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The Webcomic Overlook #85: Earthsong

WCO-big-review

Back in college, I used to read buttloads of fantasy novels. It used to be that unless there was a dragon or at least a comely lass in a silky princess outfit on the cover, I wasn’t just that interested. Also, it was a good excuse to make time with the cute and bookish brunette. My deformed bookshelves are currently fighting a losing battle to support The Book of Jhereg, Kate Elliott’s Crown of Stars books, Mary Gentle’s Grunts, some Raymond Feist paperbacks, some Steven Brust hardbacks, and others.

While my interested has waned somewhat over the years, I learned a valuable lesson: when a story is set in a strange, mystical world, it becomes very important to have characters you can relate to. My absolute favorite series was Tad Williams’ Memory, Sorrow, and Thorn, mainly because you could put yourself in Simon’s shoes and witness the wonder and terror of the unfolding world through his eyes. Stories set almost exclusively in elven enclaves never appealed to me because when everyone’s alien, no one’s remarkable … and it’s hard to relate to a people whose main purpose in life is to sit around playing sitars and looking pretty.

This should have set of warning bells regarding today’s subject for the Webcomic Overlook, by the way. Everyone in the book, including the few men, are cuties, and at no point do they stop being cuties. Today, we look at Earthsong by Crystal Yates, a webcomic which is not really about singing … or even set on Earth, come to think about it.

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Crystal Yates (billed as “Lady Yates” sometimes in the comic) is the founder of TomGeeks, an all-female webcomic collective. She’s been working on Earthsong for a long time, starting from when she graduated from college (where she majored in Fine Art History, Archaeology, and Egyptology, according to her ComixTalk interview). She ended up redrawing the comic back in 2006, so there is a visual continuity, of sorts, from when you start reading to when you stop. (The art does improve quite a bit over the years, by the way.) The comic was originally published by Seven Seas Entertainment, but due to low sales the current incarnation of Earthsong is online only. She’s also got a fan who likes to cosplay as her characters, which is pretty hardcore.

Earthsong stars a wide-eyed albino gal in a flowing black Victorian era dress and who, early into the webcomic, looks like a Muppet. We will learn later that we should call her “Willow.” She wakes up disoriented in an unfamiliar forest that’s in an unfamiliar land. Also, she can’t remember what her real name is.

She runs into another gal who, similarly has clear and deep eyes, a fantastic complexion, and a killer body. This description will apply to all the other characters, by the way. It’s like everyone on this planet has a membership to Bally’s. Fortunately, everyone can be easily distinguished, at least, by the skin color, the hair length, and their beautiful physical deformity. In the case of this new gal: orange skin, short hair, feathers.

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She acts all friendly to our pigmentationally challenged friend, but the tables turn when we run into Fantasy Teen Girl Squad! Samurai! Yellow Fairy Person! The Dreadlocked One! Samurai turns out to be Nanashi, who has a sleepy scowl on her face that makes it look like she’s on codeine at all times. But that doesn’t matter, because, girl, it is so on!

Nanashi wins, the feathery girl flies off, and, in one of the comics’ inexplicable mood swings, Willow goes from timid to pissed. She disapproves of the violence, especially since she’s off killing her feathered friend’s blue-skinned BFF. “No way, girlfriend, we’re the good guys,” Nanashi says. “As IF I would kill anyone!” Well, not exactly like that: she says it in Immortal Dialog*. You know, the sort of talk where everyone forgets contractions.

As long as the blade pierces the Soulstone as well, that does not matter…. We do not have time to discuss this at the moment. If we linger here Belousus will surely send out another team to fetch you from us. In the meantime you have my word that he has been returned unharmed.

Surprisingly, Willow buys it. We learn something important here: Willow is fickle enough to swallow whatever hare-brained story is thrown her way. Personally, I would’ve asked for some ID before blindly following some sour-faced gal wielding two katanas, pet fairy or not.

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Initially, the comic moved at a great clip. The first half of Volume 1 is a long action sequence. There is a fairly huge weakness that rears its ugly head, though. Earthsong is goddamned melodramatic to the point of being ridiculous. There’s a panel, for example, where, after the fight, everyone strikes a pose with enormous amounts of gravitas.

I laughed.

This was 1.) probably not the reaction Ms. Yates intended, and 2.) doubly inappropriate since I was reading Earthsong on my cellphone in the waiting room of the local clinic.

