Thursday, December 10, 2009

December Zuda Reviews part 1

Yesterday we reviewed the results of last month's Zuda competition, and that means it must be time for a new batch of fresh faced and wide-eyed applicants to the prestigious title of official Zuda winner. That's right, we've got ten new strips waiting to be read and dissected, just like that newspaper frog, so what are we waiting for? Let's get right down to it!


Wai Kwong Chan

First up is Ayanna, a fantasy-tinged story about a woman and her pet monkey, who live in a seemingly peaceful, primitive village. That peace is shattered when, while the menfolk are away hunting, a pack of deadly animals attack the town. The twist? The animals appear to be controlled by a race of dinosaur-people.

The art in this entry isn't half bad. It's nicely detailed and the colors work well. Creator kenkwong does undermine this occasionally with some odd composition decisions; he seems to favor having people's faces half on and half off panel, which sometimes works and other times just seems inexplicable.

More detrimental to the story than this personal art quirk, however, is the scripting, which is weird at best, mainly because of the odd cadence. It seems as though he's trying to emulate current comic pros who like to write in a naturalisitc conversational style, but that is a dangerous thing to attempt without the skill to back it up. The non-word "um" is like a land mine that can blow up any line of dialogue if placed incorrectly, and here it takes out a few well-meaning word balloons. A little more conventional writing could have gone a long ways to shoring this up.

My Grade: It's not terrible, and I think I see the hint of something interesting in the plot, but it's not enough to make up for the blips in the writing and art. A solid C.

Daemon's Sphere
Andrew Hartman

Next up we have Daemon's Sphere, which, like Ayanna, suffers a bit from some gnarly art choices. Of maybe choice isn't the word; while the pacing is decent in this entry and the layouts and coloring work, for some reason all the figures look like they are made of Play-Doh. You know those stress ball things, that are like a pink rubbery goo and no matter how you squeeze them they just flex back into place? Well, the faces of our protagonists seem to have almost but not quite completed the process of returning to their normal form.

Facial malleability aside, this one isn't too bad. It's got an Indiana Jones style adventure feel to it, which could make for a good comic in the right hands. I did think the transition to the Arctic Circle or wherever in the last two pages was a bit abrupt and the (spoiler!) betrayal by the hired guy was right out of the adventure movie book of cliches. But there is some potential here, especially, as we will see, in a pretty weak field of entrants. This might have a chance.

My Grade: I guess it's a spoiler for the next few reviews that I said this has a chance even though I can only give it a B- at best. But keep reading anyway. Maybe I'm tricking you!

Goop Jr.
Mike Robinson

And in this corner we have a giant walking booger named Goop Jr. No, I am not bagging on the comic; that's literally the story: the main characters are to enormous sentient boogers that are sneezed up by a de-thawed Yeti from the distant past. Now they have to stop the Yeti before he accidentally infects all of humanity with the pre-historic disease he is carrying.

You know what, why the hell not. One thing I will give this story is that at least it seems to be having fun. A couple parts are farily well done, even; I particularly liked the younger booger's sad facve after his dad gets nailed by an oncoming car. Oh, don't worry, boogerphiles: being a snotman has its upside, one of which is that you just squish around when a car hits you. No permanent damage. That's pretty much what your reading experience will be like as well: it's not going to win an Eisner, but it won't do any major harm either.

My Grade: I do have to give the strip minus points because of the main character's unquestionable resemblance to X-Men character Doop. Having said that, I'll give it a B-.

Jason and the Argonauts Redux

Barry Keegan

I have to give Jason and the Argonauts Redux props for truth in advertising. After all, if you're going to do a new version of an old classic -- which, after all, is what almost every mainstream superhero comic is doing -- you might as well admit it right up in the title. Not that we really get much into Jason's story, much less see any Argonauts, in the first eight pages. Rather, we're treated to a vignette where the youthful Jason, watched over by his father, kills a marauding jungle cat, only to learn that it's some kind of robot thingy. As his dad is a centaur, though, we've already gotten the idea that something is slightly different here, so the robot's appearance isn't completely out of left field.

I say treated because the artwork, at least, is very sharp, with obvious Mignola influences. The writing, well, it's serviceable anyway, though there are a couple basic punctuation issues and some of the dialogue is a bit stiff and formal. This seems to be the main problem with most middle of the road Zuda entries: it's obvious which ones are done by writers (because they have subpar art) and which are done by artists (because of the subpar dialogue). I'm not sure why more people don't collaborate in order to raise the level of their game, but in this case it doesn't hurt the comic too much; the art is strong enough to carry past the iffy writing. For now, anyway.

My Grades: This gets a B from me. A little more polish on the writing and it could move up, though.

Mark Wolfchild
Shipeng Lee and David Levack

Finally, we have Mark Wolfchild. Who, you might note, has an eyepatch and a trenchcoat. Right off the bat my alarms are ringing, because this has all the makings of a serious parody (if that's not contradictory); the fact that the series actually plays this guy straight is a pretty bold move, because a lot of readers may have a bit of a hard time getting past the main character.

The effort to be taken seriously, though, is aided by the fact that this entry is, as it happens, the result of a collaboration (see? people do listen to me!) And the focus each part of the team brings to their element shows right off the bat with a pretty stunning full page cityscape that suggests you're about to read something a cut above the other strips.

That promise, unfortunately, is never quite realized. While the rest of the art is decent, it doesn't quite live up to the first page, in part because the figures aren't quite as competently rendered as the buildings. There's also an occasional disconnect between the writing and the art, which I guess is the flip-side of collaborations. The main beef I have with the story, though, is that the plot twist at the end seemed a bit rushed and forced; after the careful craftsmanship of the opening, it seemed like they rushed things a bit on the back end. A little more time working out the kinks and bringing the whole submission up to the level of the opening would have gone a long ways for this one.

My Grades: Started off well, even with the ridiculous main character, but lost steam right at the very end, which left me cold. Objectively this is probably a B- or maybe even a B, but for my personal enjoyment I can't go above a C+.

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