other extras on the website include a gallery showcasing the giftart that the studio has received and an events page with con reports from them.  Guest strips and standalone art are dotted through the comic archives.

The style of the artwork on both comics compliments the subject matter well – its bright, colourful and fun with some original character designs. Another plus is that it doesn’t get overly fussy, making the strips easy to read quickly. This suits the format of a comedy comic strip very well.  The artwork at the start of TwoSidesWide is a little bit less polished than some of the newer strips, but this is to be expected and doesn’t get in the way of the gags at all.  Both the artwork and writing on TwoSidesWide are sometimes a little hard to follow due to the sheer insanity of some of the situations but to be honest I consider this to be part of the style of this kind of strip, and I would much rather have the odd twinge of bemusement as a gag flies right over my head than be bored by something that isn’t funny.

Luckily though, funny this is!  If you like slice-of-life humour, geek humour, movie parodies, random jokes and insane situations then TwoSidesWide and TiSiWi will certainly put a smile on your face.

FanDanGo by Kate Holden

Posted in Column with tags , , , , on December 4, 2008 by comicmole

Another old Webcomic Mole offering, here is my column on Kate Holden’s webcomic, ‘FanDanGo’

Actually just a note before I post the column – since this was written Kate and a group of UK artists have started their own comic circle called IndieManga, they have an anthology title out to buy now called Origins, so check it out if you prefer your comics on paper!

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Like a festival stall full of objects from medieval to 60s style, ‘FanDanGo’ is a unique comic.  If you like a bit of fantasy, quirky unique characters, comedy moments, or even just seeing some chick kick ass with a sword, then you’ve come to the right place!

FanDanGo, by creator Kate Holden, began its run on current host, DrunkDuck, back in January 2006.  As of writing this column the comic is just beginning its sixth chapter of approximately 20 pages, and although there doesn’t seem to be a strict update schedule, the comic still updates fairly frequently.

Thus far the comic centres around a group of young ‘knights’.  In their world, knights can wield magical attacks and often have magical healing abilities, so they can take quite a beating too.  Most of them carry swords, with which different spells can be cast as they’re drawn.  The backdrop for this knightly action is eclectic – there’s a unique mixture of medieval fantasy style magic and swords, modern-day clothes and retro 60s colourwork.  As with any good fantasy romp, it turns out that the knights face a mysterious enemy…but they might face more bother from closer to home if the hot-headed sword-wielder Rekki or the spiky-trap-loving Juliet have anything to do with it.

The characters in FanDanGo are refreshingly down to earth – they banter and joke amongst each other like normal friends or acquaintances would.  Kate has also given them more British speech patterns, which is part of this comic’s unique charm.  She has also managed to pull off the elusive feat that a lot of webcomics strive towards – furthering the overall plot as well as having a snappy, standalone feel to each page.  This often takes the form of witty banter or a well-executed action scene.

Of course, as this comic is over two years old, the art has progressed over time so older pages do not have as polished a look to them as newer ones.  However, this is often the case with longer webcomics that authors work on over several years, and the older pages are certainly not unreadable.

Overall, the art style of FanDanGo could best be described as ‘varied’ or ‘experimental’.  Don’t worry too much though if those words strike fear into your heart!  This comic doesn’t break down into crazy abstraction or anything like that.  As this is Kate’s major personal project, she has simply tested various media and layout styles over time.  This can only help to improve the presentation of FanDanGo as it continues to grow, but some readers may find that, for example, a change from black-and-white artwork to colour is a bit jarring, but this will be down to the personal opinions of the individual reader.

However, this actually brings up a very interesting debate about webcomics.  Some readers prefer their webcomics to have one strong visual and writing style throughout, similar to a professionally published work however, others feel that a lot of professionally published comics are affected by publishers’ decisions, leading to clichéd storylines and ‘mainstream’ styles of artwork developing.  Both points of view are valid ones, and it would be interesting to hear readers’ thoughts on this – do you consider experimentation in webcomics to be self indulgence on the part of the authors or do you value the individuality of webcomics over more mainstream printed works?

