Opportunities You Should Not Miss

After mucking around with (imaginary) TV shows, I’m overdue to write about webcomics again.

When Chapter 8 begun, when the pacing accelerated and the plot started to pay off promises made in earlier chapters, I noticed that in many posts about the Opportunities webcomic I have written about individual pages, panels, or specific techniques, but never given a broad overview.

It’s time to present the large-scale picture and praise the excellent storytelling of Opportunities.

tl;dr -> Opportunities is a great comic: Go read it now!

If you haven’t read the comic yet, nor any of my previous posts, here’s a summary:

Opportunities, created by sincerely and Elliwiny, is about a posse of professional assassins posing as proper businesspeople negotiating with alien spacefarers, because they want to extort a means of space travel to leave Earth behind for good, and about those who stand against them. (See the blurb!)

Be aware that this post contains some SPOILERS; Yet another reason to read the comic right now.

Evolution

Like many webcomics, Opportunities is being created over the course of several years (even if the story itself takes places in just five days). It is no wonder that writing and art improve over time.

That said, since the story has been written – or at least drafted – in its entirety beforehand, from the very beginning the plot is rock-solid, the pacing is great, the character voices are distinctive, and the dialog is snappy and poignant. Everything goes from very good to truly excellent.

The way the story unfolds and is presented is strongly reminiscent of TV shows. This leads to another kind of improvement, as the story builds up a stronger foundation and gathers steam with each chapter, like the episodes of an excellent serial show. (It also means that if you are into great TV drama, you should really have a look at Opportunities.)

One improvement that is more marked than these is the way Opportunities handles exposition. The first two chapters contain quite a bit of expository dialog that feels slightly artificial, but in the later chapters dialog that performs similar function works seamlessly and sounds natural.

Similar to the writing, the art improves over time, but it is very good from the start. The artistic expression becomes even more versatile, even more powerful, and even more intense.

Art

Disclaimer: I’m not an artist or art expert, which means I’m talking out off my a** here.

The art of Opportunities is really good. Compared to the intense black-and-white, gray-scale, or limited palette look of noir detective or dark sci-fi comics, it has a rather laid-back quality, and compared to gloriously colorful fantasy comics, it is a lot more accessible. It is also easy on the eyes in the usual as well as in the strictly literal sense; Places look like places you’d like to be in, people look like people you’d like to be with (in case you’d like to be with ruthless criminals).

The faces and figures of both humans and aliens all look great, believable, adorable, and distinct.

The art quality is very consistent, and the art is always there to serve the story.

On some special occasions the art is unusually fancy and breaks out of the story to highlight character moments and to give the reader something extra to think about.

Page & Panel Layout

Most of the pages have standard rectangular panels arranged in a regular grid. Panel size and grid layout are varied deliberately to emphasize particular story elements and to support rhythm and pacing. Sometimes a layout with many small panels is used for dramatic interpersonal moments, which works well, makes the drama intense, and gives the distinct feeling of an excellent TV show. Often, there are inserts or overlays showing a character’s face in close-up or some important small detail. Sometimes important objects are placed on top of the panel layout.

World Building

The world-building is consistent and supports the story very well.

Since the story takes place in a world that looks a lot like today’s, with a couple of aliens and a few spaceships added, it doesn’t need to be extraordinarily extensive or mind-blowing.

Make no mistake, the focus on the mundane, if lush, business environment is a feature, not a bug; it creates the perfect stage for the amazing characters to act.

Characters & Characterization

The best feature of Opportunities is, without question, its incredible cast.

(You may remember that I dedicated an entire blog post to finding real-life actors that would play Opportunities’ cast in a hypothetical TV adaptation.)

There’s the bunch of human assassins:

  • Sara Emmet is one of my favorite femme fatales in any medium, and one of my favorite female character in general. Headstrong, ruthless, irascible, charming, manipulating, luxurious, and drop-dead (in a figurative and a literal way) sexy: You name any quality you can admire in a woman (who is one ocean and one continent away from you), she has it.
  • Jack Frost sees himself as the cornerstone of the team. He’s still very much infatuated with Sara, even since it’s been a long time since they were lovers, and she’s clearly moved on, long ago, and multiple times. But he still believes that deep in her heart she still loves him. Nobody else shares these beliefs, so you might call him delusional. He’s a loose cannon, but his unpredictability can give him a great tactical advantage. If you ever need an excellent action hero with a big heart and a violent mind, call Jack!
  • Dr. Stone is the evil mastermind. He’s good a reading people, analyzing situations, planning and directing, leading a team, and solving technical as well as interpersonal problems. In what’s truly extraordinary storytelling, none of these qualities is an Informed Ability, rather, every single one is actually shown in action. I’m not sure I’ve seen anything comparable since Gus Frings and Mike Ehrmantraut in Breaking Bad.
  • Baron is the most mysterious character. He knows how to prick on people to get them where he wants them, and to put people in places they’d rather not be, and he can kill swiftly and without remorse, all of which is as highly commendable in a fictional character as it would be deplorable in a real person. But he enjoys doing so to a degree that can compromise his professionalism. Dr. Stone says they can rely on him; So there’s that.
  • Atticus is an alien who serves as the tech guy for the team. The great thing about him is that he combines the typical hacker working habits with an uneven team player attitude and an adorable nerdiness.

