Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 17:13 on 13-04-2014, Daniel F
I quite like Oglaf, but I'd have to differ on both Dinosaur Comics and Order of the Stick. I always felt the former missed the point of a comic, while the latter had some good ideas but didn't use the comic medium effectively. Anyone here read Wonderella?
at 16:24 on 13-04-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
I can speak for only myself, but I second Hark! A Vagrant and those others.

Some of my favourites through many years has been Girl Genius and Order of the Stick. What of Oglaf? It's pretty insane, I guess. And not safe for most professional situations.
at 12:41 on 13-04-2014, Arthur B
I don't think any of us has a bad thing to say about Hark! A Vagrant.

I've never seen any KC Green stuff I didn't like. I really dig Camp Weedonwantcha at the moment. Dinosaur Comics is evergreen, Chainsaw Suit is more hit than miss, and Achewood seems to finally be getting its act together again.

I like plenty of webcomics, just not in a way which prompts me to Playpen about them very much (aside from Chainsaw Suit, which I've pushed on here from time to time when it especially hits the mark).
at 09:48 on 13-04-2014, Daniel F
So I can't help but wonder: which webcomics, if any, does Ferretbrain actually like?
at 06:17 on 13-04-2014, Kit
Alula: Thank you for the recommendations! I'll definitely read those when I'm done with Armadale, which I'm halfway through by now. I've just gotten to the !evil redhead!gasp! part, which profoundly confused me because, for some bizarre reason, I had first conflated the mysterious veiled woman with the "real" Mrs Armadale, and so, for at least one-quarter of the book, I was picturing Miss Gwilt as dark-haired and -skinned. And then suddenly it turns out she a redheaded English rose. Talk about a self-inflicted mindfuck...

And yes, he does have some strange ideas about women, does old Wilkie. But at least it is offset by his willingness to treat his male protagonists with an absolutely merciless irony, as evidenced by Francis Clare Jr in No Name, and, even more tellingly, Allan Armadale - I think I have rarely seen a main protagonist being so relentlessly presented as an utter self-satisfied and blind imbecile (at least up to the point I'm at now), while still being completely goodhearted and somehow lovable. I don't know how Wilkie Collins manages to deliver such decent characterisation with that clunky paid-by-the-word prose of his, but he does. The Moonstone is another good example of this; the text somehow made me loathe Rachel Verinder throughout the entire first half, and then forced me to reconsider my first impulse bit by bit until it had me completely turned around.

I don't know why I'm finding Collins so compelling right now. Vast parts of the novels are quite tedious to slog through, the plots are terribly intricated and sometimes contrived, and watching his characters hurtling mindlessly towards their (at least temporary) doom makes me incredibly impatient with them. And still I read it the characterisation? The implausible *omgzomg* revelations? The subtle use of irony? The strange witty or scathing bits scattered through the text ("her shoulders made ample amends for the misdemeanor in muslin which covered them")? The weird rants about random stuff (I'm looking forward to the one about the joggers)? Or maybe the quite effective, low-key and genuinely moving moments of humanity? Like, for example, one character bursting into tears simply because, as she is on the very verge of casting away everything she holds dear as well as her honour and respectability and condemning herself for life, a child in a park comes up to her, shows her his toy boat and gives her a kiss - and that simple innocent kindness just breaks her. Those little touches are incredibly well done, and I guess that it's what prevents the novels from being just bland and cheap mysteries.

Right, that's enough now, I'm getting as wordy as dear Wilkie himself.
at 02:57 on 13-04-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
It's very hard to do episodic storytelling at a pace of 8 pages per year.

The million-dollar question has to be what exactly Diaz is doing with his time. His pace has been glacial for years now, and it's not like he's working another job(?). He always seems to have time to come up with side projects that seem to peter out after a few months.

The guy who used to do Your Webcomic Is Bad... back in the day posts regularly on a forum I frequent, and he's noted that most of his old criticisms of Dresden Codak's problems from back in '08 still hold true. (And if you get him started on the subject of Diaz's redesigns, you're in for a fun night.)
at 02:11 on 13-04-2014, Arthur B
I stopped paying attention to Dresden Codak early on in the Dark Science arc and apparently the plot has been as much of a slow, painful crawl as I expected it to be.

It's very hard to do episodic storytelling at a pace of 8 pages per year.

