Friday, 27 April 2012

Lifting Some of the Veil on Maytag

On a random intro note. I hereby quote the wise, worldly and creepy Grandpa Joe from the excellent webcomic Scary Go Round, "Lies are like a flower. The truth is like a brick."

Those characters have an amazing flair and personality in them. You will enjoy it dear readers.

So. We've delved into villainage, world-views and archetypes, touched on dynamics and rattled the cage on a few rather unspoken topics. Mostly just because people don't talk about them much, not because they're particularly taboo.

So lets take a slight tangent and take a case study about a character who is particularly interesting, both in terms of how she was initially portrayed and how the storyline progressed her. And ultimately, the world view that she represented.

The character in question is Maytag, from the webcomic Flipside.

Maytag is a revolutionary character. I have seen the jester character played before, and she is modelled solidly after that archetype. The initial storyline and plot follows a number of usual anime tropes with the shy guy and not so shy girl.The plotline of Flipside has a lot to be desired and has a tendency to meander a bit. It has some wonderful ideas, but it's a story you read for the journey, not for the incredible plot.

However Maytag subtly shakes our idea of her from the moment she appears. Reading back it's blindingly obvious, but the initial read through, you'll probably miss the incredible complexity and totality to which she is her character. She doesn't play it. She is it.

Furthermore, the first 6 or so chapters are chock full of psychological references and incredibly deep thoughts. But you'll probably miss that the first time round.

In fact. This next bit will have spoilers. So really. Hop on over there and read it through, you'll get what I'm talking about a lot more.

It's worth the read, trust me.

However, get a bit further on in the story, and several twists happen that will pull the rug under your feet and put those subtle little details the author keeps hinting at into perspective.

You see, what makes Maytag so interesting is not the initial personality (which is fun and incredibly entertaining), but the fact that she is genuinely, wholly and completely like that. Unlike the usual expectation, she isn't wearing a mask. She is whole heartedly and genuinely selfless. In any other character, her complete lack of morals and willingness to strip down, or whore it out, would label her a complete slut. Which is what the initial main character, Crest calls her. As the author names it, she's a nymphomaniac, and unashamedly so.

What defines her as a character is the fact that she is her character to the hilt. She is genuinely like that, and she does so because she is completely happy to share freely, regardless of what kind of sharing is being talked about.

And when I say genuine, I mean the kind of genuine displayed in the following story:

An atheist was talking to a catholic Bishop one day, and he mentions to the clergyman the sad fact that one of his brethren had departed the earth.

The Bishop, beaming brightly, cries, "Oh that's wonderful! He's gone to meet the Lord!"

This is the kind of genuine I'm talking about. Where one proclaims a matter of faith or something they believe in, or something about themself, and they wholeheartedly believe it. Their immediate reaction is completely in following with what they talk about. It never occurs to them that there might be another way of seeing things, so to speak.

Maytag's treatment of other people exactly mirrors the Bishop's faith. She cares, and she does so completely genuinely.

Go deeper, and you find more details about her character that the author has clearly spent a great deal of time thinking about. These details, apart from the surprising on outlined above, are ones that take a deep knowledge of humanity, and an understanding of psychology that is exemplary.

Maytag doesn't just preach selflessness. She acts it out. Further, when a character berates her, even though she is deeply hurt, she says - and this is right in the beginning - these following beautiful words:

"The only way you could ever lose me as a friend is if you decide that. And even then the door is always open to you."

But she's not all honey and roses. Maytag is a double edged sword with her refreshing lack of the usual moral distinctions. Her behaviour could be diagnosed as deeply sociopathic and on many levels she's an incredibly horrible person. What's so refreshing about her is that these traits are wound up in the good sides so tightly that you can't have one without the other, and she presents them in a duality. They're a paradox that actually makes sense. They're a beautiful paradox.

To put that into a better context. Consider the beginning pages of Chapter 2, particularly page 8. And the conversation and actions that happen from there on in. Our current main character, Crest, has been caught cheating, and after escaping with Maytag, they've been cornered by a sorceress who is out to exact a punishment on Crest. The conversation that follows is illuminating:

Maytag: "Listen Dice, we're reasonable women... Let's make a deal. Let Crest go... And I'll take his punishment for him..."

Everyone: Shocked...

Maytage: Dead serious face.