Then there are the alien security officers who they have to fight against:

  • Kyan is the leader of the security team. She is well characterized as the most professionally competent protagonist, but she is also the most conflicted, which makes for great drama. It is a testament for the author’s storytelling prowess that her conflicts doesn’t come from psycho-rabble-babble, but from the serious problems inflicted on her due to political requirements for keeping up peaceful appearance that are at odds with security concerns.
  • Rex is her subordinate, who loves to make fun of Kyan’s seriousness. He has a rather laid-back attitude when it comes to security, and prefers to check out the women at the pool instead. Of all things, his peculiar interest in Sara’s fine feminine figure makes him realize that there is some deep deception going on.
  • Nathan is pretty much Rex’ buddy, classically different in attitude and temper.

Two supporting characters have an important function and interaction with those two groups:

  • Marco Santiago aka Cortez is an employee of Pursuit International, the organisation the assassins want to infiltrate. He’s well characterized as an incredibly suave hispanic gentleman (not my words, mind you, but certainly accurate) and becomes Sara’s lover, smokescreen, and manipulation target. The relationship is well depicted, and we get to love him enough to become severely impacted when his interaction with the assassins will get him in harm’s way.
  • Vigi is an alien of a unique species in the comic. She has a history with Kyan, which made them deadly enemies. She tries to expose the Pursuit business deal as fraud with corruption, and gets in the crossfire of the fight between the assassins and the alien security force. She is funny, sometimes almost a comic relief character, but she is characterized seriously, has agency, and if her actions betray more enthusiasm than professional tradecraft, that is her problem, not the author’s fault.

Finally we have a supporting cast of excellent characters who give additional richness to the story. (Remember how much Breaking Bad profited from its great supporting cast?)

Action, Drama & Comedy

Opportunities has an excellent mix of action, drama, and comedy.

After the flash forward at the start which shows us that there will be murder, mayhem, and explosions later on, we see only occasional action until chapter 8, but when we see it, it’s well choreographed and depicted. Opportunities’ focus is rather on drama, and it’s the kind of drama that comes with slow build-up. There’s constantly increasing tension as the plot gets more complex and intertwined, and the reader gets sucked into the story more and more.

There’s great humor mixed into action and drama: Some slapstick, some wordplay, some dramatic irony, but mostly character humor of the finest variety. It is always well-placed, and never undercuts the drama, but more often than not supports and strengthens it.

Plotting & Pacing

Plotting has been done with great skill and dedication: The plot thickens continuously, there are multiple plot strands interwoven and feeding into each other, things get a lot more complex in a very natural way, but the plot always makes sense, and the reader can develop complete trust into the writer’s ability to keep up.

The are numerous twists and surprises, even though the reader is let in on most of the protagonists’ secrets early on; there are only a couple of mysteries, but there is plenty of intrigue. You don’t see this done so well very often.

Pacing is always difficult with webcomics, and so it takes some effort to get into the groove with Opportunities. Once this effort has been expended, the reader will notice that the pacing is really good, there is a rhythm that flows very naturally, and the switch between fast moments, tense moments, and quiet moments is always smooth.

Dialog & Depiction

The dialog is well-written. Each character speaks in their own way, there’s lively back-and-forth in conversations and discussions, emotional state and thinking process are revealed, the aliens speak in a different ways depending on the degree of alien-ness, and everything is done subtly or markedly, with or without exaggeration, whatever style works best.

The art enhances the dialog in the most beautiful way. Facial expression and body language always fit incredibly well. Page composition and panel layout support the dialog wonderfully: They set the stage, establish the tone, keep or switch focus as required, and provide the feel of movement that serves best to engage the reader with every conversation, or even monologue.

If the characters and their interaction are the best features of Opportunities (and they are), the dialog scenes are the perfect presentation of both.

Details & The Big Picture

Another outstanding feature of Opportunities is the diligence on details, and the way small details are used to create an incredible depth for the big picture:

There are many more examples where the eye for detail shows, both in the writing and the art, and the story is so much netter for it.

