Monday 28 November 2011

A New, Shiny Thing: 'Gaia'

I don't know if any of you remember (or care) about when I was still pretending that I could do semi-regular update schedules and did those monthly webcomic reviews. One of those, aaaaaaaall the way back in June, was 'Sandra and Woo' written and illustrated by German author Oliver Knörzer and Indonesian artist, Powree.

Well, if you went and read that one (or even if you didn't), you might want to check out their new comic: Gaia

In Knörzer's own words, the comic 'takes place in the self-created world of Gaia where political tension between the two most powerful countries Cania and Midgard has grown in recent years. Similar to several of his classmates at the "Academy for Arcane Studies and Material Arts", the young warrior Ilias Oter is much more interested in the beautiful wizard Lilith Caillean than in politics. But soon he has to learn that Lilith is standing in the eye of a dark storm that is going to sweep across the whole world...'

In my opinion, the art is great, and although there's only 18 pages up at the moment, the characters are already coming across well and the story has purpose and a good pace. I'd say it's one to keep an eye on.

Sunday 27 November 2011

An Awful Lot Of Metaphorical Running

Well my life exploded epically recently, and mostly not in a good way, but I think we're back now. Mostly. I mean, I'm still just sort of standing in the middle of my mind staring around at the slightly smoking wreckage and wondering what the hell happened. I'm wishing life actually just had a pause button, so I could just hit that and wander off and make myself a sandwich or something and not have to worry about anything for half an hour.

God, I miss video games.

I miss a lot of things actually. I miss being able to stay up messing about on the internet 'til 5am with no consequences. I miss being able to sleep in 'til stupid times of the day and not feel vaguely guilty about it. I miss buying a book every Saturday and having it finished by that evening. I miss talking about stupid things that didn't matter well into the night because hell, we didn't have anything better to do. I miss things being easy. I miss the worst drama being your friend being late meeting you at the cinema and nearly missing the start of the movie. I miss just being able to go and wander around and just do things without having to weigh up what I need to do that day and how important it is that I do it now, or if I can put off whatever it is until tomorrow, or...

You get the point.

So what I'm going to do is, when my essays are over and done with and gone and I have some breathing space to play around with my shifts at work, I am going to buy an Xbox, and I am going to play video games, and I am going to periodically run away and have adventures and just not care every now and then. I'm going to write fantastic stories that may or may not be rooted in real-life things depending on my mood and I'm going to buy sugar mice every other week and enjoy them thoroughly. Because I can. Because if I don't, I'm going to go mad.

Well, more mad.

Wednesday 9 November 2011

And Sometimes That's All It Takes

Today, I was waiting on a bus to get back to my flat, and as one pulled up, someone stopped me. He was a lecturer from the university, but, as he explained, he was heading for Glasgow. He then pressed a Plusbus ticket for Stirling into my hand and told me that he didn't need it anymore, so I should use it to get home.

This isn't important, I know, but today it was important for me.

We all come to terms with losing things. Losing people. Sometimes, this doesn't matter, and sometimes it matters more than anything. I'm bad at letting go myself. Whatever anyone might think of me, I get attached to people, and though I'm bad at showing it, I care about my friends more than anything. Although I know I'm situational at best, I'm easily forgotten and maybe no one will ever think of me first for anything, that's okay.

And I'm not fishing for sympathy. It really is okay.

Things have happened recently, and I've had to do a lot of thinking. When that man gave me his bus ticket today, I realised that sometimes it's okay to be miserable. Sometimes you have to be, and it's okay to run away to clear your head. Sometimes you lose friends that mean the world to you, and you have every right to be upset about that. But some good things still happen even before you can be happy again, even if it's something as simple as someone being nice enough to give you a free bus ride home.

At least, that's what I think.

Monday 3 October 2011

Nervous Twitches and Justified Paranoia

So, it's that time of year again. That time of year when the weather has gotten slightly colder. That time of year when I start to live in a constant state of paranoia.

That time of year when bloody massive spiders start turning up inside the house

So yes, it may not surprise you to know that I am an arachnophobe. If a spider turns up in a room with me and I see it, people will know it is there. This is because if one turns up, I will make a small noise of alarm, freeze and stare fixedly at it. Unless it moves. If it moves then I become an incoherent tangle of limbs and choked noises of alarm moving very swiftly in the opposite direction.

