Tag Archives: webcomics

A Deep Dive Five #1 Review – Simple But Satisfying

deep-dive-5TITLE: Deep Dive Five #1
AUTHOR/ARTIST: Brad Howell
PUBLISHER: Site B Creative
PRICE: $3.00
RELEASED: Fall 2017

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder 

You know what this brings to mind? At least superficially? Bucky O’Hare. Google it, kids. They had an orange spacecraft on that show. Maybe the Deep Dive Five craft reminds me of that…

Aimed at younger audiences, this first issue of Deep Dive Five stars Captain Venus (a.k.a. V) and her right-hand Sam as they embark on a mission to rescue an ensnared baby whale. But their commanding officer, simply known as the Chief, takes them to task for using a ship recently flagged for hull distress. In other words, V and Sam are plunging into the depths in a damaged craft. While their intentions were noble, they may not make it back in one piece.

It’s tough to throw stones at Deep Dive Five. It’s a book about anthropomorphic animals having underwater adventures. There’s an innocence on these pages that you don’t often see. I’d be comfortable giving this to a reader of any age.

deep-dive-five #1, Brad Howell, interiorOne thing that stuck in my craw: V and Sam are referred to as “Jumper and Hicks.” I assume those are supposed to be last names. But we never find out who is who. I assume it’s Venus Jumper and Sam Hicks. I won’t lie, the name Venus Jumper is pretty neat.

Howell’s art is simplistic and even static at times, but very friendly. I found myself wanting to stay in this world a bit longer. I wished the characters were a little more expressive at times. But they also have big and inviting eyes. We even have a pair of Finding Nemo style fish looking on from the deep. A bit distracting, perhaps. But also cool to look at.

The colors are very vibrant and eye-catching. What I found most inviting was the way Howell colored the backgrounds for the underwater scenes. We don’t just get one or two flat colors, but a variety of them depending on how deep V and Sam go. I love the way Howell plays with the light on the above page.

More Deep Dive Five is apparently on the way this summer. Updates from Howell, in addition to a variety of other goodies can be found on DeepDiveFive.com.

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Webcomic Wednesday: Family Man

Family Man, webcomicTITLE: Family Man
CREATOR/AUTHOR/ARTIST: Dylan Meconis
INTERNET DEBUT: February 21, 2006

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

It can be incredibly gratifying to spend time combing through the through the internet, then stumble upon something worth reading or watching, created by an individual of incredible artistic talent. Likewise, it can also be incredibly frustrating to find something that is so remarkably well crafted, yet reeks of needlessly lewd content. Family Man is one of these..

Scott McCloud has written that comics have the potential to dip into a potpourri of different mediums. Not all comics have to be about people with masks and superpowers fighting crime. There are pulpy adventure comics like The Adventures of Tintin, or comics that take outlandish subjects and ground them in another conventional genre (or perhaps multiple genres), i.e. what Supernatural Law did as an outlandish humor-horror courtroom drama.

Family Man, image 2But some comics take a premise that doesn’t seem as interesting and eye-catching as those two, and then makes a genuinely compelling story out of them. In this case, Family Man does exactly that with the rather esoteric subject of 18th century German academia.

To cut a long story short, a half-Jewish theology student named Luther Levy winds up recruited as a lecturer at a university several months after being expelled from his own alma mater. He gets to know the rector, romances the librarian, and struggles with the inner turmoil of someone dealing with a crisis of faith and identity. There are also werewolves.

On paper, this is potentially one of the greatest webcomics I’ve ever read. It’s dramatic, beautifully drawn, and blessed with probably the most original plot I’ve ever come across in all of comics. Dylan Meconis (a lady, as it happens) is a spectacularly gifted storyteller. Her panel logic is both easy to read, pretty to look at, and smartly crafted.

Family Man, image 3However, that is where the other side of the coin comes in. Despite bearing witness to a Meconis’ strong talent, I cannot in good conscience overlook Family Man‘s explicit and graphic nudity and sex. I know the comic is designed for “mature” readers, and is definitely NSFW. But really, I must ask: Why?

There is nothing in this comic concerning plot, story, and character development which was furthered by the nudity. I have no doubt that someone as talented as Meconis could have gotten across that Luther and Ariana were having an affair without getting up-close and personal. Including scenes that only succeeded in unnecessarily shrinking her audience and alienating and disgusting people like me.

