I'll review your webcomic.

Think your comic can improve? Whether it's art or writing, composition or colouring, feel free to ask here! Critique and commentary welcome.

Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Tue Mar 25, 2014 10:57 am

That sounds good. I'll try to break my mini-review-hiatus and get it done in the next few days.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby JSConner800 on Wed Mar 26, 2014 1:36 pm

Awesome, thanks LC!
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Wed Apr 02, 2014 1:54 pm

Webcomic: Steel Salvation
URL: http://www.steelsalvationcomic.com
Creator/s: J.S. Conner, Evan Ledesma, Alex Mattingly
Run: 4/13-current
Schedule: Fridays

Website: The colors and design both match the comic's art style perfectly, and the static navigation buttons provide an unusual but effective way to browse through the comic. All of the pages for the bonus content are mechanical-looking, which is a nice touch, and there's additional information about the comic's world, which, fortunately, the creators put here instead of interrupting the story to infodump it all over the readers. It's an excellent site, and one that I hope other creators will get inspiration from, or at least try to emulate.

Writing: With its existentialism, lengthy monologues, nonhuman characters, villainous protagonist, and a lack of action or outward conflict, Steel Salvation's a webcomic that boldly establishes itself as being out of the ordinary. However, this boldness is tempered by the creators' reluctance to fully tap into their concept's potential.

For a large part, the appeal of the comic rests on how well the robot Dy-Gar is written, as the story focuses on him heavily. It's compelling how he changes back and forth between an antihero, a hero, and a villain while in the midst of his existential crisis, as if he experiments with another identity when his current identity fails. Steel Salvation is at its best when Dy-Gar attempts to justify his morality, establishing a dichotomy between artificial and biological life. One particularly poignant line that stands out to me in this regard is on Page 46, where he says, "When a machine is used as a tool, it's called technology, but when an intelligent being is used as a tool, it's called slavery. Either our creators didn't know that they'd crossed that line, or they didn't care." Unfortunately, though, this sort of moralistic, philosophical bent isn't as prevalent in the story as I would prefer. Dy-Gar is excessively egotistical, emotional, and human-like, positioning him as a hypocritical villain in an underwhelming manner. It would be more interesting if Dy-Gar provided a proper vehicle for the reader to perceive reality through the alien lens of artificial intelligence. Further, the creators' attempts to attribute human characteristics to a robot, such as anger, are handled clumsily. Presenting Dy-Gar this way makes him more relatable to the audience, but it also undermines a potentially more cerebral and exciting experience, as better exemplified by the portrayal of Dr. Schtein in String Theory.

The storytelling could be handled better. For one, packaging Dy-Gar's memory issues in technological terms does little to disguise the amnesia cliché that's obnoxiously prevalent in fiction. The pacing's a little too slow, as the comic overly relies on mystery without revealing enough information or progressing the plot enough. And finally, the interaction between Dy-Gar and the other characters is too emotional and silly, and it detracts from the concept's appeal. There are already a million webcomics with human characters, and Steel Salvation misses an opportunity to portray communication in a unique way.

Art: It's obviously the comic's main weakness, but what disappointed me the most is that the art doesn't noticeably improve over the course of the 48 pages. And actually, the last five pages are probably the most poorly illustrated in the section. The backgrounds are especially weak throughout the comic, and they have the appearance of being work-in-progress material rather than finished content. While the creators are clearly going for a minimalistic look, they don't seem to be challenging themselves sufficiently, and the result is a comic that's not only boring to look at, but isn't helping them develop artistically. Referencing String Theory again, compare the city ruins in Chapter 6 to the city ruins here. String Theory has a better artist illustrating in a more realistic style, but she's still aiming for "awesome" while the creators of Steel Salvation seem to be overly comfortable with mere adequacy.

The creators frequently enlarge or shrink text in the speech bubbles, and while I guess their intention is to convey either inflection or robotic vocal intonation, it's annoying to read. I get irritated just when comics bold their words too often, and it's more severe in this instance. I also don't get why the lettering is often slanted downwards or upwards at about a 15-degree angle, other than just to be different. When it comes to lettering, readability is No. 1, and it's generally best to avoid overcomplicating it.

Overall: Steel Salvation's a decent practice comic that shows some enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. However, it's plagued by poor creative decisions, which is a problem that should be alleviated as the creators gain confidence and experience. In its ideal form, Steel Salvation is avant-garde; in its present form, it's just "meh."

3/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby VeryCuddlyCornpone on Wed Apr 02, 2014 3:00 pm

It's interesting, I'm usually not one to be really hooked by a gimmick* in a comic, but I think SS's set-up really did grab my attention pretty thoroughly. I'll be interested in hearing JSC's response to the full review.



*the word "gimmick" is usually used in a somewhat dismissive way, but here I just mean whatever distinguishing stab at originality the creator puts forth to separate the comic from others in the genre or family. Like "Slice-of-life office humar- AT A MORGUE!" "College life- AFTER RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY!" "Two gamers on a couch- IN POLAND!"
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby JSConner800 on Wed Apr 02, 2014 11:37 pm

Thanks for the review, LC! Since you're something like the webcomic version of Gordon Ramsay (without the swearing), I knew you wouldn't pull any punches, and I appreciate it. I'm already considering my writing from a different angle and working out plans to alter Part 2, as terrifying as that seems considering we're only a couple months from launch and I've already done three storyboards off the old script. I'll also pass this along to my artists and see what they think. Anyway, on to the discussion.

LibertyCabbage wrote:With its existentialism, lengthy monologues, nonhuman characters, villainous protagonist, and a lack of action or outward conflict, Steel Salvation's a webcomic that boldly establishes itself as being out of the ordinary. However, this boldness is tempered by the creators' reluctance to fully tap into their concept's potential.


At least we succeeded in being out of the ordinary! To be honest, I'm starting to think that many of the problems you encountered stem from my desire to be out of the ordinary. I've always intended for Steel Salvation to be an action adventure story with a philosophical bent, but in trying to create a unique hook and a strong character introduction, I've apparently just taken the action and adventure out of it. We're building up to action and adventure, and I think we can balance that with the more literary aspects of the story, but pacing is definitely an issue and it's one that I am feverishly trying to work out.

Dy-Gar is excessively egotistical, emotional, and human-like, positioning him as a hypocritical villain in an underwhelming manner. It would be more interesting if Dy-Gar provided a proper vehicle for the reader to perceive reality through the alien lens of artificial intelligence. Further, the creators' attempts to attribute human characteristics to a robot, such as anger, are handled clumsily. Presenting Dy-Gar this way makes him more relatable to the audience, but it also undermines a potentially more cerebral and exciting experience, as better exemplified by the portrayal of Dr. Schtein in String Theory.


My original concept for Dy-Gar was much more cartoonish than he is now - he was basically a parody of the evil robot overlord stereotype in a cute, tiny body. Now, this has been done before (to such a degree that we actually had to change Dy-Gar's original name of Kil-Gar after learning of the character Killgore from the Nickelodeon cartoon My Life as a Teenage Robot), so I started adding wrinkles to the character. I thought about approaching the idea more seriously - trapping Dy-Gar in a wasteland created by the Robot Revolution and forcing him to consider the ramifications of his mission. Then I thought about his motivation and how we could complicate his desire to destroy all organics. I suppose I should have just deleted the evil robot overlord stereotype part entirely, because I can see how it might be bringing the rest of the experience down, but I do like that classic robotic villains like Ultron, AM, and SHODAN are in his pedigree, so that we can add to the type by taking it in a different direction. We've always intended for Dy-Gar to develop significantly from the static existence he's established over the last millennium, and now that we've fully demonstrated how he functions (albeit slowly and perhaps clumsily, though I'd like some clarification on that point so I know how to avoid it), we can start to develop him.

As for the decision to make him emotional and relatable vs alien and mechanical, I think this is a decision I'm gonna stand by, not that I'd be able to change it now since we're already 48 strips in. Like Roger tells him at the end of Part 1, he's a household robot, designed to be a relatable companion for civilians. Also, it's hinted at on page 2 and explained in greater detail in the About page that all artificial intelligence is created to specifically mimic the human brain because it was deemed to be the safest and simplest route to true artificial intelligence (it doesn't say exactly that, but we'll get there). From a more practical storytelling aspect, I don't think an unrelatable alien character would function very well as the crux of a narrative, particularly if he makes up half the cast for about 30 pages. Even Dr. Schtein seems to be overly emotional and egotistical, even moreso than Dy-Gar. To be fair, I only read about 40 pages just to get a feel for what you were referring to, but if they're doing something different over there then I'm not sure what it is.

On a weird coincidence note, I was going to include a joke at some point where it's revealed that Dy-Gar's receptors are damaged, and he can no longer process color. Hence the grayscale comic. String Theory makes that joke on page 3. Guess I'll just put that one back on the shelf...

The storytelling could be handled better. For one, packaging Dy-Gar's memory issues in technological terms does little to disguise the amnesia cliché that's obnoxiously prevalent in fiction. The pacing's a little too slow, as the comic overly relies on mystery without revealing enough information or progressing the plot enough. And finally, the interaction between Dy-Gar and the other characters is too emotional and silly, and it detracts from the concept's appeal. There are already a million webcomics with human characters, and Steel Salvation misses an opportunity to portray communication in a unique way.


This is my main concern. This whole section of criticisms, really. I still think we can do something different with the amnesia thing, but that isn't really going to pay off any time soon, and I probably should have scrapped that angle entirely. Sadly, it's a little too late for that. The pacing issue is what really keeps me up at night. I got my start as a prose writer, and comic writing is still fairly new for me. I need to deliver more information, faster, without losing the flow of the story or the nuances that make a story worth reading. I was happier with the pacing in Part 2, but now I'm starting to second-guess everything. Like I said, I might just rewrite the whole damn thing and see if I can get things moving even faster without killing every last one of my darlings.

I'm not entirely clear on your last point. Since you didn't mention Roger at all, I assume that's primarily who you're referring to. Is it a lack of chemistry, or the fact that he's more of a comedic character? Or is it just that he and Dy-Gar interact in much the same way that two organics would? I mean, Roger is practically a human in a mechanical shell, since his entire personality was not just based on the human brain, but specifically on his body's brain. I dunno. This has given me some ideas for ways they can nonverbally share information (like downloading memories, etc) but I'm always trying to balance readability with experimentation, and a lot of the ways in which machines communicate would be just as difficult to portray as they would be for a lot of readers to understand. Maybe that's just my imagination making excuses for itself. Rather than accept excuses from my lazy imagination, I'll think about this and see if I can come up with something that's both interesting and coherent.

Art: It's obviously the comic's main weakness, but what disappointed me the most is that the art doesn't noticeably improve over the course of the 48 pages. And actually, the last five pages are probably the most poorly illustrated in the section. The backgrounds are especially weak throughout the comic, and they have the appearance of being work-in-progress material rather than finished content. While the creators are clearly going for a minimalistic look, they don't seem to be challenging themselves sufficiently, and the result is a comic that's not only boring to look at, but isn't helping them develop artistically. Referencing String Theory again, compare the city ruins in Chapter 6 to the city ruins here. String Theory has a better artist illustrating in a more realistic style, but she's still aiming for "awesome" while the creators of Steel Salvation seem to be overly comfortable with mere adequacy.


I'll actually have to disagree with you here. Not on the quality of the artwork, but on the lack of improvement and the lack of effort. I'm aware of my biased perspective here, but I still think there's a dramatic difference between this and this. Based on feedback from W.A.Y, we increased the contrast in our shades so that everything isn't that boring midtone soup we had going on in the first 10 or 20 pages, and Evan shows improvement there both in the use of perspective and in detailing. For example, Dy-Gar's cloak bunches up around his head rather than just sticking straight down like he's some kind of mechanical Pac-Man ghost. The way he drew cityscapes changed significantly too, as seen later on with the more surreal, crooked tombstone buildings. Whether that looks better or worse is up to interpretation (clearly you think it was worse since you think the last five pages are the worst of the lot), but it is a definite change from the rigid attempt at realistic buildings shown earlier.