I don't think this should be a surprise to anyone. I mean, have you seen those things? Look at them. They are fundamentally wrong. They have too many legs and they move too damn fast and they just turn up. Seriously, where do they come from? You're just sitting there, minding your own business and they just appear from nowhere. And then they disappear again. The damn things are ninjas on too many legs.

And of course, once one of them shows up, I can no longer relax. I go into permanent battle mode. Well, permanent ready-to-run-away-at-the-first-sign-of-even-the-tiniest-movement-mode. This is why I haven't got around to tidying my room. What if I moved something and there was one of those really effing big ones sitting there? And then what if it ran away and disappeared? I'd never be able to sleep in that room again. And this is my room is a complete mess. 

This would also be why I avoid being in the flat on my own as much as possible right now. Some people may call this cowardly and tell me I'm a wimp, but I beg to differ. To paraphrase Allie Brosh: I might be bigger than them, but I am also bigger than a grenade, and hell if I'm not gonna run away from one of those if a live one turns up in the same room as me.

Also, come on, spiders are freaking scary, okay?

You see?

Thursday 22 September 2011

I Had A Fight With My Brain And I Don't Think She's Coming Home...

You know, for someone that gets writers' guilt as badly as I do, I sure am good at neglecting to update things.

Anyway, it's been a while. Again. Apparently holidays are really just no good for me to get any writing done; I need classes and deadlines and things that I can procrastinate around. But as it happens, I've been binging on cartoons recently, so here's a post on that.

When you look at cartoons today, it's pretty clear that we've moved on from the golden age of Cartoon Network. Shows like Johnny Bravo, Dexter's Laboratory, The Powerpuff Girls, they're gone. Unfortunately, the networks all seem to be moving onto saccharine live-action high school 'dramas,' to the point that Nickelodeon made a live action version of Fairly Odd Parents I don't even-


Anyway, despite the fact that the networks are apparently all veering in the direction of CG or live action shows, there is still some hope for the cartoon fans, even if it is coming in the form of reboots.

Yeah, I could totally talk about My Little Pony here, but everybody and their dog is talking about that, and while, yes, I love the show, I don't think anyone needs to hear any more about it from me. So I'm gonna talk about Scooby Doo instead.

Scooby Doo is one of the most recognisable franchises to come out of America. Since it was introduced in 1969 as Scooby Doo, Where Are You! it has enjoyed a long and successful career, if one filled with many revisions and reboots.

So far, Scooby Doo has managed to wring out around seventeen tv series, seven made-for-tv movies and sixteen direct-to-video/dvd movies, as well as the two major live-action ones. Of course, not all of these are good (some of them involved Scrappy. Enough said), but the characters are loved enough to keep people coming back.

And that brings me to the most recent incarnation of the show: Scooby Doo! Mystery Incorporated.

This particular show started its run in July 2010. Of all of the newer series, this one borrows the most heavily from the original source material, while also taking a much darker sense of humour and a slightly more modern spin.

The characters, while still entirely recognisable, have undergone slight reboots in personality. Shaggy, however, is still the same big-eating, heavily-implied-to-be-a-stoner coward that everyone knows and loves. Fred is still the leader, although in this 'verse, is completely obsessed with traps. Like, we're talking almost on a romantic level here. Daphne is slightly better at getting herself out of trouble, whereas Velma has developed an extremely dry sense of humour. She also happens to be dating Shaggy, which causes no end of both confusion and hilarity. Our title character also remains largely the same, but has picked up the same vicious sarcasm as Velma, which always causes me to blink in confusion for a couple of seconds whenever it surfaces.

Anyway, aside from the characters, the show itself is rather different from the many variations that the franchise has undergone. Other reboots, such as What's New Scooby Doo? tried to go for a much more colourful, modern approach to the show, updating the outfits and technology. Mystery Incorporated, on the other hand, returns to the traditional and recognisable outifits, and also takes on the darker background tones of the original series. Notably, technology such as laptops and mobile phones are present, but are purposefully dated and clunky looking, and an old eight-track even shows up at one point (not that the gang knows what it is, but it was a nice touch). Overall, the atmosphere is very much in keeping with the slightly creepier aesthetic of the original, even though the backgrounds and a lot of the transition scenes rely on CG animation instead of the more traditional forms.