Dice: "Oh really...? And why shouldn't I just follow orders instead?"

Maytag: [Classic Mentalist play.] "Because I know how you really feel about Crest, Sweetie..."

Dice: "WHAT-??" Shocked, embarrassed. "THAT'S RIDICULOUS I DON'T--!!"

Maytag: Aren't you jumping to conclusions? I never said you love him...!"

Dice: "Urk...!"

Maytag: "Gotcha. <3."

"Dice, I'm a poker player. You think that flimsy little tough girl act can fool me?"

"It's ironic how you give him a hard time for being shy... Because you're the one who's too scared to express her feelings!"

Dice: Very Embarrassed. "Shut up with your bullshit! I'm with Hellmouth! And that's the way I like my men, tough and confident!"

Maytag: "Then why are you blushing?"

"You hate the way you're treated, don't you? That's why secretly, you wish you could be with Crest instead."

Dice: "Shut up! Shut up, God damn it!! I don't need to hear this shit from a fucking Jester Girl."

Maytag: [Classic Maytag genuine 180] "I know, I'm sorry... But please, Dice.... Let me take the heat for him! I don't wanna see them cut Crest's eyes out, do you?!"

Dice: !!

Gives in, cries.

Maytag: Looks ominously intense. Angry.

Dice: Crest... I'm sorry... I can't...

Maytag pegs Dice in the shoulder with a silence dagger. "Sorry for manipulating your feelings like that, Dice. I don't dislike you... But I can't let you stand in our way."

See, this is why I call Maytag revolutionary. And keep in mind, this is the same person who gives unconditional friendship, and would lay down herself to save someone who she barely knows (Or in her case, knows very well. Because she can read him like a book.). She epitomises this Flipside of terrifying sociopathic manipulation that falls well into Machiavellian territory; and complete and utter selflessness (this is something she manages to show over and over throughout the comic. The above example being just one of many sacrifices she makes or is willing to make. She's utilitarian, but would give literally anything at the drop of a hat to minimise the suffering of another. She'll waltz into your head, tinker with the deep stuff on the inside, change you irredeemably, then laugh and put a knife in your knee when you drop your guard. (literally).

I could go deeper into what makes Maytag such an interesting character, but I think you're starting to get an idea. Keep in mind the above piece is from the first two chapters. There are 36 so far, and more coming. I didn't notice most of this until after somewhere mid way through when Maytag does a few things that were so genuinely selfless and poignant that I was rocked to my core. It made me question the standards to which held my own personal interactions with people.

The thing about Maytag's character development is that it isn't defined by sudden moments of powerful revelation, but instead by long periods of hard work and effort. And sacrifice. In one particularly horrifying and heartwrenching scene she gives her arm, still attached, up to a carnivorous monster created by the experiments of a mysterious doctor character who seems to be a reoccurring theme. The thing is, she would have given more, if the monster hadn't been so horrified with themselves that they'd fled, vowing true change. Maytag comforts her hunter and captor while said captor is literally eating her.

As she says herself, "Monster? That's a completely subjective term. It's meaningless."

In fact. Maytag goes into her own philosophy in a discussion with this monster. And this is one of the things I love about Maytag. She's actually switched on. She doesn't just have these trite little conversations that are only there to show how smart the character is or put forth an ideology. She is always smart, and always delving deep.

Bloody Mary: "He (scientist, called Melter) was right. I was amazed at how quickly I started to enjoy the killing."

Maytag: "Well... most people, if put in your situation, would more or less become the same way." [Note the careful use of 'most'. This is a half justification. Maytag doesn't actually agree with Mary, but she phrases it in such a way as to give that impression. I do this quite regularly if I don't see a point in discussing a certain thing, or want someone to talk deeper on something - since it's a prompt.]

Bloody Mary: "But, remember what you said before, about acceptance and stuff? I that's what I'm trying to do, too! People kept calling me a hideous monster..."

"Well, once I decided to accept that I truly am a monster... Things became much easier."

Maytag sighs: Hmmm..

Bloody Mary: What?

Maytag: It's just that there's a difference between my philosophy and yours..."

"The difference between objective and subjective reality."

Bloody Mary: Small voice. "Subjective...?"

Maytag: "Umm... How to put it... Basically objective things are fact, indisputable. Whereas subjective things are opinion... They differ based on a person's personality and perspective."

