Jeff Smith consistently has some of the cleanest, clearest, most consistent art I've seen in graphic novels. The characters are easily recognizable throughout the book and different enough from each other that you don't confuse them. Each panel is constructed in a way in which it's obvious what's going on, focusing only on the most important details while keeping enough of the extra information to keep you in the setting. That may sound like faint praise, but it's not. Judging from other comics I've read, this must be incredibly hard to do, let alone to maintain for a book the length of RASL.
So, while RASL has a few problems, the art is certainly not one of them.
I think the concept of RASL didn't have quite enough room to spread out, leaving the reader with some forced assumptions and unanswered questions. Mostly, I was left wanting more: more about the art thieving business, more about Sal and his motivations, more about Maya and her motivations, more about what drove a promising scientist to become a dimension-hopping alcoholic art thief. Unfortunately, the reader is just left wondering, even about some of the big, plot-moving questions.
In some ways, RASL is fun in the way that Mission Impossible movies are fun. That is, the action and concept and set pieces are all engaging, but don't try to make sense of it later or expect plot threads to be carried consistently throughout the story or rely on characters to be fully developed. It's good, but it doesn't accomplish those storytelling basics.
Because I live under a middle-aged rock, I didn’t know about the Hyperbole and a Half blog until I heard Allie Brosh speaking on "Fresh Air" (NPR? I know, right?). The interview focused mostly on her struggles with depression, which is why I originally added this to my reading list. And then I read it, and holy cow, I cracked up.
It’s not often my husband turns to me while I’m reading in bed and tells me to quiet down. But with *every single chapter* of Hyperbole and a Half, that’s what he did because I was laughing so much. I just loved every story Brosh told and the way she told it. I could relate to more stories than I care to admit to, especially the Simple Dog and Helper Dog stories… I have a similar dog myself.
The real sad part about all of this is that Brosh doesn’t seem to be updating her website since the around the time the book was released; October 2013 is the last post. Maybe she’s working on another book? Let’s hope so!
The next issue of The Outbreak is now available!
In “The Hunter,” you’ll follow Elizabeth Wyndham through snowy and darkening woods on the edge of town. She’s hunting for a lupanoid, one that she wounded but didn’t tranquilize. The longer she goes without finding and removing this bleeding beast, the more likely it is that other lupanoids will smell the blood and attack, much too close to the neighborhood on the edge of the forest. Will Elizabeth find the lupe’ in time? Or will darkness close around her before she makes it out of the woods?
Like the previous “Monster at the Institute” series, Michael Neno penciled, inked, colored, and lettered all 71 panels of this single-issue comic. In addition, Bryant Alvarez created the cover/background image. (I did all the writing and formatting.) Michael Neno is offering some of the original inked panels for sale at his website. Go get one before your favorite is gone!
The action in “The Hunter” takes place before the action in “Monster at the Institute,” although they make sense in either order. If this is your first time reading The Outbreak, I suggest starting with “The Hunter” first.
I designed “The Hunter” for viewing online with Prezi, which allows you to float over the background from one panel to the next, zoom in for a better look, and navigate through the comic. (Try it out with our short tutorial.) However, I recently discovered that Prezi is not viewable on most Android devices, which sucks. So I’ve added a panel-by-panel PDF version as well. You’ll miss some of the interactive fun with the PDF, but you should be able to view the comic easily now on your phone or tablet.
So go check it out! And let me know what you think!
In anticipation The Outbreak's next series, I’ve released PDF versions of all six issues of the previous series, “Monster at the Institute.” These are panel-by-panel PDFs--not full page layouts--intended mostly to help people who don’t have devices compatible with Prezi. You should be able to view the PDF version on your phone or tablet now, or even print “Monster at the Institute” and pin it to your bedroom wall. Or bathroom. Or whatever you want. (If you still have trouble with the PDF, please let me know in the comments!)
Each PDF is available on its issue page, but here are some convenient links: Issue 1 , Issue 2, Issue 3, Issue 4, Issue 5, and Issue 6.
The next series of The Outbreak, “The Hunter,” is scheduled to launch on Tuesday, January 13. This one will be offered in a particularly cool Prezi format as well as a panel-by-panel PDF. More information on this single-issue one shot coming soon!
Let me start by saying that I hate the I’ve-been-neglectful,-but-it’s-all-going-to-be-better-now blog post. It almost never is. But I also think, even though my readers aren’t exactly chomping at the bit for more posts, I owe you an explanation for my absence.
In addition to that, I’ve been reading some really boring books lately. Since most of this blog is book reviews, that really cuts into my pool of resources. I’ll review some of them eventually, but ones I don’t intend to review include one on the natural history of Ohio that read like a text book. By the time I wrapped up the ice ages and progressed to weather patterns, I couldn’t keep my eyes open for more than a sentence.
My own novel continues, slowly but surely. Certainly, the travel interrupted things, but I’ve been trying to take myself out for lunch once a week to just work on the novel. When I actually stay in town for most of a week, this works nicely.