To say it once again: Opportunities is a great comic: Go read it!

What do YOU think about Opportunities? Tell us in the comments!

BGSD: The Newest Nerd Show On TV

All of the big streaming services introduce each new TV show with much fanfare, sending out trailers and press statements in a mighty flood many month before the actual launch date.

So you can imagine my surprise when I noticed that I had completely missed out on one of the best and funniest and most interesting TV shows I’ve seen since Breaking Bad, the new nerd show about Woman In Comics called BGSD. (It’s a short season, only 7 episodes long, but still …)

Being neither a woman nor a proper geek, I have to wonder if I’m even allowed to have so much fun with a show about female geekdom, but I cannot help, so here we go:

The show is about MellowCon, a fictitious Comic Con style convention held in a fictitious city in an unidentified state in the deep south of the USA, and about the titular BGSD, which stands for B*tches Get Sh*t Done, and is the name of a presentation track and a discussion panel about Women In Comics that will be held the first time during MellowCon.

The full name is often used, but always censored: Every time it is spoken out, some noise drowns part of the words. And the visual censorship is quite literally lampshaded, when during every potentially dangerous wide shot some of the letters are obstructed by lighting equipment.

Viola Davis plays the head of the organization committee, who for the first time wants to keep out the Confederate Soldier cosplayers who traditionally attend, claiming that the only grey uniforms allowed would be those of color-impaired stormtroopers. (Christopher Cousins, who was Ted Bernanke on Breaking Bad, plays her assistant.)

Her fight for this change, with all the assorted politics, is the A plot, and the stories of the female creators who participate in the BGSD presentations and panel collectively constitute the B plot.

The story is told in today’s typical non-linear fashion; we see both the preparation for and the start of MellowCon in parallel. The different timelines converge in the penultimate episode.

Anyone who has ever watched a presentation by or an interview with any of the comic creators that are portrayed in the show will have to agree that it is a shame that they let only one actual Woman In Comics into the cast:

  • Christian Beranek, who plays pretty much herself, in a stunning & irreverent performance.

That said, all the comic creator main characters have been cast with excellently chosen actors:

  • Christine Baranski, showing all the intelligence and charm of Diane Lockhard from The Good Wife, plays The Grande Dame Of Comics, who has just illustrated a graphic novel biography of a famous comic creator, called Awesome Mindblowing Unbelievable.
  • Australian actress Margot Robbie plays an influential Canadian comics historian and independent publisher, who has just published the anthology Geek Girls’ Graces.
  • Mackenzie Davis, who was Mindy Park in The Martian, plays the creator of an occasionally NSFW slice-of-life comic, oscillating between acquired boldness and natural shyness.

Lest you think that BGSD actually means Blondes Get Sh*t Done, take note that:

  • Melissa Rauch, the powerful Dr. Bernadette Rostenkowski-Wolowitz from The Big Bang Theory, now rainbow-colored instead of her natural blond, plays a multi-talent working in academy and industry and as an independent comic creator.
  • Carla Gugino, known from the TV show Threshold and the movies Sin City, Sucker Punch, and San Andreas, this time with flaming red hair, plays a comic writer who created an extraordinary feminist dystopian sci-fi series that quickly becomes popular and influential.
  • Anna Gunn, the fabulous Skyler White from Breaking Bad, dyed her hair to play a comic book writer who is writing for several well-shaped female (super)heroes, which for some odd reasons doesn’t stop some stupid male detractors to claim that she hates boobs.
  • Gillan Anderson plays a webcomic creator and self-published novelist who writes and draws stories about world-wide conspiracies, cyborgs, shady government agencies, power-hungry men and women, mind-control, and a couple of millions of ghosts.

Surprisingly many actresses who play smart and sexy CSI Miami characters are part of the cast:

  • Emily Procter [Calleigh Duquesne] plays an Australian comic artist who draws a story about a female police officer with supernatural background.
  • Eva LaRue [Natalia Boa Vista] plays a writer who works for the Big Two as well as on independent comics, which makes her feel like the luckiest girl in America.
  • Megalyn Echikunwoke [Tara Price] plays a comic publisher and cartoonist from Chicago.

Several more minority characters and actors are involved:

  • Cote de Pablo, the unforgettable Ziva David from NCIS, plays a renowned psychologist who writes a lot about superhero psychology, discussing serious mental health issues.
  • Archie Panjabi, one of my favorite actresses, probably best known as Kalinda Sharma from The Good Wife, or as Serena Johnson from San Andreas, play an artist and webcomics creator with Indian heritage (who might be a mix of different real-life persons).

