Archive for June, 2012

There are a lot of webcomics out there. I read ’em, and if I like ’em, they end up here. This week I’m talking about The Forgotten Order and Polar, plus: the return of Spacedock 7!

The Forgotten Order

The Forgotten Order, by Christy Morgan, is destined to be about “Trystan, a young witch who is dismal at best with magic …, [and] a cursed doll who escaped the madness of its design by way of dreaming.” The story starts not with Trystan, though, but with a Dreamer who adventures in the dream realms to try to forget about its curse and remember what it is like to be human again. Presumably, then, the Dreamer and the cursed doll are one and the same character.

I quite enjoyed this beginning. For one thing, dream realms hold a special fascination for me (see my reviews for Xander and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, for example), so I was happy to see that Christy was influenced by H.P. Lovecraft’s dream stories. But I also particularly liked how tragic the Dreamer’s story is. It has intrigued me and makes me want to find out who the Dreamer is, how and why they were cursed, and what can be done about it. If only someone in the comic might be able to help with that….

Enter Trystan, an object of pity for her weak magic and doormat personality, but something tells me she and the Dreamer might be perfect for each other. Along with Trystan comes an entirely new art style, more detailed, less fantastical. I like it in its own way, but I’m also glad to hear that the dream world will show up again at some point.

The Forgotten Order is still early in its story, so now is a perfect time to catch up and jump on board.

Polar

You may have heard of Dialogue-Free Comics Day, but how about a dialogue-free comic altogether? Polar, by Victor Santos, pulls off that trick quite nicely. It is the story of a Nick Fury-esque man who just wants to be left alone, but when a team of killers ambushes him, he realizes that his former masters will never leave him be, so he will have to take the fight to them.

Actually, except for the part where the main character reminds me of Nick Fury (he has an eye patch and he’s an expert marksman, that much is clear) and killers are after him, I made up the rest. That is what I found fascinating about Polar. While I could clearly see what was happening (which mostly involves people shooting each other), I found that without any dialogue or captions, I filled in the “why” myself, coming up with motivations and histories for the characters. The lack of dialogue meant that I took a more active role in the story-telling. That’s a neat trick.

The art itself is beautiful, using only black, white, and red to great effect in the style of Frank Miller’s Sin City but with more of a Mike Mignola feel. The action is almost always clearly delineated, as it should be since the story relies on the art alone. I could try to explain how effective Victor’s art is, but it speaks for itself, really. Check out this image for one example; I think I’ll make it my desktop image for a while.

The site navigation leaves a little to be desired. There’s no “First,” “Previous,” or “Next” buttons, so here’s the link to the first page to make it easier . Your best bet is to start there and then click on “Newer Post” on the left below each page. That minor inconvenience aside, I think this webcomic rocks. I can’t wait to find out/make up the rest of not-Nick’s story.

Spacedock 7

One of the first webcomics I read and reviewed when I started this blog was Cleopatra in Spaaaace! When I was looking for more science-fiction webcomics to read, I naturally followed the link from Cleo to the rest of the Spacedock 7 webcomics, only to find that they were mostly all defunct. Well, it looks like Spacedock 7 is back in action, now with James Anderson’s Ellie on Planet X as part of the science-fiction webcomic crew. I’m already caught up on Red’s Planet, Cleo, and Ellie; I guess I’ll have to catch up on the rest of the SD7 as well!

Here are the other members of the SD7 and their current status (so far as I can tell): Joel Carroll’s Topaz returns on Friday. Dani Jones’ My Sister, the FREAK re-started at the end of May. A new page of Otis Frampton’s Escape from Planet Nowhere showed up on Monday. And as for Katie Cook’s Gronk: A Monster’s Story, it looks like it never went away. I must have missed it before, but as I was glancing through it today, I saw this page about having a Philosophy degree. Yeowch! That burns. Now I have to read the whole thing to see if there are any other jokes that hit so close to home for me.

