Saturday, 29 September 2012

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Paranatural vs. Vibe

This week’s Two To Review features webcomics that both follow a young teenage boy learning to use superpowers against spirit monsters, but more importantly, both of these webcomics were recommended to me specifically to review! Thanks MSPA forumite Pixel20!

Paranatural is a long-form webcomic split into chapters, created by Zach Morrison. The story follows a snarky sarcastic boy named Max who moves to a new town with his family, and not long afterwards gains the ability to see ghosts and spirits. So not only does he have the headache of trying to fit in to a new school and make new friends, he has the additional migraine of investigating and battling spectral weirdness with the help of the school’s “Activity Club” - a front for a group of supernaturally-inclined students led by the mysterious teacher Mr Spender.

The first thing you need to know about Paranatural is that it is seriously funny. Humour is the primary concern here, and in my opinion this comic ticks that box with gusto! Another big plus point is the art; after Max learns of the existence of ghosts, each painstakingly-drawn panel literally becomes a spot-the-spirit puzzle. Weird-shaped creatures fill every nook during indoor scenes, and the larger beasts lolloping on rooftops and swimming in the lake add to the beauty of every outdoor panel. An additional highlight is the energetic tone of the story. It may have been the speed in which I read through the archive, but to me the overall feel is that of a non-stop freight train, quickly passing through junctions of action and humour in quick succession, only briefly pulling in at stops for a quick hit of unexpected emotion or a silent scenery page.

Of course, the downside to a formula like this is that sometimes the train passes things by all too quickly. For example, Max briefly touches on the subject of his dead mother in a bonding conversation with a new ghost friend, but this quickly gets interrupted by the introduction of the next big spirit antagonist to fight. And it’s clear that the fantastical elements of the setting runs on fixed rules, but it appears that for the most part these rules don’t even matter that much to the author, merely acting as stop-gap explanations of why this thing is trying to kill you now. Another drawback to this comic is the bewilderingly large cast of characters - when Max starts his new school the audience is just as in-at-the-deep-end as him, meeting potential new friends and enemies as well as the array of goofy teachers to contend with.

Vibe is a long-form webcomic split into chapters, created by Dan Ciurczak. Vibe revolves around the character Baron, a teenage boy learning the ropes of being a Witch Doctor, which entails him seeking out people with bad emotional problems and physically manifesting these bad “vibes” as huge monsters he then battles and defeats. While he does this, the long-term story arc concerns Baron’s quest to find his missing sister, who is hinted to have gone to the bad side of voodoo.

Vibe takes itself a lot more seriously than Paranatural, with humour used sparingly via banter between Baron and his pocket-sized Loa (voodoo spirit) companions, whose powers he borrows to fight the bad vibes. Of the two webcomics, Vibe is the place to be if you want a deeper, more involved story. The artwork is utterly gorgeous, and would not look out of place alongside the best examples of Marvel or DC art. I especially like the use of vibrant colour and lighting against the backdrop of the dark city at night, when much of the action takes place.

There are elements of the comic that I personally don't like though, including the heavy use of graffiti-inspired special effects and the writing used to capture the accent of the antagonist character Furio. I totally understand that the story has strong links with specific cultures but I’d just like to understand what he’s saying without carefully re-reading every word bubble.

Compared side by side, it appears that these webcomics share a great deal of similarities. But to me there is a very clear winner that has earned its place on my favourites bar, and that would be the hilarious Paranatural.

Todd Marsh learned everything he needed to know about ghosts from the Ghostbusters films.

EDITOR'S NOTE: this article was edited on Monday 1st October, following a retraction. We apologise for any offence the original article may have caused.

Thursday, 27 September 2012

New Beginnings - Talon #0

As part of the third wave of DC titles we have a “true” Zero edition. This title is a new story spinning a character out of a recent arc.

For Batman fans the recent Scott Snyder storyline of Night of the Owls was met with both praise and criticism. Even so the idea of an elusive organisation that works from the shadows to exert control and direction over a city is not a new one. The DC twist of course being the theme based around owls (a natural predator of bats) and the apparently almost immortal assassins known as Talon.