It’s such a shame, because Family Man is still a remarkably intelligent piece of work. Considering the creator has a background in literature, history, and philosophy, she obviously knows her stuff. The idea of centering the plot around a university campus in 18th century Germany, in addition to the werewolf subplot, is a stroke of genius.

First, take the drama of the lone heretic struggling against the religious establishment (in a way that’s halfway interesting, no less), not forgetting the hectic family politics back home. Next, add in a bit of supernatural horror. Season with vintage college frat boy antics, courtesy of Lucien the Frenchman, and add an entirely black-and-white color pallet to taste. The result? Family Man, a webcomic that is admittedly compelling if frustratingly obscene.

Images courtesy of lutherlevy.com.

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Webcomic Wednesday: Black and Blue

Black and Blue pg 15-1TITLE: Black and Blue
CREATOR/WRITER/ARTIST: Jason Clarke
ONLINE DEBUT: August 19, 2014

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

In the forward to Gotham Central, Vol. 2: Jokers and Madmen, Duane Swierczynski stated that noir essentially means “screwed.” That is to say, you can tell a story is noir if everyone is headed for a decidedly unpleasant ending, or at least not a happy one. By this definition, “screwed” described Gotham Central pretty well, and it describes Black and Blue even better.

Black and Blue is a fairly recent webcomic, and like many of the comics featured in this column, rather obscure. It depicts a sci-fi/noir world, where foul-mouthed gangsters walk alongside robot thugs. The inciting incident sees a woman try to escape from some kind of imprisoned labor by cutting off her own head and sending it somewhere. This spins into a sequence of events that slowly bring together a spiderweb of characters, from a pair of dirty cops, to a hapless bike messenger named Owen, to a local criminal gang.

The main draw of Black and Blue is its devotion noir style storytelling. Noir itself isn’t so much a genre as it is a visual style, but the elements of classic noir films are pervasive throughout the entire comic. The titular colors dominate this comic’s cover palette (with occasional bursts of red blood), giving it a very noir-like look. As a result, Black and Blue is one of the most creatively stylish webcomics I’ve ever read.

Black and Blue pg 41-1Black and Blue isn’t just beautiful to look at, but also has a quite compelling story. Mixing in a decidedly bizarre sci-fi concept is a clever way to make the story memorable, but the story doesn’t stand on that leg alone. Each of the large cast of characters has something that makes them stand out. For instance, Unger, a loanshark/butcher who Owen’s father owes money to, has a jovially sadistic feel to him. Virgil, one of the aforementioned robot thugs, is a total jackhat whose trigger-happy mentality and loud mouth nearly get him killed. Not your typical portrayal of a robot, eh?

Owen himself is a very morose, sympathetic character, stuck working for, in his words, “terrible people.” He really is a proper anti-hero. He’s not particularly brave or tough or clever or good-looking, but he has a gumption and sense of morality about him that keeps him going. He’s probably the only genuine good guy in the  story, which I believe is the point. He has my vote for the one guy in the noir story who gets the happy ending.

Another thing about this comic is that it is how incredibly intense it is. Just when you think things are slowing down, and you think you know what’s going on, something happens which turns everything on its head. You think you know how the story is going to unfold, and then you’re left in the dust. This is usually accomplished by introducing a new character, but that’s where my one criticism of Black and Blue comes in.

Black and Blue pg 90Black and Blue‘s large cast keeps getting larger. We’re introduced to a higher-up called Seagull, a back-alley doctor of some kind with a connection to the woman from the inciting incident, and a hired gun with a TV for a head. I have this feeling that eventually Jason Clarke might write himself into a corner, and when we finally get the big payoff, it will fall flat as Clarke rushes to pull everything together. However, I remain optimistic about his ability to tell this story well. The strands of the story are slowly coming together, and I believe that given time, it will weave itself into a beautiful tapestry.

Clarke himself is an obscure talent who deserves some spotlight. He’s actually putting up issues of Black and Blue for sale in a digital format. I don’t know how that will correspond to the webcomic itself, but I’m glad that he’s getting his work out in other ways. I sincerely believe that if his webcomic had a more solid marketing approach (i.e. Twitter, etc.) he could easily generate a more prominent following.

