All entries for October 2008

October 31, 2008

Scary Go Round

Writing about web page http://www.scarygoround.com/

Who makes webcomics? Here's a pretty common picture - they're American, they're a gamer, and they subsist entirely on a diet of Cheetohs and Pepsi Max. Unfortunately for this post most webcomicists don't reveal their daily diet. But by and large the first two elements in our picture hold completely true - the mainstay of webcomics are made in America, and a very large number are based around computer games.

Which is why I'm starting with Scarygoround - from the pen of British born and bred John Allison, from Chadderton in Lancashire.

Scarygoround tells the tales of the residents of Tackleford, a small fictitious market town in the north of England, the sort of place pensioners go to die and the young lose their minds to cloying boredom. It's also subject to repeated zombie uprising, visits from it's twin city Mechacropolis XF1 (it's Soviet and full of robots), demonic cults, smugglers, fishmen, occasional excursions into the realm of the dead, jelly-fish, leprecauns and... well the list goes on.

Scarygoround is written and drawn entirely by Allison, and updates five days a week - no mean feat. Perhaps the incentive to maintain production come rain or shine comes from the fact that he makes his living entirely from the website (advertising revenue, merchandise, and selling print editions of his comics with exclusive content).

SGR has gone through more artistic stylistic changes than any other comic, with every new arc being greeted by a change of art style. It's a little disconcerting in fact - if you follow the series for a long time you'll be surprised how much a change in the art unsettles your perception of the series. But it also speaks of a commitment to development and change which is carried through into the scripting.

The storyline of the series (which features a continuous narrative but no pretensions of an overarching plot) jumps and jiggles in random directions. Major characters are put down (perhaps even forgotten) only to resurface in a new context leading the plot off in another new direction. The best and most striking example of this is the change of lead characters - Tessa and Rachel (a pair of bar-maids / university undergrads) starred in the first SGR arc (an investigation of a mysterious murderous sentient gas which had carried off the university chemistry society) but were quickly abandoned in favour of the red-headed twice-murdered meddler Shelley Winters.

A lack of foresight? Yep. You just wouldn't do that sort of thing if you were planning the whole thing in advance. But you'll forgive it when characters are thrown off a bridge, saved by satan, return as mother superior of a nunnery devoted to evil and then casually burnt to death (and out of the strip) for banning all the orgies. If necessity is the mother of invention, then updating daily and never being allowed to contradict yourself must be the fertility goddess. And somehow it manages to stay more internally consistent and believably located in a physical world than your average soap.

SGR isn't based around jokes, but rather witticisms in a banterous style reminiscent of The Mighty Boosh - a lovely example of which can be found here -

http://scarygoround.com/index.php?date=20080111

And this is tied in with a marvellous sense of place. The England of SGR is satirised and idealised; all the knobs have been turned up to eleven. The characters are characatures, the monsters are twee (and deadly), the story arcs are absurd and compelling.

The main thing I can say to recommend it to you is this - you won't find anything more English than this on the internet. In fact it's a little more English than England. And it's absolutely hilarious.


October 30, 2008

Webcomics

I'm a webcomics reader. Well, worse than that really - I'm a webcomics addict. I probably pour twenty minutes a day into checking up on the latest editions of all my comics. When you think that most of those are just three panels long, that's a hell of a lot of webcomics.

When it comes to mass media, webcomics are ranked somewhere between sex tips and Big Brother. Their closest relative, the print daily comic, does a little better, since it has the credibility of it's patron newspaper behind it (Steve Bell's "If" and G.B Trudeau's "Doonsbury" both make credible claims to being adult satires of politics and the life of the West). But webcomics exist in the unfettered hinterland of the internet. Anyone who has been rickrolled, goatsed, or tub-girled knows exactly what sort of thing goes on in the internet (screaming zombie faces at the end of every video, porn sites consisting entirely of hyperlinks to other porn sites, teenagers arguing in mindless sub-English babble over whether "Black Obamma or jon MACcain is gonoig to wiN!!!")

All of which misses some of the most exciting things about the interweb. When it comes to artists maintaining ownership of their own work, controlling the means of distribution, and having unfettered editorial control of their own media, no other channel can make these practises thinkable, let alone practicable. Webcomics are at the forefront of that - some of the most prominent webcomics were established a decade ago and have grown from cottage industry to office business. They survived the dot-com boom and bust and they command advertising revenues in the tens of thousands. Others are amongst the most idiosyncratic and original works of art that have managed to remain accessible and incredibly entertaining.

Which is why I'm going to be giving a run-down of the biggest, the best, and the weirdest webcomics I've ever come across. Hopefully you'll find it enlightening - better yet, hopefully I'll point out a little gem that you've spo far missed.


Suddenly an editor

I'm on the exec for TAPfactory, The Arts Publication society. That means it's plug o'clock! We're a termly student arts publication. If you've got any work you want to submit you'd like to see in print, you have til noon on Wednesday of week 7 (that's Wednesday 12th November). We accept submissions of poetry, prose, book film and music reviews, photography and fine art - in fact anything arts related you can put down in print. Our submissions address is -

tapfactorysubmissions@hotmail.co.uk


October 29, 2008

It's been a while… here's why

It's been a while - but hasn't it always...

Life became surprisingly busy of late and, barring panic attacks when I realise I have to hand in a dissertation form in two days time, I couldn't be happier. I think of myself as a bit like one of those wobbly donkey things that you can occasionally buy from a souvenir shop. As long as the wires running through them are tense they stand upright - but press the base in and down they flop.

I'm working on a film script with the marvelous Jon Plant - he directed and edited Anhedonia, a 30-minute comic film that screened at last year's WSAF. The most interesting part of the process is that we have almost entirely divided it down the middle. Jon writes descriptions of mise-en-scene, camera motion, character appearance, camera shots and so on - I write the dialogue. It works remarkably well; I'm getting quite good at characterising people with their choices in conversation, and he has an incredible visual imagination which he is very good at expressing on the page.

It's interesting to me that despite being young, already mine and Jon's skills have begun to diverge. I think it can only be a matter of practise - I've spent much more time working on scripts (two months on Crowskin, on and off for almost a year with An Evening Without Dignity, and now almost a year of intensive work on another project which for the moment I will decline from naming.

I'm at a stage where I have to make a lot of choices which could have a serious impact on my professional writing career (assuming I'm good and lucky enough to have one). One of them is this - do I want to continue to develop my skills as a script writer, or do I want to try and broaden my abilities? For my personal writing project I have decided to try and pursue an extended piece of prose. At the moment I'm not ready to let my skills solidify into just one area of writing. But looming over my future is the old phrase "a jack of all trades is a master of none." I have rarely found any one activity sufficiently diverting that I can devote my entire time to it. As a result, I'm sure that I've achieved competence in most things I've turned my hand to - but I've never gone beyond that.

So. Do I take the plunge and launch myself with both hands at one form of writing? Or do I try and broaden my skills base as far as I can?

No right answer of course. And besides, even if I'm working on screen- and stage-plays and short stories at the moment, there are plenty of other art forms I can hope to try out. Perhaps my es muss sein will arrive when I'm polishing off the dialogue for a Massively Multiplayer Roleplaying Game...


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