Due to the amount of time it’s taking to write this Meta-review, I figured I might as well let people enjoy what I’ve written to date (especially as the character section is being difficult – looks like I have to get the Muse drunk again). Once I finish the Meta-review (over the next week), I will merge all of the parts into one post and delete the sections.
Comic: Footloose by Alice Nuttall and Emily Brady
It’s probably obvious by now that I’m a big fan of the fantasy genre. When I was younger, I devoured such stories as The Hobbit, the Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the varied Arthurian legends. As I grew older, my tastes became more eclectic (and I likewise became a huge fan of science fiction, despite the relative dearth of decent science fiction for someone who could gleefully read a 300+ page novel in a day). When I stumbled across webcomics, my first was Clan of the Cats, the first of a number of fantasy comics that I’d fall in love with. But I must admit, there’s a special place in my heart for Footloose.
Nor is this because Ally and Em gleefully inserted yours truly as a radio announcer in their comic (and on more than one occasion). I’ll admit, I found the thought of being included in a comic quite flattering (though this isn’t the first time; heck, after one glowing review of Girl Genius the Foglios joked that they’d include me as a doomed scientist in their comic), but I’d grown to love Footloose long before they first mentioned possible cameos. No, Footloose won me over with a combination of pretty art, fun characterizations, and one of the more unique fantasy worlds I’ve stumbled across in the webcomic genre.
In their own way, Ally and Em manage to capture a spark of the genius of Terry Pratchett and Discworld with their own creations. Oh don’t get me wrong; if you come to Footloose expecting to see bearded dwarf women and music with rocks in, you’re going to be sadly disappointed. But Footloose has that same sense of not taking itself serious that you can find in many of Pratchett’s novels (especially his earlier works), and Ally and Em’s characters (and indeed the world itself) live by the rules of storytelling (or Generics) rather than by the more elaborate and complex fantasy worlds that the likes of Tolkien, Jordan, and Lackey created. And while this might be confusing for someone relatively new to the fantasy genre, any long-time reader (or any fan of the website TV Tropes) will understand just how this world ticks… and enjoy the twists that Ally and Em throw out there.
Most of all, it’s the cast that has won me over. Ally and Em have created characters that live and breathe and who have their own likes, dislikes, fears, hopes, and more. And whether it’s the deliberately innocent Jin who sees the best in everything just because she wants to, her sardonic brother Daniel who inevitably ends up picked on by the storytellers, or the eternal novice Keti (whose name is said to mean “Oi! Girl!” In Nepalese) who never quite catches on to what’s going to happen (along with many others), you’ll undoubtedly find some character to fall in love with.
Much like many webcartoonists, Footloose artist Emily Brady wasn’t particularly fond of the early artwork for the comic. So she did something about it: she redrew the first two chapters of the comic. Mind you, she did this while still updating the comic regularly, so this wasn’t a traditional “reboot” like some webcomics have undergone, and Em did wrap up the redraw partway through the third chapter (though to be honest, I think she should have wrapped up the redraw five updates later to help disguise the rebooted art a bit better).
Looking back at Em’s early line art (from where the redraw ends) and at her most recent work, and you can see a marked improvement. When you consider Em’s drawn some 300 comics (both redraws and the regular storyline) since, this isn’t surprising (and it’s something I can’t stress enough for new cartoonists: draw a lot because the more you draw, the better you get). What’s more, her characters aren’t all variations of the same face and body. One example lies with what I call Keti’s “mindscape” sequences, where the three aspects of Keti (fae, human, and werewolf – I’ll get into the specifics later) talk among themselves. Fae Keti is taller and more angular of face and body, human Keti is plumper and has softer features, and werewolf Keti is a curly-haired bundle of fun who is visibly not human in features (her nose/mouth structure and her ears, for example).
Nor is Keti alone in this. Jin and her twin brother Daniel, who are both half-werewolf, both have features that differentiate themselves from many of the others (and from each other as well, unlike far too many twins in manga and comics), while An… well, An’s tall, lanky, and very much what would be called a “bishi” by manga and anime fans. Though there’s a very good reason for that which I won’t go into here. Considering the varied species in Footloose, which includes elves, sprites, pixies, imps, werewolves, and of course humans, Em definitely has her work cut out for her. Fortunately, she manages to make each species distinct (without going overboard). Part of this lies with her drawing of the various fae wings (with elves having transparent leaf-wings while imp wings are more… complex in design) and ear structures, but Em doesn’t limit herself to one or two facial designs.
While much of Footloose is in greyscale (with several updates that lack greyscale when Em’s tablet was broken), there are three exceptions to this rule. First, chapter covers tend to be colored. Second, An’s flashback sequence on her past was also “colored” (by using shades of green in the greyscaling rather than actual grey). Finally, we have Keti’s “mindscape” comics, which were caused after she was cold-cocked by the “Sword of Slayskull,” a plot device that is responsible for the current quest-related storyline. (Indeed, word from the creators has it that if you see blue sparkles, it bodes, usually for the worse.) The mindscape art is actually rather interesting, as Em creates a “glow” effect with the line-art (though sadly some of the colors introduced in the first mindscape (skin tones and hair colors) are missing in the second; it might be that this extra detail was forgotten or more likely left out due to time constraints).
Recently, Ally has started assisting in adding greyscale “colors” to the comic. She handles the flats, textures, and shading, while Em does finishing work and determines if light sources are correct or if the final product needs textures. Em still works on the special effects such as sound effects, magic, and any actual color effects (such as the current mindscape comic and bits with the Sword of Slayskull). This has had the benefit of freeing up more time for Em to work on her line art, and there are several instances where the artwork is absolutely breathtaking. Those strips naturally take the longest, but are extra treats for readers when they appear.
Of course, there’s more to art than just the crispness of the line-art or the coloring skill. Em excels at drawing characters that possess life. They suggest movement, rather than the artificial posted panels that quite a few artists (both beginning and experienced) tend to draw. Unfortunately, this comes at the expense of backgrounds. Much like many of her contemporaries, Em’s backgrounds tend to be lackluster at best. Trees and other environments are rudimentary at best or disguised with fills and the occasional white-space. It’s a common failing (one that I suffered from as an artist), but fortunately does not detract from the comic itself (which relies more on character interaction than background setting to set the scene).
(To be continued in Part 2)