How to Save the World

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How to Save the World

Postby Covenmouse » September 1st, 2012, 2:20 pm

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First Impression

Normally in this section I'd touch upon the comic profile, but given as this isn't an SJ-hosted comic, I can't do that. Instead, I'll say that the design of the website is geared quite well to what looks to be a kid's action-adventure type of comic. Bright colours, big blocky logo that reeks of silver-age sensibilities smashed with MS Word's WordArt. Surprisingly, this treatment works very well.

The comic is run on Comicpress (or Easel, now?), the staple of the self-hosted webcomic community. There's nothing wrong with this, and the writing team has taken efforts to spice the layout up some, but it is still very distinctly Wordpress-based and is suffering the one major draw back to that system: lag. Each page seems to have a little "kick" to it, in that it actually manages to freeze my system for a minute as the background loads. It also seems to have trouble keeping the background on the page, as each time I switch between tabs (in either firefox or chrome) the system "kicks" again before re-attaching the background to the page. In an effort to be certain it wasn't just my system, I did switch to a secondary computer where the problems persisted. The same issues were also reported by several friends I had check as well, with worse results on older systems.

I took the liberty of dipping into the markup to try and see what was going on here, and to be frank I don't have the foggiest. The background image itself does not seem to be a part of the actual CSS--or if it is, it's in a much later command that's overriding the earlier ones which seem to dictate something complete different than what is actually going on. My fear, here, is that a plugin is being use to get the screen-wide still image effect, and that's why it's having difficulty with loading. If that is the case, I flat out beg the authors to please, please use markup to do this. There are several versions of this over at CSS Tricks. Plugins are both the blessing and curse of the Wordpress platform; while they often make certain things easier, using too many can cause your website to become glitchy and difficult on the end user.

Another potential cause of the lag issue could be a lack of cacheing, which Wordpress does not handle well right out of the gate. You may want to check your settings on that or (ironic given what I just said) install the super cache plugin. If memory serves, Frumph has a few tutorials about this either on his personal site or on the old CP forums.

Other than that, the webdesigner in me finds the sidebars to be rather cluttered and awkwardly placed, but that's not a deal breaker. What is troublesome, however, is the sheer size of the webcomic itself. I feel it suffers a little from being so huge and in your face. Especially given that diving into the markup, once again, gives me this bit of info on the image size: 1,000px × 1,250px (scaled to 980px × 1,225px).

First of all, never, ever, ever scale an image through markup. The major issue with this is that the full sized image is what the browser loads, and of course a larger image means a larger file size. 785.51 KB isn't bad, per se, but it certainly isn't good either, especially when you're just scaling that down to a smaller size anyway. Also, doing this is probably contributing to the lag problem. Use the exact size that you intend to display the image. Not only will the image load faster, but it will look more crisp and neat. I'll get into that in the next section.

The last thing I will mention is that your archive page is rather...self-spoilery. This is a problem I have in general with webcomics, in that the latest page loads first and may easily spoil things for new readers or people who haven't caught up yet--but it's worse when the archive is the same way. Again, there should be tutorials out there to ix this, but I would suggest altering the archive layout to display oldest->newest.

Overall, though, I think the website does it's job fairly well. Good work!


Verdict: */5

Art

Returning to this scaling thing, the second issue here is that the proportions are not being constrained properly. I have no idea how you're managing to make one side smaller while the other gets larger, or why you would even want to do that. I popped the image into a tab of its own and, sure enough, the art is suddenly far, FAR more crisp, where otherwise it looked as though you'd inked the entire thing with an airbrush.

Now, that aside, the art style of HTSTW is actually very well placed for the genre. The cartoony, anime-ish vibe is well accentuated by a bright, primary colour palette used with boys toys and 'toons worldwide. The artist has a good grasp on layout and space, and I really appreciate the attempts to change up perspective from time to time.

That said, there are a few areas which could stand some improvement:

The thing I immediately noticed was the line thickness. Strangely, the backgrounds and the mech tend to have more variation in line than do the human or humanoid characters. This lends the art a heavy, clunky feel that works against the otherwise decent sense of movement the characters have. Using variable line thicknesses will help to "air out" the characters a little more, and lend dimension to the drawings where otherwise they seem flat and rigid.

