Friday 27 February 2009

Boxes o' Foxes

As the longest week of my life draws to a close, things are shaping up to be pretty similar next week. In that regard, I regretfully have to inform you that there will be no Wednesday updates anymore. Oh, it was always a pipe dream, I could never keep up! That and we’re tearing through comics at a fierce rate these days, aren’t we? So from now on, let’s keep it simple. One comic, one update, one week. Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it? Anywho, onwards and upwards with the review! I’ve alluded to reviewing this comic in the past, but now, John Connor, it is time!

Housepets! by Rick Griffin was cyberspace-worthy in June of ’08. This is not his first comic though, no. His first comic was In the New Age over on comicgenesis, his unique style still shining through. You can see the differences between In the New Age and Housepets! pretty easily. As you’ll see on the site, he’s been working on Housepets! for a while, developing his artistic talents to suit the characters (the great many there are), as well as working on the setting and the characters' personas for quite a long time beforehand. [Editor's Note: Rick tells me this was while he was waiting to get a tablet PC, but where some people would sit with their thumb up their ass doing nothing, he actually planned a fair bit. Good for you, Ricky!]. And by golly, it sure paid off! Wow, where do you begin with something this good? This comic ticks all the boxes that constitute a solid, funny, story-based strip. This is newspaper worthy. And not some cheap tabloid rag that’s used to wrap fish, no sir! But the fancy newspapers, that are read by the middle-class gentleman with a fountain-pen in one hand and a beer in the other. Housepets! primarily follows the tale of Grape and Peanut, the pet cat and dog (respectively) of the Sandwich family, as well as the various intertwining stories of the other pets in the neighbourhood. It’s like a sit-com about pets! Only better, ‘cos it doesn’t suck like a sit-com about pets would! Of course, all the little pets are anthropomorphisms of the actual animal, but I doubt it’s what you’d call a “Furry” comic. Those things are strange. It’s more like VG Cats in that respect, in that they’re animals, but can talk and act like people. Though in the Housepets! universe, the pets are treated more like kids than pets… Mostly.

The writing is great. I’ve seen better, I’ll admit, but the key component here is the artwork synergising with the writing. See how I use a fancy word? But man can’t live on words alone, there’s gotta be humour. Manys a sight gag, especially in the early comics and one-offs, will have you lol-ing with the best of them. The humour is pretty PG, and is kinda reminiscent of Calvin and Hobbes at times, which is always nice to see. I’m a firm believer in not having to revert to base humour such as cussin’ and the like, though it can work well, depending on what the comic is and how it’s delivered. Housepets! doesn’t really get the opportunity for awful language anyway, and uses situational and character driven humour to great effect. Which leads me nicely onto the characters themselves! There are quite a few, we’re introduced to all of them as stories progress, though combined with the uniqueness of their design, it’s easy enough to tell them apart. As I said before, Rick has been working on this long before starting it on the interwebs. He gets the characters and their various qualities across very naturally, and their development is equally impressive.

I should mention the artwork. Again: he’s been figuring this out for a while, not just in his head, but on the sketch pad too. It visibly shows. Like I said, there are differences between his old comic and this, notably in the characters' eyes. But the quality of his drawings are consistenly good. Looking at it, you’d think that Housepets! has been going for years, and it does take years for some artists to reach that level of comfort and consistency with their work. It’s truly wonderful to behold. The things I love most about this comic are the facial expressions. They’re very well done. And because we’re dealing with little kitties and doggies, we’re dealing with intense amounts of cuteness. I haven’t seen creatures this cute since I attended the Sixth Annual Miss Cute competition sponsored by Tiny Woodland Creatures Ltd. and The Boxes o’ Foxes Fine Fuzzy Faux Foot-Warmers collection. That’s why I fell in love with this comic anyway. I can’t not like the kitties. Kitties!

