Thursday, November 5, 2009

November Zuda Reviews part 2

Hey folks, welcome back to our overview of this month's Zuda competition. Yesterday we brought you reviews for the first five contestants, including Big Ups: A Space Adventure, Brother of Bronze Hammer, Children of the Sewer, In Maps & Legends and Little Earth People. Today, it's part two, where we round out the field by looking at the other five entries: Model Student, Molly and the Amazing Door Tree, Peabody & D'Gorath, Slam McCracken and Witch Phase.

But enough jibber jabber. Let's get right down to it.

Model Student
Joe Bowen

Okay, it's time for me to make an admission: I am getting older. Of course, this applies to everyone on Earth, but usually I don't notice it until I read something like Model Student. When I was a kid, I myself had a bit of a temper and I probably would have identified with the main character, a high school kid who can't keep from flying off the handle and using his mad fighting skills to clobber anyone who crosses him. Now, however, I'm more likely to think about the fact that a kid who is willing to put three people in the hospital because they make a joke about his hairstyle is a kid that needs therapy, maturity and possibly some time in Juvie. I mean, honestly, kid, don't be such a prick.

This feeling, however, is not the fault of creator Joe Bowen. Model Student is well drawn and well written and the premise -- which features the main character becoming an undercover agent for the principal in a sort of 21 Jump Street kind of way -- is intriguing (and also bears some similarity to a project I have been developing for Zuda, which is too bad for me, but that's how the business works). So overall, I have to say this is one of the strongest submissions of the month; I'm just not that into violent anti-heroes these days. Guys: have some tea, put on some Enya and just relax, okay?

My Grade: A-. I'd give it an A if I didn't want the main character to spend the next six years in detention reflecting on the fact that being violently anti-social doesn't make you cool, it just makes you a jerk.

Molly and the Amazing Door Tree
Mark Murphy

This is a comic that I wanted to read as soon as I saw the title. That's a good title, because it pretty much gives you the whole feel for the series before you even look at one page. Not only do you get an idea for the premise -- there's a tree that acts as a door, it's amazing and there's probably a young girl investigating it (since Molly is a name associated with youth) -- but you get a sense of the lighthearted tone as well. It sounds like Pan's Labyrinth minus the realistic ultra-violence.

So how was the actual story? It was fine. The art was cute and the plot was okay, if a bit safe -- it's pretty much just a vignette that introduces the premise and sets up the actual story. Cute but not compelling. I didn't get much sense of what the actual plot was going to be per se -- we know she's going to investigate the other side, but what is she going to do there? Is there a menace? Is it a travelogue? -- but I am interested to see what Molly finds.

It's also interesting to note that this bears some smiliarity in concept to In Maps & Legends, which also features a female protagonist opening a doorway to another world. But they are different enough in tone that hopefully they won't cancel each other out.

My Grade: B+. A nice enough read, but it could have been punched up a little more either in terms of more humor or more plot. Even though this is pleasant, I'm not sure it grabs readers enough to get them to vote for it.

Peabody & D'Gorath
Mark D. Penman

Peadbody & D'Gorath is another solid entry this month. Coming from Mark Penman, this is the story of two guys, one of whom is apparently some sort of demon while the other is, I think, a Jack Skellington marionette. They are hunting some kind of mystical artifact and end up coming face to face with a giant demon dude; all hell breaks loose, no pun intended.

I enjoyed this strip; the writing was lighthearted and moved along nicely, while the art was well done and suited the story to a T. It wasn't quite perfect; a couple lines of dialogue here and there were just a bit stilted, while the art was so stylized that in a couple panels I had some trouble determining easily what was going on due to the line quality and coloring. But overall, I enjoyed this read. It might be a little esoteric for the average reader, but I think it will get some support this month.

My Grade: We'll go with B+. I have a feeling that this could develop into a solid A over time if the creator gets more space to work out the minor kinks.

Slam McCracken
Greg Woronchak

Of all the titles debuting this month, Slam McCracken is probably the most fully realized. The art and writing mesh well, the concept is clear and the execution of the project is professional. While some Zuda entries occasionally feel as though they aren't quite finished or weren't quite developed enough before production began, Slam McCracken feels like it's all there.

Whether or not you'll like it, of course, is a different story. Personally, I enjoyed the story, which is a crime noir parody where all the characters are household items like food or appliances; Slam is an egg, his informant is a tomato, the femme fatale is a toothbrush, etc. It's cute and entertaining, though I had the nagging feeling that I've seen this sort of thing before; noir is a genre ripe for parody and the talking fruit and whatnot seemed a bit reminiscent of the recent trend to recast fables and kid's stories in alternate forms (see: Shrek, Fables, etc.). So if you like that sort of thing, chances are you'll enjoy Slam McCracken; if not, it may be a bit too precious for your taste.

My Grade: A very solid entry in a month of solid if unspectacular entries. A-.

Witch Phase
Bryan Golden

This is an interesting case study. Witch Phase is essentially a manga story, done in traditional manga style art and using anime and mange tropes, such as the character shouting out the name of their moves before they do anything (which, come to think of it, Dr. Strange also does). Considering the popularity of manga over the past few years, you might expect this entry to be pretty popular, but so far the comments on the Witch Phase page seem somewhat negative. Why is that?

Well, it's likely because of two factors. Firstly, while there are a lot of manga fans, they aren't necessarily the people who will be reading or voting on Zuda; for traditional comic readers, there can be a backlash against manga in some circles. More importantly here, though, the entry itself is just a bit too much style over substance. The first page is a nicely executed title page, but then the second page is pretty much the same thing -- a full splash. That's a quarter of the comic devoted to two pictures of the main character, which leaves little room for plot, most of which is contained only in the synopsis on the side which many readers never bother to read. Instead, there's just space for one fight sequence, which does introduce some plot elements but which also proves to be a bit too frenetic -- primary colors in chaotic page layouts leads to a bit of overload.

The artist here definitely has some talent, and the synopsis shows there's some ideas going on here as well, but overall Witch Phase suffers from a lack of focus. If the elements here were harnessed and tightened, this could be a fun read, but as it stands it's a little too hard to get into.

My Grade: C. The art has a lot of promise, it just needs a firmer editorial hand.

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Well put Sir. I agree with you on all fronts. Any idea which entry will claim your vote? I myself am leaning towards Peabody & D'Gorath, though Slam is a close second. I have a feeling that Maps and legends is going to be the one to beat this month though.

I'm really undecided. Maps & Legends is the one I wanted to like the most, but it just left me a little flat. I really like the art on Children of the Sewers but I don't like the story; and Model Student is pretty much in the same boat, though it's the main character I don't like rather than the concept. Because of all that I'm kind of leaning towards Slam McCracken but I really don't know yet.

Thanks for the nice thoughtful review, Scott! I enjoyed reading it.

I'm really not sure how you or anybody else can honestly like Model Student. Considering it's long beaten to death premise, and mediocre art. I'm kind of (understatement here) surprised it is not in 10th place.

This is about as lifeless and boring as a comic can get.

I'm honestly perplexed since your reviews of the other entries this month seem to be spot on.

It seems you are not immune to the people that think they know things for a fact, either. I hope you don't get the ugly ones.

You are so generous it makes me dizzy. This month was an absolute crapfest, one of the worst I have seen in a long time if not the worst I have EVER seen. Not just what Anonymous said about Model Student, but really every comic was just cliche, badly written, and miserably boring. I had to force myself just to finish Maps and Legends.

I'm waiting for Zuda to stop putting a bunch of amazing entries together in one month and occasionally having lulls where they lump the crap entries into another.