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Monthly Archives: January 2014

WCO #231: MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck (Act 6)

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(For the rest of this multi-part review, check out my thoughts on Acts 1-4 and Act 5.)

You’ve got to hand it to Andrew Hussie. They guy seems to go out of his way to be as alienating as possible. Just when it seems like the story’s gaining traction, he’s all, “Nuts to that sh*t. Time to roll with something that makes even less sense.” When MS Paint Adventures: Homestuck started, it bore a lot of similarities with its predecessor, Problem Sleuth, as a parody of an adventure game, complete with confusing inventory systems and glitchy controls. But then, all of the sudden, it became this complex world-building mythology, with multiple planets and a core system of light and darkness anchored by two planets with two moons.

And then Act 5 rolls around. Hussie introduces a bunch of abrasive new characters with orange horns that were so myriad that they seemed impossible to track. Oh yeah, and they’ve got their own alternative world and a complicated system of romance. Clearly, Hussie has disappeared straight up his own butt, right? Well, that maybe so… but the gamble paid off, and Homestuck became more popular than it ever had been before. At least with the costume stores supplying gray facepaint to all the troll cosplayers out there.

When we get to Act 6, then, the question isn’t, “So, what’s Hussie going to do to answer all these puzzles and mysteries?” It becomes more, “What sort of ridiculous bull is Hussie going to make up just to needlessly confuse and deliberately obfuscate the story even further?”

There are drawbacks to being this experimental, though. At some point, the mythology can get too top heavy, and the characters the readers learned to love over the course of the story get lost in the shuffle. Hey, Losties: remember Lost, Season 6? The experimental one that discarded the format, explored all new characters with a sideway universe where the cast had different adventures because they were living in a parallel world?

Me neither.

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Homestuck finale not due until… oh, second quarter of 2014 probably

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Y’all lied to me.

Y’all told me that Homestuck was coming to an end soon. Y’ALL TOLD ME, DAWG. Well, not according to Andrew Hussie, who had this to say on his site:

It’s almost over, right? Um, no, sorry. I still have no time estimate, or specific date I am shooting for. 4/13 would be the COOLEST date to shoot for, right? I doubt that’s realistic though. Because in spite of my most religious wishes every single day, magic keeps on being fake. THANKS, “god”.

What is the status, then? The status is this. Since pausing, basically all I have been doing is writing. No drawing or animation yet. Writing, writing, writing. Writing for Homestuck, and writing for the adventure game. More time has been allocated to the latter. The game is a big, big project. Let’s not kid ourselves here. It’s like this whole new major story and everything, fueled by millions of dollars. That’s a very different situation from Homestuck, which is usually fueled by approximately zero dollars.

Homestuck probably needs another month of writing before I can start making panels. Not even to speak of Flash work. And of course, game development looms over everything as well. This feels totally different from the usual routine of write-draw-post, write-draw-post, write-draw-post, ad infinitum. Writing everything out beforehand is peculiar. And by peculiar I mean “totally conventional”, in most other creative contexts. Let’s see how that approach pans out.

So that puts it at least two months out now. Second quarter of 2014, I call it … or Q2 2014 as the cool Wall Street tycoon types like to abbreviate it. I place the blame on you Kickstarter contributors, who have clearly taxed Hussie as he is now working on that adventure game rather than on finishing his webcomic. In any case, I am also targeting my review of Homestuck Act 6, which should either be up at the end of this week or… I don’t know, infinity o’clock. (Strangely, I can totally sympathize with Hussie about focusing on the money-making aspects of life over what is essentially a passion project.)

Pro Advice

I have a bit of a love/hate relationship with what I like to call pro advice and I have already written about some of my more hated examples of it. On one hand I respect that it’s about and for people who no longer have to worry about building an audience and need to know where to go next. On the other hand, much of it is given out to creators at all levels, even ones who are nowhere near the sorts of problems pros run into.

To explain what I’m talking about, let’s look at the webcomic reality show Strip Search. I’m not bashing the show, it wasn’t bad. However at first I had a hard time seeing what the point of it was. All the artists were already good at what they did, many of them already had a following, and the challenges had nothing to do with creating comics, it was all about the outside stuff. However, this advice was still important because in webcomics, you usually have to do it all by yourself.

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But most of the challenges had no relevance to people just starting out.

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The Trenches

First off, I’d like to thank everyone who gave their input to my comic last week, thanks a lot. I was happily surprised at the amount of detail you all went in to. What I’m also happy about is for the first time in way too long, my websites are now clean and google has taken down the Malware warnings. So why not take a look at Living With Insanity and Domain Tnemrot to see what my writing is like when done by someone who can actually draw. And feel free to review those two if you want. While I review a comic by people who actually know how to make a living off of it.

So back in 2010, Mike Krahulik, Jerry Holkins and Scott Kurtz made an announcement at PAX that they would be collaborating on a comic together. I was intrigued, like many of their fans. After all, these three are considered pioneers of the webcomic industry, so imagine what they could create. Plus, these guys are the experts, one even helped write a book on making webcomics. It’d have to be one of the best things ever.

You might be guessing the above is sarcasm. You would be correct; I have been quite underwhelmed by this comic.

