Archive for January, 2009

Little Thoughts by Sally Jane Thompson

Posted in Review with tags , , , , on January 25, 2009 by comicmole

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Little Thoughts is a 24-page collection of short stories by comicker Sally Jane Thompson.  There are 4 mini comics in the book and, as the title suggests, they are all either about the thoughts of the characters, or they raise some thoughtfulness in the reader.

Sally is a member of the new UK comic circle, IndieManga, who started producing comics as a group in 2008.  However Sally had been making comics long before that, with a notable entry to Tokyopop’s ‘Rising Stars of Manga’ in 2007.  The comic she made for the competition can be read in IndieManga’s first anthology ‘Origins’.  Both this and ‘Little Thoughts’ are available to buy from their online shop.

So, onto the comic in question!

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The first story in Little Thoughts, ‘Tango’, is about a girl who would change her name to that of the famous the orange drink if she could, and why she might want to do this.  The more pencil-drawn, rather than inked, style used for the last panel on the final page of ‘Tango’ is a good contrast to the rest of the comic and worked really well for me.

Next up, ‘Joined’ is about two characters growing up together and how their relationship changes over time.  It raises thoughts about childhood memories, how important they are to us as adults, and how perhaps some should never be forgotten.

‘Either/Or’, a 7-page comic, is not so much a story as a semi-political series of images contrasting people with more affluent Western lives with those who may not have as comfortable an existence.

And finally, in ‘Distance’, we are asked ‘how close can two people really get?’.  Can we ever know somebody completely?  Of course the answer is ‘no’, but it is certainly interesting to explore how well people think they know each other compared with the truth, and sometimes that truth can hurt a little…

Overall, although the artwork seems older and less polished in places than that seen in her Rising Stars competiton entry printed in ‘Origins’, Little Thoughts works well as a collection.  Sally has broken up the stories with a little pencil sketch at the end of each one which is a charming detail.  The cover is also very well designed using an unusual off-centre character, thick graphical linework and  coloured screentone to great effect.

If you want a comic to read over a quiet contemplative coffee break, then this is the one for you.

Rainbow Carousel by Chloe Citrine

Posted in Column with tags , , , , , , , on January 4, 2009 by comicmole

This is one of my old ‘Webcomic Mole Investigates…’ columns for the now defunct (as far as I know) website, IndieReview.co.uk.  But never fear!  I have checked it over and updated it to include the new print volume of Rainbow Carousel as well as the webcomic – the print version is available from the Sweatdrop Studios online shop and the webcomic is still available to read for free over on DrunkDuck.

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Teenager Bubblegum Soda has a whole heap of problems.  He’s been forced to change schools and leave the person he loves behind, and is getting stick from his teacher for being in a bad mood about it.  On top of that, some unwanted attention from a new girl has brought out the local bullies too.  But just when life seems at its darkest, an enchanting group of people enter his life, not least of these is a mysterious elf called Sundae.

Mysterious elves and characters with foodie names? It could only be  Rainbow Carousel by Chloe Citrine!  The comic has the feel of a light, sparkly slice-of-life story, but on top of this it also tackles some real issues that teenagers can face.  Romance amongst classmates is covered, as is bullying, and some of the issues facing gay high school students.  There are shonen-ai themes within the comic, but the story doesn’t get bogged down in following only the gay characters like some other series in the genre.

Just in case ‘shonen-ai’ is new to anyone out there, it’s a sub-genre of girls manga which covers romance between boys (another name of it is ‘Boys Love’).  Most shonen-ai stories are based on romantic relationships, however they do not usually include any adult content.  What could be seen as a problem with a lot of ‘traditional’ Japanese shonen-ai manga is that the characters don’t often act like actual gay men, rather they are overly romanticised idealised figures, and they seem less ‘real’ because of it.  What’s great about Rainbow Carousel is that the gay characters are a lot more believable.  For example, Bubblegum has to face having a long-distance relationship with a boyfriend who wants to keep their relationship under wraps, leaving him unable to mention his boyfriend’s name to anyone else he meets.

Rainbow Carousel is both written and drawn by Chloe Citrine (aka. Wyldflowa).  It was begun as a webcomic in 2006 and is still running presently.  It used to update regularly but updates have unfortunately slowed down over the last year or so.  However, although that is a shame, if you are new to the comic there are already three long chapters weighing in at well over 150 pages for potential fans to get their teeth into before relying on updates.  Plus, if you’d rather read your comics on paper than on a screen, volume one of Rainbow Carousel is now available to buy (a link to the shop is at the top of this post).  As you can see from the photo below, its a nice chunky size with a very good print quality (note – the inside pages are in black and white, manga-style).

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Extras in the print volume include 3 pages of standalone artwork by Chloe, 4 pages crammed full of readers’ fanart, an author’s note and 3 pages filled with funny 4-koma (4-panel) comic strips also created by Chloe.  In fact, the volume is peppered with extra 4-koma strips throughout which make for cute little funny interludes in the plot.

You might think that with so much attention paid to the print volume the web version of the comic would be a more barebones affair, but in fact Rainbow Carousel is a comic that had really embraced its web status long before it was printed.  Its host, the free site DrunkDuck (link at the top of this post), allows comments to be made by readers on each page – therefore if a reader has anything to say about the story or the characters (or simply wishes to cheekily poke the artist for more updates) they can do it directly.  Complimenting this audience participation is a separate fanart gallery that features readers’ art, each piece receiving a comment from the comics’ author.  Additionally to the readers’ art, there is a large gallery of sketches, desktops and icons as well as full-colour standalone images completed by the creator.  To help any new (or more curious) readers, there is also a character profile page that holds a portrait and description of each of the comic’s main characters.  At the end of chapters one and two, the author has uploaded a tutorial on how she produces the comic.  She also comments on each page as she uploads it, giving little asides about the characters, the plot or simply her day-to-day life.  These kinds of extras would be much more difficult to provide in a printed edition, especially as the majority of the gallery work is in full-colour.