I don't think we should be satisfied with this. I think Evan and Alex still have a long way to go before we can be happy with the artwork. But I know they're making changes and trying to improve, so I'll continue to push them and I believe they'll continue to respond. Hopefully showing them this review will do just that. For Evan, drawing is a hobby, and one he hadn't even seriously pursued until we came to him with this comic idea, so it'll be harder for him to improve than me or Alex, since we're both working in areas where we have a good deal of experience. Still, we've been working together since the three of us made short films in high school, and I have faith that he can rise to this challenge. As long as working in television doesn't crush his spirit first :roll:

The creators frequently enlarge or shrink text in the speech bubbles, and while I guess their intention is to convey either inflection or robotic vocal intonation, it's annoying to read. I get irritated just when comics bold their words too often, and it's more severe in this instance. I also don't get why the lettering is often slanted downwards or upwards at about a 15-degree angle, other than just to be different. When it comes to lettering, readability is No. 1, and it's generally best to avoid overcomplicating it.


I'm not really sure why Alex does this, and I feel ashamed that I haven't gotten on his case about it before, because this has bothered me since the first strip. I suspect he's trying to fit as much dialogue as he can in the smallest speech bubble possible, but it really isn't worth it. I'll make sure we have a new dialogue system in place before Part 2 launches.

Overall: Steel Salvation's a decent practice comic that shows some enthusiasm and a willingness to take risks. However, it's plagued by poor creative decisions, which is a problem that should be alleviated as the creators gain confidence and experience. In its ideal form, Steel Salvation is avant-garde; in its present form, it's just "meh."


I don't think you're gonna like where Steel Salvation is headed, because avante-garde wouldn't be it. I have no intention of making Waiting for Godot with robots, although it's definitely our fault for teasing that possibility in the first place. Ideally, the reason why it's "meh" right now is that it's just a poorly paced mystery adventure comic, and once the adventure picks up it will be "meh" no more. Otherwise we'll have to consider this experiment a failure, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I'll be taking this critique into account as we go forward and hopefully this will help us turn Steel Salvation into something we can be proud of.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Thu Apr 03, 2014 1:25 pm

JSConner800 wrote:Thanks for the review, LC! Since you're something like the webcomic version of Gordon Ramsay (without the swearing), I knew you wouldn't pull any punches, and I appreciate it.
I've been compared to Simon Cowell in this thread as well, which is probably a more accurate comparison than Ramsey, who seems to be kind of ragey. I don't really pay any attention to critics outside of webcomics, though.

JSConner800 wrote:At least we succeeded in being out of the ordinary! To be honest, I'm starting to think that many of the problems you encountered stem from my desire to be out of the ordinary. I've always intended for Steel Salvation to be an action adventure story with a philosophical bent, but in trying to create a unique hook and a strong character introduction, I've apparently just taken the action and adventure out of it. We're building up to action and adventure, and I think we can balance that with the more literary aspects of the story, but pacing is definitely an issue and it's one that I am feverishly trying to work out.
I'm surprised to read that it's intended as an action-adventure story, as I didn't get that impression at all when I was reading it.

JSConner800 wrote:My original concept for Dy-Gar was much more cartoonish than he is now - he was basically a parody of the evil robot overlord stereotype in a cute, tiny body. Now, this has been done before (to such a degree that we actually had to change Dy-Gar's original name of Kil-Gar after learning of the character Killgore from the Nickelodeon cartoon My Life as a Teenage Robot), so I started adding wrinkles to the character. I thought about approaching the idea more seriously - trapping Dy-Gar in a wasteland created by the Robot Revolution and forcing him to consider the ramifications of his mission. Then I thought about his motivation and how we could complicate his desire to destroy all organics. I suppose I should have just deleted the evil robot overlord stereotype part entirely, because I can see how it might be bringing the rest of the experience down, but I do like that classic robotic villains like Ultron, AM, and SHODAN are in his pedigree, so that we can add to the type by taking it in a different direction. We've always intended for Dy-Gar to develop significantly from the static existence he's established over the last millennium, and now that we've fully demonstrated how he functions (albeit slowly and perhaps clumsily, though I'd like some clarification on that point so I know how to avoid it), we can start to develop him.
The impression I got from reading the comic is that you're still unsure about how you want to portray Dy-Gar. He's too cartoony to be taken seriously, but he's too complex to be regarded as a cartoon. I think it'd be better if you committed to either making him cartoony or serious instead of how it is now where he's sometimes cartoony, sometimes serious, and sometimes a bit of both. As for the anger part, anger is antithetical to robots' nature, and I would've preferred a more thorough explanation than, basically, "wizard did it" or "it's mysterious."

JSConner800 wrote:As for the decision to make him emotional and relatable vs alien and mechanical, I think this is a decision I'm gonna stand by, not that I'd be able to change it now since we're already 48 strips in.
He's a robot. Have him damage his circuits, or something.

JSConner800 wrote:I don't think an unrelatable alien character would function very well as the crux of a narrative, particularly if he makes up half the cast for about 30 pages. Even Dr. Schtein seems to be overly emotional and egotistical, even moreso than Dy-Gar. To be fair, I only read about 40 pages just to get a feel for what you were referring to, but if they're doing something different over there then I'm not sure what it is.
Maybe it would work, maybe it wouldn't. I'd like to see someone attempt it. As for Schtein, I was referring to him as a well-written character in general. (And I recommend that you read more of String Theory, as the black-and-white pages in the beginning are actually pretty bad. I commented on it in my review.)

JSConner800 wrote:This is my main concern. This whole section of criticisms, really. I still think we can do something different with the amnesia thing, but that isn't really going to pay off any time soon, and I probably should have scrapped that angle entirely. Sadly, it's a little too late for that. The pacing issue is what really keeps me up at night. I got my start as a prose writer, and comic writing is still fairly new for me. I need to deliver more information, faster, without losing the flow of the story or the nuances that make a story worth reading. I was happier with the pacing in Part 2, but now I'm starting to second-guess everything. Like I said, I might just rewrite the whole damn thing and see if I can get things moving even faster without killing every last one of my darlings.
Pacing's the bane of webcomics because of the slow-ass update schedules. It's definitely tricky to get right.

JSConner800 wrote:I'm not entirely clear on your last point. Since you didn't mention Roger at all, I assume that's primarily who you're referring to. Is it a lack of chemistry, or the fact that he's more of a comedic character? Or is it just that he and Dy-Gar interact in much the same way that two organics would? I mean, Roger is practically a human in a mechanical shell, since his entire personality was not just based on the human brain, but specifically on his body's brain. I dunno. This has given me some ideas for ways they can nonverbally share information (like downloading memories, etc) but I'm always trying to balance readability with experimentation, and a lot of the ways in which machines communicate would be just as difficult to portray as they would be for a lot of readers to understand. Maybe that's just my imagination making excuses for itself. Rather than accept excuses from my lazy imagination, I'll think about this and see if I can come up with something that's both interesting and coherent.
Yeah, I feel that you're using "it's a robot" as a flimsy excuse for what's just mediocre writing. I was referring to both Roger and the Goddess; with the latter, she's too mystical/religious, which, like Dy-Gar's anger, is antithetical to robots and gets the same "wizard did it," "it's mysterious," "it's a robot" non-treatment as everything else in this comic. (Of course, it's still early in the story, but c'est la vie.)

(Sneaking VCC's post in here...)

VeryCuddlyCornpone wrote:It's interesting, I'm usually not one to be really hooked by a gimmick* in a comic, but I think SS's set-up really did grab my attention pretty thoroughly. I'll be interested in hearing JSC's response to the full review.



*the word "gimmick" is usually used in a somewhat dismissive way, but here I just mean whatever distinguishing stab at originality the creator puts forth to separate the comic from others in the genre or family. Like "Slice-of-life office humar- AT A MORGUE!" "College life- AFTER RECONSTRUCTIVE SURGERY!" "Two gamers on a couch- IN POLAND!"
I got flamed on Tumblr once when I suggested adding a gimmick in my review of Double Cross (formerly titled Chaos). Gimmicks are bad for advanced writers, but for an inexperienced writer, they can be useful because they act like training wheels for writing. I don't think the robots in Steel Salvation are a gimmick, though.

JSConner800 wrote:I'll actually have to disagree with you here. Not on the quality of the artwork, but on the lack of improvement and the lack of effort. I'm aware of my biased perspective here, but I still think there's a dramatic difference between this and this. Based on feedback from W.A.Y, we increased the contrast in our shades so that everything isn't that boring midtone soup we had going on in the first 10 or 20 pages, and Evan shows improvement there both in the use of perspective and in detailing. For example, Dy-Gar's cloak bunches up around his head rather than just sticking straight down like he's some kind of mechanical Pac-Man ghost. The way he drew cityscapes changed significantly too, as seen later on with the more surreal, crooked tombstone buildings. Whether that looks better or worse is up to interpretation (clearly you think it was worse since you think the last five pages are the worst of the lot), but it is a definite change from the rigid attempt at realistic buildings shown earlier.
I think Page 2 is better, overall, than Page 21, and I think the art gets worse as the chapter progresses. The thing is, minimalism isn't a starting point, it's an end point. First you master realism, and then you learn how to break down realism to its essence. If you don't master realism first, then you just have bad minimalism.

JSConner800 wrote:I don't think we should be satisfied with this. I think Evan and Alex still have a long way to go before we can be happy with the artwork. But I know they're making changes and trying to improve, so I'll continue to push them and I believe they'll continue to respond. Hopefully showing them this review will do just that. For Evan, drawing is a hobby, and one he hadn't even seriously pursued until we came to him with this comic idea, so it'll be harder for him to improve than me or Alex, since we're both working in areas where we have a good deal of experience. Still, we've been working together since the three of us made short films in high school, and I have faith that he can rise to this challenge. As long as working in television doesn't crush his spirit first :roll:
My art section's more of an attitude critique than a skill critique, as you can't improve your skills without having the right attitude as a foundation. Everything grows out of that foundation.

JSConner800 wrote:I'm not really sure why Alex does this, and I feel ashamed that I haven't gotten on his case about it before, because this has bothered me since the first strip. I suspect he's trying to fit as much dialogue as he can in the smallest speech bubble possible, but it really isn't worth it. I'll make sure we have a new dialogue system in place before Part 2 launches.
It sounds like your communication with your co-creators could use some work as well. That's another tricky part of webcomics, and is one of the reasons why a lot of creators prefer to work solo.

JSConner800 wrote:I don't think you're gonna like where Steel Salvation is headed, because avante-garde wouldn't be it. I have no intention of making Waiting for Godot with robots, although it's definitely our fault for teasing that possibility in the first place. Ideally, the reason why it's "meh" right now is that it's just a poorly paced mystery adventure comic, and once the adventure picks up it will be "meh" no more. Otherwise we'll have to consider this experiment a failure, but I'm not ready to do that yet. I'll be taking this critique into account as we go forward and hopefully this will help us turn Steel Salvation into something we can be proud of.
I'll see where it goes. You have, of course, W.A.Y. 2014 coming up to get some additional perspectives to consider. Still, I called Steel Salvation a "practice comic," and I think you're understating the significance of that. Your goal should be to acquire the creative skills you'll need later in your life. 843n and Komiyan were CGers who are full-time webcomic pros now, and they both had practice comics that had some serious flaws. 843n launched his practice comic in 2005, and he just went pro with his new comic a few months ago. It's good that you seem to have a strong drive to make a quality webcomic, but I think you should consider experimentation as less of a matter of failure or success, and more of an opportunity to make mistakes that you can learn from.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby JSConner800 on Thu Apr 03, 2014 10:47 pm

LibertyCabbage wrote:I've been compared to Simon Cowell in this thread as well, which is probably a more accurate comparison than Ramsey, who seems to be kind of ragey. I don't really pay any attention to critics outside of webcomics, though.


I'm not all that familiar with either of them, but from what I understand Ramsay's criticism is supposed to be constructive. He comes into your kitchen, tells you why you're shitty, then you get better or you don't. So yeah, ragey. But constructive. Cowell often seems to just use his criticism for a few laughs at the expense of bad singers, and while I'm sure there's a lot of overlap between them, my connotations for Cowell are more negative overall, so I was trying to go for a more positive association.

The impression I got from reading the comic is that you're still unsure about how you want to portray Dy-Gar. He's too cartoony to be taken seriously, but he's too complex to be regarded as a cartoon. I think it'd be better if you committed to either making him cartoony or serious instead of how it is now where he's sometimes cartoony, sometimes serious, and sometimes a bit of both. As for the anger part, anger is antithetical to robots' nature, and I would've preferred a more thorough explanation than, basically, "wizard did it" or "it's mysterious."


