Opportunities In Space

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!

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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!

    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.

    Single Sentence Scrutiny: 44 Science Fiction Webcomics

    This is another Single Sentence-Scrutiny post. This time I focus on Science Fiction 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. Much to my dismay I have to focus on quantity rather than quality in this article, because I want to list as many comics as possible. Note that I only mark comics as NSFW in very strong cases.

    I grouped the comics based on whether they are set in space or on Earth, and whether they qualify as spy-fi rather than sci-fi. I’ll move from Earth to outer space in several steps.

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

    Embellished Slice-Of-Life

    Here are a couple of webcomics that are mostly slice-of-life but also feature some futuristic element:

    Never Mind the Gap is a romantic story (of the steamy kind, if you catch my drift -> definitely NSFW) set in a world that has undergone dramatic changes from our current one but doesn’t really feel post-apocalyptic, let alone dystopian.

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

    Questionable Content is a relationship-drama-driven slice-of-life comedy webcomic, featuring humans that need to grow a pair and robots that are to cocky, with lots of humor and drama that are true to the characters.

    Spy-Fi

    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.

    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).

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

    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.

    Retro-SF

    Deep Dive Daredevils is an exciting pulp-style adventure webcomic that combines historical submarine action, retro-science-fiction thrills, supernatural chills, and bunch-of-ragtag-misfits shenanigans, and craftily employs all the old, well-known tropes and twists them like no one else, delivering entirely new levels of surprising, yet inevitable.

    Westward is a very weird story on Earth and in space, in the past, the present and the future.

    Far-Future Earth

    Two webcomics that are set on Earth, but in a far away in time future:

    Datachasers is very dark and disturbing, but also full of drama and excellent action.

    Alice Grove is mostly irreverent fun.

    Not Yet In Space Or No Longer In Space

    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.

    Relativity is about the aftermath of an experimental space flight that has strange unintended consequences that unravel mankind’s knowledge of space-time as well as the relationships of the protagonists in crazy ways.

    Space

    First lets look at some science fiction webcomics that play out in space:

    Schlock Mercenary is a science fiction webcomic that applies poignant satire on many levels (visual, narrative, dialog, plot), with multiple scopes (personal, relationship, professional, technical, organizational, strategic, political), and to different effects (silly, funny, weird, dramatic, dark and disturbing).

    Space Mullet is a dark-and-gritty-but-also-quite-funny science fiction (in space) webcomic, where the guys are valiant and wise-cracking, the girls are tough and pretty, the aliens are alien and relatable, the moons and planets are gourgeous, and the weapons and spaceships are top-notch designs.

    Greasy Space Monkeys is special for being a webcomic that spices up Gibsonian high-tech-low-life underdog-in-space slice-of-life shenanigans with Crocodile Dundee-esque romantic comedy sprinkles, including courtship rituals ranging from impersonating a spaceship captain to refusing to either confirm or deny allegations of being a murderer to threatening inevitable nuclear annihilation.

    Galaxion is a wonderful webcomic featuring Live. Love. Hyperspace., which means that it got its priorities right.

    Trekker is a cool webcomic that starts from a pretty standard science fiction setting and premise, but the story is interesting, the plot is well executed, and the visuals are easy on the eyes.

    Quantum Vibe is a science fiction webcomic that populates an epic world in a setting limited to our solar system and speed-of-light communication with an incredibly diverse set of characters even without any aliens. (Note: This changes with the new storyline, set a long time after the initial three books.)

    Drive is a great webcomic that combines serious, incredibly creative world-building and goofy but loveable characters into an intriguing story.

    Space Corps is a science fiction webcomic with world-buildung based on blatant setting rip-off (Semper Fi IN SPACE) enforcing ridiculous constraints on alien design (only the head can be different, and it still has to fit into a standard human-sized helmet), which is great fun because it unflinchingly runs with the concept and includes alien characters which are pretty cool despite the constraints.

    Spacetrawler is a very remarkable science fiction webcomic populated by a plethora of incredibly versatile alien designs that take full advantage of the freedom afforded by the medium and accept no constraints whatsoever.

