How I Became Yours
|Original review author(s):||Valiere|
|Webcomic Name:||How I Became Yours|
|Author:||Jacqueline "Jackie" Diaz|
|Start Date:||Probably some time in 2008|
|End Date:||2009 (Finished)|
|Defining Flaw:||Absurdly out-of-character interpretations, blatant tracing on top of photograph backgrounds and props, constantly repeated panels, melodramatic "Lifetime Original Movie" plot, poor spelling and grammar, walls o' text...|
Avatar: The Last Airbender premiered in 2005 and introduced American audiences to a concept that ought to be familiar to role-playing game fans: a fantasy world where ordinary humans could manipulate the power of the elements. But those who initially dismissed it as simply repackaging a tired concept for the tween crowd were soon forced to eat their words. Through its three-year run, Avatar pushed the bounds of Western animation with memorable characters, epic (and sometimes dark) storylines, and often breathtaking production values. That it would garner such a fiercely devoted fanbase came as a surprise to no one. The creators gracefully ended the show in 2008, but the fan devotion remains strong to this day.
With the show over and only a questionable-looking movie adaptation to look forward to, many of those still enamored with the Avatar world turn to fan fiction and fan art to get their fix. Nowhere is this more true than with "shippers." The phenomenon of fantasizing about non-canonical romances is so popular within the fanbase that the creators of the show even made a parody video about it -- not that it did anything but fire up their ardor more. Suffice to say, if one were inclined to search through fanfics and fan webcomics about the Avatar series, a great many of them would retcon the canonical ending to somehow get Katara into Zuko's arms.
That's where Jackie Diaz's How I Became Yours comes in, as that is exactly what it does. HIBY, as the creator often calls it, earned a fan following that consisted mostly of "Zutara" fans who felt slighted by the show's finale (and its solidification of the Aang/Katara pairing). Unfortunately for Diaz, everyone else focused more on her blatant tracing and plagiarism of photographs. After a few detractors blew the whistle, she was permanently banned from Deviant Art and went into hiding. Were it not for one of her fans rescuing the comic's more than 200 pages on her Photobucket account, we may not be able to see HIBY today. And what a shame that would be.
HIBY's quality doesn't vary much, since it was finished in about two years. But there are a few particularly embarrassing moments. The earliest is at the end of Chapter 1, when Zuko, now king of the Fire Nation, tears into his queen for destroying letters from Katara, who he apparently had an affair with. Not only does Zuko's anger seem outrageous considering he had an affair with another woman, but he throws his wife to the ground in a way that's sure to jar readers. Bear in mind, Zuko is supposed to be the heroic romantic lead. With a scene like this, it's difficult not to assume that Ms. Diaz has an odd perception of what the ideal man is like.
Combine that with awkward dialogue made all the more embarrassing by Diaz's lack of spelling ability ("For your selfish reasons you just might have put our country in DANDER and all that I built for this nation!!! Your a traitor!!!!") and a particular puzzling insult ("...you chard MONSTER!!!") and you have a scene that sets the stage for many awkward laughs to come.
Story and Plot
The plot revolves around three romantic pairings involving the series' main characters. One is non-canonical but popular, and the other two are both non-canonical and mind-blowingly ridiculous. Let's put it this way; a character has to be given amnesia and molded into a suitable love interest from the ground up. That character is Azula, once the series' most formidable villainess -- and after her prefrontal makeover -- tantamount to Firebending Barbie. Her courtship with Sokka takes center stage after a few chapters where Katara and Zuko reunite, years after she mysteriously miscarries their love child (They ostensibly had sex shortly after the show ended). And Aang also proposes to Toph, because the former savior of the world needs something to do. Once our heroes are buddied-up, a villain emerges in the form of Mai, Zuko's queen, who wants revenge on the woman who stole her husband.
The art, oh, the art. Is it even fair to call it that? Diaz seems to have traced stills from the Avatar cartoon with varying success and tacked them on to photographs. There's no evidence that the woman can even draw.