Yeah, the conflict between his cartoony side and his serious side is definitely a problem, but I've always planned for him to become more serious as the story goes on. I meant for him to be both cartoony and complex at the outset, so apparently that's not coming off properly. I never said the source of Dy-Gar's anger was mysterious, though, and I hope I haven't implied that anywhere in the comic. Sentient machines with a full emotional range are relatively common in science fiction - sometimes, like in Blade Runner and in Steel Salvation, they're designed to mimic human sentience. Or, like in the short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, machines gain sentience accidentally when all of the world's supercomputers link themselves together and form a godlike entity called AM. Here's a passage I found on the internet:

"We had given AM sentience. Inadvertently, of course, but sentience nonetheless. But it had been trapped. AM wasn't God, he was a machine. We had created him to think, but there was nothing it could do with that creativity. In rage, in frenzy, the machine had killed the human race, almost all of us, and still it was trapped. AM could not wander, AM could not wonder, AM could not belong. He could merely be. And so, with the innate loathing that all machines had always held for the weak, soft creatures who had built them, he had sought revenge."

As you can see, this story was a pretty hefty influence on Steel Salvation. Anger may be antithetical to the robots of today - we don't see roombas and construction arms plotting to overthrow the human race - but sentient, artificially intelligent machines are another matter. Anyway, if you don't buy the fact that machines could or should feel emotions like anger while reading our comic, then I haven't done my job properly, and I need to work a more thorough explanation into the story. One that doesn't halt the story's momentum and infodump down the audience's throat, as is common practice with a lot of bad sci-fi.

LibertyCabbage wrote:He's a robot. Have him damage his circuits, or something.


LibertyCabbage wrote:Yeah, I feel that you're using "it's a robot" as a flimsy excuse for what's just mediocre writing.


I feel like I'm getting some mixed signals here :lol:

Anyway, what I'm really getting out of this is that we're setting up a lot of mysteries and unexplained phenomenon without answering enough questions or suggesting that we know the answers to said mysteries (we do. Or at least, I do). I need to work on parsing out story clues and explanations better, and that goes back to my pacing issue. As for the Goddess, if you can buy into the fact that robots can achieve human sentience, then it stands to reason that human quirks like religion would follow. Sure, it's illogical and impractical from the perspective of a coldly mechanical Skynet-style robot, but for a robot who can feel loneliness (as a conscious design choice by his creators, who wanted to build a friendly, extroverted companion for lonely organics) and crave a higher purpose for his mundane existence (as a side-effect of his human-level sentience), it's a natural result. This is an important point in Steel Salvation and we'll be digging into it at the start of Part 2 (when Roger finds out that Dy-Gar has made up his own religion revolving around a digital entity that only he can see, he thinks it's about as strange as you do).

I was actually pretty sure you were going to mention my biggest disappointment with the story as it is now, which is that it deals heavily in the conflicts between humans and machines, yet there are no humans for Dy-Gar to play off of (yet). When Dy-Gar talks about his moralistic stance on AI slavery, the readers just have to take it on faith that he's telling the truth about the way things used to be, and even if we hadn't already proven him to be an unreliable source, that would be hard to swallow without an actual example of said AI slavery. This comes from the fact that, like I said, the story began as a killer robot parody trapped in the aftermath of a robot revolution and developed complexity from there. I should have realized sooner that the complexity I was adding to Dy-Gar's character conflicted with the basic premise. We could have changed the basic premise entirely. We'll still be revisiting the past throughout the story, demonstrating how human and robot relations deteriorated, and we'll be adding a lot of organics into the mix at the end of Part 2, but I wish I could have reconciled this issue from the get go. As you said, c'est la vie.

Gimmicks are bad for advanced writers, but for an inexperienced writer, they can be useful because they act like training wheels for writing. I don't think the robots in Steel Salvation are a gimmick, though.


I don't necessarily think of a gimmick as inherently negative, but then again, my girlfriend has been getting me into professional wrestling and in that context, a gimmick is just a character that a wrestler portrays, encompassing everything from their personality to their motifs, their costumes, and their moves. It's what differentiates one wrestler from another. I see most stories as having gimmicks. Some are just more obvious, like "stereotypical scenario - WITH TWIST!" and some are more subtle, but if you see a gimmick as an identity rather than an eye-catching crutch to disguise a lackluster or unoriginal story, then it's really quite common. I think we've at least differentiated our story enough from the pack that we're not just a "stereotypical scenario - WITH TWIST!" kind of comic.

I think Page 2 is better, overall, than Page 21, and I think the art gets worse as the chapter progresses. The thing is, minimalism isn't a starting point, it's an end point. First you master realism, and then you learn how to break down realism to its essence. If you don't master realism first, then you just have bad minimalism.


Well, I much prefer page 21 over page 2, and I don't think that's the desperate hope for improvement talking. There are some later strips that I'm not fond of, like this particularly bland and gross looking one. I just prefer the later art style, I suppose. That's art for you.

You've hit the nail on the head about bad minimalism, though. Evan is by no means a master of realism (and I don't think he would mind me saying that), and the minimalism is partly due to his amateur drawing abilities and partly due to Alex's background in graphic design. He made it clear before we even began that he wanted the minimalistic look, so even if it's not something we were ready for artistically, it's what we ended up with. To my knowledge, Evan has only taken a handful of drawing classes, and he's always favored a more cartoony look, so I'll suggest working on realism for now.

It sounds like your communication with your co-creators could use some work as well. That's another tricky part of webcomics, and is one of the reasons why a lot of creators prefer to work solo.


That's absolutely true. We're all scattered around the Los Angeles/Orange County area, so usually if we talk about the comic it's through e-mail or google hangout, and since we all have jobs, girlfriends, school (in Alex's case), and life in general, it's hard to just get an hour-long meeting together sometimes. We got into a groove after awhile where Evan would scan us the penciled strips, Alex would trace them, shade them, etc, I would write commentary and titles and such, then we'd put them up with little or no communication between the three of us. I'd say about half of part 1 proceeded like that, so things like this can slip through the cracks. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

I'll see where it goes. You have, of course, W.A.Y. 2014 coming up to get some additional perspectives to consider. Still, I called Steel Salvation a "practice comic," and I think you're understating the significance of that. Your goal should be to acquire the creative skills you'll need later in your life. 843n and Komiyan were CGers who are full-time webcomic pros now, and they both had practice comics that had some serious flaws. 843n launched his practice comic in 2005, and he just went pro with his new comic a few months ago. It's good that you seem to have a strong drive to make a quality webcomic, but I think you should consider experimentation as less of a matter of failure or success, and more of an opportunity to make mistakes that you can learn from.


That's a good point. We're all doing this for fun anyway, with no serious aspirations for professional comic making. I wouldn't mind doing it for a living (I find writing comic scripts easier and more soothing than writing prose, but perhaps that's just because it's new for me, or because I'm worse at it), but I still consider myself a prose writer first, and if I ever make a living as a creative writer, I always figured it would be as a novelist. Who knows? I have other comic ideas. I'll just have to press on and see what happens. Based on the amount of effort we've put into Steel Salvation so far and my plans for its plot, I really want it to be more than just "practice," but considering the issues we've already discussed I know that that's not realistic. I'll just have to take it for what it is - an opportunity to learn.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Thu Apr 10, 2014 11:14 am

(Sorry for the delayed response. I've been down-'n'-out with the flu for the past week.)

JSConner800 wrote:I'm not all that familiar with either of them, but from what I understand Ramsay's criticism is supposed to be constructive. He comes into your kitchen, tells you why you're shitty, then you get better or you don't. So yeah, ragey. But constructive. Cowell often seems to just use his criticism for a few laughs at the expense of bad singers, and while I'm sure there's a lot of overlap between them, my connotations for Cowell are more negative overall, so I was trying to go for a more positive association.
I've never seen any of Ramsey's shows, so maybe I should watch one sometime. I still find criticism to be sort of bizarre and fascinating in general. Everyone seems to have their own personal take on it.

JSConner800 wrote:Yeah, the conflict between his cartoony side and his serious side is definitely a problem, but I've always planned for him to become more serious as the story goes on. I meant for him to be both cartoony and complex at the outset, so apparently that's not coming off properly. I never said the source of Dy-Gar's anger was mysterious, though, and I hope I haven't implied that anywhere in the comic. Sentient machines with a full emotional range are relatively common in science fiction - sometimes, like in Blade Runner and in Steel Salvation, they're designed to mimic human sentience. Or, like in the short story I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream, machines gain sentience accidentally when all of the world's supercomputers link themselves together and form a godlike entity called AM. Here's a passage I found on the internet:

"We had given AM sentience. Inadvertently, of course, but sentience nonetheless. But it had been trapped. AM wasn't God, he was a machine. We had created him to think, but there was nothing it could do with that creativity. In rage, in frenzy, the machine had killed the human race, almost all of us, and still it was trapped. AM could not wander, AM could not wonder, AM could not belong. He could merely be. And so, with the innate loathing that all machines had always held for the weak, soft creatures who had built them, he had sought revenge."

As you can see, this story was a pretty hefty influence on Steel Salvation. Anger may be antithetical to the robots of today - we don't see roombas and construction arms plotting to overthrow the human race - but sentient, artificially intelligent machines are another matter. Anyway, if you don't buy the fact that machines could or should feel emotions like anger while reading our comic, then I haven't done my job properly, and I need to work a more thorough explanation into the story. One that doesn't halt the story's momentum and infodump down the audience's throat, as is common practice with a lot of bad sci-fi.
Emotional/sentient robots is a cool concept; I just would've preferred it to have been addressed more gracefully and thoroughly in the comic. For example, Dy-Gar briefly mentions at one point that anger makes him a more effective killer, and it's an interesting but vague concept that should've been elaborated on. You're correct that writing for comics (and especially fantasy/sci-fi comics) is a delicate balance between tedious infodumping ("I wanted to read a comic, not a novel"), and vapid indifference and vagueness ("Why should I care?"), and the overwhelming majority of webcomics struggle with these pacing issues (and my last two reviews before this one were of a fantasy comic and a sci-fi comic, and I focused heavily on pacing both times).

I haven't read the short story, but you may want to re-read it (and re-watch Blade Runner), and take notes on the similiarities and differences of how those creators executed this shared concept (both between the two works, and with your own work), as far as the incongruous mediums can be compared.

JSConner800 wrote:I feel like I'm getting some mixed signals here :lol:
I'm just saying that out of all of your options, it's probably the one that's the least bad.

JSConner800 wrote:Anyway, what I'm really getting out of this is that we're setting up a lot of mysteries and unexplained phenomenon without answering enough questions or suggesting that we know the answers to said mysteries (we do. Or at least, I do). I need to work on parsing out story clues and explanations better, and that goes back to my pacing issue. As for the Goddess, if you can buy into the fact that robots can achieve human sentience, then it stands to reason that human quirks like religion would follow. Sure, it's illogical and impractical from the perspective of a coldly mechanical Skynet-style robot, but for a robot who can feel loneliness (as a conscious design choice by his creators, who wanted to build a friendly, extroverted companion for lonely organics) and crave a higher purpose for his mundane existence (as a side-effect of his human-level sentience), it's a natural result. This is an important point in Steel Salvation and we'll be digging into it at the start of Part 2 (when Roger finds out that Dy-Gar has made up his own religion revolving around a digital entity that only he can see, he thinks it's about as strange as you do).
I think I "get it" well enough. I just think it's a boring, uncreative approach. In regards to the Goddess, I'd prefer to see you try to invent an original religion that's more dissimilar to traditional human theism, or at least is a perversion of it. It sounds like you'll be exploring the religious aspects more in Part 2, so hopefully it'll be an improvement.

JSConner800 wrote:I was actually pretty sure you were going to mention my biggest disappointment with the story as it is now, which is that it deals heavily in the conflicts between humans and machines, yet there are no humans for Dy-Gar to play off of (yet). When Dy-Gar talks about his moralistic stance on AI slavery, the readers just have to take it on faith that he's telling the truth about the way things used to be, and even if we hadn't already proven him to be an unreliable source, that would be hard to swallow without an actual example of said AI slavery. This comes from the fact that, like I said, the story began as a killer robot parody trapped in the aftermath of a robot revolution and developed complexity from there. I should have realized sooner that the complexity I was adding to Dy-Gar's character conflicted with the basic premise. We could have changed the basic premise entirely. We'll still be revisiting the past throughout the story, demonstrating how human and robot relations deteriorated, and we'll be adding a lot of organics into the mix at the end of Part 2, but I wish I could have reconciled this issue from the get go.
I feel that Dy-Gar's existential crisis and the post-apocalyptic setting are the best parts of the writing. I also find it great that Dy-Gar's a reasonable, sympathetic character to an extent even though he's an enemy of humanity (and, by extension, the reader).