EDIT: Also, way to get incredibly stroppy over a 3-or-4 stars out of 5 review, Diaz.
at 01:54 on 13-04-2014, Alasdair Czyrnyj
This Week In Scurrilous Internet Gossip, The Webcomic Overlook recently wrote up a review of Dresden Codak that was critical but rather even-handed. In response, Aaron Diaz reacted with good humor and humility in a series of Twitter posts that he's since deleted. Gotta say, from all I've heard of Diaz, this seems par the course.
at 20:16 on 12-04-2014, Michal
I found Lady Audley's Secret supremely dull. The level of villainy just doesn't measure up to Wilkie; when I found out Lady Audley's secret, I just went "That's all? Where's the opium and the buried treasure from Turkestan?"
at 19:40 on 12-04-2014, Alula
Kit, have you read Man and Wife or The Law and the Lady? I think I especially enjoyed the former, with its intermittent rants on how joggers are ruining British culture and the dangers of accidentally getting married in a Scottish hotel. (It was something he was worried about, okay?) And of course, Armadale, with the EVIL REDHEAD who is even more evil for being so hot she looks 20something when she's gasp! 35. Oh, Wilkie. (If I dwell on it, Armadale seems to have the Unfortunate Implication that
men don't inherit the sins of their fathers, but women can be Born Bad,which becomes apparent in the Sexiness
, but damn if it isn't wild along the way. During my Collins binge awhile back, I also read Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret, which is okay, but doesn't have the weird bizarre spark or awesome minor characters of a Collins. I actually haven't read No Name, though (Amazon sent me some weird large-print edition that weighs a ton and I wanted to read it in the bathtub, what?).
at 16:57 on 11-04-2014, Arthur B
Let Muad'dib's subjects doubt his majesty and his oracular visions. Let them deny his powers. Let them never doubt Two-Foot Gummi Worms.
at 16:44 on 11-04-2014, Tamara
Two foot gummy worms are a thing that just exists?
at 13:52 on 11-04-2014, Arthur B permalink
at 08:02 on 11-04-2014, Tamara
It might be a question that doesn't matter that much, if the novel was structured to evoke a purely emotional response. Except that I found Deathless too distant to evoke that reaction in me....which is why I got distracted by all the other stuff.

I found it a bit too tricky, or clever, at the beginning, for any real emotional engagement. With the setting and the neat fairy tale-real life mapping and even the "poor little rich girl" of the early soviet experience stuff. (Not necessarily the historical facts, just that it felt like it was couched in the language and style, and particularly sentiments of a contemporary, very western children's or YA story that didn't do much for me.)

But then as the book went on and actually got messier and less logical, and it became harder to simply dress the history or the characters onto the legend, or separate the fairy tale characters from reality, and particularly as the structures of reality and power established earlier began to fall apart and twist around...I have a very hard time putting my finger on why, exactly, but I ended loving the last third or so, and it got a genuine emotional reaction out of me.
at 06:16 on 11-04-2014, Kit
Topic mashup ahead:

Has anyone else heard of The Wicked + The Divine? It's by the same guys who did the Marvel Now! Young Avengers thingie, which I've had a peek at but not read yet (I'm quite disposed to like it purely on the strenght of their Latina Miss America, who appears in the first pages). I don't know what to think about The Wicked + The Divine - on the one hand, it looks insanely cool, but there is also a faint possibility of a certain problematic cultural appropriation...? I'll give it a go in any case. Maybe I should review it :)

Also, my Wilkie Collins-binge is still ongoing. Now that I've read four (well, three and a half) novels of his, I'm starting to see some connections - it's quite fun to see certain types of characters reused but illuminated from a completely different perspective, or plots that provide the basis material for long, tortuous intrigues in one novel being used as merely the starting point of another. And I think his long-winded sense of humour is growing on me. I NEED HELP.
at 17:23 on 10-04-2014, Michal
I'm not so much interested in cultural accuracy as with engagement. Valente is obviously trying to say something using Russian fairy tales, I'm just not sure what, exactly, that is. It might be a question that doesn't matter that much, if the novel was structured to evoke a purely emotional response. Except that I found Deathless too distant to evoke that reaction in me....which is why I got distracted by all the other stuff.
at 08:07 on 10-04-2014, Kit
Hah, couldn't resist the German :) Aaannnd cue the conspiracy theorists (or micro-conspiracy theorists. Or something.). I'm sure we're enough to give them plenty of fodder by now...
at 08:04 on 10-04-2014, Tamara
That said, I'd love to read a review by someone more familiar with Russian folklore than I am--Poles and Russians have some fairy tales and figures in common, but there are also some pretty distinct differences.