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Chris Sims reviews Order of the Stick

As someone who moves from webcomic to webcomic, spreading reviews like Johnny Appleseed spread seeds for substandard apple crops, I haven’t had time to stay with one webcomic to see its whole run through. Fortunately I am not the only reviewer out there.

The last time I checked up on Order of the Stick was in 2008. Fortunately, David Herbert was around to pick up the slack with his own more recent take on the comic with a focus on its villains. Now Chris Sims of Comics Alliance provides his own perspective:

As the most recent storyline comes to a close, though, all those things have come together in a way that works perfectly. It’s better than it’s ever been in the past ten years, and a huge part of that is the way that Burlew has been using stick figures battling with swords as a platform to examine the nature of fiction, and how playing with the rules of a narrative can lead to some beautiful storytelling.

When you get right down to it, that was probably a necessary direction for the strip to go in. Order of the Stick has the unique distinction of being, in a lot of ways, a parody comic that somehow managed to outlast the thing that it was parodying. Looking back from today, those early strips about weapon size rules and the complexities of leveling up seem almost quaint, if only because the game system they’re goofing on has gone through a major revision, leaving the subject matter as the same kind of weird little footnote in the world of RPGs that it is in the sprawling saga that became the focus of the comic. Of course, all that stuff is still there, with casual conversations about +5 swords and plot points based around how many spells per day a capital-W Wizard can cast, and to be honest, it’s still a major part of the appeal. When I talked to him about the Kickstarter and how it kept on shattering expectations with every new stretch goal, Burlew mentioned that cultivating an audience of gamers meant that he was appealing directly to people who were hardwired to want to see numbers rise and unlock new rewards, and I suspect that he was only half-joking.

In the comic, though, all those rules are really just doing the same thing that they do in a tabletop RPG: they form the background for a story. From a very early point in the strip’s run, Burlew made it clear that he was doing more than just a gag strip about halflings. The seeds of the greater plot, the one that’s taken up the majority of the past decade, were dropped pretty early on, and everything has flown from that. The thing is, once you start acknowledging that your world is built around a set of rigidly defined rules, it becomes clear that your story is built on the same kinds of laws. That’s what sets the past year’s worth of strips apart, even for a strip that’s consistently gotten better for the entire time it’s been around.

Instead of cracking jokes about the rules of the game, Order of the Stick has started examining the rules of its own narrative, and it’s been fantastic.

I think it’s fair to say that “inevitability” is a pretty big theme of the most recent storyline, manifesting in different places as the inevitability of betrayal when villains ally with each other (something that happens twice with one pair of bad guys and manages to be shocking both times), the inevitability of death, the way that a person will inevitably react according to the core of their personality even under the most extreme circumstances, and even the inevitability of actions having consequences.

Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the strip still manages to be consistently funny and exciting even while it’s exploring the fatalistic nature of narrative structure, but it really has surpassed itself here. It’s not just that it’s smart, or that it’s funny, or that it’s dealing with heavy stuff in a way that makes you forget you’re reading a comic about stick figures that routinely use the phrase “magic missile.” It’s that Burlew does it all at once, in a way so clever that it makes the meta-commentary as exciting as the swashbuckling adventure.

Set aside some time and catch up. It’s worth it.

Fair is Fair

At the end of his 200th episode of Atop the Fourth Wall, Linkara said one thing that stuck with me in regards to the old phrase “Everyone’s a Critic.” Basically, even though it’s used to dismiss criticism, it’s quite true, everyone has their own opinion. It’s why I keep the comments open on my sites, because I like to hear the opinions of everyone because that’s how I improve.

I would be the ultimate hypocrite if I told people my work was un-reviewable. I review comics here, I comment on specific areas of them, I criticise and I praise others. However, many other review sites tend to stay away from my stuff because their archives are too large. That’s a shame, but I can understand, they have their own lives and there are only so many hours in the day.

So, I’ve decided to write up this column as one part self-promotion and the other part as a way for anyone who felt I was too harsh on something to get their vengeance. I want you guys to review my new comic, St Nathan’s.

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The Webcomic Overlook #235: Hobo Lobo of Hamelin

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Ladies and gentlemen: how do we know we’re in the future? Is it when we get flying cars? Is it when we can replace our arms with cyborg parts? If comic pundits will have you believe, it’s when webcomics realize their full potential and embrace the infinite canvas. No more being restrained to the rigid static confines of a piece of paper, developed hundreds of years ago! Why live within those archaic limitations? We’re living in the future, son!

And just like how flying cars and prosthetic limbs exist in real life, so too are there examples of these futuristic comics. Some do nothing more than scroll in one direction for a long time. Others contain significantly more bells and whistles by incorporating sound and simple animation.

A relatively recent effort is Stevan Živadinović’s Hobo Lobo of Hamelin. And by “relatively recent,” I mean that it began in 2011 and was updated as recently as September 2013. I actually mentioned this comic when it first came out and had hoped to review it when more became available. It looks like not much progress has been made in the intervening two-and-a-half years, though. Note to pundits who still lean on the “motion comic” approach to webcomics: if you’re doing one by your lonesome, they’re a massive time sink.

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