JSConner800 wrote:As you said, c'est la vie.
I meant that in the sense that I'm aware I'm complaining about a lack of exposition in what basically amounts to a mere introduction of an incomplete work. It's not ideal, but the alternatives are either writing fluff, or not writing anything.

JSConner800 wrote:I don't necessarily think of a gimmick as inherently negative, but then again, my girlfriend has been getting me into professional wrestling and in that context, a gimmick is just a character that a wrestler portrays, encompassing everything from their personality to their motifs, their costumes, and their moves. It's what differentiates one wrestler from another. I see most stories as having gimmicks. Some are just more obvious, like "stereotypical scenario - WITH TWIST!" and some are more subtle, but if you see a gimmick as an identity rather than an eye-catching crutch to disguise a lackluster or unoriginal story, then it's really quite common. I think we've at least differentiated our story enough from the pack that we're not just a "stereotypical scenario - WITH TWIST!" kind of comic.
I just see it in terms of this sort of beginner-intermediate-expert heirarchy, where Steel Salvation's writing's probably in the "intermediate" category. When I suggested adding a gimmick in my Double Cross review, I regarded the comic's writing as being at the "beginner" level. So, it's all relative.

JSConner800 wrote:Well, I much prefer page 21 over page 2, and I don't think that's the desperate hope for improvement talking. There are some later strips that I'm not fond of, like this particularly bland and gross looking one. I just prefer the later art style, I suppose. That's art for you.
I'm not sure it's a matter of style as much as it's a sense of fatigue. But, anyways, I could be in the minority here.

JSConner800 wrote:You've hit the nail on the head about bad minimalism, though. Evan is by no means a master of realism (and I don't think he would mind me saying that), and the minimalism is partly due to his amateur drawing abilities and partly due to Alex's background in graphic design. He made it clear before we even began that he wanted the minimalistic look, so even if it's not something we were ready for artistically, it's what we ended up with. To my knowledge, Evan has only taken a handful of drawing classes, and he's always favored a more cartoony look, so I'll suggest working on realism for now.
I'm personally an advocate of a combination of life drawing and emulation (with the latter meaning taking inspiration from other creators/works). But you can't underestimate how much practice it takes to be a good artist.

JSConner800 wrote:That's absolutely true. We're all scattered around the Los Angeles/Orange County area, so usually if we talk about the comic it's through e-mail or google hangout, and since we all have jobs, girlfriends, school (in Alex's case), and life in general, it's hard to just get an hour-long meeting together sometimes. We got into a groove after awhile where Evan would scan us the penciled strips, Alex would trace them, shade them, etc, I would write commentary and titles and such, then we'd put them up with little or no communication between the three of us. I'd say about half of part 1 proceeded like that, so things like this can slip through the cracks. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.
It's something to consider, anyways. Communication's a pitfall for a lot of collaborative webcomics that often seems to sort of blindside the creators involved. And a majority of the most popular webcomics are solo projects, so collaboration could be considered a statistical weakness in a certain way. (And of course, you have the explosive popularity of Penny Arcade as an emphatic counterpoint.)

JSConner800 wrote:That's a good point. We're all doing this for fun anyway, with no serious aspirations for professional comic making. I wouldn't mind doing it for a living (I find writing comic scripts easier and more soothing than writing prose, but perhaps that's just because it's new for me, or because I'm worse at it), but I still consider myself a prose writer first, and if I ever make a living as a creative writer, I always figured it would be as a novelist. Who knows? I have other comic ideas. I'll just have to press on and see what happens. Based on the amount of effort we've put into Steel Salvation so far and my plans for its plot, I really want it to be more than just "practice," but considering the issues we've already discussed I know that that's not realistic. I'll just have to take it for what it is - an opportunity to learn.
It seems like you've got the psychological element of webcomicking down pretty well. At this point, it's really just a matter of mental endurance, and continuing to be open to peer review.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby JSConner800 on Mon Apr 14, 2014 5:10 pm

LibertyCabbage wrote:(Sorry for the delayed response. I've been down-'n'-out with the flu for the past week.)


I totally understand, I've been fighting a tenacious cold for the past two weeks myself.

Emotional/sentient robots is a cool concept; I just would've preferred it to have been addressed more gracefully and thoroughly in the comic. For example, Dy-Gar briefly mentions at one point that anger makes him a more effective killer, and it's an interesting but vague concept that should've been elaborated on. You're correct that writing for comics (and especially fantasy/sci-fi comics) is a delicate balance between tedious infodumping ("I wanted to read a comic, not a novel"), and vapid indifference and vagueness ("Why should I care?"), and the overwhelming majority of webcomics struggle with these pacing issues (and my last two reviews before this one were of a fantasy comic and a sci-fi comic, and I focused heavily on pacing both times).

I haven't read the short story, but you may want to re-read it (and re-watch Blade Runner), and take notes on the similiarities and differences of how those creators executed this shared concept (both between the two works, and with your own work), as far as the incongruous mediums can be compared.


Now I get what you're saying. In fact, it's given me some good ideas for part 2 (which I'm heavily rewriting in response to our discussion so far) that will better explain the way our sentient robots work without seeming out of place or halting the momentum of the story. Part of the non-treatment issue in part 1 comes back to the lack of organic or 'outsider' characters. I didn't have Dy-Gar elaborate on his anger issues - or his sentience in general - because the only other characters in part 1 are sentient machines themselves and they're all fully aware of how and why they're sentient. I'm not using that as an excuse, since the idea I've got to alleviate the issue doesn't involve any new characters, that was just the thought process that led us to this point. And the big difference between Blade Runner, "IHNMAIMS", and Steel Salvation, at least as far as their treatment of artificial intelligence is concerned, is that the first two are told from the perspective of human characters in conflict with sentient machines. They tackle the issue by providing contrasts - specifically by showing what humans have that machines lack. In Blade Runner, the machines crave a human lifespan, and in IHNMAIMS, the godlike AM is driven mad by a lack of agency - a sentience trapped in a globe-spanning system of computer consoles. SS, on the other hand, is told from the perspective of sentient machines with no humans left alive to provide contrast. Until the organics come into play at the end of part 2, I'll be using memories and conversations between Dy-Gar, Roger, and a revolutionary robot that they find in the ruins of the spaceport to provide a more thorough exploration of artificial intelligence, as well as the conflict that destroyed Cykta.

I think I "get it" well enough. I just think it's a boring, uncreative approach. In regards to the Goddess, I'd prefer to see you try to invent an original religion that's more dissimilar to traditional human theism, or at least is a perversion of it. It sounds like you'll be exploring the religious aspects more in Part 2, so hopefully it'll be an improvement.


Dy-Gar's religion is actually a perversion of elements from both Hinduism and Buddhism, and although that hasn't been explored yet, it certainly will be. That's another one of those exposition issues where, for most of part 1, we didn't have an outsider character to prompt an explanation of Dy-Gar's religion, but now that we've introduced Roger, that will be one of the first things they discuss in part 2.

I feel that Dy-Gar's existential crisis and the post-apocalyptic setting are the best parts of the writing. I also find it great that Dy-Gar's a reasonable, sympathetic character to an extent even though he's an enemy of humanity (and, by extension, the reader).


I'm really glad this is working, because it's the part that I've focused a lot of my creative efforts on up to this point (to such an extent that I wasn't quite sure if I was trying too hard or if it was actually playing out the way I wanted it to). Now I just need to focus on bringing everything else up to that level.

I'm not sure it's a matter of style as much as it's a sense of fatigue. But, anyways, I could be in the minority here.


I'm really interested to see what people have to say at this year's W.A.Y. If it's a general consensus that our art is getting worse, then we need to do something about that ASAP.

It's something to consider, anyways. Communication's a pitfall for a lot of collaborative webcomics that often seems to sort of blindside the creators involved. And a majority of the most popular webcomics are solo projects, so collaboration could be considered a statistical weakness in a certain way. (And of course, you have the explosive popularity of Penny Arcade as an emphatic counterpoint.)


I do envy those talented individuals who can put out a stellar comic two or three times a week all by themselves. It must be nice working around only one schedule instead of three. :-?
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Mon Apr 14, 2014 8:10 pm

Webcomic: Demon Archives
URL: http://www.demonarchives.com
Creator/s: Daniel Sharp, Sebastian Piriz
Run: 11/13-current
Schedule: M/Th
Section: Chs. 1-3

Website: What's up with the lame design? It's just a simple white column on a light-gray background, as if it's merely a work-in-progress layout. It's functional, but there should be some creaivity and pizzazz to make the site a little more fun to use.

The extra content's great, as there's a blog, a cast page, and a few sections of goodies, and the Patreon patrons have access to even more stuff on top of that. My favorite one's an interactive map that shows all of the geopolitical hotspots that get nuked in the comic's conceptualization of World War III, although I'd prefer it if the map had more detailed information.

Finally, I consider it unprofessional that the writer's the only creator credited on the home page, and the only reason I know that there's an artist at all is that he's mentioned on the Patreon page. I guess the writer technically owns the comic and yada-yada, but it still rubs me the wrong way.

Writing: Following up last week's review of Steel Salvation, this is another post-apocalyptic story that covers similar existential themes. Demon Archives' website describes the comic as "dabbling in topics such as the singularity, the nature of humanity, intelligence, and self identity," and while I'm interested in seeing the creators' take on those subjects, they're sure taking their sweet time getting around to it. I read the first three chapters of the webcomic, and all I've seen so far is a ridiculously dull G.I. Joe romp.

"Singularity Science Fiction," as poignantly displayed at the top of the website, is apparently the creators' label for dozens of pages of tedious action sequences and macho heroics. While I'm guessing that the rampant explosions, gunfights, and soldier-talk is supposed to be exciting, I found myself waiting impatiently for respite in hope that a small bit of imagination would show up at some point. Fortunately, it did eventually; unfortunately, it shows up in the form of dozens of expository blog posts that are separate from the comic. This is an abysmally bad way to pace a webcomic, and further, I feel deceived as a reader since I expected a cerebral sci-fi story but got a dumb action story instead. And speaking of deception, what's up with the webcomic's title and the giant, red demon on the Chapter 1 cover when there still haven't been any demons mentioned or shown yet in the comic? The creator suggests in a comment that the demon's meant as "symbolism," but I'm not amused by these creative decisions.

The quality of the writing is underwhelming as well, as while the standard combat dialogue is unambitious, the heavy-handed foreshadowing that precedes it is obnoxious. Consider some of these super-duper-obvious signs that the Keleres crew is overconfident:

1) Tenzin casually refers to his assignment as "babysitting" twice (c1.p2 & c1.p5)
2) Tenzin daydreams during the mission brief (c1.p2)
3) Tenzin mentions twice that the Keleres haven't had a casualty in "almost a year" (c1.p2 & c1.p8)
4) Viktor comments that Tenzin's worrying too much about "another easy mission" (c1.p4)
5) Tenzin sarcastically jokes about the desert being quote-unquote "scary" (c1.p5)
6) Right before arrival, the soldiers are casually talking about alcohol and sex (c1.p6 & c1.p7)
7) Viktor remarks that it's "easy" being a soldier (c1.p7)
8) Smith smiles while commenting on the Keleres' "perfect mission[s]" (c1.p8)

That's at least 10 instances of foreshadowing in the first eight pages, which is a lot more than necessary, and it really bogs down the beginning of the story.

Art: The excellence of the artwork's self-evident, and it has two main benefits: One, it's going to raise this webcomic's score considerably, and two, it means I can keep this review brief and do something else fun with my free time, as I'm not going to bother fluffing this section with flowery language. What stands out the most to me, though, are the visor-shaped point-of-view panels, which really enhance the experience of the battle scene.

A couple things I didn't like: Faces need some work, as they're inexpressive, simplistic, and stiff, defaulting to a ubiquitous "tough guy" look that all of the characters share. I prefer how the comic looks when the characters have their helmets on, as whenever they take them off, I'm temporarily distracted from the otherwise great illustrations. And the other thing, which may be more of a fault of the writing, is that there are too many wide shots and splash pages. They look awesome, and they're effective at showing off the creator's mad skillz, but they have the unfortunate side effect of slowing down the story a lot and making the battle take more pages to convey than necessary. The result is a webcomic that's flashy but lacks substance.

