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Sep. 3rd, 2007



Simulated Comic Product: Review

Simulated Comic Product
by Kevin

There is a disturbing trend which stalks the webcomic world. It hides in the shadows until you're settled then jumps out and throws a cream pie filled with caterpillars down your pants. That's right, RANDOM COMICS. That glimmer of ignorant inspiration that makes people think they can be funny by putting a chef in a tutu and making him quote Star Wars. It happens a lot and it's usually awful.

Simulated Comic Product is random. Wait! Come back! It's okay, because SCP does things the right way. While it is haphazard in terms of setting and characters (there is no ongoing story or set cast), the writing itself is thankfully missing the "crazy because it's funny" mentality of other comics in the genre.

The comic is of the basic gag-a-day persuasion, and unfolds in something of a sketch comedy style. That is, each strip is stand-alone and requires no previous knowledge of the comic. The subject matter varies wildly and includes robots, ghosts, businessmen, a predeliction for men in animal suits, alien interrogators and Shakespeare. Kevin seems to have a good grasp on how to establish situations quickly so that we can get right into the material, which really makes this style work.

The jokes themselves are often quite funny, deriving their humour from absurdity in the tradition of works like Monty Python. A real strength of the comic is its ability to keep you guessing about where things are going. I did feel at times that good jokes were held back by some noticable issues with timing and delivery. Sometimes there is too much space after a punchline, or too little, and ocassionally I failed to laugh simply because of how the joke was worded. Perhaps Kevin could benefit from looking at more comedic references in this regard.

However, SCP is an interesting case as it isn't all about the jokes. On a regular basis the absurd nature seems to extend to more philosophical areas dealing with such things as mortality and love. This can jarr a little when you are browsing the archives and expecting a joke, but this quickly passes. The nature of the writing is such that this actually works very well, it seems like a natural movement from the off-the-wall jokes to these more esoteric strips. On top of which these pages are usually quite clever and encourage a bit of thought - which is rare for any webcomic, never mind a gag strip.

Despite some minor flaws, the art in SCP looks good and is very appropriate to the comic. The clean, colourful cel-shading style is practically a staple in webcomics at this point, but for a gag strip its simplicity is a boon. The characters are easy to distinguish and the setting is always made obvious - helped immensely by the use of establishing shots when necessary, such as a strip set in space. The style also feels very familiar, without being a copy of any of the big, known artists. There are some issues with line quality and anatomy, but it doesn't detract from the overall presentation. Kevin has improved substantially since the beginning of the comic, and seems to continue to forge ahead.

Looking at the layouts, they are nice and simple, with each page consisting of three or four panels arranged newspaper-strip-style. The difference in shots is appreciated, with plenty of closeups and alternate angle choices to break up the page. With all the talking head comics out there, it shouldn't be underestimated how much interest this variation adds for the reader. Word bubbles and font choice manage to avoid all the usual issues and are unobtrusive.

The SCP website is another basically functional job, and feels a little impersonal. I can't get a real feel for the author from it, and as the main blog is hidden behind a link there's a sense of distance which might prevent it from gaining a large fanbase.

In the end, despite a few flaws, Simulated Comic Product is a good read. It shows exactly how to use the concept of randomness in writing without going overboard, as well as actually managing to be funny! The less humour-focused strips are also a nice touch and provide a little depth. If you like gag strips then this is certainly for you, although some pages require slightly more thought than your average poop joke. With a little tweaking to the art and writing it could easily be something special.


Aug. 30th, 2007


Kaspall: Review

By Lucy Lyall

Kaspall is a fantasy story, set in a multiverse where even dreams can become real. Magic here is performed by wizards known as Psychomancers, who, if powerful enough, can alter the minds of other people. The comic gets its name from the city in which the story takes place, where most of the residents are anthromorphic animals (I won't use the term "furry" since the comic justifies in story why they are there).

At first glance there is neither one on-going plot in Kaspall nor a central main character. Instead, stories are played out in scenes, leaping back and forth between a 13-year-old boy who is being hunted by a shadows beasts; the police who are searching for a high-level psychomancer; a dead daydream world whose people have started returning; and the residents of Green Acre Street who are trying to adjust to their lives, college, and work. However, despite receiving as much screen time, the central plots seem to piece together around the thirteen year old boy, Alex Grey, who has been dropped mysteriously into the story since page two. Even after 150 pages, it's hard to discern how this puzzle of a comic fits together. In fact it still hasn't been explained what exactly happened to the boy in the Prologue.

