Tangled River


One of my favorite criticisms that I've gotten as a webcomic reviewer is:

Seems like the only comics that would be good to this person are super-action crazy lines, mega poses!

For one, it's hard to imagine a comic that would fit that description. Maybe some sort of over-the-top action manga with hulking, overpowered characters and speed lines everywhere.

Secondly, it portrays me as a simple-minded, even childish reader with a tiny attention span. In this reader's view, I couldn't care less about plot and character development as long as the action scenes are exciting and detailed.

So why am I bringing this up now? While this reader's clearly exaggerating, it's true that I appreciate what a good action scene adds to a story.

The same thing goes for humor, drama and suspense. These elements aren't necessary when telling a story … but they do make stories a lot more appealing and memorable.

It's sort of like cooking. Adding spices and seasoning doesn't make food any more nutritious, at least not in a substantial way. But you want your meals to taste good, right?

That brings to me the webcomic I'm reviewing today. When I read it, I felt like something was missing, but I couldn't tell what.

I mean, the plot's solid. Unlike a lot of webcartoonists, this comic's creator clearly wrote a script, and she put a lot of thought into the story and how the scenes fit together.

However, it's boring. Reading the webcomic felt like a chore. And I eventually realized that what it's missing are the elements that make a story fun and enjoyable ― a cartoonist's spices and seasoning.

Webcomic: Tangled River
URL: tangled-river.webcomic.ws
Creator: snowshadow
Run: 11/14-current

Writing

Tangled River is an efficient webcomic. It quickly presents a problem and some unanswered questions for the reader, and then it puts the characters on a path toward resolution.

And that's great. A lot of important stuff happens in the 138 pages I read.

But being efficient isn't going to make me want to read a webcomic if I don't care about what's going on.


First of all, there just aren't enough conflicts or problems that the characters have to overcome. And on the rare occasion that something bad does happen, it's resolved quickly and easily. This establishes a pattern that makes problems seem trivial.

Next, all of the characters seem bored all the time. And the most emotional anyone gets is mildly irritated or mildly relieved.

I mean, sure, the characters are probably overconfident and have a false sense of security. I get that. But there are ways to portray that while still conveying a sense of danger.

And trust me: If the characters in the webcomic are bored, I'm definitely going to be bored.


Now, I'm not saying to be like Game of Thrones or The Walking Dead and kill off half the cast.

Nor does the comic need to borrow some Red Shirts from Star Trek to lead to their doom, although that wouldn't be a bad idea.

But it'd be great if the characters had some highs and lows. Have them joke around in one scene and feel fear in another. Put them in an exciting situation where the odds are stacked against them.

The comic does has a little bit of this stuff here and there … but it's not nearly enough. Everything's just … bland.


Lastly, snowshadow is way too frugal with the information she gives to readers. There are too vague many references to events that happened in the past without enough payoff. Some mystery is essential, of course, but readers need to be rewarded for their patience at some point.

I know it sounds obvious, but … webcomics should be fun to read. And this one isn't fun. It's just tedious.

Art

Like the writing, the artwork's functional but bland.

The fundamentals are there. The anatomy's good, the backgrounds are detailed and there's a lot of angle variation.

And, importantly, the art's consistently good. This isn't the kind of comic where the creator's clearly rushing out pages at the last minute to barely make self-imposed deadlines.

However, what stands out to me the most is the lack of visual storytelling.


With the occasional exception, the characters' faces only have two modes: bored or mildly irritated. And then, their bodies are stiff, eliminating another layer of visual communication.

It's hard to overstate how important visual storytelling is. For one, it allows the writing and art to build off of each other. It provides an experience that's unique to the medium. But, maybe most importantly, it makes the artwork engaging and information-heavy.

Visually storytelling is so essential that we often take it for granted, whether it's in comics, shows or movies.


And, sure, one of the main characters has severe depression or something and is out of it most of the time. But that doesn't excuse the other characters. And you could make the argument that the rest of the cast should be more animated just to balance out that character.

Also, while the scenery's detailed enough, it's also generic. It's a sci-fi story on an alien world, after all, and while I don't know if exotic environments are a requirement for these kinds of stories, I can't think of a good reason not to have them.

 The Avatar movie is a great example of what I'm talking about.


That's kind of an extreme example. But there's definitely room for more creativity here.

Overall

Webcomics should be fun to read.

I know that sounds obvious, but entertainment value doesn't seem to be a priority for many webcartoonists. And this doesn't just mean that they're bad webcomics; it means that the creators aren't focused on providing what their target audience wants.

Snowshadow probably has a lot of fun drawing, writing and thinking about Tangled River. But I doubt that the comic's readers are going to have as positive of an experience. And if snowshadow wants readers to keep coming back to the website week after week, that's a big problem.

Still, the foundation's there for this to be a pretty good webcomic if snowshadow figures out how to use her skills to entertain readers. And while the art still needs a lot of work, it's a strong area that should continue to draw attention to the comic.

There also aren't a lot of good sci-fi webcomics out there, at least from what I've seen, so Tangled River is an established comic that's poised to stand out if it gets better.


Scores (out of 5)
  • Writing:
  • Art:
  • Overall:


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