Quick Hits

Here are some pages from the webcomics I follow that I especially enjoyed this week: Howard Hughes showed up in The Adventures of the 19xx. Oliver faced off with Salvaro in Clockworks. Kick Girl proved that she’s never happy, even in flashbacks. Amya returned with an awesome cover to Chapter Four. Mizha’s looking pretty shattered over at Leylines. Modest Medusa started a Kickstarter for their Season 2 graphic novel. And finally, I’d talk about how fun Power Nap continues to be, but you wouldn’t be able to hear me over the deafening screams.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part 17 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. This is Allin’s darkest hour, so lend him your ear as he concludes the story of how his parents died. Want an easy way to catch up on the story? Check out my The Only City Left Readlist where you can read the parts in order or send them as an ebook to the device of your choice.

Welcome to my serial science-fiction/fantasy adventure, The Only City Left. This is the story of Allin Arcady and his adventures through a dying, planet-sized city called Earth. If you are new to The Only City Left, you might want to start with the Table of Contents.

At the end of Part Fifteen, Allin and his parents had found Tyena and she was in trouble. When Allin recklessly goes to save her, Dad tries to take control of the situation.

The Only City Left: Part 16

The confidence and tone of deadly threat revealed yet another side of Dad that I had never known before. His pronouncement had an immediate effect on the thugs surrounding Tyena. The three who were standing dove for cover behind nearby racks of clothing. One of them ended up a few feet away, between Tyena and me. At that distance, I could tell she was a woman, and I thought for sure she’d turn and see me crouching there, but her attention was wholly on Dad’s voice. I froze in place and tried to breathe as quietly as possible.

Unlike the others, the one on Tyena stood up slowly, casually pulling up and zipping his pants, his back to the front of the store.

He nudged Tyena with one foot and said, “You stay there, girl,” and turned around.

“Dylan Arcady, you old dog,” he called out. “I thought you’d be running off with your tail between your legs if you knew we were here. Yup, you’ve surely surprised me.”

“It doesn’t have to go down like this, Grinty. Let the girl go, we’ll be on our way, and you can go tell your master that you were this close to catching us.”

“You came back for the girl?” Grinty asked, genuine surprise in his voice. “What, did your bitch get too old for you? Time for some young blood?”

I tensed and let out a tiny, near-silent gasp despite myself. I will kill you, I thought.

Grinty cocked his head to one side and I was sure he had heard me, although the woman was closer and hadn’t seemed to notice.

“And how’s your boy doing? Doyle is ever so eager to meet the little tyke,” Grinty said, and started to walk toward me. Damn, he had heard me.

“You take one more step and I’ll blow a hole in your chest the size of your ego,” Dad warned.

“I’d like to see you try,” Grinty spat, but he held still. “He’s here, too, isn’t he? Oh, so it’s his little girlfriend you’ve come back for then, is it? She’s a sweet little thing, I must admit.”

He looked back at Tyena, who was huddled on her side in a fetal position.

“Tasty,” he said, and barked laughter.

That did it. I sprang up and launched myself at Grinty, curses pouring from my mouth. Before I had halved the distance to him, his female associate plucked me out of the air and held me tight to her chest.

I heard the sizzling discharge of a gun, Grinty’s laughter, the metallic tinkle of empty racks falling to the ground. I struggled in the woman’s arms and she squeezed me tighter, so I jabbed the magma stick over my shoulder and triggered it when I felt it hit something. There was a sizzle and pop, and she cursed and let me go.

As I fell to the floor, there was a flash of blinding white light and I felt rather than saw something pass over me. When I turned around to see what had happened, the woman was gone but I could see two indistinct shapes about twenty feet away, struggling in the murk at the back of the store. The light was coming from between them, but as they were locked together, it only intermittently escaped, creating a strobe-like effect.

My attention was pulled from that scene when I heard more gunshots. One of the men, not Grinty, fell before me with a cauterized hole in his chest the size of my head, the edges sizzling.

“Allin, go!” Dad called out from somewhere in the store.

I turned to find Tyena but was blinded anew by more flashes of white light. I held my left arm up before my eyes and blinked tears away to try to see clearly.

That’s when the howls began. Inhuman, throaty howls the likes of which I had never heard before, and which made the hair on my arms and the back of my neck stand at attention. The howls fought inside my brain with Dad’s orders to move, and I hesitated for precious seconds.