I'm not sure. I guess we could pick things apart for cultural accuracy and whathaveyou, (ala, IIRC from an old discussion someplace, Valente herself does to Adam Robert's Yellow Blue Tibia,) but that just strikes me as a deeply uninteresting way to think about a book. I'm weirdly unfamiliar with Russian folklore despite it, um, er, being my first language (my parents read science fiction to me for bedtime stories and in general are a slight lassaize faire lot when it comes to parenting, I guess) and I did try to look at it without that knowledge while I was reading.

I agree it doesn't add up to any particular coherent mythology, but I still found something there, some underlying anger or grief or something like that, in speaking the war and the violence of the soviet experience.
at 03:36 on 10-04-2014, Robinson L
Kit: Ein Gespenst geht um auf FerretBrain... ;)

[One translation - courtesy of ptolemaeus - later] Ah-ha-ha-ha, that's terrific.
at 02:13 on 10-04-2014, Michal
Tamara: Valente is just such a skilled writer in a technical way, I think, that it kind of covers up the gaps in the actual contents.

One review of Deathless described the cumulative effect of Valente's prose as akin to "being beaten to death with an arrangement of dried flowers." I think there's some truth in that, at least in my own reaction to the text. I found this one more accessible than, say, Palimpsest, if only because I actually managed to finish it (which is more than I can say for most of the novels/short stories by her I've tried). But there are still moments when the stylistic flourishes make the text so opaque it's nearly impossible to tell what's going on.

Besides the prose, the more I ponder the, uh, folkloric substratum of the story, the less satisfied I am with it. Especially the superposition of Slavic fairy tale figures like Koschei or Baba Yaga onto a framework that I don't think gels very well with the source material. There's no organizing principle of a Czar of Life/Czar of Death behind any Russian fairy tales that I know of. Koschei is just a dude, y'know? Being familiar with the story of Marya Morevna somehow makes the ending of Deathless make even less while there are isolated moments I found quite beautiful, the whole doesn't quite cohere. That said, I'd love to read a review by someone more familiar with Russian folklore than I am--Poles and Russians have some fairy tales and figures in common, but there are also some pretty distinct differences.
at 00:52 on 10-04-2014, Kit
Gosh, how many of us are on the site, at this point?

Ein Gespenst geht um auf FerretBrain... ;)

Also, I almost picked up Deathless just one day before it got mentioned here - maybe that's a sign? Now that I'm in the US I wanted to take the opportunity of shopping for reasonably-priced books in English without relying on Amazon (baaahh), but I don't know if I should give that one a try.
at 00:36 on 10-04-2014, Robinson L
Tamara: Sleepy Hollow is silly, frantic fun, but also has just enough built political subtexts to not exhaust my interest after three episodes the way this sort of thing usually does, although I did lose attention by the end of the season.

I really enjoyed the first season of Sleepy Hollow; it's fun adventure with likable, well-written characters (many of whom are black), and there were some huge twists towards the end of the season that I completely failed to see coming.

I probably won't watch Reign, though, unless my sisters get into it and pull me along with them (which is how I get into most TV shows, including Sleepy Hollow).

Michal: Matthew Reilly is writing epic fantasy now.

Oh my, that is something, now. Should make for quite a spectacle.

Even so, I'll probably wait for the audiobook. Or the review/podcast discussion. Hopefully the latter, as it'll most likely give the best parts of Reilly, and a hilarious commentary to go along with it.

Kit: this has nothing to do with the previous discussion, parts of which have been delighting my little anarcho-marxist heart

Gosh, how many of us are on the site, at this point?

Tamara: There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.

I feel like that's one of Rowling's strengths in general - eminently readable to large numbers of people, even when the content leaves something to be desired.
at 11:54 on 09-04-2014, Tamara
I gravitated to the premise of the Casual Vacancy because - while uninteresting in itself - it sounded totally like Rowling playing to her strengths, and that sharp eye she has for pettiness, hypocrisy and dark comedy...and it really lived up to it. I thought the wrap up ended up being a little neat, but getting there had some fantastically vicious moments. (I'd rank it above the Galbraith book, which is surprisingly nicer to its characters and setting. I'd have though she might have a few choice observations for the world of small-time celebs and papparazi, but she seems to hold back there.)
at 11:41 on 09-04-2014, Arthur B
I liked The Casual Vacancy too. Oddly (or not) neither of them are, like, totally brilliant, and neither are my usual thing, but I finished both books in one sitting, which isn't something i've done in a long, long time. There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.

I gave The Casual Vacancy a miss because I just found it deeply uninteresting as a premise, but as I've said previously I'm a partisan for Galbraith and thought the first one was the best and most readable Rowling since Prisoner of Azkaban. Between that and TROLL MOUNTAIN the publishing world is making me very happy currently.