The Webcomic Overlook #113: Xylia Tales

Top o’ the mornin’ to ya! St. Patty’s Day is coming along later this week, and I thought it would be nice to do a piece on a webcomic dealing with tiny creatures of fables central to Irish culture. Unfortunately, I think very few folks are very interested in doing a webcomic specifically about leprechauns, so we have to dig a little deeper into Celtic mythology to find other diminutive folk better suited for long term narratives: fairies.

Every so often, somebody comes along and tries to make fairies (or faeries) cool again. I mean, cool for people who aren’t pre-teen girls. And why not? Fairies were once the mythological creature of choice of the Celtic nations. They were either tiny folk who had been driven into hiding by humans or a race of spirits who lived in a parallel Otherworld that may or may not be the realm of the dead. There are already existing myths of people wandering into these magic worlds, which opens up a myriad of storytelling possibilities.

Modern writers are emboldened by how Tolkien took elves out of Santa’s workshop and turned them into stoic and sexy warriors with serious larper cred. But no matter how hard writers like Tad Williams and Susannah Clarke try, fairies are doomed to roam the world’s Trapper Keepers alongside killer whales, sad unicorns, and Edward Cullen. Perhaps Tinkerbell’s hold on the modern notion of fairies is too strong for even the Fairy King John Uskglass to break. Or maybe centering stories in a world where pain and disgrace are absent are serious handicaps when stories need conflict.

But that doesn’t mean writers won’t stop trying. Today, on the Webcomic Overlook, we’ll take a look at an attempt to put together a compelling fairy-centric story in webcomics: Xylia Tales, written and illustrated by Barb Jacobs.

The “About” page of Xylia Tales lists several contributors. There’s a Xylia radio play written by Peg, whose profile reads thusly: “Peg is also wanted in three states of mind for practicing random minstrelsy, and wearing a purple wig on alternate Whirrsdays.” My, how quirky! The driving force behind the webcomic, though, is Barb Jacobs, an artist of 20 years, a mother of two, a guitar player, and “more than a little crazy.” (Hey, don’t ask me. That’s what the profile says.) The comic itself has been going on since October 2007 and is currently in its ninth chapter.

Xylia Tales begins with the phrase, “I’m going to tell you a different tale about the day the Normans conquered England.” Ooh, a historical war epic! Unfortunately, when the narrator tells you about “a different tale,” he means it. As in, it’s a romance, specifically one between a dying soldier and a blue-haired girl with giant kewpie-doll eyes who could be one of those Sky Dancer toys. Her name is Xylia. She gives him the fantasy-approved Chosen One spiel (“You are the only one who can save Azloe!”). The she gets super sparkly, pitches some woo, and asks the apparently now-dead soldier to “Find me, Claudius.”

And thus we are introduced to an unbreakable love that will last to all eternity. (Seriously.)

Afterwards, we find out that Christopher Lee — or someone who bears an uncanny resemblance to the man behind Dracula and Count Dooku — has been telling these fantasy stories to a young kid named Charles Ravensdale. Little Charles is a little skeptical at first when Christopher Lee claims that these stories are a true account of history, but he’s eventually swayed when the old man gives him an old journal where the pages are left unwritten. (Huh?) Curiously, the old man disappears, his drawing room magically transforming into a broom closet. The old man returns to see Charles several times later in life, appearing in other broom closets where Charles’ friends won’t see, and … whoa, that sounds kinda inappropriate. Let’s flash forward a bit.

As Charles gets older, he begins to doubt that his visits with the old man are grounded in reality. After a psychological evaluation, he reaches a frightening conclusion: Christopher Lee isn’t real! (But … how do explain his chilling work as the villainous wizard, Saruman? That’s acting no man can fake!) Despondent, older Charles says goodbye to his imaginary friend for what he thinks is the last time. For all his troubles, Charles does does get a lovable Corgi as a parting gift, though.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a comic if it ends there, though. Charles’ stories of a magical world eventually catch up with him. First, he’s seduced by a girl with a blonde afro and Marylin Manson face paint. It turns out she also has wings, and, worse, a truly atrocious accent. Second, he’s attacked by a winged monkey who can talk. Now a true believer in the existence of girls with blonde afros, Charles makes his escape to the magic fairyland with the help of his Corgi, who can now apparently communicate mentally and change sizes at will.