With any such organisation there will be operatives who excel in their work - driven with an unquestioning will. And then there will also be those who on occasion find that their path isn’t always so clear or perhaps subject to a higher authority. This is the case with Calvin Rose.

The issue, written by James Tynion IV to a collaborative plot with Scott Snyder, documents very quickly the rise of Rose from childhood through to servitude as a Talon. From the moment his father locked him in a kennel and threw away the key, through his induction into the talent camp for the Owls that was Haly's Circus and ultimately his entry into the service of the Court; the idea that he was always running is maintained. This is ultimately to become the drive behind this character and will continue through the ongoing title.

The sole aim of this issue is to rapidly introduce a completely new character to you, giving him a fleshed out backstory complete with motivation and personality. This isn’t a two dimensional character who has been set in stone. Casey has changed his ideas and feelings over time. What hasn’t changed is the motivations behind it all; as with so many heroes or anti-heroes there has to be some painful quirk in the past.

The artwork is provided by Guillem March and is rough and quite dark, much like Casey. March is a forefront artist and spends a lot of time concentrating on the main characters in the frames giving much more detail than some of the backgrounds. This focuses the reader on Rose a lot which is exactly what is needed for this issue.

As I mentioned before this issue achieves exactly what it needs to. The reader is quickly involved but the story isn’t too deep. The basic premise is a simple one that Rose is a highly skilled fighter who is now on the run from a sinister organisation whilst helping people on the way. It’s kind of like crossing the A-Team with The Littlest Hobo. Whilst I can see it will be easy to have a common running theme with multiple sub stories I am wondering how much you can get out of this story without it being repetitive. I am also expecting a run in with Batman at some point in the future also being inevitable.

New title, new character, new fan base? I think it would only be fair to see where this goes before making a definitive judgement on it all but it is certainly a little different. And definitely the best of latest wave of DC's New 52!

Matt Puddy is gearing up for some hardcore SNIKT! action!

Thursday, 20 September 2012

New Beginnings: Sword Of Sorcery #0

This week we have a new revival of the short lived (five issue) 1973 comic Sword of Sorcery. With such a minimal run it has meant that the new comic as written by Christy Marx is essentially a blank slate from which to begin.

Christy comes from a background of animation having written scripts for classic kids TV programmes such as Gem and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, a style which is quite evident in this comic as well. What we are given here is quite a generic teenage origin story, reintroducing a character first seen in the Eighties. Amethyst first appeared in a freebie bundled with Legion of Super Heroes, before moving onto several short lived titles of her own then resurfacing for Infinite Crisis a few years ago.
Amy Winston is an outcast no longer even trying to fit in. She’s moved from place to place through necessity and driven by a mother who is training her and pushing her for an unknown reason. All Amy has to hang onto is that she knows she will be allowed to see her home when she turns 17, and today is her birthday.

The story quickly then turns to a very pink land of Nilaa and there - cue matriarchal villain - we met Lady Mordiel, who instantly becomes obvious in her role. In the vein of King Herod she is on a quest to rid the land of all blonde girls and women who pose a threat to her. We discover why later.

After being taken “home” Amy is thrust into the beginnings of a civil war and one where she will play a significant part as well. She is in fact the niece of Lady Mordiel and the only one who can take her power.

Most frustratingly is that the title is Sword of Sorcery featuring Amethyst, yet the entire issue doesn’t even mention any sword or magic at all. But then it is a zero issue and it’s a plot setting backdrop for Amy.

As I said it’s all very 80’s Saturday morning cartoon and for me the most interesting thing was Constantine in the very last frame, collecting an intriguing and most likely useful crystal. As always, the man clearly has an agenda.

Completely aside from the main story there is also the addition of Tony Beddard’s reimagining of Beowulf. When I read the cover (and I will come on to this in a minute) I was settled by seeing his name on there and this little story was the only attractive feature for me.

The cover is drawn by Josh Middleton and frankly it put me off. I think that the moment I saw the cover whilst at Proud Lion the first thought that came to mind was, “DC have done Bunty!” - which isn’t an attractive look to me.

The artwork inside the comic is by Aaron Lopresti, who has a prestigious portfolio with both Marvel and DC. I have to admit that I didn’t think it was bad, but it somehow felt dragged down by a fairly basic storyline. The colouring is bright to the point of being garish rather than vibrant, and it sadly overpowers Lopresti's pencils.

