Friday, April 3, 2009

On Comics

No, not stand up comedians. Visual print comics.

When I pick up the Inquirer in the morning, after looking at how the world became more screwed up while I slept I check out the comics page. There's something reassuring about Garfield eating a metric ton of food. Call me what you will, but I like Garfield. I find Garfield funny. I've seen opinions and papers written about how Garfield is the bane of comics and art in general, but for some reason, that's never held a bearing on me. Fat orange cats are just my thing, I suppose. There's no shortage of newspaper comics.

And there's certainly no shortage at all of online comics. Most of them are just terrible. Godawful terrible. The drawing and art will have all the talent of a kindergarten child who just learned how to fingerpaint. Their writing will make my prose look as if Jane Austen crafted it. But there are a few gems out there. If you're willing to dig through the enormous pile present. I bookmark a few of them, and when the urge strikes I check up on them.

There are hardly any comics that focus on Second Life. Or use Second Life as a medium. I can think of about two off the top of my head, and from a quick search through the internet I found three more. And I don't like any of them, to be honest.

Let's first point out that using Second Life as the visual medium is extremely difficult to do. With a hand drawing, you can quickly slap something down. With photoshop, you can do the same with a mouse or tablet. With films and real life photographs, you have control (usually) over what is in the scene. All four of those involve little work to invest in. Don't get me wrong. Getting the photo or film or any of those to actually be any good, it takes a lot of time and knowledge. But the basic bare-bones needs are accessible to any Tom, Dick, and Harry. But in Second Life, it's a much more difficult task.

You have to build your set from scratch which requires some working ability with the Second Life building tools which have their quirks and annoyances. You also have to dress and attire your avatars or models properly so they don't look like shit. This is harder than it looks for you must find a good skin, shape, hair, and outfit. If the image you want isn't on sale, you have to make those yourself and you have to subject yourself to tweaking the shapes, building hair (very difficult, tried it once), running photoshop and making good clothes and uploading those clothes and checking to make sure the upload is good to go (and uploads cost you L$10 a pop). Second Life avatars are about as expressive as Microsoft Sam and thus require lots and lots of time creating your own gestures and animations and poses to fit your comic. This is just the visual set up. The final step (although a step which requires at least as much, if not more investment) is to get the writing and scripting together because just having a funny visual is usually not enough.

Whew. That's quite a laundry list. It seems truly daunting. I am sure a good amount of people who try to make a comic get tangled in one of the steps I listed above and then probably give up. Even if the theoretical creator in question is very skilled at doing all that, the time one has to invest is very great. And frankly, someone who is gifted to be able to do all that will not be very interesting in writing and scripting a comic when he or she or it could make a killing building or designing or something else. The comic is a time-suck. It doesn't generate any revenue. I suppose you could compile a book together and sell it, but who inworld is going to bother? They will reason (rightly) that it's not worth it when they could spend that cash on land tier or toys or furniture.

Therein lies the second problem. How do you market such a thing? How would you entice and convince people that they should buy your book? So add marketing talent to the above list. Getting someone to notice and buy it so you can make tier is very hard. One idea would be to make a blog and showcase a few select pages so the discerning buyer can sample the flavor. Exposing yourself to critics isn't much fun, either. You then have to defend your work, or change it for the better which is a struggle unto itself, for you have to turn a nasty eye on your pride and joy. You have to then be careful not to get caught up and be too critical. Torley is sometimes right and sometimes the critic in question is just not going to be satisfied. You have to have the ability to make the proper judgement call between "I need to fix this because it honestly is not good" and "This is good enough/actually quite fine and the other guy is a moron".