Additionally, one male creator has a small but still relevant part in the show:

  • Jonathan Banks, known as Mike Ehrmantraut from Breaking Bad, difficult to recognize with all that hair if not for his charm, plays a creator who, 25 years ago, created a science fiction comic with a female hero who is smart, strong, and sexy, but not hyper-sexualized.

There are also a few performances that could be called Easter Eggs:

  • Jewel Staite, Mark Strong, Josh Brolin, and Aaron Paul play four authors who meet at MellowCon to perform a life recording of their award-winning podcast OverWrought. (Great, I love it, but does Aaron Paul really have to wear an I’m Not A Serial Killer t-shirt?)
  • The dream team from the movie Spy, Melissa McCarthy and Miranda Hart, play the creators of a webcomic about a posse of hitmen (and -women) in space. Because they cannot afford to go to MellowCon in person, they follow everybody on social media, and make acerbic comments on the proceedings, in the best Statler & Waldorf fashion.
  • Christina Hendricks plays an English superhero movie screenwriter who is admired for her colorful hair and her voluptuous curves almost as much as for her excellent writing. She prefers to talk about her most recent movie script rather than about Woman In Comics.

Finally, there is a cameo from a male creator:

  • Because what’s good for movies is also good in TV, the man himself shows up when his graphic novel autobiography Awesome Mindblowing Unbelievable is presented.

My recommendation is that you search for and check out the TV show BGSD as soon as possible.

And please tell us in the comments what you think about it!

Also tell us if you can figure out who the creators played by each actress are supposed to be in real life! And please accept my apology for being such an annoyingly unabashed fanboy today! (Yes, I promise it won’t happen again till next year.)

Casting Comic To Film Adaptions: Deep Dive Daredevils

Once again I invite you to join me in casting one of my favorite webcomics, this time Deep Dive Daredevils. Or, more exactly, the third storyline: Pitch Black Day. You may remember that my very first post on this blog was an analysis of the excellent plotting of that story.

[Note: The Deep Dive Daredevils just resumed their adventure after an announced hiatus the writers and artists needed to make sure the next chapter will be awesome.]

I will start by talking about how I would arrange the screenplay, and then move on to the actual casting. And as always, you are invited to comment and discuss, agree or disagree, and tell us what’s on your mind.

There will be spoilers, so I encourage you to check out and read the just about 60 pages of Pitch Black Day before you proceed! Also, you probably won’t understand much of what I’m talking about unless you have read the comic.

Plot Arrangement

As I noted in my first post, the main plot structure of Pitch Black Day is excellent, so there would be little need to change for adaptions. The only – and worthy – challenge would be the editing (cross-cutting) of interweaved scenes in the latter part.

On the other hand, the presentation of the back matter in Pitch Black Day poses a problem. Remember, at the intermission between each chapter, Pitch Black Day features some really cool in-universe documents describing the back story of Dracula, SIS Section X, and Abigail Singer.

I really want to create flashback scenes for the back matter instead of just reading them out loud!

My first idea was to create a framing narration structure in which both the story chapters and the back matter scenes are introduced like video presentations. But while I think such a structure can work – some 1980’s French spy movies made good use of a pseudo-documentary style  – I’m not really satisfied with that approach.

There’s a better way. If we see Abigail steal all the documents from the ultra-secret evidence facility, and she takes them with her on board the Custer, we can display the flashback scenes while Abigail, or a crew member, reads the respective document.

So I would start the movie with an extensive James Bond style pre-title-vignette:

  • The first thing we see is water, with a caption and voice-over identifying place – The Irish Sea, off Blackpool – and the time. Then we see a submarine periscope breaking the surface, which will rotate slowly, indicating the Captain taking a good look at the surroundings. Afterwards a snorkel – which will set off the anachronism alert for history buffs at the earliest possible moment – and then an antenna pylon break the surface.
  • Next we see a female agent – Abigail – sending a Morse code message using a WW II style spy radio transmitter suitcase. This happens on land, near the premise of the Ultra J Level evidence facility in Leeds, as is indicated by caption and/or voice over.
  • Aboard the Custer, the message is deciphered as time and date for a secret rendezvous.
  • Then we see, montage-style, how Abigail breaks into the facility and steals the documents
  • Finally, Abigail joins the Custer. (Maybe by seaplane?)

During the titles and the music, we see a nautical chart where the course of the Custer is plotted from the Irish Sea to the mid-Atlantic.

At the start of the movie proper, we are on page one of the comic!

I’d handle the end of the story, told in the final back matter section in the comic, quite similarly: During the end credit, I’d show on a map how the Custer moves to different ports, disembarks Abigail in Bombay, and sails towards the Pacific Ocean while the map display fades out, and then add an after-credit-scene – probably a montage – that shows Abigail going after Jack The Ripper.

