Moonlit Dawn Review

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Moonlit Dawn Review

Postby three » May 5th, 2014, 11:31 pm

This is a review of Moonlit Dawn (url: http://moonlitdawn.smackjeeves.com) by Smack Jeeves user Moonlit=Dawn. Before I begin, I would like to make just a few quick notes. First, I’m not comfortable using a rating system, so what follows is something like a series of pros and cons. Admittedly, this is more of a critique designed to help the author than a formal review, but it may also be useful in assisting readers decide whether or not they want to give the comic a try. Second, since the review request was made here on SJ’s forum, I will only be looking at the comic’s Smack Jeeves site. Any additional content found on Moonlit Dawn’s official site will not be discussed here. Finally, it’s spoilers ahoy from here on out – you’ve been warned!

I alternate between referring to the author in second and third person below, as I deem appropriate. If there are any points that require clarification, please feel free to point them out.

Website/Profile:

• Banner – The banner has the comic’s title and day of updates. Not too much to complain about here, although I don’t see the need for a dash between “updates” and “fridays” (it’s also worth noting that Friday is a proper noun).
• Profile Description –
When there's darkness, there is light. When there's death there is life. When there's an end there is a beginning.
//
Nature has created balances within itself to keep the fates pleased and to keep the chaos and peace in harmony with each other, Nature has chosen 3 brave new souls to watch over it once again. Eternity is an endless circle, history always repeating itself.
//
Can these young wolves maintain the balance like others before them? Or will they be forced to watch their world fall to ruin?
Join them on this mythical journey and see for yourself.

Updates: Whenever I can, I try for once or twice a week.
This could use some updating. Some of the wording is quite awkward, and there are spelling and grammatical errors abound. Additionally, the update schedule given in the description does not match that given in the banner. Since your comic profile description is usually what readers use to decide whether or not they want to read your comic, you should aim to keep it as compact as possible, cutting the fluff where you can. For instance, the opening sentence – “When there's darkness, there is light. When there's death there is life. When there's an end there is a beginning.” – neither tells readers anything about the comic, nor gives any reason why they should read it. Finally, lose the slashes; they don’t look very professional.
• Website Layout – The website layout appears to be a modified version of one of SJ’s built-in templates. It’s nice to see an author put in the work to pretty up an out-of-the-box design. The customized banner at the top adds a particularly cool touch. Comic navigation buttons are positioned both at the top and bottom of pages and click-through is enabled, so no troubles there. The main issue with the site layout is the side bars: the author has not one, but two side bars enabled. Not only does this crowd the comic pages, but it makes navigating the side bar content more difficult. The author should consider condensing this extra information so it can all fit into just one sidebar. For example, it is unnecessary to have the comic summary appear in the left-hand side bar on every single page. If I’m reading the comic, I already know what it’s about. Other options include creating a top bar item that directs readers to a “links” page, relocating your “donate” button to below comic pages, etc. Finally, while it isn’t directly linked to the site layout per say, I would strongly advise you to move your bonus content (wallpapers, etc.) to either a separate chapter, or their own page. There’s nothing wrong with bonus art, but it becomes a distraction when trying to read the comic itself.

Art:

There’s a lot to say in this area. Moonlit Dawn is done digitally in greyscale, with areas of selective color. While the style tends to eschew the use of line art, the comic does undergo several style changes, including a few blips of lined drawings. I’m pleased to report that overall, the art has improved a great deal since the comic began. At the very least, the quality has become overall more consistent. I will try to focus more on the recent pages for the author’s sake, but I would also like to address the problems of the earlier pages. Some of the issues have been addressed by the author, others have not. There is definite room for improvement.
• Shading/Toning – The quality in this area varies a great deal over the course of the comic, even within the first chapter. For instance, over the span of a few pages, the shading goes from a nice range of contrasting values to a washed out, muddy mess. The style of fur shading demonstrated in the latter link is used for the remainder of chapter 1 and most of chapter 2. While the style does occasionally manage to replicate the wispy look of fur, more often than not it looks like a bunch of messy squiggles. Chapter 3 shows remarkable improvement – character shading is more consistent and cleaner, and we get the return of ranged values. While reading through earlier pages, I noted down that the author should consider relying more on hard-edge brushes, since the over use of soft edges was partially contributing to the muddy appearance of pages. This is a technique the author picks up much more in chapter 3, and it works well. I’m also pleased to see that the author has been experimenting with more dramatic lighting arrangements, seen in the last panel here, the last panel here, the first panel here, and the last panel here. That said, sometimes the author carries things a little too far and makes things look excessively shiny. And, while the shading of the fur has definitely improved, it still looks a bit strange. I can understand what the author is going for – it’s a style I’ve seen used by other wolf artists in the past – but it is obviously time consuming (which is perhaps why the author does not shade the wolves’ entire bodies), and results in fur that looks clumpy, and frankly, scale-like at times. Studying not only wolves, but how other artists paint them, will prove beneficial to the author. I would recommend playing around with different styles to find one that works well and does not consume too much time. Successfully painting fur (and stuff in general) is more about making efficient use of brush strokes to suggest elements, rather than painting each and every element itself. Some things you may wish to consider include playing around with brushes, using different layer modes (e.g. having a multiply layer for form shadows, another layer for fur, etc.), and painting light on dark (especially useful for efficiently capturing the contrast between lighter tuffs of fur and their darker roots).
• Composition – The early pages of Moonlit Dawn have the bizarrely specific problem of more than one character seldom appearing in a single panel. Not only does this lessen the impact of scenes that would have been otherwise visually interesting (for instance, in the opening scene, we only see Flare and Mirna together once in the same panel, so we have very little chance to get an idea of the goddess’s scale), but it also creates moments of confusion, since the reliance on close-up and medium shots and lack of establishing shots means that readers have a difficult time situating elements within a scene. The most glaring instance of this problem occurs when Essence shows up. I think I stared at this page for five minutes trying to figure out why Flare’s eyes had turned green – I didn’t realize a new character had been introduced until I clicked through to the next page. The confusion generated in this scene isn’t helped by the fact that it appears to break every rule of continuity in existence (I still have no idea how the heck we got from sunny forest clearing to abysmal meadow of darkness). Part of the issue may also stem from timing, which I will discuss in the portion of this review focused on writing. Later pages do a much better job at orienting readers by providing establishing shots and showing characters in spatial relation to one another more frequently. I cannot stress enough the importance of establishing shots, because without them your readers may wonder why your characters are suddenly missing a few limbs. There are still issues with composition that the author should work towards ironing out, like using the panel border as “ground”, which is generally considered a huge no-no. It would also be nice to see the author pushing their usage of perspective and dynamic composition every now and then for the sake of visual interest. I adore panel three of this page, not only because the lighting is fantastic, but because of the dynamic use of worm-eye perspective.
• Anatomy – I don’t have too much to say in regards to anatomy. There is some really awkward anatomy early on, but like the comic’s use of shading, the quality and consistency become better as the comic progresses. It seems that the author now has a better grasp of the fundamentals of lupine anatomy, whereas in earlier pages the quality, I suspect, depends on whether or not the author used a reference. Some areas, however, still require attention. Wolves drawn in ¾ viewer never manage to look quite right, canines don’t curl outward like that, and, in general, the comic’s wolves sometimes look (unintentionally) stocky. Chapter 2 has some major anatomical consistency issues in terms of how the cubs are drawn. They go from cute and chubby to looking almost like adults within the same scene; mind you, this may be more of an issue of style inconsistency than anatomical inconsistency. A more glaring problem is the human anatomy at the end of chapter 2. It’s something of a shame, considering that in terms of story, this is actually one of the comic’s more interesting scenes. There’s way too much going on in this scene for me to even begin providing a critique of the human anatomy, but if ever you choose a set of panels to redraw (although, personally, I am not a fan of the idea of redrawing), the panels depicting humans would make for a good choice. There are plenty of guides out there on the internet that are useful in understanding human anatomy.
• Backgrounds – While there have been incremental improvements in the comic’s backgrounds, when compared to the developments mentioned above progress in this area has been radically underwhelming. As this page shows, the author could stand to benefit from doing some landscape studies – neither the rocks nor water are in any way convincing. One of the reasons I believe the comic has been so slow developing in the area of backgrounds is that the author relies too heavily on patterns, screentones, and pre-made backgrounds. It’s not a once-in-a-while thing; everysingleword in this clause links to a page that is guilty of this. Not only is it completely obvious and intrusive (anyone who has ever owned a copy of photoshop knows exactly what that default maple leaf brush looks like), but overusing these tools does not allow for adequate practice with backgrounds.
• Character Design – The character designs in this comic are a big issue. It feels as though the only reason the author chooses to employ selective color is in order to differentiate between characters. Those characters who are without colored markings are easily confused. Understandably, it is more difficult to come up with character designs for animals that can be easily distinguished, since the human brain is not wired to differentiate between individuals of others species in the same way it can differentiate between individual humans – this is probably why many artists who work with animals characters prefer to do their comics in full color. There are, however, workarounds. Body types can be tweaked and facial features individualized. I saw an excellent guide concerned with creature design the other day, and I am absolutely livid that I can’t find it anymore; once again, looking at the work of other wolf artists would be a helpful learning tool in this area.
• Miscellaneous: While it seems that the author is taking inspiration from manga (which possibly explains the heavy-handed use of screentones), it should be kept in mind that not all manga tropes can be imported in a way that is always appropriate to the content and story. Case point: “chibi” drawings. If memory serves correct, the author does not begin using chibis until chapter 3. Not only is the introduction of this trope jarring, considering the rest of the comic is in a fairly realistic style, but it is often used inappropriately, like when serious plot-important revelations are being delivered. One final note about the art is that many of the earlier pages are watermarked. I don’t know the story behind the author’s decision to add these watermarks – if you actually have experienced issues with art theft, than by all means ignore this point. But watermarking comic pages is generally unnecessary. From my understanding, art thieves generally target single pieces of art that can be sold as prints or stamped on merchandise. If you feel the need to include a watermark, consider using a small one with your website address in one of the panel corners – watermarks like this are extremely obtrusive.
• Paneling and Speech Bubbles: The paneling is pretty basic. I already mentioned above how the author occasionally makes the slip of using panel borders as ground; another error that crops up occasionally is the omission of gutters. While this is fine for overlapping panels or other unusual circumstances, gutters should always be maintained between adjacent panels for ease of reading. Also, later pages tend to use rounded-corner panel. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this, it may be best to stick with the conventional angular panels unless you are going for a specific look. In general, I would like to see the author branching out more in her use of paneling; while an interesting layout occasionally crops out, for the most part the comic’s pages are composed of a small number of big, uniform panels. As for speech bubbles, I don’t have much to complain about, but I would strongly recommend attaching tails to speech bubbles wherever possible for the sake of clarity, since speech bubbles without tails are often used to denote a speaker who is not present in the panel.