Whilst it is good to see DC continuing to try new ideas with the New 52, this title falls short of the mark  and is likely to struggle to find an audience even within it's target demographic. Without wishing to sound sexist or stereotypically male, the format and portrayal of Amethyst and the land of Nilaa really made me think that this was aimed at an incredibly niche market of comic-loving, pre-teen girls.

By all means if you have a daughter or niece who loves a little adventure then go for it, but as a mainstream title I can’t see it lasting much longer than the original miniseries back in the Eighties. This is the New 52's Mr Terrific for girls.

Matt Puddy is looking forward to next week's Talon debut issue. It's got to be better than this!

Saturday, 15 September 2012

Five By Five - Comics, week 4: Local

So the boy, in his infinite wisdom, has recently decided that we need to be more organised. For him, our current filing system of sticking paperwork down the side of the computer is lacking a certain level of razor sharp practicality, despite the hours of fun and hilarity when we need to find an important document quickly. And apparently, my adherence to the ‘mental’ shopping list school of thought is not enough to convince him of the inferiority of the paper and pen version.

I’ve been going along with his efficiency drive with a certain degree of reluctance to be honest, being at least a theoretical fan of creative mess, but he knows me well. And he’s found just the tool to drag me over to the administrative dark side.

The hardback graphic novel is a beautiful artefact and a welcome addition to any collection! 

Imagine if you will, a gleaming expanse of white, glistening in the September sunshine like a fresh fall of snow. Affixed to the wall like a window through which you might see pretty much anything, is our brand new whiteboard, complete with pens heady with the tang of planning and schedules and industrial strength solvents.

The thing is, it’s almost impossible to resist the allure of a clean slate. The chance to do things right this time around, mistakes rubbed out, virgin territory to shape after our own perfect visions.

It’s a desire that I can’t help but think Megan McKeenan, anti-heroine of graphic novel Local, might be rather familiar with. The story follows her through twelve years of fresh starts as she flits from city to city trying on identities for herself as often as Kate Moss changes her outfit.

Meet Megan, the perpetual runaway...

Megan is a perpetual runaway. And when the mistakes she makes tangle her current situation too much, she simply bails, ready to start again with a different picture. Each part of her twelve piece story stands in glorious isolation, yet the thread of her own true self ties it all together and anchors the narrative for us. In some pieces, she takes centre stage. In others she is little more than a bit part, peripheral to her own life.

But is it any good?

Well, yes actually.

Megan is an anti-heroine because of her quite startling capacity to fuck things up. She gropes blindly for human connection, sulking like a spurned child in a school playground when her erstwhile room-mate seemingly rejects her overtures of friendship, yet she also goes out of her way to sabotage the relationships that do come her way. Megan lies, bitches and self-obsesses her way through each frame. Yet, and you’re going to have to trust me on this one, she is still somehow likeable.

Trust me, she is still somehow likeable!

Maybe it’s because her mistakes are our mistakes, albeit in microsm. If you’ve ever been uncertain about what you want, treated a lover badly, or let your own problems blind you to other people’s then it’s pretty hard to judge Megan too harshly because she recognizes her shortcomings and keeps trying regardless. One of the most powerful vignettes of the book comes as Megan’s intermittent postcards to her young cousin float voice-over style as we witness his adolescent self-destruction. Her well intentioned advice is rendered meaningless in the face of the harsh realities of life; an uncompromising reminder than you can’t simply phone in love and support.

And as Megan keeps running, she slowly comes to realise that it isn’t just the weather that you take with you everywhere you go. Her problems pursue her, and so ultimately do the people she tries and fails to connect with. Things climax when all of the ghosts from her past catch up with her at once as she finally picks a place in which to stand, fight or fall.

In some pieces, she takes centre stage. In others she is little more than a bit part, peripheral to her own life.

On some levels, Local is a straightforward story about a young woman’s attempts to find her place in the world, but if you like a little more symbolism in your comics you won’t be disappointed. Keys feature heavily; in particular the key that Megan carries around her neck as a reminder of the first home she ever flees and the mother whose dreams she comes to embody. Similarly photographs and other objects of sentimental value occur and recur, the outward detritus of human emotion. In a disturbing segue, Megan strikes up a relationship of sorts with a boy who steals her keys to leave pictures of himself in her apartment, quite literally physically asserting himself within her life.