But that’s not all. To the surprise of no one, it turns out that Charles is the “Chosen One” spoken of in the collected tales of our Christopher Lee doppleganger. Yes, my friends, Charles … is … CLAUDIUS. Though, really, he prefers to be called Claude, probably because he’s a huge fan of Claude Rains.

Claude escapes the snow-covered world of Digonia, which he enters by walking into a painting. The scene was perhaps inspired by Voyage of the Dawn Treader… or Looney Tunes, perhaps? There, he meets his all-new family, finds out he’s some sort of fairy-human hybrid, he’s the “Chosen One” who will save/destroy this fairy realm, blah blah blah. Oh, yeah, and Christopher Lee is his dad, who, it turns out really wasn’t visiting younger Charles after all because he was astrally projecting himself. Okay.

Which is all in good fun, because by the end of Chapter 4, it’s time to take leave of Claude and follow the adventures of the girl with the blonde afro. And, heck, why not? Compared with the sad sack who’s the main lead of Xylia Tales, Blondie and her posse of merry misfits are actually interesting. While I understand this tangent the story takes — it does tie back into the narrative some time later — it’s hard not to conclude that Barb Jacobs herself has lost interest in the main character. (The most recent story takes another tangent, by the way. We leave Claude in the dust yet again to follow two lovable hobos named April and December who have their own sordid backstories.) Blondie and company pick a fight with a monk on flying unicorn-pegasus. And just when things are starting to get interesting….

…we return to Claude, who has received an Extreme Makeover. No longer a nerdy bookworm, he’s now a rugged fantasy hero with the most punchably smug face imaginable. We learn that we have now flash-forwarded 200 days later, where Claude has grown wiser and … wait, what? Time out, Xylia Tales. It’s bad enough that we have to take the not inconsiderable leap of logic that the nebbish loser from the first chapters is now our “dashing” man of action. We don’t see how this happens. This is a really bad case of a reader being told rather than shown.

Second, were there no good stories to be told about Claude adjusting to life and learning magic in Digonia? It seemed like a huge missed opportunity here. We were JUST introduced to a veritable poo-pile of characters: Claude’s parents, sisters, the neighborhood girl…. Wouldn’t it be nice to see his relationship develop with them? Apparently not, since their follow-up stories are relegated to a wordy one-page flashback. There’s a very good chance that their fates are chronicled in those radio plays written by that one lady who wears a purple wig on alternate Whirrsdays… but it would be nice if webcomic readers were given a reason for care about these side characters, dontcha think?

Instead, Claudius’ family is treated like window dressing. They’re forgettable bystanders that only matter when they’re associated to the supposed glorious destiny that awaits Claudius. They’re there simply as an excuse for Ms. Jacobs to draw fairies. Pretty, pretty fairies whose prettiness is their sole reason for existence. For example, we’re introduced to a red-head fairy who tries to trick Claude by appearing as Xylia. She turns out to be highly disposable: she appears, makes the sole point that Claude’s heart belongs to Xylia and Xylia alone, and then disappears forever.

By the way, this “eternal bond” between Xylia and Claude: is it romantic, or is it just lazy storytelling? I tend to side with the latter. We learn very little of Xylia herself, beyond the fact that she and Claudius are meant to be together. It’s always “My heart will belong to you, beloved,”, “Find me,” etc. etc. etc. Talk about a one-track mind. With every passing page it becomes harder to believe that Claude would waste his time and his energies in pursuit of a woman that develops beyond the doe-eyed Sky Dancer from the first few pages.

But perhaps you’ll feel differently. For example, how do you feel about these pearls of heart-wrenching dialogue?

“So many doubts. So many questions… Questions with answers best not heard… but felt with your heart.”

“All those years I never told you how I felt about you — and now… it’s too late. You were the only one who believed the stories. The only one who didn’t think I was daft. How could I let you go, Alli? I let so many things go.”

“This is worrisome, but also a relief… from the longing… but not the loneliness.”

Do you find these lines to be incredibly romantic? Or are they unbearably cheesy? I don’t know about you, but all this syrupy chatter is putting me on the verge of a diabetic coma.

And then we get an exchange like this:

“He has dubbed you a Banneret of Berobos. Best that you accept. It’s never wise to offend and Amphekeron, you know.”

That, in a nutshell, is everything that’s wrong with nomenclature in fantasy literature. To be fair, a Banneret is a real thing… at least according to Wikipedia. Berobos and Amphekeron — the name of those unicorn-pegasi — is unique to Xylia Tales. Pro-tip: there’s a limit to how many of these tongue-twister words you can stick on one page without it looking laughably absurd.