    Space Pest Removal is a cute science fiction webcomic characterized by cartoon-style visuals and storytelling that always makes me smile and often makes me wonder.

    Crowded Void is particularly nauseating science fiction webcomic. (Seriously, can you imagine any science fiction setting as gross as the intestines of a giant space worm? If so, please tell us in the comments.)

    Intergalactic Medical Doctor is a new science fiction webcomic that mixes low comedy, high satire, and a dramatic center.

    Supermassive Black Hole A* is a sci-i story that takes the antihero concept to hitherto unknown places, making you root for a selfish mass murderer simply because she is an attractive women on so many levels.

    Cassiopeia Quinn is fanservice and funservice, in space.

    Space Junk Arlia is about space pirates versus the space fleet, and who’re the more respectable ones?

    Terra is all about fighting in space, with a motley crew.

    Flight Of The Binturong is a fun little story about a spaceship crew that gets screwed over by the powers-that-be.

    Dressed For Success is about two guys running away from the mob, in space.

    11th Millennium is concerned with girl problems in space, including, but not limited to, friendship, sex, gaming, betrayal, crime, sabotage, smuggling, militant rebellion, and interstellar war.

    Star Shanty features pirates in space! [The site has been down for some time now. I hope it – or at least the comic – will resurface some day.]

    Starslip shows us space (and time) adventures with a captain who is a museum curator.

    dord is the science fiction webcomic that Samuel Beckett would have written.

    Yesterday Bound is all-out fanservice and action, in space.

    Praesidium devolves into pure tragedy & death in space!

    Space Pulp is called Space Pulp for a reason! Fun to read, but definitely NSFW on occasion.

    Merceneiress gets really dark and disturbing on so many levels.

    Crimson Dark could be described as Star Wars meets Firefly.

    Blue Milk Special is a parody of Star Wars that will be lots of fun for fans of the franchise.

    The Lydian Option is pretty much the webcomic equivalent of a Die Hard style action movie in space.

    Velocidad is an action-packed space pirates/rebels/renegades story, set in a fairly standard sci-fi world, but with a twist, and with a visual style that took some time for me to get comfortable with, but is certainly unique and interesting, an dfull of cool space-stuff designs.

    Note: There are more science fiction webcomics than I could possibly cover here. And if I don’t like them, they 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.

    Note that my next blog post is Single Sentence Scrutiny: 11 Action/Thriller/Crime/Espionage Webcomics.

    Provocative Praise Picks #11

    Today’s Provocative Praise Pick is a page from last week’s Opportunities by Elliwiny and Sincerely.

    It is the penultimate page of chapter 6, a page which delivers great dialog and characterization and sets up some crucial plot development.

    The main characters on that page are Kyan, chief of security for the spaceships of an alien goodwill mission, and her subordinate officer Rex. Also important is the subject of their conversation, the wonderful lover & killer, sweet-talker & liar, charge-taker trouble-maker, and all-around femme fatale, Sara Emmet. That the latter is not an active part of the page, but still plays a central role, is a particularly charming storytelling detail. Another one is that Kyan has only one line of dialog, and it’s just a cheap quip, on a page that focuses on her thinking, and all the important visuals are dedicated to her reaction to what she hears.

    The page has ten panels in four rows. Panel two, three, and four show the human visitors from a distance, with voice-overs from Rex, whose gesture in the first panel introduces these panels as the subject of his explanations. In the foreground of panel four we see Rex’ index finger pointing out Sara as the subject he wants to talk about.

    Panel five shows both Rex and Kyan, but the emphasis is put on Kyan, who gives her subordinate a derisive look. On panel six she makes an hourglass gesture to point out the obvious: Rex is rather fond of shapely woman, and his obsession with Sara may be based on that, instead of the professional paranoia that fuels herself. Fun fact: Rex made a similar gesture when he came down from his observation round of the hotel pool on the roof.

