A Redtail's Dream


URL: www.minnasundberg.fi
Creator/s: Minna Sundberg
Run: 9/11-current
Schedule: Every day but Sundays
Section/s: Ch. 4

Website: It's very appealing, greeting the reader with a large example of the comic's colorful, dreamlike artwork. The navigation buttons are also very distinct, and they give me the impression of something like Native American or Norse wood carvings.

The comic has a lot of extras, including various drawings, tutorials, creator comments, and information about the comic. I like how the characters in the cast page are interacting with each other, although I think the cast and home pages should elaborate more about the comic.

Lastly, A Redtail's Dream updates six days a week, which is extremely impressive considering how detailed the artwork is. The creator obviously started off with a large buffer, but still, I don't know of any other webcartoonists out there who are this prolific.

Writing: Surrealism's one of my favorite genres, so I was pleased to stumble upon A Redtail's Dream, which takes place in a dreamlike reality called the Bird's Path. I was eager to discover more about this imaginative setting, which includes talking animals, magic portals, and immortal monsters; however, every time I expected the creator would deliver a bit of exposition, she passed up the opportunity to do so. Puppy-Fox's conversation with the bird's treated as being a big deal, but the subject they're talking about's only referred to vaguely as "this whole mess." Similarly, when's Hannu's asked why he and Ville are looking for Mr. Moose, he brushes the question aside, saying, "I have my reasons." And a lot of the chapter deals with a killer ghost-zombie-moose-thing, but its origin's only casually mentioned in one panel, where zombie-squirrel-things are given no specific explanation of why or how they made an undead monster. At one point, I breathed a sigh of relief as the creator appeared as if she was finally gonna give a clue as to what was going on; however, her idea of a plot synopsis is this: "See, we're all trapped in a dream reality right now, because of some hocus-pocus accident that some magical sky-fox caused, and the only way for you to get home is if a person, who I strongly suspect is your dad, puts this trinket on and agrees to return." That sentence is all the plot information I got from reading an 88-page chapter of a webcomic that's 228 pages in. Also, if Hannu's objective is to get the trinket to the guy, then how come, when they finally meet, all they do is chit-chat, and not even mention the trinket once? Just two pages later, Hannu's already beginning his next mission, which is to hunt down and kill the zombie-moose. But what happened to using the trinket to escape from the dream-world? It's possible that Hannu could've been lying about it, but if that's the case, then it means the reader's even more lost as to what's going on than they were before.

I'm aware that many, if not all, of the comic's mysteries are probably answered in the previous chapters. However, I think reader accessibility's just as important as, if not more important than, having a good story. And the irony is, while a creator might obsess for months, or even years, over their story, trying to get it just perfect, failing to include a necessary sentence of information here or there for new readers can be more damaging to the comic than any problem with the narrative. This information might be superfluous for established readers, but the minor annoyance caused by redundancy's far outweighed by the utter confusion caused by not giving new readers anything concrete to latch onto. They could go back to the beginning to gain a better understanding; however, why bother to make that level of investment when a reader can, instead, visit a more coherent webcomic and start enjoying it now? It's just a bad strategy, and if a surrealism fan like myself is gonna lose interest in the story, then I imagine the majority of webcomic readers are gonna find its vagueness even less appealing.

I think it's worth bringing up here the short review I wrote a few months ago for June, which is also a surrealism webcomic that doesn't really have a plot. The reason June works better's because it's more abstract, jumping around abruptly from scene to scene and portraying nonsensical imagery, so the comic itself seems to have more of a dreamlike nature. A Redtail's Dream, on the other hand, reads pretty much like a fantasy adventure story, and its plotlines of "bring this trinket to this guy" and "find and kill this elusive monster" seem like side quests straight out of an RPG. I'd even prefer something like an incoherent David Lynch film, where the situations are so intense and bizarre that it doesn't really matter that much that you barely have any idea what's going on.

On a more positive note, A Redtail Dream's characters are decent, with the playful dog-moose Ville stealing the show. I'm not one to typically get amused by cute animal characters, but he really is adorable here, and I get the impression he's having fun going on this weird adventure since his normal life as a dog's so boring. Hannu could stand being developed more, though, as he's basically the same generic, boyish protagonist as Ilias in Gaia, which I reviewed a few weeks ago.

Lastly, the amount of spelling and grammatical mistakes would be somewhat higher than normal for a native English-speaker, but it's really not that bad considering that English is the creator's third language, after Finnish and Swedish.

