Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Zuda Week: October Reviews part 2

Yesterday we brought you mini-reviews of the first five contestants in this week's batch of webcomics over at Zuda. Today: the other five. Proof that even writers can occasionally do math. Included in this batch: Impure Blood, Old Cthulhu's On the Rise, Pluck, ShockPopTerror! and Where Evils Dare.

On to the comics!

Impure Blood
story by Nadja Baer, art by Nathan Lueth

Impure Blood is an interesting entry in the fantasy/action genre. Baer and Lueth do a good job grabbing your attention right from the beginning, starting in the middle of a gladiator battle that also serves as an introduction to the main characters, who include the gladiator and several vaguely gothy looking aristocratic types. The plot swings into gear pretty quickly, giving us enough of a hint at the story to tease us with possibilities and ending on a decent hook. In other words, it's a well paced and crafted entry.

Having said that, it's not entirely to my personal taste. The character design was a little heavy on the sort of manga influenced vampire bourgeois stylings that for my money have become a little too commonplace these days to still be interesting. I'm sure some people still love this sort of look, but I'm pretty much over it; other than the gladiator, I felt a strong desire to pitch the rest of the characters into a volcano. But, again, that's more my taste than a deficiency in the comic, which was well drawn for the chosen style and aptly written and structured. In a month with a weaker field, this might have fared well, but I'm not sure there will be enough support to move it further in the competition.

My Grades: For personal enjoyment, this gets a C+ , but realistically it probably deserves a B instead.

Old Cthulhu's On the Rise
Daniel Thollin

Next up is Old Cthulhu's On the Rise, which I think is on page 455 in your hymnbook. This is a pretty simple tale, being basically just an introduction. A couple guys are wandering around the countryside in England when they get spooked by... something... and then run into a creepy fisherman type who leads them to town and who may or may not be either Cthulhu or Old Gregg from The Mighty Boosh. Though he's certainly one or the other.

This has some promise; old fashioned Lovecraftian horror actually seems kind of refreshing compared to some of the new stuff that is currently being overdone, and the final page is a pretty nice way to go out. But the rest of the comic doesn't quite live up to the promise. The art is not quite there yet, though I suspect the artist would be better once he got to the monsters instead of regular stuff like human faces and landscapes and such. And the writing, while not offensively bad, isn't quite focused either. I'd be interested in seeing what creator Daniel Thollin might come up with in a couple years after he's honed his craft more, but for now, this one falls a bit flat.

My Grade: C-

writing by Gabe White, art by John Amor

Pluck is one of the stronger entries this month, in part thanks to its finely rendered black and white art. There has been some discussion about color versus black and white on the Zuda site, and the consensus seems to be that black and white comics have an inherent disadvantage with the voters. I don't know if that's true, but I hope not, because Pluck is an example of a comic that benefits from being uncolored. The linework in the art is deft but also very fine in the technical sense; there are a lot of thin, small lines that might very well be lost or obscured if the art were overlaid by a coloring job. A good colorist can add some to a comic, but a bad colorist (or just the wrong colorist) can completely wreck otherwise good art. This is a case where I suspect the story works better in black and white than it would if it were colored, so I hope it doesn't suffer in the voting as a result.

As for the story, it looks to be a modern take on old fashioned fantasy, with a average kid and his best gal pal appropriating a prophecy in order to make themselves into the chosen one and thus gain the monetary benefits. I wasn't totally enamored with this, mainly because there was just enough snark that I ended up not particularly liking either of the main characters. And if I'm going to read more than eight pages of a story, I'm going to need to care about someone or something. But this opening is interesting enough to at least give it the benefit of the doubt for now.

My Grade: B+

Jean-Michel Ringuet

To borrow a railroading term, this is probably one of the most narrow gauge stories you're going to find on Zuda. An ode to 70's style grindhouse films such as... Grindhouse... this is pretty much a vignette showing two Daisy Duke wannabes taking down monsters and bikers alike with everything from a tire iron to a chainsaw. There doesn't seem to be a whole lot in the way of plot -- something about some missing somebody or something -- but that's not really the point. Humming the theme to Convoy while checking out hot chicks in hot cars wielding hot lead is.

And on that level, this is fine. The style of the art is perfectly done, with everything overlaid by what seems like a layer of grime, making this look just like a 70's era cartoon print or old lunchbox, complete with era appropriate font. Indeed, the whole enterprise is pretty much an exercise in style over everything, so if you enjoy that sort of thing, go for it. To quote eminent literary critic and comics expert Bill Belichick, it is what it is. With ShockPopTerror!, there's not much point in saying anything else.

My Grade: This is a tough one. I'm sure for those people into Dukes of Hazzard and Coffy, this is great. For everyone else, it's probably a C+.

Where Evils Dare
writing by Tony Lee, art by Stefano Martino

And then there's Where Evils Dare. It's no exaggeration to say that this is on a different level than most of the competitors at Zuda, because it is literally true; while most submissions are from up and coming creators trying to catch a break, Tony Lee and Stefano Martino are established industry pros, having both produced work for IDW in the recent past.

It's no wonder then that this is one of the most professional entries Zuda has ever featured. I'll be speaking in more detail later this week about some of the structural elements that go into making a successful Zuda submission (that is, aesthetically successful; once that's done, it's up to the judges and voters) but suffice it to say that Lee and Martino pretty much nail the key elements. It starts with a bang, introduces the characters, concept and the storyline and then goes out on a bang as well. There are a couple pacing issues caused by trying to get this all done in eight pages -- perhaps some of the supporting characters could have been left unnamed, for instance, as the references to classic horror stories came a little to thick -- but it's pretty much just nitpicking. Overall, the story -- which revolves around the idea that literary mainstays like Dracula, Frankenstein and the werewolf were fighting for the Nazis during World War II -- is expertly drawn and adroitly plotted and scripted. This is a comic I would pay to read.

My Grade: I'm giving it an A-. I know, I know, you're thinking, why not an A or an A+? It's very close. A couple minor tweaks in the middle of the story might have pushed it to an A; but there's always some room for improvement.

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Aw, you're grading! I'm no longer alone!

You 'graders' are a different sort all right. ;)

Nice reviews, don't agree with much of it, but it's nice seeing other peoples views that put more time into it than: it's cool, or it sucks.

B&W is a disadvantage on Zuda, most times the comic comes off as looking unfinished. I agree Pluck works well without the color, but it's the first B&W on Zuda in forever, that I felt pulled it off. Well worth the B+.

About ShockPopTerror! I found pretty funny that basically your conclusion is "if you like that style you will like the comic, otherwise you won't" which could apply to almost any other entry especially for "where Evil..." because if people don't like Vampires and Nazis they sure won't like that one. So is it all a matter of taste?

My point with ShockPopTerror! is simply that the target audience for this is much narrower than for most of the other entries. Where Evils Dwell could appeal to a wide variety of fans -- people who like war comics, people who like horror comics, people who like action comics or people who have some sort of literary character fetish.

ShockPopTerror, to me, seemed like it would only appeal to fans of 70's style grindhouse fare -- a genre that was narrow enough when it was new, much less as defined by three decades of retrospection. Within the constraints of that specific genre -- which ShockPopTerror adheres to well -- this is a well enough crafted entry. But the genre limits both the artistic possibilities of the work as well as the potential fan base.

So, yes, it is a matter of taste since this comic is designed to appeal to people with that very specific taste.