Review: Familiar Ground


Over the weekend, I went with my family to see the movie Julie & Julia. It’s an entertaining film, rather humorous, and manages to skip the awkward moments that so many comedy films seem to thrive on ever since Meet the Parents. And it centers around a blogger who rose to fame and a comfortable income, so you can imagine the tiny spark of glee that got set off somewhere in the back of my mind. It’s rather similar to the spark that gets set off in people’s minds when they see comics like Schlock Mercenary, whose creator can now live off of the earnings from his comic alone. So they set up their own webcomic, with dreams of advertisements, a well-stocked Cafepress store, and a PayPal tip jar dancing in their heads. Heck, that’s part of how I wound up making online comics.

So don’t immediately want to condemn Familiar Ground, by Cedric Atizado, for seeming to do the same thing. Sure, the main page has an advertisement at the top, one at the left, one at the bottom, and two on the right. Sure, a lot of his auxiliary pages point out how he’s selling originals of his strips (at an increasing price as they get older, natch). And sure, he’s set up a Zazzle store with exactly one item in it. But money-making doesn’t seem to be Atizado’s main goal; his author page indicates that he’s more interested in telling a story and learning to draw in the process—even if the process seems to be fueled by how much attention the comic garners.

The story is still in its fledgling state. We know that the main characters are a trio of helper animals in a very Dungeons & Dragons-inspired world: two familiars and a paladin mount. The idea of telling an epic story from the sideline characters’ point of view isn’t a new one, but handled well, it can be entertaining. For how new the comic is, though, the characters have already been established in their roles: Coco, a celestial horse who serves as a paladin’s mount, is the self-centered idiot fighter; Toad, a frog and familiar to an ungrateful wizard, is the grumpy straight man; and Lady Sasha, a cat who might be the familiar to a streetwalker, is pensive, clever, and probably evil.

The plot itself is looking like a typical fantasy storyline: a lackluster first adventure gives the setting just enough of a baseline that the world can need saving with just enough of an emotional pull that the reader wants it saved. And where Sandra and Woo pays homage to Calvin and Hobbes, Familiar Ground goes it one better and outright borrows a joke wholesale. Update: Check the comments section on this one. Strange minds think alike, it would seem.

Atizado is, as he’s made clear, still learning how to draw comics, so I won’t ding him too much for the art style being unpredictable. The main characters each seem to be pulled from a different cartooning style, with Coco seeming almost Dilbert-like and Lady Sasha more like a French poster circa 1920, and the difference can be rather jarring. However, with enough practice and repetition, the art style is bound either to improve or to codify into something smoother.

Now, I may have painted Atizado as a “wanna-be” cartoonist. But let me assure you, that’s not a bad thing. Pretty much everyone who isn’t among the first wave is a wanna-be of one sort or another, and a particularly dedicated wanna-be can improve greatly (compare the first-ever Mac Hall comic with Three Panel Soul for a particularly drastic evolution over nine years). Others sort of peter out over the course of time. So which will Familiar Ground be? Time will have to tell.

Comic Rating: Three hidden easter-egg jokes in the alt-text.

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  1. #1 by Cedric on 1 September 2009 - 4:54 PM

    Hello Luprand. I was checking out my server stats this morning and noticed several links from this site.

    First off, thanks for reviewing the site. Your comments are fair and your impressions have given me food for thought for a future site redesign.

    The only issue I have is your comment that I ripped off something from Calvin and Hobbes. I would never consciously do this. I’ve spent the past half hour looking through gocomics.com trying to find what you’re referring to and I can’t find it. I’d appreciate a reference if you can (book or year or something to narrow down the search).

    Again, while I cite Calvin and Hobbes as an inspiration, I wouldn’t ever copy a gag from him or anyone else (at least not without making it into a parody of some sort and citing the original).

    Again, thanks for the review. Check back in a few years. Hopefully the art would’ve improved by then :)

    • #2 by Luprand on 2 September 2009 - 3:37 PM

      As it turns out, I’m kinda surprised I even noticed it; the comic you borrowed the gag from is nearly as old as I am. If you go back to the very first book, Calvin and Hobbes, you’ll find the comic on page 95. (It’s times like these that I’m glad my dad collects so many newspaper comic books; you never know when they’ll come in handy!) So while the joke’s copied nearly wholesale, I can understand if it wasn’t intentional – if anything, I’m more surprised that it stood out to me.

      And I have to admit, Calvin and Hobbes was one of my favorite comics growing up, even if I had to spend a lot of time asking my parents what words meant. The jokes make a lot more sense nowadays. And it turns out that Bill Watterson lives in the next county over from my current residence, but I don’t think I’m brave enough to even try sending him a letter.

  2. #3 by Cedric on 3 September 2009 - 12:51 PM

    Buh. Looking at it now. Can’t deny that the last panel’s text and Toad’s expression is almost identical.

    This gag actually sprung from a real life experience (well, not talking animals, but me yelling at people to shut up so I can get some sleep) while camping.

    I don’t recall this particular Calvin and Hobbes strip, but I do know that I must’ve viewed it within in the past 6 months. The strip next to it is the panel I blew up and printed out to figure out text size and line weights – advice taken from Dave Kellett of Sheldon who recommends new cartoonist to photocopy comics from strips they liked to figure out such things.

    Mea culpa. Thanks for catching it. I’ll be putting a note in the comments section of my site to acknowledge it.

    Thanks again for the review. It was more than fair.

    • #4 by Luprand on 3 September 2009 - 1:56 PM

      These things happen. There’s a quote out there of which I’ve (appropriately) found several variations: “Immature artists borrow. Mature artists steal.” So I can’t lay too much blame on you. And I look forward to seeing your strip continue to improve – it’s the best thing a comic can do.

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