Black and Blue demonstrates the potential of one of what I am sure are many strong talents out there. It combines stylish art with engaging storytelling and memorable, believable characters that keep you interested. Any comic that reminds me of Gotham Central is worth a look-see. However, I will warn that it contains frequent strong language in addition to some graphic violence, including blood and gore. It may draw inspiration from classic noir, but in these respects, it is quite dissimilar.

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Webcomic Wednesday: True Villains

True Villains, image 1TITLE: True Villains
CREATORS: Joshua Kurtz and Madison Hughes
WRITERS: Kurtz and Hughes
ARTIST: Max Karpsten
ONLINE DEBUT: August 8, 2007

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

Word of mouth can be a powerful tool. It was through the recommendation of a friend that I was introduced to the webcomic True Villains, an adventure-fantasy webcomic that appears to have stayed largely under the radar. Its website is understated, it has less than 30 Twitter followers, and I hadn’t heard of it from any other source until now. But it definitely deserves more of a spotlight because of its clever writing and unique premise.

True Villains features the adventures and exploits of Sebastian Jalek, a former adventurer of the lawful  and good persuasion who gleefully jumps on board the chaotic  and evil bandwagon. He enters the service of Xaneth, a demon who runs a dungeon with Elia, a necromancer. Along the way, he picks up other colleagues and companions: Mia, magically attuned child, and Bayn, an aged sorcerer who is stuck in the body of a child.

The main draw of True Villains is how it seeks to take standard adventure-fantasy RPG tropes and turn them on their heads. The main cast is made up self-professed bad guys, a whole team of villain protagonists. The entire story, however, centers around them trying to accomplish fairly pragmatic objectives through flagrantly gruesome and ruthless means.

True Villains, image 2Sebastian’s entire arc focuses on him trying to define his own ethical code. It comes to the point where he makes a self-justifying speech before his former adventuring pals about his newly acquired Blue and Orange morality. Oddly, most of the “good guys” are at best self-righteous jerks and at worst stupid and vicious bullies. Nevertheless, the fact that True Villains even dared to go down the road not taken and examine in depth the whys and wherefores of morality in such a world is a mark of true brilliance.

Aside from unconventional takes on the concepts of good and evil, most of which I have very strong opinions on, True Villains benefits from smart writing and proficient art. The tone of the strip is generally lighthearted, though its subject matter frequently ventures into the realm of dark comedy. One early gag involves Sebastian being assigned by Xaneth to blow up an innocent, unsuspecting small town where everyone is happy and content. It’s played for both drama and laughs, which, while fairly innovative, still bothers me.

Strong characters are an essential element of any good story. From Bayn to Claire the soldier to Sebastian himself, each of the characters has a strong, understandable motivation, personality, and flaws. Sebastian wants to do his own thing and help his friends, darn the consequences. Elia is loyal to Xaneth, wants to keep people she cares about out of harm’s way, and kind of likes Sebastian. Mia is loyal to Sebastian and has all the silly innocence a six-year-old girl with magical powers could have. What all of these characters have in common is that they change and grow as the story continues.

True Villains, image 3Particularly notable in this webcomic is its natural and flowing approach to world building. We don’t get stilted expository dialogue or long walls of text. When something about the world needs to be explained, the need is justified, often for humor, and the exposition is done in a clean, simple, engaging way. The result is a rich, detailed world that feels perfectly understandable and immersive. Other writers would do well to learn from True Villains in this regard.

The art of True Villains has evolved and changed since the early strips. It began more stripped down and less sophisticated than it is now. Over time, however, it became more organic, no doubt the sign of an amateur artist steadily improving his craft. Most of the comic’s archive strips are black and white, though it’s always in color these days. The point here is that the art may be drawn by an amateur, but the quality of the work is that of a seasoned professional.

The primary writer on this series, Joshua Kurtz, is a talented and ambitious (if obscure) creative mind. He is heavily involved in theater productions, to the point of having written and produced a musical based on True Villains. The talents of he and his colleagues definitely deserve the spotlight. With a more intentional buildup of their fan-base, a slicker website, and a more savvy approach to social media and internet marketing, they could probably make it really big. They have plenty of good content, now they just need to focus on their delivery and packaging.

True Villains is a unique, inventive webcomic that defies the storytelling limits of the fantasy genre. It makes you laugh out loud, creates complex and memorable characters, and contemplates weighty concepts in a competent manner. I won’t pretend to be a fan of the strip’s trivialization of occult practices, nor am I completely satisfied with its advocacy of what is essentially moral nihilism, but I will admit one thing: It is a fine example of great comics and great storytelling, and therefore deserves attention.

