Sunday, August 10, 2008

Cyanide & Happiness

Been a long time since I posted, so I thought I would write about a webcomic. Cyanide and Happiness is a webcomic run by 4 different artists who go by the names of Rob, Matt, Dave and the ever popular Kris Wilson. The first strip was drawn and written by Rob and was published on the 26th of January 2005. Heres the Strip:

The crude drawings were to become the staple and style of the comic, and has proven once again that the idea is more important than the image.

The other artists have similar styles but still manage to differentiate between each other so that one can recognize them.

Kris Wilson

The artist started of with some taller characters, but currently he draws them at a lesser size. A simple hand drawn round head, line limbs and dot eyes. Nothing fancy, and its not trying to be either. From a critical point of view it follows the same formula that most newspaper comics follow: Don't confuse the reader with intricate perspective shots, art work or dialog. You lose the joke otherwise. Kris also repeatedly uses this six panel layout, which makes it longer than most strips, allowing for more build up for the joke. However, Kris (along with the others) don't usually rely on simple humor, but rather on an awkward pause of sorts. Kris' comics are also some of the most surreal and abstract in terms of scenario and dialog.


Rob appears to be the most frequent artist on, updating 2 or 3 days in a row. He also experiments more with the comic medium and the infinite canvas available in cyberspace. He also makes some of the most gruesome comics, as well as heart breakers, and is responsible for quite a few super hero characters in the comic.


Mat has the most simplistic style of the 4. Usually consists more of a literary joke than a visual one, but has been known to surprise one such as with the Banana peel comic he made one time.


Dave has a great balance of visuals and words, but I can never pull myself away from the fact that his drawings look similar to Kris'. Otherwise he's one of my favorite of the 4.

As one might have seen from these examples here the jokes revolve around everything you can imagine. However, most of them revolve on taboo material, such as sex, drugs, alcohol, violence and medical sicknesses. The humor usually lies in the fact that they even dare to write and draw what they do, even if they lack more impressive artistic abilities. They also make heavy use of anti-humor, having comics with no punchline which in itself is a joke, and thus nurtures a laugh from the reader.

Cyanide and Happiness is a clever, hilarious and a perfect example of what makes the internet great: no censorship and complete artistic freedom if you choose it.

5 out of 5 stars

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Soul Eater Review

Soul Eater is a relatively new series, with that just had its anime start on the 7th of April 2008. Is this just another ordinary shonen manga with overpowered young boys, powers and cute girls? Yes. But there’s more to it than that.

I would first want to address the art style of Soul Eater. While it does follow the usual principles of large eyes to invoke emotion as well as small noses, the comic does have a unique look in regards to backgrounds and some notable characters. One major gripe that I have found often in many manga (I’ll write about this in a later post) is that all characters have to be so beautiful. This is true for most of the characters here as well, but there are notable exceptions. Look below and you will see 2 of the main characters, showing off 2 polar opposites that define the comic.

The comic mixes traditional anime culture with a fresh new surrealistic and perhaps even daring vision for a manga. Evil humans in this manga are caricatured versions of either real or fictional villains of our world, and the author takes many liberties in how to draw them. Take Jack the Ripper below here for instance:

He took the concept of a man who sliced people up and really played on it. He did the same for these others underneath (can’t figure out who Sonson J from Emerald Lake is, can’t find the name in Wikipedia):



Sonson J

Backgrounds are amazing in this comic. It’s all wonky and defies rules of perspective, fitting in with the crazy nature of the characters.

One thing that the author did very well with was the characters themselves. Ookubo Atsushi did a good job with the characters’ designs and personalities. The 2 main characters I showed previously are the more mundane manga stereotypes with rather placid and plain personalities, though still likable. Ookubo truly succeeded with the characters of Black Star and Death the Kid. Black Star has that Naruto demeanor of being the best (heck, he’s even a ninja/assassin just like him) but failing miserably. The interesting idea here is that he actually is really powerful, and thus lives up to his boasts when the time comes. Death the Kid puts almost Adrian Monk to shame in terms of OCD. While he isn’t particularly a germaphobe, he does take pride in concepts such as balance and symmetry. He even breaks down crying due to the fact that his hair isn’t symmetrical and once refused to kill an enemy despite the fact he was beating the heck out of him due to him not wanting to ruin the perfect symmetry of the enemy.

These are great character personalities that really stand out, thus redeeming the characters for having bland and usual appearances, though not all characters are like that either:

Now, what is this comic about? Well, to summarize, it’s about a special academy where young students learn how to use or become weapons that destroy evil humans such as those mentioned above. For each human villain they defeat the weapon gets to eat it, and once the weapon has 99 human souls, s/he can eat a Witch’s soul and become a Death Scythe, the weapon used by the grim reaper himself. To clarify, there are some characters that can become a weapon or tool, such as a scythe or gun, and others who use them. Sound intriguing, but I was immediately dumbfounded by HOW do they know or choose to become either a weapon or a user? Perhaps an unimportant question, but it does bug me. Either way, as most manga and anime, the story changes dramatically after the first couple of volumes. From simply being exciting missions of villains we are treated to epic battles between good and evil (*yawn* like we haven’t seen that before) in the form of Shibusen (the grim reaper academy) and the Witches. While the overall synopsis is identical to shonen mangas, it’s the details that make it stand on its own. The character relationships, the traitors between both sides, the changes of heart, it all makes it an intensive read that makes you care what happens and I have found myself actually cheer characters on as well as boo others while reading it.