This may be one of the longest reviews I’ve written in a while now! I may keep them this long if I’m only doing the Saturday updates from here on out. In the meantime, check out Housepets! It’s too good to be missed. Really. Updates M/W/F and has a cuteness count of 8.3 on the Button Scale, that means each strip is 8.3 times cuter than a button! (If you’re still using the old (outdated) LOLcat Scale, it’s about a 14).
As always, here’s a taste (courtesy of the man himself) of what you’re missing out by not clicking the linky. Clicky it.

Tuesday 24 February 2009

Being all critic-like!

Right now, I’m sitting here hopelessly distraught over my thesis project (apparently my laptop won’t read .stp files no matter how many viewers or converters I try) and not to mention the project itself has been going tits-up since X-mas when somebody left a fridge unplugged, leaving my teeny tiny yeast cells at the mercy of infectious fungi. Suffice to say I’m up Shizzle Creek without a… What to rappers sport these days… Bitches ‘n’ hoes, a gaudy chalice and a boombox! So I’ve been having a pretty damn crappy week, a week whose sheer shittyness runs into the next week, like some sort of diarrhea of epic failure. Ah well, what can I do?

Here’s what I did: I went done found me a comics! Drunk Elephant Comics by Max Riffner has helped me ease the pain. Mr. Riffner is a funny man. A really funny man. Even if you don’t like his comic (which is entirely unlikely) you should read his blog. Or, if you use alcohol to escape the more adverse aspects to your life, check out some of his drink recipies! Coming from the Land of Alcohol myself, this is something I can truly appreciate. Also: drink in moderation (I think there’s a few laws indicating that I have to say that).

So, Drunk Elephant consists of 3 main characters. Join Hank (he’s an alcoholic elephant, you know) and Marty (his newfound roommate and fellow alco) on their various escapades as they drink in their favourite bar with their much-beloved (much-breasted) bartender, Kacy (she has boobs). Going since September, this comic is partially story-based, with the rest comprising one-off funnies. Drink-related humour is the key here, folks and overall the humour is crude. But the best kind of crude. Like a hot nun wearing hotpants and slathered in unrefined oil. It is THAT crude. And it is THAT good. But in no way vulgar, son. Some people hear the word “crude” in regards comics and think “six-year-olds attempts to make a funny”. Those people couldn’t be more wrong (in this case, at least). In terms of realism… Well, it’s an alcoholic elephant, son, what do you think? Drunk Elephant can be a bit randomly bizarre, but you go along with it willingly because let's face it, if you're reading a comic about an elephant that enjoys a tipple, you expect a certain amount of it.

The artwork is proper. And I mean proper. The simple black and white flowing lines reflect the styles of humour nicely (look at me being all critic-like!). It reminds me a little of bars in the '40s, back when life itself was in black and white until they invented the colour TV. There are few, if any, complications in his style. Everything is short, sweet and to the point, and yet not entirely minimalist either, which is nice. Facial expressions - good (artists take note of how he comes up with them); hands - good (always a must, they're bastards to draw); backgrounds - quasi-existent but good when they're there (like I said, few complications, and backgrounds count as a complication in my book). Reminds me of the 3 panel black and white shorts of Chainsawsuit, too. Very nice.

And so we come to the final paragraph, wherein our world-weary child of the interwebs tries to summarise something he’s been trying to write about for the last two hours… I know, it took me two hours and what I wrote isn’t even entertaining. Fortunately, what I wrote about is. Go see Drunk Elephant. It’s a little beauty of a comic, and I’ll definitely be keeping up with it every Tuesday and Thursday, that’s for sure. And, with Max’s permission, here’s a little taste of things to come. Enjoy, folks.

Friday 20 February 2009

The Most Useless Information Kiosk of All Time

Aside from Wikipedia, of course. Evel Knievel killed by ninjas? Factual. Between work and naps, I haven’t as much time as I’d like for comics. Weep for me. The other day, I was given a link to a few comics from some “peeps” from a forum. Yes, I am hip to the interweb jive. Really, I am. Anyway, there’s nothing I like to do more than tear through the archives of a particularly good comic. And today’s comic is quite possibly one of the most effectively ingenious comics out there right now.