Visually, Local is stark; gritty even. People matter, with faces in particular vividly drawn though rarely romanticised. The look of it somehow serves to reinforce the feelings of isolation and yearning that Megan experiences. It’s also something that is not quite a love letter to the USA itself… there’s a wary affection for the cities that feature but it’s worth noting that it’s only in rural America that Megan finally finds any kind of peace with herself.

Note the key around her neck, Local is full of symbolism relating to keys...

Ultimately, we all want what Megan wants. To be sure that we are living the life we are supposed to, rather than allowing our mistakes to divert us into boxes that don’t fit. Her wanderings are a metaphorical echo of our own false starts and reinventions. But she has the key to her true home all along. We should all be so lucky.

This week, Kate Townshend is guzzling Pimms while there is still time!

Friday, 14 September 2012

Comic Cubs - the future of children's comics

Has the recent sad news about the Dandy got you thinking about getting a regular comic for your little ones? It certainly has made me think about how little there is on the market these days.

I'm considering launching some kind of kids comics club, where parents will get a chance to get discounted comics for their children.

Unlike our normal Reservation Service, the Comic Cubs service will be supplied as a quarterly subscription, with parents paying up-front to help me minimise any risk, since kids comics can often sadly fail to sell when I order them in for the shelves. (We had a full range in the first three months after I opened and they almost all ended up in the 50p box.)

In return for a up-front quarterly payment, the comics will be competitively discounted. Superman Family Adventures would be £5 per quarter, compared to the normal cost of three issues of said comic which would usually be £7.05 (a saving of almost 30%!).

These can be posted out to customers too, although that will cost a little extra.

Comic Cubs will of course be open to kids of all ages, so adults won't be excluded if they fancy something fun! Comic Cubs will only be available from a selected range, though this will be updated when new titles become available.

It's an initial idea so far, so I welcome feedback and interest from parents. I'd be interested to hear from teachers if they would be interested in Comic Cubs supplying their class, or if they think their school would allow us to send a flyer home in pupils' book bags.

I'd also be interested in seeing if we could work up some kind of monthly activity sheet to include with the comics, giving away to make them part of a child's ongoing education. I know the National Curriculum has finally begun to embrace the idea of comics as a way of getting reluctant children to read! So if any teachers are interested in workshopping something like that, please drop me a line.

In the meantime here's a link to Diamond's own Kids Comics website, with a look at the American comics available for children. If you're looking for something more homegrown, check out The Phoenix, which is smashing!

Ben Fardon still hates that picture of himself in the Echo!

Thursday, 13 September 2012

New Beginnings - Team 7

This week’s New Beginning is Team 7, a new title joining the New 52 lineup. The original incarnation of the title was published in various incarnations by Wildstorm. During Flashpoint, an alternate universe version appeared in the DCU and featured an interesting line up. This new version is set 5 years in the past and concentrates on the team's inception and creation in reaction to the emergence of superheroes (seen in Justice League) as penned by Justin Jordan.

The first thing to mention before even delving into the story is the cover. It teases you to begin with. The obvious addition in the team that most will immediately recognise due to his shroud is Grifter, however even more enticing is Slade Wilson, who appears with both eyes...

Jordan’s story begins when the DC Universe is in a state of flux. Men, women and aliens with powers and abilities beyond the normal have begun to appear, which could be seen as a blessing or a curse. At this point the metagene has only emerged in a handful of individuals, but what about in years to come? How do you monitor and if necessary control them? A very similar premise to Marvel’s opening to Civil War, however instead of registration a very different tack is taken. The creation of an incredibly skilled team – welcome Team 7. Recent issues of Justice League have certainly implied this team will leave a legacy...

Taken from Justice League #8

The majority of the issue is dedicated to the formation of the team through The Majestic Project. Dinah Drake (who goes on to become Black Canary - her maiden name used here is a name callback to the original version of the character from the Forties!) and Kurt Lance are tasked with tracking down specific individuals, including the aforementioned Grifter and Deathstroke, for their skills and abilities to create a non-super super team.