Casting Principles

Since this is pretty much a thought experiment, I don’t need to base my choices on any fixed point in time, i.e. I will mix actors at a certain age even if the relative ages would never fit.

And my goal is not to recreate the visuals of the comic perfectly, so I’m not going to look at which actor looks most similar to the comic character as drawn. Just like Krysten Ritter doesn’t look exactly like Jessica Jones from the comics, nor Margot Robbie like comic book Harley Quinn.

The Main Cast:

  • Joe: In all likelihood this will be my most controversial choice. I’d not cast an actual boy, or a boyish looking adolescent, but rather make him seemingly ill-fitted to be XO of a submarine in a different way. I’d cast RJ Mitte at the age he had for the first season of Breaking Bad. On board of the Custer, he walks with crutches, but when he goes into action, he wears some kind of exosceleton device.
  • Abigail Singer: Another crazy choice of mine. Instead of all the others you guys will come up with, I choose MirandaHart. I loved her as Melissa McCarthy’s sidekick in Spy, and she is an English aristocrat progeny turned common brat. I heard some people complain about her funny line in Spy either badly written or delivered, but I can neither confirm nor refute such claims, as I’ve seen the movie twice, but both times with German dubbing.
  • Dr. McCarver: I wouldn’t really have thought of casting Laurence Fishburne based only on his role as Morpheus in the Matrix, but after seeing him recently as a professor for forensic in CSI, I really like that idea.
  • Dracula: Instead of looking for an actor who can properly play an Hungarian aristocrat, I’d focus on the contrast between manners and politeness on one side, diabolical power greed and abusive mind-control on the other, and cast David Tennant, who played the extremely creepy supervillain Kilgrave on Jessica Jones.
  • Captain Custer: Mickey Rourke with the hard-boiled look he had as Marv in Sin City.
  • Father McFlaherty: For an Irishman who is a badass fighter against evil, we cannot go wrong with Pierce Brosnan, can we?
  • McGinty: Liam Cunningham from Game Of Thrones is a strong option for a strong guy.
  • Deveraux: Even though he may not be as popular in the US and elsewhere as he is in Europe, I’ll cast Jean-Paul Belmondo, at the age he had when he was in Breathless (the French original of course, not the 1983 American remake).
  • Twitchy: You may call me lazy and point out that Peter Dinklageis another Game Of Thrones actor, but I only know him as the wonderful mathematician and linguist from Threshold. And no, I don’t have any real justification for casting him; I just like the idea.
  • Dr. Spett: You may or may not remember Jürgen Prochnow from Das Boot; he can certainly play an armseliger Bösewicht from Germany.

Additional Characters For The Flashbacks:

  • Jehan Bumpass: I’d cast Amanda Redman, who played Sandra Pullman in the British crime series New Tricks.
  • Marvyn Astor (SISX Protocol 15 Supervisor): Since this is a very minor character, I have no misgivings about taking a rather obvious choice with Mark Strong (Merlin from Kingsman).
  • Old Director SISX (Alistair Thorpe): In my opinion David McCallum, who plays Donald Mallard on NCIS, could give this character all the necessary depth, charm, and tiredness.
  • New Director SISX: We never get the name of this gentleman, but the meanness shown would be a great contrast to Gary Oldman‘s very sympathetic portrayal of George Smiley.
  • Principal, Miss Brindley’s School For Wayward Girls: How about Gillian Anderson with her trademark unamused look and posture, and her low tolerance for spooky nonsense?

We would certainly need to cast even more characters for additional supporting roles, but I don’t really have strong ideas about those. Maybe you have? Tell us in the comments!

What’s On Your Mind?

Do you agree or disagree with my choices? Do you have other suggestions? Do you have favorite casting choices for other webcomics? Tell us in the comments!

Book Review: Secret Loves of Geek Girls

This is the first time a call a blog post on Provocative Praise a Review.

I don’t normally use that word, because I don’t really consider the bits that I write about comics, films and books to be actual reviews. I almost exclusively talk about things I love, focus mostly on where they excel, and don’t typically think much about what other people may like or dislike.

The reason that I absolutely have to call this post a review is that I got a complementary digital review copy from the book’s editor, Hope Nicholson. (Note the reviewer’s disclosure.) In my opinion it would go against professional courtesy and common basic decency to mince words and shy away from declaring this a review of Secret Loves Of Geek Girls.