"My philosophy is to accept the facts in front of you, no matter how terrible... Because quick acceptance allows you the best possible mindset for dealing with any situation."

"But what you're talking about is something totally different. You're talking about accepting people's opinion of you as though it were fact."

"If you do that, you're letting other people define you."

"And that's a shame. Because only you have the power to define yourself." [She's damn good isn't she?]

"You shouldn't give that power away so easily... Not even to creepy sorcerer children!"

Bloody Mary: "But... What else can I be...?!"

Maytag: "I know... You've been given an impossible choice. Cannibalism or a painful death."

"But, maybe there's more options than it seems..."

[The fundamental difference between a victim mentality and a problem solver mentality. This argument is Clara vs Seta. Maytag is trapped right now. She has no way out. Or that would probably be most character's solution, and the author would need a deus ex machina moment to save them. But Maytag has turned it around. She's in charge now. You'll see in a second.]

Bloody Mary: ...?

Maytag: "For example... My arm can be regrown. So what if I just growing it back so you keep eating it? Then you could live without killing people!" [Bet you guys never thought of that eh?]

"Or, slightly more realistic... You could become a cannibal crime-fight! Save the good people by eating the bad!" Jokingly jabbing the air for emphasis.

Bloody Mary sighs. Deadpan face.

Maytag: "Um... Let's see... What else..." Sighs thoughtfully.

Bloody Mary: "It's pointless." [Victim mentality. I give up.]

Maytag: [Ever the fighter, optimist, and never the victim.] "Well... How about this..."

"You could just be my friend!"

Bloody Mary. Everyone in the whole world. !

Maytag is a manipulating little b***h. But nothing quite matches the shock she gives everyone when she genuinely offers friendship to the people who treat her with hatred and in this case, like lunch. I'll put this question out there. How much would you, or any of your characters sacrifice for each other? If death is the cowards way to be heroic...

Let's continue, and pick up some of that more Machiavellian Maytag:

Bloody Mary: Flabbergasted. "How can I, Maytag...! It's impossible!" [Ever the victim.]

Maytag: "Then there's always that other option. We make your body the way it used to be... Find a cure!"

Bloody Mary: !!! ...! "Do you think that's really possible?"

Maytag: [There's a possibility she could be termed as a variant of the INTJ character profile.] "I can't see why not... If we can just find a sorceror powerful enough. And I think I know the perfect person..."

Bloody Mary: "Do you...?!"

Maytag: "Yes definitely."

Bloody Mary: Shocked. "Maytag... You'd... Really do all this for me...?"

Maytag: "Of course! I'd do anything to help a friend." - 80% chance she lets me go...- [Aaaand there's the Machiavelli. But the difference here is that she really means it.]

This chapter blew my mind. Not because the concepts were alien, but because, for the first time, I saw a truly selfless character do something truly selfless. And beyond that, that everything in the comic showed her to be true to her nature.

Please understand. What I just spent ages talking about and typing out. This only covers a fraction of Maytag's personality. There are layers on layers of it. It's deep, well thought out, and most importantly, true to life. Maytag is a very specific rare type of person. Very, very rare.

It's a bit sad then, that most of the remaining characters aren't nearly as deep as she is. Where Maytag is heavily fleshed out, most of the others barely even come close. This may be because they're up against a phenomenal comparison, but it also might be because, even though they are mostly true to their characters, having an entire cast of characters as complex as Maytag would stress even the most accomplished of authors. And the readers too.

Consider the world views being presented here. The themes are complex, and it's mucky and gritty. There's nudity all over the comic, but it's plain and straightforward, not fanservice. But while Maytag presents a number of views, the most dominant ones are of selflessness, endurance and redemption.

Flipside is by far one of the deepest comics I seen when it comes into delving into the notions of human freedom, psychology and emotion. And when it shines it lights a bonfire in the dark, it's heartwrenching and heartwarming. You will be challenged personally, because you will understand where they're coming from, and it won't just be a few trite little moments. Maytag shares Truth.

And Truth is universal.

And so I'll leave you with a powerful piece of truth. I knew this well before Flipside, and it's helped me through many a dark year.

Maytag: "When bad things happen, I don't let them cause me pain. I accept them. That's why I'm so calm. I've already accepted my own death."

Bloody Mary: "What?"