    Panel seven shows Kyan becoming rather introspective, and in panel eight she is even surprised and openly curious. This change in her attitude, clearly visible in these three panels which form the third row of the page, is caused by Rex’ explanations that he was indeed a professional observer, at least in part, and had noticed how Sara was performing some shenanigans that must be part of the evil plan that Kyan is so paranoid about. Note: Her professional paranoia is well-merited; we know that Sara and her co-conspirators are up to no good, indeed.

    Panel nine is a close-up on Rex, again, while he relates the most crucial information: The additional pseudonym that Sara used while she was disguised.

    Panel ten shows both of them, and closes this page with a sarcastic remark she would be dead if which emphasises Kyan’s drive to for action following from the information.

    All in all, the dialog on this page is concise, cut out to form, and well-paced, and both the dialog and its effect on Kyan are excellently visualised.

    In a sentence:Very well done!

    What is your favorite webcomic page or panel from last week? Tell us in the comments!

    Drive: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera

    Today I’m talking about the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett, which is a story that’s Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera. I already mentioned Drive in several blog posts.

    Space Operas are awesome!

    In movies, the coolest Space Opera lately was Guardians Of The Galaxy. Facilitated by technological progress, it sported amazing visuals. The combination of Space Opera and Superhero Movie was done very well.

    Guardians Of The Galaxy even profited from the fact that it came late to join a long history of Space Opera movies: Non-human characters as part of an ensemble cast are no longer something that stands out too much, which enabled the film-makers to integrate all these genetically enhanced/modified/created characters so seamlessly that they could perform any imaginable movie character function. Paradoxically, by adding a raccoon and a tree to the cast, Guardians Of The Galaxy manged to make both the Superhero and the Space Opera genre appear more human.

    Space Opera Webcomics are eve more awesome

    I have no considered opinion what the latest, greatest Space Opera is on TV, in novels, or in printed comics, but I do have an opinion about webcomics:

    Since Space Operas as stories are awesome, and webcomics as a storytelling medium are awesome, it come to no surprise that Space Opera Webcomics are super awesome.

    Ever since the great webcomic Space Trawler by Christopher Baldwin (which will be the topic of another blog post here, some day in the future) came to its brutal conclusion, which was most fulfilling, if also very sad, there can no longer be any question that the webcomic Drive, created by Dave Kellett, is the current apex of Space Opera in webcomics.

    What do I mean with: Pushing The Limits Of Space Opera? The possibilities to enlarge the size and scope of space operas in a numerical sense are endless: Adding more planets (or even galaxies), more races, more weapons, more magic, greater time spans; you name it, someone has done it. And this approach isn’t necessarily bad, as evidenced by a couple of great works which do this, for example one of my favorite webcomics, Schlock Mercenary. (Just to be clear, Schlock Mercenary does a lot of other cool things as well.)

    Also, science fiction stories or space operas that do not push the limit as described in this post can still be totally awesome: Space Mullet (see also these posts), Trekker (see also those posts), Opportunities (see also those other posts), and Space Junk Arlia are fine examples.

    Drive: Beware The SPOILERS!

    Now I will have to back up this bold claim with hard facts, but to do so requires countless SPOILERS, so I encourage you to check up on Drive first.

    It’s about 200 pages in, so reading it all will take some time, but it will be totally worth it: You will you avoid SPOILERS, and it will also be one of the best stories you have read in a long time.

    Now, if you have read Drive, or are not afraid of SPOILERS anyway, you can proceed.

    Drive: The Promises

    Drive is very upfront and open with its promises to the reader:

    • By the end of the prologue, at page three, we know the main premise of the world-building, namely the Ring Drive and the Second Spanish Empire build from it. Tone and style are already being established.
    • About two dozen pages later, we know the main characters, but one, and also much more about the world-building, and most of the premise for the story. We have also seen a couple of amazing backmatter pages from the Enciclopedia Xenobiologia.
    • When the last addition to the main ensemble cast is introduced, it takes little more than a dozen pages till it is revealed that Orla keeps some secrets from the rest of the crew.
    • When the Filipods are introduced, it is made clear that they are poets whose loquaciousness can bore people to death, but also super awesome scientists and engineers.
    • Further into the story, we are presented with a map of the galactic powers that tells us about every place we will ever encounter.
    • When their home planet is cracked in half, the Filipods, because of their unique evolutionary development, are kept alive, and not thrown into the air like every Tesskan who lives on the same planet.
    • We also see, quite early on, an organisational chart that hints at a super-secret unit called Jinyiwei, headed by the Puno Gris.