For those who don’t know me I should point out that I’m not in the target audience of the book. I’m not a girl (but rather a cis, straight, white male). And I’m not even a geek. I have some of the geeky interests, but none of the geeky lifestyles and attitudes, and also an idiosyncratic taste: Firefly but not Farscape, Guardians Of The Galaxy but not The Avengers, Threshold but not X-Files, Schlock Mercenary, Space Mullet and Drive but not Star Wars.

Why did on I want to read this book and talk about it? Well, discussion about it showed up in my Twitter feed, with pictures – both cartoons and photos – of these Geek Girls sitting around and talking in what looked like a fun party. As long as they humour me, I might as well join in and listen. You never know what you will learn by listening to people, especially those that are different from you.

What did I learn from reading the book?

Secret Loves Of Geek Girls is an anthology that combines many different types of stories – comics, illustrated stories, short stories, essays, protocol / log entry style writing, etc. – from many very different authors. As editor Hope Nicholson writes in the foreword: “It was important to me to have stories from a variety of experiences”. That goal was achieved most certainly. Notwithstanding that all the writers identify as Geek Girls, the diversity among them is incredible.

Unfortunately, the large number of authors makes it quite impossible for me to mention any specific names without giving away an unintended notion of differences in quality or importance. I will sum up my impressions instead.

With this type of anthology it would be unusual if all stories would resonate with me – or most readers, I’d assume – with equal strength. They didn’t. Some of the comics and the stories I found really good, even brilliant. A few I couldn’t get into at all. Most of them I found interesting and fun to read.

Now, if this doesn’t sound overly enthusiastic, keep in mind what I said earlier about not being in the target audience! If you are a Geek Girl, or the partner of a Geek Girl, or a parent of a Geek Girl, you will probably get much closer to the material than I ever could.

Overall, I found the whole book well written and/or illustrated. By the nature of the book, all of the stories are very personal and very frank. They are all to the point, and clear about what they want to convey. Those stories that are decidedly funny all made me laugh.

Some stories are funny, some are serious, some are sad, some are something else entirely. But none of them is mopey, whiney, or desperate. None of them is condescending or hostile to anyone. I wish everyone would stand by their own life choices and experiences, without denouncing those of other people, in just the way these Geek Girls do.

And I noticed that sometimes life experiences that are totally different from my own can nevertheless show some strange familiarity. Many of the stories talk about using fanfiction as a means to explore sexual and relationship issues. In the words of the editor: “For so many people out there, a fictional crush is just as intense as a real-world one, and a whole hell of a lot safer!” This concept is totally foreign for me. I have no interest whatever in fanfiction, and I’d never use it for any such purpose. But it dawned on me that in my favorite fiction – sci-fi, espionage, thriller – I often develop an astonishing infatuation about femme fatales or women who could kill me with their pinkie. Talk about using safe spaces for exploration.

To sum up: Secret Loves Of Geek Girls is a fascinating book, and with regard to anyone who is in the target audience I can only join editor Hope Nicholson in her wish that “… you’ll enjoy these stories, and I hope it starts off some fascinating conversations about the myriad ways we each experience love, sex, and dating.”

Also, I had a lot of fun reading this book and reviewing it, so I entertain the thought to do more book reviews in the future. But of course, I’ll have to write some more about my favorite webcomics, first. There so much out there that I want to enjoy, and share the passion.

BTW, if you want to know what people who are in the target audience, i.e geek girls, think about this book, you could start by reading the review by Ari Carr.

I wish you a merry christmas, or a fun holiday, or whatever these days may mean for you.

Dynamic Does Not Equal Unbridled

This is another post where I analyze a particular page of one of my favorite webcomics, this time today’s page of Opportunities, but it’s also a post where I talk about a more general theme.

In a recent discussion on twitter, the idea came up that many of today’s comics are no longer written in the awesomely dynamic style of bygone days, but rather in the style of movie / TV show scripts, making the comics subject to limitations that are crucial in film-making but suck the lifeblood out of comics. That discussion focused on superhero comics, which I don’t read and cannot comment on. But I do have an opinion on what makes comics so special, as I have written about before, for example in my blog post called Framing: Fancy, Focused, Fast, And Furious.

In that post I wrote specifically about the differences between movie/TV style and webcomic techniques. And I really love it when comics push borders, even if it are only the panel borders. But today, in contrast, I find it very interesting to look at this comic page, that does not use any fancy techniques, but works just like a scene in a TV drama might unfold, and nevertheless looks awesome and dynamic.

It is probably no accident that I choose a page from Opportunities to explore this theme, because it is the webcomic that reminds me the most of a modern TV drama (Breaking Bad, The Good Wife, How To Get Away With Murder), as evidenced by the fact that I even wrote about the way I would write and cast an Opportunities TV show.