Overall, Xylia Tales felt like a paint-by-the-numbers fantasy tale, only effectively neutered by the bland hero, the unfocused storytelling, and the unremarkable conflict-free world of fairies with paper-thin personalities. You know what? Tinkerbell has more personality than most of the characters in Xylia Tales. Well, except for that one gal with the afro (whose name is Tychia, by the way). I bet Tychia and Tink would’ve gotten along fine… and gone on a two-woman multi-fairy realm shooting spree. Now that would be a Xylia Tale worthy of a Purple Wig Whirrsday.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on March 15, 2010, in 2 Stars, adventure webcomic, dramatic webcomic, fantasy webcomic, romance webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 50 Comments.

  1. The hands are very well drawn. It’s something so few artists get right. My hat is off to Barb Jacobs.

  2. Coincidentally, I just found/read the archives for this comic last week….I don’t think you and I were reading the same story! I *do* agree that sometimes things can be a bit cheesy, but the rest of the comic’s setting is interesting enough to me that I don’t have any problems overlooking it. Besides, I’ve seen worse cheese out there, and I don’t mean in the supermarket. 😉 But hey, different strokes and all that whatnot!

    Seconding William George’s comment above. I do love the art. Sometimes the characters’ eyes get so huge that it becomes disconcerting, but then I remember that a lot of old fae art shows them with unnatural and exaggerated features. Not sure if the artist was trying to recreate that, though, being a newbie to the Xylia site and all.

    • William’s comment on the hands was the first time I noticed them, and now that he’s pointed them out I can’t unsee them. But he’s right: the hands are rendered very nicely.

    • I’ve long said with my own reviews that my readers should not necessarily rely on what I say or what any other reviewer says concerning if a comic is good or bad. Tastes will vary as will perspectives. Even if the review is scathingly bad, that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy it.

      Rob H., Tangents Reviews

  3. Bleagh I can’t believe you didn’t talk more about the art… It’s not necessarily the faces–which are definitely annoying, it’s the way she colors. Dodge and Burn tool anyone? Airbrush anyone?

    I can’t look at it without feeling like my eyes are melting off. 😦

    And the story is so unoriginal it makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry.

    • Eh… the art didn’t bother me so much. I thought it was, at best, adequate. I’d put it in the same category as Wayfarer’s Moon, where the art is just there.

  4. At best, adequate? Art truly is in the eye of the beholder then. I think Barb’s art is amazing and incredibly expressive. I honestly wish I had Barb’s talent, even a smidgen of it! I am generally not a fan of webcomics; I have a very select few which I enjoy and after this review I checked out Xylia and I have added it to my favourites. I believe the story is romantic and engaging, not cheesy as you insist. I love the history Barb has developed for her story, not to mention the effort she has obviously put into the story and the characters.

    I will continue to enjoy Barb’s story and art and I think I’ll leave you to whatever it is you enjoy. There is something you enjoy right?

    • Unfortunately for the creator of this comic, when the story and content of a comic fails it’s up to the art to hold everything up like a set of support beams on a burning building, their every flaw is shown as more is asked of them. It also depends on the level or style the comic uses. For a realistic style such as this, especially where the content doesn’t hold up to the scrutiny of review, any imperfections will stand out like a sore thumb.
      Overall I think the art was well done, a little too sparkly in some cases but I’ve seen much, much worse for a comic in this style. The hands are impressive but it was certain facial features of some characters that stood out to me. The art works for the overly romantic, sparkly, somewhat cheesy nature of the story so I have no quarrel with it.
      I think what was said in this review is accurate in its critique of the content. There may have been, or may still be, potential for this comic but so far it’s less than impressive. These characters need depth, more needs to be explained, we need to have a reason to care whether this guy finds the girl because he doesn’t seem to have a real reason to care. It’s almost like he’s dreaming and just stumbling through the story like a sleepwalking member of an undead horde being drawn toward a shiny looking object.

    • Dorian Cornelius Jasper


      What a condescending comment. El Santo has given out quite a few 5 Star ratings and he has an apparent and obvious love for the webcomic format.

      I really don’t see the point in begrudging him for his opinion, especially since I think he’s right on the money. The romance aspect does seem to be lacking, it’s kind of distant. It’s one of those stories where you’re being told how romantic their love is when it’s hard to see for oneself.

      Though the art is really quite nice all things considered.