Overall: While the pages and pages of information on the website are probably compelling, Demon Archives' dopey shoot-'em-up story can't be saved by the dazzling artwork. Six months' worth of updates have basically been wasted on an extended fight scene that does little to advance the plot, develop the characters, or elaborate on the webcomic's alleged themes. I'd like to see a little more urgency in turning this project into the intriguing science-fiction story it was intended to be.

3/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Wed Apr 16, 2014 1:56 pm

JSConner800 wrote:Now I get what you're saying. In fact, it's given me some good ideas for part 2 (which I'm heavily rewriting in response to our discussion so far) that will better explain the way our sentient robots work without seeming out of place or halting the momentum of the story. Part of the non-treatment issue in part 1 comes back to the lack of organic or 'outsider' characters. I didn't have Dy-Gar elaborate on his anger issues - or his sentience in general - because the only other characters in part 1 are sentient machines themselves and they're all fully aware of how and why they're sentient. I'm not using that as an excuse, since the idea I've got to alleviate the issue doesn't involve any new characters, that was just the thought process that led us to this point. And the big difference between Blade Runner, "IHNMAIMS", and Steel Salvation, at least as far as their treatment of artificial intelligence is concerned, is that the first two are told from the perspective of human characters in conflict with sentient machines. They tackle the issue by providing contrasts - specifically by showing what humans have that machines lack. In Blade Runner, the machines crave a human lifespan, and in IHNMAIMS, the godlike AM is driven mad by a lack of agency - a sentience trapped in a globe-spanning system of computer consoles. SS, on the other hand, is told from the perspective of sentient machines with no humans left alive to provide contrast. Until the organics come into play at the end of part 2, I'll be using memories and conversations between Dy-Gar, Roger, and a revolutionary robot that they find in the ruins of the spaceport to provide a more thorough exploration of artificial intelligence, as well as the conflict that destroyed Cykta.
I'm glad that my suggestion seems to have helped. The world-building problem's usually addressed in fiction by having the reader relate with a clueless newcomer interacting with a grizzled veteran (e.g., Frodo & Gandalf in LOTR, Dent and that towel guy in HGTTG, Harry Potter and that big guy, Luke and Obi-Wan in Star Wars, etc.), and it's pretty effective even though it's a cliché. There are probably some more creative approaches to it out there, but I can't think of any at the moment since the "newbie" technique's used so often. I've also noticed that writers (in general) tend to cheat a little (in terms of disbelief), but it's cool with audiences since they're hungry for info, and also to help the less observant audience members out a little bit.

JSConner800 wrote:I'm really glad this is working, because it's the part that I've focused a lot of my creative efforts on up to this point (to such an extent that I wasn't quite sure if I was trying too hard or if it was actually playing out the way I wanted it to). Now I just need to focus on bringing everything else up to that level.
The writing's really not that bad, and it's probably even a bit above average. It's just that the thing with webcomics is "above average" doesn't really count for anything since everyone has an infinite supply of quality material for free and a limited amount of time to read it. So, any webcomics that aren't in the 4.5-to-5-stars range are basically nonexistent in terms of traffic unless they can seduce readers with tits or flashy artwork.

JSConner800 wrote:I'm really interested to see what people have to say at this year's W.A.Y. If it's a general consensus that our art is getting worse, then we need to do something about that ASAP.
I'm curious to see what people have to say as well. I was being a little vague before, though, and what I meant is that there may be a bit of creative burnout from an overly aggressive update schedule, so that may be an area you could consider tweaking (especially in terms of availability and obligations and such).

JSConner800 wrote:I do envy those talented individuals who can put out a stellar comic two or three times a week all by themselves. It must be nice working around only one schedule instead of three. :-?
I've always thought collabs are pretty cool. I mean, there are a lot of writers who can't draw, and there are a lot of artists who can't write, so... do the math.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby JSConner800 on Sat Apr 19, 2014 3:53 pm

I'm glad that my suggestion seems to have helped. The world-building problem's usually addressed in fiction by having the reader relate with a clueless newcomer interacting with a grizzled veteran (e.g., Frodo & Gandalf in LOTR, Dent and that towel guy in HGTTG, Harry Potter and that big guy, Luke and Obi-Wan in Star Wars, etc.), and it's pretty effective even though it's a cliché. There are probably some more creative approaches to it out there, but I can't think of any at the moment since the "newbie" technique's used so often. I've also noticed that writers (in general) tend to cheat a little (in terms of disbelief), but it's cool with audiences since they're hungry for info, and also to help the less observant audience members out a little bit.


I think what makes this technique so effective is that it's not limited to just the newbie-and-grizzled-veteran dynamic. For instance, Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness is about an emissary from a galaxy-spanning goverment sent to a world where the people have no specific gender and only gain gendered attributes once a month for reproduction. The protagonist isn't a clueless newcomer per se, but he is an outsider and it's his job to learn about this unique society that Le Guin created, which makes for natural, thorough (exhaustingly thorough) exposition. As long as one character is an outsider or is otherwise unfamiliar with some aspect of a sci-fi or fantasy world, it's a fairly subtle way to work some exposition into the story. It's certainly better than two characters reiterating things that both of them already know, although yes, writers do cheat, myself included. As long as we cheat in a way that's entertaining and not too blatant, I think we (and audiences) can live with it.

The writing's really not that bad, and it's probably even a bit above average. It's just that the thing with webcomics is "above average" doesn't really count for anything since everyone has an infinite supply of quality material for free and a limited amount of time to read it. So, any webcomics that aren't in the 4.5-to-5-stars range are basically nonexistent in terms of traffic unless they can seduce readers with tits or flashy artwork.


Well, we already have a cybernetic arm as a main character, I don't see why we can't introduce a cybernetic pair of tits in part 2 :wink:

I'm curious to see what people have to say as well. I was being a little vague before, though, and what I meant is that there may be a bit of creative burnout from an overly aggressive update schedule, so that may be an area you could consider tweaking (especially in terms of availability and obligations and such).


That could certainly be the case, since we were working without a buffer from about strip 30 onward. The thought of slowing down our update schedule even more is painful, but maybe necessary. Then again, Alex has one more quarter until he graduates, and then he's moving back home while he hunts for a job. We've pushed back the release of part 2 in light of the changes I'm making and in order to give Alex a break, so by the time we get back into it his schedule should at least be more open (and we'll actually be able to work together in person *gasp*).

I've always thought collabs are pretty cool. I mean, there are a lot of writers who can't draw, and there are a lot of artists who can't write, so... do the math.


They're particularly cool when we can work together, but when you're scattered around the state and your schedule doesn't allow for much interaction, that communication barrier can lead to a lot of little problems. Of course, without a collaboration I wouldn't be making a comic at all, so it's a necessary evil.
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Mon Jul 21, 2014 6:43 pm

Webcomic: Super Mario Bros. 2
URL: http://www.smbthecomic.com
Creator/s: Steven Applebaum, Ryan Hoss, Parker Bennett, Eryk Donovan, Jaymes Reed, Jack Forbes
Run: 5/13-current
Schedule: About once a week

(melaredblu already reviewed Chapter 1, so this review focuses on Chapters 2 and 3.)

Website: The site's fairly simple and straightforward, with a mix of blacks and grays, and I would've liked to see a more visual layout, either in the style of the games or the movie. It has some standard features, like a Characters page and an FAQ, but the archives functionality's lacking, as there's no obvious way to easily browse through individual pages aside from typing the page number in the browser or scrolling page-by-page through the chapter sorter. There's also some cross-language issues, as clicking "First" takes readers to a Portuguese version of the comic, but trying to select a chapter in the Portuguese version takes readers to the English version. And there's a link on the home page to an Italian version that goes to a "Page Not Found" error screen.

Writing: Super Mario Bros. 2 has three inherent qualities that should make webcomic readers skeptical: one, that it's a sequel to a movie, which is a highly unusual premise for a webcomic; two, that it's a video game webcomic, which are overly prominent in the form of sprite comics and are universally terrible; and three, that the movie it's based on isn't popular, with one of its writers describing in an interview with this webcomic's creators that Super Mario Bros. "has a few fans, but it’s mostly a weird curiosity and it’s an object-lesson in how not to make a movie." The creators, however, seem to approach the source material with unrestrained enthusiasm, as, in addition to running a fansite for the movie, their interpretation's tied too much to the film, making this project more of an homage than a legitimate sequel.

Chapter 2's a dramatic departure from the webcomic's opening, as while the first chapter's a goofy action story that's more similar to the video games, the second chapter features the movie's cyberpunk setting and is much heavier on dialogue. This shift's a clear improvement, and it's unfortunate (if somewhat understandable) that the tie-in from the end of the movie (Princess Daisy's return and call for help) led to a double-length initial chapter of pointless violence. If the action had been trimmed and some of those pages budgeted for characterization and plot, the webcomic would be more enjoyable. As it is, the creators fail to properly introduce the setting or any of the characters, apparently out of a sense of urgency, and it seems to be a requirement that the reader's familiar with Super Mario Bros. even though the movie came out more than 20 years ago. I think a big part of the problem's that the creators, according to the webcomic's FAQ page, have planned for the comic to only be about 120 pages long, and rather than adding more pages to properly develop the story, they're cutting essential content in order to limit the comic to an arbitrary length. However, even with this barebones approach, the story's almost halfway through already and the plot has barely been brought up yet, so the writing's severely inefficient, and I don't see how the creators can stick with their original plan of 120 pages without turning the remainder of the story into a complete mess.

Mario couldn't possibly be portrayed in a more dull way, and the minor characters aren't utilized beyond being mere cameos, but Daisy and Luigi's romance is decently written. They tragically can't be together due to living in different dimensions, and while the comic hasn't really managed to elaborate on their relationship beyond what was presented in the movie, this aspect unexpectedly suggests that the creators would be better at writing a love story. Although, on the other hand, they screw up badly with Mario's relationship with Daniella, whose name is only known from the hyperlinks below the pages. Amazingly, she's appeared on eight pages so far, and has yet to say anything or have anyone talk to her, and Mario only looks at her once. In addition, no explanation's given for why she accompanies Mario and Luigi to a dimension that's under attack, and no one expresses concern that she might be in danger. And then, she randomly disappears in Chapters 1 and 2 for a while, and when Mario's last seen, at the party in Chapter 3, she's nowhere around. I'm guessing that she's only in the story so that she can get kidnapped later and have Mario heroically rescue her, but the way Daniella's portrayed is both clumsy and a huge wasted opportunity to develop Mario and elaborate on a potentially interesting character. As insignificant as she is in the comic, Daniella's handled so incompetently as to cancel out the redeeming qualities of the other brother's relationship.

Art: Chapter 2 introduces color to the comic, which goes a lot better with the story's playfulness than the black-and-white, almost noir-ish look of the earlier pages. The coloring also greatly benefits the cyberpunk scenery of Dinohattan, which is the most notable part of the artwork. (Applebaum comments that Donovan's "talent with designing and drawing city scenes was one of the main reasons why we chose to work with him.") The characters are adequate, if unremarkable, with the more exotic figures (like the Shy Guys and Yoshi) being the most appealing, although it's difficult to take Wart at all seriously due to his resemblance to the Trollface meme. Altogether, the art's pretty competent and makes the comic fairly tolerable to read.

I have an issue with the overuse of splash pages and wide shots, as while they look great, the comic's desperately in need of more dialogue, and these layouts take up valuable page space without being essential to the plot. Particularly superfluous is this splash page of Toad rocking out, which doesn't seem to be a significant event. The establishing shot of the park is another splash page that doesn't seem necessary, and constraining it to a wide shot would've made room for at least one or two panels of dialogue. The comic needs to be more economical with its page space, prioritizing necessary information over attractive visuals.

Overall: It's great that the creators feel passionately enough about a movie to take making a sequel of it into their own hands, but they need to put their project into the proper perspective. Regardless of if readers are fans of the original or not, Super Mario Bros. 2 needs to deliver compelling characters and an engaging story, which it has failed to do. The creators should be able to step back and look at the comic not just as fans who've been obsessed with the movie for years, but as webcomic readers who are looking for an entertaining video game comic to read. It's likely that a significant portion of the script will need to be rewritten in order to salvage the project, as merely featuring several popular characters isn't good enough.

3/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Tue Aug 26, 2014 11:53 am

Webcomic: BOHICA Blues
URL: http://www.bohicablues.com
Creator/s: CF Grant
Run: 11/13-current
Schedule: M-W-F

Website: Aside from the camouflage background, it doesn't have any graphics or stylization, making it look pretty much just like every other ComicPress site out there. However, unlike with other WordPress-based webcomics I've seen, the navigation links are above the page, meaning that readers have to scroll down to read the comic, and then scroll back up to the top to continue. Having to scroll twice quickly became tedious for me when I was reading through several chapters in one sitting.