Art: The creator iterates throughout the About page and her comments that this is merely "intended to be a practice comic," but it should be obvious to every reader that the artwork's superior to just about any "real comic" out there. I'm hesitant to put her in the same category as some of webcomics' "elite" artists, such as Tracy Butler, Aaron Diaz, and Sarah Ellerton; however, at only 22 years old, she's a lot younger than they are. For those of you reading this who just want a quick glimpse of her abilities, the amount of talent displayed in this page is off the charts.

If the creator has any weakness she should focus on improving, it'd be human faces, as I was consistently a little underwhelmed with them. The faces in these pages, for example, seem just sorta so-so to me, and the manga-ish noses and mouths seem out of place.

Overall: A Redtail's Dream's lack of a plot leaves too many unanswered questions for me to fully enjoy the comic, but its gorgeous scenery and lighthearted situations make it a fairly fun read regardless. If I were a casual reader, I'd consider checking out A Redtail's Dream solely for the phenomenal artwork. The writing might not be anything special, but at least it's not angst-ridden or offensive like some of the other webcomics I've reviewed lately.

4/5

15 comments :

  1. I don't think there are as many unanswered questions as the writer does. This is an on going narrative so don't expect the plot to get re-summarized every chapter. Puppy Fox explains the basic conflict to Hannu in the first chapter and the summary quoted above really is accurate and sufficient. The narrative pattern is quite consistent across each chapter - each time Hannu and Ville enter another area of the Bird Path, they receive an animal totem/pendant from one of the birds. They have to find the leader of the humans in the area and give him or her the pendant which will send the humans back home. Each time Ville and Hannu must defeat a monster or complete a challenge before the leader agrees to wear the pendant. (in the Moose chapter mentioned above Hannu does hand the pendant over before he sets off to get the moose.) It's a fairly standard, but well done, fairy tale narrative quest pattern in which the quests force Hannu to confront his own personal failings (laziness, selfishness etc.) What keeps this interesting is that Hannu does not really have happy, Sesame Street learning experiences - whether or not he'll grow is still up for grabs. Also, Puppy Fox is a fox - any western reader knows that means he's tricky and this will provide plot twists along the way.

    What might be confusing to English readers is that the story draws on a body of Nordic animal myths that we're probably not familiar with. (I'm certainly not.) For that part, I say just go with it. Accept that the Milky Way is the path to the world of the dead and that foxes control the aurora borealis. It won't get in the way of enjoying a good story and might make you want to read a new body of mythology when you're done.

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    1. I like the fairy tale and mythology elements. The problem's that the webcomic gets sidetracked from that stuff in favor of its "video gamey" storytelling. The writing isn't terrible, but I wouldn't go as far as to consider it "well done."

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  2. I WHOLEHEARTEDLY agree. The criticism of "lack of a plot" is wholly unjustified. I've been captivated since I started reading this somewhere near the beginning.
    --Matthew G.

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    1. I'm glad to hear you're enjoying the webcomic. Personally, I felt that the story didn't have enough style or substance to hold my interest.

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  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  4. I feel compelled to agree that I am confused by this. I honestly don't understand how reviewing a story-driven comic on a single chapter in the middle is helpful. I found this web-comic after it was five hundred pages in and still started at page one. I would never come in as a reader and expect the most recent chapter of a story-driven comic to make sense. If I find a story-based comic, I start from the first chapter and then decide if I want to invest time finishing the archives and catching up. Since it takes two seconds to click back to page one, I still get the instant gratification of enjoying a story RIGHT THEN.

    Maybe, I am just a different kind of story reader than you. Explicitly repeating the plot every chapter is really, really annoying to me, and has lost my readership of other comics in the past. ALL of the questions and confusions you mentioned about the story-telling ARE answered in previous chapters. Some of the parts you quoted as exposition aren't even really exposition and more like in-jokes with the readers.

    I also don't understand the comparison of Hannu with Ilias. They don't really have anything in common beyond drawing from fixed character archetypes, and they draw from completely different archetypes at that. Ilias is a goody-two shoes, Hannu is a little bit of a sociopath. And the chapter you read is where you begin to see the scope of his sociopathic tendencies, so I can't even chalk it up to the reading one random chapter thing.

    I would agree that it isn't the best writing, and relies on lots of story archetypes. There are many more original stories out there, and those are great too. However, I found aRTD endearing and well-executed enough that it won a place in my list of favorites over some of the more original webcomics I follow.

