Creator/s: Michelle Mau
Schedule: Totally random
Section/s: Chs. 2 & 3
Website: There's a lot more bonus content than the other webcomics I've been seeing lately, including fan art, miscellaneous drawings, background information, and news items. There's also a cast page, which is a good idea, although I have a complaint about it in the "writing" section below.
Aesthetically, the site's simple and elegant -- perfectly appropriate for the time period the comic covers.
The archives are sort of a mess. I'd prefer a more clean and concise approach -- maybe something like how Parallel Dementia does it. I also initially thought the comic was currently in chapter 2, while it's actually in chapter 3. There's no mention of a chapter 3 in the archives page, which is potentially confusing to a new reader.
I also noticed that the page posted on Aug. 24, 2011, appears twice. It's a careless mistake that shouldn't have gone uncorrected for so long.
Lastly, looking at the archives, the update schedule seems pretty random. Trying to stick to a consistent update schedule would probably help you get more readers.
Writing: It's really, really, really good. The creator has a genuine talent for dialogue and mood that stands out in every page. I'm especially impressed because the writing was able to carry my attention despite the subject matter being mostly being female-oriented and not something I'd normally be interested in. I still don't care that much about the prom situation and the characters' relationships, but the pervasive awkwardness and realistic dialect creates a lot of fun tension and genuinity. One of the primary goals of a writer should be to get the audience to care about their fictional characters, and this comic's very good at making its characters come across as real people.
I also really like the antiquated feel of the comic. It's never a major factor, as the comic deals with timeless human issues, but the colloquialisms and periodic clothing help give the comic a freshness and unique identity. It's not just a "high-school comic," it's a "high-school comic set in the 1910s," and that added quality makes it instantly more special and interesting.
My only beef with the writing is I feel like I'm being bombarded with an endless stream of underdeveloped characters. I get the impression the creator has an elaborate and detailed ecosystem of characters in her imagination and is having difficulty translating that to the limited page space she has available to her. I'd rather see a handful of well-developed characters than an army of undeveloped ones. Accomplishing this will take a greater sense of focus than I've seen so far. I also didn't find the cast page all that helpful, as the information there mostly comes across as superfluous. I feel like the main characters should be described more like the minor characters are.
Art: I'm not as big a fan of this as I am of the writing, but I think the line art's very well-done and highly expressive. The characters have an overwhelming charm that makes every panel seem vivacious. The art style is also very peculiar, and I don't think I've seen a style like it before except for maybe in the webcomic Darken (which I'll actually be referencing again in the conclusion below). And the period clothing adds an extra design element to the characters, whereas modern clothing would be generally overlooked. There are other pleasant subtleties as well, like varying the height of characters to enhance the sense of physical awkwardness.
Another plus is the way the hand-drawn lettering is skillfully used to alter inflection and mood.
My biggest problem with the art, and with the whole comic as well, is the coloring. No matter what the setting or mood in the comic, I always feel the coloring and shading is off in some way, although it's not always particularly clear what the outstanding issue is. For example, the backgrounds in the outdoor scenes, which seem to consist of a mix of markers, pencils, digital, and maybe some crayon, generally look too rough and cartoonish. The indoor scenes look better. And the shading on the characters seems to be either too minimal, making the characters look flat and unrealistic, or too heavy, making the characters look plastic and unrealistic. Again, I'm having trouble pinpointing exactly what the problem is, and color's probably my weakest area, but if I were you, I'd seriously consider experimenting with the coloring, and possibly seeking criticism from someone more capable with it. On the bright side, though, the shading does seem to be showing signs of improvement, even if just a little bit.
Lastly, I initially liked the rosy-cheeks look, as it seemed to fit into the antiquated feel of the comic, but the more I read, the more it seemed redundant, and even a little ridiculous. I understand seeing it if someone's blushing or wearing certain makeup, but I don't get why every child and adult in the comic has rosy cheeks at all times. Seeing it actually reminds me of a doll or clown, or the V for Vendetta mask. Obviously this is an important part of the style, but I'd work on getting the look right. I also feel like the cheeks draw attention away from the coloring issues somewhat, which might have something to do with why the coloring problems are less obvious.
Overall: So, back to Darken, like I mentioned above. It started off as a humble forumer's comic, and a lot of the people here acknowledged its specialness. It quickly became one of the top Comic Genesis comics, and then it got picked up by Keenspot. Darken came to a conclusion last year, at that point having a print version, its own merchandise, and an independent website. I'm excited about Loud Era's prospects, and I detect a specialness in it similar to the specialness a lot of people detected in Darken back when it started. It's unclear, though, whether or not Loud Era's subject material has the same kind of mass appeal that Darken's high fantasy does, but I guess time will tell. Loud Era is far from perfect right now, but I expect it to only get better.