Thursday, February 26, 2009

End of February

Here's how this is going to go down.
I'm going to state a lesson learned from each of the entries that I didn't give a proper review to.

Doctor Immortalis - The techno-speak is very good. I am an electrician and I whole-heartedly approve of the solid tech descriptions. The lesson learned is that you can't skimp on the details.

Fire and Water - I learn the value of good inks. This is a beautiful looking comic even though it's mostly black and white.

Gravedust - I like the design. It's spare, but not lazy. Everything that is worth realizing is realized fully. There's some good cartooning and some lovely cross-hatching. I am a sucker for cross-hatching.

Indie - I learned something unexpected, because I never would've imagined that I'd enjoy a Zuda entry in this particular format. I think that the writing does a good job at using stereotype without BEING stereotype, if you understand what I mean.

Ninjas from Ibiza - I was starkly reminded of Bleach and that made me look closer at the pacing. I found a '5 panel rhythm' developed briefly for the fight scene and that's prompted me to take a look at other action comics to see if something similar holds true in terms of the frequency of action beats

Operation: Nazi U - I witnessed 8 pages of good layouts. All the action is so clear it's a joy to look at. It's a shame that Kirby comparisons are dominating the talkback because it's not just a pretty art style. This is pretty slick storytelling. Also the colored page 7 looks FANTASTIC. Much love for ONU

Part-Time Magic - I took an idea for colors from here, I was inspired by this with an idea for my own comic, although I'd take it in a slightly different direction.
I also love the directness. Doesn't beat around the bush too much, all the unnecessary crap is weeded out.

Splitting Atoms - Reinforced the value of a smart sci-fi concept as a reflection of current events and it reinforced the value of a slick art style.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Back from my un-announced hiatus

I've been thinking about baby stuff and job stuff and honestly haven't been paying attention to comics much this past week and a half, but now I want to get into things again. I have some catching up to do.

I think it's best if I skip ahead to my review of 'The Hammer'. If you're a regular Zudie you might have caught me in a moment of weakness earlier this month.
As an art critic, there's great value in maintaining some sense of objectivity about the works I'm reviewing. It's hard to take me seriously if I'm pimping my friends all the time, isn't it? I'm dangerously close to the edge this month and now I've no choice but to justify my vote, so that's what I'm going to do.
I'm not going to pull any punches but I'm also going to make what I feel is a very strong case for 'The Hammer'.

The Hammer - Sam Little, Gabe Ostley, Rob Berry, Steve Steiner

When you first see page one I want you to think about all the other competitors that came before and consider that it is not only rare for an entry to start out with a splash page but also an entry that dives into the action immediately.
A hook.
Now think about that one too.
'The' hook is a hook. A right hook to the face.

In the lower right is a little line of dialog which gives a voice to our protagonist (sadly un-named, so one demerit to Mr. Little for that gaffe) and identifies the antogonist.
However, that's a very dangerous line of dialog. It's so clearly Sin City. Close your eyes and picture Marv speaking, but then open them and take in the reality of a huge pink bunny.
Thank God for anthropomorphic characters to take the edge off.
Had this been played 'straight' it would've been a turn-off. Too obviously derivative. Turning the protagonist into the Easter Bunny turns the thing on it's ear (pun intended) and makes it a cousin to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles instead.

The Turtles played it pretty straight of course. The 'once and done' shock of seeing talking walking turtles playing out a riff on an earlier style of Frank Miller's sets up a sort of blueprint that 'The Hammer' can follow, (or not follow) the statement having been made already that this is NOT a strict send-off of Sin City but rather maybe an homage or a commentary.
We are sent a clear message from the creators that there is an idea germinating beneath the surface.

If you're familiar with Scott McCloud's 'six steps' then you should recognize 'idea' as an endpoint in the creator's journey. The goal of a master creator.
Now I don't mean to suggest that the presence of an idea is grounds for enshrining these four in the comic book hall of fame, but I think that it's mighty damn impressive that so much craft was expressed in just that one page.
Shit. One PANEL.

