Decided to post an entry with reviews/critiques of the whole slot of Zuda entries this month, before the first placings are announced. Capsule reviews might be a more apt description of what I'm gonna do. Here they are, in order as they appear on the competition page:
A Single Soul
This is Furman's second entry in three months. Last time he did a fully painted entry, but, with A Single Soul he chose to use a pen and ink style reminiscent of Virgil Finlay and Charles Vess. He really busts his ass on the first page, though the gestures feel a little stiff it's nice to see realistic female figures in a strip. The lettering is a significant improvement from his previous entry (provided by co-plotter, Nancy Leslie), however the 3D rendered scrolls don't sit well on the page. It would have been better had Furman drawn the scrolls so they would be in a similar style to the actual artwork they are a part of.
The strip does a great deal of telling-not-showing in an info-dump of captions over nicely drawn trees and rocks, but there's a sudden and jarring scene transition to a spiral-tree and then into the spiral tree and another nude woman floating within its darkness. No captions on this page, even though we can assume the captions on the previous page were about the woman on this page. Essentially, page 2 became a wasted screen since the captions could easily have been added to page three. Page 4 has a birth scene, page 5 a rather pointless and unevenly drawn full screen image of the newly-born nude woman lounging against a rock. That brings us up to two wasted pages so far. The narrative finally starts on page 6; thewoman walks through some water -- there's a panel of the water rippling in her wake that might or might not be important since there seems to be some sort of symbol in it. The final panel is some sort of ragged skin or cloak with hands snagged on a branch. The drawing just isn't clear enough what it is we're looking at. Page 7, our naked woman is now wearing the ragged thing and she descends into a hole to some demon-infested underworld (no idea why she'd wanna go into another hole after just breaking out of one, but there ya go). A chicken-eating demon announces her arrival (we don't know where it is to announce this as this is the only time we see it in this strip), and another demon watches her walk toward some sort of building. Page 8 has the woman emerging from another hole! She's already reacting to a new demon attacking her from above and the entry concludes with her dispatching it.
I'm being pretty hard on this one, but it really ticked me off; comics are supposed to tell stories. With 2 wasted pages, a hallucinagenic and directionless narrative and poor storytelling the first strip, despite better draftsmanship than a few other entries, takes last place this month.
Aeon of the Dead
Not a great deal to write about this one: it's a zombie apocalypse story with a leather-clad, sword weilding babe in leather protagonist. The storytelling is far superior to the previous entry, but not spectacular on its own. The asian inspired art is uneven; better when there's reference (cars, gas station, road signs), horrible when the artist doesn't use it (the horse being the worst). It's a solo effort by Dean Hsieh, who does show a good deal of promise here, but needs to hone his drawing and painting skills and find a more original story to spend his time on.
Angus Frump Kills Christmas
Stevapalooza brings the funny and a really well developed style to my favourite entry this month. Some of the gags fall a little flat, but it's the most consistent entry. Really, you should just read it!
Looks like it's gonna be a serial killer strip. Creators Oysterboy and HarleyQuinn's offering has the feel of a high school project, albeit a pretty well done high school project. Apart from a complete drop in narrative clarity on pages 4 & 5, they do a pretty decent job at setting up scenes, locations and characters. The writing doesn't break any ground, or reveal characters particularly well nor does it really hook me into what's supposed to happen next. Much like Aeons above, I'd like to see what these people would be doing after more development.
I'm a big fan of European comics and 1970s Mad magazines so I may know what creative vein Poetzarelli is mining here while the larger North American audience may never have heard of Franquin or the others in the mix here. He does a nice job of setting up the gags and gave me a couple of smiles, but it didn't make me laugh. I don't know if this entry would be strong enough to have won any of the last few contests, but it's the second funniest strip this month, which means it's not likely to pull off a victory. Cute probably describes this best.
Radek Smektala and Janusz Ordon give us a very early Vertigo-like entry. Easily my second favourite entry this month and it's only its few shortcomings that keep me from putting my full support behind it and voting for it. As well drawn as it is, I found the colouring and vague backgrounds, when there were backgrounds, undermined the storytelling. A few other things struck me as I reread it; the knife used on page 4 was too large for a prison shiv, the establishing shot on page 5 was a missed opportunity where the Hell prison could really have been shown in al its horror, and showing how the characters on page 7 move about more clearly would have helped the storytelling (I'm guessing that the stone is morphing and the ground moves where the prison guards will it).
If Hellbreak does win, I hope the team drops the intensity and value of the colour and develops the backgrounds more.
Juliette: Worst Vampire Ever
Cedric Poulat produced this horror-comedy strip with a debt to Buffy, Clueless and other teen comedies. Visually it's reminiscent of Kyle Baker's colour work and the storytelling is serviceable, though Cedric struggles with his cartooning and anatomy at times. It could very well be that I'm not the target audience (even though I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon), but the humour didn't get me, which is kinda the bar this sort of strip has to top to be succesful. It's an idea that has merit, but this one needs some work on the writing. I'd love to see what Poulat could do with this with another take or with a writing partner with stronger comedic chops.
Here's a good rule of thimb for all the comics artists out there: if a character is flying or being levitated do NOT crop any of the figure until you establish this to the reader, especially any of the top of the figure. It's just bad, bad storytelling. Writer/artist Spencer Platt needs to back off and show the action more. His panel compositions are so claustrophobic that the lettering often obscures too much of what little there is to see of the actual action. The lettering here is a real weakness too; the font is a rather dull san-serif and doesn't suit the art at all and the balloon placement often leaves much to be desired. The writing is essentially all plot and there's no real characterization, just types. You could argue that there's not much room in 8 pages, especially in 8 action packed pages to reveal character, but I do believe you should be able to give the reader something to latch onto on at least one of the protagonists. As it is, we get two rough-housing gamer dudz and a sexy-bitchy pilot girl. The drawing and colouring (by soupcan13) are stronger and could do very well in a future entry.
I dunno. I really want to like it; it has elements of The Tick and a number of other surreal strips I've liked over the years, the storytelling's fine, characterization nicely handled, nice touches of humour. It's really a strip you have to read, and it'd be one I'd follow if it continued, but it's just not as strong out of the gate as some of the others this month. How's that for wishy-washy reviewing! Enough already, go read the damn thing!
Four people worked on this strip, though Keith Miller and Chuck Collins were the lead creatives here. Sadly, the urban-anime style of this leaves me cold. The character art and background art don't mesh well at all. It's a nice experiment, but doesn't have a positive effect on the story. It reall does try to get an animated feel to the art; the colours are flat, and the figures seem to float above the backgrounds. Uneven drawing trips this approach, too. I really don't think slice-of-life strips work well in this sort of competitive environment as I believe that sort of narrative works better with a larger amount of character and environment material to absorb.
How I'm ranking them:
1. Angus Frump Kills Christmas
3. The Accountants
5. Juliette: Worst Vampire Ever
6. Non-Exertus 12
7. Aeon of the Dead
9. Tri-Boro Tales
10 A Single Soul