      • El Santo has given out quite a few 5 Star ratings

        Yeah, but he gave one to MegaTokyo which means we should always keep an eye on him and be ready with the taser in case he tries it again.

        • Hah! Thanks for this. I was struggling with writing an intro piece for my next review. But your comment inspired me to write how all Philipinos have a natural weakness for anything anime. 🙂

          • They’re a good people otherwise. 😉

          • For one who makes such a big mockery of another person’s product of time, effort, and love, set your spelling straight.

            It’s spelled as FILIPINO.

            With all due respect to you and Barb Jacobs’ persons, I have absolutely no right to tell you that what you say is right or wrong. It’s your review; meaning it’s your opinion. What other people will think of it is up to them as well.

            The only thing I can comment about your review is how you’ve managed to make every little flaw you’ve found seem like a horrendously cheap slapstick comedy. It’s perfectly fair if you find Xylia’s storytelling haphazard and slapdash, but spewing off comments like Christopher Lee and Looney Tunes and Tinkerbell are all uncalled for. If you have qualms about the structure of the story, you have all the freedom to write about it. But if you find some elements of the story itself not suited to your taste, don’t make fun of the author. It’s still her story. If you don’t like people running into paintings or men saying poetic lines, then don’t read it. Or better yet, write a story yourself.

            It’s hard to be a critic, and I admire you for what you do. Sometimes, it’s just harder to stay professional about what we do that sometimes we tend to cross over the borders we shouldn’t cross.

            Please continue reviewing. Just stop ridiculing.

          • Actually “Filipino” refers to the race, while “Philipino” refers to the nationality. Both are acceptable.

          • ^_^= Sir, I am from the Philippines, and I daresay that it really is Filipino, both for race, nationality, and language. Thank you for the reply! 🙂

          • Hmmm… I did a quick search on Wikipedia and I guess you’re right. It looks like the full conversion happened in 1987. In my defense I emigrated to the States in 1981, when the Filipino/Philipino dichotomy was still in effect, so that’s the rule that’s always been in my mind. Consider me corrected. Thank you. (And honestly, it does make things a lot easier.)

          • Thank you, too, sir. 🙂 Many foreigners still use the “Ph” spelling, because of the way the country’s name itself is spelled. 🙂

        • Tim in Colorado

          Oddly enough, MegaTokyo is one of my favorite comics–and yet I also enjoy Xylia, at least enough to follow it. I disagree with many of the opinions above, though I do see where they’re coming from.

          Unfortunately, for a review like this, all the snark REALLY says to me is that the author didn’t like it. The poking fun at specific elements just looks to me like rationalizations. I could sit around poking fun at MegaTokyo, but I don’t, because I like it–so instead I focus on the parts I like.

          Xylia may not be the most sophisticated story around, but then again neither was Avatar, and I enjoyed Avatar.

          • Thanks for the input, Tim. I try not to overload on the snark, but, let’s face it, I did give it two stars, so I’m not going to be overwhelmingly positive or even slightly positive about it. I do try to make it sound like it’s the worst thing ever, though. I reserve that vitriol for the one star reviews. If you check those out, you’ll notice a strong shift from the slightly snarky review here and the full-on anger-filled snark you’ll find in reviews of, say, Las Lindas or Grim Tales From Down Below.

  5. TLDR version: I still enjoying reading your reviews. You have an interesting wit and a very entertaining way of putting things. I agree with much of this post.

    Long version: I first came across this comic shortly after it launched. I was gagging by page 5. It’s one thing to have a cliché-ridden story. It’s even worse, however, to beat your reader over the head with them using bold italics. It’s even worse to have your executions of the clichés be very weak.

    What boggles my mind is a statement I read on the site that perhaps the story is a good old-fashioned silly romance that our dark, cynical world doesn’t seem to have much room for. I can think of stories that still exist that work like that, but Xylia isn’t one of them. They’re called romantic comedies. They contrast the cynical world and are full of that mushy love. However, they work because you end up caring about the potential romantic couple and want them to be together.

    Xylia, however, is not romantic, and I don’t care about the main couple.

    Romance involves human interactions to show how the characters complement each other. Each partner brings out the best in the other. Each partner becomes a better person than what they would have become not knowing their “true love.” They overcome weaknesses and grow. Okay, so Xylia’s stuck in stone, but you need to still show it somehow. There aren’t even flashbacks that show this happening between Xylia and Claude. The flashback that is given is flat relationship-wise and filled with some of the most atrociously clumsy dialogue I’ve ever read that’s ANYTHING but romantic. I also don’t say that because it’s not modern sounding. There are some very sweet Shakespeare sonnets.

