The Far Side of Utopia
|Original review author:||YimDim.|
|Webcomic name:||The Far Side of Utopia|
|Start Date:||December 23, 2014|
|End Date:||On-going. Updates twice a week.|
|Defining Flaw:||Terrible art and needlessly confusing plot. Serious lack of editing.|
This was brought up for a potential review on the BWW forums. Most agreed that it was worth a review. The art is stiff, off-putting, and generally bad, and the plot is basically nonsense unless you are going to sit down and go through it with a fine tooth comb.
While browsing through the forum this one caught my eye as I've been following the webcomic for a while now. I can't remember where I found it, but I think they drew fan art for another webcomic I read. Interestingly, I remember that art being less awful than the art of this webcomic ended up being, so maybe they actually put some effort into other people's characters. Maybe my expectations of webcomic fan art are just so mind-blowingly low that I remember it as not as bad, as I can't remember what it was at this point.
Since I've already done the hard work of combing through the archives and extra pages to figure out what the deuce is going on, I figured this would be an easy grenade to jump on.
It has less of a downfall than a failure to rise. If I had to pick a downfall, it would be when the author decided to start the comic before learning how to 1) Write, 2) Draw, 3) Edit, 4) Proofread.
There is some glimmer of potential, and the world was clearly given a lot of thought considering the detail with which it's sometimes discussed in the commentary, info pages, etc. The plot, unfortunately, was not given the same level of thought.
Story and Plot
Oh man. I will do what I can, but you have to understand. The plot and story of this webcomic is really something else to try to follow. Not just because it is poorly written (there are a lot of poorly written comics), but because of how it is poorly written. It is poorly written because the author is clearly stuffing several bloody half-thought-out novels' worth of content into a single webcomic.
Here we go.
There is a guy named Peter. He comes from a different world and is part of some sort of inter-dimensional police force. But he has gone rogue. And is also enrolled in a school (??). In a country called Malsa. His old partner is angry at him.
Now he's hanging with another girl, called Naomi.
They go to school. Then run into his old partner. Some guy comes to chase a robot named Mium for reasons that are never made clear. He gets beat up. Captured. Rescued. Etc. This goes on for quite some time.
There is an arc involving Mium and another "prototype" that wants to be better than him, made by Mir, another robot person (maybe? she looks like one, but the ones that are don't). Mium takes over her computer and makes her angry. He then kidnaps her prototype, because Naomi called it his sister (again with the ??).
Then the current arcs: a battle over the Avon (the people that made the prototypes) building, and Kally getting kidnapped, start running parallel and are still going.
You may find this disjointed, random, and confusing. If so, I've done my job well. Honestly, there is a good bit more to it, but at some point you'd have to try to read it. There are so many little arcs and plot points that it would be a fool's errand to try to summarize them in any detail here. Frankly some of them are not bad, unfortunately most of them just don't really make sense, happen too fast, and conclude too fast as the artist gets bored and moves to the next one. There is no shortage of ideas, but there is also little pruning of the good ones from the bad ones.
One would think that when deciding a medium for a story, the first consideration of making it a webcomic would be "ability to draw". I've been reading webcomics on the internet for quite some time now, but the sheer audacity required to upload the art that starts this webcomic is really something else.
Let's not mince words here. The art starts horribly. I'm fairly convinced the first page is the first thing the artist ever drew. Behold:
Anatomy is clearly a foreign concept. Angles and perspective? Never heard of them. It's not even finished. This page was presumably drawn by an adult. PastUtopia sat down, drew this, and thought "yeah, I should upload this to the internet". It is generally unclear what is going on, and characters are roughly identifiable only by hair color, as hair style is dodgy even in the early art.
This page was redrawn, but the redrawn art only lasts about 10 pages until you get back this crap. And it's a long time before it gets better again, and better can only be used in strictly relative terms. A year later it looks something like this:
Poses are still ridiculously awkward. Anatomy is still dubious. Faces have become interchangeable.
At the time of making this review, the latest page is this:
Again, relatively speaking it's better. If this is how the art of the comic started, this would be less offensive. By no means are we talking professional art that should be published on the internet, but I'm willing to cut a webcomic some slack. But let's be real. The lighting is clearly an afterthought, the backgrounds are at best random shapes and colors, and the same-face is still present with a vengeance (one for male, one for female).
Now, to rub salt in the wounds of the art being bafflingly unclear and generally awful, a good number of the pages are action sequences. In the interest of being fair, let's take a look at the fairly recent ones instead of the truly horribly old ones.
Since the fights are frequently "magic" nothing makes sense. What the hell are the glowing orbs? What is going on in the first and third panel? Why is she running at him if she's just going to cast magic? Even the magic circles and glowing dots go entirely unexplained unless you wade through the commentaries and comments. Pro tip, if you have to explain what's going on in a commentary, you probably needed to spend more time planning the page.
He's casting magic forward, but then suddenly he's casted magic behind himself? If he can make her fall into the floor, why not just make her fall all the way into the floor and be done with it? Just earlier he does the same thing to bury someone to their waist, why not this time?? This is sort of a hybrid complaint between the art and writing, but the art should be making at very least action sequences fairly clear.