There are some other screwy issues with the site that I found irritating. One of them is that some of the pages, such as this one, are inexplicably on the comic's mobile layout, which has a white background and puts the navigation links at the bottom. Switching back and forth between layouts like that was always confusing and jarring. Another problem is that some of the newer pages didn't have "Next" buttons on them, and, in order to read them, I ended up going to the latest page, clicking "Previous" several times, and then using my browser's "Back" button. Fortunately, the links were fixed by the time I finished writing this review, although the page posted on August 22 (four days ago) still doesn't have a "Next" button. The archives also need work, as clicking on the calendar goes to a page with one or more "No Thumbnail or Featured Image Found" messages, and the chapter dropdown's jumbled, showing Chapters 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 6, 7, in that order.

The bonus features are pretty good, though, with photos of the comic's real-life locations being the best part. The FAQ page is also particularly relevant, with a description of the creator's experience in the military and some commentary on the comic's politics.

Writing: BOHICA Blues tries to present the Iraq War in a humorous way that's "family-friendly" and "isn’t grinding any political axes," focusing on irritations like mosquito bites, running out of certain flavors of ice cream, and unhygienic toilets. ("BOHICA" stands for "Bend Over, Here It Comes Again.") In addition, it subverts traditional war stories by offering an actionless, undramatic account that revolves around soldiers being bored at their military base. While it's a novel concept, it isn't at all clear from reading the comic that a sanitized, silly version of war can be appealing or interesting.

Whether readers are anti-war, pro-war, or ambivalent, the Iraq War is, as the creator calls it, "a political hot potato," and he states that he's "not interested in staking out a political position." This attitude, however, leads to an uncomfortably benign, "hanging out with the guys" version of war that makes no mention of deaths or injuries, conveys no sense of danger, and hardly ever involves a combat situation. The inclusion of goofy, South Park-style caricatures of Osama bin Laden (1, 2, 3) and Saddam Hussein (1, 2) as the main enemies that appear in the comic make it even more difficult to take the war seriously. But the most awkward gags are those involving apparently deadly situations, including a page where a soldier's vehicle explodes, sending the soldier flying into the sky. The cartoonish gags and lighthearted portrayal of warfare might be the creator's idea of "family-friendly" material, but I find them to be a distasteful presentation of a conflict that has resulted in massive amounts of casualties. It'd be one thing if the comic was trying to be edgy and satirical, but showing war as being funny without placing it in a cultural or political context is just mindless and trashy. I would've liked the comic better if it was more openly anti- or pro-war, as the creator's strained attempt at writing apolitical politics is devoid of cleverness.

The flawed concept would be more tolerable if there were interesting characters or a story to follow, but the comic instead goes for generic soldiers in a gag-a-day format. Joe is technically the main character, as the comic follows his journey from training camp to Iraq, but it'd be a struggle for me to try to describe him as anything more than just "normal." I guess he's supposed to be an "average Joe," which is an underwhelming idea, but most of the other characters are "average Joes" as well, making the comic bland and tedious. The lone exceptions to this are the bodybuilding Purdue and the assertive Ransom, but these minor characters don't appear in the comic nearly enough considering that they're the only ones with any notable degree of characterization. There are also a lot of characters to keep track of, which is more difficult than normal since everyone wears the same outfit and has the same personality. Adding backstories and quirks for the characters would make readers feel more invested and would give the scenes some much-needed complexity.

* continued in the next post due to the link limit *
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Tue Aug 26, 2014 12:07 pm

As far as the humor goes, the comic relies heavily on pop culture references, visual gags, and other non-jokes. Some of the references are particularly bad since they're based on when the war started, meaning that they're already dated by ten years. And while the comic's "family-friendly," I don't think this is the kind of material that would impress children, as they'd be more attracted to action and colorful visuals than this comic's lame Star Wars gags.

Art: The comic features bland, generic-looking characters with unshaded coloring, and there's been no improvement at all ten months after its launch. And on top of this major flaw, the creator only makes minimal use of body language and facial expressions, which are normally cornerstones of humor comics. Add factors such as homogenous clothing, minimalistic locations (e.g., the desert in Iraq), rampant copy-pasting, and uncreative perspectives, and the comic ends up being boring and tedious to look at. This approach seems to at least partly be a realistic reflection of the boredom experienced by the soldiers, but the creator still has a responsibility to present the situation in a way that's entertaining to potential readers. Going through the chapters, I found myself impatiently estimating how much of the comic was left as I browsed through page after page of copy-pasted, expressionless soldiers. Some of the pages do have facial expressions, but they look awkward, as if the creator didn't quite get the faces right but didn't have time to redraw them.

Interestingly, I found the occasional non-sequitor throwaway characters to be much more stylistic and visually engaging. For example, in Chapter 3, a panel with a cartoonish, disproportionate soldier from "another country" is one of the best illustrations in the comic. Similarly, this panel in Chapter 4 has a goofy-looking hillbilly, which is also one of the best drawings. The various anthropomorphic and civilian one-shot characters that appear throughout the comic also have more personality and are more stylistic than the soldiers, making it appear as if more thought went into their designs than those of the main characters. As such, if I had a choice, I'd rather read about these non-characters, as their designs make them stand out and seem entertaining.

The best part of the artwork's the numerous military vehicles that appear throughout the story (1, 2, 3), as they're all accurately and carefully drawn from references. They look great, and the creator's clearly comfortable drawing them from a variety of angles. However, the detailed, realistic style of the vehicles looks out of place in a gag-a-day comic with simplistic figures. The use of background characters, environmental details, and perspective does help, though, make the art more visually stimulating, and the comic's successful at making the military setting seem believable and realistic.

Overall: BOHICA Blues is a stupid webcomic made by a creator who half-asses his drawings, lacks a sense of humor, and provides site navigation that's counterintuitive and unreliable. It has a niche appeal to veterans, but that's only because it shows soldiers in a flattering, sympathetic light. Above all, though, the comic's biggest flaw is its static nature, as while the illustrations are blatantly amateurish, the creator continues to draw repetitive, copy-pasted pages with no indication of an initiative to challenge himself and improve. While I'd prefer to be able to offer some form of encouragement, I'm unconvinced that the creator cares enough about the quality of his work for it to matter.

2/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Mon Sep 22, 2014 7:56 pm

Webcomic: Flaky Pastry
URL: http://flakypastry.runningwithpencils.com
Creator/s: Félix Lavallée
Run: 4/05-current
Schedule: Fridays
Section: Ch. 9, "Days of our Elves"

Website: My design philosophy's that the look of a webcomic's site should complement the content, and this comic's unsuccessful in that regard. There's nothing to go off of except a striped background and a small graphic, and it doesn't give the impression that the comic features "silliness and situational comedy, with a healthy dose of adventure, action, romance and outright craziness," as the About page describes, or that it has "elements of Fantasy and Science fiction." Seeing as that the comic still has "Copyright © Félix Lavallée 2005-2011" in its footer, I'm guessing that the site hasn't changed much in a while, and it's probably way overdue for a makeover. The Cast page still shows drawings from 2005, so that'd be a good place to start.

The bonus content's pretty standard, with the most notable part being a collection of 28 different wallpapers that readers can download. Some of them are still in the archives, though, which is annoying since it breaks the flow of the story. If the creator feels like adding more extras, I suggest doing something more creative and unexpected, such as a short story featuring the comic's characters.

Writing: Flaky Pastry's setting's based on classic Tolkien fantasy, and, even with a bit of Cthulhu mythos thrown in to spice things up, it's a pretty standard setup that relies on goofiness to hold its readers' attention. At the center of its humorous nature are its three protagonists, the wacky-nerdy Marelle, the wacky-random Nitrine, and the wacky-violent Zintiel, and, unfortunately, none of them are even the least bit interesting. Out of those three, Zintiel gets most of the attention, and she's a badass-crazy-evil-goth-type character that should remind some readers of Richard from the better-known webcomic Looking For Group. While Flaky Pastry launched first, Richard's a far more entertaining character, and this comic's creator never really manages to tap into Zintiel's comedic potential or have her do anything interesting. When Flaky Pastry's not in infodump mode, it mainly consists of either a character saying something wacky, or of a character commenting on how wacky somebody is, and it's a low-effort, repetitive kind of humor that isn't enjoyable.

A lot of the time, though, the comic is in infodump mode, and it's irritating how much text the creator starts cramming into every page once the opening scene's done. The exposition's uninteresting because of a lack of originality and thoughtfulness, and because it's so pervasive, the characters and situations don't develop enough for readers to care about them or their world. The comic desperately needs something noteworthy to happen soon, as I wouldn't have the patience to get through another 70 pages of the characters standing around and filling up panels with mediocre dialogue. Even the sparring match between Zintiel and Valessa, which is definitely the chapter's most dramatic scene, is surrounded with text practically anywhere the creator can fit it around the figures. It's also a problem that there's been at least 15 named elves introduced in this chapter so far, and the creator completely wrecks the pacing by trying to squeeze them into whatever page space he has left to work with. It'd be somewhat more understandable if this was the very first chapter and the creator was trying to set up the main part of the story, but Flaky Pastry's more than 500 pages in at this point, so there's no reason for it to be getting bogged down in exposition like this.

The comic has a minor subplot involving the secret gay life of Prince Lumigardo, described in the Cast page as "definitely the manliest elf" and with a "reputation as an invincible fighter," and I found this character to be by far the most interesting. He's involved in a complex situation where he feels socially obligated to pretend to be courting a woman, and, as the future king, his sexuality puts the fate of the kingdom into question. He's kinda like the gay Loras Tyrell from the show Game of Thrones, an important character whose scandalous love life causes a lot of conflict. This subplot's been underutilized, though, and while it'll possibly be more prominent later in the chapter or in a future chapter, it doesn't make much sense that the creator's been passing up some high-potential material here in favor of lame gags.

Art: It's got some of the best illustrations in webcomics, and I find it comparable in quality to Oglaf, another popular fantasy-comedy comic. Fluid body language and facial expressions (especially Nitrine's) contribute heavily to the humor, and the comic features detailed wide shots on occasions when the pacing slows down a little. And the outstanding coloring, which is unusually bright but carefully hued and shaded, helps set Flaky Pastry apart from other fantasy webcomics.

Still, there are a few shortcomings that prevent the artwork from being as good as it should be. One of these problems is that the pages are only 650 pixels wide, and this leads to a lot of panels where the characters and details are too small. Fantasy webcomics tend to rely on their artwork a lot, and it's difficult to find a popular one that doesn't have larger pages than Flaky Pastry. For example, Gaia's 770, Goblins is 892, Looking For Group's 700, Oglaf's 760, and Twokinds is 825. The next problem's that the excessive speech bubbles take up too much room on the pages, which combines with the factor of the small page-widths to form "talking heads" layouts and repetitive backgrounds. There are a couple of ways that fantasy comics deal with this situation. The first way, exemplified by Gunnerkrigg Court, is to have sparse text in a small font, which allows it to have quality layouts despite only being 600 pixels wide. The second way, exemplified by Order of the Stick, is to just have really wide pages, as it's usually at least 900 pixels wide, and it's often even a little bit wider than that, with the latest page being 928 pixels wide.

The lettering's another area that's in need of improvement, as the colorful speech bubbles make the comic look garish when combined with the bright artwork. It's a somewhat appropriate stylistic choice considering the goofiness of the content, but the bubbles ultimately result in a sense of color overload that's unappealing. The blocky bubbles are also not as aesthetically pleasing as the usual round ones, as they feel impersonal and take up too much space. Lastly, the font size is unnecessarily large, and reducing it would further allow more of the artwork to be seen.

Overall: Flaky Pastry's an okay fantasy webcomic, but it's disappointing that it's passed the 500-page mark and the creator's still struggling this much with composition and pacing. It's unfortunate, too, because the art's awesome, and I can imagine Flaky Pastry belonging in the top tier of webcomics if the creator had managed to learn more in the nine years since the comic started. Hopefully, the creator can figure out how to fix the mediocre writing, pointless dialogue, and weak humor on his own, but at this point I expect that some form of collaboration's more likely to be successful. Until significant improvements are made, though, there's really not much reason to read Flaky Pastry considering the abundance of fantasy webcomics.