Opportunities contains some action and some violence, and certainly more than enough from the point of view of a couple of murder victims featured in the story. But it treats these in a more suptle way – once again, not from the point of view of the victims – and relies more on dramatic tension or dramatic impulse. The page in question is full of dramatic impulse (I don’t use the term dramatic action because I want to contrast it with action action, without introducing confusion) expressed as a rather one-sided dialog.

The central element in dramatic dialog, who would have thought of it, is the exchange of words between the participants. These words are either on the audio channel (movies/TV) or in the dialog boxes (comics). The visual elements must not detract from them or make them more diffcult to follow – except in cases where you specifically want dialog to be confusing or blurred – but rather enhance the spoken word, by adding emotion, guiding audience focus, or implying subtext. To achieve these goals, both film and comic use quite similar techniques to cue in the audience:

  • Use the spacial postion of the speaker and the listener, both with regard to each other and with regard to the surroundings, as indicators for their abstract position: power (im)balance, emotional (dis)connection, kind of relationship.
  • Either keep focus on one person, or switch focus between persons, to stress the nature of the dialog (one-sided or interactive).
  • Zoom in on the speaker, or on the listener, to emphasize that person’s emotional state.
  • Zoom out from the persons to emphasize the importance of the dialog for the outside world.
  • Use small actions to stress the most important words or emotions.
  • Use movement to lead into or out of the dialog scene and connect it meaningfully with other plot developments.

  • Today’s page of Opportunities uses several of these techniques to great avail.

    The first row of five panels focuses on Sara, without looking directly into her face, and shows her gestures and her banging at the door. This emphasizes her anger and frustration.

    The first panel in row two zooms in on Sara’s face to give the reader an idea of what Cortez must feels looking at her angry face. The rest of row two shows Cortez hopeless attemt at defending himself; Sara will have none of it.

    In the third row we zoom out, and also see Sara distancing herself from Cortez, and we see – masterfully emphasized by the lettering – that she is now talking monologue, fully focused on her own problem, pretty much ignoring Cortez’ point of view completely.

    In the forth and final row, we have a sigle wide panel showing how Sara walks away from Cortez, with a small overlay panel that shows her looking back with contempt. This walk away both puts the final nail in their converstation, leaving Cortez behind alone, distressed, and probably hurt, and also segues into the next page, where we can expect some more drama (or action).

    To sum up, for me such a page with lots of drama expressed by suptle rather than loud visual means is a wonderful reading experience. It is something that should be part of any serious storytelling in comics.

    What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Tell us in the comments!

    Seven Questions About Drive

    Here’s the seventh installment of Seven Questions About: This time I interviewed Dave Kellett, the writer of the outstanding webcomic Drive, which I wrote about a couple of times on this blog, especially in the spoilerific post Drive: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera.

    Note that this time, the answers are mostly spoiler-free, but as always I strongly encourage you to start an archive binge of Drive immediately.

    Here we go:

    Q1: Who are you?

    I’m Dave Kellett, the cartoonist behind DRIVE and SHELDON, and one of the directors of the documentary, STRIPPED.

    Q2: What is Drive about?

    DRIVE is a sci-fi comic opera, that takes place in humanity’s space age at the beginning of the 25th Century.

    It tells the story of a second Spanish empire, a galactic empire, and its looming war with a race called “The Continuum of Makers”. Humanity has built their empire using technology stolen from the Makers — and these creatures want it back with an almost religious fervor.

    In the brewing war, it’s clear that humanity will lose, and lose badly, unless they can find some advantage in battle. That hope arrives in the form of a tiny, mysterious creature who can drive a starship like no one’s ever seen. Now all humanity needs to do…is find 10,000 more pilots just like him. But no one knows where he’s from.

    Q3: Why and how did Drive get started?

    The story rumbled around in my head for a number of years before I started it. And at first, it was a tentative start. Not knowing how or where to bring the story into the world, it started as a “Saturday Sci-fi” feature on my other webcomic site, Sheldon.

    Q4: What influences made Drive into what it is?

    The two biggest influences are Frank Herbert and Douglas Adams. Herbert’s DUNE series and Adams HITCHHIKER’S GUIDE series are the mother and father of DRIVE. Serious story, fun characters.

    Q5: To what degree did you plan out the entire outline beforehand, and how did your plan evolve either before or after you started publishing Drive?

    The story arc is all planned out, although I intentionally leave myself wiggle room to insert fun side-adventures as I go. Originally, it was slated to be about a 7-year arc….but it might take me closer to a decade to finish.

    Q6: What is the interaction between the peculiar features of your great alien races and the plot: Did you invent the aliens and look for stories to tell about them, or did you come up with plot ideas first and invented aliens to act them out?