Writing:

Now we come to the tricky part of this review. After reading through the entirety of Moonlit Dawn, I came to the verdict that what would keep me from reading this comic is not so much the art, but the writing. On a whole, the art is decent, and I was actually pretty impressed with some of the later pages; the writing, on the other hand, is constantly problematic. I reread through the entire archive again with a friend, and we sat down and discussed the writing together. The comments below come from both our observations. I realize that writing is somewhat trickier to critique in a helpful way than art, since I have no idea what direction the author wishes to take the comic in; and, while art can be improved over time, it may be difficult to go back and reorganize an entire story. However, things like dialogue and narration can be edited easily, so in that regard, I hope the remarks below may still prove useful.
• Show Don’t Tell: This isn’t really a technical aspect of writing, and every writer ever has been beaten over the head with this advice, but I cannot stress enough how important it is, especially in the context of comics. The reason I chose to put “show don’t tell” at the top of my list for the writing portion of this review is because it has a trickle-down effect – many of the comic’s other writing issues can be partially blamed on the fact that the author chooses to tell instead of show. Let’s look at a few examples. Joker introduces Harmony to Mischief by saying:
This is Harmony. She’s pushy, but humor her to be on the safe side.
. Really? Because up until this point, Harmony has only introduced herself to Joker and informed him that she is Mirna’s daughter. We are told that Harmony is pushy, but we are shown no evidence of her supposed pushiness. In this same scene, a barrage of exposition helpfully informs the reader that Joker and Harmony met before, when Mischief was attacked and left mute. Not only does pausing to tell us all this break the flow of the story, but it robs a potentially dramatic and interesting scene of its power. That’s the problem with Joker’s backstory: it has lots of storytelling appeal, but it is never tapped. We never get to see Joker’s conflict with Vicious, the emotional impact Mischief’s injury had on him, his struggles with his father, his eventual exile, or the fear that news of Essence’s werewolf army must have sparked among his family. It is all brushed over in chunks of narration. I cannot feel anything for Joker because the only thing I have seen of him is a petty childhood conflict (but more on that later). Of course, it’s easier to spot the problem than to come up with a solution. Building on character backstory is inevitably going to result in sacrifices of narrative economy, but in this case, I believe that events like those described above carry enough narrative weight to warrant depiction.
• Characterization: This is heavily tied to the comic’s tendency to tell instead of show, as pointed out above. Another major issue in this area is motivation. An excellent rule to follow is this: even if a character’s motivation is unclear to readers, it should be clear to the author. Moonlit Dawn is peppered with conflicts that are seemingly completely unmotivated – and as a result, feel empty. Why does Flare wish to speak with Essence when they first meet, when Essence clearly has no interest in her whatsoever? Why does Stride suddenly attack Essence out of the blue, when he could have done so at any point in the conversation? Surely he must have known she wasn’t popping by for a friendly visit; the fact that she has malevolent plans for one of his pups (which is again completely out of the blue since Essence apparently did not know Stride had a mate, much less a pregnant one) shouldn’t come as much of a surprise. Why does Stride have an outburst when he learns that Joker attacked Vicious, and furthermore, why does he actually take Vicious’s side? If someone names their child “Vicious”, they are either plenty aware of an existing behavioral issue or they are a bad parent. I could go on with this one. Perhaps the author is choosing to withhold character background for later; however, withholding too much information can keep readers from forming any kind of sympathetic connection with characters. If we know nothing of a character’s motivation, we have no context for what is at stake at any given time, which is why many of the comic’s conflicts seem meaningless. Another factor in this detachment from the comic’s characters is that we never get to spend time with them. Yes, it takes a while to develop characters, but at 96 pages in I expect to have a decent grasp of the protagonist(s)’s personality, motivation, and context. Chapter one introduces us to Flare and Stride… and then chapter two skips ahead of time and moves away from Flare and Stride to introduce us to the cubs… and then chapter three skips ahead even more and brings in two new characters, Harmony and Dust. Furthermore, characterization art writing suffers