    That said, nothing is for everyone and I can certainly understand that the story doesn't hold enough draw for you. I guess its just that I am confused by the demand for accessibility over cohesive narrative, and don't want readers who prefer to start from the beginning like me to be put off by complaints of incoherence that they won't encounter.

    -Alison S.

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  5. I disagree that 90-or-so pages isn't enough material to convey characterization and plot elements. A more capable and experienced writer would be able to do more with the same amount of page space. In addition, the creator can always just insert a general plot summary at the beginning of the chapter so that reading from Page 1 is an option rather than a necessity.

    Anyways, I generally enjoyed reading A Redtail's Dream, and there are many webcomics on this site that have received worse than the 4-star rating I gave it. I also plan on reviewing the creator's new comic, Stand Still, Stay Silent, at some point once it has more pages, which will give me a chance to see if she's improved her writing since I reviewed A Redtail's Dream.

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  6. I honestly don't see how this is a helpful review at all. Starting in the middle of a webcomic with a set plotline is completely different to starting a joke-a-day comic; that's like opening up a book halfway and expecting the author to cater to your ineptitude, or walking into a cinema when the movie's almost over and getting annoyed when the characters don't summarise everything they've just done for you. If you're going to review something, have the courtesy to /attempt/ to read it from the starting point the author has given you!!

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    1. That takes too much time. This way's more efficient.

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  7. In comics it's a cardinal rule that every single book/story/chapter should be treated as though it's the first one the reader has ever picked up. Characters should refer to each other by name. Their interactions should convey to the audience the kind of people they are and how that relates them t one another. Conversations and narration should sufficiently catch up any newcomers to where the narrative is at within the first few pages. What's happening? Who's it happening to? Why?

    Webcomics are a different animal than comic books, sure. A reader who gets introduced to a comic book with issue #11 of a series only has that one book in their hands. Going back to the previous ten chapters may or may not be a convenient option. Webcomics, on the other hand, have all of the previous chapters right there in the same place as the newer material -- it's all included the same package. I can see where the comparisons to novels in these comments are coming from because of that factor.

    But webcomics are not novels. Novels generally are not released one page or chapter at a time like webcomics usually are. For many readers the most recently released content is their first exposure to the work, very much like comic books. Say the reader is hooked by your newest page. They want to know more about an element of the current story. They crave context! Are they going to go back a hundred pages or more to start at the onset of the entire franchise, or are they going to go back to the beginning of the most recent apparent jumping-on point (the start of the current chapter, surely)? Well, if they're intrigued by something going on in the current story they'll probably choose the latter.

    Nobody with any sense picks up the penultimate issue of Batman: Death of the Family from 2013 and then goes back to start reading at Batman #1 from 1940 just because they're interested in why the villain is wearing his own face as a mask. No, they'll pick up the first comic in the Death of the Family chapter from 2012 and read from there. If the writer is worth his salt he'll explain everything we need to know from thereon in.

    These things need to be considered when making long-form story based webcomics, even ones with one main plot that runs throughout the entire series. If you use chapters then there must be a reason, even if it's just to mark the resolution of one sub-plot and the assumption of a new one. And if you're dividing your story like that anyway, then please show consideration for new readers who have been conditioned by 75 years of comic books to see the start of a new story as a jumping-on point. If they can understand what's going on enough to like it, they will probably go all the way back to page 1 and start chewing through the archive. But first you need to hook them. If you display your latest page on your homepage, think of that as the bait for any newcomers. The current chapter has to be the hook.

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    1. This post was interesting. Thank you. I was wondering then, since books are not like webcomics, if it would be a bad idea to end a chapter on a cliffhanger and start a new chapter addressing it? Would this confuse new readers of that chapter because they'd have no clue what they're reading?

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    2. I'd be fine with it personally. Many a story starts off as though you're just picking up from a nonexistent cliffhanger anyway -- just dumping you directly into the action and explaining things as needed along the way. It's the explaining bit that you have to remember.

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    3. @Otty: Yeah, I mean, to me, someone's either a good writer, or they aren't, and a good writer would've written this section more coherently. I'm not interested in excuses.

      @Anonymous: Just provide some basic context so that new readers can get a general sense of what's going on.

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  8. Hi would you mind reviewing my webcomic. Starts here http://snafu-comics.com/swmcomic/new-comic-new-rules/ and is called kayos gaiden. The previous comic is Titan sphere and is the sequel to the comic that's ongoing.

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    1. We're not currently taking more requests.

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