Maytag: "Crying and begging, that would be a pathetic way to die! That's not how I choose to die. But you... You need something that I can give you."

"That's why I want to be your friend."

"I've decided that I want to spend the last moments of my life giving you comfort. So please... Call me Maytag."

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Everblue. Examining Clara.

This is definitely one of my favourite webcomics. Every page is beautifully worked over and the author, Michael Sexton has some of the best lighting and rain effects I've seen in any webcomic short of Romantically Post-Apocalyptic. Sorry Michael! But go take a look, those buggers put some incredible vfx stuff into theirs. It just takes the cake!

If you haven't heard of either. Go check them out.

They're both gorgeous, and inspire me every time I visit their sites. I am rarely inspired these days. When you've met as many amazing people as I have, the bar gets set pretty high.

Aaaanyway. Enough plugging. Let's get to business.

The first two pieces originally posted can be found here:

I think I've said about as much as I can say about Shar so far.

Side note: If you want a summary of the Shar critique. It's neatly summed up in a short conversation between two fans:

dredogastus f: His words are so cultivated and reasonable. Why do I have a premonition of pain & death?

Emma: Because he’s bald, has an evil goatee, and wears big spiky metal gloves?
 Just a thought.

Michael, you were doomed the moment you gave him a goatee...

So we'll move onto the next few characters. In particular, I want to touch on a topic that's very very subtle, but powerfully insidious.

It's got to do with human psychology, society, and the messages in media. So please bear with me while I try to break my way through this, it's a difficult one. A very difficult one. 

I'm going to pinpoint Clara for this, because she's the closest to the point.

The best point to tackle this is to start unpacking the victim mentality behind a seer character. Clara's not appeared much, and I've read through the comic several times to make sure I didn't miss the obvious details. Where does my time come from you ask? When you start rendering several million poly scenes, you'll find out. Protip, leave four threads so your system isn't locked down. If you don't have four threads to spare, what the heck are you doing renders like that for?

Sorry, the 3D geeks will get that.

Back to Clara. I'm not going to go out and accuse Michael of making her a victim. This is just how she's being portrayed at the moment. And just to be clear. I haven't missed the moments of silent defiance that she shows Shar from the moment we first meet her. Michael's no idiot, some of this stuff is incredibly subtle. Read through the comic again if you haven't already, pay close attention to the details. He puts a lot in them.

The first reference we get to Clara is on Page 22 of Chapter 2.

The first time we see her is a very very neat little cameo on Page 40 of Chapter 1. There's a shivering Ring reference in there somewhere, I swear. It's more than a little bit creepy. The next page makes this rather obvious.

First impressions are important. Especially in stories. Frequently, however, it's not because it sets an iconic or otherwise opening, but rather, establishes where the readers will automatically allocate them.

Shar, who is more directly introduced on the same page Clara is, is a case in point in that. See the little conversation earlier in this article. The next page is where the comments pick up on his place in the storyline and Michael's 'I'm trying to make him a bit different from the usual bad guy' point.

How is Clara introduced? She's a Seer, and she's not responding to 'suggestion'. I don't know what that means in the context of this world. But it's vaguely ominous. Shar's answer is direct. "Crush her." Well. He doesn't say that directly. But it's implied.

This brief exchange points to a number of different bits and pieces about these characters. And this isn't to read to much into it, I'm merely trying to establish just how much a reader will subliminally get from conversation details.

Clara is clearly defiant. She doesn't like her captors. And she is briefly talked about in the letter earlier in the story, where her sight is noted to be erratic because of her youth. It also makes the note that Seers are hard to come by, so this is a rare ability she has. Which likely means that she enjoys a certain amount of privileged status. This hasn't stopped her from being treated as a slave/prisoner/captive.

Here's the deal though. This is not unusual for Seer characters. Clara is treated like a victim, and while she shows a strength of character by her defiance, Shar's calm answer tells us that it's a wasted effort. The petulant screams of a child against an unfair world.

Oh man this is hard. I know what it's like to put so much into a world and story and have someone tear into it. I have a world I've been building for ten years, with many, many stories within. And I can literally see effort and time bleeding off of your pages, and artwork. You've spent a lot of time thinking about this world. It's actually painful for me to try to voice these details, and try to explain in the simplest and best way I can why they're important. And why you should think about them. Because if I fail, I'll have wasted my time, and yours. But more to the point, I will not have communicated something of value that could help uplift something further than it already is. You're one of the lucky few that I don't have several of my characters scream at for having your characters do clearly stupid things. A few of them are going "Awwww... That's sweet. Ten bucks says she gets her heart broken twice." though. So kudos for that. It doesn't happen very often at all.

