Usually I tend to dislike situational comedy, due to its need for a victim for the audience to laugh at. Perhaps I’m just too empathetic, but I’m not exactly a fan of laughing at someone else’s pain. Still, I must admit I enjoyed the twist in today’s Sandra and Woo, along with the shout out to the classic newspaper comic Calvin and Hobbes. Given the number of webcartoonists who have cited Calvin and Hobbes as one of their inspirations for cartooning (which may explain why so many comics succumb to hiatus or are abandoned when the cartoonist starts losing interest), it’s not too surprising to see Oliver Knörzer and Powree give a nod of their head to Calvin’s many attempts to trick his parents into succumbing to his requests with numerous over-the-top questions. But where this comic shines is Sandra’s reaction to getting drenched by ice-cold water, and thinking Larissa was to blame. The fact Larissa was innocent (a rare thing indeed) is why I enjoyed the humor of the moment… and the fact that we laugh not at the target of the comedic moment, but at the prankster who was, for a change, not to blame.
Over the years since I started reviewing comics, I’ve watched some of my favorite strips succumb to hiatus. It’s understandable, seeing that few webcartoonists can make a living drawing comics online (which is undoubtedly disheartening to many cartoonists), but often real life issues and time constraints tend to be the issues most likely to send a comic into hiatus (followed by ill health). Fortunately, some comics have managed to pull themselves out of hiatus as time constraints fade and issues are dealt with… and just this evening I learned one of my favorite comics, the fantasy webcomic Runewood Abbey, had started updating again without my being aware.
As I mentioned in my initial review of the comic two years ago, RA seems primarily to be a character-centric comic, and while there is an ongoing continuity, there doesn’t appear to be any actual overarching storyline. While I initially thought each chapter focused on one specific character, taking a closer look I’ve noticed that there are no “stars” to the comic; while the first chapter served to introduce much of the cast, the second chapter (as an example) was as much about how Nansa’s sisters were concerned about her as much as being about Nansa herself.
Despite there being no all-encompassing storyline, writer Rachel Spitler and artist Michael Brewster have slowly been expanding on the back story for the sisters. One thing that I find fascinating is the hints that prior to taking up residence in the abandoned Abbey the comic is named for, they seem to have worked for the Duke (or someone in a position of power at least). Given the low fantasy setting (in which magic is not commonplace and the people live in a feudal society) and the sisters’ fears of being persecuted, their voluntary exile to the Abbey makes some sense. Still, I must admit I’d love to see more of the sisters’ past and what led to their curses… and their exile.
Hints of this were already given with the introduction of a seventh sister, Ferryn, and her nightmare of what might be the origin of the sisters’ curse; it would be fascinating to see more pieces of this puzzle out of the revived Runewood Abbey… or, for that matter, the identity of the last two sisters, and why they do not stay at the Abbey. With the hiatus now over, readers may finally start getting answers (and, no doubt, more questions) even as Spitler and Brewster continue to expand on the characterization of the sisters. Hopefully real life will be lenient toward the strip, and the comic will not succumb to hiatus once more.
Addendum note: It appears, as comments below have pointed out, that Runewood Abbey slipped back into hiatus even before I noticed it. Hopefully it’ll return to active updates sometime in the near future.
I have to admit I rather enjoyed the last couple of updates of Brad J. Guigar’s superhero parody comic Evil Inc., though I have to admit to finding the general premise for the storyline (with Lightning Lass being impersonated by an angry hero who is going around committing good deeds in her name to clean up her reputation) to be perhaps a bit over the top. Of course, when you get down to it, the villains in Evil Inc. aren’t especially evil in the grand scheme of things. Undoubtedly this is what makes Lightning Lass’s encounter with a young girl who wants to be Lightning Girl 2.0 (complete with her own castle) so adorable. And I suppose when you get down to it, the girl’s opinion of Lightning Lass is spot on: she’s a woman who doesn’t let people tell her she can’t do stuff. To me, that’s a message more women should try to live up to.
Normally I tend to enjoy Tom Siddell’s contemporary fantasy webcomic Gunnerkrigg Court. I must admit, however that I had trouble following the lastest story, “Divine,” which diminished my enjoyment during this storyline. Part of this lies with the comic’s start; we start the comic with Zimmy, a tertiary character who has played a central role in several previous stories, being pursued by the mystical cut Antimony received quite a while back, until Gamma (Zimmy’s companion) arrives to drive Zimmy’s nightmares away. From there we switch to Antimony being unconscious in a hospital bed with Kat hovering by her bedside, desperately concerned about her friend… at which point Zimmy and Gamma make their entrance.
The problem is, Antimony’s ailment came out of the blue, and felt out of place given the initial nightmare Zimmy was suffering. We’re given no hints as to what was up with the nightmare, or why Antimony fell ill, so her hospitalization (on top of the nightmare) felt disjointed. Of course, given the nature of dreams and nightmares (a realm in which Zimmy seems to dwell and Gamma seems to dispel) this sense of disconcertedness may have been deliberate. Sadly, readers were left with questions unanswered and no real clue as to what was going on here. Was Antimony’s ailment due to her time in the Forest? Was it her father’s meddling? Or is her own nature starting to devour her from within, as it did her mother?
Ultimately, it may be that “Divine” suffers from the curse many middle stories succumb to; it needs both the earlier parts and the end for it to make sense. Taken on its own and readers are left with confusion. And I must admit there were some nice touches; Antimony’s decision not to put on her mask of makeup before her best friend was most touching (though Kat has seen through Antimony’s mask on multiple occasions). But I can’t help but think that if “Divine” had been structured slightly differently, with Antimony’s illness shown rather than told, that this chapter might have made more sense… or at the very least have provided a solid frame from which the rest of the chapter could have grown.