    Some were plot-driven, and some were feature-driven. The main bad-guys of the story, though — The Continuum of Makers and The Vinn — both of those existed almost before the story.

    Q7: How much did you actually study historical events and structures as precedents for the Drive timeline (foundations and fate of global empires, dictators and their oppression mechanisms, military science and technology, initial contact with technologically superior societies and subsequent adaption, e.g. post-1853 Japan), and how did you develop these themes for Drive?

    The Empire of DRIVE is absolutely based on the precedents of human history, and the empires and power structures that have come before. For example, the closest parallel to the Spanish “familia” who runs the human empire is probably the House of Saud, and it’s relation to global oil supplies. The Jinyiwei, who are the secret police of the story, are a direct descendant of the Ming Dynasty’s secret police. IndustriaGlobo, which is the massive manufacturer which owns/operates a huge chunk of humanity’s output, can trace its lineage to any one of a dozen huge corporations in human history.

    Got any comments?

    In my opinion, Dave‘s answers are short and poignant.

    And if you think they are very short, I’d have to agree, but on the other hand, he send them to me in record time, so I’m inclined to grant him some slack. (David, if you are reading this, be assured that I spoke in jest; your answers were great.)

    What do you think? Tell us in the comments!

    Single Sentence Scrutiny: 11 Action / Thriller / Crime / Espionage Webcomics

    This is another Single Sentence Scrutiny post. This time I focus on Action/Thriller/Crime/Espionage webcomics. Each one gets one single sentence of explanation.

    Note that neither order nor sentence length are indicative of relative awesomeness. The same goes for sentence quality.

    This time I do not differentiate between categories, but rather list the comics in alphabetical order. Note that a few of them have been listed under the Spy-Fi heading in my previous post Single Sentence Scrutiny: 44 Science Fiction Webcomics.

    Also not that some of them, unfortunately, are currently on hiatus.

    Here we go! Do you like or dislike any particular comic? Let us know in the comments.

    A Girl and Her Fed is an astonishing twenty-minutes-into-the-future-but-with-supernatural-elements espionage webcomic that features really evil villains, but also shows political antagonism coming from different viewpoints and goals rather than from moral deficiency, and how the good guys sometimes make questionable choices as well.

    Amazing Agent Luna and its prequel Amazing Agent Jennifer are high-tech espionage stories, with cloning technology at the forefront, set in High School, adhering to many of the Manga-stlye tropes, even the more disturbing ones, but also with pretty solid storytelling.

    Broken Telephone is an intriguing story that interweaves in Rashomon-style six different more-or-less concurrent plot lines each featuring different protagonists who are the hero of their own story and the villain of someone else’.

    Note: You may also want to read my recent post Seven Questions About Broken Telephone.

    Drugs And Wires is a pretty dark and disturbing take on Cyberpunk.

    Femme Noir is about a Femme Noir, obviously, chasing crime etc., with well crafted writing and beautiful and stylish visuals.

    Gravedigger is my favorite webcomic about an anti-hero who’s pretty damn good at figuring angles and covering bases, goes down with style, but is always prepared, makes sure he’ll lick it, eventually, and narrates his tales with dry wit and quick perception.

    Note: You may also want to read my recent post Seven Questions About Gravedigger.

    Opportunities is a webcomic that will develop into something like space opera, but since the entire first book is set on Earth, it is a twenty-minutes-into-the-future-but-with-aliens-and-spaceships espionage story, and it relies on continually rising dramatic tension instead of mindless action, and constantly surprises the reader in spite of being very upfront and hiding very little from the reader.

    Note: You may also want to read my recent post Seven Questions About Opportunities.

    Protege is my favorite dark and gritty action thriller spy story webcomic, because it is told fast-paced, with constantly rising tension, doesn’t shy away from going really dark places, but without invoking much gore, and has the most interesting characters and superb world-building.

    Note: Protege will resume updating tomorrow, Nov 25th., and you may also want to read my recent post Seven Questions About Protege.

    Spy6teen is high-tech espionage meets high-school drama, well written and professionally visualized.

    Three Minute Max is an action-packed dramatic story with teleportation technolgy and sorta-kinda superheroes that is sometimes over-the-top but has a heart that never stops (unlike that of the hero).

    Note: There are more Action/Thriller/Crime/Espionage webcomics than I could possibly cover here, or even know of. There are also those that I don’t like, but that may nevertheless be very good (because my taste is just my taste, duh).

    Can you express in one sentence why you love your favorite webcomic? Tell us in the comments!

    Of course, many of the explanations given in the one sentence descriptions above deserve further exploration. I will revisit them in forthcoming posts.