Reading this month’s Zuda reviews wasn’t exactly a pleasant experience. The art and storytelling ranges from professional to downright incompetent, but the overall writing was really poor. Two strips are only kinda interesting while the rest are either actually unimaginative to poorly executed or some combination of both.. It’s the first time I’m left not really caring which entry wins as I’m unlikely to follow any strip that maintains the writing level demonstrated. Granted, once free of the 8-page entry structure the winner might turn into a fine weekly strip, but I can only judge based on what’s shown.
Just a note: I make a point of avoiding the synopsis and talkbacks until after I read the strips: if the strip creator needs to explain so the reader understands what is happening then they really aren’t up to the job.
Ninjas From Ibiza: Clubbin’ To Death Current rank 1
This strip has a Brendan McCarthy/Paul Pope vibe to me, which means the colour, sometimes less-than-clear storytelling and weird anatomy is a part of the deal. Essentially an 8-page fight scene I don’t get a sense of how Francesco Biagini will craft his story from here. Weird powers and bizarre fight techniques are cool n’ all, but there has to be some meat otherwise it’s just fight porn. I recognize that there’s an audience for that, but I’m not in it. Right now this strip looks like Naruto on ecstacy. The weird translation issues do give the strip a 70’s Heavy Metal touch, “D’ya still believe’s a good business wastin’ yo’ time for a lifelong training in killin’ people?” What the hell is that supposed to mean? 2/5
The Hammer Current rank 2
It’s Sin City, but Marv is played by a large – scratch that, thing’s ten feet tall – gargantuan, trench coat-wearing, chain-smoking pink rabbit with a hammer. Dave Sim’s Cerebus started as a Conan parody, TMNT was a truly affectionate riff on Frank Miller’s Daredevil and the X-Men comics of the time, so this isn’t new ground by any means. So it’s a pretty tired gag and requires top notch execution to make any more than the first eight pages worthwhile. Sin City already read like a parody of pulpy crime fiction, so stealing Miller’s voice here is pretty cheap comedy. The drawing is terribly inconsistent; the bunny growing and shrinking between panels, which would make sense of all the rubbery anatomy. Some of the colouring is particularly nice, though. This strip would be a fine one-off eight pager in some late eighties anthro anthology, but I have no confidence that this will do anything other than mine the same joke for 52 weeks. 1/5
Azz’s Inferno Current rank 3
This is a very stylish strip and the best and most densely written this month. While I have some problems with how much backstory is included, the backstory is well told. Since Azz talking to another devil I’m guessing it’s some newly fallen, a devilspawn born post fall or a narrative fuck up having a character telling known information to another character to slam in the exposition. As far as murder mysteries go I would have preferred to be introduced to more characters and get a greater sense of how the story will develop from the first eight pages and have the history doled out later. The decision to black out all the devils’ faces is an interesting one, but will create some issues with character recognition later on unless creator Thane Benson is really careful. The shadow cast by the anonymous devil on the first page has the same horn pattern as Lucifer, which makes me think it’s either him or one of his children. I get that red and yellow read as fire and Hell is supposed to be burning, but I would like to see a wider range of colour and some use of warm/cool interplay because I think this scheme could get pretty tedious fast. 3/5
Splitting Atoms Current rank 4
It’s a super-hero family tale, like The Incredibles or The Umbrella Academy, but without the originality or skill. Starting off with three pages of tedious and poorly written origin material –
Hang on; I have to go on a bit of a rant here. I am so sick and tired of people thinking they have to start telling their stories with origins or histories. If your strip is exciting and engaging it’ll be exciting and engaging if you don’t start with the boring expository narrative. If your story doesn’t work without half of your first eight pages being an info dump tell a different story. If you can’t make the reader care about your world and characters by having them center stage for the full eight pages, then your world and characters aren’t worth anyone’s time.