Images from truevillains.com.

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Webcomic Wednesday: Space Corps

Space Corps, image 1TITLE: Space Corps
CREATORS: Gannon Beck, Bryan Richmond, Joey Groah.
WRITERS: Beck, Richmond.
ARTIST: Beck.
ONLINE DEBUT: July 10, 2012

By Levi Sweeney
Staff Writer, Grand X

Not every webcomic makes you want to keep reading. Most start out good, but eventually descend into mediocrity, at best. Fortunately, all is not lost. Out of the dozens upon dozens of webcomics out there, there are a select few which I would like to highlight in this new weekly column: Webcomic Wednesday!

Space Corps, by Gannon Beck and Bryan Richmond, is a small operation, but it produces original, quality content that keeps fans waiting patiently while things get sorted out on the other end of the internet. Described as space opera, Space Corps follows the story of how humans and aliens band together in the titular military organization to fight off the malicious Winnowers. We’re introduced to the rookie soldier Deven Taylor, along with Corporal Hive, an alien NCO made up of bees, and Captain Brockett, the rock-eating commanding officer.

I first stumbled on this comic while perusing ComicsExperience.com, a haven for independent comic book writers struggling to hone their craft and hit the big time. Beck is part of that community. Beck and Richmond may not have hit the big time quite yet, but they and their compatriots have most definitely honed their craft. The art alone is incredibly professional, matching the tone and feel of the story perfectly. Specifically, it’s cartoonish enough to fit the fantastic premise of the story but realistic enough to be appropriate to the highly sophisticated writing.

B2-aVfVCEAALKdpAs is frequently made obvious in even the best mainstream comics, no amount of lavish art will save a poorly written story. Fortunately, Space Corps is lucky enough to be blessed with both good art and excellent writing. The sheer human, or rather alien drama that we see in Space Corps #0 is amazing to read. Captain Brockett’s story remains my personal favorite, just because it’s so movingly tragic and harsh. It’s not every day that I read something, least of all on the internet, that actually makes me genuinely sad.

The rest of the stories we see here are nothing short of splendid. Hive’s story is a classic bait-and-switch, with a pleasant surprise that makes it truly memorable. Hive is probably my second-favorite alien character behind Brockett. When we get into Taylor’s origin story in Space Corps #1-2, things get particularly interesting for him. Taylor’s is a coming-of-age story at heart, with the space opera and military fiction elements making the whole thing even more interesting. It shows that he has a personal stake in the fight, which makes him one of many great characters.

Space Corps, image 3I’m sure that Beck’s military family background gives him a lot of material to work with. He and Richmond navigate the standard tropes and conventions of military fiction with an easy realism that demonstrates that they plainly have a strong knowledge of military life. They never resort to clichés, and everything feels smooth and natural. We see what goes on in boot camp with great details that bring the reader into the story. The despair of family lost to war is communicated in a piercingly emotional way. The ethos of not fighting alone, trusting your team, and being self-disciplined and self-sacrificial is a primary theme. Sometimes it feels like I’m reading Lone Survivor by Marcus Lutrell all over again.

For all this talk of the horror and devastation of war, Space Corps is actually a rather upbeat comic. The humor is usually of the gallows variety. This is, after all, a comic about war. However, the comic itself is a very fun read. It makes you want to keep reading more of it. It’s not on the level of wacky, zany antics of, say, Brenden Fletcher’s Batgirl, but it can still be comedic when it needs to be comedic and dramatic when it needs to be dramatic. The result is a brilliant cocktail of great comics.

Gannon Beck and Bryan Richmond have said that they and their co-creators were originally thinking of pitching Space Corps to Image Comica. Then they decided to say, “Heck with it, we want to make comics so let’s make this now.” The result is a spectacular piece of work that I wouldn’t want made any other way. If Beck and Richmond and the rest of the team behind Space Corps do get their comic made into a magazine format that they can make money off of, I gladly salute them. If it came to that, I personally wouldn’t mind paying money for something this good. But for now, I’m glad to enjoy it all free of charge.

Images 1 and 2 from twitter.com/gannonb. Image 3 from spacecorpscomics.com.

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