The L

Creator/s: Dee Smith
Run: 3/10-current
Schedule: About once a month

Website: I think it says something about the popularity of this template that I can instantly identify it as "the whistleonwind template" even though I don't normally pay attention to who makes them. It wouldn't surprise me if I'd written more than 10 reviews of webcomics with the same exact site. It might seem a little snobby, but I think, after this review's done, I'm just not gonna read any more webcomics that use this template. I'm just tired of spending so much time looking at the same black, white, and teal layout.

I dislike how disorganized the archives are. Of the webcomic's 13 completed chapters, nine of them are only between one and four pages long. I understand that the creator's going for a fragmented storytelling style, but it's possible to accomplish that in a more coherent fashion. Worse, though, is that the webcomic goes from Page 69 to Page 106, and from Chapter 13 to Chapter 27, with no explanation given as to why the comic's set up that way. The website and pages also don't give any overt indication of what chapter they're in, meaning that, when reading through the archives, it isn't even clear when these abrupt chapter changes are occurring. When I initially saw the archives, my first impression was that the webcomic was missing pages and wasn't ready to be presented yet, which almost discouraged me from reviewing it.

The creator probably provides more commentary on his pages than any other webcomic I've reviewed, but it's almost all esoteric stuff that I don't think will help readers feel engaged. Particularly, the creator frequently brings up an almost obsessive tally of how many characters are killed on each page and by whom, comparing each page's kill count to his other projects and to different pages and scenes throughout the comic. This occurs every time a character dies, which happens a lot in this webcomic, and I feel a little disgusted by the way the characters' deaths are compared and, really, celebrated to such an extent, as if drawing people getting killed is a noteworthy accomplishment. There's also detailed analysis of every different kind of gun and ammunition shown in the webcomic (which there's also a lot of), and I can't imagine anyone but the most hardcore gun enthusiasts would be interested in that kind of commentary. Readers are more attracted to characters, and the emotions and situations that go along with them, and I think directing the commentary more towards that aspect would do more to help get readers involved.

Kinda like the last webcomic I reviewed, O.R, this one's title's just a letter, which doesn't really convey anything about the story to a potential audience. In addition, the webcomic's promotional banner's of a Spartan warrior, but Spartans are only featured prominently in one page out of the entire story. You can easily draw a parallel between the Spartans in 300 and the Navy SEALs in this webcomic, but still, at best it's vague, and at worst it's sorta misleading.

Lastly, 2012's updates are a mess, with the creator frequently going more than a month without posting a new page. Excluding a "supplemental" section, the webcomic only averaged about one page a month, which brings the story to an absolute crawl.

Writing: Envisioning what the end of the world will be like's an engaging subject, and The L does it with an absurdist style that gives the webcomic a fun, bizarre feel, even if the story's mostly incomprehensible. Less than two years after the world ends on Dec. 21, 2012, North American civilization has dramatically morphed, with Canadians becoming Spartans, white Americans becoming loincloth-wearing Zulus, and black Americans becoming gangster gnomes. In addition, a new empire called the PanTerrans has emerged, whose representatives dress like Arabs even when in Canada during the winter, and whose leader dresses like an Egyptian pharaoh. There's also a demon, a guy who does human sacrifices and is probably immortal, and whatever this thing's supposed to be. 90 pages and almost three years in, the creator's barely tried to explain any of this, and while I found it impossible to make sense of the setting, I actually grew to appreciate the creator's creativity and his attempt to portray such a messed-up world. For example, there's a chapter where about 40 elite Navy SEALs take on an army of about 9,000 spear-wielding barbarians; it seemed like a ridiculous setup to me at first, but the creator actually put some thought into how such a fight would play out, portraying it through an elaborate 18-page action scene.

A lot of attention's paid to a shadowy cabal known as The Twelve, and especially to one of its members, Sweet, but these scenes didn't interest me much because the creator's so reluctant to reveal anything. Mystery can be a very effective part of a creator's toolbox, but it needs to be balanced out with enough information to keep the reader engaged. Judging by the character's prominence and the creator's comments, it appears that Sweet's a complex character that the creator cares a lot about, but from a reader's standpoint, I just see him as a creepy guy who stands around looking ominous and occasionally makes vague references. Characters are like an iceberg, in that readers only see what's above the surface, so it's important for creators to keep in mind that their physical and mental notes don't actually make a character more complex unless the reader's aware of them. It could be argued that it's still too early in the story and that the creator will show more about his characters later, but, really, he's shown so little of an inclination so far to explain things that I can't see it as a guarantee that the webcomic will make sense eventually. The Navy SEALs also have a similar problem, as while the creator names and designs nine of them, I was unable to get a sense of any of their personalities, and I'd probably even have a hard time trying to name any of them if I looked at their picture. Even with Hero, who I guess is supposed to be the main character, I still don't know much about him except that he's brave and a tough guy, which is kind of a given considering he's a Navy SEAL.