The artist sticks to a simple black and white release; pencil to ink. Shading is well done and the overall page comes off as a polished work. Backgrounds are interesting to look at and simply help push that this world isn't exactly Earth. However, there was a time or two in reading the comic that character design issues came up; usually when some of the anthromorphic animals look too human when drawn straight on. They become humans with animal ears drawn on their heads. What does bother me more than these minor character design problems is the dialogue. There were times when word bubbles make it hard to decipher right away who is speaking, either due to placement on the page or because the bubbles themselves need to be differentiated for separate speakers (I noticed that this occurs on some pages, but not others). Sometimes I found it took several readings of certain pages to figure out who was actually talking.

Since the characters are not the main focus of the story, some of the cast fall into stereotypes. The ever-spunky room mate, the poor overworked man who has a horrible job and life, and the landlord who is the cliché of the bastard with the heart of gold are just a few examples. I hope that in the future pages, those characters get fleshed out a little more. Also, hopefully Lyall will develop the guide-newbie relationship between Alex Grey and Sam Goldbourne along the way, since the two humans were forced to share an apartment. On the lighter side of the writing, I favor the Psyc-scan scene where we venture into the mind of the guard and the fact that animal instincts are more apparent with the rabbit's way of life in the burrow is a plus. There are certainly some interesting ideas floating around inside the comic which are allowed to develop thanks to the constantly changing perspective.

The site itself is missing a few things. I would like to see more information on the about page such as a summary of how the world is structured with the psychomancers, a glossary of terms used in the story would help some confusion, as well as a map of places in Kaspall. Since the comic is based around a city, it would be nice to have more details like this. The rest of the site is simple design for function, other than the home page of the site, which could do with some touchups graphics wise and at least a link to the first page of the comic, rather than going through the archive to retrieve it.

I've enjoyed reading Kaspall and have decided to bookmark it for future reading. I'm hoping to see where the story will take us and how it will piece together in the end. However, I find myself split on recommending the comic. There have been so many negative things written about comics that use talking animals, one would feel wary about reading it. But Kaspall does use anthromorphic animals in a way which avoids the usual cliches and cringes. I recommend it. Even though some of the characters are a little undeveloped at the moment, that's not enough to keep the comic down. Truly, Kaspall is a wonderful tale about a magical city and its intriguing inhabitants.

ART 7/10

Aug. 10th, 2007



Blue Zombie: Review

Blue Zombie
By 'Esrix', 'GAH!' and 'JAKAL' (retired)

Blue Zombie is a terrible comic, although you may not have actually noticed. It sneaks up on you. Like going to the dentist expecting a lecture about tooth decay and Dr Wong informs you that you have AIDS.

The comic centres around a girl "zombie" (more on the quotes in a minute) and her disfunctional cohorts. The requisite ever-so-crazy cast is there with a demon, a sorceress and her angry evil family, mystical bounty hunters complete with eye-patches, and talking objects just because. Basically they seem to have adventures of some sort between going shopping and playing video-games. If I sound vague on this then I've accurately captured how reading it made me feel - confused and misled.

Firstly, I'd like to get something out of my system. There are NO zombies in this comic. Characters referred to as such seem to be generic supernatural creatures which have been raised from the dead and grow claws randomly. One even sprouts wings when needed. They look like normal people, talk like normal people, emote, and wear nice clothes. In fact, the only time when you even remember they're supposed to be zombies is when they are setting up a joke about decapitation. Esrix has raped a classic horror concept until all that is left is a cutesy little pink-haired abomination, and I am filled with hate.

Anyway, the comic proper is your stock standard modern fantasy, placing a bunch of misfit supernaturals into the world we call home and observing the results. There are some original twists on the norm, some more successful than others (Hair made of feces? Who came up with that acid trip concept?), but overall you get the usual fare. It sounds great in theory but in practice it makes my brain bleed out my ears. There is absolutely no attempt to integrate the setting with the comic. The characters live in a house like any other house, they are all roommates for a mostly unspecified reason (big points on originality there). Sometimes demonic things turn up and people fight, but it all feels incredibly detached. The only normal people you see in the story are the next-door neighbours who are cookie-cutter sweet and wacky, and there is no real sense that anything happens in this universe that isn't painfully centered around our main cast. The whole comic is more devoid of life that was likely intended.