Unintentionally or not, you've set them both up as archetypes that are very common for the characters they play. As a writer, you definitely want to take things deeper, but that's easier said then done.

Let's delve into archetypes for a moment. Perhaps the first thing I will lay on the table is the fact that archetypes are inherently neutral concepts. They're used sub-consciously by our minds to help us process the huge amounts of information we all receive on a daily basis in an efficient and effective manner. They're essentially perfectly ordinary concepts, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with them.

Cliches are there for a reason, and it's not whether there are cliches in a story, it's how they're used. And to use them properly, you must understand where they originate from, and why they ended up that way. To create something unique from something common, you must first understand why it is common.

This rule of the thumb applies to writing, film and art in general. For instance, in film, to understand minimalism, first, you must understand classic film. Understand classical film, and you can then truly appreciate what makes up minimalism.

Clara should by all rights be a very powerful character. She comes from a powerful bloodline and she has a very useful ability. But she is instead a victim of what I will assume are circumstances beyond her control. Or what you decided were. But why have you put her in this position in the first place? Is it so she can rebel at a crucial moment and save the day? Is it so you can have that tormented seer theme underpinning the narrative, and allow the antagonists to find our main characters? Or is it another reason related to keeping the conflict between the characters running, and the bad guys on their tail? Why is she in that specific status? Why isn't she Shar's sidekick? Why hasn't Shar tried to convince her to join him properly? Or if he has. Why did it fail?

Consider these questions within the framework of archetypes. What overall world view are you presenting to your readers in this character? What is their impression of her? What does this say about her powers and how she uses them?

These may seem over the top, but the reason I'm getting you to think in these lines is to start unpacking the subtle hints that underlie a story. The stuff that we do automatically. See there's nothing wrong with archetypes. They're unavoidable. It's how they're used that's important. Understanding that readers will lump your characters into certain frames of mind will allow you to push their perspectives, underline points you want to make or themes you want to explore, or simply create huge plot twists.

We automatically frame your world and characters. When you know that, you can exploit, or abuse that. Short stories do this regularly. They will establish the world, characters and plot quickly. And the readers will familiarise themselves with what they believe to be the main concept at play. They'll root for the main character, gain empathy with them and whatever else.
Then, just before the end, the writer will take the hood off the reader's eyes and show them a shifted, or completely new, perspective. This usually blows us out of the water. We never see it coming, but looking back, we realise it was hinted at all along.

This is sometimes done through direct perspective control, we only see things through one characters eyes and learn things that they would learn. Other times however, it's done through establishing the story along very familiar cliches, so the readers automatically set themselves in a comfortable routine.

Are you starting to see where I'm going here?

When you understand your archetypes, and how your readers are receiving your characters. Then you can really start to play with their perceptions as the story develops. You know your characters, we don't. Everybody, especially in real life, is put into little boxes by the people who meet them. Complex people blow the lids off these boxes every now and then with something completely out of character; some don't, because they really are their stereotype. You can make points with your characters without them actually saying a thing. All they need to do is do something that does not fit the established image we have of them. You can push themes through these perceptions, and you can create epic plot twists through these perceptions. All subliminally.

This is both the beauty and the danger. If you don't understand what you're dealing with, you will push a world view about something that is detrimental. Archetypes are specific subsections of certain world views. This is why Japanese archetypes are so different from western archetypes. Because their world view is different.

Archetypes are not exclusively world views, but delve deeper into what makes up a specific archetype and you will find one. This concept occasionally appears in scholarly examinations of various things. Where the scholar involved will rip into a particular piece of literature and media and point out just how dangerous the underlying impressions it gives out are.

Oh yeah. Also. Just to be clear, we're moving on from Archetypes now. I think you understand what I'm talking about. The psychology involved in this next bit is almost exactly the same, only now it directly involves a presentation of world views.

This kind of psychology is the same psychology that's involved in propaganda and brainwashing. I'm not saying your comic is either. It's not. But the stuff I'm about to talk about is directly related to those areas of psychology.

