Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Fantasy, Interactive
This week I'm covering an interactive comic, which is a genre I happen to have experience with. For those unaware, interactive comics (also known as Choose Your Own Adventure comics or MS Paint Adventures after Andrew Hussie's comics which popularized the genre) are based on old text-based adventure games which require the user to type commands that the character will do. In an interactive comic, readers submit commands for the main character to perform to complete missions. This is one of the strengths and weaknesses of the genre. User requests empower the reader and create a sense of spontaneity that is hard to create in a scripted plot, but they can also make it difficult to plan a consistent plot or update schedule because the comic is reliant on when and if readers post. In Cup of Olea, you can see both sides of user requests affecting the comic, for better or worse.
Normally, I don't review the site design, because I've always seen SmackJeeves as a sandbox for comickers who just want to get their comic on the web. But because MasterComic specifically requested it, I will make an exception. The site has a blue background featuring commands used in the comic so far . The textboxes are translucent blue and the text is white. The previous site design was a bit simpler (plain blue background with white bordered textboxes and white text), and could have been interpreted as invoking the old-school less graphically intensive adventure games like Sierra Games' King's Quest, what it loses in ditching the retro gaming feel it gains in overall aesthetics. Writing user requests in the background not only makes it look better, and adds to the audience participation appeal. One of your requests could be in the background. The site also fixed some functionality problems I had with it when viewing the page in Firefox where the page would automatically scroll in the comments section on loading, and I haven't seen any real issues with the site since then.
The story starts with a prologue that introduces the Cup of Olea, the artifact that the title of the comic comes from. The Cup of Olea is a magical cup that gives the holder great power, but also drives them completely insane. Unfortunately, the Cup is stolen by one of the king's knights, and is never seen again. Seven years later, we meet the player character Cliff, who goes to Starbucks, steals a blacksmith's porcupine, fights a zombie, plays video games, and eventually makes it to the king's castle because of an important mission. Cliff catches a spy, becomes a knight, gets a magical tome, then futzes around town some more. Cliff is then called away on another mission from the king to kill some more zombies, and then he meets the king's son, who informs him that someone is using the Cup of Olea to summon zombies and terrorize the country.
The comic is currently more than 185 pages long, though given that each page is only one panel long (with a caption underneath), it is a fairly quick read. However, the plot meanders a lot from the premise of the comic, that Cliff needs to retrieve the Cup of Olea. As seen in the plot synopsis, very little actually happens, and the thing that could be important to the plot (go to the castle and solve the world's easiest riddle) takes 40 pages to accomplish. Some of this can be chalked up to the commands or the order the commands are taken, which results in pages where the author has to say “Sorry, that already happened so it's too late now. Oh well.” Granted, some of the commands are just ridiculous and or break established rules of the universe, so it's a way of fielding requests. But even Lunar Hill, whose art and writing style Cup of Olea takes inspiration from, had Hillman slay Lunar Hill in 100 pages. While there's plenty of funny scenes that result from requests (like how people seeing Cliff do random goofy things leads to people thinking he has some sort of problem) and they lead to characters that wouldn't have otherwise existed like Zazoom the porcupine, I'd say the plot needs to be tighter and we should have seen what the connection between Cliff and the Cup of Olea was sooner than it did.
The art is done in an intentionally pixelated sprite style, taking inspiration from Lunar Hill and old-school adventure games like King's Quest. The art style makes for easy page work, which if there are a lot of requests, is pretty much a godsend compared to drawing everything. The comic also engages in some copy/pasting of scenes, characters, and in some cases, entire panels. While I usually am harsh about this, given the frequency required for interactive comics I'm inclined to let it slide, though I would say to avoid getting into the habit of relying on copy/paste too much.
Cup of Olea is a pretty good interactive comic with some good writing and a clear sense of what the end goal of the story is supposed to be. However, I feel like it could get there a little bit faster than it currently is. There could also be a little bit more effort in the art, which leans towards copy/pasting elements to keep a steady output.