Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Everblue Original Critique Part 1

What comes below is part 1 of the initial Everblue critique that can be found in the discussion section. Unless the admins take it down.

This is here for discussion purposes.

I’m loving the artwork as usual, and applaud your use of the Gradient Map tool! That would be the first time I’ve seen someone use it! I personally find it a fantastic tool for lots of things, particularly with generating good heightmap thingos for normal mapping and texture work. But it adapts nicely to all sorts of things.

Now. I’ve not been commenting too much, because you’ve really been rolling on quite strongly and I haven’t had much I can really talk about apart from what must be getting somewhat old now – your art is superb – and because Everblue is pretty much one of the best webcomics out there with respect to that, and has decent enough writing. And I’m a critic by nature now, so if I can’t find anything worthwhile to say other than good job, I feel a little piece of me die in the unfathomable depths of uselessness.

Given, encouragement is something anybody will take in large amounts, especially artists, who, for some reason or other, are far squishier than most. Probably because we pour our souls into our work, and never really learn to take an extra perspective. Which is something I’ve had to learn to do.

Anyway, I’m wasting words. Although that does remind me of something important that helps me regardless of the stage I’m in in a project.

It’s those simple little buggers of questions.

Why are you doing this?

What is the point of this?

What value does this project hold?

There’s a bunch of others, but there is one that stands above all others.

What Truth do I seek in this?

Now. I’m not saying that you must absolutely be trying to make a webcomic of gorgeously impossible brilliance and intellect that is passed through the ages as THE BOOK. WHICH MUST BE READ.

No, hardly. If the answer is as mundane as, ‘coz it’s fun.’ it’s a pretty damn good answer. Because sometimes a little bit of fun and games is all you really need.

But if you’re targeting something deeper, trying to go further, be a little better. Then the answer will need to go further. And if it doesn’t, then the question needs to be asked. How do I take it further? Because you don’t kill your babies arbitrarily when they don’t fulfill their purpose. No, sometimes you just grow them into that purpose.

Man, I just sidelined myself epically. That wasn’t what I wanted to say at all!

Or maybe it was… I’m not so sure anymore.

Anyway, moving on. Since everyone else is being awefully positive, I’ve taken it upon myself to be the grumpy old bugger in the corner waving his cane and shouting obscenities about life being better when he was a youngster.

But since I am neither obscene, nor old. We’ll just settle for grumpy and cane waving.

To point. And I left this past the intro so that the people who did a tl:dr don’t suddenly have a horrified moment of clarity that may or may not be true. And probably isn’t.

Amusingly, the storyline so far seems to be pointing towards Ten and Luna being related by blood along the same lines as Princess Leia and Luke Skywalker. The structural similarities, temperamental similarities, and lack of backgrounds on these two is not lost on me. (Although my guess is that this is not the case) I’m also catching reincarnation plot hints. Which is somewhat overdone in the fantasy industry. That is to say, either the old soul gaining a new body, the hero cropping up from a bloodline, the hero of ages concept, or similar ideas wherein a singular entity is ‘recycled’.

If you are running a plotline like this, because it’s cool to have prophecies and evil guys who know more about the main characters than the main characters. And because it’s the first thing that springs to mind when you want to justify the power you give to characters, and then have a moment of info dumping where the wise sage imparts to them the precepts of their particular order/lineage/bloodline or whatever else you call it. Or just because it’s cool to have a character whose powers descend from some mighty entity in the past who saved the world, and now they’re meant to do it again, only they don’t know how to use their powers, much less save the world.

Cue angst cycle, training montage and info dumping. Also arguments with more knowledgeable characters.

I shall hereby consider the characters you have in play:

General dude: He’s been deliberately set up as the utilitarian antagonist. Some will consider him evil. However, you will argue that he’s just doing his job according to what he knows. Trying to prevent an event that we don’t know anything about yet. However, he does.

He’s still evil, because he doesn’t prescribe to an honourable code of conduct. That’s not to say that he doesn’t have a code of conduct, it’s simply that he’s not afraid to kill cute young ladies/girls.

Now, I know you have mighty plans for him, where he shows off his sentimental side, and/or shows himself to be more grey than he already is.

Because he KNOWS s**t, bad s**t. And he’s got the whole world on his shoulders. Oh woe is him!

But the problem is that he’s also locked into a number of very specific archetypes, archetypes that create preconstructed images of him in our minds, based on what’s there. It’s not just that he’s the bald headed, ruthless hitman type character talking about mysterious events that we don’t know anything about and accusing a single person of being the unbalancer of all that is. (Chosen one plotline!)

Again, you’re going to argue that he isn’t evil. He’s just doing his job. And fair enough. Everyone’s gotten tired of the cliched evil overlord types, because they aren’t good characters to write, they’re one dimensional set pieces there to provide a goal for the protagonists. Or to provide necessary conflict to push the plot along.

But these greyer characters are often not much better, since they tend to be just as diabolically ruthless, and just as given to justifying and preachyness. Some of my favourite villains are the Bond villains. Because they’re evil, they know they’re evil, and they’re unashamedly clever in their schemes. Let’s ignore the last two bond movies. They were shockingly bad. Frankly, death by laser ion cannon is a fun premise. Bond movies were fun.