Also commendable is the fact that this show actually manages to make the monsters reasonably scary, and features actual peril. The last episode I watched featured a propane tanker blowing up, and the gang actually being in real instead of fake monster related danger. There are also quite a few more instances of adult-humour in this adaptation, and overall, the show feels geared more towards teenagers and older viewers. It is also, I should mention, rather enjoyable once you get over the slightly different feel of the characters

So yep, that's me done rambling for today. Now I guess I should get back to reading those novels I have to finish for next week...

Tuesday 9 August 2011

I'm Still Not Dead! Also Stuff About Books and E-Readers

Woo, it's been a while. Yeah, basically I've going up and down and up and down and drowning myself in video games for the last month and a bit. While the latter part of this was (and still is) awesome, the fact that I haven't updated this blog in that month and a bit, even for webcomic reviews, has left me with a bad case of writing guilt. I blame the fact that I have almost no sense of routine during the holidays, and no looming deadlines to give me procrastination inspiration.

Anyway, this is just gonna be a short one, because I don't have the time to do a proper chunky post right now. I'll probably get working on a review or something soon, and since I'm back on a cartoon watching phase, that'll probably come up at some point too.

Anyway, there's one discussion that I've had several times with different people since last Christmas. This being on whether the existence of the Amazon Kindle and all the various other e-readers is a good thing. Opinions are mixed on this one, and for pretty good reason.

My parents surprised me with a Kindle as a Christmas present. Prior to this, I had never really considered getting one, since a) they were expensive and b) I have three bookcases worth of books in my house and see no reason to stop there. Nevertheless, I was pleasantly surprised to receive one.

Now, bookshops are struggling a bit these days, what with books often being cheaper when bought online, and now even cheaper than that when bought on the Kindle. I get that, and I know I would be devastated if bookshops stopped being a thing. However, that's not to say that the Kindle and its ilk will be responsible for this.

Personally, I will always prefer books to the Kindle. There's just something about the physical presence of a book that trumps the nice slimline design of the technological version. On the other hand, I'm a student, and I live in a flat with very limited storage space, especially when you consider that I'm doing an English degree and therefore need a lot of books. Suddenly, the Kindle makes sense. I'm doing two English modules this coming semester, and I need a total of eleven books. That's a lot when you consider the space they take up, not to mention the cost of them. However, I managed to get seven on them on the Kindle for around £11 or so, which ain't too bad really.

Kindles are also handy when it comes to travelling. A lot of us like to take books on a long journey, but if you're flying, books can often be a pain when it comes to baggage allowances, and I know that I've often been forced to leave a book behind when I'm packing to get the train home. Books, however awesome, are often bulky and awkward to pack, especially if you're like me and my dad and are almost OCD about not creasing the pages or the spine. The Kindle, or indeed most e-readers, are much smaller and slimmer, and if you've got a half-decent cover on them, you've got less need to worry about damaging them. Not to mention that the Kindle can hold a lot of books, which can be organised however you want, bookmarked, annotated, whatever you need, all without damaging an actual book. It's surprisingly useful.

Again, I'm never going to say that the Kindle is better than having an actual book in your hands, but it is at least handy.

One other thing is the variety you can get with the Kindle store. I love reading, I love books. Unfortunately, the only book I've bought in months is the latest Dresden File, because unfortunately, the book industry has gone the same way as the video game industry. Or maybe that's the other way around. Anyway, the point is that publishers don't want to publish anything they don't know will sell, which is why the market has been flooded by a million different Twilight knock-offs, each as dire as the last. It's trash, but it's trash that sells.

One thing about the new e-book culture is that it is now incredibly easy to self-publish e-books. Sometimes, this isn't exactly a good thing, since many of these aren't edited, and so contain either a lot of mistakes, or are just plain bad. On the other hand, it has allowed a lot more original material to become available to readers through the likes of the Kindle store. I've found two novels that I actually got for free, written by new, unpublished authors, and you know, they were good. Free releases on the Kindle store is also a good way for them to advertise; the first of the two authors I read included a preview chapter for the second book they'd written, also on the Kindle store, but this time for a price. I haven't actually got around to buying that yet, but I'm considering it.

Again, this is now leading to an army of Twilight-clones flooding e-books as well, but if you take the time to sift through all of that, you can find some real gems. And if people read them on the Kindle, there's a much better chance of the author actually getting published later, since they can assure the publishers that 'hey, look; people are reading my stuff; it sells.'

In conclusion, I have no idea what the existence of Kindles and e-readers will do for bookshops. Maybe they will spell the end, in which case I'll be up in arms just as fast as anyone else. The Kindle and its kind do have their merits though; I don't see any reason why we should shun them entirely in favour of their paper-hearted older siblings.

