At its most fundamental level, Footloose could be described as a coming-to-age school comic, focusing on the happenings of a young lady named Keti (which translates loosely in Nepalese as “Oi! Girl!” which may give you some insight into Keti’s mom). The comic utilizes some fundamental aspects found in many school stories: Keti is an outsider who is new to the school, she is disliked by the popular girls, she’s not that good in her classes, and on down the line. But with two words this entire core story is turned on its ear: fantasy dojo. Yes, you heard me right. The story is set in a dojo located in the realm of Faerie and teaches young men and women one of four fighting styles.
To twist things even further, the four fighting styles are the School of Indiscriminate Whacking with Oversized Weaponry (which I think is self-explanatory), the School of Marketable Magic (or in other words, Magical Girls), the School of Overrated Destructive Mecha (don’t ask), and last… Kung Shoe. I swear, I am not making this stuff up and I’ve not been drinking (today). Kung Shoe is the art of fighting critters and people… with high-heeled shoes and other footwear. Of course, considering the shoe is just the weapon, and it utilizes an array of kicks, throws, and thwacks with said footwear, it’s more painful than it sounds. Though considering what a girl in high heel shoes can do to a guy even without training… maybe it is as painful as it sounds.
Keti is, naturally enough, in Kung Shoe. Hey, with a fighting style name that amusing, of course that’s where the protagonist would be. The comic follows her as she struggles to learn the art of Kung Shoe, while dealing with the antagonism of the Magical Girls (and I’ve never seen magical girls written up as so truly despicable as in Footloose), finding love (naturally enough; hey, it may be a fantasy dojo, but it’s still a school comic, and romantic relationships are integral to that genre), and even struggling to maintain friendships. And while there are some dramatic moments (such as in the current storyline), for the most part Footloose retains a high level of silliness that makes this a refreshing shift from the Penny and Aggie clones.
All too often fantasy comics tend toward dramatic epic tales. I blame Tolkien. While he may not have started the entire fantasy genre (indeed, much of his work borrowed extensively from various mythologies), he made it popular with The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. And these two works actually show the polarity between fantasy, with The Hobbit being in many ways light fun fantasy (even if heroes died and armies fought over the Dragon gold), and The Lord of the Rings being a darker epic tale, ending with an end of the age of fantasy and the start of the Age of Man (and of Reason and of the many varied beliefs that humanity has come up with as it turns away from superstition and magic).
Roza is a fortunate glimpse at the lighter side of fantasy, with a delightful silliness to it that is often lacking from fantasy comics these days. Ironically, Rosa starts with the potential of being a dark and dire tale, as its primary protagonist, a young lass named Roza Firel, suffers from an odd curse which causes her blood to catch fire and to take odd forms as the blood took on a life of its own when she’s cut and bleeds. Naturally enough she seeks a cure, or information on someone who can help her remove the curse. Accompanying Roza is a sentient (if not exactly intelligent critter named Nic, who seems to be an odd mixture of possum and rat (and a cat’s tail I think), fitting into the traditional role of thief and cute trickster animal.
Combined with a refreshingly upbeat story, Roza’s artwork is crisp and clean, with an incredible level of detail to the shading. Attention is paid to lighting sources and direction (and one of the fascinating aspects of this lies with the fact that Roza’s own blood can be a light source, whether it is igniting hay in a barn or illuminating the darkness as she uses it to fight off an enchanted foe) both for highlighting and for illumination purposes. One aspect of the art I especially enjoy is the realism in the drawn people; for example, Roza has a mole below her left eye, and this is consistently included in drawings of her, even at angles where it would be quite easy to skip the mole and pretend it doesn’t exist. This attention to detail shows in the rest of the comic and helps Roza stand out among a vast sea of fantasy fare.
Eric Burns of Websnark fame once stated that there is no Webcomic Community. While he is correct there is no meta-community of fandom, his assertion is flawed in that there is a multitude of smaller communities. While most of these fans will read one or two comics (and indeed some are ignorant to the fact there are other comics out there), it is the small number of fans who read multiple comics that comprise the nervous system of the greater Webcomic community. The problem lies with encouraging fans to branch out and join the various sub-groups of fans.
