Archive for March, 2009

Far-Out-Mantic by Sarah Burgess

Posted in New Comic, Review with tags , , , , , , on March 27, 2009 by comicmole

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Far-Out-Mantic is a unique full-colour webcomic by Sarah Burgess.  It can be read on her SmackJeeves account and at the time of writing this post it has pages numbering into the mid-60s and continues to be regularly updated.

Recently, Sarah has also self-published a printed ‘Book 1’ of the comic which will debut at this weekend’s London Web and Mini Comics Thing (28-29th March 2009), so look out for it if you’re going to be there! She doesn’t have an online shop but if you would like a copy to be posted to you (with payment probably via cheque), you can contact her on her email address which is on her profile page at SmackJeeves.

(As with Sammy Borras’ comic ‘Late’, which I covered in my last post, do go and support Sarah via the comment system on SmackJeeves if you like her work.  You don’t have to be a member of the website to comment so there’s none of that annoying account-setup business to deal with.)

So onto the subject at hand! The comic begins with Penelope, a somewhat scatterbrained young woman who is not so lucky in love, but has an utter adoration for a certain hip hop band: Far-Out-Mantic.  After she is jilted by the rascal Billy, she bumps into a mysterious book-reading stranger, who later turns up again in her life at the space-wear-only 24-hour disco called Meteor Flo, where the band Far-Out-Mantic are playing to a packed house.

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The comic can get pretty fantastical at times but the overall pacing fits into the ‘slice-of-life’ genre quite well.  We follow Penelope for the first two chapters, but switch our focus in chapter three to different characters.  Rather than being told about events with narration or overly verbose pages, we are taken along for the ride and shown what is going on, as if we were standing nearby peeking in.

The setting of Far-Out-Mantic is a wonderful slightly off-kilter version of the real world, one where 24-hour space themed discos exist, but above this its the characters that really bring this piece to life.  Penelope herself is a girl-next-door with a shot of determination and a heart full of dreams.  Book-man is a mysterious stranger with a quiff and some good advice.  Characters you meet later include some air hostess lookalikes, some evil musicians and an utterly charming man who sports a green afro with yellow stars in it.

These off-the-wall designs might sound a bit throwaway to some, however each character has his or her own unique personality and these are well-realised through their individual facial expressions and body language.  A loose and sketchy style drawing style, coupled with delicate washes of watercolour, complements this expressiveness.  Each chapter of Far-Out-Mantic has a different predominant colour which has been chosen to fit the mood (trivia: the creator says in her comments that this was inspired by Chloe Citrine’s webcomic ‘Rainbow Carousel‘, which also changes colours with each chapter).

A reason for the creator’s emphasis on expression and flow over tightly inked figures and ruler-straight panel boundaries can be found in her comments printed in ‘ The Mammoth Book of Best New Manga’ Vol. 3 (in which she has an 6-page short entitled ‘Purikura’).  Sarah states that when she draws, she wants to ‘…back away from the obsession with symmetry, accuracy of bodies and form…’ that she prefers ‘…to give a natural life, movement and expression to my characters…I always try to make my comics flow rather than look stiff, wishing to put my heart and tears into every stroke’

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So, whereas a lot of comic artists begin by focusing on perfecting drawing human bodies and environments very realistically, Sarah has chosen to explore how to bring her characters and their feelings immediately to her audience via the flow of their emotions.  The strengths of an approach like this are that none of Sarah’s art becomes wooden or overdrawn; everything flows very well.  Sometimes characters and backgrounds even verge on the abstract, as although characters’ bodies may not always be proportionally correct, the artist may use this to her advantage to improve the pacing of a page (for an example of what I mean, take a look at the singer on the right hand side of page 29).

Fortunately the comic does not break down into complete abstraction and is easy to read throughout.  Although pages may look quickly drawn, the panel layouts throughout the comic are well considered: little explanation is required for readers to know what is going on other than simply by following the flow of images.

For these reasons I can imagine how some readers will fall in love with this comic’s art.  However, others may find that the drawing style is not accurate or considered enough for them to enjoy it completely.  Personally I feel that some of the art could benefit from a little more accuracy, however too much tightening would ruin the delicate hand-drawn feel of the comic.  For example, the vertical lines in the backgrounds sometimes trail off diagonally, but rather than stamp ruled lines all over it, if the artist could just keep in mind that all of these lines should normally be parallel to the edge of the paper, it shouldn’t affect the flow of the piece but would help the solidity of the backgrounds.