Around me I could hear the sounds of a battle: curses, yells, snarls, the last shots from Dad’s gun, followed by a clank and skitter as he must have tossed it away.

I tried to look around, to understand what was happening, but the bright lights moved quickly around the darkened room, turning it all into a blur of light and shadows.

A weak cry of “Allin” reminded me why I was there, and I turned to see Tyena, still curled up on the floor, with a hand out to me.

I shut out the chaos of the world around me and rushed to her side. I kneeled down and got my arms underneath her, and she limply draped her arms around my neck.

“Allin, Allin, you’ve got to go,” Tyena whispered. “They’re looking for you.”

“I know, shhh, it’s okay, it’ll be okay,” I told her as I stood up.

She felt too light in my arms, a hollow shell devoid of the fierce spirit that once animated it. I hugged her close to me and moved as quickly as I could to the back of the store, toward the Employee’s Only section and the stairs to the roof.

I hoped that in the heat of the battle, the two of us would be ignored. No such luck.

All of a sudden, a towering beast stood before me, panting quick, sulfurous breaths. A glowing oval of white light hung directly before my eyes between the beast’s fur-covered breasts, so bright in the darkness that it hurt my eyes. I squinted and looked up from there to a bared snout full of dirty, deadly-looking teeth and then to its eyes, one of which was collapsed and leaking pus into the fur on its cheek.

“I don’t care if Doyle wants you alive, boy,” she growled. “You’re going to pay for what you did to my beautiful face!”

It was such a ridiculous statement that a sarcastic reply was out of my lips without conscious thought.

“Really,” I stammered. “Looks like an improvement.”

The beast roared an inferno of rancid breath and lifted one fist to dangle something in front of me. It was a lantern coil like Mom and Dad wore, but unlit, hanging from a leather strap. No! It was Mom’s lantern coil.

As if she could read my thoughts, the beast laughed and said, “Don’t worry. She won’t need it anymore.”

And then her other hand came up, empty but for the razor-sharp claws at the tips of her fingers, ready to strike.

* * *

Find out how Allin dodges certain death in Part 17, or read my notes on today’s post first.

6/3/12 News: This is perhaps the darkest TOCL post to date, but it is the story of how Allin’s parents die, so I think it’s appropriate. Note: When I first started writing this sequence, back in Part Four, I had Allin written as being thirteen years old. For various reasons, having Allin be 13 didn’t make sense, so I bumped him up to 15. Either way, this is kind of a lot for a young man to handle. I am such a meanie.

Enjoying The Only City Left? If you could share the link to this story with even one person who you think might enjoy it, I’d be ever so appreciative. Thanks! (And thanks to Kevin for sharing TOCL on Facebook last week!)

If you enjoyed this post, please click the image below to give The Only City Left a vote on Top Web Fiction. (One vote allowed per week.)

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Fiction Friday is here again, and here is what I have been up to, fiction-wise. (Note: I’m still reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312. It’s somewhat slow-going for me at the moment.)

Aurum (short story)

In “Aurum,” by Genevieve Valentine, steampunk and fantasy mix in a world of airships and dragons. In the world of this story, dragons and humans co-exist in a truce of sorts, with dragons lending out money from their hoards if they feel like it, but rarely adventuring out into the greater world. Brandon, a human and the architect of a new type of airship, needs to borrow some hoard money to complete his project, but is surprised when Regia, the dragon who lends it, also demands passage on the ship as part of her terms. Like other short stories I have read and enjoyed lately (Ken Liu’s Nebula Award-winning “The Paper Menagerie,” and Brent Knowles’ “Stone Eater,” for instance), it is the emotional content of this story that most intrigued me. What I thought would be an adventure tale turns out to be more of a story about internal motivations, and this ended up being a much more powerful basis for the story. Give “Aurum” a read in Issue 42 of Abyss & Apex.