This is certainly not helped by the fact that it is BORING. I mentioned the stock plot, but Blue Zombie also manages to pack itself full of stock characters and disgustingly obvious dialogue which makes Star Wars look like Wordsworth. The resident demon (characterised by being a demon) enjoys cloaks and tormenting people, the little girl has deep emotional issues, the evil twin is evil, and the stupid guy (trademark) always does stupid things. Nothing surprising will ever happen because everyone has their neat little pocket of personality. Hell, one character actually refers to itself as the "Ultimate Evil", which is about the least impressive thing a villain ever did. It all fits together, though, as the others are busy uttering such gems as "...she was my ally in battling evil..." and "Kneel before their power!"

Of course the worst thing about Blue Zombie's writing by a huge margin is the comedy interludes. Their main problem is that they are completely unfunny. There are several running gags, including cookies and the usual webcomic obsession with slapstick, but nothing ever seems to hit the mark. One painful episode has the characters all going on blind dates for a reality TV show. A big impasse seems to be that they are going for character based humour much of the time, but failing miserably since they forgot to find any characters. Even worse, this sequence is actually made to lead into a serious discussion about love between two of the cast. Subtle as a brick.

Actually, its difficult to determine if the comedy or the drama is the intermission, as they both get equal airplay. This is one on the long list of comics that decides to mash gags and heavy drama together like a hooker mixes drinks. And subtle it isn't. One minute the characters are under seige by an evil force which wants them dead, the next they're decapitating each other in HILARIOUS ways for stealing cookies. It is nigh on impossible to take any of the real story seriously when it is slapped next to a bunch of cliche nerds having a Counterstrike party. This random storytelling and a total lack of well-written conclusions to arcs means the comic is very hard to follow and it actually becomes frustratingly painful to keep track of where you are and what is happening on each page.

As if the comic weren't hard enough to navigate, the archives are also full of filler comics, guest pages, and drawn out self-insertions to celebrate each year of the comic's existence. They break up what little flow remains and seem totally out of place. Ideally these should be removed from the archives and placed on a separate page.

Art-wise, Blue Zombie is much less offensive. The comic has a cute sort of cross between anime and Disney which is generally passable. Esrix has noticeably improved over the years and seems to continue to do so. The characters are reasonably well-defined visually, although there are quite a few instances where it is a trial to guess which person is which - not helped by his apparent obsession with hair and hair-styles, changing them rapidly. A huge faux pas was revealed to me on page 119, when you discover that the ash white character with dreadlocks is actually A NEGRO. Amazing. Of course we should have guessed with that culturally sensitive hair.

There are high points in the art, certainly, even though the past comics flip styles like they're on fire. The shading and various washes, particularly in recent pages, are very well done and even beautiful in some cases. On the occasion that there is no shading you can really see the difference. Unfortunately the shading hides a few glaring shortfalls in the artwork itself. There is very little structure to the characters and not much attention to detail. Most of the cast dress in blank, featureless t-shirts and pants, exacerbating the issue of telling them apart. Also of concern is that while almost everything - from backgrounds to anatomy - has improved since the beginning, the faces are almost identical. The slightly more realistic art of the rest of the comic is undermined badly when everyone looks like an emoticon. The most interesting part of the art is probably the fight scenes, which are quite well choreographed and drawn out for the most part. The rest of the visuals do a passable job, looking decent enough without doing anything overly special (although I enjoyed the eyeball-popping moment).

A quick mention of the site - dull. The layout of their website is functional but not interesting. My one real complaint is the lack of a proper archive page, as trying to scroll through a drop-down menu is tedious and irritating.

Unsurprisingly, I can't recommend this comic. The art does the job well enough without getting flashy. The idea is interesting enough, although not terribly original, but nothing interesting is ever done with it. The jokes are horrible and remove any remaining weight from the dramatic plot sequences, although alone they are riddled with cliches and bland developments. The characters are paper-thin, none of them standing out particularly despite the inclusion of "cool powers". Without some major overhauls Blue Zombie should be buried deep.


Aug. 6th, 2007



Welcome to Red Slime!

This is a site for writing (and occasionally arting) about online and print comics. Contained within you'll find reviews, commentary, articles, opinion pieces, debates and tutorials related to the sequential art. Maybe even a post about how pretentious the phrase "sequential art" is!

Eventually you can find us at http://www.redslime.net, but for now we're here using the wonders of BLOGGING.

Our subjects are many and varied. We'll be reviewing all kinds of webcomics: the good and the bad, the big cheeses and the small potatoes, the gamers and the elf kingdoms, even those horrid things you just want to sweep under the rug before you gag. Comics to be reviewed are, for the most part, chosen randomly and there are a half dozen or so of us working on them. We're happy to take writing from anyone who wants to contribute also - reviews, articles, etc.

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September 2007



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