from the same problems as the comic’s characterization through art: it seems as though the differences between characters are only superficial. While some characters are better developed than others – for instance, Essence’s personality as an insane, ambitious matriarch is fairly well defined – most are generally either bland or defined by nominal, two-dimensional traits (I hate to pick on Vicious again, but really… his name is Vicious). To illustrate the problems that motivation and conflict pose for the comic, I would like to examine the one scene I actually found myself enjoying. This is the scene in which Essence “wakes” her werewolves from their mortal slumber. For one, the idea of telling a werewolf story from a wolf perspective is really intriguing (just imagine a wolf finding out that their mate can turn into a human!). But this scene is also one of the few times when there is clearly a conflict that manages to scrape beneath a superficial level of physical action. We are presented with a character whose conflict is an incompatibility of motivations – his human love for his wife cannot coexist with his werewolf’s desire to kill and rend. When he kills his wife, we actually get a glimpse into the inner struggle he goes through. This was also my friend’s favorite scene. It goes to show that you do not need a complicated set-up to generate a reaction from readers. If the rest of the comic was written this well, I would have enjoyed it far more.
• Dialogue: Again, this is linked to the area above. All the characters sound more or less the same; there are no distinct speech patterns. When writing dialogue, try to think about how a certain character would say something. Do they use short sentences, or long ones? Do they use high-level diction, or low? Is their speech excitable? Do they retract a lot of what they say, or are they confident? The list goes on. Another useful tool for writing dialogue is to read it out loud. Much of Moonlit Dawn’s dialogue feels stilted – a problem that can easily be detected by reading it out. Finally, there is the matter of exposition. Unfortunately, exposition is a necessary evil in writing, but it can be done in such a way that it comes across as natural. An example of exposition that is anything but natural occurs in chapter one:
Ah, werewolves. So susceptible to blind rage, but I guess that’s why they’re the perfect predators. But you already know about that don’t you? Anyhoo, now that I have your attention…
Whenever you have a character telling another character information they already know, it is probably a good idea to stop and consider if, for one, the information is actually useful, and two, if there is a better way of getting it across.
• Pacing: I believe I have already addressed the shaky handling of the time skips in enough detail, so instead I will focus on how scenes are timed. This is a persistent issue: in chapter 1, Essence has an abnormally delayed reaction to Flare’s presence, while in chapter 3, the entire conversation between Harmony and Joker is riddled with lines that are poorly timed. For instance, Harmony says
I know this is a lot to accept
when the only information she has shared with Joker up until this point has been the fact that she is Mirna’s daughter. Furthermore, Joker asks Harmony if he knows her from somewhere literally right after he has a flashback in which he remembers exactly who she is. Timing is something you naturally get a feel for – try to think of when is logically the most appropriate time to use a line.
• Clarity/Grammar/Spelling: I mentioned earlier that the profile description of Moonlit Dawn could stand being revised for grammar, spelling, and word choice. The same holds true of the comic itself. Grammatical and spelling errors crop up with a fair amount of frequency, and instances of awkward word choice often result in a lack of clarity. The biggest culprit of the latter trespass is the prologue. Let us take a look at the narration from the second page of the prologue (it is only two pages long altogether):
When our world was young… It had conducted elements we are familiar with today. Air. Water. Earth. Fire. Gaia, otherwise known as Mother Earth, saw that these elements needed to be controlled. It is said that when Gaia decided what creature overlook their specified element, she will take their form. For this new tale she chose... a wolf.
Due in part to grammatical error and in part to lack of clarity, this passage seems to suggest that 1) each element is overlooked by a specific species of animal and 2) Gaia herself takes the form of a creature to overlook the elements (which contradicts the first point). Nothing is said of the existence of the individual elemental gods/goddesses like Essence and Mirna, which makes their appearance confusing. Furthermore, the prologue itself is redundant, since all this information is repeated later in chapter three, only with slightly better (albeit still vague) wording and prettier art. Nothing would be lost in cutting the prologue altogether.