Blank It has a simple premise, a classic love-hate buddy comic about two guys in a strange world that is, for all intents and purposes, nothing. Well, not entirely nothing, but you have to see it for yourself. Follow Lemmo and Aric as they try to make sense of their world, find hats, catch fire and read the most unnecessary information kiosk of all time. Drawn by Lemuel "Lemmo" "Lem" "Hot Soup" Pew (of Pure Pwnage and, most recently, Grinders) and written by Aric "Woefully Under-nicknamed" McKeown (of Ashfield fame), these two are an awesome force as a comedic duo. A dynamic duo, if you will. The two main characters are clearly based on the likenesses of Lem and Aric, and presumably a comic twisting of their actual personas. Having started way back in the summer of ’08, it’s clocked up over 70 comics and its story is now well underway. But it’s not too late to catch up, if I can do it, so can you. But not just yet! Finish reading me first. Please?

I usually like to break down the comic with respect to other, more famous comics to try and put it in some sort of perspective. Also, it makes my page more popular via the Googles (I say “more popular” but I’m just clinging to the vague hope someone might find me on the searchy majigger). But here, there is no comparison; it truly has its own sights and sounds. As far as the humour goes, and it goes pretty far, it's strange, but clever, a little random, but very witty. It’s hard to strike a balance with that kind of humour, VG Cats has done it well in the past, and I have to say Blank It does it even better. This comic is so well written, you could eat your own words off of it. Fancy!
The artwork is spectacular, to say the least. It’s very detailed; a professionally drawn cartoon-style that reflects the characters sentiments perfectly. Manys a time I’ve laughed my socks off at their facial expressions alone. “Heehee, look at him fly!” I said. Ah, good times. Lem’s style is fabulous though and if you’re an admirer of webcomic art, this is a must-add for your list.

How do you summarise a comic this good? One word, son: Awesome. It’s bloody hilarious, it’s fantastically drawn and it slew me when I first read it... and again the second time. Read it now, kids, it’s a winner. Updates Monday and Thursdays, sample panels below.

Monday 16 February 2009

Of Mice, Not Pens

Now, I’m a man who likes to talk, usually without thinking first. This has landed me in a world of trouble on more than one occasion. There’s no “backspace” in real life conversation. Once you’ve said something, it’s pretty much a done deal. Sure you can pretend you were talking about something else, or act like you were temporarily possessed by the Demon Queen of Ragnor (I’ve no idea what I’m talking about either), but that’s not always going to work, and one of these days you’re gonna get rumbled, son. Long story short, don’t make pretend that a woman is pregnant when she says aloud that her blouse makes her look fat. That’s a life lesson. I make these mistakes so you don’t have to… And also they can be damn funny at the time.

Today’s comic is written and drawn by a bona fide sci-fi writer-guy, whom you may (or may not – I like to cover all the bases) have heard of. Joe Clifford Faust, author of several works including The Death of Honor, an excerpt of which I read was fantastically well-written, has for us a comic called The Home World. This story-based comic involves the tale of a man, his talking dog (yeah, talking) and their next-door neighbours, the stereotypical “Alien Greys” who have given themselves (ironically) stereotypical human names while they stay on Earth, so they can “blend in” while they try to act human. Of course, they make no effort other than this to disguise the fact that they’re aliens, which is a thick vein of comedy in itself!

The main characters are Garrett, the slightly slow, consistently naïve man whose sole purpose in life seems to be keeping his dog from getting into trouble. There’s a good bit of humour drawn from him, but Garrett is more of a humorous figure in himself than the jokes he tries to make. His dog, Speedy, is a constant source of funny throughout. He has a rapier sharp wit and is no stranger to trouble, seemingly enjoying making Garrett’s life difficult. It’s not hard to hide the fact you have a talking dog, especially with the Feds sneaking around looking for suspicious activity (haven’t they tried next-door?).

Artwork you say? Well, I wouldn’t call it art. And it barely qualifies as work at that. Only kidding, Ladies and Gentlemen! It is drawn using eazydraw on the Mac. Having seen manys a comic drawn of mice, not pens (do you see?), I can say that this one is pretty good. It’s still fairly obvious that it’s done with a mouse, but the style is just so that it steps a toe slightly out of convention in regards the "speech-bubbles". It's nice to see variation in this area, I find it to be a good indication of character.