    And try this: take away Xylia. What happens? The plot doesn’t suffer drastically because prophecies don’t require twu wuv, and Claude stops getting these weird visions. That’s it – and thankfully we’d be spared the constant “Find me” dialogue. Claude’s personality or view on life wouldn’t change at all.

    Treating relationships like this causes readers to end up not caring. Any attempts to make it more romantic on the surface will come across as cheesy. The treatment of the relationship makes it, at its core, vapid and pointless. Making it part of the backbone of the comic damages the entire work from the start.

    I really agree about the big “maturing gap” you touched on. The story would have been far more interesting as a coming-of-age kind of story with that filled in, and the relationship with Xylia either completely removed or drastically toned down. The comic’s got some really neat fantasical ideas going for it that would fit well in something more similar to Harry Potter or the Narnia books. The dog’s cute too.

    Thinking of the genre of fantasy epics, the reason Tolkien could get away with flat romantic relationships is that it was not one of main focuses of the story. There were so many themes that were way bigger that it. Tolkien did not write, in bold italics, that the story was about a couple’s “power of love.”

    • Tolkien did have some decent stories that could fall into the category. The love story between Arwen and Aragorn is a shadow of a greater story contained in the Silmarillion called Beren and Luthien. The story was important enough to Tolkien that he had the name Luthien engraved on his wife’s tombstone under her name.
      Much of what you said is accurate but Tolkien was probably the wrong example.

      • Tolkien came to mind because of friends who read the “trilogy” but didn’t delve much farther. They generally don’t read appendices or other works. For them, Aragorn and Arwen’s relationship comes off as extremely dull and even confusing (who is this girl he’s marrying – I don’t remember her?).

        You’re entirely correct that it was a poor example on my part, since there are enough readers that supplement the story with other writings and information that is available.

        If Ms. Jacobs had no desire to alter or revamp this comic, perhaps she could consider writing a decent supplemental story to give the main couple more believability. How did they even meet, I wonder? I think it’s a poor “fix” since the relationship is too central in the comic, but at least it’s something.

        • She did write a supplemental story. Nigel’s Opus. I believe that that part of the site is under construction right now, so you can’t read it currently, but it’s good and it does explain a bit more than the comic itself.
          Barb’s story is a bit more of a fairytale than an epic fantasy story. Like Beauty and the Beast or Rapunzel or Rumplestiltskin. In those stories love is at first sight (or pretty close) and you never see the couple’s relationship develop. Ever. Those stories have done pretty well, and I think that’s more of the vibe that she’s after. I like it overall. I think she’s doing a pretty good job…

          • And those fairy tales in their original form (whether unfairly or not) are generally marketed towards children for a reason. They are very simple stories. My point is not that adults can’t enjoy them. For example, there are original fairy tales that fit the genre well (see Shadow Castle by Marian Cockrell), that I enjoy. They work, however, because all elements of the story fit the fairy tale flavour. They retain the simple charm. Xylia, however, has enough modern or adult-oriented entertainment (how the action sequences are treated, the character of Tychia) that it tends to push the story outside the bounds of the classic fairy tales. The other elements of the story are expected to follow suit to an acceptable degree or they clash with the rest and confuse things. It’s possible I would have enjoyed Xylia at the age of 10, but unfortunately there is enough violence and adult content to place it outside the young children’s genre. If you want an adult fairy tale, there are parts I’d suggest not leaving simplified.

            This is why the idea that fairy tale relationships are never, ever developed is highly incorrect concerning modern adaptations. It’s assumed that parents or teenagers will take part in it. See Disney’s Beauty and the Beast. I doubt the movie would have done as well as it did had there been no development, despite people already knowing the story. See also the novel Beauty by Robin McKinley. Ever After was a spin on Cinderella, but definitely put in development. Even in Disney movies with love at first sight (The Little Mermaid) there is a weak attempt the the “time to get to know each other.” And mind you, I’ve seen that movie receive a lot of criticism for the way it portrayed relationships.

            Thank you for the information on the supplemental story.