In light of those considerations, you'd probably want and need a team. Which means you need to find the people who you can work with. And good luck to you on that. That means reliance on your team to do their part and get work done. As I'm sure anyone can tell you, all it takes is one slacker or asshole to royally ruin your product. When the team is small, this is especially heinous. When it's a very much a combined product, you fail. Once in college I had a slacker for a group member, and while it was a pain in the ass to hold up his end of the work (and in the end we reported him to the professor) the good thing was that we were all in the same field and thus the working knowledge was not difficult to distribute. With a project such as a SL comic where you have to make, script, and distribute/sell/market, you don't have that ability. If your writer takes a holiday, the artist and the advertiser may not be able to carry the day. Similarly, it really hits hard when the builder flakes off forcing the gesture maker to throw something together. "What? Is that supposed to be a Pollock painting or a fridge magnet?"

That's all quite a lot weighing on the fool or fools who are foolish enough to be fools and try this out.

I think the most famous of the lot is Plywood, which ended some time ago. I have to be honest, I never really found it funny. I found the jokes tired and forced. I give them credit for using Second Life as the visual medium, and of the entire lot I've read they certainly have done the most. When you can see the avatars, they're very expressive and the gestures and poses are well done. Well, ok, sometimes they got lazy. But usually the panels are very zoomed out and you can't really see what's going on. Sometimes the scene is kind of awkward. Their speech bubble placement gets really nasty later on and so congested it blocks the panels.

The jokes and stories are sometimes confusing. Who is the robot, why is he freaking out, and what the hell is with those bears? Ok, well, the bears were previously established as being evil by suffocating people, I guess. It's only the third comic, but there's no lead-up to anything to do with the robot. Plus, he spends about 75% of that strip almost out of panel talking to a car. Did he create the bears? I suppose it's supposed to be a cliffhanger, only it's right off the bat which makes me angry and confused. The next bunch of pages leave it unresolved, however. In fact, it doesn't get resolved until much later. There's a quick storyline about how evil Tringo and Avatar contests are and how stupid Newbies are (har har) which I didn't find funny, probably because I don't see either of those things as particularly bad things I would electrocute people over (although the comic was made in 2005, maybe things were different back then). There's the typical gender hysteria (zomg! who's what gender!?!?) which explores the whole Gender Detective aspect. After about 25 comics, they finally get to the original cliffhanger.

This one made me crack a smile, and is probably the best in my opinion. The joke is simple (even if it depends upon one knowing the pop cult reference which is sketchy). Compare it to this, where I'm not sure where exactly the joke is. It just kind of peters out. I think it might be due to the wordiness. The way the joke is ham fisted into the reader as if they could not put two and two together and assume it's worse to be a prim on a vibrator than in hair is partly due to how it's over explained. I think that's the problem with most of the Plywood comics. Too many words. It's a visual medium, they should have left something open instead of turning it into a small novel.

Dwell On It was another one, which has many of the same faults as Plywood. The camera is zoomed so far out that if I made two squiggles they would have the same resolution. Take this one, for example. It's okay in the first and second panels, since we need to establish that the newbie is running up and down a large street. But why is the third panel still somewhat zoomed out? The large empty space above and to their right is distracting, it feels lopsided. This one too. Once you've established the park bench, you should have panned the camera in a little.

I did find it more clever, though. The bit on LL censoring made me giggle. Probably because it wasn't as wordy and let the picture tell the story. In that one, we didn't get a long spiel from Tateru about the region crashing, and the Lindens somewhere cackling and explaining everything, no. She comes in, the blue box of doom appears, and she curses as she logs off. This one made be actively laugh. If the writer took a little more care in setting up the panels and adjusting the camera, it would be pretty good, actually.

There was a running story about what happens after she was forcibly logged off. It was alright, but not as good as her stand alones. She hasn't updated in a while, since November 2008, so perhaps she ended it or forgot about it. Oh well. If it seems I didn't grill this one (and the successive comics) as much, it's because there's not as much there. Plywood was fairly large with about 70 pages most of which were an actual page, Dwell On It is maybe half that with little four panel skits.

