|here in the "Reactions" section.|
|Original review author:||Bertbot|
|Start Date:||July 3, 2012|
|End Date:||Indefinite hold as of Nov 14, 2016.|
|Genre:||Some Slice of life/drama/adventure/”look at the cool world I created and the characters I threw in it” fapfest? It’s not entirely clear.|
|Defining Flaw:||A lack of focus and lackluster story telling.|
In late 2014, I saw an animation on tumblr to a Ke$ha music video, or at least the process for this animation. Tumblr was quite into it for a time until it eventually came out, was praised, and then I stopped hearing anything about anything to do with it, because tumblr is a fickle beast with a poor attention span. I did take notice long enough to see the creator had a webcomic. It was down at the time and so it quickly passed from my memory without being read. Several months later, Zoophobia turned up on our forums in question of its quality, so I figured I’d give it a look see now that the site was up. I don’t have great things to say about it.
It’s hard to pin down at what exact point Zoophobia fails, but I’d say somewhere within the third chapter. It's here that our setting is explained somewhat and it brings up many contradictions in the story’s universe, leaving too many questions to be truly immersive.
Story and Plot
Cameron is a human guidance counselor sent to the "The Zoo Phoenix Academy" within "The Safe Haven", a place full of a variety of fanciful character species. However, Cameron has zoophobia and was sent to the Haven unaware of just how many animals would be running about and can’t leave because magic.
The art of Zoophobia is adequate; in fact, I’d say the artist is very capable. When looking at their other art projects and even the character sheets, there’s a lot to like. The art style itself is divisive and, while it's filled with exaggeration and liberal use of squash and stretch, as well as looking like a children’s cartoon, it works in conveying a lot of personality in those single shots and I would say Viv seems to have worked it through to something complete. Unfortunately, none of that seems to have translated over to the comic.
ZP is only four chapters long, despite starting in 2012. I imagine this has a lot to do with the creator being a student and taking long hiatus’ to sort out their other priorities. With three years of progress the art style has improved in becoming somewhat cleaner, but a problem that runs through the artwork all the way up to the latest page is it’s not visually interesting beyond its art style. And even that style is limited to the character design. There are pages like this and this, both done in 2013 that lead me to believe Viv knows how to make her pages less flat and boring, but everything done with this year doesn’t have any visual flair to it. The background also gives the vibe of being seriously phoned in. There doesn't seem to be a lot of depth to this story. Early pages of the comic make me believe that Viv knows how to make backgrounds, but doesn't know what exactly to do with her setting so that she can show off that ability, and that’s just sad. There’s also a strange paradox where Viv makes her world seem populated but desolate at the same time, a problem best illustrated with this page. There’s so many people in that top panel! What a bustling place, where the hell did everyone go?
Beyond that, There’s some very poor direction overall. A lot of the comic is watching characters at a flat angle talking to each other, and it’s pretty boring to look at once you get used to the novelty of the sparkledogs. Even the ‘action scenes’ devolve into looking at characters on their level from a profile or over the shoulder shot if Viv is feeling particularly spicy, and it’s not interesting. Even worse, I get the feeling that there are too many panels on a page, despite there being a max of maybe nine, because of how little I’ve been given visually to chew on. There’s also a question of the style of art fitting into the style of story she wants to tell. The Devil is a literal character in the comic, but the comic doesn’t make him feel intimidating. Scenes that I think are meant to be taken seriously just look like an Invader Zim cartoon. It’s a real shame, because I feel Viv has some grasp on a more humorous tone, but if this is the story she’s wanting to tell, then anyone wishing to be within it will have to look past the fever dream, and not everyone is going to be able to do that.
And speaking of the story-
It’s a real unfocused mess of contradictions, and really starts to break down the moment you’re paying attention. So Cameron gets tricked into going to the Haven (we’re not told exactly what this place is immediately), she freaks out due to her Zoophobia. Then we’re told that Cameron was sent here by mistake by ‘the company that employed her'. This raises quite a few questions. Does this mean anyone can just send people there? The Haven lets humans have control over the entire process of transfers from their world? What about that snake woman who brought her to the Haven, was she with the creepy glowy eyed lady or is she hired by the Haven to bring people there? The giant talking cheetah seems to have no idea who sent her, so who contacted the Snake to pick up Cameron? How did this even happen? The rest of the school staff knew she was coming, they surprised her right outside the plane, but no one knows who sent her there? I find it hard to believe that Cameron is the first person to be sent to the Haven unwittingly if there is this degree of faith put into everyone just telling each other everything. Even regular human businesses neglect to tell their employees important information including some strange world they are being sent to that they can never leave once they enter. Oh yeah, Cameron can’t leave because magics that protect the world would be weakened if she does. I’ll get into that whole mess later.
Anyway, since Cameron can’t leave she’s given a tour of her new place of employment. It is here we’re introduced to, uh, the art wing. Just the art wing. I’m serious. Jackie tells her that the main lobby breaks off into the many other wings of the school, decides to show her “my wing first”, but after she gets to her own classroom, she literally sends a student to show Cam to her office. Are- are we not going to be shown the rest of the school? The earliar pages sort of implied there’d be more to this than just the art wing. I guess Jackie didn’t care enough to actually show her around. Seems that giant cheetah doesn't give a shit either, because they’re going to give Cam a shoulder to cry on, and show her some pretty fish, how emotional! Also that glowing eyed lady shows up again. After that we get some brief story of Cameron being a bitch to her mailman 'because zoophobia' and then we get an immediate shift to whoever the hell these two are.
Now, I've been informed that Zoophobia has no ‘main character’ and Cameron is only supposed to be our audience surrogate, but its implementation is incredibly sloppy. Cameron only talks to Zill once, and it’s to ask what the fuck he is, to which he has no answer, and then she has a brief interaction with a bunch of the other students too. I feel like this was meant to be foreshadowing her interaction with the students, but the only student who actually wants to talk to her is Jack, who sets up an appointment that we don’t see for another three chapters, at which point he exposits all of Zill and Kayla’s relationship. I’m glad I have all this information now, instead of say, two chapters ago when it would have actually meant something. Chapter two is about Zill forgetting his girlfriend’s anniversary, but we’re not given reason to care about their relationship. Everything is being delivered backwards, which could work, except Viv only knows how to deliver information via text dump, which is the antithesis to intrigue.
Now we move on to the third chapter, where just about everything breaks down for anyone paying attention. See, this chapter has the focus of Damian and his life, as the anti-christ. Edgy. Damian is at the school because his Nannies, some robot cheesecake factory, and a demon made a direct appeal to Zech (the giant cheetah) to let him attend school on the surface. Zech agreed because Damian is just a teenager, he’s not violent right? Well, none of that seems to actually matter because two pages later, we’re told in a text dump that powerful magic was put into place to prevent forces from entering Safe Haven, and leaving permanently would break them. “They keep the dangers out…while keeping the citizens inside”. Now, I think I’m supposed to buy that this is why Cameron can’t just leave Safe Haven, despite being tricked into going there, but I just cannot believe what this woman is saying; mostly because the last page has three hell sprites in it that came directly from hell with this other demon guy. What ‘powerful’ forces are even protecting this place if they let the equivalent of children through? The devil comes into Safe Haven at one point, as well as both Damian’s nannies. Damian gets permission to keep going to school, but it only seems to be a temporary thing, why will he be able to leave the Haven? I’d believe this if I thought that Hell counted as one of the parts of Safe Haven, but the Devil says they’re not allowed there and his wife talks about it like it’s a separate place. If you’re just going to let demons in willy-nilly why can’t you just send Cameron home? Everyone is discussing Damian when all this madness is explained, why doesn’t Cameron bother to ask about it? The anti-christ even gets into trouble with the police and yet he’s still going to be allowed at the school? None of this makes sense.
Feeling like I may have missed some vital plot information somewhere, I desperately searched the site, going to the character Bios and finding- well, a whole bunch of irrelevant shit. Did you know that Damian’s Nanny, Tentadora was initially built as a lust-bot and then was reassigned to watch over him when she was built? I didn’t, but now I do, and knowing that brings up a whole new slew of questions. Who built her? Why were her duties suddenly redirected? I would understand this more if Damian was some horny teenager, but he seems to only be interested in religious girls, or something. There’s already some woman looking after those hell sprites who said she’d do a better job raising Damian, and she probably would. Whose idea even was this? If she’s a lust bot made to spread sin and vice, what are the saws for?
Well damn, maybe I can get more information from the ZP blog? Well the last couple posts on the blog waste our time by talking about 4chan and the BWW and how they’re discussing the comic, it doesn’t look like Viv’s even made it easy to look up information regarding the story so I can see if she has any explanations for these questions I have. Well at least she has a tumblr for the characters! Hmmmmmm. Well, all that’s on this blog is the character sheet for this snake guy who has done nothing of interest in the comic thus far, this cat chick who has also done nothing and I can essentially guess her entire character conflict (she wants to be a cat), and then a bunch of bios for characters we haven’t seen yet and won’t see for several more books. It’s worth noting that Damian doesn’t even seem to have a bio anywhere I can find. Even Alanzo’s teaching assistant Nathan gets a bio on the comic’s site. Who is Alanzo? Who the fuck is Nathan? Fucking no one, that’s who. He appears once here where he gets less lines than that snake dude (who also has no character bio on the site) Damian’s had an entire chapter and he gets nothing? What?
There is one last place you can go to find more information on ZP, the creator's tumblr, which is not linked anywhere from the site and I basically know from that whole animation thing from forever ago. Now, even if you trudge through tumblr’s shitty organization and just go back through pages and page and pages of shit, you’ll mostly find she just talks about her characters. Just- just her characters, but it’s not even the characters personalities themselves. Viv has a great strength in character design and vague personality buzzwords, but her grasp of who they are seems to be vague at best, and the comic's story has so far raised a whole bunch of questions that no one seems to be interested in asking or answering.
It’s been stated that Zoophobia’s still in character introduction mode, and the real story doesn't happen until book three. That’s a hell of a long time to wait before you get the plot rolling, especially since the comic only updates once a week and Viv doesn't want to speed anything up despite having a massive backlog. And it seems none of the main villains have even shown up yet! So I guess that glowy eyed woman is totally irrelevant? Maybe she’s just not a villain. I get what’s trying to be done here, I do. I understand that building up a world and introducing lasting memorable characters takes time, but this is the hook! This is supposed to be the beginning of a story! This is what will keep you reading! Perhaps it’s a character driven story but nothing within the short narrative paints the characters as something I should care about. Even Jack, who we could be getting to know in his counseling session, has devoted most of his exposition to talking about someone else, and seems to be gearing up to talk about another person that we’ve never seen before. Why should I care? Who should I feel for in this comic? Should I relate to Cameron’s struggle, having Zoophobia that she’s quickly getting over and being tricked into a situation where she’s forced to be around a bunch of animals that she can’t leave, even though the demons seem more than able to just go? Should I care about Zill forgetting his anniversary but generally being a stand up guy with this oh-so-fascinating back story and romance that gets explained in twelve pages? Should I care about Damian being the anti-christ and an asshole? I don’t care about any of these characters. Even if this is a character driven narrative, Viv effectively spoils that by putting out complete character bios on her blog before characters even appear in the comic. I'm supposed to be interested in the characters right? This is a character focused comic, right? So if I'm told everything I really need to know about the characters before they come into play, why should I even bother reading the comic? There should have been a hook of some kind at least! There isn't one, and with the once a week updates, you’ll be forgiven for forgetting this thing even exists.
There’s not really a delicate way to put this, but Viv is a 22 year old child. Immature in both storytelling and design. Her art takes me back to a time where writing MCR in school notebooks was thought of as, just, so deep you guise. A lot of designs for character not introduced look like scene kids on acid and take clear influence from Invader Zim. she seems to be caught up in some character copyright drama that’s been handled about as well as one could expect of unruly teenagers. If you don’t want to read those God awful tumblr posts (and considering Viv’s opposition types about as well as a recent stroke victim, I don’t blame you) we’ll do some clarification of our own. Basically, she decided to buy characters from her "friend" because well, I guess originality wasn't an option. So, she bought a total of 4 characters, one in particularly named JiJi (who now has the fresh name of JayJay) who was the main character of that music video that’s the only reason anyone knows about her comic. She admitted sometime around 2013-2014 that the character was not hers. She apparently displayed two different attitudes within the year regarding the credits of that sparkledog wolf thing. After a while she decided to ignore the fact that the design was not made by her and disregarded crediting altogether, the reason for it being that because boohoo, her feelings were hurt by him/her on a post. A shirtstorm of whiny childish-leveled arguments of "THIS GUY SAID" and "SHE SAID THIS" involving "TAKING LEGAL ACTIONS" ensured. And whatever drama filled nonsense this is. In the end, the author decided to change the designs of the characters she bought into unoriginal rehashes that basically looks the same with different colors and then lied about never taking credit for the sparkledoggy's design. All in all, this is precisely why one shouldn't buy characters from other people, as it can stir up issues down the road. Especially from someone who this girl said is a "lying" and "manipulative" person who she for some odd reason decided to purchase adoptable despite him/her leaving an "emotional scar" on her in the past.