Another issue is rather dual-fold in that you have perspective issues combined with a penchant for close-ups. There's nothing wrong with close-ups in general, of course, but you do have a tendency to skip over establishing shots when changing locations. Even when moving the story inside, and then back out, it's a good rule of thumb to give your audience a wide, drawn back shot to establish where the characters are and how the world looks in relation to them. You'll see this in comics, but you also see it in movies--they are there for a reason. Without these establishing shots it's relatively easy for an audience to get confused or, as is the case here, to feel claustrophobic. I get the sense that the camera is nearly constantly glued to the MC's backside. Which leads into the perspective issue. I really do love that you take the time to try and toy with it as there are many, many webcomic artists who don't bother (hell, there are a good number of professional seq. artists who don't, either, when you enter the world of daily strips), but sometimes these work to your detriment.

As an example, lets look at page, um, "clankety clankety" (...given as this is a graphic novel format and not a daily-gag type of comic I fail to understand why you wouldn't just give the pages a number, or at least a number and a name; this is a nitpicky observation but it makes it a little difficult to find my way back through the archives when I can't remember the strange title of the last page I was on, whereas a number is easy).

The first panel works very well, and is rather reminiscent of the Peanuts comics. Then in panel 2 we have a big problem with a detrimental close-up. Pulling the camera back and showing up him jumping would lend the panel a sense of motion that the from-the-front-close-up has lost. This is followed immediately by a perspective fail in panel 3 which could have been avoided by using a straight edge and/or grid lines (if you're drawing directly into photoshop there is a handy tutorial going around for a super-easy perspective grid. I can find the link for you if you'd like it.) Again, pulling this back probably would have fixed the problems, as it would have given the reader a better sense of where this character is in relation to the mech he's chasing. Also, working larger and then cropping the panel to the dimensions you want can help you to get a better grasp of the perspective angle needed.

On that same page, however, I would like to point out that panels 4 and 6 are a good example of how these two elements can work in your favour. Using the fence to lead the viewer back into the page shows that you have a grasp of page flow, especially as the character looking out of the page is so likely to draw us out of it. At the same time, panel 6 is executed to great comedic effect. Gotta love the angry chicken! (Though I have to question: is the chicken wearing an eye patch?)

Unfortunately, layout problems still happen, such as in this page. When you have to draw arrows to indicate how a reader should read a page...that's a pretty huge sign that your layout is not working. In all seriousness, I think the "Z" shape you were going for could easily have worked here but rather than using arrows, try the same trick as with the fence from the other page: use an element of the background or the characters to draw the reader's eye between the panels. You even started to in the background, there, just pull the camera back a bit and let the art do to the talking for you.

Moving on, the character expressions vary between stock symbols and actual expressions. Sometimes you have things that are really great, and show an incredible skillfor the subject matter...and then youhavethis. (And to be honest, that beet-thing actually gave me the massive creeps. Job well done.)

Now, I'm not typically one to knock anime style...but that's what that is, anime style. The whole mouth-on-the-cheek convention has a very specific, very lazy reason for being: it's easy and cheap to animate. That's it. There's no deep rational, no stylistically sound reason for thinking it makes sense that a human beings mouth is on their cheek. It is just a hell of a lot easier to animate a circle convulsing than it is to animate lip movements properly. In comics this is even worse.

Yes, there are certain angles from which certain people's cheeks will still be shown, despite that their head is turned. But this still isn't what that looks like. It isn't even an approximation of it. What is worse, these are basically emoticons--stock symbols that we have been trained to see as an expression, rather than expression itself.

Strangely, your monsters and mecha seem to display a wider range of true emotion than do the human figures. This is rather...ironic, in its own way. A lot of artists, especially in the webcomics arena, tend to do this. There are huge stock reference books devoted to nothing but expressions of people of various ages, sexes, and ethnicity called "Facial Expressions" by Mark Simon. Or try referencing DeviantArt stock photos. Or use a mirror. Don't be afraid to make face at yourself, it's a lot fun! (Especially in public.)

The only other thing I'd like to mention about the art is that there is a certain strangeness to some of the colouring that gives me pause. I'm of two minds about this. On the one hand, it works very well on the robot for reasons I can't even begin to describe. On the other hand, the strange squiggles and absurdly bright highlights on everything else make all of the characters and backgrounds seem like they're made of plastic. You may consider playing around with giving things lighter highlights--but not white highlights. After all, unless in apocalyptic sunlight situations, daylight is not typically bright enough to cause pure-white reflections on matte surfaces.


Verdict: 3/5

Story/Plot

**SPOILERS BELOW**

So we Sam, who seems to be a...high-functioning seven-year-old?, a robot I'm assuming he's dubbed "red", and Azize the...mutant kangaroo girl, who have united to stop a plane-full of mutant beets from taking over the world. When I put it like that it actually sounds rather awesome.

The first few pages were rather clunky and awkward, with a grandfather giving exposition to the...air. He then proceeds to deliver the same advice we've heard time and time again to the same child character we've seen time and time again, and then leaves the kid alone on a farm that apparently has no workers or animals (other than a very expressive chicken). Sam actually seems to have a pretty great imagination until he trips over a pebble--yes, a pebble--and kicks it all the way into the barn where the noise of it bouncing off of something metal intrigues him. I am assuming at this point that this farm also lacks any kind of farm equipment (despite a field of something growing nearby which would necessitate farm equipment be on the premises) as Sam somehow thinks that this is unusual enough to warrant an investigation.

He walks into the bar and, without any trouble what so ever, locates the single occupant of the barn: a huge, inexplicable robot covered in a sheet.

The robot is some kind of deus ex machina macguffin which proceeds to cause a hell of a lot more trouble than it's worth. Eventually we meet up with a plane-full of paranormal treasure hunters, our resident kangaroo girl, and ...well that's about where the plot is right now. It's hard to say whether or not any of these elements will ever make sense without seeing the rest of the plot unfold. And yes, there are ways that they can be made to make sense with proper world building, but as they stand right now it just seems a little much.

This isn't helped by the dialogue which, with the exception of a few minor scenes, just embodies one huge leap in logic after another. The characters never really question what anyone else is telling them, no matter how utterly ridiculous it all seems. The largest of these shark jumps is that this strange beet army that is being created is attempting to "take over the world." So far nothing that these beets have done has been anything other than purely coincidental chaos. They certainly haven't shown any real aptitude for planning or ambitions at world dominance, and the person who poses this theory has had exactly one interaction with them.

It's possible that this could be explained by the fact that the adults in the situation deal with the paranormal (and one is a kangaroo girl), and our MC Sam is seven-ish, but I would prefer if there were some attempt at rational thought by at least one member of the cast. When your explanation boils down to "I find paranormal treasures that have, by complete coincidence, been stolen by randomly sentient vegetables. It makes complete sense that they would automatically know exactly what these treasures are, where our capital is, how our chain of command works, how to use these unexplained treasures, and how to fly a plane despite being freaking vegetables. And the fact that these vegetables didn't even exist five minutes ago bears nothing upon their need for government takeover" ... it's time to work on your reasoning skills. Again, I can see the seven-year-old having no problem with this "logic." I can't quite understand a kangaroo-girl mechanic who is probably an adult going along with it.

Or why the hell an adult would send a seven-year-old kid to fight something he just got his butt kicked by.


Verdict: 2/5

World

We've basically been given zero information on their world, other than the fact that there is apparently nothing for miles except a farm and an airfield. Everything else is completely beyond the limits of reality and yet lacking any explanation. I can't even begin to properly score this.


Verdict: - /5

Characters

HTSTW's main character, Sam, seems to take everything in stride with a sort of flat bemusement. Find a gigantic, cowardly robot? Totally normal. Robot manifests a gun that shoots beets? Be annoyed that shooting beets is the only thing the gun does; otherwise normal. Robot can magically transform itself into a variety of useful shapes? Freaking sweet and totally normal! Evil beets are going to take over the world? That would be bad, but is totally normal. This kid just takes everything in stride, ready to step up to the plate and deal with it, mostly without bothering to ask questions. If this is later rounded out by something that does unnerve him, or perhaps if we're given a reason why he seems so emotionally disconnected with everything around him this could really work. For now, he's pretty much summed up as "totally normal dude." And that's not really a good thing when it comes to MCs, unless you're going the Tenshin / Love Hina route. And since he's a kid I really, really hope you're not.

Red, Sam's newly found robot, is a bit more interesting, but not necessarily more developed. He's cowardly, running at the sight of a water gun (or perhaps the water in it?) or...y'know...air. He does what he's told, when he's told to do it, though occasionally takes some initiative to give total strangers amazing, magical, incredibly generous gifts. And yet, by the most recent page, he's suddenly ready to fly off into danger because....well, he was told to. What strikes me is that he wasn't ordered to want to do this, therefore why is a robot previously shown to be a coward now ready to go into a dangerous situation? Plot wise, it's only been a handful of hours, if that. That isn't really enough time to change an entire character.

Then we have Azize, which has only been around for a few pages and I'm already starting to wince. In her few scenes, Azize is already showing signs of being the "tough chick," as well as adhering to the smurfette syndrome. She's also physically disabled, ranking her as a two-fer token minority. She's the only anthropromorphic character thus far in the comic, and there really doesn't seem to be an explanation for that. That said, the treatment of her disability is rather well done given as no one has even commented on it or treated her as being helpless because of it.

On the other hand, in her short existence she's already showing signs of being regulated to "the love interest" for Sam...despite clearly being an adult. Well, this could work out like the Gohan/Bulma element of Dragonball (ie, a child crushing on an older woman who shows no interest in return), and for the purposes of this review I'm going to assume that's the case. If this wasn't at all intended by the authors, you may want to take a firm look at that and reel it in a bit.

The minor characters are basically background furniture when they're not spouting off dialogue that sounds like the cheesiest star trek episode ever written. Even the one whose name is actually Macaroni. All in all, it's a bit early to say for sure, but thus far HTSTW has completely failed at getting me invested in the characters.

[url]Verdict[/url]: 1/5

Overall

As low as the scores are thus far, I feel like HTSTW may just suffer from not being very far into the story. 80 pages sounds like a lot, but at the pace the comic moves it really isn't. There are some minor humorous moments, some slap-stick humor that works rather well with the platform and,should the problems get ironed out, I might even find myself reading the rest some day. As it is, HTSTW lingers in that unfortunate middle ground where it's neither tremendously good, nor so-bad-it's-good; it's decent.


Grade: 3/5 ~ C
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Re: How to Save the World

Postby MrEff » September 7th, 2012, 2:12 pm

Thank you Covenmouse!!!

This is EXACTLY the review we were hoping for! (Writer/Web Designer here). As far as the website goes I'm going to implement a lot of your suggestions. I've been meaning to go back to this and tweak it as honestly everything's "laid in and adjusted" to the ComicPress defaults (BG image, comic size etc). I also like the idea of reversing the archive order as well as numbering the pages (Duh!).

As far as the writing portion I blame my impatience to start a new comic. There are eventual explanations for everything but it is (as in my head) constantly evolving into the future of the comic. And at this point we know it's a world like ours, but different enough that these sorts of things (giant robots, killer beets, kanga-girls, etc) are common place. Again I kinda long brained this and it's not helping that I'm scripting the pages the day before :P (por ejemplo there's foreshadowing to the plot of Book 3ish on page 2 lol). Understand I intend to have this comic going for quite some time (literally notebooks filled with story).

After taking much of this into consideration I can tell you we'll be taking a bit of a break after the first book completes so that I can properly script out the entirety of book two. Care to be an editor?


-MrEff-

*EDIT :roll: *


Also apologies for not getting back sooner. Was out in the desert camping!
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