Friday 24 June 2011

Monthly Webcomic Review: Sandra and Woo

Today, I decided I would write a blog post. This is purely because I haven't written anything in the past week and a half, and my creative side was crying and begging me to let her do something, and it's been almost a month since I last blogged, so here we are.

The reasons I haven't been posting (in case anyone cares, and even if you don't I'm telling you anyway) are multiple and varied. You can basically boil it down to my life has been going every which way and I haven't been keeping up with it very well. That said, I think I've more or less got it under control now, so maybe I'll write a post about that next time in order to give myself some sort of closure. You may want to skip reading that next post *laugh*

Anyway, on with the webcomic stuff!

A webcomic about friendship, life and the art of (not) eating squirrels.
This is one I found a few weeks ago and fell in love with almost instantly. This may or may not be because it's a series starring a girl and her talking raccoon, and is so stuffed full of Final Fantasy and other geeky references that I fangirl squee about something on just about every other strip. It also deals with some deeper issues in a way that, while mostly light-hearted, still has enough impact to hit home.

The Setting

The title characters.
The comic takes place in a typical urban setting. The main human characters are high school students, and the animal characters are either pets, or live in nearby woodland. As a result, the story swings between the two settings, with Sandra (our main human protagonist) dealing with high school life, friend and boyfriend troubles and various other things, while Woo (her talking raccoon) often has his own story arcs outside of the town, with his two friends Shadow (a fox) and Sid (a squirrel they're both trying really hard not to eat).

While the setting is simplistic, it serves to highlight the more complex relationships between characters, and allows for flexibility in the storytelling.

The Characters

Sandra and Woo has a very varied cast. While you have the two main characters, you also have each of their circles of friends, and their parents (in the case of the human characters). Thankfully, these are balanced extremely well, with all of the characters being entertaining in their own way.

These are our three main human protagonists, Sandra and her two best friends Larisa and Cloud (yes, named after the Final Fantasy VII protagonist; his little sister is also named Yuna).

Sandra is presented as your basic everygirl character. She's clever, not entirely socially awkward, but suffers from insecurities about her appearance, especially when she and Larisa are in competition for Cloud's affections. However, she is also possessed of  sharp wit and dry sense of humour, but not so much that she doesn't suffer from the odd unreasonable outburst of temper, just like the rest of us. Also, her chosen method of dealing with her troubles is the same as mine, which, of course, made me like her even more (and this probably tells you more about me than you needed to know).

Larisa is Sandra's pyromaniac and quite possibly psychopathic Russian friend. Mostly, she is used as a foil and rival character to Sandra, although some strips do show that she cares a lot for her friend. While she hasn't had a great deal of focus put on her yet, Larisa shows signs of being one of the deeper characters from the comic, with some hints as to why she acts out as much as she does.

Cloud is the best friend/love interest character. Child of very geeky parents (although his mother has a very dark past that she apparently remedies with video game and fanfiction), Cloud is also skilled in martial arts and swordplay, is the heartthrob of the school, and... has no idea what he's actually doing when it comes to girls. Therefore, any scene focusing on him and Sandra is adorable, and their relationship is actually portrayed in a likeable and realistic way.

Woo, at first, seems to be an almost Garfield-esque figure; all thought bubbles and no speech. Until we find out he can actually talk (and Sandra was just as surprised about it as everyone else). After running away from his old owner (who is heavily implied to have been abusive), Woo and Sandra mutually adopt each other, and Woo swings between being the Hobbes of their relationship, or running off having his own adventures with his two friends from the local woodland, which mostly involve Sid talking them out of eating him, or trying to save the environment.

The other two have not been entirely developed. All we really do know is that Shadow has a wife and children who he loves dearly, and that Sid is a little ball of paranoia, who really wants to trust his best friends, but some days...

The Story

The other two people in this picture are Sandra's dad and Cloud's mum.
The comic basically runs on separate story arcs, with continuity shout-outs turning up throughout. Many of these arcs constitute aesops, while others simply deal with growing up and dealing with other people. Overall, the stories are generally light hearted, with any serious messages being alleviated with a more lighthearted moment afterwards. That's not to say that these devalue the more serious aspects, but they do stop the comic from being mired in serious life lessons.

For those interested, Sandra and Woo updates every Monday and Thursday.