This is especially the case with Willow, our heroine. If she isn’t pouting like a spoiled teenager, she’s draping herself dramatically over furniture in tears. And everyone in the comic seems to be hormonally imbalance, because, by God, are there ever some violent mood swings. It sorta reads like a Dragons of Pern fanfic as written by a 12-year-old. As a result, no one ever grows to be a sympathetic character, since they’re all so annoyingly petulant.

Anyway, Willow and Fantasy Teen Girl Squad arrive at a hidden palace called The Haven. They introduce Willow to Earthsong (doe eyed girl with pale skin, tentacle hair, shimmery). She’s the spirit of the planet, the sum total of the trees, the rocks, the air, etc. Basically, she’s The Force congealed in an attractive body. She also practices some pretty sexist hiring policies since everybody except the red demon guy is a woman (and he’s a very feminine looking man, at that).

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And then the story comes to an immediate thudding halt. Our mysterious hostess proceeds to torture Willow and the readers with the most boring flashback ever. I imagine Willow, off-screen during the whole screen, drooling out of the side of her mouth with a glazed look over her eyes… and I would not blame her one whit.

Apparently, there a bunch of other beings wearing the other colors of the visible spectrum, including a blue Anubis-like creature named Obilish who, at certain angles, looks like a tubby Batman. I suppose they operate something like Neil Gaiman’s Endless.

It’s a little reassuring that Ms. Yates has apparently spent more than 15 minutes to develop Earthsong’s mythos. Yet, I can hardly think of a less clunkier way to present it than how it’s done here. It’s exposition, exposition, exposition. It would be far more bearable if the panels were broken up into smaller panels. As it is, the walls of prose are exasperating.

The dialogue, too, can get pretty cheesy. It’s a problem that Earthsong never really shakes. The worst offender is Sidera, a glowing basketball that the Council of planetary spirit beings take orders from. Seriously, “Behold Thy Doom“? “Thou has been blessed with the power of the Sidera“? Do these guys have a show on the SyFy Channel, too?

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Earthsong does introduce an interesting concept: our myths on Earth originate from interdimensional visitors. Which is why all the characters Willow encounters are gorgons, fairies, harpies, vampires, etc. Nanashi is the sole representative of the human race. Each world has their own myths about the other. We humans imagine demons as a force of evil. According to Feluccia the dragongirl, though, (who look very much like she stepped out of Disney’s Gargoyles), her culture see demons as goat people who bite the toes off of bad children. Which … when you think about it … really isn’t that much different from the human version.

Ah, but what of Willow? Well, if you remember High Fantasy 101, there always is someone who’s the Chosen One. Well it turns out that no one knows what Willow is, or what planet she’s from, or what special powers she’s going to manifest. Not even the bad guys know what she is. What is Willow? Well, I have a feeling you’ll find out… if you manage to retain your interest long enough.

I can pinpoint the one time where Earthsong almost broke my will to finish. As I closed the first chapter of the second volume and opened the next, I was greeted with these foreboding words: “The Journal.” I sorta let out a breath of frustration. We had just spent 60 some pages watching Feluccia introduce Willow to the people in The Haven. They meet one bland character after another — each more bland than the one we met before. (Feluccia: “Look, here’s Gwendolyn She’s grumpy!” Gwendolyn: “I shall now spend ten or so pages speaking with import to show that I am not only grumpy, I am also humorless.”) And now we have to read through some MORE endless prose?

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And yet…

AND YET…

Earthsong does manage to improve greatly by Volume 3. The art looks more polished, the dialogue isn’t as clunky, and the panels are better paced. The reams of exposition have mostly disappeared, and the characters do display some real emotion.

It’s still not that great, though. It still feels like a story written by a pre-teen, especially since it introduces a dreamy vampire amongst its cast. However, we get to meet the other side, which are populated by less attractive creatures. They’re banshees, goblins, and giants. They look more punk. They’re displaying more personality than their counterparts on Team Earthsong. Also, the distinction between good and evil sides are not quite so clear anymore. Such as, Nanashi might not have been completely forthcoming about offing that dude from Chapter One.

And Willow, bored as she was in The Haven, is in an unenviable spot where she’s surrounded by folks who really don’t like her. There is some danger, finally.

I have a little bit of hope that the future of Earthsong will be more enjoyable than it’s dragging first chapters. Still, it takes 200+ mind-numbing pages to get anywhere interesting, and I don’t know if may people will have the patience to sit through that.

Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)

NOTES:

* – Phrase coined by El Santo’s fave bad movie site, Jabootu.net.

Posted in 2 Stars, adventure webcomic, anime, dramatic webcomic, fantasy webcomic, manga style webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics Tagged: Crystal Yates, Earthsong