    Drive: The Surprises

    But despite being so upfront, and never playing hide-and-seek or smoke-and-mirrors, Drive manages to surprise the reader, again and again, and on so many different levels:

    There are many, many more. Which one are your favorites? Tell us in the comments!

    Drive: The Big Payoffs

    What makes Drive truly extraordinary is how the different surprising developments interact with each other and form a fabric of world-building that has few equals with regard to complexity, creativity, cohesion and clarity.

    There is no hokus-pokus, mumbo-jumbo, yadda-yadda bullsh*t going on; everything in this story is mind-blowing exactly because it all makes sense, it all comes together.

    Here are the examples for payoffs that fulfill the promises, surprise the reader, pull story elements together, and also intrigue us by promising even more fantastic story developments:

    Just to make it clear, there are a couple more important developments that could be listed here as well, time and space permitting. This is a blog post, and not an epic!

    Drive: The Future

    The best thing about Drive is that we are just a little into the second act now, which means that the best is still to come. I’m really excited about the future of Drive and so should you; go check it out!

    Now, what do you think? Please tell us in the comments!

    Provocative Praise Picks #6

    Today’s Provocative Praise Pick is last Friday’s page from Opportunities by sincerely and Elliwiny, who, by the way, recently answered my Seven Questions About Opportunities.

    That page illustrates the unique ways in which comics can combine visuals with dialog and plot to tell an interesting story.

    First in case you aren’t up-to-date on Opportunities, the two aliens are security officers charged to protect the alien diplomats and decision-makers (not seen on this page) on a goodwill and negotiation mission to Earth. Kyan, the female-looking alien, is in charge, and frustrated at the difficulties in her job due to diplomatic necessities. Rex, the male looking alien, is a laid-back type of guy who wants to make sure Kyan is not more p*ssed off that usual by others, and doesn’t p*ss off other.

    The humans are all involved with the negotiations, and they want to use some spare time to visit the alien spaceship and have fun. Cortez, the suave hispanic man, is trying to impress the other humans, especially Sara, his newly-aquired lover. Sara is, unbeknownst to the other humans, but highly suspected by Kyan, actually an assassin who want to wreak havock on the aliens, posing as the secretary of a man they killed before he could have introduced her.

    Now let’s do an in-depth analysis:

    Panel One, we see Cortez approaching Kyan, who is still in her suffer-no-fool-especially-not-these-ones mood, clearly visble in her posture.

    Panel Two, Sara tried to back out, because she doesn’t want to risk exping her fake identity. Note the changing look on Kyans face, and note how her ear is very prominent in the panel, reminding us that she has excellent, superhuman hearing and can understand Sara clearly.

    Panel Three, we see Rex going through hoops trying to deflect the humans wish to see the spaceship without being too obviously rude.

    Panel Four is the most interesting, the encapsulating the crucial plot point. Kyan is now determined to make use of the crazy situation, and play the player, Sara, thinking that it may be better to keep a dangerous person close, if you have control of the situation. Note how the panel itself is visually unassuming, but fraught with meaning, and the dialog is sparse and only hints at her thoughts. It’s our own mind that makes this panel so great and important.

    Panel Five gives us the crucial decision in one line of dialog, visually zooming back to show all the persons affected by it.

    Panel Six & Seven show us Rex trying to understand what’s happening, inviting us to muse on it as well, and figure out the stuff that I wrote above.

    As you can see now, this page serves well to show why I love Opportunities.

    Do you notice more interesting details on the page? Tell us in the comments!