As we walk through life, we are presented with the world view of our host country. We are, from birth, subtly brainwashed to see the world in certain ways. This is wrong, this is right. That's evil, this is cute, that action is ok, you probably shouldn't touch the stove. Human brains learn from pattern recognition, (there are lots of different learning methods, however pattern recognition is how babies learn things like talking and so on. I may be wrong on this, so anybody who knows a lot about this, feel free to contradict me.) and this allows us to fit in with the larger pattern that is society as a whole. We're taught to recognise certain signs and feedback, how to correctly interact with people and how to not do so. We give off subtle signals to people, whether we know it or not, and these are generated by what society teaches us. Pick Up Artists, while generally looked down on for very good reason, are simply people who understand how to read and game these patterns. How to see the signals, and influence the impressions others gain of them, directly or indirectly.

Every one of us who creates a story, writes something, paints something and so forth, is putting out a specific world view. Usually their own. Whether they want to or not.

My critique of Clara is not that she falls into an archetype or is what is typically found in a character like hers. That was the introduction so you understand where I'm coming from.

No. It's that the world view you present from her is a victim mentality. "I'm stuck, there's nothing I can do, so I might as well roll with the punches, give in and see what comes." It's that annoying "I have a diagnosed syndrome. So there's nothing I can do about it." mentality.

I should put out a disclaimer here on in. I have moderate to severe hearing loss. Without my hearing aids, what I hear sounds like what you might hear if you were wearing a pair of industrial mufflers. I have had that since I was a baby, and I have never considered it a disability. Despite the fact that it should have severely limited my ability to understand and speak languages, and therefore my schooling ability. Indeed, it should have severely affected my ability to interact with people at all. It's not uncommon for me to hear you speaking and not understand a word you say. What has happened however is quite the opposite of what people like me have shown to be the norm. Education wise, I've always been close to top of the class, and I interact with people regularly with ease. To the point where I usually have to point out that I have a hearing loss before they realise it; this is despite the fact that my hearing aids are deliberately not hidden at all. I don't say that to brag. I've always considered it a normal thing in my life and never really thought of it as something to surmount. I just surmounted it automatically. The reason I bring that up is to simply point out that I understand what it's like to have a qualified medical condition that should technically seriously affect your quality of life in several areas.

It's this victim mentality that I want to target, because it's one that presents a world view that we are incapable of doing anything in overwhelmingly antagonistic circumstances. Clara clearly can't break out of her prison, and her attempts to undermine her 'captors' by refusing to help them has just led her to receiving a terrible punishment that she hates or can't endure.

That's fine. Her solution though, is to give in, rather than treat it as a problem to be solved. She hides and capitulates rather than trying to overcome it through other means.And no, her doing something dangerous at the last moment and perhaps killing or overturning Shar doesn't count. That doesn't change the fact that the rest of the time she gives off this overwhelming victim mentality.

A perfect example of a process she might do is what Seta does with Luna towards the end of the 3 chapter. He is tasked with a terrible deed, and he has very little choice because his personal convictions won't let him. So he goes through with it, but undermines Shar's orders by forcing Luna to do exactly what he wants her to do, escape. All the while following orders to the letter. This is the opposite world view to what Clara displays. Seta cannot be accused of being a victim, because he simply does not have that mentality. She can fight by directly undermining what she's ordered to do.

Now, we haven't seen much of Clara, so I can't say a whole lot about her personality above and beyond what is immediately presented. However, there is a further element I would like to throw out there.

Consider now, how her storyline can present different, deep deep elements. She's in a perfect position to have a powerful and emotionally moving redemption plotline. She's in a truly dark world, fighting against an oppression that won't allow her to escape. She hones her abilities with those bandages, enhancing her Sight, so she can use it better, while using it for something she does not like. Were she a real live person, she would quickly become jaded and cynical. Hard because experience has taught her that being soft does you no favours. But the world will grind her down inside. Even though outside it might appear to be going well. She can see things others can't see, and knows things so many others don't know, but she can't do anything about them. I would be surprised if this didn't grate on her slowly over time. This is a specific plotline I'm offering here, I'm not saying you must take it, I'm offering food for thought. That is all.