Moving right along. Pages 2-4 serve mainly as exposition for the story proper, a bit of an action scene, some solid cartooning and a bloody little beatdown to set the mood, but page 5 is where they REALLY get you.
Bones Charlie looms over the cityscape, blood trickling down from the top of the page and seperating the actions of Calvin's walk through the city, giving a sense of the passing of time to the scene and dialing the dark mood up to 11.
Well.... 11 minus whatever points must be subtracted for the presence of a tall pink bunny in a leather coat. Ahem.
And Calvin's monologue ties everything together and makes very clear what this story is going to be about. Cut, wrap, print. Most Zuda entries would be happy to get even this far into the establishment of their plot but fortunately for all of us fans there's still 3 pages to read.

Page 6 has us back into the thick of the action again, and page 7 leads us into another nice splash page.
Imagine, two splash pages and yet I'm not feeling gypped on story.
The final page is another very nice mood piece. Actually just that page alone provides us with most of the necessary plot information. Consider it the closing statement. You could read just page 8 and feel like you've got some idea of what's going on. Calvin even looks slightly heroic as he stands there thinking about bashing someone's head in with a hammer.

So I'm sure you've rarely seen me so effusive in praise for a comic. It is true, I very much enjoyed 'The Hammer' and I certainly feel that it's worthy of my February vote, but I stop just short of suggesting an instant win and I withhold the golden standard of 'five star comic'.
But why?
I wasn't happy about the fact that the protagonist was not named in the comic. That's a bit of a pet peeve of mine. Not really a major point when judging the total craft of the submission mind you, but totally annoying.
The pencils are just a little bit too cartoony for my tastes. Although I'd have been mortified to see a strict interpretation of Frank Miller's high contrast work, I do think that there's a bit of a disconnect at times between Sam's gritty-sounding dialog and Gabe's funny bunny faces.
I think Rob Berry could've exacerbated this problem a little bit as well, although not through any particular fault of his own. I LOVE his inks. I instantly knew that he'd be the inker when I first saw his name listed on this project, but he's got a brush style that comes off as slightly 'whimsical' at times and although I can see how much he toned it down, it's still in there a little bit. Another stylistic disconnect.
And since I'm an equal opportunity complainer, I didn't particularly care for the thick red 'claw marks as motion lines' that Steve Steiner most likely bears the responsibility for.
If I were further along in my color theory education I'm sure I'd have something more useful to add than this, but I did think that the colors were beautifully done.

So there you have it. 4 stars, best in show, fave and vote. If I have any advice to give it would be that it's probably difficult for a group of four individuals to come together and mesh perfectly the first time out of the gate. Given more time to learn about each other I'm sure that the idiomatic complaints that I raised could be smoothed over and laid aside and we'd have a true five star entry at last.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Getting in trouble already :)

February! The worst month of the year. :(
But I'm thinking it's the best month of Zuda comics ever.

Strangely I've aroused the ire of one random native. I don't know what it is specifically that got this guy riled up since mostly I've only gone around proclaiming love.

And love is what I've got. I don't even remember which comic I'm getting to review first but I'm still excited because I know they're all good.

Azz's Inferno - Thane Benson

The first thing I love about this entry is that we're getting a 3 row per page standard. That results in a whole bunch of 'mini-panels' and I think it might be a sign of expanding understanding of the best ways to utilize the Zuda picture plane. Page 8 even goes to FOUR rows for goodness sake!
Actually that may have been a bit of a push. The most important image in the entire comic probably shouldn't be a micro-sized panel #14 (!) on page # 8.
But that's a quibble. Look at how much story is expressed. Observe that even though most of the story is a voiceover we actually know who the narrator is and he's speaking in a consistent voice.
If you must narrate your story, this is one good way to do it.
Mr. Benson doesn't limit himself to a strict interpretation of the 3 row page design and yet even when he does he frequently uses continued images to expand the feeling of space without breaking the rhythm of the story. For a few examples of what I'm talking about refer to page #7. Particularly pay attention to the middle row which depicts a scene which works as either a single static image of the construction in progress OR it could be interpreted as a chronological sequence since the work being performed by the skeletons depicts a more advanced state of accomplishment in each panel, from basic resource gathering in panel one to a completed city-scape in panel four.
The dual interpretation is delicious.

I like the simplicity and sameness of the skeleton designs. This isn't a human story and it was a good decision to make that mass of humanity into a homogenous element of design rather than muddying the viewers interest with needlessly attention-grabbing character designs. The demons are the focal point and Mr. Benson has made them colorful and interesting.

But the best part is the cliff-hanger ending that you can actually care about. So many Zuda entries have offered up a cliff-hanger ending that seemed lost because it lacked sufficient context.
This comic was fully established. There's lots of good questions going through my head but no confusion about what happened and I'm invested enough in the character to care about what happens to him.