Art style aside, probably the most interesting thing about Far-Out-Mantic is the wide range of influences that have inspired Sarah to draw it: music, fashion from the 1950s, 60s and 70s, and of course the retro futuristic sci-fi trend which also spanned those decades.  She talks about her influences in the comments that she writes on some of the pages, making them an interesting read.  Perhaps the overarching inspiration for the comic though is the album ExpoExpo by the Japanese hip hop band M Flo, so I will leave you with one of the links Sarah posted in her comments, to a YouTube video of the song ‘Prism’, which captures a lot of the fun space-pop feel of the comic – enjoy!

‘Late’, Instant Comics, and MangaZebra.co.uk by Sammy Borras

Posted in Column, New Comic, Review with tags , , , , , , , , on March 19, 2009 by comicmole

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‘Late’ is a new short webcomic by Sammy Borras. It tells the tale of a girl who accidentally gets locked in a coffee shop after hours and encounters some rather strange new customers. It’s only a few pages in so far, but already its becoming a great example of how unique and wonderful webcomics can be.

The comic can be found at Instant Comics’, a new  SmackJeeves account that Sammy has set up to host this and other future mini comics.  More of Sammy’s work, including more short comics, can be found on her website, mangazebra.co.uk.

There are many things that already set this short story apart from all of the more derivative webcomics out there and make it worth taking a look at.  Firstly (if it hasn’t crossed your mind already) the subject matter of coffee shops with a smattering of aliens is a pretty unique one.  The great thing is that the way the comic is written so far is very grounded, making it easy for the reader to get into the story and wonder what it might be like if these events really happened.

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Secondly, the panel pacing works well, with several different layouts being used to good effect.  When the reader needs to take a breather the panels become wider and backgrounds become more plain, but when we need to see where the characters are, Sammy does not shy away from producing some detailed backgrounds featuring lots of notoriously tricky-to-draw figures and furniture.

The art style of ‘Late’ shows a mix of influences with some manga showing in the page layouts and maybe a little Jamie Hewlett coming through in the character designs and colours.  A third factor that sets it apart from a lot of other webcomics is that, rather than being derivative, the creator has turned these influences to her advantage.  For example, manga tropes such as chibis (more cartoony versions of characters) are used to emphasise emotion, but the overall art style does not come across as directly manga-inspired.

The only slight problems the comic has are perhaps needing a little tightening up in the perspective of the backgrounds, and making sure that the character designs remain consistent in every pose and emotion – in some panels the main character can look a little different to others. Even so, thus far in the comic there have been no problems working out what’s going on or telling the characters apart from each other.

Therefore if you’ve got a moment to spare, check out ‘Late’ on Instant Comics – a budding new webcomic with a lot of promise!  (SmackJeeves also has a comment system that you don’t have to be a member to use, so do comment if you like the comic – this is purely a selfish act by me as this Mole wants to see more!)

If you like ‘Late’ and would like to see more of Sammy’s comics and standalone work you can visit her website mangazebra.co.uk.  Under the ‘Manga and Comics’ Section, if you scroll down past the standalone illustrations there are 5 or 6 short comics available to view, plus preview images of other comics that are available to buy in print.  Here’s a page from one of the webcomic shorts on the site called ‘Lunch Break’ from 2008:

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If you prefer to read comics on paper, Sammy is also part of a comic circle called Inspired Comics, who can be found at various comic-y events around the UK selling printed work.  Their first anthology is called ‘A Slice of Life’ and should still be available to pick up at events as of the time of writing this column – look out for this cover:

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There is also a 7-page short comic called ‘Money Money’, drawn by Sammy and written by Laura McNulty, available to read in Leek and Sushi’s Manga Show.

New Comic: Ambient Rhythm volume 1 by Morag Lewis

Posted in New Comic with tags , , , , , , , on March 13, 2009 by comicmole

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Ambient Rhythm volume 1 is going to be launched at Minamicon 2009 (27th-29th March).  This volume collects pages from the first year and half of the webcomic,  and its written and drawn by a comicker you may have heard of if you’ve been keeping up with recent Mole posts – Morag Lewis!

If you just can’t wait to read it, the webcomic is still updating on toothycat.net each week as well.

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My copy is already starting to look a bit read, as well it should because I just finished reading it this morning. I had been keeping up with the weekly webcomic updates already but I found that reading the story as a printed book rather than on-screen suited this comic very well: the subject matter of characters searching for answers around old university buildings and libraries just works nicely on paper, plus I was able to flick back easily to see if I had missed any clues, or to check someone’s name.

I won’t say anything more about what happens in this comic apart from that, personally, this one is turning out to be my favourite Morag Lewis work (after Artifaxis), so I recommend taking a look at it.  The rest I will leave to a proper review post, hopefully not too far in the future ^_^

New Comic: Leek and Sushi’s Manga Show, from ITCH publishing

Posted in New Comic with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2009 by comicmole

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Here’s to a cute new comic in town!  ‘Leek and Sushi’s Manga Show’ is an anthology from ITCH Publishing featuring work from a large selection of artists in the form of their entries to 2008’s ‘Manga Jiman’ competition, organised by the Japanese Embassy in the UK.