I know I probably say this a lot, and it will eventually become my motto or some such, but I’d like to point out that this is a very new comic (only hitting strip #25 today) and has a long way to go in regards character development, artwork and finding a uniquely styled humour base. Right now, all in all, the humour of this comic is a solid, fundamental kind. Kinda reminds me of a 70s sit-com, though some people may not find it to their taste you should definitely check it out (I get the feeling it'll be a "you either love it or hate it" thing). The Home World. Be there, or be not. (Shakespeare said that… Ok, I paraphrased… Ok, but he did use “Be” and “not” in the same sentence, I know, I was there).

Saturday 14 February 2009

The St Valentine's Day Massacre

Hey there cats and kittens, it is Valentine’s Day once more. That’s right, and the initials “V.D.” are no coincidence, let me tell you. As a special “V-Day” thang, here’s a selection from some of my favourite comics’ take on the Valentine’s that I’ve come across.
If you’ve seen other great V-Day-themed comics that I didn’t mention, post them in the comments thingy at the bottom. Go on, don’t be shy. I'll even thank you personally, I guarantee!*

Friday’s xkcd went with a spectacular Sierpiński Triangle filled with red hearts and Valentine wishes. It’s so good; I threw up in my hamper.
Ctrl+Alt+Del has, of course, focused on Lilah, Ethan and their upcoming “official” wedding. We all pray Mr. Buckley won’t write in a suicide or something on the day to mar the festivities. I wouldn’t put it past him, would you?
Housepets, by Rick Griffin (something I hope to write more on in the near future) has treated us to Valentine’s cards featuring various characters from the comic with witty little sayings. It’s not only cute, but also sarky. Don’t know what “sarky” means? Read his cards.
Gene’s Journal by David Reddick has done a couple of Valentines comics this week featuring the young Gene Roddenberry and his two alien “friends”. So if you’re a Trekkie/Trekker/Virgin go check it out.
Rock, Paper, Cynic (the very first comic reviewed right here!) is celebrating Valentines in a most unexpected way. Nah, I’m just kiddin’. It’s burning cynicism that will torch thy very soul, perfect for all of you spurned by Love’s cruel spurn-wrench.
Artist BoxBrown’s comic Bellen! has a… Um… Well, I can’t even tell if it’s a Valentine’s Day thing or not. If you’ve ever read it, you know what I mean. But it’s a nice, romantic comic on this pre-Valentine’s Day, also known as Friday the Thirteenth (!) in some circles. My circle. I’m dizzy.
Observational surrealist comic-guy Zach Weiner over at Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal has given us a heart-warming Valentine’s tale of a couple rediscovering their love, amongst other things.
Oooh! Also! For all you sci-fi comic fans, there’s a colour special page over at Galaxion by Tara Tallan. It be Fusella’s birthday o’er there too, so singles are welcome. If they bring cake.

And now for the conspiracy mumblings.

I think it’s always important to bear in mind that Valentine’s Day is essentially a made up day. Yes. Hallmark and the bastions of the Chocolate Industry have conspired together to throw off our calendars by making an extra holiday for them to mooch off of. Before they arrived on the scene, there were only 362 days in the year. The remaining three days being comprised of the holidays invented by the Hallmark-Chocolate Alliance (with subsidies from the Florists Union): Mother’s Day, Father’s Day and, of course, Valentine’s Day. If they hadn’t invented this so-called holiday, we would never have had things like Valentine’s Day Massacre and Love Hearts, the chalky scourge of the corner-shop.
In summary, I’m a bitter, bitter man.

*not a guarantee

Tuesday 10 February 2009

Surl's World

Did you know I take requests? Well, I do. Like some aging hippie musician, whose songs people have long forgotten, I play up to the audiences desires in order to feel loved. That and it’s the easiest way for me to know who’s new to the interweb scene. As such, I always welcome requests. Another point (technically you don’t have to read this paragraph, it’s usually nonsensical musings) is that webcomics come in all forms. They really do. And everyone has certain preferences. I like to think I have a wide taste, but that’s a lie. I don’t. But I do have to review comics that I find unfunny. Thankfully, today isn’t one of those days.