There is an overall story to follow throughout but essentially this is a number of very quick and punchy recruitment stories rolled into one. Very similar to a Hollywood opening reel for a film such as Mission Impossible or The Expendables so very light hearted and easily enjoyed.

Whereas Jordan may not be too well known, the artwork is provided by Jesus Merino. Merino has worked on a number of high profile titles with both Superman and Batman under his belt. Something I have liked though is that, whether this is the case or not, the artwork has a certain feel about it. DC has a number of different imprints which have now been brought under the same umbrella. But for me Wildstorm was one in which there was always heroes and villains but with a bit more grit and realism to it. I felt this echoed through the artwork. Things aren’t soft and fluffy in this story. It’s about finding a way to create a preemptive strike (if needed) against super humans. Things are going to get dirty at some point. Merino really captured it for me and pushed it back out through the characters and their expressions. One of the best examples is the recruitment of Alex Fairchild. You can tell he really doesn’t care about the job, just the money.

For a team I had never heard of together this is a great little opener. Although I feel it is limited to a degree as it’s potentially only given itself a five year window to work in, I like the team's attitude. It will be interesting to see how it pans out as even in the back it alludes to the mainstream titles and what happened to the rest of the team. Worth a read if you’re looking for a new team with a different twist.

Matt Puddy is really not sure what to make of next week's Sword of Sorcery.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

The Watcher - Dredd 3D

Judge Dredd is back and this time he’s harder, darker and grittier than a gravel driveway. Filling the boots of 2000AD’s longest running character is Karl Urban - full of grimace and ready to wash the bad taste of Stallone’s version out of your mouth like that first swig of mouthwash the morning after the night before.

Reminds me of the Daredevil movie poster with Ben Affleck...

Now I know I will most likely offend some of my comic reading cohorts by saying this, but I haven't really ever read any of the Dredd books. Obviously I have known about the character for a long time as 2000AD began in 1977 well before I was born, but the newspaper style artwork had always put me off.

Some may feel a second offense of mine is that I actually quite enjoyed the Stallone version of Judge Dredd which was released in 1995. Growing up as a massive fan of Demolition Man (I still am) I loved the action and cheese that ol’ Sly brought to it.

It's actually quite a good poster, considering Dredd's defining characteristic is arguably his face.

Dredd 3D is a different beast altogether. Gone are the shiny shoulder pads and the flashy future, instead replaced with something a little more believable, something which could be indeed our world-to-come. Endless rioting, wall to wall slums and towering mega blocks - the council estates of the post-apocalypse! Along with the more urban city, Dredd’s suit is more functional. Now he can enter a gunfight without the worry of knocking his colleagues over with a massive golden eagle every time he turns around! One thing I did dislike design-wise were the new bikes. I felt they looked out of place and rather oddly shaped, they should have been heftier! That said, they do force the actors playing the Judges to sit with perfect posture, oddly imposing in the chaos of the MegaCity.

The basic story is that Dredd is assigned to look after a rookie judge called Cassandra Anderson (Olivia Thirlby) and make sure she is up to the cut. Unfortunately their first assignment leads them to become imprisoned within a mega block which is under the control of gang leader Ma-Ma (Lena Headley). The icing on the cake? She’s manufacturing and distributing a new drug called Slo-Mo (it slows the user's perception of time to 1% of its normal speed apparently) right there in that tower and really doesn’t want to lose her control of it.

Karl Urban plays Dredd how I believe he should be, a man of few words and plenty of action. You never see his face and he never smiles. Yet while all these points which make him a good Dredd, when it comes to creating a relatable character these can also be negatives. This is why we are given Judge Anderson, she becomes your emotional entry point into the world and Olivia Thirlby is wonderful. You watch her grow as the movie progresses to the point where I think even Dredd has respect for her.

Lena Headley plays a brilliantly ruthless villain in Ma-Ma - she is completely convincing and fully committed to the performance. I feel it's a shame that there were not more scenes with her as she was just that good. Of course, if you have not already I highly recommend checking her performance in Game of Thrones.

