The webcomics blog about webcomics

Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em!

Until recently, I had not considered gateway as a term used to indicate something one might outgrow. I figured it primarily as a passageway through which one is introduced to other things, so much so that I once got into a little trouble for calling Art Spiegelman’s Maus the “gateway drug” of comics in classrooms. Whether you believe that or not, my experience at the time teaching comics certainly proved it true; I just didn’t expect to see that phrasing in print (and in The Comics Journal, no less. Oops.)

Webcomics-wise, I suppose this shift makes sense. Gateways are liminal. I know a number of readers whose online reading wanes depending on storylines, offline time commitments, finding other favorites, intentionally paring down their reading lists, and so on. Some of them have outgrown the webcomics they started with, even if they’ve found new ones to read in the meantime, for a host of reasons. I can empathize: I still feel a little overwhelmed knowing that there are some major-name webcomics I should read and haven’t yet, even though my preferences still skew in certain, very particular, ways. I’ve found new favorites, but I’ve also looked at a lot of webcomics that did absolutely nothing for me. I don’t feel like I know enough to offer critiques, and, as a rule, I prefer to not write negative reviews. I hear that little voice: If you can’t say something nice…

But the comments in last week’s column made me realize that while I might not know webcomics all that well, I know comics. Not so much that I can keep up with you Spider-Man freaks (easy now: I say that with affection, not scorn), but I know how comics work, about panel transitions and zip lines and such. I think those things are transposable to webcomics. And I know reviews, in a less-defined sense; I’ve been writing for Xerography Debt for a while and I’m sure my old reviews lurk even still in the Popmatters comics archives.

So I thought I might tackle this week’s column with those things in mind–and also issue something of a challenge. Mike Luce was first out of the gate last week in commenting, and so I decided to highlight his webcomic Fite! (where the webcomic’s billed as “By Mike Luce (drawing as Thomas Blue)” which I’m not sure I understand…).

What sealed the deal for me to write about Fite!, even after clicking the link, was finding Joey Manley‘s review: “Following the story of Fite! is kind of difficult, since the characters speak in symbols.” After that, I was convinced.

The story itself is difficult to decipher. The webcomic’s about Lucco, the boxing otter, but also involves a host of other characters. I feel like I cheated: I printed the cast page and looked at it each time a new character popped up. On the other hand, it helped. Reading Fite! is very different: I was so smitten with the lush color work (comparisons to Samurai Jack aren’t too far afield) that the challenge of following the narrative–the webcomic doesn’t have any traditional dialogue–did not frustrate me. I almost expected it to.

The archives are also well-organized: the story arcs are organized as “rounds” on the table of contents, involving different adventures (trekking through snow-covered mountains with Gorgado, fighting the Frogera with Guz, etc.). Luce obviously has technical mastery, whether he’s conveying motion, establishing either a tone or a certain time of day through the use of color, or through panel composition on this page.

In fact, Fite!’s use of color is one of the webcomic’s strongest selling points. If you look at the first few comics, which are not in color,
the difference is immediate and disconcerting even though the composition is generally solid, even elegant in places. Luce’s use of color brings a significantly greater depth to his work; if I had started reading at the beginning of the archives I would have really struggled to keep going and likely would have quit. The difference is striking.

All that said, Fite! is not a gateway webcomic. It doesn’t seem like a work which would pull in folks unfamiliar with webcomics; it wouldn’t at all be where I’d suggest folks start (even with the advantage of not needing to read English to kind of ‘get’ the narrative). But it also doesn’t seem like it would be a work people would too easily outgrow since it clearly has so much going on (both visually and narratively) with each story arc, be it unconventional panel compositions (the likes of which I haven’t really seen in other webcomics) or just looking at the development of the comic itself between the different rounds. An interesting aspect, one I hadn’t previously considered, is that because it doesn’t rely on English for its dialogue, it both highlights some neat tricks about how comics work and how we ‘read’ them and also doesn’t limit its potential readership by being English-dialogue heavy. In a lot of ways, Fite! covers some new ground I hadn’t yet encountered in webcomics, and that’s worth noting. Manley phrases it perfectly: “this comic is just a lot of fun to look at.”

So, the challenge: now that I feel I’ve footing enough in webcomics and am moving toward more critical kinds of reviews, I remain open to suggestions. By now I think my tastes in reading have become evident enough; I promise you I’ll look at whatever webcomics links you send my way (though I make no such promises for reviewing them), either through comments or through the “contact us” link up there in the right-hand corner.

How’s that for reader-response?

I can’t tell you how thrilled I am that you not only read the comic, but took the time, thought and energy to review it. Thank you SO much. Fite is NOT an easy read. I do not make things simple for my few readers. My technical skills do start out poorly (this is my first real comic effort.. well, second) and I ask a lot from readers by changing skill level, style and color all the way through. I definitely take your comments and critiques to heart. And once again, thanks for reading it and even moreso for writing about it. You’ve really made my day.

I would offer up my comic for dissection, but some of my lettering is quite illegible and needs to be redone at some point this weekend. I’ll take up your promise soon, though. :)

[…] Anne Thalheimer on Mike Luce’s Fite! (Above: sequence from the surreal series in question, ©2007 Mike […]

Nice to see something of substance on Fleen again, without the usual names being dropped even! Good job.

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