Actually, that may be unfair. The flowing ballgowns that she seems to have a fetish for appear nowhere in the series. There's a tiny chance she drew those herself, but I wouldn't stake money on it. After all, this is someone who can't be bothered to draw a necklace; every single prop is another photograph.
In one of the most unintentionally hilarious pages, even the turtleducks are spliced from two photos. This is baffling, because there is actually a scene of a character feeding turtleducks on the show. If Diaz could trace every other living character, why couldn't she trace those? And if she can't draw a necklace, or flowers, or a basket of fruit, why doesn't she trace the outline of any of those objects and color them so they don't stand out so jarringly against the cartoonish characters?
I suspect the answer is "laziness," which brings me to my next complaint: the liberal use of copy-paste. In Diaz's mind, if a
drawing tracing is good enough for one panel, it's good enough for about six or seven more. One of the worst examples, among many, is when Katara confronts Zuko about not writing her letters during their time apart. Diaz uses the same straight-on pose of Zuko again and again and again. The mouth on Zuko's frozen face is opened slightly to indicate he's talking, but he looks like a lifeless mannequin otherwise. Even if you can ignore the ridiculous dialogue, Diaz's laziness kills what is supposed to be an emotional scene.
What you may be wondering is, is anything you see on the 200+ pages of this comic actually the creator's? It's difficult to say, since she'll deny to the grave that any of the characters are traced -- even in the face of overwhelming evidence. She may be rationalizing that if she traces an image but modifies it enough, it's officially hers. Which brings me to my next set of gripes.
How I Became Yours is supposed to take place about four years after the original series ended. Since the main characters were all young teens, they've had to have grown up some since then. Katara looks much like her third-season self but aged up with some unrealistic-looking lips and some other very big "additions". Okay. I suppose some 18-year-olds really do have breasts that big, even skinny ones. But then we have Azula.....and Toph.....It seems like Diaz is under the impression that once you hit puberty, a DD cup can't be far down the road.
Azula looks less awkward than Katara, largely because she wore makeup in the series, so Diaz didn't need to tack on lips to turn her into a woman. The boys, however, don't always fare so well. Aang is by far the worst offender. Diaz seems to have decided that stretching out his limbs was enough to age him up four years. The result is a gangly-armed, baby-faced alien with all the goofy expressions of a 12-year-old.
Since the "artist" can't draw, any time her rigid tracings have to make physical contact with one another, it's bound to look awkward. Look at this page. Look at it. Never mind the fact that Zuko and Sokka are the same tracing recolored. Their arms are flexing in some uncomfortable pose as they ostensibly try to hold up Aang, who Diaz simply rotates to show he's falling (or something). She took a look at this and decided it was fine. She would've been much better off if she'd had them congratulate Aang with a slap on the back.
And when Diaz needs to significantly modify a tracing to have it accommodate the scene....watch out. Look at Katara in the second panel here. Her head seems to have grown to twice its original size. Or check out Sokka's ridiculous monkey face here.
I could go on and on about the many, many problems with this lazy, plagiaristic, derivative crap. And the worst thing of all is, these look good as thumbnails. If you looked through the Photobucket account that currently houses HIBY without ever enlarging an image, you might get the false impression that this was a quality comic that someone put real work into. And some scenes really do look and feel epic if you do your best to ignore Diaz's writing. When Sokka and Azula run through the rain, it effectively captures the moody and atmospheric feel of a summer storm. But it's a cheap kind of epic. Someone else took that photo and captured that mood. Someone else drew those characters. She just assembled them. And her other scenes rarely look this good.
I like to think I'm a fair person, and I give credit where credit is due. Diaz is great with special effects like rain and fire (though not so much lightning). She is sometimes adept at giving a scene the right mood. And in a medium where sex scenes typically range from laughable to squicky, hers are tastefully done. In fact, they're some of the most bearable parts of the comic, because she doesn't feel the need to be so damn wordy.