Or for a different side to Lena Heady, check out her portrayal of Sarah Connor in Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles

The considerable pace and comfortable 95 minute length of the movie were perfect; there was not a point where I was bored. Yes some of the slo-mo shots could have been cut a little shorter but they all looked stunning and were the only points in the movie where the 3D looked good. Using the same cameras as those used for slow motion natural history documentaries was an excellent touch. Action films will forever be indebted to hummingbirds! 

Overall Dredd is a pretty basic movie, what really makes it an enjoyable one is the fact its makers did not shy away from making it an 18 rating. This is how Dredd should be - ultra-violent, brutal, bloody and kick-ass!

Stefan Harkins is aware of the comparisons to The Raid: Redemption, but that film began filming in March 2011, four or five months AFTER Dredd. So just let it go!

Tuesday, 11 September 2012


So, the new Fantasy Flight LCG version of Netrunner came out last week, after it's phenomenal debut at GenCon. It sold at the UK supplier in a day! We've sold out as well, and whilst serving a customer who had sensibly pre-ordered a copy, I realised I've never really promoted our board game pre-order offer.

So here goes...

All customers who pre-order a board game before it's initial release date, will receive 10% of the SRP. To secure your pre-order, there will be a deposit of 25% of the SRP at the time of ordering. This only applies to new board game; I'm afraid customers who special order older games will pay normal price.

Forthcoming highly anticipated board games that you can pre-order includes (but is not limited to):

So pop in and see me! Some great games coming out this autumn/winter.

Restocks of Netrunner are due in next week.

Ben Fardon is really intrigued by the TabApp HeroClix...

Thursday, 6 September 2012

New Beginnings - The Phantom Stranger #0

This week we have the first of the New 52 Zero Month issues with the arrival of the Phantom Stranger. Dan Didio is writing the this issue, which as the first of the #0 issues I get to review, is also slightly fitting as he is one of the main architects behind the 52 reboot. From reading up thought I can see he gets involved with some of the lesser mainstream titles, including the recently cancelled OMAC.

This issue opens with our unknown narrator imprisoned and shackled. In a moment of great weakness when he felt there was only one way out. However by taking his own life, instead of being received by Heaven or Hell, another fate lay in front of him. A trial of sorts where he and two equally mysterious counterparts (Pandora and the Question) - who are referred to with him as the Trinity of Sin - have judgement passed upon them.

Of course, we've seen all this before in the DC New 52 Free Comic Book Day issue - released back in May and written by Geoff Johns. It's hard to tell if this story was broken by Johns, Didio and the other DC creative executives together some time ago, as it leads into next year's huge event the Trinity War, but if it was solely Johns' invention then Didio has brought little to this origin save from retelling it from the Stranger's POV.

The Phantom Stranger's origin in the DC New 52 FCBD issue

This New 52 version of the Stranger seemingly dispenses with the anonymity of his previous incarnation who had at least four conflicting backstories. Instead the heavy references to his betrayal of a friend in return for a handful of coins clearly suggests Judas Iscariot. Although no one ever says that name or any other in relation to the Stranger, the suggestion is very heavily there in a variety of ways.

The main direction of the Stranger’s purpose is then opened up. Thrust back into the realm of the living - and shackled with a new necklace made from the blood money he was once paid in - he understands he is to walk the Earth until specific souls needs “assistance”. The troublesome part in this is that for his penance, every time he helps he will ultimately betray that person as is his nature. This doesn’t always mean that this is bad though - even in this issue we see the arrival on another significant mysterious figure as the Spectre is introduced to the New 52.

The same events, in The Phantom Stranger #0
(preview pages taken from
I’ve never read about the Phantom Stranger before this comic so it was of interest to me. As a character I’ve seen him in 52, Blackest Night and of course the New 52 FCBD issue, but I’ve never really considered who or what he really was. That said the first read through didn’t massively grab me. It was only on the second reading and some additional research that I felt this was a much more thought provoking story than I'd first appreciated.

As a #0 issue it does the job that it needs to and sets up the realms of possibility for the title. I do worry that it is a very simple premise that will play through almost to a template, but I am hoping there is more to it than that. When you consider the plight that is facing our hero there is now only 29 more times that he can do this as each soul that he intervenes frees him of one piece of silver from his necklace.