Today’s review is of Luke Surl’s untitled comic which, as you may have gathered already, has no name. You clever fellow. As I began reading this comic I recalled some of the major greats of observational comic humour. In Surl’s case, we are looking at major cacophony of semi-surreal observational humour styled as the likes of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, The Book of Biff and The Perry Bible Fellowship. If you like any one of those, you’re guaranteed a laugh from Surl’s World (That’s what I’m calling his comic now, mostly for ease of typing. I'm lazy like that).

It started way back in July of last year, way back when “recession” was a word heard, but never seen. The first few months are pretty hit and miss when it comes to hilarity, and the ones that are genuinely funnysome, are sometimes overwhelmed visually by the mediocre illustration. At the beginning, the artwork is a tad on the bad side of generic and the strips that weren’t up to his usual standard left me a little bemused. I saw the joke, I got the joke, but I didn’t laugh. Maybe my laughter valve was acting up again. More likely, the jokes were just poorly executed, a commonality shared among many beginning webcomics. It’s like there are just too many punchlines and sight gags floating around the creators mind and it shows that they don’t know what to do with them all, so ending up using some at the same time. As such, their delivery gets a little diluted.

Fear not, young Luke, for the Force is with you! Fast forward about six months and visible changes are pretty apparent in Surl’s World. In a nutshell, it gets funnier. The jokes are better executed. Heck, the jokes are just plain better. Why? I think, it’s because they’re more original and come across more naturally. It’s still observational humour, but it’s more original. It took a while, but this comic is slowly coming into its own. Bask in it, Luke! Bathe that comic in the unique glow of your own voice! Use the Force! The echoes of comics like Perry Bible Fellowship and SMBC are still there, but only insofar as similar styled witticisms being delivered. It’s nice to have a fresh perspective to such a fundamentally humorous observational style.
From an artistic point of view, as I said already, it starts off pretty crude and generic, but is quickly working its way up to a cleaner, more unique style. As of now, it’s decent, but not spectacular. Granted, the art style doesn’t carry a lot of weight in comics where the humour is clearly text-based, though it does help to carry off the joke. Bad art can, however, take away from a joke, even if said art is irrelevant. For example, the minimalist views of xkcd versus the signature simplistic styles of SMBC. Neither of them complicated, and both have a similar modus operandi.

I do suggest checking out Luke Surl’s comic. It’s good for a laugh or three, and there are many, many little gems throughout. Here’s a little taster so you can see for yourself. It updates M/W/F and I swear it is getting better by the day.