Great start to the month. Four stars. Love it.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

We Make Clouds

We Make Clouds - Mike Farah, J. Longo, Johnny Storm

I've never been able to rock out a good critique when it comes to comics that are supposed to make you laugh, so I'll say that yes it does indeed make me laugh and the last page in particular strikes a positive chord. These things, I sound like a broken record when I talk about the page limit.

Everybody struggles with the page limit! (except Dan Thompson)
The struggle here is a little bit different because it's so hard to make everybody laugh at every joke. There are probably people who laughed at all 8 but I think that most of us laughed at somewhat less of these pages and the secret to the good funny strip is to max out that number for as many people as possible.
It's like with 'Pearls Before Swine' where I occasionally LOL vice the Far Side where I'd often LOL and every so often I'd be crying I'm laughing so hard.

I'd enjoy this quite a bit more I think if there were more than 8 pages. The jokes 'hit' often enough to maintain my interest but not often enough to entice me into a vote based on just 8 pages worth.

I remember J. Longo from month one, I enjoyed his work then and again although I do wish I'd seen it in color.

I give it a three star and I'm glad to see they're doing so well in the standings. Truly I'd be a happy fan if I saw something like this win Zuda. Well it's on the Zuda staff to keep giving us the opportunity to cast our votes here.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

The Devil's Cross

The Devil's Cross is the lucky recipient of my 'gonna be a daddy' review.

Five stars for a big bastard dressed all in black plate with a huge sword.
He's here to rape and pillage presumably and that's pretty awesome. Skulls are awesome and dead peasants are awesome and there's plenty of both here. The horse breathes fire and has fire for feet and that's pretty fucking awesome too.

Sorry if you expected more criticism. I'm not filled with any tonight.

we're pregnant

my wife just tested positive so we'll hopefully be welcoming our first child sometime around the beginning of october.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sea Dogs of Mars

Sea Dogs of Mars - Christopher John Beck & Keri Woodward

The first impression I got when I read this was 'colorful'. Extremely colorful. Bright, vivid, glow in the dark burn your eyeballs out colorful.
I'm not saying it needs to be toned down, it overwhelmed me a little bit at first but the ol' peepers came around soon enough. It could be a calling card. A mark of style. Hell, go for it.

There's a clear plot, a little bit of intrigue, some character moments but no character conflict as far as I can tell so I'm willing to give reasonably good marks for the writing. It's a bad match for my tastes so I'm not going to gush about it. It's entirely possible for a comic to be well written and yet not appeal to me personally and that's what we have here.

Since I'm attempting to assemble references for my own entry now (rare update, that's all you're getting) I'm turning an eye toward the architecture, culture, and tech that makes this 'Mars' in the year 3127. Looks Asian to me. Interesting choice but who am I to say that form won't win out over function in the next millenia? It does suggest building materials that wouldn't necessarily be available on another planet but hell, you could probably explain anything away. Just be careful that there aren't ever any contradictions. The technology needs to be advanced enough to explain the look and the culture needs to be 'artful' enough to explain the look.
You're saying something when you design future tech and you need to be mindful of that. It needn't (shouldn't) be a primary concern but it's the sort of thing that a fan would notice.
The devil is in the details.

Now I'll get to something real, something useful.
On page 4 we've got a simplified 'plaid' design on the drifter's headwear which works fine in the smaller panels but in panel 2 we're too close to the character and you can't get away with simplifying the design at that scale. It needs to wrap around the folds when the camera is that close to the detail.

I wonder why the pirate doesn't have any eyelashes? Combined with the thick eyebrows she looks a little bit manly in that last panel.

Finally a critique that I'm not even sure I'm going to explain correctly.
I've been TOLD that vectors are best for any art done on the computer if you want to scale or reproduce and I've been TOLD that vectors don't show up as 'aliased', so what I'm wondering then is why the panel borders look so jaggy?
I'm guessing the panel borders were drawn in PS and the dialog was done in Illustrator?
Go to panel 4, look at the diagonal panel borders, zoom in on the word balloons, compare to the panel borders.

I don't know if that's a problem for the rest of yinz but for me I think I'm learning a lesson about methodology here. Definitely a problem I'm going to avoid if I can.

Strong 3 star entry.