Of the problems, the writing is arguably the worst. First and foremost, PastUtopia blatantly relies on readers to do his proofreading. You can see it in the comments of half the comics that there were tons of errors corrected by readers. Either learn to proofread or get a proof reader, spelling and grammar mistakes are beyond amateur.
Beyond that, they just clearly need an editor across the board. The dialogue goes from decent to face palm cringe. Characters speak differently, but it is frequently inconsistent if they will follow the same speech patters as last time they appeared. Quality. Control.
The writing and plotting completely strangles whatever good ideas they might have, because it is almost impossible to discern what is going on from reading the page. Half the time the best way to make sense of it is to go down to the comments of people trying to decipher whatever bullshit was on the page. It's all over the place. Frequently conversations jump all over the place like someone pressed the fast forward button, and characters rarely specify what they are talking about or explain anything. Pages frequently switch scenes with startling speed as well, lest you ever think you might be following a plot thread.
The comic is in bad need of the standard relatable character to whom things are actually explained, because everyone else is just blasting full speed ahead through a baffling complicated world. Concepts are introduced as if shooting out of a fire hose and never explained. One of the characters is a robot? What? Some of the characters are from a different world? How the fuck did they get there? Dimensions? Different kinds of magic? Autocasters? At one point there is literally an airship with a giant cannon that appears, is shown once, then is gone and never explained. Stop. Explain. Your. Shit.
The writing very much reads like the first draft of a discovery writer. Everytime they have an idea (character, plot, concept, whatever) it is instantly thrown into the plot, usually with little explanation. Some of them are good ideas and should probably be there. Most of them are good ideas that should probably be somewhere else. Some of them are bad ideas that any reasonable editor would have axed with fire.
Much like with the art, it's just shameful that they decided to make this comic before learning how to write. Advice to author: Slow down. Take a break. Plan! Learn writing techniques. Make an outline. Then actually stick to your outline. Or at least find an editor that can make you do all those.
Peter. Peter is an annoying twat. What? More? Uh... that's pretty much all there is to it. Annoying. Mopey. Twat. The only saving grace is that he generally is recognized as such and called out on his shit, though everyone just continues on.
Naomi. Fanservice. Err... Action girl. She really likes punching things. That's basically all. She basically exists to make up for the fact that Peter cannot fight, and fanservice. She's also supposed to be like his moral leash or some shit?
Kally. She's Peter's jilted ex-partner. Her role is to be angry. At everyone. She's also a mage.
Tyler. Probably the character the comic should have been about. He's a fairly rational character, an actually useful mage, and not an utterly unlikable dick. His choice of hair cut is deeply unfortunate though.
A crapload more. Arron, the head of Peter's old group and his uncle? Tyler's staff - Amy, Mione, Marc, Lisa, Magnolia, Maia - no, I'm not shitting you, there are really that many of them. Rovak, an insane mage mercenary. Jayce a less insane mage mercenary. Arron's staff - Emmi and like 4 more that aren't even named.
The other problem with the size of the cast is that almost every character is out of focus. Peter is in theory the main character, but probably appears in less than a third of the pages. While this is probably a blessing, all the characters suffer the same but worse. It's two years in and most of the characters are barely fleshed out, let alone developed and able to have character progression.
I don't have much on them besides what the About page on the comic says, their commentary, and comments on the comic. They are a software engineer that claims to have worked in the game industry, and says they're not a professional writer or artist, the latter of which being obvious from the comic.
Overall, they actually seem pretty okay. No outbursts or anything, and they reply to emails containing criticism (I would know), though they don't seem to take them to heart. They reply to basically 100% of the comments on the comic, which seems a little overboard, but it's better than ignoring it.
Their biggest sin seems to be that of not being able to execute their own ideas without bungling them.
Despite everything I've said here, I do read this webcomic. It's more frustrating for the fact it could be a better webcomic if the author had taken the time to learn to write and edit a plot before spouting it onto the internet. It is clear that this is the sort of meandering disaster traditional publishing for books saves us from, where an editor can take their idea and tell them "All this shit? All this shit not important to your plot? All this shit that is just a random idea that popped into your head while you were writing? Yeah, cut all that shit."
I want to read a better webcomic set in the same world, even with the same characters. Advice to author: Drop Peter or make him a side character, he's not badass, he's not interesting, he's not clever. Write your entire plot before you start. Cut all the things that are not part of that plot. Cut all the characters that are not part of that plot. Proofread your content before posting.
Honestly the only people that seem to understand what is going on are in the comment section, and reading them is the only way I understand any major fraction of what's going on. It has a frequently pretty active and informed comic section considering what it is. At this point I just sort of skim the page and head down there to see if someone is down there explaining it.
At some level I do respect the authors' dedication. They've churned out over 100 pages a year since they started, which is a lot better than can be said for many webcomics. I just wish they'd shown that dedication to quality rather then quantity, because then we wouldn't need this review here.