Saturday 7 February 2009

Bigger comic, bigger funny

The Simpsons. Where did it all go wrong? I did some checking and I found that it went wrong exactly halfway through Season 10, namely the “Max Power” episode. I liked that one, and some may say it went south long before that, but in my eyes that was the last half decent episode. After that the ratio shifted to the shitty end of the spectrum. Like the dark end of a brown rainbow. I’m full of the poetic imagery. Anyway, I was watching one of the newer episodes and it was pretty, pretty awful. Damn awful. So awful I had to go back. Back to the beginning. Matt Groening’s old stuff. Life in Hell makes The Simpsons look amateurish. Paradoxical but true. Crazy, ain’t it?
The reason I bring it up is because another comic I read recently has reminded me a little of Life in Hell. Out at Home, by Alex Wendzel, is a beautiful reminder that modern cartoon comedy isn’t all trash. Whether Life in Hell influences Out at Home, we may never know (that, and I didn’t ask). But don’t get me wrong! It is by no means a “rip”-“off” or such like! It follows the Beckett Family and their members’ various escapades. The father, Herman, is a former Baseball star and multimillionaire. With him lives his daughter Kate (sassy teen) and son Thurman (spoiled twiglet-brain).
Boom! Artwork, like I said, reminds me a bit of Life in Hell. Cartoonish and exceptionally well-drawn, two main styles of cartoon drawing dominate. You have your Life in Hell-like cartoony faces with big eyes, big mouth, clearly indicating that the character is a bit of a “goof-ball” (as you Americans might say). Then you have a more subtle American-animé style for the more “realistic” characters. I think the two styles work very nicely together and give Wendzel’s work a kind of signature touch. The humour is, for lack of a better word, fantabulous. Yes. The comic effortlessly shifts between off-the-cuff zaniness or keen observational humour, and story-based telling; not really indulging too much into the latter as yet, but these are early days. Having only started in November ’08, Out at Home reads like it’s been running comfortably for a lot longer, and the site itself has just undergone an overhaul. I know I said I wouldn’t review people’s sites, just the comic (I stick to the issues, baby), but the new look is incredibly good. Bigger comic. Bigger funny.
Just now (right now) it’s starting to dip its toes into the daunting area of character development. Now some people say that there’s no comedy there. These people are most likely failed artists who define “character development” as giving the female lead a larger bosom. Well, it’s not. Real character development opens up untold hilarity when it’s done right and from reading Out at Home, I can say that it is. Usually there’s some sense of awkwardness when a new comic begins, like a child swimming for the first time, or a pensioner trying to walk down the road after the first frost. And, like that child or pensioner, some new comics inexorably sink or swim; walk proud, or fall flat on their ass in a heap while people (like you and me) look on pointing and laughing (because we leave our guilt outside when we go on the internets).
Was there a point to all that noise? Yes. Read Out at Home. I guarantee hilarity. Updates M/W/F. Don’t miss out, cos this one is gonna be big.

Monday 2 February 2009

Satisfy your comic-buds!

Unique. This is a word I use infrequently. There’s a shopping chain here called “Unique”. Ironic, in that all the clothes-wear they have is pretty much the same. And if everyone shopped here, there’d be nothing unique about it. Which begs the age-old question: What the fuck? Anyway, today’s comic is truly unique. Not “unique like all the others” unique, but really it’s in a class of its own.
Serious Emotional Disturbances (SED) caught my attention immediately. I was hooked. It began back in February ’08, and follows the semi-autobiographical chronicle of 9 Bridges. That’s the artist’s name. A story about nine actual bridges would be pretty flimsy at best… Sure you could bring in bits about iron girders and concrete, or wood, even, if you’re into that sort of thing, you sick bastard. This comic is probably best compared to a saucy young nun/stripper that seduces obese rappers just for kicks. And by that I mean it’s so surreal, dark, hilariously bizarre and cleverly vulgar, it doesn’t fail to satisfy your comic-buds. For a primarily storyline based comic, it’s hardly a one-trick pony. Dotted with rants and other one-off escapades involving people in the author’s life, such as The Colorist, a mysterious paper-bag-masked individual, about who very little is known. Other characters include 9’s sister (who is sort-of invisible) and Chuckles, 9’s first friend in the town of Bumfuck (Seriously, read it for that alone). There are more, but character assassinations are costly. First I have to draw the assassin, then somehow get him into someone else’s comic without being caught. It’s tricky like that.
Style-wise, I have to say I’ve never seen anything like it; which is probably why I find it so compelling. I’ll always stress that a story-based comic must (MUST!) have good artwork to back it up, or the reader will pretty quickly lose interest. That’s a fact, mon ami. But SED does not disappoint. The style is individual from the start, quite detailed but still retains a simplistic, almost stick-figure-like innocence infused with what I can only describe as a face-painting style reminiscent of Native American tribes. Or maybe it just helps to tell the characters apart. What am I? An anthropologist?! Nay, I am not, and I shall do no such anthropologising. Even if you don’t find the content much to your taste, the artwork alone deserves very much merit. You have to see to believe. Recently, it seems to be finding a comfortable artistic niche and has never looked so good.
A summary you say? Alright fine. SED is surreal, unreal and at times, too real. Yes. Updates M/W/F (that’s Mondays/Wednesdays/Fridays for those of you who don’t acronym like I acronym). Go see it with your eyes.