  6. i agree with other readers here on the use of bold italics and the over-use of sparkly glow. i agree with the writer that some of the characters could have been better developed. but i think these are things which can be fixed. it’s barb’s first comic as the creator AND artist, and for a first effort, i think it’s great. furthermore, i LOVE fantasy comics, and i still don’t read half of the ones online, because the juvenile stories are written by high school kids, who are also responsible for the juvenile art.

    i found this review from a link barb bravely posted to her comic.
    i’ve been a xylia tales reader from day one, since i’d followed talisman before that. talisman was supposedly written by a professional writer, but in my view xylia tales is better written. if the purpose of this review was to showcase the writer’s ability to mock and snark and shoot zings with his pea shooter, then well done. however, if you DO like fairy tales, then you could have been more fair in your review – as THAT would more likely have gotten through to barb. i want to see xylia through to the end. AND THEN…i’m going to be very excited for her sophomore independent project.

    • I do appreciate that Barb included the link on her site, and it was brave of her to read my rather negative review. I found her assessment of my review to be quite gracious, by the way.

      When I write these reviews, they’re targeted toward readers. They’re not necessarily tips or suggestions the author. If it were the latter, I don’t think I’d be very qualified. I’d think that if Barb were to take suggestions to heart, she’d be more inclined to take tips from fans or someone with extensive storytelling or artistic experience. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that no creator really takes anything away from these sorts of reviews: after all, a webcomic is theirs, and they are the only ones who know what they want to do with it and to what ends it will accomplish. (I’m starting to get prosaic, so let me just say that I wrote a whole essay on this subject here.)

      As a reader trying to make recommendations for other readers, though, my focus is mainly on questions like, “Did I enjoy this? Will others enjoy this? What can I show so readers can see how I came to the conclusion? What can I show so they can make up their own minds?”

      Admittedly, the review is a little snarky. Most negative reviews anywhere in any medium are a little snarky. I assure you, though, that these really were my thoughts as I read through the comic and not a self-indulgent showcase to show off my wit. If I wanted to do that, I could do an all negative webcomic review like John Solomon at “Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad” did. It would get me more readers.

      • thoughtful response. you’re wrong that it takes a book publisher or a museum curator to be able to offer worthwhile constructive criticism – a child can do that at times, as we all know only too well. but the one thing you’re *entirely* wrong about is what creators take from online reviews. particularly reviews which are, to any extent, well written and well read. which yours appears to be.

        barb took your critique to heart and looks even to be big enough to take something from it. why NOT take the opportunity to grow as an artist? she’s an intelligent woman – she KNOWS it’s her first book she’s doing on her own – but..i think it’s pretty good. maybe too sappy for most adults – but were it in print, i think it would be perfect for her younger target reader.

        as i said on her blog, sarah ellerton, the genius behind phoenix requiem, once got a bad review – from a total hack. a rabid ellerton fan, i looked at the source and laughed my head off! she said nothing but immediately began working feverishly on improving her art, correcting errors she now perceived, which she’d learned about solely from that hack’s feedback. many creators may suffer from too much ego to acknowledge it, but any hack can be helpful. so if you consider that your readers are NOT all random, and that your words DO have power, you then find yourself empowered to use them wisely. (and most of this last sentence is literally stolen almost word-for-word from one of my heroes in real life – n. scott momaday) that said, if i wasn’t such a big fan of barb, i’d fully appreciate your snark. in conclusion, snark it up, but give credit where credit is due. this works for you for every reader – a balanced point of view, one that is not unduly biased against a particular genre, is worthy of respect, even if you transform to mockety-mockerton for a few zings.

        • Just for the sake of full disclosure, I myself once wrote a negative review of Ellerton’s The Phoenix Requiem, so there’s a very good chance that that hack was me, too. 🙂

        • I entirely disagree, spas. It’s one thing to slowly change art quality, grammar, and spelling, but something entirely different to rehash the plot, change your art style, and improve your writing skills. If any of these artists are going to take El Santo’s criticism to heart and overhaul their comic, they’d have to scrap what they have and start again. So why don’t they? Because 1) he probably doesn’t know what he’s talking about, 2) he probably wouldn’t know how to help them make any of the changes and 3) because they have “too much ego to acknowledge it.” It’s easy to dismiss people who don’t like the fundamental aspects of a comic by saying “it’s not their cup of tea.”

          So unless Sarah Ellerton has sped up her comic and changed her writing style, I don’t think that The Phoenix Requiem is a very good example of reacting to criticism. The people who already like the story probably won’t even care if the art is made even prettier.