With that line of thought, you can take her deep into the world of human pain at one of the extremes of a specific type of apathy. A world where despite everything you do and know, you are powerless to change what is most important to you. Where your memories are a graveyard of broken dreams that have died over, and over, and over. Each death stealing a little bit of your soul with it. So that you find after a time that you barely have anything left. So that you scream into the darkness and only hear the vanishing sound of your own voice, without even the echoes to mock you.

The answer to that world view, the one where, against all of it, the character pushes deep, and somehow refuses to give in. Bootstrapping their life one day at a time, crawling from their abyss. Their answer to life's unwavering apathy towards them is a grand 'Fuck you. I will not give in.' The answer to that world view requires one to dig deep into the darkness of human minds, hearts and thoughts and come up with an answer that we can understand intuitively as one that is a truth. Not some trite moment of heroism or realisation, or god forbid - deus ex machina; but rather a deep soul searching that the characters goes through; where they reach answers to fundamental questions through painful trial and error, screams and dogged perseverence. So that you can have them look back eventually and have them realise how far they've come, and even though they've got so far left, at least they can go. I did it.

I found joy.

Or peace.

Or love.

The list goes on. But I think perhaps that you begin to understand what I'm talking about. And how you can use our perspectives, archetypes and world views against us. To teach lessons that strike deep into our hearts and stay there.

Next time. Maytag, and the little we know about your world's dominant tyranny/monarchy. And the above thoughts a little more.

Enjoy. May this find you well.

Everblue Original Critique Part 2

Part 2.

I just read through my post again, and it was a tad rushed. I’m going to apologise for the spelling and grammar, it’s terrible, I know.

There were a few parts I missed, and since I have to wait for my PC to finish it’s irritatingly long render times, I’ve got a bit of time to see if I can muddle through a few more concepts.

If you want expansion on anything, clarity, or it’s just plain confusing, please let me know, I will miss bits, and it’s quarter past five in the morning, so I’ll use that as an excuse for not being quite sharp enough.

It doesn’t help that what I’m about to talk about is quite complex, in depth, and generally advanced. These are not topics you’ll find in the introductory class to writing, these are more things I’ve stumbled upon from listening to other writers and critics talk about their various crafts.

So let’s go into those underlying concepts again, only deeper and hopefully better this time. I missed a few important things I wanted to say.

We’ll start with a few little details I should have picked out earlier.

First up. Our lovely General Shar. He’s trying to keep the peace for a little bit longer. So to speak. The old order works, and it’s worked well in his opinion, and he wants to get the most out of it.

This sets a decent enough premise for his motivation to go after Luna. He’s not blindly following his path, nor is he ignorant of the risks and ramifications of what’s happening. In fact, one could go so far as to say that one of his more defining traits is just how clear headed he is going into this.

From what I can gather from the little pieces of information you’ve dropped on us, he’s been making the kings and leaders of the various island states dance under his fingers, with the help of a number of others, to keep a tentative and dangerously unstable peace in what is one of the larger empires on the world.

Certain things are outlawed because they must be. Because if they aren’t, certain events will happen that will bring a change that he doesn’t want to see happen, because he can see the consequences of this change.

In all likelihood, this will be civil war among the islands, as the newly escaped Catalyst attracts followers and powerful people like flies to honey. Luna represents a new world order, and the resultant chaos that ensues from establishing this order.

He’s been after her for a long time. Actually, considering how long he’s been after her, and the importance of her place in the world in his view; why didn’t he personally oversee her execution. He, in the classic ball drop of every failed antagonist in modern fantasy, left the work to a minion. Sure, a well picked minion.

But a minion nonetheless.

More to the point. Evil overlord list 101.

I will not order my trusted lieutenant to kill the infant who is destined to overthrow me — I’ll do it myself.

Shar strikes me as the sort who’d make sure that the job is done properly, rather than rely on someone else to do it. And so I really have to ask why he just left it to an underling who he knew was closely related to her.

Now, looking past his moment of insanity, I’ll take a look at his character… again.

I didn’t cover it properly before, but he’s got nothing that really distinguishes him as a character. He’s an antagonist, a general, and what one might call a kingmaker. These characters have some very common character traits. Most of which he neatly encompasses.

But that’s not the real issue at play. It’s that he doesn’t have a very strong sense of personality showing through. You’ve given him good lines that sound right, and a strong personality that seems about right.