The dialogue starts out pretty bad, with paragraph-long speech bubbles in small text containing awkwardly formal conversation. I guess it's supposed to seem antiquated, but some of the early dialogue seems way too contrived, such as when the storyteller says, "For someone so steeped in the language of Biblical injunction you hide not the fact you are pregnant out of wedlock with lies, and at the mainspring of the baser animal instincts." Fortunately, the writing gradually gets a little more natural, and the webcomic finally starts to hits its stride in Chapter 10, where the lengthy action sequence forced the creator to learn to write more visually. Volume Two, which started in 2012, has shown a major improvement in the creator's writing. Whereas before the pages were large chunks of text with accompanying illustrations, the 2012 pages are more art-driven, with large, detailed scenes accompanied by short speech bubbles.

Art: Like the writing, the art starts out really rough and gets better over time. For the first six chapters, it looks like a poorly drawn, very cartoony imitation of Jhonen Vasquez's style, but at around the urban warfare scene the webcomic starts to get a little more realistic and show glimpses of its own style. The battle in Chapter 10, which I mentioned in the previous section as the turning point in the writing, is also when the art starts to take off, as the creator has no choice but to bump his anatomy skills up a notch (or two) in order to pull off something this complicated. I'm impressed by the creator's dedication here, as he could've easily decided that the scene was too challenging and avoided doing it.

The creator's also shown some improvement with perspectives and faces, although not quite as much as he has with anatomy. Perspectives are especially a weak point, as the webcomic's filled with backgrounds that are way off, as if the creator had looked at backgrounds drawn by more competent artists but didn't understand why they were drawn that way. As for faces, the creator begins to rely more on silhouettes starting with this page, and I think part of it's that it makes the panels look relatively appealing since the problems with faces aren't as apparent in them. In a lot of the earlier pages, it's often even difficult to tell if a character's supposed to be a man or a woman. Also, judging from the creator's comments, he's very focused on getting small details and special effects right, which may be distracting him from bigger problems. For example, here, here, and here, the creator describes spending hours getting certain minor digital effects to look just right, while, in the meantime, the pages all have glaring mistakes with anatomy, faces, and perspectives. There's also frequently elaborate commentary on very specific issues, such as the 250-word apology seen here about the moon not being in the correct cycle, or esoteric explanations about the guns or ammunition the characters use (1, 2, 3), while more pertinent problems, like a character "looking like a gnome" here and Hero looking "like an old man" here, are only casually referenced. I think it'd probably help the webcomic if the creator was more focused on the aspects that matter most to readers.

The comic has a few panels here and there of full nudity and even graphic sex (1, 2, 3, 4 (NSFW, obviously)). The creator claims in the second page I linked that he didn't just draw nudity for fan-service, but the panel's much more detailed and realistic than the rest of the webcomic, which is still very cartoony at that point. Later on, there's some blatant cheesecake, which is soon followed by the creator stating, whether jokingly or not, that Mandy features some of his main sexual turn-ons. While some reasoning's provided behind the imagery (Mandy's promiscuous; Mandy rebels against wearing uniforms), it still seems gratuitous, and it doesn't add anything to the webcomic other than making it more "sexy." Sexiness can attract readers, of course, but it's a shallow way of trying to do it, and characters can certainly be portrayed as "sexy" in a more modest way.

Lastly, there are often messages embedded in the webcomic's borders (1, 2, 3), similar to what Vazquez does in Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, but they're all written backwards, as if drawn looking at a mirror, which makes them very difficult to read without doing something like flipping the pages in Photoshop. I don't have a problem with the creator doing it this way, as the borders would just be black lines otherwise, but doing the messages backwards seems like a wasted opportunity, as it could've been a cool feature otherwise.

Overall: The L falls short of being a great read, but it could win a hypothetical award for "Most Improved Webcomic of 2012." The creator needs to continue to develop his skills, as well as update more frequently and consistently than he did last year. He also needs to focus on making his webcomic more reader-friendly, although I recommend readers at least check out Chapter 10 since it's a spectacular battle sequence.


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