The splash page teaser for the Trinity War from the FCBD issue.
It has to be said, this looks like it will be even bigger than Blackest Night!
It's worth considering that the Phantom Stranger is part of the Trinity of Sin and the only one of their number with his own comic. He will certainly be a huge part of the next big DC event, so this may be the title with a lot of foreshadowing and story development as we move towards this impending Trinity War. I suspect it will be a title that rewards your interest if you are a fan of the New 52 DC universe!

Matt Puddy will be looking at Team 7 #0 next week as Zero Month continues...

Saturday, 1 September 2012

Digital Canvas - Moving Pictures

In previous articles I have talked about how some webcomics utilise the opportunities of their chosen media by including various Flash or GIF animations to create a mixture of moving and stationary art. But what of those creators who decide to go all the way, creating a series of animations to rival their favourite Saturday-morning cartoons via the advent of the internet? This article is for those brave few.

If you’re wanting to discover a great animated web-series, a good place to start is a video/animation-sharing community site such as YouTube or Newgrounds, where creative types can easily upload their works and receive almost instant kudos or much-needed criticism.

A good example on the Newgrounds site is a Korean series called “There She Is!!”, made by a small independent animation studio called SamBakZa. The series of short cartoons (mostly set to music and without dialogue so as to cater to an international audience) follows a rabbit girl falling in love with a cat boy, in a world where inter-species romance is seen as taboo. The first few episodes are light-hearted and filled with humour, but the story progresses into much darker territory, exploring the consequences of prejudice and the ups and downs of love. This series would not have come about (and SamBakZa would not have gotten much needed financial backing) without the huge success of the first instalment via Newgrounds bringing this foreign oddity to the English-speaking world.

A wonderfully silly example of a web-toon series on YouTube would be “Baman and Piderman”, following the bizarre exploits of the child-like parodies of Batman and Spider-Man, who here share a house together and are “best fweinds”. The duo are often found relaxing and doing fun activities together, but they’ve also had such surreal adventures as awkwardly confronting the bad-guy versions of themselves in their basement, and embarking on a quest to save their friend - a pumpkin - from slowly rotting away. The wonderfully old style animation, created by the same people behind tv cartoon Happy Tree Friends, is very reminiscent of Rhubarb And Custard cartoons.

If you’re looking for something with a bit more Britishness to its humour, try Weebl’s Stuff, a site that primarily showcases the animations of a small team headed by one British guy called Jonti “Weebl” Picking. Mr Picking has found some moderate success creating viral animated advertising for several products, and even a few TV commercials. The site hosts a number of different animated series’ dreamt up by Jonti and others, including the highly popular Weebl And Bob series, following the misadventures of two egg-shaped beings and their quest for pie. Also of note are the wide range of musical toons, where the weird (sometimes NSFW) animations play out the scenes sung about in the humorous song lyrics. Indeed, the site makes ends meet from marketing albums of these bizarre songs on iTunes (I highly recommend the ode to Stephen Fry on the “Magical Chalk Toilet” album). I feel the need to warn you that much of this site could be considered “odd”, chalk it up to the British sense of humour.

If you prefer something with a little more finesse to it, the slow-to-update but rather enthralling Bitey Castle might be the place for you. The Brackenwood series (named for the fully realised forest setting in which the action takes place) mainly follows a rather mischievous speedy imp called Bitey, a true anti-hero bully that you can’t help but root for, in a sequoian world of fantastical plants and animals. The series is created by ex-Disney employee Adam Phillips, and his past employment truly shines through with every beautiful frame. The site also hosts a series of tutorials and tips if you want to digitally animate like a pro too!

Lastly but certainly not leastly, any list of recommended web animations just HAS to include the sadly defunct Homestar Runner. A true web phenomenon of the early 2000’s, the site managed the impossible (at the time) of netting a profit without the help of banner adverts, purely via merchandise sales alone. Basically it was an homage/parody of your average saturday morning cartoon, but with a good dollop of bizarre and a side order of snarky college humour, following the adventures of silly sportsman Homestar and his various oddly-shaped friends. Unfortunately the site hasn’t been active for quite some time, but the huge archive of animations should keep anyone busy for many days!

Todd Marsh wishes he had the time and a good excuse to watch kids cartoons all day.