Thursday, January 7, 2010

January Zuda Reviews part 1

Another month, another new batch of comics over at Zuda. That, of course, is a good thing. Not so great, unfortunately, have been the last two competitions, which have featured a number of middling strips and few stand-out titles. Will that finally change with the coming of the new year? Well, let's take a look.

Beyond the Borderlands
Brian McLachlan

First up is Beyond the Borderlands by Brian McLachlan, which features the story of a guy with massive sideburns and his pal, a dude made out of wood, as they make their way through what appears to be an old Dungeons and Dragons module. Oh, wait, that was Keep on the Borderlands. My bad.

You can forgive me, I hope, for the mistake, though, considering this title reads very much like something a DM would put together, except with art. And that art is... actually, it's okay; the art is fairly simple and it won't blow your socks off, but it's not offensive either. It's like the Herb Trimpe of Zuda fantasy and by that metaphor, the writing is kind of like the Gary Friedrich of Zuda as well. It's, you know, okay.

Okay, though, isn't likely to win or grab a lot of votes.

My Grades: It gets a C+ overall, but I'll give the creator a B anyway because I do get the impression somehow that he enjoyed himself doing this, and that's not always the case.

Candy From Strangers
Jim Rodgers and Byron Jackson

And then there was Candy From Strangers. Let's get the minor complaints out of the way right off the bat. Firstly, the font chosen for the lettering doesn't suit my tastes. I know this sort of soft italicization has been in vogue over the last decade or two, but I've never been a fan of it; it's annoying to read and it also makes everything look like an Image comic.
I also wasn't thrilled with the graphic violence on display on pages three and four; for me, these panels didn't enhance the creepy mood of the story but undermined it, turning what could have been a subtly dark story into an in-your-face shock display that I believe was unnecessary to the story. The suggestion of violence is often more powerful than the depiction of it, as it allows the imagination to fill in the details more thoroughly than any pen can.

I'm being critical because in all other respect, this is a very well done title, which starts off with detectives examining a crime scene. I'm not entirely sure where the story is going, which also is a bit of a weakness, as more of a hook could have been crafted to draw readers in, but overall the writing is definitely above average, as is the moody artwork. If people are intrigued enough -- and are willing to actually read this much dialogue, which modern audiences seem increasingly uninterested in doing -- then this could be a contender.

My Grades: I'm giving this a very strong B+; I had to dock it slightly for the reasons stated above, but this has potential in the long run to develop into an A.

Iron Sam
David Dumeer

Iron Sam is a slightly quirky but generally straightforward post-apocalyptic tale that reads a bit like Mad Max meets Lone Wolf and Cub. In this opening segment, we basically get an extended action sequence, where the eponymous samurai-like robot gruesomely dispatches a bunch of biker types menacing a girl who is jammed into, like, an old dryer. Sam takes care of them pretty quickly using what appears to be a really sharp segment of plumbing and then drives off with a wagon of body parts in tow. The end.

The art here is serviceable, if a little stiff in the action panels, and the violence, while extreme, is just cartoony enough for me not to mind too much. There's also a little bit of a spark in the relationship between robot guy and appliance girl, which could make an interesting dynamic. Overall, though, I thought this was just a little to one-note, and while I did wonder why Sam needed a bunch of torsos, I'm not sure I care enough to find out the answer.

My Grades: Solid but perhaps a bit too derivative. A C+ seems appropriate.

Chuck Harrison

Cartoonist Chuck Harrison brings a decidedly different tone to this essentially wordless strip, where all the "dialogue" is done entirely in binary code. The story (or vignette, I suppose) is about a Geppetto-like fat guy who make tiny versions of EVE from Wall-E. This is all fun and lighthearted right up until he has a massive coronary and topples over, leaving his little robot creations to figure out what just happened.

What happened, as it turns out, is... well... something in binary. While the code thing didn't bother me (and was actually a little cute), it did lead to a little bit of confusion for me at the end of the story, as I wasn't sure exactly why the horde of EVEs attacked the newbie. I also was just a little put off by the art, which actually was really nice and expressive but which also seemed oddly squished, as though he drew the entire thing on a loaf of Wonder Bread before sitting on it. I'm not sure if this was regular sized art squeezed into the Zuda format, but it might have benefited from being done to scale. Unless, of course, Harrison just likes drawing wide guys, in which case he should come to my weekly poker game to get some live modeling done.

My Grades: Cute and original-ish, but I have to dock points for the squishiness. B.

Pavlov's Dream
Shari Chankhamma

This whimsical story from Shari Chankhamma stands out pretty well among the mostly darker, action stories on Zuda, as it tells the (sometimes wordless) story of a couple kids who go through a door to another fantastic world where adventure awaits in the form of a spirit inhabiting the main character's shadow. Or, it would stand out, if it weren't similar artistically (in terms of color palette, anyway) and thematically to November's Molly and the Amazing Door Tree.

That strip, you might recall, finished 9th, and while Chankhamma shows some innovation in page layout and use of graphic symbols in place of dialogue (Scott McCloud would be so proud) I'm afraid this one isn't likely to fare much better.

My Grades: I liked it okay, though it was just a bit choppy at times; it's harder to establish a mood in eight pages than it is to craft a hook for a plot-driven story. Within those constraints, then, I'll give this one a B.

Tomorrow: The next five! What else did you expect?

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