More and more creators are learning that it’s easy as cake to take their webcomics and get them printed. Even if an established printing house won’t pick up a collected work, there are options via Lulu and other print-on-demand services that ensure your ego, large and shadow-inducing as it is, can be seen by as many eyes as you can shove it under.
And so, with that in mind, I bring you Under Review, my weekly (and in some/most cases, bi-, tri-, and quadra-weekly) review space for the latest in webcomics print volumes. I inaugurate this new column with the first volume of Looking For Group, the fantasy-adventure webcomic, written by Ryan Sohmer and drawn by Lar DeSouza.
First, I look at the book itself.
This collection is exactly what every other printed work, webcomics or otherwise, should strive for. Looking at that image above, it would be easy to assume that the publisher just slapped the cover image on another generic image of a book and called it a sale, leaving the flimsy covered, actual collection to flip and flop in the reader’s hoodwinked hands.
Thankfully, you’d be way off base with that assumption. The hardback binding is indeed slick and professional, capped off with a handy, snazzy black ribbon bookmark to make marking your place a breeze. Aren’t you tired of searching for a scrap piece of paper to shove in between the pages before drifting off to sleep? With LFG Vol. 1, you’ll never to worry about that again!
But mama always said not to judge a book by its cover. So I shall mull over the actual contents of the tome itself. From the get-go, the odd choice to use columns on the prefaced pages instantly says to me, “This is now officially something I printed from Microsoft Word.” It’s a choice that is baffling and of which I will say no more.
Luckily, the most important part of the entire package, the content and strip itself, is well worth the price of admission. The tale follows Cale’anon, an elf in dire need of some adventure, as he gathers a reluctant band of misfits together to help rid the land of evil. Too bad everyone but him is feared throughout that same land for acts of unspeakable cruelty and mayhem. </premise>
Not surprisingly, the real star of the story turns out to be the villain, a warlock who simply goes by the name, Richard (pictured, below, with Richard, left).
This guy is evil incarnate, ready to snuff the nearest lifeform at the slightest of whims. Throughout this volume, Richard has plenty of character beats, including a brief, transformed stint as a child, but never does he stray far from his malevolent roots. Others like the brave warrior, Krunch Bloodrage, and Benn’Joon, a female as thirsty for blood and vengeance as the strongest, ablest male, round out the cast of hedonistic heroes, all of whom play their roles admirably and come close to that next level of character development but stop short of achieving it.
The adventure itself is a fun romp, one worthy of a gorgeous volume like this, but my main complaint comes not from the story, but again, like the preface, from the choices of layout. The only issue I’ve ever had with anything Sohmer and DeSouza work on is the problem I, as a reader, have with following the flow of the panels in a given strip. Now, with their other current work, Least I Could Do, this is less of a problem with a one-line strip, as the flow is hard to break up when there’s no way to go but right. However, with LFG, the layout takes on that of a comic book page and flow of the eye is essential to following along with the story.
The barrier to entry on this crucial aspect is the fact that the word balloons often (and by often, I mean nearly always) overlap the panel breaks themselves, leading the eye where it ought not go, at least, not yet. A great example of this can be found on only the first page of the tale.
Not only is this a great visual representation of how jumbled things could easily get, but that poor bunny is being crushed, not by Richard’s hand, but by the nullified space which is disappearing with the increasing dialogue! And that’s only between two characters! There were several other instances in my reading where I either felt sorry for the compacted characters or felt conflicted as to where I should go next. The ride was good enough that this was merely a giant stepping stone to entry for me, but other readers might not find it so easily mountable.
This issue is especially troubling as it usually covers up more and more of DeSouza’s awesome artwork. The unconvincing sheen of Photoshop shows through in the coloring and toning of the characters and objects, but it’s clear that his pencil work is something to be admired. Take a look back up at the cover of the book to see the wonderful possibilities of a painted finish to his well-executed, cartoony style. And the cartooning comes through, seemingly effortlessly, making the adventure that much more fun. I’m certain this also has at least something to do with Sohmer’s ability to make anything fun within the first few panels.
Overall, it’s a professionally packaged collection of an above-average webcomic that is well worth the price. In the future, I’ll try to come up with a less controversial review standard (folks didn’t take kindly to the Golden Fists of Justice), but for now, you can rest assured that Looking For Group Vol. 1 gets a very good B+.