How to Save the World

Creator/s: Ryan Borella, Tyler Shepard
Run: 10/11-current
Schedule: W/F

Website: The general layout of the site is excellent, and the oversized title quickly draws in the reader's attention. I have a few complaints, though:

1. Navigating the archives to write this review was a big hassle. For instance, there's no quick way to get to the first page of volume 1, so to do so, I have to click "First" and then click "Next" multiple times. And finding old pages will get even more challenging as new material is added. Something like a navigation dropdown or calendar would be appreciated.

2. It's five months in, and the amount of bonus material and commentary on the site is mediocre at best. And it seems to have been getting worse, since at least at the beginning there was regular commentary beneath the pages. It isn't a big problem, but it's also an area that could obviously use some work.

3. I dislike having the seasonal extras mixed in with the regular archive. It's distracting from the story, and the Halloween extra is actually Red's first appearance in the comic, which makes his "real" introduction later on less dramatic.

Writing: The first thing that jumps out at me is that the four-page introduction doesn't have a hook -- and by hook, I mean something strange or exciting at the beginning to quickly grab the reader's attention. This directly leads to two pacing problems: one, the exposition gets exaggerated (like with the awkwardly overdramatic "TV will rot your brain" panel), and two, the exposition is rushed so the story can get to the "good stuff" (e.g., the author blogs at the start of volume 1, "I promise the action will start picking up soon"). Hypothetically, if the weak intro was amputated and the comic started with volume 1, the writing as a whole might be stronger.

It could be that I'm being overcritical of this small portion of the comic. But at the same time, I feel that making a solid early impression is really important with webcomics, which is partly why the website itself deserves a lot of focus.

(For more on hooks, I recall Dennis O'Neil spending a good amount of time on them in his book The DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics.)

As for the bulk of the writing (i.e., the interaction between Sam and Red), I'm impressed overall, and this, more than any other quality of the comic, would lead me to become a regular reader. Red, in particular, is mysterious, unpredictable, and fantastic, and a lot of my interest in the story stems from his surprising abilities and behavior. For instance, I'm wondering things like: Why Red is (ironically) fearful of Sam when they meet? Where did he come from, and what's his connection to Grandpa? Why, and how, did he create the evil beet monster? What other cool powers does he have? I assume these questions, and more, will be answered later on in the comic. Sam, though, is nowhere near as interesting, and is going to need to be developed a lot better if he's going to continue to be a meaningful part of the duo. He does make a few references to cowboys (most notably in the "space Western" segment), so I could see him styling himself after an archetypal Western hero (perhaps emulating movie stars like John Wayne or Clint Eastwood).

In addition, the story thus far is so bizarre, I'm unconvinced whether it's grounded in reality or if it's all part of Sam's play-fantasy, and I like the ambiguity. I'm reminded of dark movies like Total Recall and The Game, or even something more fantastic like The Wizard of Oz, where both the protagonist and viewer have a difficult time distinguishing between reality and fiction, and while this webcomic is obviously lighter material, I'm attracted to the surrealistic vibe of it.

Lastly, I'm not a fan of how Red communicates to Sam via ones and zeroes. No matter how much I suspend my disbelief, I don't understand how the language can make complete sense to Sam while appearing as gibberish to the reader. It also comes across as tedious and unnecessary for Sam to have to vocally translate what Red says. I can quickly think of a variety of ways this problem could be addressed, and all of them are better than how it is now.

Art: I'd say the character art and lettering is fine as-is. The quality is certainly at least adequate for the rate of output, and the bright colors give a warm, "Saturday morning cartoon" feel. And because of the heavy visual focus on Red, the comic has a distinct color motif that's instantly recognizable. The artist shows to be especially adept at changing perspectives and angles to keep the scenes fresh. I also like the designs in the character sketches and look forward to seeing those characters (and others) appear.

I have a big problem with the art, though, and it's that I can't stand the homogeneous backgrounds. It feels like most of the backgrounds are the same bland layering of land, flora, and sky. I get that, thematically, the blandness of the scenery relates to Sam's boredom and isolation, but at the same time, the reader expects to be entertained and stimulated. The most obvious solution to this is for the artist and writer to communicate more in regards to making the scenery more relevant. If the artist feels creatively limited by a location, then he should discuss with the writer the possibility of changing or modifying the location to be more accommodating. This also gives the writer more of an opportunity to make use of props (like in the scene where Sam, being in proximity to a barn, grabs a garden tool to use as a weapon). However, I'm aware that increasing the level of detail may negatively affect the comic's schedule, so sacrificing some art quality could be the wisest choice.

Lastly, I'd like to add that I'm very underwhelmed by the volume 1 cover, and that it's probably the least competent artwork in the whole comic. I would consider either making a new cover, or cutting it.

Overall:  This is a fun and original webcomic, and I can see it expanding its audience if the quality improves and the schedule remains consistent. There appears to be a broad interest in pairing a "Saturday morning cartoon" feel with an adult sensibility, as shown by popular movies based on childhood cartoons like Transformers, The Smurfs, and G.I. Joe, as well as various shows on Cartoon Network. The comic's homage to Calvin and Hobbes is an example of tapping into that kind of sentiment. I personally plan to check up on the comic periodically to see how the plot develops.


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