The next series of The Outbreak is more imminent than the novel. Michael Neno is finishing up the last few panels of “The Hunter” now. Then, I just have to prepare them for the website and launch the pages. I’ve been wrong before, but I’m hoping to have it ready for you by the end of December. Also, my laptop recently died, and I replaced it with an Android tablet. I only bring that up because I just discovered that I can’t actually view Prezis on my computer now, which means I can’t see my own comic! (Prezi, if you’re reading this, get on that Android app. I’m your biggest fan, and this is not cool.) Now that I know about this restriction, I’ll be releasing a PDF version of both “Monster at the Institute” and “The Hunter.”
And now for the obligatory I’m-going-to-be-better assertion. But really, I am. I have a couple other posts nearly drafted, and I’ve been reading much more interesting books lately. I have two personal trips to Florida planned for December, but that’s all the travel on the horizon at the moment. I’ll be doling out posts over the next few weeks, and I hope you enjoy them. But really, isn’t this a time to be thankful for RSS feeds? I know I am.
Get ready! The next series of The Outbreak is almost done!
Michael Neno, whose art you’ll recognize form the first series, “Monster at the Institute,” as well as a bunch of other stuff I’m not involved in, is finishing up the last panels, and I hope to get it posted on this site before the end of October.
“The Hunter” is a much shorter story, but it has just as much exciting lupanoid action!
And I think you’re going to love Elizabeth…
Oh, and don’t forget that the ORIGINAL art from “Monster at the Institute” is available for purchase on Michael’s website!
Friend and writer Lia Eastep sent me these questions for sort-of a blog self-interview. You should check out her site to see her responses, but here are mine.
1) What am I working on?
Predominately, I’m working on a novel, my first. The story involves some characters who are ghosts, others who can freely interact with the ghosts, and others who don’t believe in ghosts at all but who think they’ve stumbled on a way to produce truly clean energy. I’m about 2/3 through the first draft, although I’ve already rewritten most of the middle part, so maybe it’s more like draft 1.5?
In addition to the novel, I’m working on the next series of my online comic, The Outbreak. One series, “Monster at the Institute,” is already online and freely available, and the next one, “The Hunter,” is being drawn by Michael Neno now. Hopefully, I’ll have that one ready to go by the end of August. I’m working on additional stories and scripts for The Outbreak as well.
2) How does my work differ from others of its genre?
The Outbreak uses a unique presentation platform, Prezi. As far as I know, mine is the first comic to use Prezi in this way. When I started this project, I knew wanted to have an online comic (for ease of production and cost reasons), and I didn’t understand why so many online comics look like they’re intended to be print comics that are then scanned and slapped up on a website. At best, this requires reader software that allows you to zoom in on the panels in order, like the Comixology and Dark Horse apps allow. But often, you’re basically just looking at a portrait-oriented PDF on your landscape-oriented monitor, zooming in to see the art and text better. I’d used Prezi at work before, and I really liked the way it directs viewers through a large canvas, pointing you to exactly what you need to see at the zoom level you need to see it. This seemed like a good way to push viewers through my born-digital comic without requiring too much re-learning from readers or custom programming from me. And I really like the way it has turned out. (BTW, all “Monster at the Institute” issues are now available on the public Prezi site, in addition to my website, for free!)
As for the novel, I’ve tried really hard to balance character development, plot, and larger themes. So many books I read rely on one of those three significantly more than others, and the work as a whole suffers for it. Hopefully, it works!
3) Why do I write what I do?
I write things I’d want to read. I know that sounds obvious, but I spent a long time trying to write things that I thought other people would want to read. That’s actually very difficult and involves a lot of self-doubt. Eventually, it dawned on me that I’m a reader (and I certainly read more of my own words than anyone else does), so it only made sense to write the kind of stuff I’d actually enjoy. Even though I’m not as far along in the novel as I’d like to be, I would never have made it this far—or produced The Outbreak—without learning to trust my own judgment on what makes an entertaining and compelling story. And if that makes me my own biggest fan, well, so be it. That’s better than disliking what takes so much time and effort to do!
4) How does my writing process work?
I have to treat writing like a job, otherwise it’s too easy for me to push it off for “easier” work with a more immediate payoff. I have to set aside some time—like right now!—and have some kind of goal. Occasionally, my goals are product focused, like finishing a blog post or a comic script. I actually keep a to-do list of these smaller projects so I know exactly where to dive in. But more often, and especially when working on my novel, my goals are time focused. For example, I’ll decided to write until 4pm; when my lazy, instant-gratification-monkey brain wants to knock off by 3, I have to make myself keep going until quittin’ time, even if I don’t think the writing is as good. Half of the battle is just getting the first draft down on paper—I can always go back and edit later (and, oh trust me, I will)!
About a year ago, I told you about a Kickstarter for the full edition of Amiculus, a long-form print comic about the last child emperor of Rome and the fall of the empire. That campaign shot a little higher than it could achieve. But Travis Horseman, the author and father of this work, has regrouped and is back with a scaled down Kickstarter campaign.