How I Became Yours opens with several photographs accompanied by lengthy exposition that could easily have been summed up in a fraction as many sentences. From there we are introduced to our heroine, Katara, sobbing in bed. She is consoled by Toph, who seems to have softened up since the series ended. A lot. Like, a complete personality overhaul. This was a girl who dominated wrestling matches and expressed affection with a punch to the shoulder. Now it looks like serving you a cup of tea will be the highlight of her day.
And that there is what Avatar fans will remember most about HIBY: the complete disregard for canon characterization. Diaz's Toph is demure, dresses in the same flowing gowns that every other female character dons, has lovey-dovey eyes for Aang, and delivers sound advice to the other characters over an impenetrable wall of text. She is little more than Katara's handmaid, which is why the comic spends less time on her romance with Aang than on the other couples.
Azula fares worse. It seems Diaz was dissatisfied with Sokka's girlfriend in the series, Suki, so she wiped her out of existence (after tracing her design for one of Zuko's servants). Now she needed a replacement, and Azula was just pretty enough to do the job. Never mind that Azula was a crafty, ruthless villain who ended the show in dire need of a straightjacket. Diaz was going to make her belle of the ball if she had to scoop out every brain she had.
Thus came the "amnesia" plot point, which is passé in soap operas these days, and a real eye-roller in webcomics. With Azula's villainy successfully purged from her mind, she is free to have girl-talk with Katara, court Sokka, and cry, cry, cry. No one can say Azula doesn't sincerely atone for the sins she doesn't even remember. Without being a fan of the series, it's probably difficult to understand how baffling it is that someone would do this to Azula. A lot of people have written fanfics that converted villainous characters to the heroes' side, but Diaz went the extra step and neutered Azula into the Far East fantasy equivalent of a Disney princess. Everything that made her such a popular character is gone.
Since there's no conflict without a villain, Mai takes Azula's place. Mai, as part of Azula's team, was an antagonist for most of the Avatar series but switched sides near the end. Her going back to villainy isn't a huge stretch, considering she only betrayed Azula to save her lover, Zuko. That she could possibly be vindictive after Zuko abandons her is believable enough. But the things she does -- trying to kill her former friend and poisoning her pregnant romantic rival, causing her to miscarry -- are far darker than anything the mostly nihilistic Mai did in the series.
Sokka and Zuko serve as the obligatory dreamy male leads. Aang, who used to be the main character, is given very little to do. This is probably a good thing considering he looks ridiculous, but where is the Avatar himself during Chapter 4's climax when Mai and her brother Sho attack?
Some critics have accused Diaz of turning Katara into her own Mary Sue, because she bears a resemblance to Myspace pictures of Diaz. To that, I say the similarities are pretty superficial (Diaz is Hispanic and therefore also fairly dark-skinned), and Azula is twice the Sue that Katara is. Gorgeous (but oh so modest), a friend to animals, makes a courageous self-sacrifice with a heroic death scene where tears were shed by all before her resurrection (now with white hair!). If Katara's a Mary Sue, then so is Azula. And probably Toph, too. In fact, let's just lump everybody in there and call it a day.
On to a more reductionist criticism, Diaz's writing and dialogue are abysmal. There's even trouble on the self-aggrandizing cover page with this "testimonial":
Besides the fact that that is a lie, "Deviantart" isn't a real source (Who on DeviantArt said that?), nor does the citation need to be quoted or prefaced with "said." And it's all downhill from there.
Finding and listing every spelling and grammatical error Diaz makes would take hours. There are literally errors on every single page that contains dialogue. The very last word is misspelled -- "heros," which Diaz uses a lot. I could maybe understand if it was a word that seldom comes into everyday use. But "heroes"? There's been a popular and oft-advertised show by that name that she's bound to have heard of. "Your" in place of "you're" is used abundantly. This is a common mistake that a lot of people make -- on occasion. Not every single time, and not at age 20+. And then there are also moments when she had to have known that what she was writing was wrong. Was she really too lazy to type out "Y-O-U" that she had to have Zuko's thoughts in textspeak?