The theme to the competition was ‘150’, after 150 years of friendship between Britain and Japan, so its interesting to see how the different artists have tackled this subject in their own ways.  And what artists they are!  There is some top quality work in this book – just take a look at the preview page on ITCH’s website and you should be convinced.

The anthology is available online from the ITCH website shop, or look out for their table at events.  It’s a chunky little volume, printed at manga tankoubon size (which is around paperback size).

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As you can probably tell from the photo I’ve already bought and read this one – just haven’t had time to write a more in-depth post about it – but needless to say, I heartily recommend it and there will be a full review ASAP.

New Comic: Mangasm, from Speedlines publishing

Posted in New Comic with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 9, 2009 by comicmole

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Heads up, there’s a new comic now available in print from Speedlines Publishing – it’s an anthology called ‘Mangasm’ featuring, if you can’t guess from the title, a collection of manga-inspired comics.

Its available to buy from Speedlines or other reputable resalers such as Amazon.

Not much more to say as my copy is shipping as we speak, but I’m sure there will be more to talk about as soon as I have my hands on it ^_~

An Interview with Morag Lewis

Posted in Interview with tags , , , , , , , on March 5, 2009 by comicmole

Mole notes –

Previous posts about Morag’s work: An Introduction to Reya, Artifaxis review

This interview was done in late 2008, so the Ambient Rhythm volume one that Morag mentions is actually due out in spring this year (2009), not next year.

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Comic Mole:  At the moment you are busy producing the comic ‘Reya’, which has been picked up by Markosia – can you tell us a little about Reya and how you came up with the idea for the comic?

Morag Lewis:  Reya was originally conceived as a short story, but it clearly had more going on than what was said – it didn’t really fit into such a short space. My husband wrote the original (which will be included in the graphic novel), and when I asked him about making a graphic novel out of the short story, he responded with a complete synopsis, which I hadn’t been expecting! He says he wanted to write about a magical girl, but to be different – and it would be different if the magical girl had no magic.

CM:  As well as Reya you have in fact been comicking for several years now, producing several pages a week – how do you fit creating comics into your life around a full-time job and other everyday commitments?

ML:  If you want to do something badly enough, you will find the time. I often fit bits of comic creation in where I can – I can compile pages on the bus, and I sometimes tone while watching anime. Inking, drawing and scripting, of course, have more attention devoted to them, although I do regularly ink at the pub during Saturday lunch ^^

CM:  Can you recall what first made you want to start a webcomic?

ML:  I can’t, actually. I know I read Megatokyo and thought, if he can do it, so can I, but I don’t know why I wanted to do one in the first place. It sounded like fun, I suppose (!)

CM:  Which artists or styles inspire you the most?

ML:  Lovely delicate ink work. I very much like the art in Quiet Country Cafe, a beautiful manga which as yet has no English translation. I have a lot of the Japanese tankoubons, and the artist, Ashinano Hitoshi, does a fantastic job of portraying landscapes purely in ink. I like the contrast of pure black and white, so CLAMP’s more recent works, such as XXXholic, are also very attractive. That said, I tend to be actually inspired more by stories than by artwork – really good books are very inspiring.

CM:  Having created several comics in different formats, have you experimented with many different mediums for the artwork?  Do you have any particular favourite tools or media for producing comics?

ML:  I’ve tried pencil, ink alone, ink and colour alcohol markers, and ink-and-tone. I prefer ink alone, because I think I produce better linework that way, but a little tone can be very effective as well. I found colouring using markers time-consuming and expensive, but I do like having colour in a comic. I suppose Reya has the ideal setup – I get to do the inking and then Natalie produces the awesome colour work ^^

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CM:  As well as writing the stories for multi-chapter comics such as ‘Reya’ and ‘Looking for the Sun’, you also have experience writing short comics and even short prose stories – is there any type of writing you prefer?  And do you feel that there are any specific requirements in writing for webcomic format especially?

ML:  I prefer long comics, because I find comics easier to create than novels, and because I like having the time to get to know the characters properly. That said, short stories, whether prose or comics, are really good fun and very satisfying in a short term kind of way.

For webcomics, yes, I think so (although obviously, it’s up to the creator what they’re making the comic for, so it’s their call). Webcomic format is typically a single page update once or more per week, and readers to expect a payoff for each update, whether that’s a joke or a plot point (preferably both). It can be very difficult to balance that with making something printable if you don’t do gag strips. I love gag strips, but I don’t have that sort of sense of humour, so my stories have to be principally plot-based, which means I have to craft the plot development round the updates. That’s not so bad if your comic is solely a webcomic, like my first one, but if you are writing something destined for print as well, you have to make sure it works both as a webcomic – which requires short, standalone, punchy strips – and as a graphic novel, which requires an ongoing story arc. On the other hand, updating several pages or an entire chapter at a time, like Reya has done, avoids both those problems, so as long as your readers are willing to wait for a month or so for the next twenty page chunk, that works out well.