        • spas, given other posts I believe you’re referring to the podcast where Sarah’s poses where called stiff? The woman was a very good “hack” then – she was spot on. And considering you even realise that it helped Sarah’s art (her expressions and poses are no longer stiff, now she just has trouble having it convey the correct message), I’m confused with your condescending attitude towards the critic. I heard the podcast once, and the woman wasn’t rude.

  7. Barb Jacobs tells an interesting story and weaves it through some of the more striking art available on the web today. I find it a happy bit of sunshine in a mostly dull grey world of those who cannot create on their own volition.

    • Well it shits me to tears.

      I find my happiness in other comics and the webcomic overlook reviews. The criticism Barb got was deserved, she’s a cliche wrapped in derivative writing. I’ve seen her story done better before, Holly Black’s written better.

  8. Love the story. Love the art. It takes not only talent and dedication, it takes a small amount of passion to mount and maintain a project like this, so that others like me can enjoy; sometimes for little or no reward except self satisfaction. If a project like this becomes a chore, sites like this will dissapear. Please don’t flame to hard on people that are sharing a part of themselves. On behalf of myself and others like me who just want to enjoy the story…. Thank you!

  9. I’ve never been to this website before, despite being a long-time fan of several popular webcomics that you’ve apparently reviewed. I got here via the link posted at XT.

    While Xylia isn’t the most well-written or beautiful comic I’ve ever come across, it ranks up there. I’m not sure if all your reviews come with an extra dose of snark, free of charge, but I was amazed to learn that you’re at least 30 years old when you mentioned emigrating. You made some valid points, but your authority was taken away by the fact that you sound like a teenager. Hopefully in your future reviews you’ll keep in mind that if these artists and writers are dedicated enough to spend hours on a typically free service to the webcomic community, you could at least have the common courtesy to review them with respect, whether you are happy with their production or not.

    • Thanks for the comments, Lindri.

      It’s true: the reviews do come with a dose of snark, both on the good reviews and the bad reviews. (If you’d like, you can pull up my review of Natalie Dee, which I gave 4 stars but which I called a front for a T-shirt store and never really recanted that statement.) I understand that the writing could possibly be more tightly focused and analytical. Storming the Tower, ArtPatient (which had also reviewed Xylia Tales, but it seems to have been lost in the archives), Tangents and Lonely Panel are more along that style. I admit, there are advantages.

      I find, though, that it robs the review of what I think is a key impression I’m trying to impart: the raw energy and aliveness of the action of reading a webcomic. I don’t want people to think that I’m reading webcomics as an academic exercise, but rather that I’m plunging myself emotionally into the endeavor. I suppose it does come off as immature, maybe even coming off as a teenager. Ideally, I’d like to write in the style of a Roger Ebert or an Anthony Bourdain, who do not shy from making snarky comments … but I guess those fellas can come off as overgrown teenagers too. C’est la vie.

  10. I read lots of webcomics but the thing that drew me to barb’s comic was THE CORGI!! I love Livvy. I am a corgi fanatic =)

    more seriously, I think Barb’s drawing is SO good. Her poses, clothing, hands, expressions are always so impressive to someone like me who is an amature artist, and who sees SO many bad bad bad web comics (read’m anyways) as far as form goes. I don’t put as much stock in coloring as some people seem to and think that you might have under-valued her drawing skills.

    I think the story is actually pretty neat because even though its been going really slow, I still am sticking around and waiting because I’m so curious to learn more about the fairy world and what’s going on there. I think when she went back and she did some history, showing the current eeeevil king and his court and his plan of getting rid of death and it seems, also getting rid of birth is very interesting.

    The problem indeed is a lack of development. When the whole 200 day, magic-learning thing happened, Barb said she really had wanted to whole story lines on it and had some planned out, but she just didn’t have the time. I think that’s the problem that’s going on. Life gets in the way. SHE has all the backstory on everybody but to put everything into a comic, the story would take FOREVER. I almost think she should do less coloring, so she doesn’t have to spend so long on each comic, and just get some more story out there. The problem with story comics like this, Ellerton’s stuff, Earthsong is that we are torn between making it great, and keeping a good webcomic schedule with regular updates. Often they’re trying to make it into a book. Penny arcade’s original art is laughable, and that’s no problem for a weekly comic!

    I also think things should be judged -relatively-. Like some other people have said, its her first comic and she’s doing it really just because she loves the story and for her faithful readers. I think that sort of webcomic should be given more of a benefit-of-the-doubt than a professional comic that the artist is living off of.