If a sentence doesn't have a misspelling, it's probably missing a crucial comma. These things may not seem important to "Zutara" fans, but to those with more discerning tastes, they make HIBY a chore to read. This is compounded by the fact that there is a lot of text to slog through. A few pages are mercifully silent, but most contain dialogue like this and this and this. Look, even Aang looks bored to tears.
She could have cut out a lot of this crap, and it wouldn't make a difference with the reader's ability to follow the story. She also could have asked a smarter friend to proofread her pages for her. But if you're already so fabulously talented that you've garnered such glowing testimonials, apparently you don't need to edit.
The content itself is often laughably bad. Besides the aforementioned "chard monster" quote, everyone else speaks so awkwardly that you'd think the writer wasn't entirely fluent in English. And then there's the cursing. Yes, everyone's grown up now. But the once-poised Katara using the f-word sounds trashy. Diaz further characterizes the Avatar cast as college kids by having them say things like "Yea let's get wasted and celebrate this!!" (and they do). Stay classy, Diaz.
Jackie Diaz, also known as Waterbender196, touts herself as a "graphic designer, model, writer, and anime artist." Considering her resumé actually includes How I Became Yours as an achievement, I doubt she's gainfully employed. Diaz has apparently made another fan comic for Bleach called What Dreams May Come that looks much like this one -- vector images, doubtlessly traced from the anime, on top of photo backgrounds with panels repeated out the wazoo. I'd love to hear a Bleach fan's take on this.
I never got to see Diaz's DeviantArt account before it was banned, but she seems to be in the habit of ignoring her detractors and listening exclusively to those who support her. HIBY isn't even available to anyone but her Myspace friends. She embraces her "fans" and keeps the riffraff out, completely. This is probably for the best. I have my doubts that she's mature enough to accept criticism with class, and not even I want to see her make a fool of herself.
There are drawings publicly available on her Myspace page that are unique enough that there's a chance -- a chance -- that she drew them herself. Even if she did, her reputation for tracing someone else's art and calling it a "drawing" ruins any opportunity she has of earning my benefit of the doubt. Jackie Diaz isn't an artist, she's a graphic designer -- of how much skill, I'll leave you to decide. But as a graphic designer with a degree, she should be intimately familiar with copyright laws and the necessity of making sure everything you claim as your work is either yours or credited with permission. She's 22. How many years has she gotten away with ripping off others' hard work? And she has the gall to claim it as an "achievement" on her resumé!
Some of her "work" looks pretty cool. A lot of it doesn't. Her faces can look downright frightening at times, and she's worst of all at drawing herself. Look at this and this. Jackie Diaz is a pretty girl, but she makes herself look about 50.
You'll be delighted to know that a sequel to How I Became Yours is apparently in the works. It's called Rise of the Agni Army and apparently stars the children of the Gaang, who were introduced in HIBY's epilogue. This time, it's going to be cowritten by some guy named Patrick BP, who can hopefully spell better than Jackie Diaz. Another surprise is Mai is back. I'm delighted to know how they pull that one off.
I have to admit though, I'm kind of looking forward to it with some kind of train-wreck fascination. The fact that she uses the same Sho face that she used about 20 times in the first one doesn't give me much hope that she's seen the error of her ways. But at least this time, she'll be butchering her own characters instead of someone else's.
- How I Became Yours on Photobucket A fan graciously uploaded most of the comic, along with some of Jackie Diaz's miscellaneous "drawings."
- Jackie Diaz's Myspace Contains her "artwork" and modeling shots. HIBY is supposedly available only to friends.
- TV Tropes Page Lists various tropes involved in the comic. Pretty scathing.
- Encyclopedia Dramatica Page NSFW, as always.
- Webcomic Relief on YouTube also has a review of How I Became Yours.
- A Sporking of the Webcomic provided by Iximaz of the Protectors of the Plot Continuum. Pretty hilarious.