CM:  You have work available both online and in print – what are your thoughts on the differences between the two presentation methods, and do you consider one to be any better than the other?

ML:  In terms of getting readers, webcomics are better because they are free. I also like the way that they force you to a schedule, and the constant creating also encourages rapid improvement. On the other hand, there’s a lot of dross on the internet and the effort involved in creating a printed comic means that relatively few people do it, so a printed comic stands out more. I love the feel of holding an actual, printed book in my hands as well – it’s very satisfying. And I prefer reading paper books. So they both have advantages. I like to do both, to get every advantage I can 😉

CM:  What has been your favourite comic to work on so far, and why?

ML:  I shouldn’t have favourites, but it would have to be Looking for the Sun, because it ran for so long – I got very involved with the characters and the story, and I still miss them. On the other hand, I’m really enjoying doing Ambient Rhythm and Reya right now, because they both started recently and I think the artwork is much better!

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CM:  Do you have any favourite characters from your own work?  If so, what do you enjoy about them?

ML:  Again, I shouldn’t – but I do. Kite and Saryth, from Looking for the Sun, because they orchestrated their own development without me even noticing. They are sufficiently well-rounded that their growth led naturally from what happened to them, and I really enjoyed writing the stories for them. But I do like pretty much every character I’ve written – they’ve all got something special to them. Quite apart from her character, Reya is very cute, and I just like drawing her.

CM:  Do you have any plans for the future that you can tell us about?

ML:  Finishing Reya is the first one, definitely. I’m really enjoying working on it and I can’t wait to get the graphic novel finished. I’m also expecting to be able to publish the first graphic novel of Ambient Rhythm, my webcomic, next year. And there are other things, as yet unformed, which I think about a lot when I’m bored 😉

CM:  What is your favourite dessert?

ML:  Ooh. That’s hard. Erm… probably the pecan cake I make from a Canadian recipe (in Canada they call it broiler cake, but we don’t have a broiler). Or maybe flapjacks. Or the sakura mochi that Teri Aki serves. I like meringues, crunchy on the outside and chewy on the inside. Right now. I’m enjoying pineapple tarts too – there are way too many good desserts and just not enough time ^^

…and with all that talk of pudding, the Mole’s off to raid the fridge!

An Introduction to Reya

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

Very soon I will be posting up an interview with Morag Lewis, the creator of several web and print comics including the completed series ‘Looking for the Sun’ and the ongoing webcomic ‘Ambient Rhythm’, both published by Sweatdrop Studios (check Morag’s own website toothycat.net to read most of her comics for free online, or the Sweatdrop Studios shop to buy print editions).

In our interview we focused on her soon-to-be-released comic, ‘Reya’, published by Markosia, as well as talking about many all-important comics topics (like desserts ^_~ ).   ‘Reya’ is a comic which debuted in 2008 – Chapter One is available to read for free on Myebook and the entire comic should be available to read for free online and as a print edition soon (I’ll post an update when the full comic is released).  The writing, penciling and inks are all done by Morag and the colour work on the first few pages is by Natalie Roberts.

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The comic is named after its lead character, the young girl Reya, who has just moved from her home village to a new town to study magic.  She is a little confused however because, as far as she knows, she has no magic within her and therefore cannot study it properly.

Neither can I, unfortunately, tell you much more of the plot, as with only one chapter to read there’s not an awful lot that can be said at this stage.  However, if you’re hungry for some more Reya straight away, you might be happy to know that this is not the first time we have been graced with her presence: she was originally part of a short story that was submitted to a past Tokyopop ‘Rising Stars of Manga’ competition.  Unfortunately she didn’t win, but her tale can be found in Sweatdrop Studios’ ‘Stardust’ anthology, which I reviewed in a previous blog entry.

Like her previous incarnation, the general feel of the comic ‘Reya’ is all-ages friendly.  Morag has mentioned that the story will get darker as it progresses, but she hopes that it will remain accessible and enjoyable to as wide an audience as possible.  The art style’ will be familiar to anyone to has read the author’s other work – it very much has her signature look to it.  The colour pages by Natalie Roberts are a treat for online readers but it can be assumed that, because of high printing prices for full colour works, the printed edition will probably be black and white only.  I recommend checking out the colour pages online even if you are planning to buy the print edition as they are very well executed, as you can see:

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Thus ends my introduction to ‘Reya’ – as said previously I will upload the interview with Morag ASAP, and keep your eyes peeled for a future announcement of the release of the full edition!