  11. About the ‘Tinkerbell-mentality’, there is actually one comic which does a fair job of representing fae(that’s the term for the entire ‘race’, right?) in a respectable way.
    It’s called Gossamer Commons.


    It is unfortunately quite dead, but what there is is a fairly interesting read.

    It’s a bit embittering that utter shite will be allowed to fester for decades, while some most enjoyable webcomics die long before their time.
    Maybe an idea for a future theme-week? A Graveyard Mash of unfinished webcomics 🙂

  12. Mama Blade always told me that if I can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.
    In all honesty, that’s usually impractical.
    So I offer, instead, the following:
    If you have the talent as an artist of similar genre (webcomic, print comic, what-have-you) then I feel that it is more than acceptable to ask (of the subject’s creator) and then offer constructive criticisms of a work if or when you find flaws.
    As I have little talent personally in the illustration genre (though I can draw a mean stick-figure) I choose not to follow that route. Who am I to make criticisms of someone with far greater talent that I have? That would be arrogant and presumptuous.
    I know what I like, I read what I like (and send encouragements to the illustrator); conversely, I know what I don’t like and thus (simply) choose not to read something if I dislike it.
    Actually discouraging others from reading something because you dislike its layout or its illustration or plot seems mean-spirited and serves no useful purpose other than draw attention to oneself.
    If one doesn’t have constructive criticism (aka you aren’t an artist of similar calibre) then critiquing another’s artwork comes across as a bit of an ‘armchair hockey player’ scenario… those people who yell and rant at the television screen when a player on the team they choose to cheer for makes a mistake.
    A completely worthless exercise.
    I have little talent in illustration, thus I choose not to criticize and instead read (and bookmark) the comics I like and simply not read the ones that I do not. I recommend the ones that I like and pay no mind to the comics I dislike. I certainly don’t stand on a soapbox and discourage others from reading something they might enjoy (anyone seen or read the Twilight series?)
    Now as for writing… I have some knowledge and experience in *that* genre… which brings me back full-circle to Mama Blade’s advice…
    “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”
    If one were to write a future criticism about a subject (be it a webcomic or a criticism of same) then I have a piece of advice:
    Lose the snark.
    As you stated previous, it may come across as teenagerish… and if you want to be taken more seriously than a teenager in an armchair criticizing someone with more talent than you have… you would be taking a great step forward by offering useful criticisms – from one artist to another – rather than hurling mud for the sake of hurling mud.

    • if you want to be taken more seriously than a teenager in an armchair criticizing someone with more talent than you have… you would be taking a great step forward by offering useful criticisms – from one artist to another – rather than hurling mud for the sake of hurling mud.

      Isn’t it kinda presumptuous to assume that I want to be taken more seriously than a teenager in an armchair? I guess I should let the cat out of the bag: I’m not trying to be taken more seriously than that. Not really.

    • Also, while Mama Blade is no doubt a very lovely person, she should understand that the advice works well in small society settings, but does not work all that well in an online setting. Observe: the lowest rated movie on Rotten Tomatoes is, right now, “Furry Vengeance” with a 7% Freshness Rating. It has only gotten 5 positive reviews, and 69 negative reviews. Now, applying Mama Blade’s logic, all 69 negative reviews would have to be eliminated on grounds of not saying anything nice. Hence, the Freshness Rating rises to 100%. Most would interpret this is everybody loving vengeance and those who don’t love Furry Vengeance are simply in the wrong. Not only is this not the case, it is also misleading. So, again, while Mama Blade is quite nice, I have to conclude that her advice does not have much place in the business of critiquing, criticizing, or reviewing.

    • I’ve been trying not to comment on these old posts, but this is something that aggravates me so much that I just have to.

      “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

      As far as rules to live by go, this is a pretty decent one. The problem is that so few people actually think literally about it and turn it into something awful. Everyone seems eager to believe that it just means you should only ever say nice things, but it’s not saying that at all. What it means is that you should try to find something positive to say even when you have to be critical.

      I’ve been going on an archive binge of this site for the last few weeks, and one thing that I absolutely love about El Santo’s reviews is that by getting so emotionally involved he seems almost desperate to find something to like about everything. Even 1-star reviews seem more charitable than he could necessarily be. This review has Tychia, for example.

      Anyway, while I’m making my first post, can I just say thank you, El Santo? I love your reviews and I think I’ve taken away several good lessons for the comic I’m working on. I hope to reach the beginning of the Overlook eventually. It’s just slow going when I keep getting diverted to binge on comic archives along the way.

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