The new plan is to offer all the fantastic art (by Giancarlo Caracuzzo), compelling plot, and subtle character interaction of the first one but to only print the first third of the book. The current campaign for Amiculus is less than a week away from its Kickstarter deadline and just over 2/3 funded. It’s still within reach for this project, so do you think you could help out?
If you’re not convinced yet, let me tell you a bit more about this. I read the manuscript, before Travis had connected with Giancarlo, and was completely sucked in by it. The script opens with a battle scene, the Barbarians losing Rome to the Eastern Roman army of Byzantium. The victory has the new Roman victors in a nostalgic (and strategic) state of mind; they send the historian Procopius to find out what happened all those years ago when the boy emperor Romulus ceded the empire to the Barbarians so that they can ensure it never happens again.
Procopius arrives at an island monastery off the cost of Neapolis, the last known whereabouts of Romulus. He speaks to the old monks there and is shown a book that contains the full story of the empire’s fall in Romulus’s own words.
As Procopius reads, he’s pulled into a world of political deceit, manipulation, murder, ghosts, and betrayal. As the empire loses one city after another, tales spread of a cloaked figure that appears to help the Barbarians, appearing suddenly during the battle exactly where he is needed and disappearing just as quickly when his work is done. He’s known only as Amiculus, although no one seems to know who he is, where he comes from, or what his motivation is. As the story continues, the Barbarians close in on the last refuge of the child emperor Romulus, his father General Orestes, the Senate, and the remains of their army…
After reading the full script, I was incredibly excited to see this comic become a reality. And then Travis showed me the artwork that Giancarlo was working on, and I’m just that much more excited. You can see a bit of it here (if you’re local to Columbus, you can view Giancarlo’s finished work in the preview edition of Amiculus, which Travis funded himself, at Laughing Ogre).
Amiculus is not going to be one of those indie comics, drawn in marker and photocopied at Kinkos. I have a very soft spot in my heart for those comics, but Amiculus is a professional-grade book. Full color, glossy pages, proper binding, and industry professional artist, colorer, and letterer.
I once saw Ken Eppstein break down the cost of producing a print comic and then compare that to how many comics you have to sell at a reasonable price to break even—it was more than 2,000 copies! Bare bones, affordable price, even with personal relationships with printers and creators… still more than 2,000 copies just to break even. (It probably doesn’t need to be said, but this is why I do an online comic!)
So, if you can, please support the Amiculus Kickstarter (within the next week!) and help this comic come to life. It’s too much for one person to support on their own—it takes a community. Be part of the community! And you’ll get some really cool rewards if you do!
It’s here, you guys! The concluding issue of “Monster at the Institute.” What happens to the monster? Does Dr. Sullivan make it home safely? What about Theo? Read Issue 6 to find out!
I hope you all have has as much fun with this project as I have. To my knowledge, there aren’t any other online comics using the Prezi platform, and I’d love to hear what you all thought of it. What worked? What didn’t? What technically worked but was too annoying to be worth dealing with? What was so amazing that you just had to call your mom to tell her about it?
As a reminder, all of these comics are absolutely free, if you want them to be. While I appreciate and humbly thank those who have chosen to contribute money, this is a pay-what-you-want system. And if what you want is $0, then that’s totally fine. Also, I have no plans to take these issues offline any time soon, so check back in frequently to see what’s up! Michael Neno has been sending me pencils and completed panels for the next (much shorter) story, and I’ll have more information about that on this blog as it gets closer.
But for now, click through and enjoy the entire first series of The Outbreak, “Monster at the Institute!”
A lot of comics, even long-form literary “graphic novels,” tend to excel either visually or narratively, but rarely both. Especially when a single person serves as both the writer and the artist, there’s often a noticeable strength in one area. In most well done comics, I don’t even notice this disparity as I’m reading. I only mention it here because in Asterios Polyp, both the art and the narrative are so strong and interdependent on each other that it made me start noticing weaknesses in other comics. And that’s not a bad thing.
I couldn’t provide a plot summary without giving away some of the details that Mazzucchelli drips to the reader throughout the course of the entire book. There’s not a single blatant info dump to speak of. The characters don’t ask too many questions of each other, in a way respecting each other’s privacy. For the reader, the art serves to define them without relying on words–for example, Asterios’s blue geometric shape design melding with Hana’s red sketchy design. The words they do use are well chosen and reveal something significant about them--for example, the opening scene contradicts multiple things Asterios says in flashbacks later…what has happened to him in the meantime?
During an interview with Terry Gross, one of the “Breaking Bad” writers (either Peter Gould or Thomas Schnauz) said, “Give your audience two and two, and let them make four. They’ll love you forever.” Easier said than done, but Mazzucchelli nails it. And he weaves the artwork into the words in a way in which neither could exist alone. This feels like a comic that was conceived as a comic, or maybe an art project that we lump in with comics because of its similarity in format. It’s something special, a model for comics done correctly.
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