Next up is the aptly named... Second Life Comics. Not a very original title. This is even smaller, only about twenty pages. This one manages to solve the problem the first two fell into, which is placing the scenes together nicely. The panels seems fuller, I can actually see faces. Establishing shots are occasionally used, but then zooms in to focus in on the avatars who, rightly, are the center of the action. The author must have been in some graphic design course or something, I'd bet on it. The only downside is that while we see the avatars in a clearer light, their faces aren't as expressive and always seem somewhat apathetic.

Some of the jokes rely upon the visuals which is good. This one, for example. Some are just strange and disturbing. I think they were going for shock value, but I am not the kind of person who finds pure shock on its own as funny. Some I just don't understand. Did they forget something in there? Also, the "Is Not" girl looks a lot like me, only tanner. I found this one brilliant, if not a tad on the stereotyping side. At least twice the author threw in some political commentary about Palin, which was alright I guess. She makes a disturbing avatar. I'd say the writing is hit or miss. Sometimes I laughed, sometimes I scratched my head. You know what? Dwell on It and 'Second Life Comics' should pair up, because between the two I can see a very good comic. is a flickr book. This is by far the worst. As far as I understand, it was done as an advertisement for something that I didn't bother to investigate. The panels are absolutely terrible and are so poorly positioned you'd think you were on the International Space Station viewing it on the ground. Seriously, the arrangements are bad. The entire pretense of being a comic breaks down by the third page and it turns into a collage. The dialogue, as expected, is equally terrible and serves mostly to advertise. You know, I guess I'm being too harsh. This was just a quick job to advertise whatever it was. Still, it came up when I google searched for "Second Life Comics" so they asked for it.

The Herald once ran a serial called "Alien 28 versus Plagarizer". These were not meant to amuse but to tell a drama. The story is that Coke, a random avatar, meets with another avatar called Alien 28. They band together to fight the guy who stole Alien28's stuff. Like Second Life Comics, the panels are arranged and set very beautifully. They zoomed in and out at very appropriate times. Gestures and poses were nicely done. Too bad Coke, the main character, seems to be a chameleon. She goes from a pale blond to black hair and a deep tan with tattoos, every page or so. The author performed a self insert (a problem in itself), so in the day-to-day change of their avatar, they screwed up the comic as for what I can see no explanation is given.

The pretty graphics are murdered by the waves of text and speech bubbles. I'm surprised the characters can breathe, it gets so cluttered. The real problem is that, with limited space on the Herald, they tried to cram as much as possible into the three or so pages per article. The story suffers as a result, as everything gets rushed and the pages are awash with white bubbles.

Finally, I don't find the story itself that interesting. I'm sorry, but it sounds just like every other accusation and fight over who stole what that I see and hear everywhere. On the last two posts, she drifts from focusing on the content debate into individual stories: Coke gets turned out homeless and the Alien gets abducted. And that was it. It hasn't updated since January, so we'll never know what ending was in store, although she repeatedly mentioned that she only planned the first two to explain her situation. Oh well. It was that great of a concept to begin with.

The next bunch are what I have come to call "Flash In The Pan" comics. They seemed to have at most nine pages before they fired out.

This person created a comic book, an educational one about how to dress up. I haven't really read it, but it doesn't seem as if she made anything else. I should really check out her place in SL.

This one is about furry goreans. It's not spectacular, and the writing is pretty blah. It's the kind of thing you pass between friends, really. Hey, kind of like this blog! She moved all her stuff over to some other site, which I don't feel like chasing down, plus I think she got kicked out of second life from one of the posts.

Patches of Insanity died after three strips, even though the count is up to four. I couldn't find #2. Haha, get it? It wasn't that good, but it's hard when there is such a small sample. Some people take a while to get revved up. We'll never know.

Finally, this person makes virtual world comics about a bunch of different virtual worlds. There's twelve total. They're alright. Not the best, but not especially bad. Like Garfield? The graphics are good, however.

That's about all I can find on Second Life comics. Some were ok, some were bad. It'd be nice if someone would take up and make a good one. I can imagine it might help Linden Lab's already horrendous public relations. Plus, it'd be fun to read.

I'm really bored.

No comments: