Another Pretty Mouth review

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Another Pretty Mouth review

Postby Spacepegasus » March 13th, 2014, 7:27 pm

Because this forum can never have enough Pretty Mouth reviews. The comic itself can be read here. It's written by Bones McKay and the artist is Ursula Gray. This review is largely a critique that I wrote as addressing a "you", which would be both creators, but I don't mean that in a particularly personal way, other comic creators might be able to get something out of it.
I'm not a huge fan of ratings but I would rate this comic 7.7/10 and recommend it to fans of atmospheric comics and BL that doesn't involve "non-con", though the main relationship so far has been kind of emotionally abusive it's not presented as if that's cute. Horror fans could also dig this though more for atmosphere and looks than for actually being scary. Alright, on to the critique that will turn into an essay on some of the comiciest aspects of comic making, fasten your seat-belts or run away screaming.

Writing:
First off, I love the premise. Boylovecraftian? That sounds great, let's do this thing. It also reminds me of Black Hole and Parasyte which are both great comics (that would be greater if they were less straight) and the whole "internalized monsterphobia" thing has a lot of potential and fears to play with. The concepts in the world are interesting and there is also a fair amount of plot involving witches and monsters and a girl who can "see everything". Good stuff.

Basically I like the story, so let's go into how it's told. We are thrown right into this world and get very little exposition, for the most part this works since horror needs mystery but I did feel I wasn't always getting the information I needed to become as invested as I could be. In terms of monster-related things I'm not sure what's supposed to be a big deal or dangerous so I just kind of sit back and see what happens, which is fine by me but I'm not sure if that's what's intended (I'll get into this in greater detail in the next section). Another thing is that a better look at what makes Evan tick would make it easier to care about what happens to him. Don't get me wrong, I think Evan is interesting and realistic, but we mostly watch him use Rizo as an emotional punching bag and his emotions change so rapidly it's hard to take them seriously without background that helps to place them. I would also like to know who he is/was outside of his hang ups, the "get away from me you monster and please hold me I am so sad" is wearing thin. I'd rather have fewer longer scenes that go further into their dynamic than a bunch of short exchanges that don't really tell me anything new.
Speaking of Rizo, I really like Rizo, the story efficiently shows why he'd put up with Evan's abuse and he knits and aw that scene with his dad, poor monstrous baby, so many feels. I also like black gloopy stuff with too many eyes and teeth, so kuddos for having that extremely specific thing. Silver has mostly been the annoying third wheel of the narrative (comic relief? I am not relieved), but it looks like she's going to have something to do, so I'm sure that'll fix itself. Overall I do like this story, it's interesting and compelling, though it could be a little tighter and might hold it's cards a little too close to the chest. My biggest advice would be to watch the balance between mystery and leaving your reader out of the loop, especially when it comes to Evan. I believe it's Lovecraftian to play on a fear of the unknown, but if you let the reader know the right things they'll feel and dread what they don't know all the more.

Image and form:
For the most part the art is solid, there's some lovely crisp-ish black and white, the balloons work though they're sometimes placed over characters in uncharming ways, the character designs are varied and the facial expressions are good. Particularly the pages with Rizo's dad are a treat to look at. I'm also looking forward to seeing more of the witch (if she really is the witch), who also looks great. Hurray!

However I feel like there is something arbitrary about the way you position the "camera" and pose the characters when I read the panels and this harms the flow. I'm also going to go into pacing but first I'll point to the 180-degree rule because you break it several times (it's a film principle but I first heard of it through a professional comic artist and many principles in comics are similar to film, or at least you can use the principles from film to make a smoother comic). I get the sense you're worried it'll look boring if panels are too similar and please note that this is not always true! It's important that panels connect and flow into each other, similar panels can emphasize the movements your characters make and make them feel more human. They can also be used to make a scene feel more tense. Variation is also good but consider that angles and angle changes do mean more than "not boring", that angle change in the middle panel of page 66 is like grabbing the reader by the shoulders and swerving them around for no real reason.
Secondly I saw in the comments on page 60 that Bones semi-jokingly wondered why more people weren't wondering about the mysterious figure and I will now give an elaborate analysis of why that is because I am a nerd: When a scene starts the reader will try to figure out where they are, by putting her in the first panel you introduce her as part of the scenery. Then Evan, the protagonist who we are looking to to indicate what's going on because we have no other source of information, appears to ignore her so we follow suit. Then Silver appears and then in the fourth panel the 180 degree rule is broken, not to mention Silver's whole body has turned. This is particularly weird because she was in both panels and the dialogue indicates we didn't skip time, we were "looking at her" but didn't see her move. You can avoid this kind of discontinuity by showing her body as it is turning, not after it has turned (and she folded her arms). Finally Evan has turned his head in literally every panel, which also means the reader has to keep that movement in mind. You're asking your reader to reorient themselves more than needed without guiding them very much.
These are all little things but this "noise" makes the witch the least confusing or attention-grabbing thing on the page, I believe this is her "official introduction" (though I think I saw her in some window before) and she's introduced as something not only the characters but the audience can overlook. I'm not sure what effect you were going for precisely, but I do assume you want us to feel some amount of fear about this looming presence. To do this you could start the scene by giving the reader a calm, clear sense of space. Use an establishing shot(s) that just introduces Evan and Silver and don't push the camera into Evan's face until we know where Silver is standing, stick to the 180-degree rule as they start to bicker. Then after your reader feels safe and grounded in this scene you can go with another clear shot and BAM, the witch is in it. When done right that approach will land you a comment section full of "AAAAH WHAT IS THAT THING", not to mention it'll be absolutely clear that she's a phantom presence that's not visible to everybody. This is again about letting your reader know the right things, it's not until we know what's supposed to be in a space that we can really be concerned about What Is But Should Not Be.
So yeah that was a whole bunch of tips. I hope this wasn't too harsh or theoretical, you don't have to do this sort of thing perfectly (and it's okay to make mistakes or "cheat") but I wanted to show what seemingly unimportant elements can do, and the more aware you are of that the more you can use them to your advantage. It seems to me you guys are pretty serious about this comic thing (mad respect for updating so much!) so hopefully this'll help you make your work more immersive and improve the flow. I'd also recommend giving this a look to see how images and connections between images create meaning and clarity (the part I'm linking to also explains the 180-degree rule clearly), and read Scott McCloud if you haven't yet.

I also think it would help to have more details in the backgrounds to bring more personality into the environments, they can still be simple but adding some quirks to the streets could work together with the solid black and white work and strengthen the mood. You could study the windows, doors, gates and ledges on churches and old buildings, or whatever setting you would choose, and use their basic shapes to liven things up and realize that backgrounds are actually pretty cool. Rooms are also a great way to show who your characters are outside of dialogue, Evan's place being empty fits but Rizo's place also only has a generic couch in it and come on now, where does he keep his knitting things. A little extra background flavour often means a lot. Not that it's bad now, it does the job, but it would be worth the investment.

Overall:
This is an intriguing and compelling comic with a good premise and nice art. My biggest advice would be to pay close attention how much information you are or aren't giving your reader and what effect this has, with the art as well as the plot.
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Re: Another Pretty Mouth review

Postby BonesMcKay » March 13th, 2014, 8:33 pm

I think my problem with the witch's reveal has always been panel two. Thanks for the review!

Most of our panel placement is very thought out. Thanks for giving me more things to think about. For reference we're about a third done now... and I'm really interested in how people take the next scene... it's a lot more esoteric than I was expecting...

Any ways, I'm rambling because I'm bored and don't want to edit. Thanks again!
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Re: Another Pretty Mouth review

Postby Spacepegasus » March 14th, 2014, 3:56 am

BonesMcKay wrote:I think my problem with the witch's reveal has always been panel two. Thanks for the review!

Most of our panel placement is very thought out. Thanks for giving me more things to think about. For reference we're about a third done now... and I'm really interested in how people take the next scene... it's a lot more esoteric than I was expecting...

Any ways, I'm rambling because I'm bored and don't want to edit. Thanks again!


Welcome. And the second panel is a bit "oh it's that super tall phantom hobo that lives down the street" (especially since that's totally how Evan would treat a super tall phantom hobo), but it's also that we can't place her to the point where we just wait for you to tell us more.

And I do get the idea that the overall page compositions and rhythm of the shapes are thought out, plus you ofc make the effort to get what needs to be in a panel in a panel, but when it comes to suggesting movement and having panels flowing into each other you could take more advantage of that. Looking forward to the next scene, then!
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