Webcomic Collectives help bridge the gulf between comics and the diverse groups of fans. Forums such as those used by the Keenspot Collective, Comic Genesis, Modern Tales, and those comics utilizing the The Wotch Community meta-forums help to bring fans together and allow ease of communications for readers to easily discuss a multitude of comics without needing to subscribe to dozens of forums. Tomgeeks is a new webcomic community currently comprised of seven comics by noted female cartoonists.
But Tomgeeks promises to be more than just a forum community or a webcomic collective to allow for the ease of sharing fans. Tomgeeks also includes reviews of webcomics, games, sites, and more, links to useful sites, and an atmosphere of encouragement and support between female webcomic creators. Nor is the site limited to the seven women who’ve founded Tomgeeks… as any actively updating comic produced by a female cartoonist can also join. And while I’ve not read all of the comics of the Founders, those I have read are among the best comics on the internet, be they created by men or women.
Transformation Comics, especially with male-to-female transformations, have become a staple of webcomics. No doubt part of it lies with the ease of writing a female character who is, mentally at least, a man. When I’m feeling less cynical about it, I’d talk about the spiritual ramifications of gender and of the psychological aspects of exploring what it is to be a woman (or a man) that comes about from this genre. But considering that a sizeable percentage of Transformation Comics are humorous comics, I’d not be hitting far from the mark (which is a bit sad, if you think of it. Just once I’d love to read a psychological horror looking at the loss of self and of identity as a man’s mind slowly succumbs to the biological imperatives that is inherent in the female biochemical system, which does have a direct influence on behavior and thought processes).
What sets Troop 37 apart from its peers is the dual barrels of having the victim of the transformation a 10-year-old boy who suddenly becomes a 16-year-old girl and the fact that the comic is a round-robin of storytelling and artistry. While this does have its drawbacks from a strictly storytelling point of view (as in the story is loose and almost accidental in nature), and the art will shift (sometimes wildly) from update to update, this round-robin style has drawn in artists and cartoonists to contribute to this comic. Another thing that sets T37 apart from its peers lies with the fact that people know that Jimmy used to be a boy. They don’t really care, and there’s no media-storm that we’d see in reality, but for the most part people know who Jimmy was, and just cope with the fact she’s a girl now.
Thus we get to see such silliness as Jimmy being forced into Girl Scouts, being forced to wear skirts because her old clothes are “inappropriate” (too small and too tight, really), and even being asked to babysit for one of her best friends (male, naturally enough). As the comic is being kept PG, the fanservice is kept to a minimum (such as Jimmy being forced to wear a bikini on the beach as part of the Female Conspiracy to feminize the former boy) and we’ve not encountered any of the real issues that teenaged girls would face. But T37 isn’t meant to be a serious look into the human psyche. It’s definitely worth a look, and if you’re an artist or writer, head to their forums and offer to draw or write a strip.
One of the problems that arises with long-running story comics is that they will eventually become too big. Most story comics tend to have a fairly large range of characters and the characters start to merge together until readers either have a difficult time identifying who is doing what without embarking on an archive trawl to pull together the varied aspects of the story. It’s usually around that point (identifiable by increased noise on the comic’s forum) that many webcartoonists trot out that trusty ol’ hound called a recap to help quickly fill in readers as to what is going on. This also sometimes arises after a cartoonist returns from a break, especially if in the middle of a story. Even a small pause in telling the story can result in readers losing track of the story… and the recap can also help the cartoonist get back into the story.
Thus perhaps it shouldn’t be surprised to see a recap in Megatokyo, especially as Fred Gallagher returns from an almost three-week break brought on by the birth of his son Jack Gallagher. The problem with recaps lies with their repetitive nature for those readers who still know what’s going on (those who recently read the archives, for instance), and it’s a problem Gallagher works through quite nicely by telling the story from the viewpoint of two characters from the last Omake of MT, unMod with the characters Piroko (Piro’s avatar used in first person shooter games) and Largo (who uses himself as an avatar in said games) to retell the story. In doing so, Gallagher even manages to answer one question about Tohya Miho – in that the zombies are scared of her.