But this is serious. So let’s take a leaf out of something serious shall we?

Actually. Let’s take a leaf out of one of the best ways to make evil characters.

The evil overlord list.

One of the singular things that differentiates a comical villain (the category which our poor general falls into at the moment through sheer lack of being surprising or new) from a much deeper, greyer villain, of the type you might find in a Song of Ice and Fire, (What the series was before it was A Game of Thrones), or the villain from Swordfish, is their lack of idiocy.

Villains, more often then not, hold the idiot ball. Their defeat is because they were stupid, no matter how smart they were. They had some singular weakness that was then exploited. This is shoddy writing, and shoddy world development. It’s far more challenging to write a plot in which the characters are faced with a villain who answers their challenge with a gunshot to the head. Who, when his assassin’s fail, simply shrugs, and hires the next best guy.

Or who, when realising there is a prophecy dictating the outcome of certain events, befriends our heroes, becomes their beloved mentor, semi-protector and general all round solid companion. Then convinces them to join him in his vision of the world reimagined. All the while, running his evil empire.

Indeed, what about the evil overlord, who instead of subjugating, frees the populace and makes them love him, while biding his time and preparing for his total domination through arcane forces.

Or the dapper gentleman mastermind, who’ll cheerfully play games with the heroes, just to mess with their heads and the heads of the readers. Constantly making them rethink their perspectives of him. One minute he kicks a puppy, the next he saves a village.

But of course! You cry! The General is not even the main villain!

Of course he isn’t, he lacks too much personality to pull off proper villainage, he’s just a sidekick. But he’s an antagonistic one, and the naiive schoolkids are most definitely our underpowered (for the moment) heroes.

In fact, more to the point, he lacks a lot of personality full stop. Sure, he’s supposed to be brooding and mysterious. But he comes across as mostly just deadpan, or as some would say, grumpy. With an unwholesome attachment to bandages….

Aaaanyway. I’m not even sure what I’ve said about him is warranted, but give some serious thought to how his character is playing out. You have an opportunity to be truly unique. Don’t fall into the rut of going with the first thing that pops to mind. Really stretch your impressions of him, question his role. What’s he really there for. What does he bring to the table.

It’s not whether he’s a cliche, it’s how the cliche is used.

And yes. I do understand his somewhat dry humour, a humour that comes exclusively from a life of experience. I have a very similar kind of humour.

Moving on.

Prophecy Lady: Yeah. I’m bad with names. I’ve got hundreds of people I know, and dozens of characters from many, many worlds. It’s getting hard to remember them all.

Yeah, bandaged, prison references, trapped soul longing for freedom. I get it. She’s a tragic one. She’s not emo, thank goodness. And we haven’t seen much of her.

She’s also a slave. Of that I am also aware.

I’m not going to go into her character, because she fits from what I’ve seen so far. But you need to consider her place within the storyline. Why do you have her? What role does she fill. She’s a very typical young seer. A person harrowed and trapped by their visions. This is the most common representation of seer like abilities. They’re people downtrodden and victimised for what they’re able to do. Either they’re used by others, or they trap themselves in prisons of their own making. Hating the visions that they get and that they’re able to have them.

It’s that very common idea that they take something incredibly powerful for granted, and underneath it is that insidious balancing act that writers play with their stories. Oh noes! The character is too powerful! Tone it down!

But real life is OP. And why do we write? If not to express some truth. Some thought we wish to impart.

It’s trite. And overdone. I know you can’t change her character, since you are well into the story. In fact. I’m not asking you to change your characters outright.

No, instead, consider their positions, and perhaps develop or grow them along different lines as the story progresses if you find that your ideals change. If they don’t, it’s no skin off my back.

More on that later. Seer characters are traditionally considered to be very ‘powerful’ characters. And they’re usually ‘balanced’ by making that power highly negative. This creates a fairly angsty and inadvertently often makes them similar to many many other characters with similar powers. As I said before.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Character’s tortured for who they are, and eventually being glad that they lose their power only serves to put forth a selfish point of view. That is to say, these characters are being selfish for taking their phenomenal abilities for granted.

I have yet to see a writer face the far more complex narrative and character developmental choice of pushing their characters to accept their abilities and rise above their own petty misgivings. And they are petty. I know firsthand the price knowledge takes. I know what it’s like to watch inevitabilities roll in regularly, ones that I’ve seen coming from a long way away. I’m no seer, I’m just observant.

The price that the seer pays is a high one. And it’s a dark one. It grinds away at her internal world, taking the light away and shading everything with a darkness she can’t shake. She doesn’t like what she has to do, and what she is forced to see.

There’s a lot more to it than that, it’s far more complex and issue, but it would take too long to delve into for now. I’m examining it in a story I’ve just started building, well, for a few months at least.

Suffice it to say that the redeeming a character in as dark a place as a seers, in a realistic and truly uplifting, rather than trite, way is a difficult conundrum to overcome. Mostly because they’re always right, and once they’re past their angst, they’re incredibly cynical. That cynicism is a survivor’s tactic that’s a very strong internal shield.