But it’s not particularly defined by anything. There’s a difference between a dark general’s scowl, and Clint Eastwood’s scowl in Gran Turino. Both have a similar character archetype. However Eastwood does an excellent job of portraying his disapproval at everything, or cynical attempt at smiling. Worse yet, Eastwood is a lot scarier than a brooding general. Doesn’t matter what story they’re in.

The line about the swords? It’s not an uncommon one. The writer wanted to show that the character wasn’t all about fighting and war, that he was nobler, had a higher sense of morality. That he preferred better forms of combat. Only to succeed in saying what many, many characters have before him. The way he held the sword, like he knew how to use it, and understood the intricate beauty of using one. That’s been seen before too. It’s known, because it’s the first thing that comes to mind.

To take him further, you need to really think hard. It’ll come easier as you get more experienced at it. To make him stand out you first have to ask this question.

What defines him as a character?

Then, after answering that. Answer these questions.

Where does he come from?

How would his upbringing have affected his speech patterns?

Does he have a specific dialect that he speaks from?

Does he have a unique vocabulary that he uses?

What does he study in his life? (This hugely affects a persons choice of words).

He rambles. Why does he ramble? When he’s talking about the sword, that’s rambling. Why did he choose to say that?

When dealing with character speech, you’re dealing with text only, so inject life into that text. Really think about how the characters would say things, what inflections they have, what slang they’ll use (everybody uses slang) and what their vocab will be. Real speech isn’t clean and simple. It’s all chopped up and messy. Obviously, you can’t copy verbatim, but messy up the speech of your characters.

Shar less so. Because he’s more refined. But he’ll have definite speech patterns based on his upbringing.

Of course, you’re a webcomic, so you can add expressions and physical actions to punctuate, underline, and add whole knew dimensions to your character’s speech. Combine the two. Iconic speech and iconic action, and you have unforgettable characters.

Shar is forgettable. I’m not saying that to be mean. I mean that he’s got nothing on the complete trolliness of Zee Captain from Romantically Apocalyptic (not a good analogy, I know).

Or the unutterable evil that is Black Mage from 8-Bit Theater:

Or even the straightforward, ruthless brutality of the businessman/villain that dominated Swordfish.

He’s just… Shar. That dude in the armour who stands around trying to look cool and spouting off vaguely ominous sentences about our main characters. Why is the Catalyst bad? The Catalyst can’t be bad. It’s Luna! She’s adorable! What’s so bad about her? Wait, can we even believe the guy who’s trying to kill her and enslaves people?? I don’t believe you Shar! You big meanie!

I’ve gone on long enough. So I’ll leave the thoughts on underlying psychosocial thematics and so on for another day. It’s six AM, I’m tired. This post is darn long. I haven’t even gotten to the deeper details with Luna as the Catalyst, or Clara.

So stay tuned. It’s going to get deeper.

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.


Well. I have a few moments to pen some thoughts while I figure out the kinks in an irritatingly obnoxious Blender render.

So let's begin with the most important thought. Why this is here.

On my way to giving a little bit of critique; or what turned out to be quite a lot of critique; of a webcomic whose work I must say is truly inspiring I got plugged back with an unexpected answer. Diplomatically worded, and terse for fairly good reasons. It essentially translated down to, "I appreciate your efforts, but find somewhere else to put them. This isn't a good place for this."

This was true, and will stay true until some new internet revolution comes along that encourages excessively long and rather abrasive posts.

So that's what this Blog is for. If you're perusing this, just know that this is not the deeply private thoughts of some random bloke on the internet. This is a blog solely dedicated to solid critique of solid or otherwise projects and the discussions that revolve thereof.

If you are an artist, musician, webcomic dude(tte); or other kind of person whose had my thoughts thrown at you in a terse line that says - I've got a lot to say, please go read it [insert link here]. - or some variant thereof; please understand this. If I give thoughts on something, this means that I have accepted the fact that you may contest those thoughts. That's just how these things work.

Please do feel free to  state your yae's and nae's, though keep things civil unless it's to make a good point. I'm happy for people to tell me I'm wrong, just make sure you explain yourself when you do.

So, dear readers. Read on. Enjoy the thoughts, hate them, I don't mind either way.

I hope you learn something new.

I'll see you on the other side.

Daniel, AKA Mugluck AKA Draigr AKA Krayon.