3/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Mon Nov 10, 2014 9:54 pm

Webcomic: VHS London
URL: http://www.vhslondon.com
Creator/s: Joseph Cappellazzi
Run: ?
Schedule: ?

Website: The comic experiments with a slideshow-style presentation that displays one panel on the screen for about 15 seconds before automatically moving to the next panel. It's a neat idea, but I found it frustrating when I tried to use it. There's no way to pause the slideshow, so if you stop reading for whatever reason, the comic keeps skipping panels every 15 seconds until you get back to it. And certain panels that are filled with exposition took me longer than 15 seconds to read them and look at the artwork, resulting in a new panel being shown before I was ready for it. It'd be great if there was a way to turn off this automated navigation, as it feels like more of a nuisance than a convenience.

The site's extremely basic, being almost entirely just a black background with the comic on it. Even something simple, like adding a logo, would make the layout more engaging and visual. The only extra feature's a fake news article, and while it's clever, I would've liked for the article to expand on the setting more. Instead, it really just refers to cops pursuing criminals, which is already a fundamental part of the story.

Lastly, it seems like the comic was traced from photographs of actors, but there's no credit given to any of them. It really seems unfair to the actors that they posed for this project and don't even get a shout-out somewhere for helping out. I'd also be interested in learning more about the creative process behind the comic.

Writing: VHS London's a run-of-the-mill cop drama with the added gimmick that drugs are replaced with '90s VHS tapes, and it's unclear how long this goofy switch can sustain an entire webcomic. The opening scene reads like a strange and amusing short comic that would've worked well on its own, and it has a decent surprise ending when the VHS gimmick is revealed. It reminds me of something like one of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal's alternate reality gags, except if instead of it being a one-shot, it was turned into an entire long-form comic. The main part of the story's never as good or as funny as the opening scene, though, and there's a notable lack of creativity that would be necessary to make the concept worthwhile. A lot of it comes down to a reliance on absurd '90s references, like someone trying to get a contraband copy of Space Jam, and it's just an underwhelming formula that lazily gets reused.

It seems natural to compare VHS London with The Webcomic Police, as this site also humorously portrays the concept of illegal media. What separates the two and makes The Webcomic Police superior is that this site's a political satire that addresses issues like police brutality, privacy rights, and the First Amendment. It undermines the reasoning of statism by removing it from its conventional context and placing it in a new, nonsensical one. VHS London fails to make some sort of coherent cultural or political commentary, and there isn't an underlying logic apparent that would make the media aspect substantial. People are shown in a euphoric state when they watch VHS tapes, but there isn't really an explanation for why they like '90s movies so much, or why the government banned them. Not only is this element underdeveloped considering that it's the entire point of the comic, but I think it'd make for some funny and interesting exposition. Instead, the creator focuses too much on the "cops vs. criminals" plot, and it's pretty lame, especially since it's basically a joke anyways.

The concept and its flawed execution's the more tangible aspect, but part of why the comic isn't appealing is just that the creator has a poor sense of humor. The timing's often way off, with lengthy sequences of cop drama interrupted by weak jokes that make this comic seem more like an attempt at comedy than actual comedy. This sort of setup-to-punchline structure generally doesn't work well, as the gag has to be really funny to make the setup panels worthwhile. The comic would be better if it had a looser plot and more jokes, like in Oglaf or the print comic Tank Girl, where there are a series of goofy and random situations tied together by a general sense of continuity and reoccurring characters.

Art: Noir's obviously an unusual style for a humor comic, and there's a pervasive silliness that stems from the juxtaposition of super-serious artwork with dumb movie references. The creator definitely deserves some credit for experimenting with this combination, as it works really well and is more entertaining than the actual jokes. And since each page is just one big panel, there's more emphasis on the art than normal, which makes the absurdity even more noticeable. Most panels have little or no dialogue, making it easy to feel immersed in the surface-level noir setting. In addition, the super-realistic drawings appear to have been traced from photographs, which gives the comic a cinematic feel.

However, the art gets worse as the comic progresses. The earlier pages have gritty alleyways and moody interiors, but later pages are much more minimalistic, with solid black or white backgrounds on most panels. Some panels show full-body shots with no floor, shadows, or walls, as if the characters were floating in a void, and there are too many closer shots with simple backgrounds or no backgrounds. This vagueness ruins the sense of immersion and the appeal of the noir setting, instead giving the impression of a series of work-in-progress panels that were uploaded prematurely. The shots also become increasingly repetitive, as without backgrounds, expository shots become pointless and wide shots become ineffective, leaving the creator with a repertoire of just close and medium shots. There are so many of these latter two shots with basic backgrounds that the illustrations become boring and uncreative despite the characters being highly detailed.

There are also a few panels here and there where the lettering's reversed, as if the creator did a 180-degree flip with the image in Photoshop and forgot to redo the text. It's possible that this was done deliberately, but it seems unlikely, and there's no obvious explanation for why the lettering's backwards. If these instances are mistakes, then this is another example of why creators should read their own comics, as I often find hard-to-miss errors when I review stuff.

Overall: VHS London's creator would need a lot of cartooning experience and a strong sense of humor in order to successfully pull off something as strange as a noir-comedy hybrid, and he lacks both of those necessary ingredients. And while the art's generally appealing, it's still just traced drawings, which aren't a real substitute for original illustrations. It comes down to there being some pretty good concepts going on, but just a pervasive lack of competence that prevents this webcomic from being remarkable and worth reading. Almost every webcomic requires knowing how to draw and write well to be successful, and this comic's no exception.

2/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Sun Dec 14, 2014 10:09 pm

Webcomic: Shredded Moose
URL: n/a (the site got deleted)
Creator/s: Chris Hall, Brian Krümm
Run: 1/07-8/09
Schedule: M-W-F
Section: MediaFire ZIP archive (some strips are NSFW)

Most webcomic readers probably aren't familiar with Shredded Moose, as it was an unpopular webcomic that was abandoned by its creators about five years ago. The first time I heard about it was when it got trashed hard on Your Webcomic Is Bad and You Should Feel Bad, and that scathing review's the comic's primary claim to fame. However, the comic suddenly resurfaced this year, becoming a topic of discussion on the Bad Webcomics Wiki and Shitty Webcomics, and receiving attention from David Willis on his Tumblr account. When an individual named Trey Williams e-mailed the Webcomic Police suggesting that the comic be reviewed, it seemed like it'd be a good idea to see what the deal is with this webcomic. Fortunately, while the website's been deleted for a while, a lot of the strips were archived.

I read the strips, and while the comic's as bad as its reputation makes it out be, I found it to be more boring than offensive. It's vulgar in a very pointless and unimaginative way, as if the creators were desperately trying to get attention by being disrespectful and edgy. Almost all of the strips feature the main character, Brew, being violent and/or treating women as sex objects, and other strips abrasively reference sensitive topics like abortion and religion.

The comic goes through a major change after the Your Webcomic Is Bad review was posted. While 2007 Brew's a douchey misogynist who's irresistible to women, 2008 Brew's a douchey misogynist who's repulsive to women. This sudden character shift makes the comic less ridiculous, but it doesn't make it any funnier, as the lame gags about Brew's one-night stands are replaced by lame gags about how Brew's a loser who can't get laid. The biggest change of all, though, comes when the comic abruptly becomes story-based and turns into what's probably the most overly melodramatic comic I've ever seen. This section features a dramatic suicide by one of the main characters, Brew's history of being neglected by his dad when he was younger, and, most notably, a traumatic childhood flashback by one of the female characters in which she was raped after witnessing her mom being murdered. These dramatic scenes are written extremely poorly, and they turn Shredded Moose from being just a bad gag comic to being an embarrassing example of how not to run a webcomic. (By the way, the murdering rapist ends up being revealed as Brew's dad in a disguise. And in the next strip, it's revealed that he's also a vampire.)

Still, some people feel that the comic's underappreciated. For example, posters named "inspiredbysm" and "shreddedmoosememorialwebsite" have recently argued that Shredded Moose was unfairly attacked by social justice warriors and webcomic reviewers, giving the comic a bad reputation and discouraging its creators. Other fans, such as the creator of shreddedmoosearchives.tumblr.com, which is no longer active, have tried to preserve the comic and bring attention to it. And as I researched the issue further, I found more examples of people supporting the comic, such as Liz Davis, the transgendered creator of a webcomic called Watch Your Mouth, who attacked the reviewer Linkara for criticizing Shredded Moose. Shitty Webcomics also made a post about Liz Davis and her possible ties to a potential Shredded Moose reboot.

There were some strange connections that were hard to ignore. For one, when we wrote back to Trey Williams, he responded from the same e-mail account under the name Liz Davis. However, in a thread on the Something Awful forums, a user named "SpoonfulofBromide" promoted Shredded Moose, claimed to be the creator of Watch Your Mouth, and harassed an artist named "TheOnlyStarFish" who turned down an opportunity to illustrate the webcomic. This led "TheOnlyStarFish" to reveal the details of a disturbing conversation in which "SpoonfulofBromide" admitted having an unhealthy obsession with the creators of Shredded Moose, and also confessed to inventing "Liz Davis" as an alias.

That would be weird enough already, but, around the same time, people obsessed with Shredded Moose were posting on other forums as well. These individuals include "BluntTime" on Giant in the Playground Forum, "LionSandwich" on CWCki Forum, and "Pigling Bland" on Truth and Beauty Bombs Forum. I noticed that every poster praising Shredded Moose had some notable similarities, including:

- similar writing style
- passionate support for Shredded Moose
- posted around early to mid-2014
- strange interest in and knowledge about Shredded Moose's creators
- details about attempts to contact the comic's creators
- complaints about the Your Webcomic Is Bad review and SJWs
- claims that the comic promotes First Amendment rights and libertarian ideals
- praise for the character Monique as a well-written feminist hero
- references to the infamous movie The Room
- off-topic posts about depression and self-loathing

Based on this information, I feel confident in saying that all of these posters, including "Trey Williams," "Liz Davis," "inspiredbysm," "shreddedmoosememorialwebsite," and "SpoonfulofBromide," are accounts run by one individual who's trying to create a virtual fan base for Shredded Moose. This person's goal appears to be to help persuade the creators to reboot it, and their multiple reported attempts to contact the creators seems to be for this reason. But what's this person's real identity? The answer is transgendered Internet troll Robert Stiles, who had a mental breakdown on the Something Sensitive forums and admitted to using "Liz Davis" as an alias. According to her Encyclopedia Dramatica article, Stiles has a long history of using aliases, including "Rika Stiles," "Wraith Beliskner," "Natasha Valentine," and others, and has legally changed her name to Natalie Langley.

Why would anyone put so much effort into resurrecting an awful webcomic, though? Stiles' main arguments are that Shredded Moose was intended as satire, and that its story arcs show that the comic has better character development and depth than people give it credit for. She also suggests that the comic represents freedom and integrity by pushing the limits of self-expression. Lastly, Stiles claims that one of the final strips, which shows Brew doing kind things for people, is intended to contextualize the comic as the story of Brew's redemption. However, these arguments aren't very compelling, as the comic's wildly inconsistent nature and uncreative gags suggest that the creators didn't have a grand design in mind. The style of the earlier strips is a lot like Penny Arcade, which makes it likely that their idea was just to try to copy Penny Arcade, especially by having a second main character and making gaming jokes. The comic eventually fizzles out by turning into a high school comedy starring Brew's cousin, and that helps to make it pretty clear that the creators didn't know what they wanted to do. And while Stiles tries to make it seem like Shredded Moose is a great webcomic that has a few haters, I've yet to see anyone aside from Stiles make a comment about it that wasn't negative.

Overall, Shredded Moose is just a terrible webcomic, and having a bunch of fake fans posting positive things about it isn't going to make it any more appealing. The early artwork's actually pretty good and made the comic somewhat tolerable, but it just became a mess once the quality started to go down. I don't know if the creators will ever make more Shredded Moose strips, but I hope they choose not to.

1.5/5
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Mon Jan 19, 2015 2:16 pm

Webcomic: Decrypting Rita
URL: http://egypt.urnash.com/rita
Creator/s: Margaret Trauth
Run: 5/11-current
Schedule: About once a week

Website: Having just a gray background's a pretty simplistic design for a comic that's so colorful and creative, but at least it's functional, and having the archives list at the top of every page is convenient. One thing this webcomic does well is that its blogs and social media are updated a lot, which includes a Tumblr account where readers can ask questions to the comic's protagonist. So, while the layout's unimpressive, it at least manages to efficiently use a small amount of space.