If all that seems ridiculously petty to you, you can just read her word on it and confirm that, yes, it was all very petty.
Before this review was written, discussion over on the “Is this bad?” section of the forum was brought to her attention, and she seemed to dismiss criticism as ‘nit picking’ and didn't feel it was worth taking a look or just that we were just fans deciding what she should do with her comic. I guess it’s a good thing all I did was point out how nonsensical and stupid her story was instead of telling her what to do, or else her dismissal might have had some weight.
One of the many qualms that even diehard fans hold with the site is the loading issue. A webcomic could be the best of its kind and still fail if it doesn't have a site that functions properly, and Zoophobia has this problem for some viewers. The issues seem to be entirely random, ranging from but not limited to failing to load altogether, the skin failing to load to leave an entirely white background with text for buttons and occasionally broken link pages, the site's redirecting users to an older page (from February), without allowing them to move ahead any more pages even with new updates, the site's allowing people to view the home page but not any other sub pages (such as the cast list, the contact information, or the comic itself). This problem began some months ago and remains to be an ongoing issue. The author claims that she is unable to fix it because she has left responsibility for it in the hands of some friends (that are apparently too lazy to fix it either?) When offered a great number of alternatives, either refuses or ignores them altogether, and does not seem keen on spending her own time on fixing the problem so long as some fans can read it. Suggestions and comments have been made and reacted to as follows...
"It works for me and on all my computers." "...it works on all mine, it could just be your computer..." (this is a reoccurring issue on multiple computers, miss) "It doesn't work unless you take out the www. (which still doesn't already work, as you'll see in the next example) "...but I'm just happy it's working at all." "It's all server stuff..."
Fans have claimed to send her suggestions about other means of hosting her webcomic, but claim that these messages were never answered.
Like many artists, Vivienne has a patreon account. And like many patreon accounts, for $50 a month, patrons can view exclusive character references, and for $100 a month, they can view other exclusive content related to Zoophobia, such as art streams, early previews of comic strips, etc. As I've been saying, this is pretty standard stuff, so why do I bring it up? Mainly, because Vivienne is ripping off her patrons. Now, I don't think she's deliberately ripping them off, it's more likely that she's just really, really bad at managing her content. What I mean is that if anyone were to look hard enough, one could easily find several of these exclusive content posted by Vivienne herself, without any sort of paywalls. If this was someone else leaking Vivienne's content, that'd be another matter entirely. But since it's Vivienne herself, she's shooting herself in the foot and disrespecting her promise to fans to give them exclusive content.
I'll give you an example. Here's a strip posted in January 2016. If you wanted to see this strip in advance, you could pay Vivienne $100 a month on Patreon... or you could watch one of her Speed Sketch videos from exactly one year ago (the video outright says its for future storylines). Granted, a sketch isn't the same as a finished, full-color strip, but you're still getting the same story content regardless. And that's just Youtube. If you wanted to see those character sheets for as-of-yet unrevealed characters, well, you can easily just find them on her Twitter account. The kind of person who would shell out money to an artist because of how much of a fan they are, is more often than not also the same kind of person who would follow that artist's various accounts, including Youtube and Twitter. Meaning that anyone who wanted to see early previews of future content is just wasting their money on Patreon.
If you still like Zoophobia even after reading this review, fine. If you want to support Vivienne, fine. Just know that if you simply wanted to see future content, you could quite easily do it for free.
I’m not a fan of your webcomic Viv, I actually think it’s boring and kind of terrible. The most personality any character has is on their character bio page, the story is half baked and not terribly interesting. I doubt anyone would really have cared about it if not for that animated music video. So in conclusion, I don’t think you should do anything with it. That’s actually my advice. Do nothing with it. Stick to animation.
UPDATE: This webcomic has been "on indefinite hold" for over a year and a half, and the author has indicated that she has other projects she wants to do instead. Hope they work out better than this webcomic has done.
SECOND UPDATE: It's been four years and no new strips. No webcomic revives after such a long hiatus, so we can declare it finito.