April 10, 2002

It's time for you to part with about $3.00.

I mean, you could say that the jury is still out, or that you don't have the $3.00, or that there's no way you're going to let me tell you how to spend the cost of a #6 double-cheeseburger meal, non-supersized (and subsidized with some change from the floor of the car) -- I'll grant you all that. Still, I think it's time.

I have a membership at Modern Tales, the bold, new online subscription service that provides, and I quote, "Professional Webcomics." (strictly speaking, Schlock Mercenary is also a "professional webcomic," but only because I've taken money for it). I haven't yet had time to read them all--in fact, I've only had time to completely peruse four of the twenty-seven-or-so (like I said, the jury may still be out), but from what I've read so far, the membership is worth every penny.

Before I go any further, some of you may be asking what right I have to be reviewing the work of my peers. After all, you don't see film-makers reviewing the work of other film-makers. You don't see authors reviewing the work of other authors. Right?

Wrong. These people talk about their peers all the time--sometimes in hushed tones, and sometimes with effusive, over-the-top, only-in-Hollywood tones of career-launching endorsement. We webtoonists are the same way. In fact, we seem to be every bit as petty and childish as those stars you see in the tabloids, which indicates to me that public attention brings out the worst in all of us, whether we're making millions per movie, or just wishing for some PayPal change for the weekend.

Thus ends my two-paragraph ranting about inconsequential matters.

Let me tell you about the four Modern Tales strips I've read. First on the list is American Born Chinese, by Gene Yang. It's first because it's alphabetically at the top. The art is great, there is one complete mini-story online, and I have to confess that I just don't get it. You see, there's this monkey who goes on a quest. Although I'm usually all over stuff with monkeys in, this monkey did not bring me the usual monkey-related closure. I'm sure the story will continue, though, and it's possible that it will have a depth belied by the opening monkey, and discoverable only after some sort quest on the part of the reader. I just don't know. Still, neat art. Cool monkey.

Next up, alphabetically, is Bitten Apple, by Jesse Hamm. It's a re-telling of the story of Snow White, and although the complete tale is not online yet (we've just gotten to the bit with The Huntsman, as of this writing), it absolutely rocks. The first few panels, in which we find out how the evil stepmother got to be a queen, a stepmother, and evil (pretty much in that order), are some of the best comic-form storytelling I've ever seen. No lie. I can't wait to see what's next. My only complaint is that the gorgeously inky black-and-white artwork is presented as giant JPEGs. Hamm should be presenting his art as 8-color GIFs. Maybe then I'd be able to comfortably peruse his excellent work on my dial-up connection at home.

Third in line is The Circle Weave, by Indigo Kelleigh. It's a full-color, full-blown, swords-and-sorcery comic --the art is wonderful, and the writing is dead-on for the genre. Two complete chapters are online, and I think that this comic alone is worth the price of the Modern Tales Subscription. I'm hooked on the story, I tell you... hooked. If it were a dead-tree, glossy graphic novel, I'd buy it in a heartbeat. Name your price, mister Kelleigh.

Finally, on a low note, R. Stevens' Kid Clango absolutely failed to stir me. Indeed, the waters of my soul remain completely still... not a ripple. Stevens' free work, Diesel Sweeties, is far better. Both are deliberately low-res (a format that takes getting used to, and yet works well), but Diesel Sweeties is both more colorful and far wittier. Perhaps it's just too early for Kid Clango to have found its voice, but I expected much better from Stevens (which is why I skipped way out of alphabetical order to read it. I'll stop back by later to see if it's gotten better.)

Summarizing, I still think Modern Tales is worth the money. There are some real gems in there that I've glanced at, but haven't completely perused, and which I'll be sure to tell you about in another installment.