An important point to point out is that this is a Shonen GanGan title, meaning that it’s a monthly comic. What this means is that each chapter is about twice as long as any chapter from Shonen Jump. This means that a huge battle doesn’t span as many chapters as a Naruto one would for example, but the final page sum would probably be equal. How ever, this means that a lot of things can happen in a single chapter, rather than being 3 chapters that haven’t shown any progression at all (Bleach, I’m looking at you and your fight scenes!).

Action wise, this series is a blast. Having Maka swing Soul in scythe form through enemies, Black Star chain up his foes and Death the Kid shooting the heck out of villains with his pinky fingers on the triggers is amazing. Characters have distinct powers and abilities that fit their personalities as well as allow for exciting battles. Theres one later character who is a weapon, which is a chain saw, and thus he can make different parts of his body act like one, slicing through bodies and objects, as well as witches with distinct powers based (loosely) on animals. So far there haven’t been too many Bleach fights, which is good, so the battles are still fresh and innovative. My one gripe would be how the characters can take so much damage. Young kids can take gun shots to the head with little more than smoke distracting them, as well as slicing each others throats and even using their own blood as a weapon.

A second gripe would be the constant fan service in the manga. While we know the Japanese like the upskirt shots of the female characters as well as the inevitable Onsen scenes, it’s taken to such an extreme where you wonder if this is the kind of manga you save for late nights. Though it has toned down somewhat, its still quite common in the comic, which is either a good thing or a bad thing depending on your taste.

In conclusion, I would say that this is a fine comic that is worthy of attention mostly from anime fans, since the premise and style would certainly only appeal to them. It’s an action packed comic with a zany art style and a lot of fanservice, so it’s worth checking out.

4 out of 5 stars

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Hoo boy, been a while!

Been a while since I wrote on this blog. I wont say much, but I was busy with school work, but all that is behind me now, and now I'll start doing this properly once more!

Down below you can read the same dialog and speech balloon used on 2 different characters. See how different the voices sound when you read them.

But another way of incorporating a specific voice without using a different character, speech balloon or dialect in the writing is to purposely write what the voice sounds like. Take these 2 excerpts from Asterix and Son for instance.

Observe how Uderzo has written in brackets (falsetto) in order to convey that the roman in drag is mimicking a woman’s voice. As a reader you immediately change whatever voice you had in mind previously and make it much higher in order to fit into the instructions of the author. See also below how he puts (normal voice) to signal to the reader that the character has gone out of the character he was portraying, which is reinforced by the comment by Obelix.

The last concept regarding how a voice sounds like is facial expression. Observe the drawings below.

Notice how the same face, dialog and balloon did not change the voice or manner of speaking, but the expressions did. How one hears a voice is associated to a particular expression. Such expressions have their own tone, such as sarcasm, anger etc…

In conclusion regarding the previous posts regarding voices in comics, one can now see that the voice of a character is decided upon the character’s design, facial expression, shape and form of speech balloon as well as the written dialog itself. Hopefully you’ll all read comics with this in mind now, allowing for a more interesting read!

Friday, May 2, 2008

99 hot air balloons

The shape of speech balloons can do wonders for the subject of delivering a specific voice. Observe some of the most common types of balloons below.

Then there are other effects one can do by changing the shape of the balloon as well as experimenting with the relationship between balloon and the text inside.

This here is the only comic strip to use the top idea with text and balloon size. It’s in Swedish, but if you observe the 3rd panel it’s just what I was demonstrating in the top image. Bill Schorr used this technique here to show the enthusiasm of the son but how he in the end cant live up to his father's expectations.

First Panel:"My son, Grizzly bears are carnivores... so you must learn to hunt your own food.
Second Panel:"Let me hear your blood thirsty roar"
Third Panel:"urgh!"
Fourth Panel:"On the other hand maybe you should sit here and wait for a hare to get run over"

To be continued...

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I'm hearing voices

I have always seen comics a bit like a portable movie. There is no sound and there is no set amount of time that the comic lasts, however, there are sequential images that are seen in succession, just like a movie. When reading a comic you are hearing voices in your head, just like when reading a book. However, the voices in a book are usually determined by adjectives and verbs presented to the reader by the author: "Hold it!" he said with a deep raspy voice or "Follow me" she whispered. Unless the comic does this as well (which I have seen to my disappointment) we dont initially know how a character's voice sounds like. Instead, we gain this from looking at the characters themselves, how theyre built, as well as clothes and any other hint at how they could sound like. I have also noticed often if a specific accent is to be used the author writes the dialog the way it would sound like, such as in Lil Abner by Al Capp. The characters often have some form of dialect that to me is very difficult to understand. While reading I do hear this mountain folk talk and dialect, but the effort to read what they have to say detracts from the experience. Its like I am trying to translate a foreign language for every panel!

So how do we get the idea of someone talking quickly or quietly or however we want the reader to hear the voices in comics? In this post I will focus on the use of text with images, but I will discuss other concepts later. One concept I have noticed is that by changing font size you can change the volume of the speech. Large font size suggests LOUD speech, while small font size suggests quiet speech. Its a tool that I have never seen in books used beyond the use of CAPS LOCK. I think it works well with comics since the text is in the end part of an image, and thus not an abstract piece of narrative. This means that we treat the letters as images, and the way they are set up as well as their size makes a difference. Different Fonts also allow for different dialects or perhaps personalities which help give the voice to the reader. Text alone allows for many variations of sound within comics.

To be continued...