Due to a significant computer failures I’m currently working off my backup laptop. Thus graphics for the reviews will be missing for a few days until I install GIMP and an FTP program (though I’m also going to vacuum the primary PC thoroughly to determine if I can nurse the computer back to life for a bit). I apologize for the inconvenience.
Addendum note: All fixed. I’ve added all the missing graphics.
When Drowemos first announced he was stepping down from the writing duties for the fantasy gender-bender webcomic Exiern, I was tempted to send in a submission to write for the comic. Ultimately I decided against doing so as I barely have time for my own reviews and writing, and I realized I wouldn’t stay true to the spirit central to the comic. This is perhaps amusing as the new writer, Chemiclord (aka Thomas Knapp), has definitely taken the comic in a direction different from what I suspect Drowemos would have gone; this is not a bad thing, however, and in doing so I believe Chemiclord is helping to relaunch the comic with a renewed purpose and story that will draw in more readers.
Looking back at Drowemos’ tenure as writer (and artist for a bit) of Exiern, I’m left with the impression he was trying hard to satisfy his audience’s desires in the hopes that this would build his readership (and increase the funds coming in so he could afford to update the comic). While in theory this seems like a good idea, it is almost always destined for failure. Stories that pander to fans inevitably fail to satisfy most everyone involved. Ultimately, there needs to be a degree of separation between the fans and the creators. This isn’t to say that creators can just do whatever they want, mind you; if they’re not careful they can easily alienate readers and drive off audiences in the name of artistic integrity. But as the saying goes, too many chefs spoil the broth.
Unfortunately, Chemiclord entered in the middle of an existing storyline which may have blunted his writing initially. Add in Drowemos’ continued role as the comic’s consultant and the end result was a hybrid storytelling that contained a lot of Drowemos’ plots even as Chemiclord expanded upon them. With the conclusion of Ctyx and Mira’s story (for the time being) and King Urtica’s plot to try and marry the barbarian protagonist Tiffany, it feels like Chemiclord is finally coming into his own as the comic’s storyteller. There has been a shift away from needless cheesecake and pointless nudity and toward a richer story which now includes an expansion of Tiffany’s own past as she heads north to confront her brother who tried to get her killed off.
What’s more, Tiffany herself has changed. It’s subtle, and may be related to the previous storyline where Tiffany had to come to terms with being a woman, but I’ve gotten the feeling she’s no longer obsessed with regaining her former gender (a quest that has in turn cursed a growing number of men with gender-transformation syndrome). This is actually a welcome change to me, and if it is Chemiclord’s doing, I applaud him for taking this path. For a while there, Drowemos had hinted at a rather rich and fascinating world in which Exiern was set. Hopefully Chemiclord will expand on these hints and fulfill the promise evident in those early comics.
When I first came across Andrew Dobson’s comedic pirate comic Alex Ze Pirate, I must admit I was reminded of my all-time favorite pirate movie Cutthroat Island (though I know a lot of people who’d cry foul and claim Pirates of the Caribbean is better, along with some purists who prefer Treasure Island). Undoubtedly part of this fellowship lies with neither Cutthroat Island or Alex Ze Pirate taking themselves seriously; while Cutthroat Island does slowly build into an epic storyline, it doesn’t forget that ultimately it’s entertainment. Conversely, AzP doesn’t bother with an ongoing story (in fact, the latest storyline may be the longest one it’s run) and instead seeks refuge in humor and character.
At its core, AzP is the story of the pirate captain Alex and her crew, and it is here where the comic’s comedic strengths lie. While the comic is nominally about the pirate captain Alex, who seeks plunder and a cute boyfriend (the latter of which is problematic as despite her very girlish figure she keeps being thought of as a cute gay guy by almost every male out there), in many ways it’s the cabin boy Sam who carries the comic. Perhaps part of this lies with Sam’s role as the comic’s occasional straight man and his continued role as the comic’s chew toy. Still, in many ways I’ve found Sam to be a foundational character for the comic, giving other characters someone to work from while indulging in their own lunacy.
The third character who seems to straddle the line between primary character and comedic relief is with Atea, a young lady who has a massive crush on Alex and wants to be in a romantic relationship with her… despite the fact Alex prefers guys to girls (which isn’t to say Alex won’t flirt with Atea, especially when Sam’s around to get flustered by their antics). In fact, nearly every time Dobson pulls out the running gag with Alex being mistaken as a gay guy, he follows it up with Atea’s attempts to pick up Alex (and mostly getting shot down). Still, Dobson hasn’t expanded upon Atea’s story to the extent he’s done with Alex and Sam, and some elements mentioned in the cast page haven’t appeared in the comic as far as I can tell.
The remainder of the cast exists primarily for comedic purposes, such as Alex’s uncle, Uncle Peggy, who manages to get into mischief (usually involving trying to steal Atea’s undergarments) despite having hooks for each hand and two peg legs, or the dog person Talus who has an odd fixation on nails, abandonment issues, and a tendency toward histrionics when it’s funny. And ultimately, that’s what the comic is about, what’s funny. Perhaps this is part of the reason it’s taken me a while to write this review; I’m more in my element when talking about epic storylines and grand plots than in character-driven humor. But if you enjoy light-hearted humor and characters who indulge in silliness (and I can’t see why you wouldn’t), I have to recommend Alex Ze Pirate as well worth reading. Just be careful, or the comic will steal your afternoon as you peruse its archives.