Saturday, 2 February 2013

Digital Canvas - Two To Review: Cucumber Quest VS Ava’s Demon

In this week’s reviews, the golden thread binding our two webcomics together is art, specifically beautiful cel shading art. This may or may not be the correct term for this style, the term is more prevalent in videogame circles, but both featured webcomics are made up of borderless blocks of colour, sumptuous lighting and shade, and subsequently both were featured in my previous article regarding visually pleasing webcomics as a result.

Cucumber Quest is an ongoing story-driven comic split into chapters, and is created by the delightfully named Gigi D.G. The story takes place in a land of cute bunny people split into several kingdoms (each one intentionally based on typical videogame theme-level clichés), and follows very reluctant hero Cucumber, his much more adventurous sister Almond, and their quest to stop the evil Nightmare Knight.

What I love about Cucumber Quest is that it manages to both honour and mess with all the old “adventure quest” clichés we’re all familiar with. Cucumber is the most reluctant hero ever, he’d rather be in school, and he even sees clichés and plot holes rearing up in front of him. But he never manages to avoid this “destiny”, because life keeps forcing him down the path of a legendary hero. Similarly, his sister Almond is constantly fighting against the assumption that she is “just a girl” and ergo can’t be a legendary hero. She even takes steps (which I won’t mention here due to spoilers) to ensure the day isn’t saved too quickly and that the adventure goes ahead! And it certainly doesn’t hurt that the comic is laugh-out-loud funny throughout!

Of course, this webcomic isn’t to everybody’s tastes. Anyone who dislikes overly cute things will take one look at all the bunny people and (excuse the pun) turn tail without giving it a chance. Equally, anyone hoping for a serious adventure or gritty drama should look elsewhere. The Nightmare Knight is a suitably foreboding villain with great presence, but his underlings appear to struggle with actually posing any real threat to the heroes as of yet. You get the sense that everything will probably work out fine without much fuss.

Ava’s Demon is a long-form webcomic split into chapters, created by Michelle Czajkowski. The story follows Ava, a seemingly ordinary girl in a futuristic world of spacecraft, aliens, and mega-corporations, Ava has a more medieval problem; there’s a demon in her head that only she can see. What this demon actually turns out to be is the crux of the story.

The feature that Ava’s Demon most excels at is atmosphere. Ambience leaks from the borders of each page in bucket-loads, and the fascinating story hooked me with ease and the juicy bait of believable characterisation. The artwork is simply beautiful, and whilst it does share a few elements and techniques with the previous webcomic, I would describe Czajkowski’s art as what Cucumber Quest hopes to be when it grows up. The strip is funny in places, but isn’t afraid to be hard-hitting when needed, and in a certain light it could be seen as a commentary on mental health issues (although I’m probably just reading into things that aren’t there).

The main problem I see with this strip is the design choice of having one panel of story per page. Stylistically, I see why Czajkowski chooses to do this; the reader is encouraged to examine each panel longer and therefore proceed through the story at a steady tempo, and of course the art benefits from the extra focus. But reading through the archives in one sitting as I did for this review, I found myself getting impatient with the pace. Maybe I’m just spoilt by other multi-panelled webcomics. I also find myself inexplicably uncomfortable with the lack of sound effects (visually I mean, like a well-placed CLONK or SPLORT in the panel) leading to an odd feeling of silence pervading the strip. I really am digging to find constructive faults here, which just shows how great I think this webcomic is.

OK, time for the verdicts. Cucumber Quest is a wonderful tale spun by a gifted storyteller, and full of guaranteed laughs (and for that reason alone has found its way onto my Favourites bar), but in comparison to Ava’s Demon it comes off too slight. Ava and her cohorts have well and truly sunk their collective claws into me, and are the deserved winners of this little face-off.

Todd Marsh still uses overly fanciful words to try and convey pure emotions.

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