A common complaint among fans of the early MT strips lies in the apparent loss of humor within the comic. I can fully understand this, having complained of the same in CRfH before I stopped reading it. There the comparisons end as more recent updates have jumped feet-first into some of the most delightful silliness that MT has seen in a long time. Little things such as Sonoda Yuki stealing a Zilla for Largo or tossing washing machines at zombies (or even the zombies marching, unseen, behind Piro and his wayward band of Nanasawa protectors lugging some serious military hardware) show that while the comic had become more dramatic in the past couple of years, the humor was only lurking in the background, waiting to come back with a vengeance. This continues to play true with the recap, and promises to be the case with future comics as well. Undoubtedly delays will arise again as Gallagher learns to juggle both comic and helping his wife care for their newborn son, but at least both long-time readers and new fans alike will have a better understanding of what’s going on even as unMod’s Largo pulls out his BFWii in preparation for the fragfest awaiting him.
One of my major gripes about Dominic Deegan lies with the fact that Dominic often saves the day, whether directly or manipulating things behind the scenes. To be honest, it was getting rather tedious. I mean, who honestly wants to read a story where you know the good guy is going to prevail and not even get his clothes scuffed? It’s like watching the New England Patriots thoroughly trounce another football team by 20 points. What’s the point? Where’s the enjoyment? (Then again, I’m not big into sports, partly because I dislike the big wins. When the game is tight, it’s different. But landslide victories are boring, be they sporting events or stories.)
So I’ve been rather surprised with the latest DD where Dominic has proven fairly ineffectual against the Demon Siegfried in his attempts to corrupt his former friends Jayden and Milov and drag them into the depths of Hell itself. I’m unsure if Michael Terracciano finally listened to complaints about the almost Mary Sue-esque nature of his star character or if he nerfed Dominic so to focus the strip more on Jayden and Milov’s struggle against Siegfried, but there is a definite feel to the comic lately that suggests that we could very well see the Fall of yet another hero. Indeed, it’s entirely possible (if unlikely) that Siegfried could prevail against his former friends.
The best stories are those where you can honestly believe the hero’s life is in danger. This sense of mortality in the hero humanizes them, and creates tension surrounding the story. It makes the story worth reading, and something that captures the imagination. People like to root for the underdog. Nor do heroes always have to win. You can lose a battle or two and still win the war. And sometimes… the cost of victory is so high that it is almost better to lose. It is these close fights that draw readers in. This sense of danger has long been lost to DD… and it’s a welcome surprise to see it return once again. If Dominic remains more human and less protagonist demigod, then Dominic Deegan may once again be worth reading.
Xylia: A Faerie Tale is the latest work of Barb Jacobs, the former artist of the fantasy comic Talismen. While I must admit to some disappointment that Talismen succumbed to hiatus, it is a definite pleasure to see Jacobs drawing again, and this time telling her own story. And while we’ve not yet had enough updates to get a true gist of what is going on here, what we’ve seen hints at a story that promises to be fascinating.
Unfortunately, the prologue is in some ways rushed. Jacobs even admits this in her notes at the start of the comic, talking about the psychiatric diagnosis for Charles in which he was diagnosed with schizophrenia. It might have worked better to insert a comic before the diagnosis mentioning the behavioral issues that were left out in the prologue that led to his diagnosis. Seeing that the psychiatric issues are perhaps secondary to the story and to its beginning, I can understand why it was left out. Still, it is often better to show rather than tell, even if it increases the length of time spent telling a story.
Jacobs continues to be on the top of her game artistically, with a style that was polished in her previous work (and which is distinctive enough that I quickly realized I’d seen her work before). But while her pencils and character designs are better than many professional print comics, it’s Jacobs’ work with colors and lighting that truly helps her work stand out even amidst the multitude of webcomics out there. The combination of fantastic artwork and a story that teases with enough hints of what is to come to catch your interest without giving everything away makes this a comic definitely worth watching.