Anyway, to get back to the subject at hand – the artwork for FanDanGo!  Kate’s artwork begins in black and white and remains that way until chapter three, where it switches into full colour for the rest of the comic.  The black and white pages are for the most part well balanced (with attention being paid to the use of pure black, pure white and grey tones) but the art really begins to come into its own in full colour.  She uses a range of bright, 60s-style, colours which complement the eclectic character and environment designs well.  Seeing the characters with coloured outfits and their correct hair colours really brings their personalities to life too.

Her drawing style seems to take quite a bit of inspiration from shonen (boys’) manga, rather than the dewy eyes and sparkles of shojo (girls’) manga.  The characters here are all quite masculine, the linework uses thick blacks and there are lots of action-packed fight scenes.  It’s actually refreshing to run across the odd character who you mistake for a guy until it’s shown that she’s a girl (rather than the usual shojo manga staple of having a load of men who look like women).

As mentioned earlier, in general the writing is very good – with good pacing on each page and some well-written witty banter between the characters.  However, as the first few chapters deal with the events of only one day and night, by the end of chapter five it feels as if an overall plot needs to be introduced so as to give readers a better idea of what is really going on.  As chapter six feels like a good time for this, we can only read on and see…

So whilst awaiting the next update, how about taking a look at the extras that come with FanDanGo?  As the comic is hosted on DrunkDuck, extras automatically include the ability for readers to comment on each page if they want to.  Kate also adds a few comments whenever she uploads a page, which is always a nice glimpse into her thoughts at the time.  Other extras include a forum and a fanart gallery.  There is a cast profile page too, but at the moment only one of the characters has a bio up there (Rekki).  There isn’t a gallery of standalone art on the website, but there is a link to Kate’s deviantArt account on the Links page, which holds a gallery containing quite a few standalone images of the characters, and some development work too.

There’s so much more that is worth mentioning about FanDanGo, but column space grows short!  All in all this is a fun and interesting read – it should appeal to anyone who loves a good sword scrap, but also those who like comics with a range of unique characters – the good, the bad, the witty, the angsty or even the deliciously evil!

‘Shrouded’ by Vanessa Wells

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , on December 2, 2008 by comicmole

This post was previously published as part of my old ‘Webcomic Mole Investigates’ column over on IndieReview.co.uk, but as its still relevant, please enjoy!

The comic in question stands as a good example of a small press work which straddles the boundaries of both web and print media, as well as both western and manga influenced art and storytelling.

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It’s called ‘Shrouded’ and is written and drawn by Vanessa Wells of Studio Withbits. There are three issues currently available which can be read for free on the comic’s own website, or purchased on Forbidden Planet online. The blurb on back cover (or first webpage) of issue one introduces the story like this:

“Marle, Alee and Ceea are travelling to the Palace. They stop off for the night along the way, but nowhere is safe to stop in this world”

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I won’t say too much about the plot as I don’t want to spoil these three issues, but what I can say is the story centres around the three sisters, Marle, Alee and Ceea, who are travelling to a Palace to dance at the King’s birthday celebrations. On the way they are forced to spend the night at an olde-worlde tourist village, where strange things are afoot…

This is a fantasy/horror story set in a mysterious world, somewhat different to our own. If you read the first issue and think it might be a bit clichéd then be sure to read issue two as the story changes direction and becomes much more interesting from then on.

The artwork is finished to a standard that would not look out of place on a shelf with professionally produced comics. It’s a black and white comic that uses strong, dark linework with grey tones to denote colour and shadow. Dynamic character poses and camera angles are used to good effect, but not to excess. The artist does not shy away from her backgrounds either: they include some lovely sweeping scenery shots as well as bird’s eye views of towns and buildings. The character designs and linework style show a definite western comic influence, however the page layouts and story pacing are very manga-like, with more open and freeform page layouts.

In each printed issue there is an artist’s blurb and some extra standalone artwork at the back. If you prefer your extras web-based, on the website there is an ‘About Shrouded’ section and a ‘Character Art’ section, showing some standalone character sketches and paintings by the author, as well as fanart.

Apart from a little stilted dialogue at the beginning of issue one, the only disadvantage of getting into this comic is that there is not enough of it! The creator is a professional artist working in the games industry and so obviously does not have a huge amount of free time to work on comics. Issue one of ‘Shrouded’ was released in 2005 and issue three has only just been released this year, but if you can stand the wait or just want a comic to keep you happily satisfied for a little while, then you should definitely check this little gem out!