Very Near Mint (graphic novel)

Very Near Mint, by Justin Peterson, is a comic book about two guys running a comic book store, which I discovered through the Kickstarter for its second volume. In Volume One, Colin and Sam, proprietors of The Splash Page, have to deal with their shipment of new comics being destroyed in a car crash, teaching a new employee the ropes of running a comic book store, and the return of Colin’s ex-girlfriend, Mackenzie. Worse than all that, though, is the opening of a mega-store across the street from The Splash Page. The aptly-named Across the Street Comics promises to put Colin and Sam out of business. The comedy and drama continue to unfold in Volume Two, as the identity of Colin and Sam’s nemesis is revealed.

There is a lot of humor in here, especially if you are a comic-book fan who can laugh at yourself, because Very Near Mint pokes endless fun of that world (the fans, the stores, the Cons, and the comics themselves). The comic convention in Volume Two especially had me nodding my head at how right-on the depiction is, even down to the smell of a Con. I definitely recommend these volumes if you’re a comic-book fan or know someone who is. They are available in manga-sized softcovers and in digital form at the Very Near Mint Store.

Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune (comic book)

Tony Cliff’s Delilah Dirk and the Seeds of Good Fortune is the comic book sequel to the webcomic Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. Let me stop here and say if you have not read The Turkish Lieutenant, get thee hence. It marries amazing artwork, lush, beautiful scenery, fantastic characters, and a rollicking good story, and I can’t wait until there is an English-language graphic novel version available.

Unlike the full-color Turkish Lieutenant, Seeds of Good Fortune is in black-and-white and is only available as a physical comic book. Given the chance to read more Delilah Dirk adventures, however, I will pretty much go wherever Tony leads me. Plus this way I got a sketch and personalized dedication, which is nice. In Seeds, both world-traveler Delilah and former lieutenant Selim are back, although Selim is present only on either end of the main story (the part he plays is integral, though). You see, Selim sends Delilah off on her adventure with some fresh-picked apples. Thoughtful, but it turns out they don’t taste all that great. Selim’s simple kindness ends up playing a pivotal role in Delilah’s ensuing (mis)adventures. The art is, as expected, superb, from facial expressions to action sequences to the architecture and scenery, to the Family Circus-esque two-page spread in the middle of the book. The characters and story are likewise great, especially the scenes between Delilah and the rope merchant. (I think it’s fair to say this story hinges on apples and rope. How often do you get to say that?) Unless you catch Tony at a convention, the only way to pick up a copy of Seeds is through his online store. With shipping it is a bit pricey for a 32-page comic, but as an investment in convincing Tony to produce more tales Delilah and Selim? Priceless.

The Case of the Misplaced Hero (serial)

Since I started writing my own serial adventure not that long ago, I have been on the lookout for other serials to read, and one I am enjoying right now is Camille LaGuire’s The Case of the Misplaced Hero. It is the story of Alex, whose mysterious and wealthy parents died when he was young, leaving him in the care of his eccentric great-aunt Flavia. Now Alex is in college, a perpetual student who fails classes in order to stay in school.

The story doesn’t take long in hinting that Alex will end up on an adventure in an alternate reality. Heck, it’s hinted at in the first episode and alluded to in the title of the series, so I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by mentioning it. I am a big fan of alternate reality stories, whether it is in TV shows like Fringe, comic books like Excalibur, or books such as Charles Stross’ Merchant Princes series, so Misplaced Hero seemed like a natural fit for me. Given its premise, I admit that the first few episodes had me a little concerned about how long into the story it would be before Alex stops messing around in college and got to adventuring in the world next door. Luckily, by Episode 5, the story takes a turn for the speculative once again, and at two episodes a week, it wasn’t all that long to get there after all.  The story is still in its early days, so now is a good time to get on board and follow Alex through the looking glass.

Up Next on Lithicbee

Sunday: Part 16 of The Only City Left, my own SF/F serial action-adventure story. In Part 16, Allin’s flashback to the time of his parents’ death continues. Want an easy way to catch up on the story? Check out my The Only City Left Readlist where you can read the parts in order and even send them as an ebook to the device of your choice.

Webcomics Wednesday: Each Wednesday I review some of the wonderful long-form webcomics that are out there. Not familiar with webcomics? Think comic books by passionate independent creators, released for free on the web. Have a look at my Links page for a list of the ones I am currently reading.

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Photo Credits: Header photo of books (cropped), courtesy of Stewart on Flickr.