The chapter index is unconventional in that the chapters are out of order, several chapters are missing, and some chapters are in Arabic numerals while others are in Roman numerals. In addition, there's a lot of variance, with some chapters being several pages, some being fairly lengthy, and others being only one page. This structure seems intended to tie into the nonlinear nature of the story, but it's confusing, and it doesn't add anything to the comic.

Writing: Creativity can be described as having an abundance of ideas, and Decrypting Rita's definitely creative in that sense. However, creativity's value is intertwined with a grittier force that eliminates ideas, and a lack of focus prevents the story from ever gaining traction. Underwhelming, underdeveloped ideas are piled on top of one another, and the narrative's deliberately sabotaged under the pretense of experimentation.

The comic reminds me of A Softer World (reviewed here), in that it takes a functional art form, breaks it, and presents the debris as sophistication. This approach seems to be a self-conscious response to comics being perceived as an inferior art form. Phil Foglio of Girl Genius describes Decrypting Rita as "a science–fiction story that feels like it comes from the future," and while I can grasp the notion that comics are evolving towards legitimacy, it's an attitude that has an insecure, self-deprecating subtext. The medium's problems are cultural, not structural.

Beyond that, though, the creator's just a lousy writer. In her interviews (1, 2), she's able to give in-depth explanations of her artistic choices, but when asked about the story, she repeatedly mentions that she was "very, very stoned" and was "smoking a hell of a lot of weed." I'm not opposed to drugs being used as a creative tool, but it's pretty clear that the creator wasn't in a proper mental state when making this comic. In addition, the dialogue relies on made-up words, randomness, and witty banter, and it's an annoying attempt at being clever. Effective writing makes the audience laugh and/or care about what happens to the characters, and the comic doesn't even try to achieve that. At its best, the writing's an afterthought, and at its worst, it's irritating.

Having multiple worlds and versions of characters is cool, but there's not enough going on. It's a flawed premise that four uninteresting stories combine to make an interesting story, and the coolness factor isn't enough to prevent it from feeling like a chore to get through this comic. Once in a while there's a dramatic moment where a character gets killed, but they always come back to life quickly afterwards, so these instances feel like a cheap trick to create a false sense of tension. Since they can't really die, the characters' deaths should be treated more casually rather than being end-of-chapter cliffhangers. The comic's also usually dry and text-heavy, which contrasts with how the characters are overly enthusiastic about and interested in what's going on. I get the need for having a lot of exposition, but better pacing's needed so that the story doesn't get minimized as much.

Art: Scott McCloud of Understanding Comics calls it "cool-looking," and I'm sure he's pleased that the comic uses the infinite canvas approach he promotes. However, while the purpose of infinite canvas is to give a creator more space to work with, the creator chooses to cram together small images and small text, making the reading experience unpleasant and treating the infinite aspect as a technicality. The comic was apparently designed this way so that it could be published as a print version, but isn't the point of using infinite canvas that it can do stuff print comics can't? It makes no sense to me, especially since the creator's a talented artist who could be showing off her skills with decent-sized illustrations. The instances where she uses a more conventional layout with larger images actually look pretty good, so it's aggravating how she seems to be going out of her way to make the comic worse. Similarly, there are many instances where the lettering's distorted, tiny, or in a weird color, and it unnecessarily makes the comic more difficult to read.

The biggest problem with the artwork, though, is that it's ridiculously inconsistent. A panel on any given page can range from "sucky" to "pretty good," and it's disappointing to see bad artwork knowing that the creator can do much better when she puts in some effort. The action scenes, which seem like they're supposed to be the most visually impressive part of the comic, are underwhelming because the anatomy's all over the place. Whether the comic's abstract, cartoony, detailed, or minimalistic varies constantly, and traits such as the main character's weight change from panel to panel. There's a pervasive sense that the creator's half-assing the comic, doesn't know how she wants it to look like, and doesn't care if the drawings don't come out right, and it sucks the enjoyment out of the reading experience to see the creator seem so uninterested in her own project.

Overall: It seems like Decrypting Rita's supposed to be a good webcomic, but at the same time, it seems like the creator's aggressively trying to ruin her project. The terrible design choices combine with a nonexistent plot to make a frustrating comic that's downright unpleasant to read. It obviously has its fans, as it can boast having two successful Kickstarters for the print versions, but I'm unable to see why this comic's appealing to readers other than possibly for its LGBT characters. Being ambitious, creative, and experimental generally deserves to be praised, but it can be detrimental if the creator lacks a proficiency in cartooning skills, and while I want to like this comic for how avant-garde it is, I can't overlook how incompetently it's executed.

Infractions:
- Creating without a license
- Drawing under the influence
- Reckless writing

Scores (out of 5):
- Website: 2.5
- Writing: 1
- Art: 2
- Overall: 1.5

Recommended sentence: involuntary permanent vacation to our state-of-the-art tropical resort at Guantanamo Bay
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Re: I'll review your webcomic.

Postby LibertyCabbage on Mon Feb 02, 2015 1:56 pm

Webcomic: Tales of Pizza / The Webcomic Factory
URL: http://www.thewebcomicfactory.com
Creator/s: Tony DiGerolamo, Vig Starmax, Tim Racadio, Doolaeh Wooh
Run: 3/12-current
Schedule: Fridays

Website: ComicPress sites are always basic, but the design choices here make the site look especially unappealing. A big problem's the amount of clutter on the home page, as there are seven ads, nine buttons, and about 100 links to other websites. The comic thumbnails are also cluttered, and rather than having them all be the same size, the layout would be more visually appealing if some were large, others were smaller, and the rest were just the titles. After all, it doesn't make sense for the inactive comics to be as prominent as the active ones. The logo at the top also has a weird design, as it leaves a big chunk of blank space in the middle of the page. Some obvious solutions would be to either make the logo more horizontal, or to add a graphic showing various characters from the webcomics. If he wanted to, the creator could even use some Javascript to have the site randomly display different graphics each time it's reloaded.

I use the archives pages a lot when I write reviews, and it quickly gets really annoying when they aren't user-friendly. In this case, the archive page for Tales of Pizza just links to the first strip that each artist drew, making it basically useless. Through some trial and error, what I found works the best is to click on the protagonist's name in the comments section of one of the pages, as it conveniently brings up thumbnails for the whole comic. It'd be better if the archives linked to this page so that readers don't have to waste time trying to find it. There's actually a page titled "How to Navigate the Factory," but it isn't helpful.

Lastly, it's a little ridiculous that the creator not only posts his name twice on every page, but he also uses two different spellings. It's not as bad as it is in this parody comic, but it's been the standard for a long time for copyright info to be put in a website's footer, or somewhere else that's out of the way. The most popular webcomics out there don't have any credits on their pages, so it'd be hard to argue that doing this is actually necessary.

Writing: The site has about thirty different comics in total, with around half of those being inactive, and I chose to write about Tales of Pizza since it's a brief webcomic that's been through a lot of changes. I think it's understandable that I was skeptical of the idea that one person could capably write so many webcomics, although, at the same time, I'm aware that it's not overly difficult to quickly create scripts. I'm also generally supportive of the concept from a pragmatic standpoint, as most creators greatly overestimate their writing abilities and could take advantage of the imbalanced work ratio, and there's a networking advantage as well due to the hub dynamic. On the other hand, there are some major downsides for everyone involved. For the writer, it can be a pain in the ass to rely on flaky amateur artists, and for the artists, it can be difficult and time-consuming to evaluate script quality, and there are also likely motivation issues inherent in conveying another person's characters and ideas. In that sense, it'd be surprising if the creator was writing three or four comics, so doing fifteen seems absurd.

For Tales of Pizza, its legitimacy's hurt by its incoherent tone. Tone consistency's probably the most essential aspect of webcomic writing, and having this area be a weakness is a sign of a lack of foresight. Specifically, while the comic starts out as a wacky workplace comedy, it abruptly gets dark and sexual in a storyline where a horny customer attempts to seduce the protagonist. I don't know if the creator intended it to be dark humor, but it isn't funny, and it's an uncomfortably serious scene for a webcomic that had been a light, gag-a-day strip up until that point. The storyline also ends in an inappropriately downbeat manner, with the customer's ugly husband threatening the protagonist and then ruminating on the unhealthy state of his marriage. Then, in another storyline, the protagonist's robbed by a couple kids with a gun, and that scene also seems like an attempt at dark humor that isn't funny, especially since it's a life-threatening situation that's presented as being very intense for the characters. Then, the comic goes back to being a regular humor strip again, with gags about chicken suits and free pizza. You could argue that the creator's doing this on purpose to achieve some sort of erratic effect, but that would be giving him too credit, as it would be extremely difficult to pull something like that off, especially while working on all these different projects simultaneously. Instead, the impression I get is that he still hasn't figured out what genre he wants the comic to be, and that's a critical failure that suggests a particular lack of focus.

This comic should have a lot of material to go off of since it's based on the creator's experiences as a pizza delivery guy, but the jokes are all pretty obvious stuff. For example, in the early strips, there's a gag about rich people undertipping, and one about an aggressive dog at a customer's house, and these seem like ideas that anyone could come up with if they spent a minute or two making a list of problems that a delivery guy can have. The later strips are somewhat more creative, but the comic never evolves past its tedious and uninspired setup. Even the part with the failed seduction, its most memorable scene, seems like just a version of the porn cliché. Also, as I complained about in my review of UnCONventional, seeing someone feeling miserable while doing a job they hate isn't really that entertaining or funny, especially when it's shown over and over like it is in this webcomic. It actually seems more bitter and depressing than anything, and I wouldn't be surprised if the creator was at least partially using the comic as a means to vent about his past experiences, which is really not an effective writing strategy. Without jokes, the comic tends to have the same approach that VG Cats infamously uses, which is to have the "punchline" merely be a goofy facial expression or visual.

Art: Starmax used to do a webcomic about sexy sorceresses called Hocusha, and while he's generally competent, he's particularly skilled at drawing hot women (1, 2, 3). I don't know if he's drawn porn or not, but it wouldn't surprise me if he has, and I'd go so far as to say that these women are the comic's main feature. This is probably partly why the seduction scene comes across awkwardly, as the woman's portrayed in a more attractive and sensual manner than seems intended considering that a caption confusingly describes her as "ugly." As for the main character's portrayal, the comic manages to always be visually appealing through its body language and facial expressions, and there's a notable absence of lazy techniques such as copy-pasting and redundant close-ups.

Starmax is the third artist to work on the project, with the first two being pretty good themselves. The original artist, Racadio, starts things off well with his heavily stylized characters, but his art has some blatant issues, including sucky color choices, low-resolution images, and some of those lazy techniques I mentioned in the previous paragraph (including a bizarre instance of a cheek-mouth in Western-style artwork). The second artist, Wooh, only made two pages (1, 2), and he brings a unique style that seems rooted in animation. He has a knack for backgrounds and composition, but his character illustrations are mediocre, and the coloring's too bright and isn't shaded properly. Starmax's work has gotten a lot better since his debut page in terms of the coloring and detail, and it's clear that he's the right artist for this kind of comic. The only thing that's kind of weird is that he doesn't color eyes separately from skin, and it makes it look like all the characters have pink eye.

Overall: Tales of Pizza is the only webcomic on the site that I read, and while it's possible that some of the other comics are creative and well-written, this one's a major disappointment. It's highly questionable if it was a good idea for the creator to add yet another webcomic to his already packed workload, and I think there has to be a point where someone can only have so many projects going on before they get creatively tapped out. The site's header describes The Webcomic Factory as a "Hub of Quality Webcomics," but it seems more like it's taking a quantity over quality approach that doesn't have a place in the webcomics world. Starmax's excellent artwork helps this comic stand out to some extent, but it's otherwise just another humorless humor webcomic that probably isn't worth adding to anyone's reading list.

Infractions:
- Attempted humor
- Tone-slaughter
- Trafficking illegal webcomics

Scores (out of 5):
- Website: 1
- Writing: 2
- Art: 4.5
- Overall: 3

Evidence:
- The following was posted on Aug. 20, 2010, also known as Opposite Day:
- "Tony would like to assure everyone that there is no Comic Book Mafia and if there were, he isn’t one of the most violent comic book publishers currently on parole. Nor does he run a criminal syndicate that controls comic book dealers, art supplies and the smuggling of mylar bags across international borders."

Recommended sentence:
- 1,000 hours of community service at The Donut Factory
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