Anyway, the first three pages of this strip are almost text book on how not to do exposition. If the father’s wife was so special to him why is her death only mentioned as an aside to her corpse being harvested for genetic material? The one highlight of the strip is “bitchslap” being used as a sound effect. The art looks a little too amateurish; the fingerprints of too many artist influences all over the pages, the storytelling goes from dull and mediocre to just bad. The creator has potential, once he improves his drawing, gains a better understanding of storytelling and reads something other than comics he might make something worth reading. Splitting Atoms isn’t, though. 1/5
Part-Time Magic Current rank 5
On this side of the planet people read comics left-to-right-and-down. The creator of this strip doesn’t really seem to understand this, nor does he get that the reader needs more visual information to extract understanding from seemingly unconnected images. There are a number of great books on storytelling out there; this creator needs to read them. 0/5
Indie Current rank 6
Zuda entrants only have 8 screens to impress an audience enough to vote for their project. Jericho Vilar takes the really gutsy move and tries to do it in 8 full-page panels. It’s an absolute failure, even if it’s an audacious one. It’s really two pages of content, at best, spread over eight screens of traced and screened photos from the indie club scene. It really doesn’t seem like the creator cared enough about this to put forth an effort, which made this a thankfully short read. 0/5
Fire and Water Current rank 7
The best looking strip this week is hampered by a few things: three full page panels that have no visual impact due to how few panels overall and some rather vague writing that leaves this reader wondering what the point is. I have no doubt that Frederica Manfredi is going to be a star with art like this, but she needs to work with a writer who understands how to make a full page image pay off. Here’s the panel density per page, 3, 4, 1, 4, 1, 3, 1 and 1. Eighteen panels over eight pages is certainly better content-wise than Indie, but, if this is the pace we could expect the strip to keep on a weekly basis she might actually get out of her building on the 25th page.
A free tidbit for the aspiring comics artists out there, be aware of visual contrast, a splash page has impact in direct proportion to the density of panels surrounding it. A full-page image has less impact after a sequence of three-to-four panel pages than following a sequence of five-to-six panel pages. Also, the larger image has to have larger story importance as you’re dealing with the economy of narrative vs. pages the more space you devote to something the more important it becomes to the story. 2.5/5
Doctor Immortalus Current rank 8
Yet another action hero of science vs. Nazis . . . sometimes reading Zuda is like an LSD flashback to every bad new comic I was asked to draw over the last 20 years. Now, there may only be a few dozen iterations of this in recent years, but I’ve actually sat in on at least six comics or movie pitch sessions where this is what the writers or producers had to offer. It was a fresh idea back when there were Nazis, but that was over 50 years ago. Nazis are really B material at best today, so opening with a moon base filled with them being your best shot – not buying it. I will say that the writer does make an effort with his spurious jargon, although it actually detracts from the story as well. Another odd bit is the art. It’s obviously watercolour or gouache tinkered with in Photoshop, but the degree of tinkering is just enough to make me wish he either did everything by hand or really worked over everything. The art is often muddy, so the bright whites dropped in and the weirdly oversized panel borders stick out almost as badly as the 3D logo on page one. 1/5
Gravedust Current rank 9
This is a lovely looking strip, but the writing is a dreadful annoyance. The jokes aren’t even groan-worthy as they just lay there, hoping you find a lisping bat inherently funny. Partner this guy up with the right writer and have him delve into some Edward Gorey style material and I think you’d have gold. 2/5
Operation: Nazi U Current rank 10
More Nazis, though it’s set in the appropriate era and Tom Cruise is nowhere to be seen so it’s not a complete waste. I never really liked late-era Kirby, but I understand how it reverberates with some people and I do appreciate the Kirby I see peeping out between the lines in drawings by Simonson, Mignola, Romita Jr. and Armstrong, I will never understand the guys who ape his work to this degree. If Kirby style art was still commercially viable we’d still have mainstream books produced by Kirby clones. This strip doesn’t seem to have any other point than in being a love letter to Kirby, bad WWII SF and giant robots. In that, however, it’s a love letter lacking an envelope. Why go to such lengths copying the King of Four Color Comics and not have equally retro colour? It’s dead-easy to make things look like retro comics – now even easier than back when Alan Moore and his cronies were doing their 1963 project. 1/5