To try to pinpoint where I’m going with this. I basically want to make the point that your character is familiar enough that she’s looking dangerously so. While your comic is good enough to stand fine with that. It’s not like it’s going to take away from it.

It’s just that it could be a lot more. And that’s what I’m trying to encourage, bringing it to something more.

Next we have the pair, Ten and Luna:

I can’t separate them, apart, they have very little character to stand on their own. They aren’t meant to stand on their own. They’re a messed up yin and yang (as in, they have a too many similarities personality wise to be a balanced yin/yang concept). Both are wonderfully charming. And you’ve absolutely nailed the golden days, childhood joys between the two in the beginning of your comic.

I have no issues with these characters. They’re common as heck, but you’ve done such a wonderful job between them that it doesn’t matter.

I mean, I could say that the sudden romance, and apparent perfection between the two at the beginning is trite and bla bla bla. But truth is, for the beginning of your comic, and the way it was meant to be. It’s great. Beautiful even. I’m guessing you wanted that brighter days beginning, and that’s good, it fits well. And honestly, it’s executed with flair and beauty. I love it.


There’s a but. Now that you’ve gotten the ball rolling, and the story is finally getting somewhere, what you do next is going to be the hinge for whether it falls to average or soars to true heights.

Story, like everything in art and life, thrives on dynamics. When things are down, there must be an up. When things are up, there must be a down. There must be calm, to have epic.

Consider. If you have a song that is unrelentingly epic, or a movie or game like that. It just pounds epicepicepicepic. It stops being epic very quickly. You might get shivers in the beginning. But after a while it becomes normalised. This is automatic, and it’s how our brains tune out useless information. We stop hearing the cars after a while of living in the city, or more correctly, we stop noticing them.

To truly underline, and increase the power of something, it must be juxtaposed against an oppositional concept.

If you want a sweet moment, then it must be surrounded by rotten, darkness. A long stretch of black terror and huge down points in a story will only serve to highlight all the stronger the bright point. In fact, the darker the darkness, the brighter the candle flame.

You’ve signed Luna and Ten in with a really high height. This is a very bright beginning, albeit with a bit of darkness.

If their relationship is perfect from here on in. You will have failed as a storyteller and as an observer of humanity. More to the point. You will have failed your readers.

Sure, I’ve seen the comments. They love the romance. But they’ve love it more when it’s juxtaposed against a series of rock bottoms. If the characters do things that hurt you as a writer, or make you really really want to avoid, then make them do it. Jump into it. Those moments are horrible. We hate them as readers and we hate them as writers.

But here’s the catch.

And it’s important.

Without those moments. The highlights are lost. With those moments, you will reduce your readers into joyful tears when, inexplicably, or explicably, the characters reunite.

Relationships are hard. They take work, and they take pain, and they take compromise, learning and growing. A good relationship is one that’s had lots of rocky points. Where the two involved didn’t think they could go on together, but somehow overcame their difficulties. Sometimes apart.

I expect you to give the two a hard time. I expect them to give each other a hard time. I expect them to split up and rejoin. I expect you to have a stretch of terrible hard, rocky moments.

But most of all. I expect them to grow and develop. The naiivete to be replaced by hardness, and then perhaps to grow softer. Or perhaps just to be replaced by understanding, and deeper strength.

I don’t know how you’ll develop them. But I expect you to change them. You’re allowed to take them full circle. Sometimes people do that, only the full circle will be tempered by a strength of character and understanding that is palpable to all.

Teach us, show us something important about human nature. Show us truth. You don’t have to be all enlightening and high minded to make something click. Just speak the Truth. Perhaps as you see it. Perhaps as they see it. Just speak the Truth.

Moving on. Please don’t think of this as being nitpicky, or cruel, or attempting to put you or your work down. I’ve had enough of that in my own life. No. I respect your work a lot. You have a beautiful webcomic, and it deserves the praise it receives.

The reason I write this is because I want you to take it further than you’re going. I want you to lift this up. The quality is palpable, but it could be better. I don’t know what you have planned. I can only speculate, but whatever’s next, I want it to be a ride that makes us scream at the characters, and makes us cry for joy. That teaches us things about ourselves and makes understand the world around us.

In short.

I want it to be the very best it can be.

But it’s going to take soul searching, hard work, sweat and tears. I know. You’ve put in so much already. But it’ll take more than that. Question it deeply. Question everything, find the answers, look outside the box. You don’t have to rewrite a plot, storyline, or character to shift it in a better direction. You just grow them differently than you were going to. Tweak things a bit so that it goes a little deeper, drives a little harder, burns a little more. Never trust the first instinct, because while that’s a good place to start, it’ll need to be developed a little more. It takes time to unlock those mysteries.

I’d say more. But that’d mean delving into my personal world. And I don’t think you want to hear the internal reflections of a terribly tired cynic. But suffice it to say that it’s webcomics like these, and those few moments in life that keep my hope in the human race alive.

I hope I haven’t offended.

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