Posts Tagged fantasy

Review: Order of Tales

Say what you will about J. R. R. Tolkien’s body of work*, it’s had its influence on just about every fantasy work created since his time. Whether people emulate him through sad-but-overbearing elves, hard-drinking dwarves with a brick-like language, and twisted monsters direct from old folk-tales—or assert that their fantasy races are nothing like his—it becomes almost a game to find bits and traces of Middle-Earth peeking out of other series. One reason for this, in my opinion, is the amount of work that Tolkien put into building his world. He sat down and named just about every location and landmark, developed languages and dialects and lineages and histories for peoples that would barely even see print. He was still building his world when he died, and his son Christopher has been keeping up the production of the History of Middle-Earth ever since.

Working in a similar manner is Evan Dahm, the creator of Rice Boy who is currently working on a prequel called Order of Tales. Dahm has set up a wiki on his site to collect all the information he’s put together concerning his work, including various names, places, and languages he’s set out to create. On the one hand, I admire the sheer amount of effort that must be going into this, and on the other hand, I’m left to wonder if he gets to do much of anything with his time other than design and lecture.**

If you’re well-enough versed in Tolkien’s work, you can definitely see a relationship between Order of Tales and The Silmarillion. Both deal with creation stories, both deal with great wars in prehistory, both trail after the search for lost items of power, and both are bewildering if taken out of context. Of course, where Tolkien had races borrowed directly from folklore, Dahm prefers to use robots, anteaters, animals, and horned creatures named for grammatical concepts. (The jury’s still out as to what species the protagonist, Koark, really is.)

Confusing species aside, the art style of Order of Tales is rich and surreal, lavishing detail on landscapes and calligraphy alike. And where Rice Boy was full of vibrant colors, Order of Tales is a story of grim shadows and terrible bleakness. It’s an interesting step that mirrors an equal maturation in the way that Dahm writes his dialogue, and I look forward to seeing what he comes up with in the future.

Comic Rating: Three silmarils.

* Granted, most complaints that I hear are along the lines of “The text just drags! It’s so boring …” or “This is nothing like the movie.”
** I think the insurance rates on my glass house just went up.

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Review: Ebin & May

January is something of a doldrum time. The holidays are over, so the lights start coming down, but the night is no less dark and only shorter by a few minutes. There aren’t any other big events to look forward to (and with no family living by Lake Chautauqua anymore, that’s the Ice Festival gone), and the snow this year has been particularly relentless, leaving me somewhat down in the dumps. And to top it off, the amazing Lint came to a close, leaving me bereft of a wonderful fantasy comic about a dispossessed prince.

So to stave off a portion of that gloom, here’s Ebin & May, a collaborative effort by Christina “Smudge” Hanson, Ed Garcia, and Baron Engel.* While, in the past, I’ve expressed strong distaste for furry webcomics, Ebin & May has so far been a pleasant surprise. (For starters, there isn’t a single reference to fur or a species name anywhere in the title.)

The title characters are a usurped prince and the clever servant girl whom he loves. Living along with them are a pair of foreign mystic knights and a stablehand who you just know is going to be more trouble than she’s worth.

Perhaps the easiest way to describe the plot (so far) of Ebin & May is to compare it to a video game. The first few chapters serve as tutorial levels, establishing the characters and some of their motivations through easy quests and training battles. Another apparently easy task leads to the revelation of the overarching plot: a nefarious emperor who takes over kingdoms through unfortunate “accidents”.

(This does raise the question of why someone whose life and family are in danger would be announced as such during a ball, but perhaps theirs was a more innocent age. The analogy between species and ethnicity is left just a little hazy, as is the relationship between religion and magic. This might be expounded upon in the future, though.)

The characters and costumes are a visual treat; so is the scenery, when it comes into play. I’m not entirely certain how much of the garb is period-accurate, especially where the decolletage is concerned, but in general the art style of Ebin & May is a lively blend of comic book and fairy tale. Which, in spite of the careless spelling and punctuation to be found here and there, is a good summary of the comic as a whole.

Comic Rating: Three, since it comes up so often in fairy tales.

* I’m not sure what it is that Garcia and Engel do, exactly. They’re listed as “Art Assistance”, which sounds like the sort of job where you sit and ink someone else’s drawings, but I don’t have the full details. If you know what they do and feel like enlightening me, then by all means feel free.

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Review: Guardians: Land of Legends

So lately, a lot of the comics I’ve reviewed have been fairly well established. Whether they’re popular or obscure, the comics have been around long enough to garner a dedicated fan base and gain a certain momentum that keeps them going. There’s something about having several hundred comics in the archive that keeps a cartoonist willing to keep making them until the plot ends or the ideas dry up completely. With the younger comics, though, there’s a certain temptation to skip an update if things are a little busier than usual, or you just don’t quite feel the urge to finish a comic. Sometimes, the cartoonist has to scale back the updates while things get hectic.

Such is also the case for the nascent Guardians: Land of Legends, by Kaitlin Callahan. As she posted recently, the demands of the school year are cutting into her comic time. I can sort of relate, having had to post similar messages once or twice on my own comics. Of course, those posts usually signaled that either a hiatus or the abrupt end of the comic was near, and in the case with Guardians, that would be rather a pity.

Callahan seems to have more than a decade’s worth of work into developing the story, if the dates on that notice are correct, so she at least has the motivation to continue the comic and complete the story. As it stands so far, the story has a sort of “The Olden Days have lost their magic . . . or have they?” feel to it, although as is often the case with such stories, the sense of mysticality is quickly pushed aside for mundanity, although by genre laws, I assume that this is only for the first chapter.

The focus of the story seems geared more toward lovable spaz Vincent than on vaguely magical Kate, however. There’s also queen bee Fleur, who’s likely to wind up tangled up in the plot, if not the outright antagonist. A few wacky minor characters round out the ensemble for now.

I have to admit that I dig the art style. Lines are very fluid, progression shots are done rather nicely, and you can tell when characters are related. I’ll admit that Mr. G. seems a lot more like a caricature than the other characters, and occasionally people say an awful lot without opening their mouths. (That last panel also has a certain “Hey, Macarena!” vibe to it, but I digress.)

So far, Guardians looks pretty promising. The plot may have a slight potboiler fantasy feel to it, but the characters are entertaining. And it doesn’t hurt that it’s very, very pretty.

Comic Rating: Four sparkly streaming sunbeams.

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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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