That about wraps it up. I had more to say about this comic, especially insofar as writing is concerned, but it’s waaaaay past my bedtime and I have to stop somewhere. To the author: if you would like me to comment on any particular scene, just let me know. I hope you found this review helpful! Best of luck with your comic, and with all your future endeavours.
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Re: Moonlit Dawn Review

Postby Moonlit=Dawn » May 8th, 2014, 5:04 am

:) Thank you very much for taking the time to critique my story. I cannot tell you how much this has helped me <3
You've captured a lot of points that I had noticed myself and many others that I had overlooked. I could see you put a lot of effort into this review and linking back to pages you pointed out immensely aided in what pages need to be refined or redone.

I should point out that I'm a little embarrassed about Chapter One through mid-Chapter Two. Those pages were mainly drawn in 2011 and during that time I was very new to digital software. I hope I can have the chance to redo these pages and when I'm remaking them I'll be sure to edit and change the dialogue. For example when you mentioned Essence not knowing Stride was mated and then immediately told him about the potential of the cub, I was staring at my screen saying "Omg three is completely right!" and I laughed at myself for overlooking something like that so early in the story.
I do see what you mean about the summary cluttering each page on the website's layout. I'll look up tutorials if there's any way that it doesn't have to appear on the side when viewers are reading :) Thank you for noting these inconsistencies and many more about the website design :)

I mutually agree with you on all the notes you've made on your review of the story. The humans in Chapter Two--I loved making the scene--but I was rusty on humans after drawing wolves for so long, and at the time had no idea how to shade them. In the upcoming Chapter 4, humans are going to revisit the story and I've found a comfortable way to shade them. I hope to especially redo the human scene in Chapter Two.

A lot of the critiques you suggested I find myself agreeing to. The art has been developing since 2011 and the style of manga indeed did influence the current style of the comic. I wish I had requested a critique earlier in the story because after reading what you pointed out I do rely too much on screentones, something I didn't notice XD. The fact most of the character's pasts are shrouded and unknown I plan on expanding that in Volume 2; though personally I hope to add in bits of character history so readers aren't completely in the dark. Towards the end of Chapter Three we'll get a glimpse of motivation behind the characters of why they are going to fight against Essence but since Joker and Mischief are sort of dragged into this, their motivations start basic then become more fleshed out as the series progresses. In Chapter Four, we are going to learn of the origins behind Essence and Mirna (and later on in the series I hope to do a chapter of Essence of Mirna before their falling out). The writing and character voices I think was a problem I knew about, but I couldn't think of a way to approach it, however with your suggestions of giving them distinct speech patterns I think will provide me with more customization for me to get their personalities across. The quotes you provided of where I made mistakes has helped me pinpoint more of the mistakes I made in the dialogue throughout the pages and what I should focus on in oncoming pages :) Currently, I have someone interested in representing the comic and I hope their critique will be similar to yours, which will allow me to go through and make the necessary changes.

Thank you so much for this review. This has opened up so much more and made me aware what I felt was lacking but couldn't exactly pinpoint it. If you find anymore discrepancies in the story, please feel free to tell me anything about them! I enjoyed reading your feedback and am grateful of how much effort you put into it to help make the story better. Thank you so much!! <3
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Re: Moonlit Dawn Review

Postby three » May 9th, 2014, 3:52 pm

No worries, being embarrassed about old pages is a pretty universal feeling among webcomic artists ;) I drew attention to the older art more for the sake of the people looking for a review.

I'm glad I could help!
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