Creator/s: Erin Burt
Hey, another historical comic! I'd guess this one's supposed to be 19th century, although I'll let the history buffs worry about exactly what time period it takes place in.
As a side note, one of the reasons I clicked on this comic is that its title reminded me of the movie Four Rooms. Four Tales isn't anything like Four Rooms, but it's a really funny and clever movie, and worth watching if you haven't done so already.
Update: The creator informed me her comic has an independent website at www.fourtales.com . That website's a lot better. The section below relates to the Smack Jeeves version of the website as accessed on Feb. 22, 2012.
This part's the major flaw of the webcomic. I quickly noticed that there's no obvious navigation on the home page -- the reader has to either click on the comic page, or click the small "Latest Comic" button in the top-right of the page. I don't know if anyone's ever written a guide on webcomic site design, but if I were writing one, my first rule would be that the page navigation must be as clear and simple as possible. It'd be a tragedy if a potential reader gets frustrated trying to use the site and closes their browser window, moving on to something else.
There's literally zero bonus content on the site. One of the main advantages of webcomics over print comics is their website, and Four Tales makes no effort to use that fact to their benefit. Contacting the creator would also be a hassle -- a reader has to click through two links to get to a private message window, and if they don't have a Smack Jeeves forum account, they need to create one as well. Why so much red tape for something so simple?
I'm also confused at the random timestamps in the archive. The pages are being posted anywhere from late morning to late afternoon to late evening. A page posted Tuesday night, for example, is basically a Wednesday update, so the schedule seems somewhat chaotic. Keep in mind that most people read webcomics while at work or school, so updating by the morning would be ideal. That said, I'm very impressed with the rapid pace at which the pages are being posted, although since the creator stated she started off with a four-month buffer, it's unknown how long this pace will continue.
Writing: This comic's a great example of using foreshadowing and mood to properly pace an uneventful story that, if done less skillfully, could've been underwhelming, and even boring. The ominous cracked mirror on the cover is a great way to start things off, as we already know something bad's going to happen to the main character, Sophia, even before we're introduced to her. This happens, too, when the father suggests Sophia has a history of breaking things -- and Sophia's doll gets shattered several pages later. We can also see this when Sophia's mother mentions strange folk who live in the woods -- I expect Sophia might actually run into these strange folk, and I'm nervous and excited to see their encounter. Nothing that interesting has happened yet, but because of moments like these, the comic has an air of tension that makes the story especially interesting.
There's a great moment where the mother reassures Sophia that it's Sunday, while the reader and Sophia are pretty sure it's Monday. The mother's obviously distorting the situation on purpose -- but why? The moment's left strange and mysterious, a question mark to be explained later on for eager readers. The sudden disappearance of the sunflowers is a similar mysterious moment.
As for the bad stuff -- there really isn't much to criticize. I dislike how Sophia talks to herself while she's alone in the woods -- it comes across as awkward and artificial. I imagine captions or thought bubbles would look more natural. I'm also lukewarm about the metafictional introduction -- it's well-executed, but I'm reluctant to accept that a concept that abstract is a good way to lead into a narrative. I'd probably be skeptical of metafiction in any form, actually. It's cool, though, how the tree design connects to the tree Sophia finds in the clearing.
Art: It looks like I get to start my next review early, because there's literally nothing I could find wrong with the artwork. It looks terrific and has a unique shading-heavy style that stands out. "Atmospheric" and "humanistic" are words I'd use to describe the art style. I'm a little embarrassed at how brief this section is, but I don't feel inclined to exhaust myself trying to hunt for flaws.
Overall: Aside from the issues with the website, this is a very high-quality webcomic that's possibly even print-worthy. This might be a good time to consider promoting the comic more aggressively. Just by itself it's improved my perception of Smack Jeeves, which is pretty impressive.