You might be thinking that this is all very well, but having fantastic extras doesn’t necessarily make it a good comic.  Well luckily Rainbow Carousel is also a very enjoyable read (even for a crusty old twenty-something like me who’s not so into high school shonen-ai).  Some people might be turned off by the thought that most of the main cast are teenagers and a lot of the comic is set around their school, however the characters themselves really bring the comic to life. The past history, personality and motivations of each character have obviously been carefully considered by the author before she committed her drawing pen to paper. Because she knows what each of her characters is like, they each have their own way of reacting to different situations. For example the main character, Bubblegum, is a pretty sullen and whiny young guy (at least at the start of the comic) so he doesn’t show much emotion on his face unless he’s about to cry.  Conversely the character who bullies him in chapter one, Turpentine, is hot-headed and emotional, so his feelings show much more on his face.  One of the only trip-ups with the art is that the characters’ faces sometimes seem a bit elongated, especially in profile, however this does seem to improve as the story progresses.

Adding to the actions and emotions of the characters is the use of effects and panel layouts.  Some imaginative effects are used throughout the comic (a good example being ‘Sherbert Vision’ on page four).  The panels throughout show a good balance of open space to full detail.  A lot of different panel layouts are used, but they are never confusing to read.  Some layouts show the artist being more experimental (such as the more minimal layout on page 17 for example) which is great to see .  On the web, the pages are presented in monochrome, however each chapter is coloured slightly differently – this reflects the ‘Rainbow’ in the title and suits the slightly otherworldly fantasy theme very well.

So to finish, if imaginative, emotional characters, slice-of-life drama, fantastical twists, shonen-ai elements, unique art or beautifully varied panel layouts appeal to you, then try this comic on for size in whichever format suits you best!

Artifaxis by Morag Lewis

Posted in Review with tags , , , , , , on January 4, 2009 by comicmole

This is an older review, however seeing as the comic series in question was complete at the time of writing and it is still on sale (and available for free on the web too) I think its worth re-posting the review here.

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Artifaxis is a gaslamp fantasy comic series (gaslamp fantasy is like steampunk, but without the steam) written and drawn by the prolific comic creator Morag Lewis.  Morag has created several long-running comic series which are usually available to buy printed and also to read for free online.  She was a winner of Tokyopop’s Rising Stars of Manga and a first prize winner at the International Anime and Manga Festival in 2006.  But today I’ll have to set all her other work aside as the name of the game is Artifaxis and only Artifaxis!

This comic is a series that spans 10 chapters, although the printed version has only 8 issues because issues 6&7 and 8&9 are double-issue releases.  The printed version can be bought from the Sweatdrop Studios shop and (like most small-press comics), issues come in black and white.  However, if you choose to read the comic via the web on Toothycat.net each page is in full colour.

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The story begins with Miriam, an academic who has finally got her own department at the university where she works: The Department of Anomalous Artifacts.  She looks after mysterious objects which there are no known uses for.  It sounds fascinating, however in reality its a very quiet place and no-one seems to take much interest…that is until one day an object is stolen.  Whilst investigating the theft (and what the object really was), Miriam crosses paths with the tall-dark-and-mysterious Rua and the meddlesome Rain, who will become her on-and-off companions as she follows the trail of the missing object.

Similarly to the author’s other complete long-running series ‘ Looking for the Sun’, this story centres around a female protagonist and her companions’ adventures as they travel through many varied places.  The difference with Artifaxis is that the places are all cities in the same world rather than multiple worlds.  Overall there is also more of a science-fiction than magical twist to this tale.

The story starts off simply and becomes much more complex in later issues as further characters and cities are introduced.  At some points it is helpful to be able to refer back to previous issues.  Some may find the story a little confusing, however a lot of readers would probably find it fun to have to work out what’s going on.

Miriam, the main character, doesn’t change fundamentally through the course of the series but her personality and back story are explored well.  Rua is ever the mystery man, but we do see glimpses of his past and who he is throughtout the series.  Rain provides quite a bit of comic relief in the story as well as having a pivotal part in the plot.

Artwork-wise this comic charts the author’s progression through over 2 years of work, from 2005-2007, therefore the art style and accuracy do change and improve over the 10 issues, with the later chapters reflecting the author’s progression to the standard that won her two awards in 2006.

Even though the look of the first couple of issues is not as polished as the later ones, the characters remain distinct so any changes in art style do not affect the reader’s enjoyment of the story itself.  As I mentioned before, the printed issues are predominantly black and white and the web version is in colour – the colours used in earlier issues are quite vivid, but they are toned down to a more realistic level as the series goes on.

Another interesting thing to note with this series is the development of the pacing and structure of the panels on each page as the story continues.  Morag starts out using mostly rectangular panels, but they become much more fluid and manga-influenced in later issues.

So when all the comic pages are finished are there any extras to enjoy?  Well yes!  There is an artists’ blurb and the odd splash image, sketch page or fanart printed in each issue (issue 10 containing an especially long extra section) which is fun.  Online there is a gallery of standalone art and fanart as well as a prologue not seen in the printed issues – so all in all, lots to enjoy here for those who like a bit of fantasy, sci-fi or even gaslamp fantasy!